Date: Thursday, May 8th, 1997 - Ascension Day
NT Text: Acts 10:44-48
Sermon Title: Spirit and Water
Spirit and Water
The day of Christ’s departure into heaven had come. It was a day that non of the disciples would forget for as long as they lived. And even though Christ was no longer with them in physical form, they felt His Spirit of Love and Comfort as closely as ever. And they waited with anticipation for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all the believers. As the days went by the disciples were amazed at the Power of God’s works among the people.
Today’s Story is about Peter and Cornelius. You remember the story of Cornelius?! He was a devout and God-fearing Gentile. He had not grown up in the Jewish faith. And so, for all practical purposes he was not considered a believer according to the revelation that Christ’s disciples had received from God up to that point.
Yet, one day while Cornelius was praying to God he saw an Angel who told him that God had heard his prayers and wanted him to find Peter to come and teach his family about God’s mighty works.
At the same time, Peter had dozed off for a little snooze just before Lunch time. (And you know how it is when you go to bed with an empty stomach - you dream about food). Peter fell into a trance and he dreamed about all kinds of delicious gourmet dinners. More specifically, he dreamed about some foods that were kosher for Jews to eat, and also some foods that came from unclean animals.
Then he heard a voice saying to him, “kill and eat”. Being the good Jew that he was, Peter objected in his dream, claiming that even the clean foods had become unclean by sheer association with the unclean foods. And upon his reluctance God said to him: 15 "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." This happened three times.
When Peter woke up, three messengers from Cornelius were at the door asking for Peter. They asked that he go with them to the house of Cornelius and speak to him about God.
Peter went along with a small representation of Jewish Christians, and when he met with Cornelius he said, 28 "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Then Peter began to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people gathered at Cornelius’ house.
What happened next is a demonstration of God’s perfect plan of salvation for all of mankind. It is a reminder to us also, that when God’s Spirit is at work in the lives of new believers, we do well to open our minds and our hearts to God’s revelation. It is a reminder that God’s plan of salvation reaches far beyond our comprehension, and sometimes even our comfort zone.
Let us read Acts 10:44-48
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,
47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."
48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
These verses are reminiscent of the Power of God’s Spirit displayed on the day of Pentecost, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached and the Holy Spirit broke into their midst and enabled them to speak in foreign tongues and dialects.
Although the Jewish Christians were stunned by the display of the Holy Spirit’s Power in the lives of these Gentiles, for Peter it was a small step to order that these people be baptized. It is as if he was saying: “These people have already been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Is there anything else that we can do, except to affirm and testify to God’s action by baptizing them with water? God has approved the Gentiles to be beneficiaries of Christ’s work of salvation alongside with the Jews. Who are we to stop that, or to question the works of Almighty God?!” So, Peter ordered that they be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.
The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo (bap-tid'-zo). This word is also related to the Greek word bapto. But the meaning is not the same as we will see in a minute.
First of all, the literal meaning of the word baptizo is to wash or to cleanse with water by dipping or submerging. I don’t want to get into the different theological arguments about baptism by immersion versus sprinkling or pouring. In my opinion, what counts is the attitude of the heart and not so much the outward form. However, baptism represents a transformational cleansing of our lives.
Now, to illustrate what is meant by that let me borrow an example to show you the difference between the words baptizo and bapto. The clearest example comes from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. He explains the difference between the two words in a recipe for making pickles. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' into boiling water (bapto), and then 'baptized' in the vinegar solution (baptizo). (Fear not! We don’t practice dipping people in boiling water and baptizing them in vinegar).
The point of this illustration is that both verbs concern the immersing of the vegetables in a solution. The first, bapto, is a temporary condition in preparation for the next. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change. The vinegar fully penetrates the vegetable and fundamentally changes the flavor of the vegetable.
In the NT, the baptism of God’s Spirit and the symbolic baptism of Water refer to our union and identification with Christ. In Mark 16:16 we read, “He/She that believes and is baptized shall be saved”. Jesus is saying that merely agreeing with him intellectually is not enough. There must be a union with Him… a real transformation… His love and compassion must penetrate our innermost being. We must be “pickled with the essence of Christ”, as it were. The confirmation of our faith through baptism produces a permanent change in us.
Today we are witnesses of Christ’s transforming love in the lives of these people before us.
The final thought in our scripture text is fairly significant: After Cornelius and his family had been baptized they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. You see, they realized that the act of baptism is not the finish line. Rather, baptism is only the beginning of a new dimension of living faithfully before God and fellow church members. It is our hope and prayer that we too may be filled with a desire to continue to grow in our understanding of God’s mysteries.
In various ways, each of you has experienced the baptism of God’s Holy Spirit upon your life in a variety of unique ways. As you share your stories of faith with us we want to affirm and give testimony to that which God has done in your life.
Together we want to bear witness to God’s faithfulness in your life.
May God grant you joy as you share your testimonies with us. And may we all be strengthened and encouraged in our walk of faith as we share this time together. Let us give glory to the name of Jesus Christ…