The Baptism God Commands
August 26th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
THE BAPTISM GOD COMMANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-26-79 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Baptism That God Commands. As a background text, the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew: Matthew closes with these words, “Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority, all power, is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” [Matthew 28:18]. If you sometimes wonder where the destiny of this world lies, it does not lie in the communists and it does not lie with all of the kingdoms of darkness. It lies in the gracious, nail-pierced hands of Jesus our Lord. “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” [Matthew 28:18]. On the basis of that:
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name—
of the triune God, the name, singular—
of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; And, lo, I will walk with you—
I will march by your side; I will be a fellow pilgrim and a fellow workman with you—
even unto the end of the age.
This is the last and great commandment of our Lord [Matthew 28:19-20].
So the gospel begins in the Bible with a baptizing preacher. It says here that this man, whose name was John, was shown to the people [Mark 1:2], who was kept secret, away from the people, until the time of his showing unto Israel; and he came baptizing, calling men to repentance and baptizing his converts [Mark 1:4-5].
So there was sent a committee, the record of which is in the first chapter of John, beginning at verse 19 [John 1:19]. There was sent a committee of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask this strange prophet, “Where did you come from, and where did you get your message, and by what authority are you delivering it?” [John 1:19]. And he replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. I have no message but God’s. I am a messenger from the courts of heaven. I am an ambassador delivering a word from God” [John 1:19-23].
Every true preacher since the days of John, the first Baptist, is just like that. He does not originate his message, it is not an intellectual achievement on his part. But he is an ambassador from God delivering a message from the courts of heaven. He is a voice. He is an echo. The word that he delivers is not his, it is God’s. And if he is a true ambassador, and messenger, and representative, and preacher, that’s what he does. He is not preaching himself, or what he thinks, or his persuasions, or his ideas, but he is delivering a message from God. He is an ambassador bearing a word from the courts of glory.
You have a traumatic illustration of that in the last few days. The United States government appointed a black man named Andrew Young to represent us and to be our ambassador to the United Nations. Being black, we thought that he would help our relationship with the third emerging world. So this black man goes to the United Nations. He is an ambassador to deliver the message of our government to the United Nations. And he took a notion that he wanted to deliver his message, his ideas, his persuasions. So turning aside from his ambassadorial appointment, he became a representative of himself. The trauma that followed, of course, is known to the whole world.
A preacher is exactly like that. He is an ambassador. He is a minister. He is a called representative. And he is sent with a message, and the message he delivers is to be God’s message, not his. He represents a great Sovereign, and as such, when he stands before the people to deliver the Word of the Lord, it ought to be that. It is not his word. It is God’s Word.
So this man, John, begins a new dispensation, a New Testament, a New Covenant. He begins a new era. God always does it just like that. In any kind of a great movement or answer from heaven, God always does it through a man—always through a man. It will be through the call of an Abraham, or the call of a Noah, or the call of a Samuel, or the call of a David, or the call of an Isaiah. This instance, it is the call of a man named John: “There came a man—there was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6]. God did that. God gave him his name.
The angel Gabriel came to Zacharias, the priest. He was an old man, and his wife Elizabeth was an old woman. And Gabriel announced to Zacharias he should have a son, and he was to call his name John [Luke 1:5-13]. God called him John. His name is John. Because Zacharias didn’t believe the miracle possible, “I am an old, old man, and my wife is an old, old woman,” because he didn’t believe, the angel said, “You will not speak, you will be dumb until the miracle comes to pass” [Luke 1:18-20]. And in the providence of God, when the child was born, the mother said, “His name is John” [Luke 1:60]. But all the relatives that came on that ceremonial day, when the boy was named and to be circumcised, they said, “No one in the generations of your family has ever been named John” [Luke 1:61]. So they turned to Zacharias, and made signs to him saying, “What is his name?” And Zacharias, calling for a writing—a pad and a pencil, wrote on the pad, “His name is John.” And immediately his tongue was loosed and he magnified the Lord [Luke 1:61-64].
The name “Baptist” was also chosen from heaven. It is the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Scriptures, that called him “the Baptist.” That’s an unusual thing in itself. Three times in the Bible, the word “Christian” is used, three times. The word “Baptist” is used fourteen times. It is a name from God, it is a name from heaven; this man is “John the Baptist” [Matthew 3:1], named by the Lord in heaven.
He is the first Christian preacher. In Luke 16:16 it avows, “For the law and the covenant and Moses and the prophets were until John. But beginning with John, the New Covenant and the New Testament is preached.” When John came, he arrived with an unusual rite, a ceremony [Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5; John 1:25-28]. The world had never seen it before. It was something new. It originated in the mind of God. There were many washings in Jewish ceremonial life. But not in the Old Testament is there anything like baptism; not in the Apocrypha—that literature between Malachi and Matthew—not in the interbiblical period was there anything like baptism.
Baptism is unknown in Philo, the great Jewish philosopher, who was a contemporary with Christ. Baptism is unknown in the histories of Josephus, who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul. There were many ablutions and many washings among the Jewish people—they washed their feet, their hands, they washed themselves all over, they even washed their pots and pans, ceremonially—but they did it themselves. The Jew washed himself. The first time the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him was when John the Baptist did it [Matthew 3:1-6].
And that committee from Jerusalem asked him saying: “Who are you, that you introduce this new rite and ritual and ceremony? Are you the Christ, the Messiah?”
He said: “No” [John 1:19-20].
They said, “Are you the promised prophet who is to come, Elijah?”
“No” [John 1:21].
‘Well, are you the One that Moses said would come after him?’
[Deuteronomy 18:15, John 1:21]
And John said: “No” [John 1:21].
Then they asked him: “By what authority and by what authorization and by what commission do you baptize? Where did this come from?” [John 1:22-26]. It was a new thing; the world had never seen it before. And John replied: “God, who sent me to preach the gospel, is the same Lord God who sent me to baptize. It comes from heaven” [John 1:30-33].
There is, therefore, a sign and a symbol of the New Covenant, the new dispensation, the New Testament, a sign of the new birth, of the coming of a new, good news. There is a sign. It is baptism. Baptism is the sign and the symbol of the New Covenant, and the new creation and the new dispensation, and the New Testament.
It’s not the thing itself. It’s a sign of it and a symbol of it. It’s like a wedding ring; it’s not the marriage itself, it’s a sign and a symbol of the marriage. It’s like a flag; it’s not the nation itself, it’s the sign and symbol of the nation. It’s like the sacramentum; that is not the soldier himself, it is the allegiance by which the soldier pledged himself in loyalty to the emperor. Sacramentum—and that’s where we got that word “sacrament” for the ordinance. It has so been wrested that we can’t use it anymore; it implies something altogether different. But in the beginning, the ordinance of baptism was a sacramentum, that is, an oath of allegiance and loyalty and fealty to our new Lord.
There is a sign, a symbol of this new change, this new doctrine, this new dispensation, this new covenant, this New Testament, and it is the ordinance and rite of baptism. Anyone who enters into that new relationship with God, it is a sacramentum. It is a pledge of loyalty and fealty to our new Leader, our new King, our living Lord.
And anyone who experiences that new birth, that new conversion, that new life, that New Testament, anyone who experiences that, immediately wants to obey—sacramentum—he immediately wants to obey that great command and will of our new Leader, our Savior. He just automatically will; that’s the sign of it. That’s the symbol of it, the symbol and sign of this new day for us is the sign and symbol of baptism, “I want to be baptized” [1 Peter 3:21].
Is it not that in the story of Philip [Acts 8:26-39], as he spoke to the treasurer of Ethiopia from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah? [Isaiah 53:7-8]. This Jew from Ethiopia came to see that the Messiah is the Lord Christ, who died for him [1 Corinthians 15:3], was raised for him [Romans 4:28]. And going on their way, they came unto a certain water. The eunuch said: “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And Philip said: “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, saying: “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised of God” [Acts 8:36-37]. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down, both into the water—both Philip and the eunuch: and he was baptized [Acts 8:38]. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing [Acts 8: 39].
That is the first thing that a happily converted Christian wants to do: “I want to be baptized!” That’s the first great command of our Lord to the one who has found the New Covenant [Matthew 28:19], the new dispensation, the new life in Christ Jesus. And if that doesn’t happen, I don’t understand, and I cannot understand; that’s what it is to be saved. That’s what it is to be regenerated, to be born again, to become a child of God, “I want to follow the Lord. I’ve been changed.” And if there is no change in the man, I can’t understand.
One of the most strange and unusual things that I have been reading about in magazines and in newspapers concerns the so-called “conversion” of the publisher of a pornographic magazine named Hustler. And the man says, “I’ve been changed. I’ve been saved. I’ve found the Lord.” Well, then, why don’t you do different? And he says, if I can sum it up, “I once published this pornographic magazine for the glory of carnal flesh. But now, I am publishing this carnal pornographic magazine for the glory of Christ.” I can’t understand that, it doesn’t make sense to me! It is inexplicable, it’s unbelievable to me.
For that’s what it is to be changed: “I’m not the same anymore. I’m not as I was. I’m a different man. I have found the Lord.” And the first thing that a Christian, one who is saved, wants to do is, “I have a great Commander, and He has a great mandate,” and the first thing that he says is, “He commands me to be baptized.” And when one doesn’t listen to the voice of God, and he doesn’t change and obey the voice of the Lord, I don’t understand it. When a man says, “I want to accept Jesus as my Savior, but I don’t want to be baptized. I want the Lord to be the leader of my life, but I want to disobey His first great mandate and commandment,” I don’t understand it. It’s beyond my comprehension. That’s what it is to be a soldier of the emperor: to make a sacramentum, an oath of allegiance, to the Roman king. And that’s what it is, I think, in Christ. It is a sacramentum. It is a pledge of allegiance and loyalty to the Lord who has saved us, and that’s the first thing that God asks of us [Matthew 28:19].
Now a last avowal: strange thing how God does—but God does mysterious things. Inherent in baptism is the whole outreach of evangelism. The building up of the church, the extension of the kingdom—the whole circumference of it is found in baptism. They are joined together. You won’t find an exception of that in the Word of God. To my amazement, the ministry, the phenomenal and successful ministry of the great first Baptist preacher, was summed up in one word: “baptizing,” baptizing, baptizing. Why, it is so distinctly said and presented in the Bible:
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.
What an unusual word, “He did preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” [Mark 1:4]. And they “came and were baptized of him in the Jordan River” [Mark 1:5]. The two go together. When a man turned, he was baptized. When a man was saved, he was baptized. And the baptism was the sign and symbol of the great evangelistic movement that swept him into the kingdom of God. The whole ministry of John is summed up in that word “baptizing.”
When you study the Bible, the whole ministry of Christ was summed up in that word “baptizing.” The Lord baptized His converts through His disciples [John 4:2]. And He made more converts and baptized more converts than John, the first Baptist preacher [John 4:1]. And the great movement of the Baptist and the Christian went along as one. They were not two. They were one.
And in the marvelous text that I have read today, the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], soulwinning, evangelism, and baptism are joined together; they are one. They are one, not two. They’re not to be separated on the basis of “That I have all authority in heaven and earth. Go ye 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” [Matthew 28:18-19]. The two are together: soulwinning and baptism. They are together. They are not separated. They are not two. They are one: converting, baptizing.
When I read the New Testament, the apostles faithfully followed through with that great heavenly mandate from God. On the day of Pentecost, when Simon Peter preached the gospel [Acts 2:14-36] and the people were convicted, they were cut to the heart, and they said to Simon Peter, “What shall we do? What shall we do? We who are lost, what shall we do?” [Acts 2:37]. And Simon Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2: 38]. Always, those two go together—always in the Bible, there’s no exception to it. There is no exception to it. An unbaptized believer is unknown in the Bible; it’s unthinkable in the mind of God. What shall we do? “Repent, and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized because of the remission of your sins” [Acts 2:37-38]. The two go together.
At the Cesarean Gentile Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon those in the household of Cornelius, those heathen, pagan Romans, when the Holy Spirit came upon them [Acts 10:34-44], immediately Simon Peter said: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized the same as we who were baptized at Pentecost?” [Acts 10:47]. And they were baptized immediately [Acts 10:48].
When Paul preaches the gospel in Europe the first time, Lydia was baptized, a businesswoman from Thyatira [Acts 16:14-15]; same night, the Philippian jailer, who was converted, was baptized, he and all of his household [Acts 16:25-33]. They are together. And that, and that is why you see such remarkable ineffectiveness of the modern preaching of the gospel. It never occurs to any man who is an evangelist to do what God says and put those two together. You’ll have a great crusade and a great protracted series of services, and you’ll have a great revival meeting. And there will be thousands and thousands who come forward, and baptism is never mentioned. And after the crusade is done, you may baptize two or baptize three.
How different from the Bible! How different from the New Testament!
Always those two went together: the great turning to God in Christ, and immediately, they were baptized. That would be true biblical evangelism, if, when we made appeal for Christ, we made appeal to be baptized immediately. The two go together. Always in the Bible, in the New Testament, there’s no exception to it. It’s an oddity today—it’s a strange thing for our ears today, because we have separated the two. This is what it is to accept Christ, and this is what it is to be baptized. In the Bible, they went along together. The man that accepted Christ was baptized.
Never did I read in the paper—oh, here’s John Smith, Reverend John Smith—never did I read in the paper, “Reverend John Smith baptized his converts in Centerville for these ten years.” I never read anything like that in my life. I never read anything in my life such as, “Reverend John Doe, or Sam Jones, here in Pumpkin Center, or Licked Skillet, or Possum Trot, or Pull Tight, baptized his converts in our midst for fifteen years.” I never read anything like that in my life. It never occurs to us.
We have departed from New Testament evangelism. New Testament evangelism always carried with it the confession of faith in Christ [Acts 8:36-37], and immediately, “Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” [Acts 8:36]. The two went along together: making an appeal for Christ, and the sign and the symbol of the man’s acceptance was, he is baptized, and that immediately [Acts 8:36-38]. There is inherent in baptism a great witness for evangelism, for turning, for accepting the Lord. It carries that with it.
I read this—and having preached for ten years out in the country where I didn’t have a baptistery, when I baptized my converts, I baptized them in a stock pond, if I was in West Texas or New Mexico, and then later in a creek or in a river. So when I read this story, I could live through every syllable of it.
The preacher held a revival meeting, and on a Sunday afternoon, in the creek—going to baptize his converts, I’ve done that scores of times. All the people in all that part of the earth gather on both sides of the river or on both sides of the creek. And I go out there in the middle of the creek or the river, and I open my Bible, and I read and I preach a message out there in the middle of the river, then make an appeal and then pray. And then we sing a song. And what we’d sing as the candidates would be brought down into the river or follow me in to the river—we’d sing:
Happy day, Happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day
Happy day, Happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“Oh Happy day”; John Newton]
In that revival meeting there was a beautiful, sweet wife and mother who was wonderfully converted. And she was married to a big gargantuan, brutal, violent unbeliever. And when he heard that his wife was going to be baptized, he said, “If that preacher baptizes my wife, I’m going to take my blacksnake—my bullwhip—and I’m going to pulverize him.”
A blacksnake, we called it when I was growing up; a blacksnake, a bullwhip, a rawhide. When a man sits in a wagon and he has a team of two horses, or four or six horses, he sits up there in that wagon and he cracks that bullwhip, that rawhide; it sounds like thunder when he snaps it, and it will cut the flesh. He said, “I’ll be there, if he baptizes my wife, and I’ll whip him to pieces with this bullwhip.”
Well, when people heard about that, not only had they come to see the baptizing, but they also came to see the whipping. So they were there on either side of the creek; there the candidates are and this precious wife, dressed in solid white, going to be baptized in the name of the Lord. She’s been saved. Sure enough, there he stood, this giant of a man, and in his hand, the bullwhip, the blacksnake.
So the service continues; it’s a beautiful hour, it’s a precious hour. I’ve seen people converted from my preaching out there in the middle of the river, give an appeal, and they come down, there on the bank, not prepared, but they we to be baptized, “We found the Lord.” I baptized, one time, a whole hollow. We called it Burt Hollow. I baptized everybody in the Hollow, saved down there when I was preaching in the middle of the river.
There he stood. Out into the river came those converts, and among them that sweet, humble wife, dressed in pure white. Friends of the preacher said, “Don’t you baptize her. He’ll whip you.” The preacher said, “That’s between him and God. My obedience is to the Lord.” He’s a true preacher. So out there in the creek, in the river, there he stands. And when she comes, he baptized her, raised her to a new life in Christ. And every eye was fixed on him—the big man with the bullwhip in his hand!
When she came out of the water, to the bank of the river, he dropped the handle of the bullwhip, unheeded, lying on the ground. He went to the edge of the water to meet her. He kissed her, he put a robe around her, he carried her to the carriage; he turned around and came back to the preacher. And standing before him, with all of the throng, he said, “Preacher, I want to be baptized, too. I want to be baptized, too.”
The preacher did as I have done: he called the people in conference. That man stood there with the throngs on either bank, confessing his sins and his repentance and his acceptance of the Lord Jesus his Savior, and said, “And now I want to be baptized.” There is inherent in the ordinance—God put it there—a wonderful sign and symbol of what it means to be a Christian. “I have accepted the Lord, dead and buried with Him, raised to a new life in Jesus [Romans 6:3-5]. I’ve been saved. I have found the Lord. I want to be baptized.” The two go together, always, always, always.
May we stand?
Our Lord, I know exactly what that feels like. I’ve been through the waters with Jesus, I’ve been saved. That’s what I told the preacher when I was a boy, “I’ve been saved. I want to be baptized.” How many thousands of times have I heard that confession since? “Pastor, I’ve been saved. I’ve given my heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. I want to be baptized” [Matthew 28:19]. Precious Lord, may this appeal this morning be sanctified and hallowed by Thy presence and Spirit.
And in a moment, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, I have found the Lord. I want to be baptized.” Or, “Pastor, having been saved, and belonging to the church of the blessed Christ, I want to put my life with these dear people [Hebrews 10:24-15]. We are all coming; my wife, my children, all of us today.” As the Spirit of the Lord speaks to your heart, He invites. It’s God’s voice. I am just an echo. “The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and here we are,” God bless you. In the balcony, on this lower floor, into the aisle, down here by the preacher, “Here I am, answering with my life.” As our people wait, as they pray, and as our choir sings the appeal, make it now. And God bless you in the way as you come.