The Mandate, Manner and Meaning of Baptism Matthew 28:16-20

What is “baptism” all about? Is it some crazy ritual that a group of uneducated people whom we call “Baptists” dreamed up as an induction ceremony into their group? Or, is there more to baptism?

In this morning’s message I will seek to prepare our thinking for what we are about to see in the waters of baptism by allowing us to hear what God’s Word has to say on the subject.

In this message we will be looking at: “The Mandate, Manner and Meaning of Baptism”. Let’s begin by reading the last five verse of the Gospel of St. Matthew:

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. (17) When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. (18) And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Amen.

I. The Mandate of Baptism, Matthew 28:19-20.
Why do we bother with baptism? Doesn’t it just make a mess of your hair? Isn’t it just a real inconvenience? Think about it. For us to experience this baptism today, someone first had to fill the tank with water (not a problem in the past). Second, the water had to be heated (hopefully)! Third extra clothes, towels, hairdryers, etc. had to be brought. The service has been rearranged. Furniture has been and will be moved. Why all the fuss? Does it really matter? Well, the most basic answer to the question of why we have gone to such a bother today is that Christ has commanded it!

Christ’s commands are not optional! We do not have the luxury of setting back and trying to decide whether or not we will do what Christ has commanded. He has, in fact, commanded that we baptize believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As people who claim to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we dare not refuse to do what Christ has definitively commanded in His authoritative Word! Here we must make an important distinction: Baptism is not essential to salvation, but neither is it optional!

You see, the Christianity which it is our privilege to profess is not our contribution to mankind. We are not free to tinker with or be innovative with what we have received. Ours is a received religion. Christianity did not begin with us. The gospel did not begin with us. The Lord’s Supper did not begin with us (see 1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.”). Baptism did not originate with us. What we are doing this morning is nothing less than what we likewise have “received from the Lord”!

In Matthew 28:16-20 we have the words of the resurrected Christ who has just announced his universal authority “in heaven” and “in earth”.

To fail to baptize is to disobey the clear command of the all powerful risen Lord of this universe!

Not only is the church commanded to baptize believers by Christ, early believers were likewise commanded to be baptized. For example, Acts 2:38 says

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise Peter commanded the believers in Cornelius’ household “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).

Similarly, the apostle Paul describes his own experience of being told by Ananias in Acts 22:16,

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Baptism is not optional, it is a divine mandate!

II. The Manner of Baptism
In discussions about baptism, the two most commonly discussed items are the questions of the proper mode and proper subjects for baptism. I want to discuss the question of mode first, then the question of the proper subjects.

First in regard to the proper mode of baptism, let me simply say that baptism is by definition by immersion.

A. The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, immerse” something in water. This is the way it was used, not only in the Bible, but also in other ancient Greek literature.

B. The descriptions of baptism in the NT suggest that people went down into the water to be immersed and not that water was brought to them to be poured or sprinkled on them. I.E., John baptized in the Jordan river. When Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. When the Ethiopian Eunuch was ready to be baptized, they went down into the water and came up out of the water.

C. The symbolism of baptism is most clearly seen if the mode is by immersion. Going down into the water is a picture of being buried in the grave. Coming up out of the water is a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Baptism by immersion very clearly pictures death to one’s old way of life and rising to new life in Christ. Both sprinkling and pouring miss this important symbolism.

Baptism by immersion is the only Biblical pattern. As theologian Wayne Grudem has written, “The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person bing baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again” (Systematic Theology, 967). Any other mode of baptism must be seen as extrabiblical at best or unbiblical at worse. Does it surprise you that I would make such a bold statement? I am, after all, a baptist.

Now, in regard to the proper subjects of baptism. The New Testament pattern is that baptism is for believers only. Note the order in the following texts:

After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in which he told his convicted hearers to “Repent and be baptized”, we read their response in Acts 2:41:

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

When Phillip preached the gospel in Samaria, we read in Acts 8:12:

But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

Later in Acts 8, when Phillip declared the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Ethiopian believed and wanted to be baptized:

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ 37 Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36-39).

When Peter preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household in Acts 10, the people “heard the word” and “they received the Holy Spirit.” Peter’s response in Acts 10:47-48 was:

Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.

Other examples could be given, but there are no texts which violate the order of faith/repentance first to be followed by baptism!

Baptism is for believers only. Have you been scripturally baptized? Were you a believer when you were baptized? If not, you just got wet. Christian baptism is the baptism of a Christian.

III. The Meaning of Baptism, Romans 6:1-4.
In Romans 6:1-4 we find the most important truth about water baptism, which is what it portrays. The good news is that if you understand what baptism portrays you will be better able to understand what happened to you when you believed the gospel. To see what happened to us, let’s look at Romans 6:1-4,

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Baptism portrays that when we believed the gospel we were united with Christ in his death. We are no longer the same! Our old man has died and our new man has come to life!

How did we become united with Christ in His death? According to Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Here we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection life “by faith.” So water baptism is a symbolic burial which symbolizes the fact that when we believed we were united with Christ in His death. Our old man has passed away. We’ll never have to experience spiritual death because of the death that Christ died with which we are united through faith!

Baptism also portrays our new resurrection life as believers (see v. 4)!

When we baptize, no one stays under the water. That would be an incomplete picture. It would symbolize death, and eventually would produce death, but it wouldn’t symbolize another important part of what happened to us when we believed. According to verse 4, baptism also represents our new life in Christ. Just as surely as our old man died, our new man has come alive. Another testimony to this truth is Colossians 2:12 which states that believers are:

Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

There are three important points in this text. First, we are told that is the exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead, which has also raised us from spiritual death. Second, the fact that this resurrection was the work of God is highlighted. Third, this reality must be received by faith.

The following quote by John Piper summarizes what baptism represents:

“Baptism portrays what happened to us when we became Christians. This is what happened to us: we were united to Christ. His death became our death. We died with him. And in the same instant, his life became our life.” John Piper

In conclusion, I can imagine at least four different kinds of people here this morning with questions needing to be answered.

First, if you’re an unbeliever, don’t even worry about baptism until you believe and repent. Don’t get the order confused. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Then obey Christ’s command to be baptized!

Second, some of you are here as believers, but you’ve never been baptized. Your need is to obey the Word of God and be baptized as your public statement of faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

Third, some of you were baptized upon a profession of faith when you was a little child or as an adult, but you now know that profession to be false. If you’ve come to faith in Christ since baptism, you need to be baptized. Not re-baptized because you just got wet the first time.

Fourth, some of you are thinking: “I didn’t know all this stuff about baptism when I was baptized. I need to be baptized again so I can really appreciate it.” No, you don’t need to be rebaptized. If you did, you would have to be rebaptized every time you learn something new. You just need to rejoice in what you now understand that your baptism represented.

4 comments

  1. It saddens me to read that baptism means immersion. The Greeks who used the word in common every day usage would scratch their heads to understand where that comes from. They never used baptism to refer to any type of action but rather to the result due to many different action. How they used it in normal life is seen as well in the NT Greek. They only way to make immersion fit as a definiton is to make immersion not mean immersion.

  2. I think may be th eother followers of our lord Jesus Christ they say must also get to know of this explanations of the word ‘baptism’.

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