(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s “You Can Come Home” message on Baptism. The video is also available to you here.)
So there’s a story in the book of Acts.
Paul, he shows up to the temple. He’s there to worship. When, all of a sudden, someone spots him, and they’re like, “Oh, it’s this guy. I know this guy.” And these people begin to come around Paul. And they start this riot. They grab Paul. They seize him. They begin to drag him outside the temple. They close the temple gates, shut down worship, and, all of a sudden, begin to start pummeling him. Punching and kicking.
Now, the Jewish people are living under Roman occupation. So the commander, who’s kind of watching what’s happening in the temple, sees this ruckus, gets some soldiers, runs straight down, tries to break it up. They’ve got to literally pick Paul up, carry him on top of their heads, bring them over here, and the people are still following, screaming. They wanna kill Paul.
Finally, they kind of are able to separate the people from Paul. And Paul looks at the commander and speaks in Greek and says, “Can I have a word?”
The commander’s kind of taken back. Like, “You speak Greek?” Like, “Who are you?”
Paul says, “Please, let me speak to the rioters. Let me speak to the people who have just beaten me.” And bloodied, probably, he kind of gets propped up, and he probably leans against a post, and he declares, “I am a Jew.” And now he’s not speaking in Greek; he’s speaking in Aramaic. And the whole crowd goes deafly silent.
“I’m a Jew. I’m from Tarsus. And I studied under the greatest rabbi—Gamaliel. And you can go, and you can ask the chief priest who I am. Cause me? I gave the okay, the authority, to kill Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr. Everyone came, they took off their robes, and they put it at my feet, symbolizing me giving the power, me giving the blessing, to kill that man.
“I heard about a church in Damascus. There was this move of God that was stirring. And I went to the chief priest, I went to the religious leaders, and I asked for papers and for authority to go a hundred and fifty miles to Damascus to shut down that church. And my plan was to beat them, imprison them, and bring them back. But along the way... I experienced this light. It was so blinding, it knocked me to the ground. And the only thing I could see was Jesus. And Jesus was standing there, and He’s looking at me, and He says, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’
“I didn’t have an answer. I couldn’t see anything else. And He began to tell me: ‘You are to go to Damascus, and you will learn what you have been assigned to do.’ The guards that were with me, they helped me to my feet. I could not see. I was blind. They led me to this house in downtown Damascus. And for three days, I did not eat, I did not drink, I just laid on the ground, and I was replaying everything that I had done. I was replaying the words of Jesus: ‘Why are you persecuting me?’
“I kept replaying it over and over and over again. When on that third day, I heard the sounds of feet coming towards me. And then I felt the hands on my shoulders. When I heard the words: ‘Brother, receive your sight.’ And whatever was blocking me from being able to see began to fade away. And I looked up, and I saw a man by the name of Ananias. And he told me that God was going to use me—even me! God was gonna use me in mighty and powerful ways. But to be honest, I laid here, and I didn’t believe it. And then he said these words...”
Acts 22:16. Ananias has just proclaimed, prophesized, spoken words of truth over Paul, he’s laying there on the ground, and Ananias says, “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized, have your sins washed by calling on the name of the Lord.” I love this. Cause you have Paul just sitting there, and then you have this voice of truth walking up to him and simply saying, “What are you waiting for?”
For almost twenty years, whether as a youth pastor, whether working in a nonprofit, whether speaking at camps, whether traveling and speaking at different churches, whether planting a church, or whether even just being here on staff, I’ve sat and listened and heard from people about why they choose to wait to be baptized. And in these conversations, there is this moment, this Ananias moment that comes over me, and I simply just wanna say, “What are you waiting for? Get up. Be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.”
And so, today, what I want to do is I want to give you five reasons people wait to be baptized. What I’ve heard from you all about why you wait to go public with your faith.
The first reason people wait to be baptized is “my past.”
“Steve, you don’t understand what I’ve seen. You don’t understand what I’ve done. You don’t understand what I did... in high school and what I did in my first marriage and what I did in my company. You don’t understand.” And sometimes I sit there, and I don’t fully understand. But I sit, and I listen.
And then there comes a moment where I simply say, “Have you murdered anyone?”
“Are you filled with so much pride and arrogance that you wanted to go terrorize another religion?”
Cause that’s who Paul was. And God got a hold of his life, transformed him, changed the trajectory of his life. His past was more messy than yours! And God still used him. What could God do with you?
Many of you know I have a daughter. She runs our house. When she was three, she came up from the basement with her close friend. And they were covered in glitter. From head to toe. It’s as if they got into a fight with Tinkerbell and got destroyed. We took them upstairs. We just bathed them, baptized them. We tried to wash everything away. And glitter was in everything. After the bath, I just decided to go down to the basement. I took Mercy with me. I wanted her to show me... the evidence. The crime scene. And this is what happened:
“Mercy, what’s in your hair?”
“What’s on the ground?”
Oh, if you go to our basement, it’s still there. Our dog’s been rolling around in it. I guarantee you, there’ll be some time in the coming months where you’re like, sitting there and like, “Oh, there’s glitter on his face.” Yeah. It’s all over our house. And she made an absolute mess.
And maybe you feel that. You made an absolute mess with your life. And it’s hard.
And, really, I watch that video and... it breaks my heart because, even at three years old, if you look at the posture...
“Mercy, what’s in your hair?”
“What’s on the ground?”
How does a three-year-old know about shame? How does a three-year-old already know “I’m not good enough. I messed up”?
And, friends, many of you are having your lives controlled by your past. And let me tell you, grace can clean up any mess you have made. Grace... grace will do wonders in your life if you start to receive it. And this is what Ananias wanted Paul to see. “What are you waiting for? Don’t let the past win anymore. Get up! Be baptized! Have all of that glitter washed away. All of your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.”
The second reason people wait to be baptized: “See, I just don’t know enough.” But what they’re really saying underneath that is: “You know what? I have not mastered the Christian life yet. My performance isn’t good enough.” And I sit back there, and I listen, and I hear.
And then, all of a sudden, they’ll ask me, “Steve, what do you think?”
And I tell them, “You know, on March 6th, 2004, in a small little chapel in a ghost town outside of Phoenix, Arizona, I stood with a hundred and fifty of my closest friends and family. I was holding the hand of my best friend. And there was a pastor who was officiating our marriage. And at one point in the ceremony, he said, “Because of the vows that you two have committed before God and family and friends, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
And now, nobody had ever given me the title “husband” before. I had no idea what it meant to be a husband! All I knew was how to be a single guy. And you know what? I spent the rest of my life living into that title of “husband.” Or on April 5th, 2008. After sixteen hours in labor—and it was hard! So hard. Just... breathing. The pain. They just give you orange juice. It’s just, it’s hard. Just sitting there, and... all of a sudden, the nurse handed me a child. She said, “Here is your son, dad.” It’s the first time anybody had ever given me that title “dad.” And for the remainder of years on this planet, every day, I get to live into that title as dad.
Or twenty-five years ago, showed up, rode my bike to church. Parents weren’t going to church. I sat in the back. Pastor got up and gave a message, and then invited people to come forward to give their life to Christ and to be baptized. And, all alone in the back, I got up, pushed people aside, came forward. And they gave me the title “Christian.” “Follower of Jesus.” That, every day of my life since that decision, I have been living into that title.
You will never ever ever know enough about how holy and good and profound and beautiful is our God. But our God will give you a title—the privilege to live into and discover more and more of His grace and His love for you. You just have to get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord. And Ananias would say, “What are you waiting for?”
The third reason people wait to be baptized is they actually have a low view of baptism. They look at this and they go, “That’s just a hot tub. That water came from the South Barrington Water Municipal Department. Why would I want to walk into that?” And they have this low view of it. But let me just tell you what baptism is.
If you flip through the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, there’s one story that transformed the people. See, the Hebrew people, they were stuck in slavery. And every day, for 430 years, they made bricks. Their identity, their worth, was built on how many bricks they made. And if they didn’t make enough bricks, they were beaten. And God heard their cries. And God rescued them. And God brought them to the waters of the Red Sea. And God was able to part those waters. And they were able to cross through those waters. And when their oppressors were chasing after them, they found themselves being washed away.
They got to the other side. And they began to cry out and sing. And this moment shaped the Hebrew people so much so that generation and generation and generation after the Red Sea account, they still wrote themselves back into that story: “When we were enslaved in Egypt, God heard our cries and rescued us. Giving us the chance to cross through the Red Sea.”
Do you know what baptism is to the New Testament? It’s God gift to you. It’s your personal Red Sea moment. When you recognize—you flip through Romans chapter 6, and you read, “We all were slaves to sin. To being in control. To living our own way. To trying to serve us and only us. We were all slaves to sin. But God rescues and redeems us and has made us servants to righteousness.”
Baptism is your Red Sea moment. It is this opportunity for you to always have that one day when you cross through those waters, when you went public before all people and said, “This is what I believe. This is what I know to be true.” And whenever you experience any of the enemy’s attacks or negativity or past sins wanting to grab your life, you look back to that moment—to your own personal Red Sea moment. And you go, “Ah. I’ve been freed. I have been set free.”
And if you have a low view of baptism... can I challenge you that you might actually have a low view of Jesus? Because Jesus entered the baptism waters. And for me, if Jesus did it, I want to do it, too. And Jesus commands us to go and follow what He has done. And when He entered those baptism waters, the power of God, the presence of the Spirit, spoke over Him: “This is my Son, whom I love, in whom I’m well pleased.” And He had never even done any miracle, any profound teaching, up until that moment. And God said, “It doesn’t matter. I love You for just who You are.”
So, friends, I’m asking, what are you waiting for? Don’t have a low view of baptism. This is your Red Sea moment! Don’t miss it.
I’m going to give you two others. They didn’t really make the list, but I just gotta force them in.
People have pulled me aside and they said, “Steve, I didn’t get baptized.”
I said, “Why?”
They’re people who sit up in the balcony or out in the Atrium. And they’re like, “It’s just too far. It’s just too far.”
“Can’t make my way down.”
“Not enough time.”
“Just too far.”
And I’m like, “Really?”
I’ve heard this one: “I’m wearing my church clothes. Don’t want to get this wet.”
Okay. My response to them. Cause I typically have grace and mercy in most moments... except when people make excuses. Which I will just say, “Can you look at the Cross? Just look at the Cross for one moment. And imagine to yourself Jesus carrying that cross. And as He walks, carrying that cross, after they’ve stripped Him of His clothes, they’ve beaten Him, and, all of a sudden, they put a crown on His head, and He’s like, ‘Oh, are there thorns in those? Do you have another crown? Maybe just another—I just, something more comfortable. You’re going to put nails in me? Rea- maybe just some duct tape? Like, that might be a little bit more—you, can you build like a little seat on this cross? Might be a little bit more comfortable.’”
And in me, I’m like no! Jesus went through such great lengths to showcase the Father’s love for you. He went to such great lengths to tell you that your sin, everything that we’ve done to separate us from God, He was going to erase it all. And we’re like, “It’s just too far.” “Don’t wanna get my clothes...”
No! Come on!
Jesus did it, and He invites us to follow Him. And I think Ananias would just look at you and just say, “What are you waiting for? Get up. Be baptized. Have your Red Sea moment. Have all of that sin washed away. Call on the greatest name—the name that is above every name. The name of the Lord.”
The fourth reason people wait—and I get this one. I really, really get this one. People will pull me aside and say, “Steve, I wanted to be baptized. But I have this fear of large crowds. There’s just something about going public in front of so many people.” And here’s what I want you to know. I really understand that. Those are big screens. And, yes, we do film and take pictures of every person who gets baptized. We want there to be a moment. And I can understand that, for some people, they could really have a deep fear. And if that’s you, I will let you know this: I will stay after the service as long as I need to so that you can be baptized. I want you to have that Red Sea moment. But I also want you to know: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there’s freedom. And there’s strength. And there’s power. And the part about, and the beautiful part about baptism is that it’s public. And I want to invite you to come. And, oftentimes, when we think about baptism, we think about me and God. But really, really, it’s about us—it’s about the family of God.
I love this story. A guy was going into the baptism waters. And someone was watching out in the Atrium. And he read the shirt, it said, “Freedom.” And as he was watching this guy get baptized, he realized, “Oh my goodness. I’ve been seeing that guy since high school.” When he came out of the baptism waters, he was so elated, filled with joy and freedom, and this guy thought to himself, I’ve never seen him smile. For all the years we grew up together—the four years in high school... I never saw him smile. And it was in this moment he experienced this prompting and this whisper from God. And it was as if God was saying, “You want what he has, don’t you? Go. Get baptized.” And he got up from the Atrium, and he walked all the way across the lobby into the auditorium, got in those waters, and his life has never been the same.
And I sit here and I tell you this because... you don’t know what your faithfulness, how it will inspire somebody else to get up, to be baptized, to have their sins washed away, to have a chance to call on the name of the Lord. And then... the fifth reason people wait to be baptized.
It’s a real human condition. People often wonder, what will others think? What will others think if I go public? Will they think, Ah, he’s, or she’s, not good enough. Why are they getting baptized? Can I just clear one thing up? Nobody here will judge anybody who gets on this stage to be baptized. Am I correct? Yeah.
Couple years ago, a staff person sent me an email saying, “Hey, can we have a quick meeting?”
I said, “Sure.”
Said, “Hey, I’ve been on staff for a few years. I volunteer all over the church. But I have this secret.”
I was like, “Oh, what is it?”
“I’ve never been baptized.”
I’m like, “Oh, why haven’t you ever been baptized?”
“Well, I thought about doing it in high school, and then I just, stuff came up. And then I went away to college. And then I came back. And then I started volunteering. And, you know, years and years and years went by, and, all of a sudden, I realized, like, if I go and get baptized now, what will others think?”
And I started to wonder, “Wait wait wait wait wait, you’ve been serving faithfully. But you’re more afraid what other people will think if you are invited into the baptism waters?”
I said, “Here’s what I need you to know. Your courage to actually be faithful to go get baptized—I think the church will love it. I think it will create conversation starters with the people that you serve. And you can tell your story. And you can encourage and inspire. But I tell you this, and I mean it just... I mean it like in the best intentions. If you do not follow God’s prompting now, all the other whispers that God gives to you are gonna be easy to silence. And I want you to live free. I want you to have the courage. I want you to be able to hear God and be able to respond quickly.”
And on that next baptism service, I watched her just get up, come down front, and be baptized. And her life has never been the same.
I think about another story, where someone was watching at the 9 a.m. service online. And as we were talking about baptism, she looked over at her husband. Her husband said, “Alright, I’ll go warm the car up.” They got in the car. And they drove about an hour to get here. And at the last baptism, they came forward, and it was just because they were watching on willowcreek.tv, and they were like, “We gotta do this now.” And they didn’t make any excuses. Didn’t care what other people thought. It was about their relationship with God.
So what are you waiting for? Why don’t—what’s preventing you from getting up, being baptized, having those sins washed away so that you can call on the name of the Lord?
When I was a kid, I got into a fight with my parents. It was a bad fight. So bad that I went up to my room and I grabbed three shirts and grabbed a suitcase, and I put it in there, and some Matchbox cars and my pillow... I went down to the pantry and grabbed some peanut butter and some bread, zipped it up, and I looked at them, and I said, “I’m out of here.”
I walked out of my house, made a left on Cottage Grove, and I walked about eighteen houses, made a right on Woodside, and I was making my way to the park. I passed Appletree. I got to the Japonica, and I was a little bit tired, I sat down, I opened up my suitcase knowing I had a few more blocks to go to the park, and I realized, I didn’t pack a drink. Thirsty as the sun was beginning to set. Cool breeze in California was coming. And I put on a shirt, but I realized I just had brought sleeveless shirts. So I put another sleeveless shirt on, and I just was freezing. I made my way to the park. And as the sun was completely going down, all I wanted to do was to go home.
And my dad was coming after me. Got on his bike and began to ride through the neighborhood. And he saw me at the park and he rode up and he just said, “You can come home. You can always come home. You can live out here if you want in the park. I don’t think you’re gonna make it. But you can come home.”
And I want you to know something, friends. No matter what your past. No matter what you’ve done. You can come home. No matter if you don’t think that you’re a good enough Christian. I want you to know, you can come home. No matter if for the last ten, fifteen, twenty years, if you’ve had a low view of baptism, you can come home. No matter if you have a fear that feels like it’s paralyzing you from actually going public, you can come home. And no matter if your life has been controlled by what other people think. You can come home.
What are you waiting for? May today be the day that you get up. That you choose and decide to be baptized. To have all of the brokenness and the pain and the sins be washed away. And may you call upon the name that is greater than every other name. the name of our Lord and Savior.