This week, we continue observing the words of our Savior as found in Matthew 28:18-20. Shortly before ascending back into heaven, Jesus gives His followers a mission statement of sorts.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Over the past several weeks, we’ve noticed the importance of Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth and that we should carry the gospel into the world and offer the invitation to follow Him in response to that authority.
There are countless sources of discussion and controversy in the religious community. Among those who profess to follow Christ, there may not be a more sensitive—and important—issue than baptism. When we consider the evidence, we can’t help but see the seriousness of the matter as it involves the salvation of man’s soul.
We could spend hours discussing scripture that shows the necessity of baptism. We can use Biblical arguments from many different angles that show it’s essential. This morning, however, it would serve us well to remember one of the scriptural purposes of baptism: remission of sins. Understanding this purpose should help us see baptism’s necessity.
Baptism is for the remission of sins. Throughout God’s quest of allowing man to have a relationship with him (and man continuing to come up short), He has constantly pointed to the cross of Christ as the eternity-shattering climax (Gen. 3:15). The cross of Christ serves as the final and supreme sacrifice in a long line of imperfect and inferior sacrifices. Hebrews 9 makes it clear that, though important, the Old Testament sacrifices were incapable of forgiving man’s sin. Christ, while serving as the perfect High Priest, gave Himself as the perfect spotless sacrifice so that all who had obeyed and all who would obey could be forgiven of their sins. That amazing piece of scripture in Hebrews 9:11-22 closes with the following words: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Since perfect blood has been shed, forgiveness is possible. Thankfully, the Bible shows us how to contact that blood and be forgiven of our sins.
In Acts 2, a multitude of Jews were assembled when Peter and the other apostles began teaching them the truth about the man they knew as Jesus. When they were convicted by the truth that they had literally killed their Messiah, they asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” They acknowledged a sin problem; Peter told them the solution: the blood of Christ that would forgive them. How great is the irony of their situation (and ours today also)! They had Jesus killed and it was that death that provided the opportunity for that very sin to be forgiven. Truly God enacted His amazing grace to save our souls. We can’t receive that grace any other way than through baptism.
When Paul stood before the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 22, he gave the testimony of what happened that led him to Christ. At the climax of his conversion, he was told by Ananias, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Paul was instructed to be baptized to wash his sins away. While necessary, his new faith in Christ hadn’t saved him from sin. While essential, his repentance from his wicked deeds hadn’t secured his home in heaven. While convincing, his confession of Jesus as the Son of God on the road to Damascus didn’t cleanse his sins. His baptism washed away his sins. In order to experience that same washing and forgiveness, we must contact the blood of Christ through baptism as well.
There’s another interesting phrase in that passage as well. Romans 10:13 is often cited as proof that baptism is not essential for salvation, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It’s interesting that Paul is citing Joel 2:32 and it uses the same wording as Ananias when he told Paul to be baptized (“calling on the name of the Lord”). From the New Testament’s perspective, being baptized for the forgiveness of sins is inseparable from “calling on the name of the Lord.”
Clearly, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the ticket to our heavenly home (Matt. 10:32-33; John 14:6). The Bible teaches us how to have that intimate relationship with Him. Among other things, baptism is required to accept the gift of salvation offered by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. May He bless us as we teach and practice this truth to a lost world.