Baptism and Freedom: “Let My People Go!”
Baptism Message No. 8
1Cor.10:1-2; John 8:36; Gal.5:1
Eric H.H. Chang
What is baptism all about? It’s not very meaningful to witness a baptism and not know what’s going on. Can we sum it up in one word? There is one word I would like you to take home with you after you have witnessed what is happening here today, one word which you are going to remember every time you see a baptism in the future. I wonder what that word might be? What do you think? In a few minutes, as you watch these dear ones being baptized one by one, just ask yourself, “What does this mean? Why are they doing this?” Then that one word will come back to your mind.
What is the Bible all about?
One of the most dramatic, most powerful, and most significant events in the history of mankind is the Exodus from Egypt, when about two million people (almost the population of Montreal in the 1980s) packed up and left Egypt! Imagine standing on the top of Montreal’s Mount Royal and surveying the houses of the city stretched out endlessly to the north, south, east and west. Imagine two million people leaving Montreal, making the city a ghost town! It would be a disaster for Canada if nearly one tenth of its population moved out, particularly if it was a productive part of its population. That will give you an idea of the scale of the Exodus: two million people on the move. In one stroke, Egypt lost a very significant part of its working population.
And emerging from that event are the famous and significant words: “Let My people go.” Even if you are not a Christian, even if you don’t know much about the Bible, I’m sure you have heard these words before: “Let My people go.” That is what Exodus is about. That is what the Bible is about. “Let My people go.”
You may say to me, “That’s four words, not one word. You’ve got three extra words there.” Well, we can sum it up in one word: freedom. The Bible is about freedom. I would like this word “freedom” to stick in your minds because you and I know that freedom is something even more important than physical life.
What do people seek above all else?
After the Berlin Wall was built, do you know how many people risked their lives, indeed lost their lives, to get breach that wall? They had no other life worth living, and to them it was either freedom or death. There is no point to live if there is no freedom. And what do we mean by freedom? Were the people in East Berlin starving to death? No, they had enough to eat. They didn’t eat steak every day but they weren’t dying of starvation. So you might ask them, “What is your complaint? You’ve got enough to eat, you’ve got enough to wear. Do you freeze in winter?”
“So what are you complaining about? You’ve got food and clothing, so be content with that. But is your problem?”
“We want freedom.”
“Come on, be reasonable. If you climb the Berlin Wall into West Berlin, you might not even have enough food to eat. Who will guarantee you a job? In East Berlin, the government guarantees you a job, but not in West Berlin. You might be out of a job and go hungry. If you want to be free but hungry, that’s your choice, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense. You have a job right now in East Berlin, but when you go to the West, nothing is guaranteed.”
Yet the people still wanted to go to West Berlin. Why? Because freedom has to do with the meaning of life. Let’s now look at the people in the West and ask them, “Haven’t you got enough to wear?”
“Have you got enough to eat?”
“Are you very content?”
When I came out of China and went to Switzerland, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, I asked the people there, “You’ve got a very high standard of living here. You must be very happy people.”
“No? That’s surprising. I just came out of Communist China where everyone wants to get out, even to Hong Kong, a place which cannot match the quality of life in Switzerland. Everyone’s happy just to get to Hong Kong, even to live in the wooden huts on the hillside, which can get washed away by a storm. But you are not content living here in Switzerland?”
Why? It is because life is more than food and clothing. What is that “more”?
Freedom from sin
If you don’t care about freedom, I have no message for you today. You have wasted your time by coming here today, and I have to say sorry to you. But if you are interested in freedom, then the Bible has something to say to you. The Lord Jesus says that “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Mt.6:25; Lk.12:23). And what is that more? You can have enough clothing, you can have enough food, but you don’t have freedom.
You’ll say, “Sure, we have freedom. I can vote.”
I am not talking about that kind of freedom, but freedom from sin. I am talking about freedom from a bondage that suffocates you. You are jealous of someone and that jealousy is killing you. You are envious of someone at work, and that envy is poisoning your heart. You are under a bondage that is just as dangerous as any other kind of bondage, because when you live under the bondage of sin, sin will destroy you. You don’t have the freedom to be what you want to be, because other forces are pushing you around. Your job pushes you around, your boss pushes you around, your peers push you around. You try to live up to them, match up to them, and live according to other’s opinions of you. You are not free because you have to please this person and that person. Is that called freedom?
Do you want true freedom?
Freedom. Think about it tonight when you go to bed. Think of the meaning of life. Think of what you are studying for and working for. If you don’t want to think about this, then we have no message for you. The message of the Bible is for people who think, and think about life. If you want to bury your mind in wine, or escape from reality through the TV, if you don’t want to think, that’s fine. The gospel has nothing to say to you. But if life means more than food and clothing to you, then the Bible has a message for you.
In the early days of communist China, most people had food and clothing. They weren’t starving to death. If you visited China in those days, you would see that most people had enough to eat and enough to wear. But many were still willing to swim in shark‑infested waters to reach Hong Kong, and many didn’t make it. They either drowned or were attacked by sharks. But for them it is freedom or death!
Why am I a Christian? Why did this particular brother turn his back on a prosperous future that his father was offering him? What is the matter with people like him? Why do they turn their back on a prosperous future? Because there is something more valuable, indeed more valuable than food and clothing. It is freedom. You may have food, you may have clothing, you may have money, but without freedom it is as if you’ve got nothing. After all, how much can you do with your wealth? How much more clothing can you buy? How much more food can you eat? Some people spend half their time stuffing themselves with food, and the other half dieting. A very interesting society this is!
God wants you to be free
In 1Corinthians 10:1-2 the apostle Paul says,
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
This statement may be hard to understand if you don’t know the Bible, but its meaning is very simple. It is talking about the Exodus. In the Exodus, the people longed for freedom. “Let My people go,” Moses said to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when they were finally free to go, something remarkable happened.
As they were moving out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, they looked ahead and saw a cloud. An astonishing sight! This cloud is not up in the sky, but on the ground, leading them forward. At night time, the cloud became a column of fire. In day time, it became a column of cloud. So day and night, they followed the column until they reached the Red Sea. Those of you who have seen movies such as The Ten Commandments will know what happened next. God set His people free. Our God is a God who is interested in freedom: freedom for you, freedom for me, freedom to live a life that has meaning and purpose.
The gospel is for those who want freedom and have the courage to face reality
Does your life have any purpose? If you are not a Christian, are you content with your life as it is today? If you are, we have no message for you. But are you truly content?
Long ago when I was not yet a Christian, I would often think about the meaning of life. I was very ambitious, and aimed for nothing but the best. But I still had the question, What is it all for? Where is all this leading to? And I had to concede that it was leading to nowhere. It will all come to nothing. Because we are not truly free, we suffer from meaninglessness. Life without God will forever be meaningless. And the only way to be content with a life without God is: Just don’t think about it. Don’t think about death. Get away from those Christians who try to scare you about death. But unfortunately, all of us will die one day, sooner or later, even if we don’t want to think about it. Who knows what other things lie in wait for us? We don’t want to think about it.
That is why I say that the gospel is only for those who have the courage to think, and the courage to say, “I’m going to pause and look at my situation.” The gospel is for those who want to be free from fears, and have the courage to face reality. Because freedom is a vast topic, I could continue on it for a long time, but I won’t.
True freedom comes from resurrection power
As you watch these dear ones being baptized, you will understand why they chose to be baptized. It is to be free from sin, to be free from the power and the fear of death, to be free from the utter meaninglessness of this life. Let’s be honest: Without God, this life will end six feet underground and will go absolutely nowhere. If you are happy with that fate and conclusion to your life, then the gospel has nothing to say to you.
But if you are not satisfied to have your life conclude in a hole in the ground—whether it be 10 years or 20 years or 50 years from now—and if you want true freedom, even freedom from death, then the gospel has more to offer you than wishful thinking. As I have said, freedom from falsehood means commitment to the truth. If death is all there is, we will have to accept it with courage.
When these dear ones are being baptized, they won’t stay under the water any more than Jesus remained in the tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead, and likewise these dear ones will rise from the water into newness of life, to the freedom which belongs to the children of God.
I experience that freedom and that is why I am speaking to you with conviction. Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). But if I don’t experience that freedom, if I am living still in bondage, then I would say, “Jesus, you are talking nonsense because I am not free.” But because I have experienced that freedom, I proclaim this you with confidence and certainty.
I can also pursue a secular career. I don’t think I would do worse than you in any career you have. If we were in the same line, I might do better than you. My record isn’t that bad, even in the world. Why then have I, like so many others, turned my back on the world? Because I know there is no freedom in the world. It will all end up in the ground. That’s all the future in it. But when I discovered that Jesus rose from the dead and has brought us a new kind of freedom—a freedom called the resurrection life—then that is the freedom I want to experience.
I experience the liberating power of that resurrection right now and not in some airy‑fairy future, so I can speak about this with conviction. If we don’t experience His power now, how can we ever know whether His power will work in the future? It will be nothing but wishful thinking! The reason I speak with conviction is that I know it is true. And so does everyone who has ever truly fulfilled these words of the Lord Jesus: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mt.16:24; Mk.8:34; Lk.9:23). These dear ones being baptized today will also experience that freedom and power.
God has set us free by His power in Christ
Freedom requires power. Poverty, for example, is a bondage because it lacks the power to deal with situations and circumstances. Bondage is the result of this lack of power. Without power there is no freedom. So every time you think of freedom, remember that there is no freedom without power. We are not talking about physical power but the only kind of power that matters: spiritual power. The great powers of this world will pass away. Empires have come and gone. Nations that are great today will pass away one day. You too will pass away, because your power is next to non‑existent on the grand scale. But God’s power never passes away. That is the power we are talking about, which abides forever.
When you see these dear ones go into the water and rise again, remember that “for freedom Christ has set us free!” These are the words of Paul in Galatians 5:1. Remember them well. Every time you witness a baptism in the future, think again of this truth: It is for freedom that God has set us free by His power in Christ. Are you free?
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church