Why Baptize Babies? Because of the Promise

by C.W. Powell

“Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:38,39

I want to bring several things to your attention today on the occasion of the baptism of ___________. This is a great event in the life of the church and ought to be a time of great rejoicing and joy on the part of the people of God.

It is proper that we look at the Second Chapter of Acts to draw some instruction from the first instance of water baptism after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are several things that I want to note about this second chapter.

The Occasion. The Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit had been given, and the harvest of the nations had begun. Pentecost was the feast of firstfruits for Israel, a time when the first of the harvest was offered up to God. In the second chapter of Acts the firstfruits of the world are offered to God, for Christ had fully paid for sin, and the promise given to Abraham is now read to be fulfilled, that all nations would be blessed.

The 120 disciples had tarried in Jerusalem, according to the words of Christ, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. On the day of Pentecost, there was a great rushing sound and tongues of fire rested upon the whole group, and they began to speak with tongues, languages that the people could understand. There were people there from all over the world who had come to the feast, and they understood in the language of their childhood, for the 120 were speaking in these languages the great praises of the Lord.

Some said they were drunk. Others protested that it was too early in the day for that. Finally Peter stood up and, explained to them under the power of the Holy Spirit, what had happened. You must remember that Peter was not speaking to theological ignoramuses. The Jews were a highly literate people who knew well the law and the prophets. It was not necessary for Peter to explain every reference that he made in his sermon, for they would understand.

Peter’s first point is that what had occurred had been predicted by the prophets, especially the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:18-21). When Messiah comes there would be a pouring out of the Spirit on all the nations. There would be great changes made in the way God governed the world, but the result would be an extension of salvation to the whole world, for “whosoever would call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” the same phrase that Paul uses to describe the gospel in Romans. The time of Joel’s prophecy had come. Salvation would go to the whole world, not just to the Jews.

Peter then claims that this prophecy concerning the pouring out of the Spirit is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 22-36). Remember, he is speaking to religious sophisticates, who would understand the intricate arguments that he makes. Jesus of Nazarus was approved of God by the miracles, signs and wonders that he did. He was delivered according to the plan of God to their wicked designs, and was crucified and slain. God, however, had raised him from the dead.

Peter affirms that the death and resurrection of Christ was also predicted by the prophets (vs. 25ff.) He quotes several Psalms (Ps. 16; Ps. 132; Ps. 110) in support. I will give you a summary of his argument.

David prophesied that Christ would suffer and be resurrected to the right hand of God. The right hand of God is the place of power and authority and this is revealed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (vs. 33). This is the essence of the promise concerning Messiah: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all nations. Peter gives several reasons why this could not refer to David himself, but to Messiah.

Turning now to Ps. 110, Peter drives home his point: the Messiah has come. He has suffered and risen from the dead as was prophesied, and has ascended to the right hand of God. This resurrected Jesus is the appointed Messiah, whom God has made both Lord and Christ.

Summary of Peter’s argument

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the culmination of the hope of Israel, and is the fulfilling of the Promise of God made to the world, from the Promise to Eve in the Garden of Eden to Abraham and the prophets of Israel. An abundance of the Gentiles would be brought in and a New World Order would result from the coming of Messiah and from His death and resurrection. What they had seen at Pentecost is the firstfruit of what would be a great harvest throughout the world, even until the end of the world. There would be men coming to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. Lives would be changed and made new. Being delivered from their sin and misery, men would be transformed into productive and useful plants in the kingdom of God.

The blessings of the covenant that God had made with Abraham would now be poured out upon the Gentiles, the blessings of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This is the occasion of the first baptisms after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God the Father.

What is the reason for the baptisms?

After Peter had finished preaching, they were pricked in their hearts: “Men and Brethren, what shall we do?” This was not a dry academic question, but the cry of souls in trouble. “If these things are true, if Jesus is the Messiah that we have been looking for, if our people have crucified and slain him, then we have big problems. What are we to do?

Peter’s answer is very clear.

First, they were to repent. They were to turn around. They were to be sorry for their sins against God. The Jew knew what repentance meant. Circumcision pointed to the necessity of putting away their hardness of heart, and putting on a right and contrite heart and spirit. God had promised that in the last days He would circumcise their hearts and they would no longer be stiff-necked and hard. The prophets had spoken to this. The preaching of John the Baptist had called them to repentance. John himself had baptized because of the One who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

But Peter is not calling them to an empty rite, a meaningless ceremony. “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” In their baptism they were to assent to the new, Christian order. They were to take upon themselves the name of Christ. Their fathers had been baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (I Cor. 10); now they were to be baptized into Jesus Christ. It would no longer be sufficient to be a Jew. That time was passing away, for Messiah has come, and the ends of the world are here. Baptism into Christ is for remission of sins, which the law could never accomplish. On the day the law was given at Sinai, 3000 men died under the swords of Levi for the sin of worshipping the golden calf. On the day the Holy Spirit is given, 3000 souls are baptized for the remission of their sins through the preaching of the Apostle Peter.

It is not that the water could wash away their sins, but that for which the water stood could wash away their sins: the application of the blood of Christ by the word and Spirit of God.

Their sins being forgiven, they would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost Himself is the gift that Messiah brings to the world. Peter’s point is not some benefit given to them by the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost Himself is the benefit. This means that they would not be left out of the promise of the Messiah, the Anointed One. To receive the Holy Ghost is to be saved, for the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ (Eph. 4), making us one with Christ and with one another.

This is one of the great differences between circumcision and baptism: circumcision emphasized the cutting off of sin; baptism emphasizes forgiveness of sins and union with Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, we receive the results of His obedience, in death to sin, to newness of life, to power and glory.

This brings us, then, to the reason for the baptisms. They were to be baptized “because” of the promise (vs. 19). This points out the unity that there is between circumcision and baptism: both take place because of the same promise.

When Abraham received the sign of circumcision it was as a sign and seal of the faith that he had in the promise that God had given him that the world would be blessed through his seed (Romans 4:10,11). Whatever else circumcision came to mean under Moses and the prophets–and it is rich with meaning, as I pointed out when I preached through Colossians–its basic meaning was in terms of faith and justification by faith. Those who believed were to submit to the order that God had established, for the promise was to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Notice the unity between God’s call to Abraham, the beginning of the order that God established with Israel; and the call to Israel when the new order of Christ is established.

When God called Abraham (Gen. 17:7) “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant”.

To Abraham’s descendants on the day of Pentecost: “The promise is to you and to your seed, and to those afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The promise is to the whole world, but it does not exclude Israel and their seed. God’s promise to Abraham is not rejected and annulled by God, but is incorporated into the new order, with a new spirit and a new mandate: Go and preach this to the whole world. The promise that God had made to Abraham is now fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Ghost and the harvest of the world. That harvest began at Pentecost.

The subjects: who are to be baptized

This brings us the final thing that needs to be said. Those baptized were those to whom the promise was made: those who receive and believe the promise, together with their children (vs. 39). All who are called of God with their children are to be baptized. Hence, we come to little Spencer Scott Thomas. The promise is to him also, because he is the child of believers. Does it mean that he is automatically saved; no, of course not, for he must come to faith and the obedience of the Gospel, just as the children of Abraham did. But the promise is to him no less than it was to them. We place this sign and seal of the promise of the Gospel upon him, so that he will be constantly reminded all the days of his life that Jesus Christ is given as a savior for the whole world, so that anyone who believes on Him might be saved.

We do this in obedience of the Great Commission: “All Power is given me in heaven and in earth. Go, and teach (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 things, whatsoever I have commanded you, and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” Matt. 28:19, 20.

In fact, the Great Commission of Matthew 28 might be seen as an outline to the sermon that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. Christ has been crucified, been raised from the dead, and is risen to the place of power and authority in Heaven. All power is given to him. Therefore, the harvest of the world has begun, and the apostles were to go and preached the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. You can do this because the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. Hallelujah!

Those who are disciples are to be baptized for remission of sins, and then taught to obey Christ. That the children of believers are disciples is indicated many times in Scripture, for they are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

One more thing. You remember that God’s promise to Abraham was to him and to his seed after him forever. God always included the children in the promises He made to the chosen people. The children came out of Egypt with their parents; they were baptized in the sea and in the cloud; they wandered in the wilderness with their parents; they were blessed with their parents, and they were chastised with their parents. They entered the land of Canaan together with their parents. They were always included.

Do you think it conceivable that Peter would say to Israel something like this? “Yes, you have believed the promise God gave Abraham; you brought your children out of Egypt. You have brought your children with you all this way; but now the ends of the world have come, and your Messiah has appeared. Be baptized in His Name for the remission of your sins, but your children are not included now. The harvest of the world has begun, but your children are not included.” It is unthinkable, and in fact, Peter says just the opposite. Your children are included in the promise, just as you are, just as the elect Gentiles are.


Yeast in the Lord’s Supper?

by Robert Grossmann

[The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Grossmann addressed the following remarks to the RCUS Bulletin Board in answer to a question on whether or not unleavened bread should be used in the Lord’s Supper.]

Should we be so easily blown about by every wind of doctrine? Have the thousands of Reformed theologians of the past 480 years (beginning with our good friend Ulrich Zwingli) just been fools for rejecting the Catholic use of unleavened bread in the Mass, which many of them thought about very carefully, so that we can toss out their teaching and practice by “local option”?

What do we do in the face of such a question? Go back to the Bible, of course, where we find the following.

  1. In all three Gospels what Jesus gave the disciples is “artos,” meaning simply “bread.” It is striking that He is not said to have given them “azumos” or “azuma” which are the proper words for unleavened bread,” AND which are clearly available since they are used in each of the Gospels in the context to refer to the Passover. In other words, the use of “artos” by Matthew, Mark and Luke to tell us what Jesus gave the disciples makes the fact that this may have been unleavened bread of NO importance. At the same time we also must recognize that because the Scripture NOWHERE calls it “unleavened bread,” we cannot at all be sure that it was (throughout the NT “artos” is used for common or leavened bread). We simply may not base our teaching on the silence of Scripture because then we are really basing our teaching on a human conjecture. So, the fundamental argument, “Jesus used unleavened bread, therefore we should too,” is in fundamental error. This should close the case, but there is more.
  2. To use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to commemorate the wrong thing. The purpose of unleavened bread in the Passover is to commemorate the haste with which Israel left Egypt; there was not even enough time to put yeast into the bread dough. In the Lord’s Supper we are NOT commemorating the Exodus from Egypt where unleavened bread makes sense. In the Lord’s Supper we are commemorating the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In the Supper the bread is broken to recall Christ’s suffering and death, the breaking of His body.In the Supper the bread is eaten, to show the unity of Christians with Christ in His sufferings, as well as their unity with Christ and each other since what we eat becomes are part of our bodies. The bread is also eaten to signify to us “nourishment and growth in Christ” (Reformed formula for the Supper).

    Other things could be said, but there is nothing in unleavening the bread of the Supper that would commemorate anything in the death of Christ that is taught in Scripture (unless we really let our imaginations run loose here – and then we are back to conjecture).

  3. Thus using unleavened bread in the Supper is an unwarranted return to Old Testament shadows (commemorating the Passover instead of Christ’s death) and therefore ought to be resisted. The historic Reformed characterization of the Mass as a return to OT shadows of pictorial ceremonialism is common and fits here.
  4. “The kingdom of heaven is not food and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 10). This teaches us that an emphasis on a detail of food is not characteristic of the New Testament, quite in contrast with the Old. Thus the insistence on unleavened bread in the Supper is more typical of an OT ceremony than an NT one. Ah, you say, this also applies to the wine. Indeed it does. None, I hope, would claim that those who use grape juice are celebrating something else than the Lord’s Supper.Nevertheless there is a positive argument to use wine in Christ’s words found in all three Gospels, “I will not eat of this fruit of the vine from now on, until I eat it new with you in the Kingdom of God.” The proper understanding of this “fruit of the vine” is wine. So we drink wine, looking forward to the heavenly supper in Christ’s presence where He will drink it with us.
  5. Another old Reformed argument is that if Christ used unleavened bread, he was using the bread at hand in the Passover not out of symbolism but out of convenience. He did not go out of the way to obtain leavened bread. In the same way, runs the argument, we too should use our common bread (which IS leavened) and not go out of our way to obtain something special. This argument stands alongside one that says that in order to preserve the meaning of the Supper that we are nourished spiritually by Christ’s body, we should use the bread that we ordinarily use to nourish our bodies, and that would, of course, be leavened bread. These are theological arguments, not directly biblical, but I do think that they do carry the analogy of Scripture, especially in light of the very biblical fact that the kingdom of God is NOT details of food, as we noted above.
  6. 1 Cor. 5:8 is not talking about WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat the Lord’s supper. It speaks of unleavened people, not about going back to replaying the Passover with its use of unleavened bread. The unleavened bread in the Passover reflects the haste with which Israel left Egypt, without time to even put yeast into their bread. The Lord’s supper reflects not on a hasty exit from Egypt, but on the death of Christ for our sins, which makes HIM “our passover.” The bread represents the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, unleavening the bread in the Supper has no significance with respect to Christ’s sacrifice. Thus using unleavened bread would, as mentioned above, be going back to the OT Passover as though we were still celebrating the Exodus from Egypt in the Supper, rather than Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
  7. In the rest of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is often called “breaking bread,” the same language that is used for ordinary meals (Acts 2:42 for example is most likely speaking of fellowship in a meal rather than the Lord’s Supper because in the immediate context they “ate their bread from house to house.”) In any case, the word “artos” is used for what is broken. There is never a description of the Supper in the NT in which that which is broken or eaten is called anything but “artos.” This argues quite strongly against requiring unleavened bread in the Supper because “artos” in a general use would simply mean ordinary bread.
  8. Calvin argues that the early Church used leavened bread and that it was Pope Alexander who introduced unleavened bread probably “to draw the wondering eyes of the populace by the novelty of the spectacle, more than to train them in sound religion” (Institutes Book 4, Chapter 17, Section 43).

Except Ye Eat and Drink

by C.W.Powell

“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” John 6:53-58.

Language is a wonderful gift from God and is very rich in meaning. If we are willing to meditate and exercise our minds, the language of Scripture opens up rich and wonderful things about God and His Son Jesus Christ. Language can also be a snare, and there are many errors that we make in the use of language.

For instance, two things that are compared to the same thing do not necessarily bear any resemblance to each other. Jesus said that He is the Good Shepherd. He also said that He is the Vine. Now, only a madman would therefore think that there is any resemblance between a Good Shepherd and a Vine. The Vine that Christ used in his comparison was no doubt the grape vine, which grows in the ground, taking nourishment from the ground and the air to produce branches and leaves and fruit. A shepherd, on the other hand, is a man whose job it was to watch sheep and feed them and protect them.

So it is in the passage before us. Jesus is comparing something to the eating of flesh and drinking blood. At another time, He took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave them to His disciples, saying, this is my flesh and my blood. It is true that on both occasions he was talking about the same thing, which we are going to explore today, but this does not mean that eating His flesh and drinking His blood means to eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper. They refer to the same thing, but that does not mean that they refer to each other, any more than Christ’s reference to a Good Shepherd includes a reference to a Vine, or that you must be a Vine in order to be a Good Shepherd.

To state it in another way: The Lord’s Supper is a figure of something; eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a figure of the same thing. This does not mean that eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper is the same thing as eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood.

Some people do not want to take the trouble to meditate and explore the language of Scripture, and they fall into folly and sin. So the Jews said of Christ, “It is wrong to work on the Sabbath; you are a sinner because you heal people on the Sabbath.” Unitarians say, “Jesus said his Father was greater than he; how could he be God?” Our Baptist brethren say, “But baptize means ‘immerse,’ why do you sprinkle?” And so forth. Often we say, “I just take the Bible for what it says.” Yes, but do you understand what it says? The Bible is to be understood within the communion of the saints; Ephesians four tells us that God has given us pastors and teachers to help us understand-not as lords over our faith, to command us without understanding–but to help us understand and learn; so that we do not fall into various kinds of errors.

My labor today is to try to help us see the reality that is referenced in both the Lord’s Supper and the words of Christ in John 6. Christ was emphatically NOT speaking of the Lord’s Supper in this passage, as we shall see, but He is speaking of the same reality that is figured in the Lord’s Supper and it is absolutely essential that we understand what that reality is, or we shall not be saved. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,” are the words of Christ, and we ignore them at the peril of eternal damnation. But let me set the stage for you.

  1. The Setting: The Feeding of the Five Thousand. (John 6:1-14)Christ had compassion on the multitude. He tested Philip to see what he would say. Philip’s reaction was practical. It would be impossible to buy enough bread.When Andrew brought up a lad who had brought his lunch, five loaves and two fish. Jesus had the multitude sit down, blessed and broke the loaves and fish, which multiplied under His hand, provided enough for all to eat. There were even twelve baskets left over. Was this for the twelve who served?
  2. Christ’s Withdrawal Across the Sea. (John 6:15-21)When Jesus perceived that they would take Him by force and make Him a king, and He went into the mountains to pray. Because he delayed return for a lengthy time, the disciples took a boat. A great storm arose and Jesus came to them, walking on the water. The multitude also crossed the sea, looking for Jesus, not knowing how He had crossed the sea.
  3. Christ’s Discourse on the Bread of Life: A brief Summary. (John 6:22-52)Jesus reproved them for only thinking of the bread and fish-they should do the works of God. They ask what the work of God is. He says that it is to believe on the one sent by God.Their reply was to downgrade his work in comparison to Moses. “You have fed us once, but Moses gave us bread for forty years.”

    “Moses did not give you the true bread. Your fathers ate manna and are dead. If you eat the bread I will give you, you will live forever. The true bread is He who came down from heaven, not as Moses gave bread. If you eat the bread that I will give you, you will live forever.” The true bread is He who came down from heaven; not as Moses who gave bread to those who died. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will never die. But only those who are taught of God can understand this. They illustrated the meaning of Christ’s words in themselves by striving among themselves and saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

  4. This Brings Us to Our Text: What in the world did Christ mean? The answer will be found in verse 61-63.Jesus asks his disciples if they were offended, too. If they were, what would they do when Christ had physically ascended into heaven, which He did, as recorded in Acts 1. Christ is not now physically upon the earth, so how can we eat His flesh and drink His blood, if He is in heaven, and not on the earth?Men have tried to answer this question in various ways. The Roman Catholic church teaches the fiction of transubstantiation, the idea that the true priest can transform the bread of the Lord Supper into the true, physical body and blood of Christ.

    Lutherans do something of the same thing, teaching that the bread is not transformed, but that the true, physical body and blood of Christ are physically eaten when we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper.

    Both make the fundamental error of not discerning the use of the language, and it is reflected in their whole system of doctrine and approach to the Scriptures.

    Verse 63 says that it is the Spirit who gives life, that the flesh does not profit.. All life, both physical and spiritual is the work of the Holy Spirit. To look to the physical is to fall into a most serious error.

    Physical life is from the Spirit: This is the reason that Christians ask God’s blessing on our food. Without the blessing of the Holy Spirit, our food will not be nourishing to us. “All things are clean unto you, if received with thanksgiving.” The spiritual is before the physical. We do not deny the physical, but give priority to the spiritual. We should pray to the Lord for all things physical; including medicines and operations.

    Of course spiritual life is by the Holy Spirit. The words of Christ are the means by which the Holy Spirit gives life: vs.63b. The words are spirit: spiritual. The words go to the soul and the understanding, transforming the inner man. Just as nothing which enters the mouth can defile the man, so nothing that enters the mouth can make man holy and righteous.

  5. The Biblical truth concerning the body and blood of the Lord Jesus is found in vs. 51.The flesh and blood of Christ were given for the life of the world. He suffered to take away the curse that was on you and me because of Adam’s sin. This opened the way for us to return home to God, to fellowship and communion with God.We eat bread by chewing it with the teeth; we digest it in the stomach; it is marvelous transformed into our physical bodies by the process of metabolism.

    We feed on Christ by believing His word; giving attendance to reading and preaching, by using the sacraments. The message concerning the meaning of the crucifixion of Christ becomes life for us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us. In this way we become partakers of His shed blood and broken body, by the Holy Spirit making it a part of our inner man, so that we live by the faith of the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us.