Baptism: What It Is and Is It for You? The Leper Revisited

Gospel According to Mark, Volume 1

What is baptism? Who should go through it? Why should they go through it? In this continuation of the previous week's message, you will find out more about how baptism supports God's exhortation that we "tell everyone."

Todd WagnerMay 14, 2000Leviticus 14:1-18; Romans 6:3-11

It's our hearts that we want to know him, and it's God's heart that he wants us to know him, so being the master Initiator and the master Teacher, you can image that there's more than one way he has made himself known to us. One of the things I want to talk about this morning is the pictures that God gives to us to teach us more of who he is and how we can understand in some cases what he was going to do and in some cases what he has already done.

If you haven't been here, we've been working our way through the gospel of Mark and learning a lot about this Jesus whom we want to be a fully devoted follower of. We believe, because he is God and he died for us, he is worth our very best and all we can give him, so we spur each other towards that end and love each other in every way we can, outside of Sunday mornings and certainly on Sundays when we come together in gathering and talking about the Scriptures and about what's going on in each other's lives.

Last week, we looked at the story of the healing of the leper at the very end of Mark, chapter 1. If you want to and you have your Bible, you can certainly turn there. We're going to look at it briefly, and we're going to revisit the story of the leper and really find out what would've happened had the leper been obedient. Now he was disobedient, and we saw last week that Christ told him to go and tell no one.

We spent no small amount of time talking about why there is this thing called the messianic secret or the silence motif, where Jesus does great things and then tells people, "Don't go tell folks about that right now. There'll be a day when you'll shout it from the mountaintops, but not right now," and we talked about why. Specifically, we said the fourth reason was that he wanted the priests…the national leadership, the religious of the day…to be put on notice the Messiah was here.

Christ did not come to abolish the law, so he told that young leper to go and fulfill the law, and we'll look at the rules and regulations, the ceremony if you will, that God told all cleansed lepers to go through after they were healed. The amazing thing is, in the entire Old Testament, once Elijah came on the scene, you have a number of people who are stricken with leprosy, but as Jesus himself says with his very first message… He says some very hard things to people in this town, and they aren't really thrilled with him.

He responds by saying, "Let me tell you, you're not thrilling me because you're not people who learn to live by faith, and you're not ready to receive the promises that God offers you. You want to earn it by your own efforts and your own works." He said, "During the times of drought in Elijah's day, there were many, many widows in the land, and yet, none of the widows in Israel received the provision of God because none turned to God in faith as the widow at Zarephath did."

Later, he says, "There were many lepers in Israel during the time of Naaman, and none of them were healed, but only Naaman the Syrian because Naaman the Syrian came and sought the hand and provision of God." We talked about last week how leprosy was a sign to the people of Israel of God's judgment.

When you became a person stricken with any kind of skin disease which was put under the class of leprosy or if you had the disease that we now in modern science call leprosy, also Hansen's disease, you were set apart from the community of Israel, the covenant community, the people of promise, the people of blessing. You couldn't go to worship. You couldn't go to anything social. You couldn't work. You were put out and literally left to die.

The saying was, "It's as easy to heal a leper as it is to raise one from the dead," because you had a death sentence. You were a living corpse. To come into your presence was to touch a dead body, and that made you unclean, so people avoided you literally like the plague. When Jesus came on the scene, one of the very first miracles he did after preaching with the authority that he did in the Sermon on the Mount was he healed the leper. This leper we read about last week in Mark, chapter 1, is the same story that Matthew relates in Matthew, chapter 8.

After this, Jesus says, "It ought to be a sign to the nation of Israel that God is here on the scene, the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man, the one who has come to give sight to the blind, the one who has come to allow the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, and the lepers to be healed. Only God can do that." One of the reasons Christ told that leper to not tell anybody but to go right to the temple was to fulfill the law, which we will study in a minute, but he also told him to go so people could see, "Who is this who heals lepers?" and start to the put the pieces together.

God was zealous and anxious for the world to know that he was here…that, as you will, he was ready to shake the heavens as we worshipped. He was ready to pull back the veil, swing wide those heavenly gates and bring songs that are songs of jubilee, songs of hope, songs of joy. This is what it says in Mark, chapter 1, in verse 42, after Jesus touched him.

It says, "Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, 'See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'" If you read your Scripture and you didn't want to just glaze over things, then you'd go, "Well, what did Moses command?"

You'd want to go back and find out what Moses did command would happen when a leper was cleansed. That's what we're going to do today, and we're going to see a picture in there of how Christ, who wants us to know him, is going to continue to open the eyes of the hearts of those he was ministering to in the Old Testament and was going to encourage them about something that was to come that we not look forward to but look back upon.

I said last week there are two classes of people. There are lepers and cleansed lepers, or if you will, there are sinners and cleansed sinners. You know, if you've been here very long or around me very often, you've heard me share that, though I serve in the role of pastor, I don't do it because I walk six inches above the ground. I don't do it because I have attained some level of righteousness that no one else can or no one else in this room has. All too often, to my own pain, the opposite is true.

I serve in this way because God, I think, has gifted me and called me, given me great joy to do this, has affirmed my gifts in my area, but I want you to know I am a cleansed sinner. The Bible calls that person a saint, and I'm comfortable with that term as well, but a sinner saved by grace. Some people say, "Don't say that. You're not a sinner. You're a saint." Well, all a saint is, is a sinner saved by grace, so choose your poison. I think there are different times I need to be reminded of both.

One man said, "You ought to carry in your pocket a stone with written, on one side, that you are a son of the living God and, on the other side, that you are but ashes and refer to whatever one you need as necessary." Not a bad idea. I stand before you and tell you that I am a cleansed leper today, and I stand on solid ground and with a great hope and a great assurance of what Christ has done for me. I don't know if you heard it in the news this week, but there was a major recall. I want to read it to you. It kind of sets it up and explains what I was just saying. It says,

"The maker of all human beings is recalling all units manufactured, regardless of make or year, due to a serious defect in the primary original prototype units code named Adam and Eve, resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units. This defect has been technically termed, 'Subsequent Internal Noncompliance,' or more commonly known as S.I.N, and it is primarily symptomized by loss of moral judgment.

Some other symptoms:

A. Loss of direction

B. Foul vocal emissions

C. Amnesia of origin

D. Lack of peace and joy

E. Selfish or violent behavior

F. Depression or confusion within the mental component.

G. Fearfulness and/or dishonesty.

H. Idolatry.

The manufacturer, who is neither liable nor at fault for this defect, is providing factory authorized repair and service, free of charge to correct this S.I.N defect…"

All of us have sinned. All of us have gone astray. Well, here's the question. What do you do today when you become a cleansed leper? I'm not going to tell you yet, but it's not what they did then. Let's find out what they did then and find out how God, this master Teacher, was showing them something and showing us something.

Turn to the law of Moses, Leviticus 14. If you don't have your Bible, look up here behind me. We are going to do a little bit of reading here, and I will tell you that, like any good teacher, you are going to use some audiovisuals, if you know what you're up to. You're going to think of different ways to communicate truths, not always just in the lecture-listen format, and one of the things that God did through the law of Moses…

As a rule, he was showing them one central truth by having what is called the law of the central sanctuary, where the holy of holies, where God told the people he would dwell…not that he was contained there but that his presence would be there and they could reconcile their differences with him through a system of sacrifices. Those sacrifices were to happen continually throughout the day for the nation and specifically one day a year, which was called Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.

They would celebrate the fact that God has forgiven them for yet another year and his wrath has not been poured out upon them. Again and again, they would take an innocent, unblemished animal that there was nothing wrong with…hadn't done anything wrong…whose throat would be slit and whose blood would be offered in their stead, that innocent blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Again and again and again, God was showing them that.

Day by day, they were reminded as they walked by the temple and they heard the bleating of the lambs and the goats, the wailing of the bulls, the smell and the aroma that was wafted up. If you live in Texas and you drive by a good barbecue place, it makes you think if lunch. If you were a Jew, and you walked by that smell of burning meat, it made you think of the demands of a holy God upon a sinful people and that, if he was not gracious to provide a way that you could escape judgment, you would be doomed by this one who was holy in every way.

Leviticus 14, now, tells you of another ceremony, another right, that happens after you were cleansed. This was not some hocus-pocus formula that you'd go through to get cleansed. It is after you have become cleansed you do these things in Leviticus 14, and I want to show you this symbolism that is there, so you can see that God was reaching out and trying to show them some things about who he was and what, frankly, he was going to do in the days ahead.

Look at Leviticus 14, verse 1, the ceremony which followed the cleansing. It says, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out to the outside of the camp.'" I love the observation of one man. "Even so, our priest, if you will, came forth from his divine encampment to deal with us in our colony of sin. If you're a sinner, you need a priest."

All a priest is, is one who mediates between you and God, and the reason I don't call myself a priest is because you don't need a priest. You have a High Priest in Jesus Christ, so you need not another one who will mediate for you between you and the living Lord other than Jesus Christ. Pastor, shepherd; somebody who can guide you on that way, talk to you about your High Priest? Absolutely, but you don't need me to be your mediator. You have one in Jesus, the Great High Priest who is perfect in every way.

In this case, the leper was brought to the priest, and the priest was notified that the leper was coming to him. He thinks he's cleansed, that this disease he had had somehow either been removed or it wasn't what they thought it was, so the priest will leave his divine encampment and go out to the colony of sin, and this is what will happen when they get there.

In verse 4, it says five things are to be pulled together. "…then the priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds…" One, two. "…and cedar wood…" That's three. "…and a scarlet string…" That's four. "…and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed." Now this is an interesting assortment of things. There's a ceremony that's about to take place. You have two live doves. You have a cedar stick. You have some scarlet string, and you have a bush, which is a hyssop tree, which is a bushy little twig or branch.

It says, "The priest shall also give orders to slay the one bird in an earthenware vessel over running water. As for the live bird, he shall take it together with the cedar wood and the scarlet string and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was slain over the running water." You're already going, "Man, wait! This is kind of a complicated recipe. What's going on here? Why is this happening?

Picture this, if you will. I'm sorry I don't have one, but you get a live bird, and you have a clay pot. Paul uses this in 2 Corinthians 4:7. He says, "We're just in an earth suit. All I am is an earthen vessel that is available to the Spirit of God to work." On the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus came; the place that his earthly veil, his flesh, was scrolled back, and all the glory of who he was, was revealed…

The disciples Peter, James, and John who were there saw him and heard the Father's voice, "This is my Son in who I am well pleased. Listen to him," and they saw the glory of Christ that was veiled by his flesh. He was put in an earth suit, if you will. You take a live pure one, a dove, and you put him in an earth suit, and then his throat is slit, if you will. His blood is spilled over living water, where it says, "running water," which is a sign of life. Not stagnant, dead water but living water.

In this live one in an earth suit, the blood comes forward and pours out into this water, and then that earth suit is done away. Then you take the second bird, and you dip him in that blood, and you dip the piece of wood that you had taken the branch and tied a scarlet thread around (symbolism abounds there), and you douse that second bird with the blood, and you let that bird free. That bird is no longer bound by death.

Even you, as you have been sprinkled, submerged by faith in the blood of Christ, the one who is the pure and innocent one who, in an earth suit, if you will, was sacrificed for you but who is alive again by the power of the resurrection of God and free to ascend into the heavens and to offer to all who are willing to respond to him by faith to have eternal life, you have been freed from bondage to sin and death and the law and allowed to walk in a newness of life. There's a picture that is here that's incredible.

You're then to take that cedar stick with that branch attached to it and to dip it in that same blood, and the leper is to be taken, and they sprinkle him seven times. Seven biblically is always a number of completeness and the number of absolute perfection, so he is to be absolutely cleansed and perfectly atoned for with that blood of that innocent one in an earth suit. Then it says something interesting is about to happen. Jump with me down to verse 7. Let's read it again.

It says, "He shall then sprinkle seven times the one who is to be cleansed from the leprosy and shall pronounce him clean…" In other words, he is not longer to be set apart. He is now to be brought into the community of faith. He no longer is cast out. He is no longer put away, but he is now part of the community which God loves. "…and shall let the live bird go free over the open field. The one to be cleansed shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe in water and be clean."

Now let me ask you this. What can you think of that's often bathed in water and made clean that has no hair and its skin has been absolutely brought so it's just a little soft piece of skin that's completely shaved and then washed? A little baby is what I think of when I read that. Verse 9 says, "It will be on the seventh day that he shall shave off all his hair: he shall shave his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and be clean."

For seven days, he is to be set apart, washed as one who is born new, with no hair on his body, and then seven days later, they come back to him to make sure the leprosy hasn't come but know in fact the healing took, and then he is to be brought into the camp and to be allowed to be a part of the community of faith. Do you see the pictures that are here?

You see an innocent one whose blood is shed in an earth suit, whose blood then is a source of healing and light and forgiveness, but that's not the end of the story. There's another one that's alive to fly free because death no longer rules over him. You have one who was formerly set apart who is now brought near. You have one who was formerly filled with scabs and whose life was an abhorrent sight to behold who, all of a sudden, is born again, made new and fresh, and his skin is pure and clean. There are lots of pictures that are there. We can develop it and go into it deeper.

In verse 10, it starts and talks about all the sacrifices that need to be made, and we won't read those in verses 10 through 20, but the point is that from 10 through 20, almost all the sacrifices that any Jew made over the course of his lifetime are made by this leper who has been cleansed to signify that he is now equal with everybody else. There is nothing which separates him. There's, specifically though, even something else that's encouraging. Once this person has been healed in that way, in verse 12, they're to take him, and they're to specifically do something to him.

"Then the priest shall take the one male lamb and bring it for a guilt offering, with the log of oil, and present them as a wave offering before the Lord. Next he shall slaughter the male lamb in the place where they slaughter the sin offering and the burnt offering, at the place of the sanctuary—for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy." I'm not going to develop that this morning, but follow me in verse 14.

"The priest shall then take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot." Are you giggling yet? You have the priest who is supposed to dip his finger in that blood, and he is to put blood on the ear, the right ear, and he's to put it on the right hand and on the right big toe.

What's really interesting about this is, earlier in the law of Moses, when individuals were going to mediate between the people and God, they were put through a very similar ceremony. When you were inducted into the priesthood, when you were made to be one who would be a minister of reconciliation for God, your right ear was anointed. Your right hand was anointed, and your right big toe was anointed.

For a priest to all of a sudden take this leper, this outcast, and for God to say, "I want you to treat him the way I treated you because this man, for the rest of his life, is going to proclaim the good news for me…" His right ear is to be sanctified now. He is supposed to hear the Word of God clearly without defect. His right hand is touched with the blood. It's been redeemed, no longer doing the works of death and the works of the flesh, but now works of life.

His right toe is stamped, no longer to be wandering where he wills but now walking in the narrow path, trusting in the Lord with all his heart, leaning not on his own understanding but in all his ways acknowledging him, and he will make his path straight. What happens if an individual in the New Testament trusts in the provision of the one who veiled himself in a vessel of clay, whose blood was shed and was appropriated to you by faith? I'll tell you what happens. The Bible says you become a priest.

We at Watermark are committed to not doing ministry to you but to do ministry with you and through you because we are all ministers. I vocationally am blessed to be able to provide for my family as you allow me to focus full-time on encouraging you and equipping you, impassioning you and setting up systems through which you can use your gifts.

Each one of us has the chance to do what you think is only reserved for the paid ones to do. You heard me say it before. I'm going to say it again. You have to stop paying people to rob you of the joy to do ministry. Do God's works and walk in his way in a way that honors and glorifies him. This was God's way of teaching them about things that were to come and also in letting them know that this one could be welcomed. Why do I do this this week?

Well, I do it because we looked last week in Mark, chapter 1, at this cleansed leper, and Christ said, "Go back and tell the priest. Let the priest know that you, in fact, have been healed," which they believed only God could do, but I also do it because I want to tell you about a ceremony that's coming up next week.

I want us to look at the sign that God has cleansed lepers today go through, not a ceremony which will clean you but one, upon being pronounced that you are no longer a leper, you go and do as a declaration that, in fact, "You know what? This person is a part of the community of faith." What do we call it? We call it baptism. We call it baptism, and guess what baptism pictures? Would it surprise you if I told you it pictures the exact same thing that the cleansing of a leper pictured?

It pictures your identification with one who veiled his glory in an earth suit and who died for you, but that's not the end of the story. Because his sacrifice was complete and perfect and fully acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, he was raised from the dead. What I want to do is walk now and take some time and talk with you about which one of you individuals ought to go to the priest and fulfill the law of Moses.

Specifically, we'll say it this way. Who should be baptized or who as a cleansed leper should go forward and fulfill the command of Christ, not in the old Levitical law but in the law of Christ, where he says, "Believe and be baptized"? Now let's just have some fun here for a second. Baptize is a word which comes straight across from the Greek. It's called a word that is transliterated or brought across and translated from there literally right over here.

There are a number of those words. The ones that you're most familiar with you can usually order for 99 cents at Taco Bell…burrito, taco, enchilada. They are transliterations from Spanish to English. We just bring them straight across. There are a number of them in Latin that we have brought across…carpe diem. People can say that, and most folks know what it means. Carpe diem…seize the day. We'll say that to one another. Bring it straight across from the Latin into our language…

I learned yesterday kindergarten… That's a transliteration from what? I see my German friend out there going, "Ja! Finally." It's brought straight across, and I understand it to mean children and garden, a place where children grow, a kindergarten. Isn't that great? It's what ought to happen in that first year of school. Kids ought to grow. We transliterate it…bring it right across.

Baptize is such a word. It literally meant to immerse, and there was a guy who lived about 200 years before Christ who wrote a recipe for how to make a pickle. Isn't that interesting? In that, he used this word baptizō. He used one word, baptō, which means to dip. He said, "You take the vegetable, and you baptō or you dip it in boiling water. Then you take the baptō'd vegetable and you baptizō it in the vinegar solution."

There's a difference, though, between the word baptō, which means just to dip and to pull out, and the word baptizō. It means to immerse, to fully engage so it identifies with the solution. The purpose of baptism is to identify you with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's also used of a shirt that was dipped into a solution, a white shirt into red dye, and when that shirt is picked up, it has completely identified or become one with that red dye. It is now a red shirt. It's no longer a white shirt.

When you become a cleansed leper, when you become a cleansed sinner…a forgiven sinner…Christ tells you to go and identify with him, that the whole world might know, and the system which he set up that the world might know that you are now part of a different community who hears a different voice who serves a different King and who walks a different road is through baptism.

Well, who should be baptized? There are three different things I want to lay out to answer this question for all of us, and I'll tell you what we believe here at Watermark about baptism. First, those who have a biblical understanding of salvation… If you have a biblical understanding of what it means to be saved, then you are a candidate for baptism. That's the first thing you need. What's the biblical understanding of salvation? I share this one story.

I've shared it before because it lays out, I think as clearly as I can what the world abhors then when they hear us claim this. A number of years ago, when I was driving with my wife down to San Antonio to visit her family late at night (we love to drive late at night), I stopped by to get my fix of Mountain Dew, Doritos, Peanut M&M's, and sunflower seeds, and as I walked into this place, I noticed that there on the counter was a little tract that somebody had laid there that said, Do You Know For Sure?

I saw that, and I got my stuff. I walked up, and I looked at the guy, and I said, "Hey, have you read that?" He looked at me, and he says, "Yeah, I'm going to." I went, "Geez! I'm sorry about that," and I go, "Why did you respond like that?" He goes, "Well, the last guy…He was trying to get me to read it. I go, "Hey, I don't mean to give you a hard time. I was curious if you'd read it. I was interested in what it said."

He goes, "I don't know what it said." I said, "Well, I'll tell you why he probably wanted you to read it, because I have a hunch what it says, and he probably knows that what's in there is the greatest truth you could ever hear, and frankly, when I came to understand what was in there, it changed my life." I said, "Can I ask you a quick question with your permission?" He goes, "Yeah." You know, he's not going anywhere.

I said, "Are you at the place in your life where, if something happened, you know some looney comes in not to buy Peanut M&M's but to take them and uses a gun to convince you, you should let him have them, and you resist, and you lose your life, are you at the place where you know the Lord would accept you?" He gave the response that over 90% or more folks that you meet will give. He went, "Well, geez! I sure hope so. I mean, I guess. I mean, I'm basically a good guy. See those magazines back there? I don't look at them."

He was one up on me at that point because my eyes were going, "Geez!" over there, and I mean that. You know, I had just gone, "Wow!" If I worked there in that kind of environment, I'd need some serious accountability. I said to the guy, "Well, so basically, you're saying that you think you might go based on what you've done." He said, "Yeah." I said, "Can I tell you something? I know I'm going to heaven." He went, "What?" I said, "I am absolutely certain that I'm going to go to heaven."

He said, "Sir, that is the most arrogant statement I've ever heard," and I said, "I don't blame you for thinking that, but let me tell you why I know, and it's what's in that book," and I went on to explain to this guy a biblical understanding of salvation. I said, "I'm not going to go because I don't look at magazines like that, and by the grace of God, I don't. I'm not going to go because I'm faithful to my wife out there, and by the grace of God, I am. I'm not going to go because I happen to be a pastor, and by the grace of God I serve with some effectiveness.

I'm not going to turn in any resume, but this is what the Bible teaches. The central message of the Scriptures is that God is holy and that we are not, and there's no way that we can save ourselves, but he in his grace has intervened, and he has made a way possible that those of us who can never earn our salvation can receive it as a gift. I explained to him a biblical understanding of salvation, not based on deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of his Spirit, we are saved."

I had a chance to share with that guy that night the central message of the Scriptures and give him, for the first time in his life, an understanding of what salvation is. Well, intellectually, he got it. At least, he understood or heard me say it. That's the first thing you have to be able to do. You have to know and understand biblical salvation.

The second thing, though, that you have to know is you have to make a conscious commitment to that. It's knowledge that you then assent to and agree that that knowledge is true, but even agreeing that that knowledge is true is not enough. You must then trust in it and make a conscious commitment, a faith transaction, to say, "You know what? Unless I trust in that provision which God has offered, there's no way I could ever be forgiven," and then to trust in that Jesus and the provision he has given you.

This is what it says in Romans, chapter 10, verses 9 and 10. This is combination of the two things. "…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…" There are two elements to that, right? You have to believe it in your heart, which is just as synonymous with the mind and the Scriptures. You have to know the information and know it's true, and you have to assent to that information.

Then more than that, you have to confess with your lips. All confess means is you have to agree with it. You have to say, "You know what? That is absolutely correct, and I think that is true, and I profess that it's true, and I act on that." There's a conscious commitment…a biblical understanding of salvation and, secondly, a conscious commitment to receive that provision which God has given you.

The classic illustration for this (forgive me for having to jump over here) is one we use and teach you to use in the class that I told y'all, if I can get you to go to any one thing, it would be to go to the Outbreak class to get equipped to share your faith clearly and concisely in 3 minutes, in 30 seconds, or in 30 minutes, whichever you need. Folks, it will transform your life and your ministry. I highly encourage you to get involved with Outbreak.

I grabbed a little 8-year-old girl yesterday, and I said to her, "Do you see this chair?" She said, "Sure." I said, "Do you think this chair exists?" and she looked at me like I was nuts. She goes, "Yeah, I think that chair exists." I said, "Well, do you think that chair could hold you up if you sat in it?" to which she then said, "Yes, it absolutely could." Then I asked her the penetrating question. "Is that chair holding you up?" She goes, "No." I said, "Why not?" She goes, "Because I'm not sitting in it."

I said, "Perfect. Can I tell you what it means to trust Christ?" It's not enough to know the story and to believe the story about Jesus leaving his divine encampment and coming to your colony of sin and being veiled in humanity and having his body pierced and his blood shed for your sins or transgressions. It's not enough to know the story. It's not even enough to believe it's true and that it exists.

You have to make a conscious commitment that, on that alone, you are resting in nothing else. You have to get up out of your self-will, self-dependence, and you have to rest in Jesus Christ. It's not according to my works. There are no muscles working on me except to keep my head from falling down like this. It is his works, and it is his rest that I find. You have to make that conscious commitment.

Thirdly, the last thing you need to do at that point is you have to be one who understands the significance of baptism. It's not, for me… My two oldest children, about I think a year ago right now in May, trusted Christ. One daughter was 6, and my other daughter was 4 at the time, and I believe they had genuine professions of faith. I believe that children can make genuine professions of faith.

I think that they can absolutely understand and say, "You know what? I love God. He cares for me. I've heard the story of Christ, and I understand that I make mistakes and sometimes do things I shouldn't do, and I understand that Jesus is the one who gives me the means for forgiveness." I believe that my two oldest children have trusted Christ, but I've not yet had them go through baptism because I'm not convinced that they yet understand the significance of it.

It's my conviction that you shouldn't just go through something that you really don't understand what you're doing, so though they clearly are a part of his kingdom, I want them to understand why they should be baptized. That is why, next Sunday, I'm excited that they get a chance to see it again, as I showed them a couple of weeks ago when I baptized Angel in our body and showed them why Angel got baptized.

Neither one of them came up and said, "Well, Daddy, I believe what she believes, and I've never done that," and when they do, I'll say, "Well, you can, and you should to fulfill your commitment to Christ and to identify with him publicly." This is the significance of baptism. In Romans, chapter 6, verse 3, turn there with me.

Now watch. This is not teaching on water baptism. Paul is talking about the spiritual truths that happen when you're baptized into Christ, but when you hear this, you're going to go, "Oh, well, then I understand why we baptize folks and use this picture." It's a symbolic picture, a sign that we can take and show folks that we are now cleansed by the work and grace of God, and we can identify with a community of faith, that people might know that we are now with them in the camp. Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans, chapter 6, verse 3. It says,

"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized [by faith] into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin…" Can y'all follow me and watch this picture? Here's why I believe in immersion. Firstly, the word literally means to be immersed. Secondly, it gives you the clearest picture of what happened with Christ.

When you stand before, as you'll see people next week, and some of you will say, "You can count me as a follower of Christ. I came to the place in my life where I understood I could never earn God's love and acceptance, but Christ provided a way for me to receive forgiveness, and I'm trusting alone in that, and now I want to put myself through a little ceremony that doesn't cleanse me but that shows you I've been cleansed. The way I've been cleansed is by identifying with the death, the burial in the ground (you can't see him), and the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Do you see the picture that is there? Do you see the dove and the earthen vessel, that his body is broken and blood is spilt, and the death comes, but do you see the other dove fly to newness of life? The classic statement is there's a reason when we baptize we don't hold you under and just send you right on to glory. It's because God left you here for a reason. He wants to bring you up, and now you hear differently, serve differently, walk differently. Christ in you, priests, is the hope of glory, working in and through you in the community of Dallas, Texas, wherever he takes you, that you walk differently.

Now you've identified yourself with Jesus, and now you're going to walk in a way that the world goes, "I see that your life has been transformed. You act and love and serve and touch differently, and you walk a different path. Can you explain that to me?" and you say, "Absolutely" because you are one who is a minister of reconciliation, acting, if you will, as a mediator between the truth of God and this lost leper.

Let me make this infinitely clear what we believe here. Baptism is not a means to save us, but it is a means to set us apart. Baptism does not save. I'll show you very quickly why we believe this. In Romans, chapter 8, verse 9, this is what it says. "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."

In other words, when you've trusted Jesus Christ, you've been baptized into him, and one of the things that happens is that his Spirit indwells you, and he takes residence in your life and in your heart, and he became a vessel through which he wants to work. If you don't have the Spirit of God in your life, you are not a child of God. It is not profession of faith that makes you a believer. It is the possession of the Spirit.

In Acts, chapter 10, verse 47, this is Peter talking about some Gentiles, some folks who were non-Jews who'd trusted in Jesus, and Peter says, "Surely no one can refuse the water [for baptism] for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" He is basically saying, "Therefore, shouldn't we baptize them the way we were baptized?"

There were some people who were struggling with the idea that non-Jews could benefit from the Jewish Messiah, and God, in his unfolding of the beginning of this church, used Peter to bring some folks to Christ. "Those folks," he says, "have received the Spirit, just like we did. Shouldn't we allow them to go through the sign that shows that they are related to God that we went through and to be baptized? Not for their salvation. They're already saved." Do you see his point? Why shouldn't they be able to be identified with us as cleansed lepers and come into the camp?

I'm going to go back to where we were, and I want to show you that there are five or six verses of the Scripture, which clearly if that's all we had, it looks like maybe you need to believe and be baptized to be saved. There are five or six, which if those were the only ones that were there, that I might say, "You know what? Your salvation is not enough just to trust in him by profession of faith. You must trust in him by profession of faith and then go through water baptism," but that's not what the Bible teaches as a whole.

One of the things we can be sure of is that the Bible is God's Word, that God is not an author of confusion and does not contradict himself. One of the simplest rules of biblical interpretation is you never want to take an unclear passage or a passage that could be taken one or two ways and have that be definitive over a passage that clearly states something else. You also want to listen to the weight of what Scripture says.

There are five or six places that it looks like maybe you have to be baptized and believe to be saved, but do you know there are over 200 verses that make it clear that you are saved by grace through faith alone, not according to anything you do, including baptism, but solely by the blood of Jesus Christ and what he did for you. There are a number of them. I'll just scroll through them, and they'll be available for you, as they always are, on the Internet.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:9, he says right there in the middle, "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…" Period, not through our Lord Jesus Christ and something else. Ephesians 2:8-9, the classic one, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works…" Or anything that you've done. "…so that no one may boast."

Romans 10:9-10. We've already looked at that verse. Others that teach the same truth are Titus 3:5, which you heard me quote a little bit earlier. John 5:24: This is the Son of God speaking. Don't you think that Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost, if there was something necessary for you to do to be saved, he'd have told you? In John 5:24, he says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life…" There are over 200 verses like this that are absolutely clear.

Jesus isn't going to go, "Aw, man! You know what Peter? Today, we were talking to all those folks, and I forgot to say, 'He who hears my word, believes who sent me, and gets baptized…they have eternal life. Doggone it, and to think it's going to be recorded forever!'" You know? He didn't miss it. Now the question follows is if you don't have to be baptized to be saved, why be baptized?

I'll let you hear it from one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. This is Charles Spurgeon. He says something like, "Someone says, 'I can be saved without being baptized.' So you will do nothing that Christ commands, if you can be saved without doing it? You are hardly worth saving at all! A man whose idea of religion is that he will do what is essential to his own salvation, only cares to save his own skin. Clearly, you are no servant of Christ's. Baptism, if not essential to your salvation, is essential to your obedience to Christ." Amen.

You do it because you want the world to know that you could not be more thrilled that you, who were formerly set outside the camp, a leper destined to die (you were a walking corpse), by the grace of God have come to understand the truth, and now you get to come into the community of faith and you get to identify yourself with the perfect lamb of God who has come and taken away the sins of the world, and you look forward to that one opportunity where individually you can stand and you can say, "Count me with Jesus Christ!"

Have you ever done that? Can I make this suggestion to you? If you are comfortable taking Communion with us…which, guess what Communion is a picture of? The death and the burial of Jesus Christ and the resurrection that he lives, just like baptism. Anybody who understands biblical salvation and who has made a conscious commitment to it is welcome to take Communion in our household here and in our family of faith, which we do at least the first Saturday of every month. We gather for time of extended worship.

Anybody's welcome, but if you'll take Communion so freely, my question is, "Why do you feel like it's appropriate to take Communion but not appropriate to fulfill the command of Christ to not just break bread with others but to stand and to be baptized?" Hey, you're not going to be saved because you take Communion, and you're not going to be saved because you're baptized, but you ought to be obedient to what Christ has commanded and take advantage of the reminder of his love for you and to individually testify to that.

Baptism is a sign. It is not a sacrament for us, and I just drive this home. A sacrament is a visible and outward act in which God invisibly and supernaturally works to impart special grace to individuals. A sign is called a sign because it's significant. It conveys important meaning. Baptism is a sign to the world that, "Yes, a significant thing has happened in my life, and I am now completely and fully identified with Jesus Christ," and you do that once.

A sacrament, which we do not believe baptism is, is a visible and outward act that God miraculously works in, in order to give you grace that you need, and there are individuals who believe that baptism is a sacrament that you need to do, and we disagree with that. We don't think the Scriptures teach it. We do not believe in what is called baptismal regeneration at Watermark.

We do believe that you ought to take this sign that God asks you go pick up and carry and to bring all your friends at one time, if you've never done it, and say, "Come watch me as I identify myself with Jesus Christ." Next week, you're going to see some people who have known Christ for 45-plus years be baptized. They've come to the place where they feel like it's something they ought to do. They've never done it. They've never been disobedient. They've just never thought about this and talked about it.

We've had some conversations recently, where they go, "You know what? It is the right thing to do." You'll see someone who's know Christ for just months get baptized. You'll see children. You'll see adults say, "Count me as one who loves Christ and his provision for me," and who wants to live as a fully devoted follower of him and identify themselves once and singularly as a person who trusts and follows him.

If you've never been baptized, let me encourage you to consider it, to get it done…if you understand the biblical definition of salvation, if you've made a conscious commitment to that biblical provision, and if you understand the significance of baptism. Parents, that's up to you to make sure your children know what they're doing and to make sure they understand. We'll meet with them, not to test you, not to quiz you, but to help you get all the meaning out of this that God wants and to learn to clearly articulate your faith, so you don't confuse others in what you're professing.

That's our job to come alongside of you. Parents, it's your job to guide those children. One quick word about infant baptism… Someone has asked me before, "Todd, do you think that you ought to baptize babies?" I say, "If that child can profess his awareness of his sins, and if that child can say that, in fact, God is holy and he is not, and he is trusting completely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to bridge that gap for him, absolutely."

I want to make this comment. There are some folks next week who will be baptized who were baptized as infants, and their parents didn't do it because they wanted to be heretics, and they didn't want to do it because they wanted to pronounce over their child that he's absolutely saved. It was their intent, and in their choosing, they felt like it was the right thing to do for their child. We will not do that here because I think of the confusion it creates.

Too many people have been baptized as infants who think, because they've been baptized, that they don't need to be or that, whether they ever make a decision for Christ or not, they're in, baby, because their parents put them in this little camp, and the Bible says that can't be done. You are not saved by the will of man or of blood but by the will of God, and when the will of God penetrates your heart and shows you that you're a leper and you need cleansing, and you take that offering, and you respond, you're saved.

People, I was baptized as a child, and when I got baptized as a believer, as an adult, I didn't try and make my parents feel bad. I just said, "You know what, Mom and Dad? All I'm doing is fulfilling your hopes and wishes for me when you baptized me, and I hope you can celebrate my desiring to do this in obedience as a fulfillment of your prayer when I was a child, and yes, I think it's in keeping with the commands of Scriptures, but this is not in any way to scoff at what you've done. I hope you see it as a fulfillment."

If you as a mom or a dad want to dedicate your child and say, "We want to raise this child and love this child and serve this child so they will walk with the Lord when they're older," we'll come pray with you, absolutely, but baptism we don't think is appropriate for children. But baptism for a believer…absolutely. Let's pray.

Father, thank you for my family and friends that we had a little longer time together today because we talked about this very important topic, the fact that you have saved us, who were formerly outside the camp, that you have left your divine encampment and have come into our colony of sin, that you in perfection had your body pierced and your blood shed and it was placed on us by faith that we might receive forgiveness and might receive provision that the Lamb of God has come and taken away, not just the sins of the world.

Now we say singularly, "You have taken away my sins." I pray for individuals in this room who have never experienced the joy of that understanding, that this morning they would say, "You know what? I'm a leper, and I need cleansing, and God alone can cleanse me," and I pray that they would seek us out and talk with us after the service, that we could make sure they understand that and today they could become part of the household of faith.

I pray for those who have already made that decision that have never stood alone and said, "Now that I've been cleansed, put me through the ceremony which identifies me with this risen King who has come to take away the sins of the world," that they might have all the joy that comes in walking in obedience with you. Father, we thank you that your blood alone is enough, and in that we trust, and on that solid rock, as we've already sung, we stand. Thank you for this day, the chance that we've had to gather together.

May we serve you now as individuals who have an ear that is bent towards heaven, hands that are motivated by the power of the Spirit who dwells in the heavens, and feet which walk in the way that our Master and Lord walked in. I pray, Father, in every way, we would be suffering servants who glorify you on this our journey on earth. We thank you that you've risen us and allowed us to walk in newness of life for your glory and our good. In Christ's name, amen.

About 'Gospel According to Mark, Volume 1'

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 1:1 through Mark 2:17.