Let us begin this morning with our August memory verse, Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1).
This morning we are going to take a break from our sermon series through the book of Romans and we are going to examine the topic of Baptism. We are doing this because we have a couple of people who have expressed their desire to be baptized as believers and we have a time scheduled to baptize them on the evening of August 26th at the Monticello pool. Therefore, I thought it would be wise to preach on the topic of baptism anchor ourselves in what we are doing when we baptize a person.
The text I am using this morning is a text that I have never preached on, at least not in my memory. Over the last 6 years I have preached on baptism, but never from 1 Peter 3:18-22. Perhaps it is because of the general difficulty of the surrounding text. But as I am slowly walking off into the sunset, so to speak, here at Cornerstone, I would hate to not preach a text due to its difficulty. So here we are, 1 Peter 3:18-22. So let us stand, read our text, pray, and then see what God has for us as it relates to the ordinance of Baptism.
- 1 Peter 3:18-22 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
While on his journey to Myanmar, he was working on translating the New Testament from Greek into the Burmese language, and he found himself attempting to translate the word baptism. He found that he could not twist baptism into the meaning sprinkling, for the word baptism means to immerse, not to sprinkle. So he threw himself into the study of the ordinance of baptism and found that it is always associated with personal faith, therefore faith must come first, and baptism must follow. During this time, his wife came to the same conclusion and in a letter home he wrote these words, “the immersion of a professing believer is the only Christian baptism. In these exercises I have been alone. Mrs. Judson has been engaged in a similar examination and has come to the same conclusion. Feeling, therefore, that are in an unbaptized state, we wish to profess our faith in Christ being baptized in obedience to his sacred commands." Adoniram believed, even though his parents put him through a ritual of sprinkling water on his head when he was a year old, he was unbaptized. Why? Because it was not his profession and it was a Biblical baptism.
I tell this short story to point out that we must be careful in drinking the Kool-Aid of our teachers, denominations, and traditions. We must hold everything we do up against the Word of God. This is true for Baptism, and for all things. Everything that I teach, and everything that I preach must be held up to the measuring rod of the Scriptures.
As it relates to baptism, Adoniram is not alone. Jeff and Phil Owen, and I have been studying Church History. One group that we read about is the Anabaptists. This group sprung up after the Reformation, after ordinary people were given the privilege to read the Bible for themselves, and you know what they saw? The same thing as Adoniram. They saw that baptism always follows faith, and what did they do? The same thing as Adoniram, they considered themselves unbaptized and were baptized for the first time as believers.
The Baptist denomination, which is not directly connected to the Anabaptist, had the same sort of beginning. Around the time of 1609 people, once again, were reading the Bible in their own language and reached the same conclusion; that baptism always follows faith, never before. After reaching this conclusion, they did the same things as Adoniram, they considered themselves unbaptized, and were therefore baptized for the first time as believers.
In a similar, yet not similar way, the same thing happened to me. I was raised in a Church that did not baptize infants or believers. I was born again when I was 22 years old, but it wasn’t until a number of years later that I was baptized. Why? Because of the Scriptures. I could not get past the reoccurring command of God throughout the New Testament to be baptized after believing in Christ. I think the text that struck me the most, was the baptism of Jesus. Of all people, Jesus did not need to be baptized, yet when John the Baptist hesitates to baptize him, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” As a follower of Christ, I thought it was also fitting that I be baptized, as my Lord was.
And it is my hope that today, with the preaching of God’s Word, others in this room, who have put their faith in Jesus will likewise choose to be baptized as a believer. And for those who already have been, that it will remind you of the truth behind baptism and fill your heart with gratitude for what Christ has done
Triumph in Christ
As I stated, this text is a very interesting and difficult text. And because of that, many people miss the main point. People get too caught up in verse 19 and 20 which says, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” The question that arises from this verse is what is meant that Jesus went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison? Because it is our text, I will quickly go over the two most like options, and then move on.
Option 1. The spirits in prison is a reference to the men and women who lived during the days of Noah. And the proclamation of Jesus was not directly from Jesus, but was through his prophet Noah. This preaching took place over the 120 years that it took Noah to build the Ark. That it was a preaching through typology, meaning that the ark was a type pointing to the future coming of Christ.
Option 2 believes that the spirits in prison are demons who were sent to the Abyss after they left their natural position as angles and engaged in sexual relations with women and created the unnatural race of the Nephilim. The text that is used to support this is found in Genesis 6:1-4. Because I know everyone is curious, I will quickly read it to you, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4The Nephilimb were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” Option 2 believes that between Jesus death and resurrection, Jesus went to the Abyss and actually proclaimed to these demons his triumph over sin and death.
Which one is the best option? I don’t know. However, I have to admit, as weird as option 2 sounds, I think an honest evaluation of the relevant verses support it better than option 1.
But for today’s sermon, I do not believe it matters. What matters is found in verse 18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” This is the core of this text and this is the core of the gospel.
Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God suffered one single time for sins. How? By dyeing on the cross. This was a one-time historical event. In fact, all of history flows to and from this point. Calvary is ground zero for all of creation. If you don’t recognize this, you are missing the entire purpose of your existence.
Why did Jesus have to suffer? Verse 18 tells us that his death was “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Who is the righteous? That is Jesus. Jesus is the Righteous One. And by one, we mean one. He is the one and only righteous man ever to exist. His is the righteousness of God revealed through his incarnation. So who are the unrighteous? That is us, all of humanity. We are the unrighteous. Remember Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.”
Therefore Jesus died on the cross as a substitute. He took our place, and we took his. He became sin, and we became righteous.
Why would Jesus do such a thing? Verse 18 again, “To bring us to God.” Yes, our sins are forgiven, yes we have eternal life, yes we become new creations, but ultimately, as it relates to us, Jesus died so that we can be reconciled to God. This is the ultimate gift of the gospel. God is the gospel.
And it is only through Christ, and Christ alone, that this reconciliation is achieved. And this is true for all humanity, whether you die today or died during the days of Noah, which is the point that Peter seems to be making in verse 19 and 20. That Jesus is the one and only person who has triumphed over sin and death, and if you want to get to God, Jesus is the only way. He is the door into God's presence.
Baptism Does and Does Not Save You
Now let us turn our attention to baptism and how it relates. Look at verse 21, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” Isn't that interesting? If someone came up to you and said, my baptism saves you, many of you would immediately say, “No it doesn't it.” Perhaps not realizing that the Bible tells us this directly.
So what does that mean that Baptism saves us? Well, Peter quickly tells us what he doesn’t mean. Peter tells us that baptism does not save us “as a removal of dirt from the body.” What does Peter mean by this? He means that the water used in baptism has no holy power. The water does not cleanse the dirt off your sinful heart. There is not something in the water, as Carrie Underwood sings.
There are so many people who have a wrong understanding of baptism. They think that the physical act of being baptized saves them, that there is something special about the water, that it is magical, or holy. Peter tells us that it has nothing to do with the physical. Peter is telling us that you can’t take a baby and sprinkle them in water and wash away their sin.
So what does be mean? Look at verse 21 again, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter is saying baptism saves you because it acts as an appeal to God for a good conscience. But what does this mean?
To help us understand what this means, Peter ties baptism to the story of Noah. Look at verse 20, “because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”
The story of Noah and the flood is perhaps one of the most popular Biblical stories in the world. It is also, perhaps, the most mis-taught Bible stories in the world. We tend to teach our children the story of the Flood with a cute little boat full of a giraffe, a lion, a monkey, and elephant and a smiling Noah with the Sun and a rainbow directly over their heads. What we don’t teach our children is that at that moment the world was a graveyard.
No one knows for sure what the world population was at the time of the flood, but some estimate 1 billion, others say up to 17 billion. No one knows for sure, but what we do know is that every single person, except eight individuals, died by drowning; people of all ages, babies, toddlers, young kids, teens, mothers, fathers, grandpas, grandmas, rich poor, everyone…dead. Everything was killed. Why? Because of sin. Peter uses the phrase disobedience, which is what sin is, disobeying God.
And as we have already studied in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” God brought judgment upon mankind because of their sin, this judgment brought death, and the means by which this judgment and death came was by water. Water was the tool by which God brought his wrath upon sinners. The story of Noah is not some cute story about animals and a boat. It is a story of God’s actual, historical, universal wrath against wretched sinners scattered across the globe.
But God’s wrath did not kill all of humanity. As our text says, eight people were saved. It says they were brought safely through the water. How? The Ark. For approximately 100 years Noah and his family worked on building the ark; day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year building an ark. And then, before the flood came, what did they do? The got on the Ark. Why? Because they had faith in God’s Word. They believed God when he said that judgment was coming and the Ark would save them. And their faith in God was displayed by building and getting into the Ark. Their obedience in building the ark was an outward display of an inward faith. It was their appeal towards God.
And their faith in God paid off. For the rain came, the flood waters rose, and they road above God’s wrath and were brought safely to the Mountains of Ararat. Their faith in God’s warning and God’s rescue plan proved true.
So what does he mean when he says that Baptism saves you? Baptism is our appeal to God. It is a physical display of our inward faith in God. Just as Noah and his family appealed to God to save them by building and getting into the Ark, we appeal to God by turning from the world and being baptized. Our baptism show God that we trust in Christ to bring us through God’s judgment and safely to the Mountain of God. Our baptism proclaims to God that we trust in his Son Jesus Christ to save us. Our baptism is our profession that we trust in Christ as our Ark to save us from perishing.
Is this the only aspect to baptism, an appeal to God? No. Romans 6 tells us that it is also a proclamation to ourselves of what we put our faith in, specifically Christ. Baptism reminds us that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. We are to think about our Baptism and the commitment of faith we have towards Christ.
In addition, baptism also proclaims our faith to unbelievers. Just as Noah built an ark and displayed his faith to the lost world, our baptism displays our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ to bring us safely through judgment.
Therefore, baptism has three levels of proclamation: 1) A proclamation towards God that we trust in Jesus for our salvation, 2) A proclamation to ourselves of being dead to sin and alive in Christ, and 3) a proclamation to the world that judgment is coming and Christ and his defeat of Sin and death is our hope.
When we fail to be baptized as believers we miss out on all three of those components. This proclamation can only be made by you, it cannot be made by your parents, and it is God’s desire that you obey all that Christ commands and be baptized, not because baptism can wash away your sins, only the blood of Christ does that, but as an appeal towards God that your trust in Christ to safely bring you to God.