Turn to Matthew 28.17-20 and stand for the reading of God’s Word:
17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
About seven weeks before the events recorded in this passage occurred the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified in fulfillment of ancient Biblical prophecies, but rose from the dead after three days and nights as He predicted Himself, and then appeared to His disciples numerous times, to 500 people at one time on one occasion. During that time after His bodily resurrection from the dead, and before His final ascension to sit at His Father’s right hand on high, where He is presently enthroned until He comes for His own, He repeated the command that has come to be known as the Great Commission on several occasions.
A proper exegesis of the Greek text reveals that a very straightforward directive was issued by the risen Lord, that the Apostles were to make disciples of Jesus Christ by going, by baptizing, and by teaching all things whatsoever He commanded. Thus, all three activities are integral to the process of making disciples.
This morning I want to direct your attention to the second of the three activities, the only one that can accurately be described as an event, since both the evangelizing of the lost and the training to obedience of the saved are properly understood to be processes that are undertaken over time. Notice what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 28.19 with respect to this practice we call baptism. He said, “baptizing them.” Allow me to speak on that brief phrase this morning under twelve headings, without pretending to exhaust the topic of scriptural baptism:
First, BAPTISM IS AN ANCIENT ORDINANCE
By ancient, I mean that baptism was instituted 2,000 years ago by the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, that greatest of all prophets known as John the Baptist. Mark 1.1-5 reads:
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
Baptism was not an ancient ordinance in our Lord Jesus Christ’s day. Despite the assertions of many forgetful modern scholars to the contrary, our great Baptist theologian and student of all things Jewish and Talmudic, John Gill, persuasively established that baptism was a rite that was not widely employed when John the Baptist first began his ministry. So, while John the Baptist did not adapt baptism, but instituted it himself when he began his prophetic ministry as our Lord’s forerunner, that then new ordinance of baptism has come to be an ancient ordinance by uninterrupted practice from that day to this, over the course of 2,000 years of observance.
By ordinance, I refer not to anything like a sacrament, but to an observance, to a practice that the Lord Jesus Christ directed His apostles to maintain and observe as a part of the life of the churches they brought into existence. There are two ordinances in congregations that conduct worship after the New Testament pattern, baptism and the communion of the Lord’s Supper. From time to time, as God gives us the fruit of our prayers and efforts, it is our practice to engage in this ordinance of baptism by immersing a candidate who we are persuaded has a credible testimony of conversion to Jesus Christ, what we refer to as believer baptism.
Next, BAPTISM IS AN AUTHORIZED ORDINANCE
Notice, in Matthew 28.18, that Jesus told His apostles, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” The Greek word there translated “power” does not refer to might, but to authority. The right to control or command. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ was declaring to His apostles that He had complete authority, the absolute right in heaven and on earth to exercise His discretion, to exercise His will, and to delegate to them this noble charge. What, then, did the Lord Jesus Christ do as an expression of His authority? He issued an order, a directive, a command, that we now refer to these centuries later as the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, what Calvary Road Baptist Church does in bringing the lost to Christ, and then baptizing those converts to Jesus Christ, and subsequently teaching them to observe all things Christ has commanded, is what we have been authorized to do by the One Who has all authority. There is no institution on the face of this earth that has greater authority to preach the gospel, to baptize those who have embraced the gospel message, and then to train them, than we do. Many governments and institutions seek to interfere with the proper exercise of the authority by which we act, but they do so illegitimately and without authorization from God, Himself.
Third, BAPTISM IS A COMMANDED ORDINANCE
You may think I am making a fine distinction between baptism being authorized and baptism being commanded, but I do so for a reason.
Some years ago I had a staff member who was a wonderful Christian man who had previously been the pastor of an independent Baptist church in Delano, California. During a long conversation in my office one evening, he poured out his heart and told me the tragedy of that church’s refusal to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples. Delano, you may know, is a heavily Hispanic community, with less than a third of the population being white, and only a sprinkling of black people living there. The church in question was an all-white congregation until this man arrived from the Detroit, Michigan area, where he had attended church with and served God alongside Christians from many different backgrounds.
He told me that after only a few weeks as the pastor, he brought an Hispanic couple to church, who then wanted to join the church. It was this church’s custom to consider such matters at a monthly business meeting. But at that business meeting the consideration of the Hispanic couple was tabled. During the next month a racially mixed couple started attending and wanted to join the church. Their membership, too, was an item that was tabled at the following business meeting. Not wanting to violate long established customs, the pastor waited several months before making an issue of these two couple’s desire to become members. When he did bring the matter up, he pointed out that in fulfilling the Great Commission, churches would naturally see people of different backgrounds converted, baptized, and incorporated into the church for training. Thus, the church needed to act on the two couples who wanted to join, since it was only a matter of time before someone who was not white would be brought to Christ and baptized, beginning the process of integrating the congregation.
The church membership saw the logic of the pastor’s argument, and had no quarrel with the importance of baptizing new converts and bringing them into the church. Therefore, after asking him to step outside so they could discuss the matter among themselves privately, the church unanimously voted to abstain from the Great Commission. The pastor, when informed of the church’s decision, immediately resigned.
That congregation understood that they were authorized to fulfill the Great Commission, but they did not realize that they were also commanded to fulfill the Great Commission. Thus, not only are we authorized to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, but we are also commanded to do the same by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourth, BAPTISM IS A DESIRED ORDINANCE
Real Christians want to be baptized. Read the gospel accounts and you will find no evidence of compulsion in John the Baptist’s ministry. Neither will you find any evidence of compulsion in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, or connected to the apostle’s ministries, such as on the Day of Pentecost, or subsequent to that day. Why is this so? This is so because baptism is not a dangerous or frightening thing. It is an ancient practice of gospel preaching churches to baptize converts to Jesus Christ. And when sinners are converted to Jesus Christ they are typically thrilled at the opportunity to be baptized at Christ’s command and by His authority.
Why else would the Ethiopian eunuch, when brought to a saving knowledge of Christ by Philip, say, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
Fifth, BAPTISM IS A GUARDED ORDINANCE
It is a tragic oversight by many pastors and congregations that the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not properly guarded. That is, there are always more people who want to participate in these two ordinances than are scripturally qualified. We saw this in John the Baptist’s ministry, with him turning away many who wanted to be baptized who were not qualified.
Keep in mind that when Jonathan Edwards was dismissed from his pastorate in Northampton by such an overwhelming majority, it was because he was attempting to reverse the practice of admitting unconverted nonmembers to the communion service. Sadly, most churches these days do not properly discharge their duty to guard the ordinance of communion. The same is true when it comes to baptism, demanding only the most perfunctory testimony from professing Christians, rather than exercising the appropriate caution that such an important ordinance would logically seem to demand. We term it believer baptism because we see none baptized in the New Testament save those who were thought to be genuine believers in Jesus Christ.
When you survey the damage done by the Corinthian fornicator in First Corinthians chapter 5, and the potential damage that might have been done by Simon the magician in Acts chapter 8, you cannot help but wonder why churches are not more concerned about baptizing unconverted people than they seem these days to be. How is the ordinance of baptism to be guarded? The principle of two or three witnesses is the most important way, whereby corroborating testimony and a basic understanding of the gospel is deemed to be reasonable and relevant when considering the qualification of a hopeful convert for baptism.
Sixth, BAPTISM IS A JOINING ORDINANCE
A distinguishing characteristic of Baptist churches has been our insistence throughout Christian history upon baptism before anyone is considered qualified to be a member of the congregation. Thus, when the pastor who succeeded me at my first pastorate indicated that it was at least theoretically possible for a person to join a Baptist church without being baptized, he took a giant step toward discrediting himself with the congregation I had been privileged to lead for seven years.
We are Baptists. We baptize people. And we do not think anyone has any business being a Baptist, which is to say being a member of a Baptist church, without being baptized. Too many Baptists have lived through oppression and public persecution down through the centuries, and too many Baptists have had their blood spilled, for what some think is the trifling insistence on baptism. Sorry, if you are unwilling to be baptized you are unwilling to be a Baptist.
Seventh, BAPTISM IS A UNIFYING ORDINANCE
Though I do not have time to clearly establish it as such this morning, I am convinced Ephesians 4.5, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” is not a reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but is a reference to the ordinance of baptism in water that is administered by the congregation.
“What difference does it make?” you may ask. The difference is this: The first half of Ephesians chapter four is the most important passage in the entire Bible on the subject of spiritual unity. Written from Roman imprisonment, the Apostle Paul is there pleading with his beloved Ephesians to hang together, to demonstrate spiritual unity in the face of intensifying opposition, and he makes use of their baptism, their very public profession by being openly immersed in water as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as one of the means to accomplish that quest for unity.
Eighth, BAPTISM IS A REWARDING ORDINANCE
How does one become a member of a church? First, there is conversion. Next, there is baptism. If that is not the sequence of events, it should be the sequence of events. In other words, you come to Christ and are then baptized, by which means you become a church member. Baptism is the means by which a new believer comes to be a member of a church congregation. What, then, is the benefit of being a church member? Besides obedience? Besides service? First Corinthians 3.14 points out the reward that will be given to the person who builds the temple of God with gold, silver, and precious stones, that person whose labors survive the fire of Christ’s judgment seat.
What is oftentimes overlooked is that First Corinthians 3.17 points out that what is considered is the believer’s ministry in building the temple of God. This confuses many people, who think the temple of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit are one in the same. They are not the same. The temple of the Holy Spirit is the believer’s body, First Corinthians 6.19, while the temple of God is the congregation, First Corinthians 3.17. What does this mean? It means a believer’s rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ will result from his ministry in connection with the congregation he is a part of. But how does one become a part of a church congregation? Baptism.
Ninth, BAPTISM IS A DECLARATION ORDINANCE
How does a person declare to the world that he is a new creature in Christ? Well, there are two ways he can make such a declaration, actually. He can declare with his mouth, which is to say verbally, and he can declare by means of believer baptism, which is to say by his public identification with Jesus Christ. The superiority of baptism, when the ordinance is rightly practiced by congregations, is that it is the testimony of many witnesses, and not just the say so of one fellow who has convinced himself he is born again. Turn to First Peter 3.18-22:
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
Stipulating that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works of any kind, notice that we have two symbolic representations in this passage of the salvation Jesus Christ provides. First, there is the Ark of Noah, whereby the eight souls who survived the flood prefigured the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ. Then there is baptism. Though some people trip on Peter’s wording, he is indicating here that baptism is a figure of salvation like the Ark of Noah was a figure of salvation. Important for you to see, at this point, is that baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God, according to verse 21. That is, it is the right response of a conscience freed from guilt by the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.
There are many reasons why people want to be baptized. Many reasons are bad reasons, because they are not related to real conversion. But when a church faithfully discharges their responsibility to guard this ordinance, then you bring together Christ’s authority and the new believer’s desire to please his Savior, both combining in a public declaration.
The baptismal candidate is declaring in a most persuasive manner, “I am saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, by grace and through faith. I am a new creature in Christ and from this point forward I purpose to live for Him and love Him all the days of my life.” But that is not all. By the congregation’s willingness to baptize the candidate, we are testifying that we, too, believe this person is truly a child of God, are persuaded by his conversion testimony, and are eager to declare to the world that we stand with him in allegiance to Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Tenth, BAPTISM IS AN IMMERSION ORDINANCE
The word “baptize” is not the translation of a Greek word into an English word. If that were the case we would be using the words “immerse” or “dunk” or “plunge.” In fact, the word “baptize” is what is called a transliteration, the anglicizing of a Greek word to make it pronounceable by English speaking people. “Baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizoo, which is an ordinary Greek word that refers to dunking, immersing, plunging, or dipping. There is not a single instance anywhere in the Greek language of that day in which the word “baptize” or any words related to it carry any meaning other than immersion.
No wonder, then, when John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, Mark 1.10 records that He came “up out of the water.” There is no logical or reasonable explanation for coming “up out of the water” except for baptizing being the immersion of the subject beneath the water.
Eleventh, BAPTISM IS AN IMPORTANT ORDINANCE
If John the Baptist was distinguished by his gospel preaching and baptizing, then baptism is important. If the Lord Jesus Christ’s public ministry began when He was baptized by His cousin John, then baptism is important. If Jesus Christ’s apostles were selected from those baptized by John the Baptist, then baptism is important. And if His last command to His apostles before ascending to heaven for these last two thousand years included instructions to baptize, then baptism is important.
If Baptists throughout history have been willing to die rather than compromise on this ordinance, then Baptists have thought this ordinance to be important. And if it is an ancient, authorized, commanded, desired, guarded, joining, unifying, rewarding, declaring, and immersing ordinance, then who would dare expose his opposition to it who wanted to be thought by others to be a Christian?
But, Finally, BAPTISM IS NOT A SAVING ORDINANCE
Baptism is not required for salvation. Baptism is not an aid to salvation. Rather, baptism is properly understood to be, among other things, a declaration of salvation. It is a declaration by the person submitting to baptism that he is a believer, and it is a declaration by the congregation performing the baptism that they are persuaded as well that the person being baptized is a believer.
I can prove that baptism is not necessary for anyone’s salvation by showing you that, beyond doubt, baptism was not insisted upon by the Lord Jesus Christ as a means of salvation. Remember the two thieves hanging on either side of our Savior when He was crucified at Calvary? When the one thief turned in repentance and faith believing to the Savior and said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,” our gracious Lord “said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Though that repentant thief did not come down from that cross to be baptized, but hung there until he died, my Savior promised him that they would very soon be reunited. Thus, since that thief was not baptized, baptism is not required for salvation. Why else do you think the gospel is taken to hospitals and hospices, where there are patients who cannot be immersed?
Baptism is properly understood to be a step of obedience, on the part of the congregation, and also on the part of the baptismal candidate. However, baptism, getting wet by being plunged beneath water and being raised up, as a testimony of Christ’s death and resurrection, is a step of obedience to be taken by every Christian who is able to comply with the Master’s wishes.
“Pastor, I think I would like to be baptized.” I would like to baptize you. Our church authorizes me to baptize candidates whose testimonies I have carefully and cautiously considered, who I then recommend to the congregation for their consideration and concurrence. That is accomplished by our congregation’s members carefully and cautiously considering the candidates’ testimony themselves, at which time they decide whether or not to authorize the baptism of that candidate.
When our congregation is satisfied and recommends the candidate be baptized, then we arrange to discharge our duty as quickly as possible.
 1 Corinthians 15.6
 R. T. France, The Gospel Of Matthew - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), page 1115.
 Matthew 11.9-11
 John Gill, The Collected Writings of John Gill - Version 2.0, (Paris, AK: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2000-2003), A Dissertation Concerning the Baptism of Jewish Proselytes
 Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 352-353.
 Acts 8.36
 Matthew 3.7-12
 Numbers 35.30; Deuteronomy 17.6-7; Joshua 24.22; Ruth 4.9-11; Job 10.17; Isaiah 8.2; 43.9-12; 44.8-9; Jeremiah 32.10, 12, 25, 44; Matthew 18.15-20; Luke 24.46-48; Acts 1.8; 2.32; 3.15; 5.32; 10.39; 13.31; 2 Corinthians 13.1; 1 Thessalonians 2.10; 1 Timothy 5.19; 6.12; Hebrews 10.28; 1 John 4.1; 5.7-9; Revelation 1.1; 2.2
 Adoniram Judson, Christian Baptism, (Laurel, Mississippi: Audubon Press, Reprint) page 3.
 The following books are recommended for a careful consideration of the meaning of the word baptizw and other related Greek words: Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reprint by Kregel Publications, 1981), Adoniram Judson, Christian Baptism, (Laurel, Mississippi: Reprint by Audubon Press, 2000), Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2003), Erroll Hulse, The Testimony Of Baptism, (Haywards Heath Sussex, UK: Carey Publications, 1982)
 Luke 23.42-43
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