by Mark Horne
I have read this passage to you on the premise that stories make for better theology than do vocabulary definitions in most situations.
When we think of theology we think of books that are close cousins to encyclopedias and dictionaries. The Bible, however, gives us a story, the history of a community that finds its goal and foundation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The best book I know regarding the Lord’s Supper does not deal with the historical debates regarding “transubstantiation,” “consubstantiation,” “the Zwinglian view” or “the Calvinist view.” (I’m refering to Blessed Are the Hungry by Peter Leithart.) Rather, it simply goes back to the many stories about eating and drinking that are found in the Bible. If you want to understand the Lord’s Supper, the best way to accomplish this is to know the story of Melchizedek eating bread and wine with Abram, Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy about feasting at the Tabernacle, and the showbread in the Holy Place. You then can understand and even feel that when we gather together in God’s special presence and eat bread and drink a cup together, we are participating in that story. We are in the same plotline; but a later chapter. We two are conquering heroes through Christ so that we too are fed bread and drink from someone greater than Melchizedek. We too have God’s presence tabernacled with us and we too are to rejoice in that presence. There is still special bread in God’s presence, just like the showbread, but now we all have access to it because we are all priests and kings in Christ.
I want to encourage you to grow in your understanding of baptism in the same way. The Bible is filled with stories about water, and passing through water to a new world, and being anointed by some other liquid, or being cleansed by water or by blood or by water mixed with the ashes of a heifer. Today I’m going to focus on one particular story: the story of the anointing of David as King.
Let’s say that you ran into a group of people who had formed a club dedicated to reading and publishing stories about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Then let’s say you asked how you would join a member and you were told that if you joined you would have to dedicate yourself to living like a noble person being brave and chivalrous, etc. Furthermore, they insisted on describing the good deeds you would do in this club in terms such as “jousting” and “dragon-slaying.”
Now, if you joined that club, and the ceremony involved someone in charge touching your shoulder with a sword, just like men used to become knights in the Middle Ages, you would understand exactly what is going on. Somehow this group is viewing itself as a continuation of the Knights of the Round Table.
Kings were anointed into office in Israel. Even Jesus was so anointed—though this happened to him in his baptism. Just as the Holy Spirit rushed upon David when Samuel anointed him, so the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove when John baptized him in the Jordan river. That baptism was Jesus’ ordination into office—his anointing. Later, when the Priests and Elders confronted Jesus about his authority to “cleanse” the temple, Jesus answering them by asking if they thought John the Baptist’s authority came from God or from men.
They didn’t want to answer that question since the mob believed that John the Baptist was a prophet. But the whole reason Jesus brought it up was because it answered their question. Jesus’ authority was that he had been authorized by God through the ministry of John the Baptist. Cleansing the temple was a kingly task. King David had received the plans for the Temple. King Solomon had built it. King Hezekiah and King Josiah had reformed and repaired it. King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it and King Cyrus had ordered it rebuilt. Given the fact that anointing was more important for installing a king in Israel than was crowning him or any other ritual, obviously Jesus’ baptism was his anointing.
That’s where the word “Christ” comes from, after all; it means “anointed one.” Psalm 2 calls David that and prophesies Jesus in the same words: “the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed… You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. You shalt break them with a rod of iron, You shalt shatter them like earthenware.”
And the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that we as “Christ-ians” are also anointed. He writes to the Corinthians in his second letter: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God” “In Christ and anointed us”—in Greek: eis Christos kai chrisas. Paul obviously wants them to see themselves as anointed with Christ, as the Apostle Peter states “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” The Apostle Peter is using words that God through Moses spoke to Israel. Males in Israel were circumcised to become members of God’s covenant people, and Paul refers to baptism as a new circumcision. Priests and kings were anointed and in keeping with Jesus’ own baptism and his kingly status, we are on firm ground seeing baptism as the fulfillment of those things as well.
In other words, baptism installs and appoints us to an office. It is an institutional ceremony, like being ordained as a minister of the Gospel, or like being married, or like being sworn into the presidency. Just like that Arthurian organization I made up, Christians are continuing the nation, the priesthood, and most importantly the royal dynasty of Israel in the present world. Baptism is our coronation.
Strange thing, when I married Jennifer, our wedding took place in a church and it was performed by a minister. Afterwards, no one came up to me and said, “Mark, did you really listen to what the Pastor was saying and did you really think about your vows as you said them? Maybe you’re not truly a husband to Jennifer. Maybe you’re not really married. Don’t think a mere ceremony makes you a married man!”
Remember though, what Jesus said about marriage: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder. God is the one who joins a man and woman in marriage. He uses human marriage customs to do it, but it is his work.
Likewise, when I was ordained as a pastor, no one doubted that I had truly become, by the laying on of hands, a minister of the Gospel. No one asked if I had properly received by faith the office of the pastorate.
In both cases, everyone expected the ceremony to change me in significant ways. I once was single. I had freedoms and restrictions laid upon me as a single Christian man. Then, as the Minister said “I now pronounce you man and wife,” I had new privileges and new responsibilities put upon me. I had a new relationship with the woman I loved so that now I was bound to her and she to me.
Likewise, before I was ordained, I couldn’t represent Jesus in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t have pastoral authority in the Church. But after hands were laid on me by a commission of the presbytery, I suddenly had these new responsibilities put upon me. I was under new obligations.
And so it is with Stephen. Neal and Laura are to raise him as one who has been called and appointed to worship God through Jesus Christ. He could never have done anything to make himself part of God’s family. God acted on Stephen’s behalf by reaching to him through the Church and claiming Stephen as his own child. And this happened not because baptism is magical or changes something inside you, but simply because God has by his covenant through Christ established an objective kingdom in the world that is entered through the institutional Church.
Now, we’ve been trained as American Evangelicals not to think much of institutions. We’ve been brought up in our culture to think of institutional relationships as confining and restricting and artificial. People think that love, in order to be genuine, needs to be unshackled from the duties of marriage. Some parents ask their children to refer to them by their first names because they want a free relationship as if they were two autonomous individuals. And people, predictably, think of Christianity this way. At best, the institutional church, which Peter refers to as a royal priesthood and a holy nation, is considered an optional aid in one’s Christian life. The Spirit after all, is never to be found in rituals or in institutions.
But that’s not what our text says, is it? Just as will happen later when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, so now David receives the Spirit mightily at baptism. The office of King in Israel was not merely a man-made office. It was God’s office which no one can fill unless the Spirit equips him. After all, Israel as a nation had been formed by the Spirit hovering over them in the wilderness just as the Spirit had hovered over the original creation in Genesis 1. And when David was inducted into that office by Samuel’s anointing of him, the Spirit was at work in the act. God chose David; God granted him the office; God equipped him with all that he needed.
The Church is also a Spiritual institution, since that same Spirit came upon the Church and breathed new life into her at Pentecost. And because of that fact, we can know that we are members of God’s household.
My children go through phases during family devotions in which that all select one and only one song to sing. Lately, the song has been “the Army song.” You know it: “I may never march in the infantry/ ride in the calvary/ shoot the artillery/ I may never fly o’er the enemy/ but I’m in the Lord’s army.” [Editorial note: I actually sang some of this, causing Calvin to groan with embarrassment (at only 6 years old!) and Evangeline to stand up in a pew and start doing the motions before Jennifer stopped her.] Now that’s a really good song. On what basis can we assure our children that they are soldiers in God’s army and what gives us the right to tell them they need to act like God’s soldiers? God’s army is the Church and baptism, then, is their enlistment as God’s troops.
This is extremely important. When our children disobey us, how do we respond? Do we tell them that they’d better do what we say or we’ll make them sorry? No! We may need to spank them but that’s not the basis for our authority over them. We tell them that they belong to Jesus and that he has given us the job of raising them to follow Jesus all their lives. In other words, we tell them from as early as they can understand that they have to obey us because they are Christians. What else could Paul means when he writes to children to obey their parents in the Lord?
That’s why we don’t wait and leave our children in a state of limbo as to how God regards them. We don’t make it illegal to adopt children until they’re old enough to choose their parents, do we? Nor does God make children grow up outside his kingdom until they ask to be brought in from the cold. No. We are supposed to be teaching our children right from the beginning to pray in Jesus’ name, to love him for what he has done for them, and to serve him. We cannot do such a thing confidently unless we know that God has received them as his sons and daughters.
That was David’s confidence wasn’t it? When he, in the next chapter, decided that it was his job to do battle with Goliath, what made him think that God would give him the victory? He couldn’t yet reveal it to Saul or anyone else, but he knew that God had promised him the kingship over Israel. But what gave him the idea that God would give him the victory? Think about it! God couldn’t fulfill his promise to David if he let Goliath kill him, could he? David had a real reason to believe he would be preserved in the fight.
And we see even in our passage this morning how God’s call on David’s life established by his anointing meant that God also led him and guided him to pursue his vocation as king. He ended up in court bringing healing to King Saul by playing his harp. God calls each of us to reign, and therefore to serve, as kings. Baptism doesn’t mean we can simply be presumptuous on God’s grace. No, we as baptized must not receive the grace of God in vain. We need to develop in what we have been given and pursue the calling that has been placed on our lives. The Westminster Larger Catechism asks a question about this: “How is our baptism to be improved by us?” The answer is a classic:
The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
Notice that the Catechism is appealing to Romans 6.1ff and where 1 Corinthians 12.13.
Baptism calls us to faith and repentance and service, promising that God is with us to empower us, forgive us, and to bring us to glory. In baptism we are officially entrusted to God that we might confidently trust God and the promises he has made to us therein.
Of course, just because David was made a king by the Spirit working through the instrumentality of anointing did not guarrantee that he would be a good or faithful king. Saul too had been anointed by Samuel and the Spirit rushed upon him as well. But Saul did not show enduring faith. He was given good gifts from God but he did not persevere in them. So we have a warning also in our text today. When Saul rejected God’s calling in disbelief he became worse off than before. David needed to take that to heart as well. There are serious warnings in Scripture about such apostasy. God has established us in a new office before him as prophets, priests, and kings, but we must not abuse that office or reject it.
To summarize all this, Stephen’s baptism, as is true of each one of us, officially ordains him as God’s priest and king. Just as David was appointed to kingship by the anointing done by Samuel on God’s behalf, so Stephen has been visibly admitted into the institutional Church. Just as the Spirit then equipped David for this new office, so we can trust that the Spirit is at work in Stephen’s life. His parents now have the duty to raise him to grow in this grace and to pursue the calling which God has given him. Just as it brought pain and turmoil on David to be rejected by Saul and hunted, so we are promised in the gospel that we will each be called to sufferings just as Jesus manifest his kingship through suffering. But it also involves tremendous promise. Think of how Jesus promises a kingly reward to those who persevere with enduring faith in his covenant grace. Revelation 2.
And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father.