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    Baptismal Sermon

    Reading: 1 John 2:1-11

    Brethren, sisters and friends, I would like to welcome you to this special baptismal service at Rømskog being held for Bjørn-Isak Larsen and Ståle Larsen who have decided to commit their lives to Christ and to become His disciples. This is the most important decision they will ever make in their lives even though they may not, at this point in their lives, yet realise it.

    Before I call Bjørn-Isak and Ståle up to the stand to make their public confession, I wish to use a few minutes to explain just what a Christian is, and what he is not.

    In our reading from John's first letter we are given three ways by which we can know what a Christian is. By these three measuring sticks you can know how you are progressing in your Christian discipleship, indeed, whether you can call yourself a Christian or not.

    1. True Doctrine

    The first key John gives us in knowing whether or not we are a true Christian is whether or not we understand why Jesus died for us. In the world you will be told many reasons: that He was a social revolutionary, a martyr to His beliefs; because He was a rebel, because He upset bad people, and so on. But none of these answers is wholly correct.

    Firstly, John says that He is our advocate -- our defense lawyer. He acts on our behalf before God the Father, pleading our case. Secondly, He is the "atoning sacrifice for our sins" (v.1-2). Put in simple English, Jesus died for us in our place; He was punished instead of us. Indeed, one commentator once said that Jesus was born in order to die -- that was His main mission in life. As you get to know your Bible you will discover that death was always Jesus' goal. Yes, He was a preacher; yes, He was a teacher; yes, He was a moral example -- all these things God the Father told Him to be. But more than anything else, Jesus was born to die -- for you and me! And this is THE central Christian doctrine.

    You will probably spend most of your life trying to understand just what this means. You will hear many sermons on the subject, read many articles on it, and have many Sunday School lessons on it. And the reason you will hear it so often is because it is so important. It is a big subject -- a universal subject. You will discover, as you grow up in the faith, that the death of Jesus Christ affected the whole Universe.

    I wonder how many of you have been watching the exciting drama of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 8 which in July crashed into the planet Jupiter? Lumps of rock about the size of mountains fell into the thick atmosphere of the largest planet in our Solar System, causing large explosions bigger than anything that has ever been seen before. Astronomers have been thrilled to bits! And my eldest son, David, was gripped with excitement all week, hoping, I suspect, to see the whole planet blown to bits! Well, the explosions were dramatic even though it wasn't as exciting as David had hoped -- I think he was expecting to see something like the exploding Death Star in Star Wars!

    Jupiter is far away and to us on earth the effects were minimal. Most people on the world probably didn't even know it was happening. But had you been living on Jupiter you would have had an experience that you would never have forgotten. Thousands of blazing balls of fire streaking through the atmosphere and burning up in giant flashes, perhaps making thunderous sounds. If you had been under one of those, the experience would have been terrifying.

    Jesus Christ died for your sins two thousand years ago in a tiny little country in Asia. Hardly anyone in the world noticed. Yet the effects of what happened were far more dramatic than any comets exploding on Jupiter's surface, more awesome than the explosion of the Death Star in the film Star Wars, more amazing than the pictures many of you have perhaps been watching on TV of the first landing on the moon by a man 25 years ago. When Niel Armstrong took the first step on the moon, he said: "One step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind." One commentator, carried away by the drama of the Space Program, said that this was probably the most important event of the twentieth century. He was wrong.

    Have you ever seen someone light a stick of dynamite? They take a tiny little match, strike it, the fuse sizzles, and then, BANG! a huge explosion! When Jesus died on the Cross at Calvary, He lit a fuse that literally exploded the whole Universe -- not with a giant bang, but so silently that nobody noticed. An explosion that no-one saw or heard? That's crazy! you might say. But there was an explosion, so big, in fact, that the world has never been the same since. Where did this explosion take place? In men's hearts.

    Now when Jesus explodes in your hearts it's not like dynamite exploding -- that's all over in a few seconds, and the results are usually devastating. It's not like a comet hitting a planet -- that's all over in a few days or weeks. It's not like anything else you can imagine. When Jesus Christ explodes in your heart, the explosion never dies down! Try to imagine a stick of dynamite exploding and the giant flash and thunder remaining permanently. Well, that wouldn't be very nice, because that's destructive; but the explosion that Jesus causes to take place in men's hearts does the opposite -- its transforms you into something new and beautiful.

    Have you ever seen a film played backwards? A bomb falls on a building and shatters it into a million bits. Play the film backwards and, hey presto, the building seems to build itself miraculously. Well that, brethren and sisters, is what the death of Jesus Christ does. It's a reverse explosion. The Son of God voluntarily "exploded" His life so that we could come back to life again after death. The power released by the Son of God dying for us is the power that will resurrect us at the last day. Yes, the anti-explosion of Jesus Christ means we will live for ever.

    Well, that would, in a way, be a sad ending if that was all there was to it. But there's more. Jesus came back to life again! You see, Jesus Christ is someone special -- He was both God and man. You can't kill God, but you can kill man. God became man through Jesus Christ, one of the most fantastic mysteries of the Christian faith. He lived as one of us, felt and suffered as one of us -- infact, He felt and suffered as all of us -- every man, woman and child.

    Now this is just the physical side of Jesus's death. Fantastic and wonderful though this is, there is another equally if not more important side. Jesus died for our sins. As John said: "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (v.2). What this means is that when we have done wrong by breaking the commandments, we can be forgiven and have all the guilt removed from our hearts instantly. It means that we don't have to be punished, even though we deserve it, because Jesus Christ was punished for US, One who was completely innocent! You see, the death on the Cross of Jesus was not just so that we could be resurrected in the next life, but so that we could have the stain of wrong-doing washed out of our hearts.

    Throughout your life you will ask why your sins had to be atoned for in this way. I don't have time to explain that right now but I will say this: sin offends God. It offends Him so much because He is just, pure, holy and sinless Himself. It is so serious that it must be dealt with, and this was the way He chose to deal with it.

    Brethren and sisters, this is the first test of our discipleship -- that we understand this doctrine: that Christ died for our sins. In those awful hours in the Cross, Jesus put right everything that was wrong in the world. Instead of having to pay for our wrong-doings, which would be the most horrible agony imaginable, all we have to do is receive Him as our Saviour and repent -- feel sorry for wrong-doing and change direction in our lives by stopping sinning. This is wonderful news -- and it is this doctrine which all true Christians will be teaching and witnessing of above all else. If you do not believe this doctrine you are not a true Christian.

    2. The Moral Test

    Well, there's more to being a Christian than believing that Christ died for our sins. There is what I would call the moral test. John goes on to tell us that a true Christian obeys God's commandments. Listen to what he says: "We know that we have come to know (Jesus) if we obey His commandments" (v.3). There are many commandments that God has given us in the scriptures and the most important ones are called the Ten Commandments. Getting to know these, and obeying them, is one of your top priorities. However, they must also be obeyed in the correct way.

    There are two ways of obeying the commandments; one is right and the other is wrong. The wrong way is to obey them because you feel forced to. In a way, you are obeying them against your will. Your heart is not in your obedience. The other way -- the correct way -- is obeying because you want to because you have come to know, love, honour and respect the God who gave the commandments. You obey them because you know they are right. Youobey them because you are coming to know God's love and forgiveness. This is the correct way. This kind of obedience is always a joyful experience. It may not come all at once but if you sincerely desire to follow Jesus Christ, it will gradually come.

    A person who knows Christ wants to please Him even though he keeps falling and sinning. And don't expect perfection in a day. You are going to fall and sin many times. However, each time you pick yourself up and repent of your wrong-doing, you will get stronger and your discipleship will grow. And don't get discouraged because other Christians seem to be solving certain problems faster than you. Everyone has different problems. Things which are easy to you may be hard for others. As you repent in your life you will grow spiritually; and that growth will be the evidence of God at work in your life.

    Obedience to the commandments doesn't mean that we will be perfectly obedient all at once. What it does mean, however, is that we will have set attitudes towards family, possessions and work, whether at our job or at school. We have our goals. We know what is right and wrong and live to do only that which is right. As we obey the commandments in our lives so we come to know God.

    3. The Social Test

    The third and last test of our Christian discipleship is what I call the social test -- the way we treat other people. John said: "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble" (v.9). So here is the third test of true Christian discipleship: a true Christian loves his brother and sister. And it is at this stage -- and only at this stage -- that I mention the Church. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ creates new Christian communities in which the love of Christ is to be lived.

    There is no such thing as a solo Christian, no more than there is such a thing as a solo football player. The Christian life is teamwork. It is only with others that you can love, and be loved. John says that this is an old commandment -- and it is -- it was given a thousand years before John wrote about it, by Moses to the children of Israel (v.8), when he said that we should love our neighbour as ourself. Yet John says that in a way this is a new commandment too because now Jesus has brought this old commandment into sharper focus. I am sure you all know the story of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus taught who our neighbour is: everyone is our "neighbour" now. Jesus has given us a new standard to love -- we are to love everyone the same, whether our friend or our enemy, whether a member of our Church or not. Indeed, we are to love those who don't deserve it, just as Jesus loved us by dying on a Cross for us.

    And love isn't just a good feeling in your heart. It's something you do as well. John said: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (3:16). He then tells us how we can "lay down our lives for our brothers" -- by sharing with the poor -- we have projects in India and Moldova for helping orphans and prisoners -- to give two examples. Love is warm and kind feelings in action in a practical, demonstrative way.


    These, brethren, are the three tests of our Christian discipleship: believing in, teaching and witnessing of the correct doctrine concerning Jesus' life and death, as taught by the apostles; living the commandments; and loving everyone. These must be the three reasons why you want to be baptised today. Indeed, in being baptised into Christ, you are sending a message to the world which says: I am going to be a follower of Jesus Christ from this day on and forever. In being baptised you leave your own life behind and start a new one in Christ. You become His ambassador. Everything you think, feel, say and do will be seen by the world, and they will judge Christ by what they see you say and do. That means that from now on you must be much more aware of what you do, because you no longer represent yourself but the Son of God, rather as the Prime Minister represents his/her country to the world.

    Finally you are to baptised into a rather special Church -- or more specifically, into a covenant and a spiritual family. The moment you are baptised, you are promising God that you will be a witness of Christ's death and resurrection, of His commandments, and of His love. That is your covenant. In return, God promises to bless your life in special ways which you must learn about through carefukl study of the Scriptures.

    You are also joining a special family -- not the family you were born into, but into Christ's spiritual family. It is the most important family you will ever be a part of. And although your literal family will continue to be very important to you -- your father, mother, brothers and sisters -- your spiritual family will become more important, especially as you grow up. That family of believers is called the Church. That is what, in fact, the word "church" means -- a family of Christians. All true Christians belong to this Church which has no Name other than that of Christ and consists of people in many different denominations. Specifically, you are being baptised into a special part of the Christian Church called the New Covenant Church of God which God has called into existence to do a very special work which you will learn more of as you spiritually grow. The best way I can explain that is by comparing the family you were born in with the whole human family -- God chose you to be born into your family much as He has called you into this Church family. Just as it was His will for you to grow up with your brothers and sisters, so it is His will that you grow up in this specific Church family of spiritual brothers and sisters which has a special mission in these last days.

    If there is anyone else here amongst us who, having been pricked in his or her heart by the Holy Spirit and who wants to follow Jesus Christ with all their minds and hearts for the rest of their lives, would like to be baptised along with Bjørn-Isak and Ståle, let them now stand up.....

    I would now like to invite the baptismal candiates one at a time to stand up and bear their testimony and tell the congregation why they want to be baptised, and then we will make our way down to the lake for the baptismal ceremony"

    This page was created on 15 April 1998
    Last updated on 15 April 1998

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