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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Questions about Jesus, Baptism, and the Bible


Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Introduction
Jesus appreciates people who seek answers.  Christ do for those who don't care, but those who seek, find.  Over the next few weeks, I will answer several questions about religions, heaven, forgiveness, and even racism for people who are seeking answers.  Let me start with a few general questions people have asked about the personality of Jesus, baptism, and the Bible.

Does Jesus have a personality?  Does Jesus have a sense of humor?
Let me start the answer with two points:
1)  People are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2)  Jesus is God. John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word [Jesus]  was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, people are made in God’s image. We reflect His character the way a mirror reflect our face.  We are God's mirrors.  Granted, because of sin, our ability to reflect God's perfect character is broken; however, just as a shattered mirror still reflects an image (albeit distorted and imperfect), we still reflect the image of God (although imperfectly).  People have personalities because God has a personality. People have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor. 

Furthermore, Jesus was fully God and fully human. This is a mystery. However, it is an essential element of understanding Jesus's character. Jesus was simultaneously God in every way and also human in every way. Jesus was the perfect example of what humanity was design to be.  Therefore it must be true that Jesus has a personality and a sense of humor.  The stories from Jesus' life also bear this out.  The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding party--a place of joy and celebration--and he made wine, which is a substance people use to enhance joy at a party.  It seems reasonable that Jesus was at the wedding to party and celebrate with everyone else.

People were drawn to Jesus because he was a real person with an attractive personality.  He had emotions just like the rest of us.  He experienced, sorrow, and anger.  Jesus even showed humor in many of his parables.  We often miss his joke because there is a cultural divide (have you ever watched a comedian from another country and scratched your head because they didn't seem funny, even though everyone else was laughing?  Ever struggled to find humor in British comedy?  There's a cultural divide that affects humor.)  An example of humor is the irony in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  We usually miss the humor, but Jesus' original listeners would have caught the ionic humor.

So yes, Jesus had a personality and humor.  An important question for you is this:  do you know Jesus as a person with a personality? Is he a real person to you or is Jesus just a historical figure or a picture you've seen in a stained glass window?  The main point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is not dead, but alive and he wants to have a real personal relationship with you.  He wants you to talk to him like you would to a real person, because he is a real person.  And he must be a real person to you or your religion is just not enough.

What is the difference in immersion and sprinkling as it relates to baptism?
Ephesians 4:5 says, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”  Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism is how we initiate people into the Christian faith, the family of God, the Church.  There is only one baptism, but it can be celebrated in different forms.

Baptism by immersion is when we "dunk" a person entire body completely under the surface of the water.  It can be done in a baptismal pool, a river, a lake, or any large body of water.  Baptism by immersion is a beautiful ceremony that symbolizes how a person who becomes a Christian has died to their old sinful ways and has been raised to new life as a new creation in Christ.  The person is symbolically buried as they dipped below the water's surface and raised to new life as they are lifted back up.

Another method of baptism that is more common in my Methodist church is sprinkling.  Through sprinkling, the pastor dips their fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkles a few drops of water on the person's head.  Sprinkling as has deep symbolic meaning.  In the Old Testament when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He had His priest sprinkle them with blood and water in a purification rite.  God claimed the Israelites as His very own people, a royal priesthood set apart as holy.  As we sprinkle a person with water through holy baptism, we recognize that God has chosen and purified them to be part of His holy people, the Body of Christ.

Another method of baptism that we see less often in my part of the world (but that is just as valid) is pouring.  Through pouring, a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the head of the baptized.  This method recalls how God pours out His Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized into the Christian faith.

In all these methods, we recognize baptism as the sacred ceremony Jesus command us to practice that God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  God does not save us through baptism, but He marks us as His own people and gives us help to grow in the faith.  We want as many as are willing to receive this special help God offers through baptism.  God can and does offer His full assistance regardless of the amount of water we use.  (It has been said that the minimum amount of water necessary for a valid baptism is only three drops--one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The amount of water used is not important; faith is what matters.

But why do Methodists (and many other Christian denominations) baptize infants?  Infants are not old enough to understand what God is doing or have faith.  However, their parents (or Christian sponsors) are and they bring their child seeking the assistance of God and the support of the Christian community to raise their child until the child is old enough to understand and have faith for themself.  

Infant baptism is not explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  This is because almost everyone in the New Testament became a Christian as an adult convert from another religion.  When an adult became a Christian they were baptized.  In some places, like Acts 16:31-33, the Scripture says a person was converted and baptized along with his whole household.  The text doesn't say who belonged the household, but this could have included children (possibly even very young children).
It wasn't long though (by the late first century) that Christian parents began having children who they wanted to raise within the Church from the very beginning.  They wanted to mark their children as God's chosen as infants.  Obviously, it is more practical to baptize infants by sprinkling than by immersion.  As Christianity spread worldwide, it became much more common for people to be born into Christian families that wanted to initiate them into the church as infants.

Infant baptism is one of the longest ceremonies we practice in the Christian church.  I don't mean that the service is very long.  Let me explain.  When parents bring me an infant to baptize, I sprinkle water on the child's head and God claims the child as His own and pour out His grace ot help the parents and community of faith raise the child to accept Christ for themself one day.  When the service is over and the parents leave, the sacrament of baptism is still proceeding; it is not over yet.  The infant's baptism will not conclude until the day the child grows up enough to understand and accept faith in Christ for themself.  Then they will come back to the church (maybe not even to me or my church; it could be another) and confirm their faith in Christ as heir Lord and Savior.  It may be 10, 20, even 50 years after the water was sprinkled on their head.  And it is in the moment that they confirm their own faith that the baptism that began in their infancy is finally complete.  So infant baptism in a very long ceremony that could take a decade or more to finish.

One more thing I must state, because I encounter this misunderstanding so often.  Many people confuse christening and baptism.  Sometimes people refer to infant baptism as christening.  So they will sometimes tell me, "I was christen as a baby, but now I want to be baptized as an adult."  If you were christen with water as an infant, you were already baptized.  Christening is one part of the baptismal ceremony.  It is the point in the baptism when we give the child their Christian name.  A long time ago, parents didn't not officially name their child until their baptism.  Then, during the ceremony, the priest asks, "What is the Christian name you give this child?"  And the parents would reply, "Bobbi Sue".  The act of naming the child is christening.  Then the infant is baptized by sprinkling water on it's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God pours out His grace on the child, the parents, the sponsors, and the community of faith that the child may grow up in the Christian faith and one day accept it for him or herself.  God has baptized the child and there is no need to ever do it again.  In fact, as a Methodist minister, I am forbidden to re-baptize a child.  To do so would not make sense.  Sense God is the one who baptizes, to re-baptize would like claiming God didn't do it right the first time.  An initiation only needs to happen once.  We can confirm the initiation or remember the baptism, but we don't re-baptize.

Is the Bible the Word of God to humans or is it humans’ words about God?
I suspect the root what's at the root of this question is the concern (or challenge) about the Bible's divine inspiration and/or reliability. This Bible is inspired by God and it is reliable.

To answer the question (and underlying concerns), I should start by saying the Bible is (in a sense) both God's Word and humans' words about God. Hear me out. The Bible is a collection of the stories about people's experiences with God. It was written by many different people over thousands of years. However, the Bible is inspired by God. What we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have and He uses the Bible to speak to us.

Different parts of the Bible were written in different ways. Exodus 32:18 says God inscribed terms of His covenant with Israel (summarized in the Ten Commandments) with His very own finger. In most places, though, the Bible was not written directly by God. It was written by people. Sometimes God dictated a prophecy directly to a prophet and said "Go say this!" or "Write this down and don't you change it!" But the majority of Scripture was written by regular people whom God inspired. People are flawed, and sometimes their flaws sneak into Scripture. (Example, sometimes people in the New Testament mix up quotes from the Old Testament).  Furthermore, peoples cultural ideas are not necessarily good or perfect (or even Godly) just because they are in the Bible.  However, God uses flawed humans (and their ideas) to communicate His Word to people.  As one old expression goes, "God can draw straight lines with a crooked stick."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the most important way God communicates with people today.  God inspired people who wrote the Bible and He also inspired the people who collected and compiled it.  Everything we need to to lead us to faith and salvation is within the Bible's sacred pages.  It is the primary source of all Christian faith and practice.  It is different from all other books in that God speaks directly to us through it when we read it—even to you personally.  You can certainly find help from many other books, but none of them can speak to you the way God can speak to you through the Bible if you read it through eyes of faith and an obedient heart.

Conclusion
I always appreciate receiving questions.  you can email me more at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com and I will try to answer them.  Let me conclude with a few questions for you to ponder and answer for yourself.
  • Do you have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? He is a person with a personality. You can talk to him and relate to him as such.  You must.  How could you delve deeper into a real relationship with the person, Jesus?  Will you?
  • Have you been baptized? Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus commanded us to be baptized and through baptism, we receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to continue to grow in our faith.  I would love to baptize you if you are willing.  If you live far away, I encourage you to seek a Christian community of faith to baptize you.
  • Do you read the Bible in order to let God speak to you? Do you study it with others?  The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Are you listening?  Are you reading?

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