What difference does Baptism make?
You have come to Church today. For some this is the most important activity of your week. For some it is a worthwhile part of your overall lifestyle. For some it is an occasional interlude in an otherwise non-churchgoing weekly routine. Maybe there is someone here today who is attending Church for the very first time. You may all agree that what we do in Church is unlike anything else we do. If you are unfamiliar with worship you may feel a little awkward, embarrassed or confused. However, you may equally just relax and absorb this unusual human conduct. But I wonder if, as you leave, and perhaps later in the day think about what you experienced here this morning, if you might not realise that there was something different, something special going on. You may feel uplifted within yourself, you may think that you have been in touch with something which has affected you more deeply than your other interests, recreations, hobbies, duties, work and relationships do. You may feel sensitised to God. You may have grasped some of the Christian answers to the big questions of life. You may have benefited from worshipping. You may have had personal burdens lifted from you. You may feel forgiven for your sins. For some, perhaps nothing special happened. The service left you none the wiser and no more convinced of the existence of God than you were yesterday.
There is no lovelier thing than the baptism of an infant in Church. Because Jesus was who he was and is who he is the beauty and goodness of his life and living are present in our midst. It is a real presence. We do not do ritual. These are not incantations. There is nothing which cannot be understood. It is transparent, open, free, available and is offered to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Does it make a difference to Lucy? As she grows up and goes to school will she be distinct in any way because of her baptism? Will she be free from naughtiness and wrong doing in later life? Probably not. You were not and neither was I.
But Christian baptism is about some very large things. In the thinking of the Protestant reformers of the 16th century, the value of infant baptism lies within the faith of the parents of the child. The sincerity of their promises to God and their chosen lifestyles corroborate the baptism. If the baptism takes place within a commitment to become a member of Christ's Church and to associate with the Church over the coming years, then the baptism's purpose is fulfilled because the infant is brought up to know Jesus Christ. Within half of the lifetimes of some people here this morning, Scotland has abandoned Christ and Christianity as the defining source of faith and values. In past generations there was an understanding of belonging to Christian society. Today, that has almost gone. The meaning of baptism becomes clearer as it occurs in a culture which is no longer Christian. Over the years we have baptised many infants whose parents have made promises to bring them to our Sunday School and who have never fulfilled these promises. Does that invalidate the baptism? It does not do so in the Lord's eyes for baptism is a saving sacrament of eternal value. But it does do so in the local congregation's experience, since the child has no context for making sense of baptism or receiving its on going benefits by belonging to the Church. What difference does baptism make in this circumstance? There may simply be none visible in childhood or in later adult life. Some people do though find comfort in having been baptised even if they have not responded by becoming members of Christ's Church in their own right when old enough to do so. Deep within our soul and being we question the meaning and purpose of our life and living. Baptism makes a difference to any answers we might find.
We heard in the Gospel read to us earlier that Jesus was baptised by his cousin the evangelist and baptiser John. Jesus was baptised as an adult understanding what he was doing. His was by immersion whole or part in the River Jordan. He identified with John's public ministry of calling the people to repentance and better living in God' sight. For himself and for good example Jesus submitted to John's baptism. Even John recognised that Jesus had no need of his water baptism because he had something much more spiritually powerful and revolutionary to offer the world, baptism in the Holy Spirit. But at that moment of humility, of personal surrender and of public worship, Jesus was commissioned and confirmed for his own ministry. It is part of the Christian search, the Christian journey that if you seek something from God, you may get much more than you were looking for or expected. Church going can become a habit – it is true – but if it is a real seeking after the Lord, it opens channels of communication and understanding and help and blessing over the years far outweighing the time and discipline of coming to Church. To know Jesus Christ is a certain privilege in this human life. And that is the reward of those who honestly seek with heart and soul and mind and strength – the face of the Living God – in and through our Risen Saviour Jesus Christ.
And there is an eternal aspect to all if this. Christianity is not built on the life of a wise man in the middle east nearly 2000 years ago. Jesus met an ignominious end. Christianity is based on the resurrection of the same Jesus. Christianity is future orientated. Christianity is promise and prophecy and Christianity is certain and conclusive evidence of eternal life for the human species. Jesus may not be recognised as the Saviour of the world in the way the politics of the visible world work. But he is recognised as such in the spheres of existence above and beyond these earthly limitations. If God is so good, does he bring to an end the most precious ones of his creation, you and I? No. Neither would you. God is not less than the sense of natural justice that we human have. There is an ending to our human life here but Christianity is the living vehicle of and witness to resurrection and eternal life in Jesus Christ. He was the first. We follow. That is the difference that baptism makes. It is a covenant established, a promise made to us by the Lord. We love him because he first loved us.
As Jesus came up out of the water he heard the voice of God saying 'This is my beloved Son, with him I am well pleased'. In baptism God says the same today. 'This is my little daughter, with her I am well pleased'. Do you know the favour of the Lord in your life? Would you like to? Have you been living in a strange place for too long? Would you like to make your way home? Would you like to belong to Jesus Christ? Would you like to be baptised? And if you were baptised as a child, you would like to reactivate that baptism by becoming a full member of his Church? Your response may bring to you many greater blessings than you thought possible. Would you like to take on board the Christian dimension of life?
The difference that baptism makes is that it is baptism into Jesus Christ. This is a water baptism and a Holy Spirit baptism. It is the very life of heaven being established in the life of the little one. The power and blessings of Jesus' resurrected life are invested in baptism here on earth, the power of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is a big difference. Christianity is a world agency for good. More people are Christians today than there have ever been. Christians form the largest human society. Many Muslims are converting to Christianity though you will never hear about them in the media. You do know about the hundreds of thousands of Muslims fleeing their own homes and countries to life in the more humane, Christianised west. More humanitarian good works are being done in the name of Jesus today than ever.
But it may be said of Scotland at this time, 'In those days Scotland did not worship God. Everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes'. Christians do not stand up to be counted in this land. Ours is a quiet expression of faith. We do not campaign. The churches are not critical of government. Scotland's politicians have little respect for Christians. They regard us as a spent force, as toothless and powerless. There is no effective Christian perspective, Christian alternative which is offered. Our task is to speak about Jesus Christ and to invest His resurrection life wherever possible. Christians in Scotland are comfortable, complacent, at ease and lazy. We need a shake up and a wake up. Christianity is not easily won in societies like ours distracted by false gods, idols and egotistical faithless politicians. We are afraid of being thought to be committed, different, eccentric, fanatical – even if it is love and peace and reconciliation and grace that we are preaching. Even if our Jesus is clearly and demonstrably not just any old religious leader and we are not peddling inconsequential pleasantries.
What difference does baptism make? Baptism is the beginning our of personal identification with Jesus Christ. It may remain just that for some but it may lead to very much more for others. How is it for you? The difference for you can be unquantifiable, immeasurable and eternal.