Midweek Lent on Baptism

During our midweek Lenten services we have been going through the chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, here is the sermon from last week on Baptism:

Tonight, as we get to Holy Baptism it is important to take a look at this teaching. If you have ever wanted to know the differences between Lutherans and most other American Evangelical (Baptist, Pentecostal, and non- denominational) it starts with this discussion, on baptism.

So tonight we will have a little different approach. Tonight we will be going through some common questions that arise about baptism, what it is and its practice. These questions are admittedly not directly answered by Luther in His Catechism, primarily because these things are new in the history of the Christian Church.

Now the real crux of the entire thing about baptism has to do with original sin. What is original sin?

Since the fall into sin, all born in the natural way are born in sin, that is, without fear and trust in God and are indeed sinners. As the Psalmist declares, “behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

We sin in the life of those within the womb. Without sin, there is no death. For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6). And yet, we see that life within the womb dies. There are miscarriages, there are still born births.

Even little “innocent” new born children have sin, they show absolutely zero love towards the neighbor. Those under 3 in this room even now could careless about the timing of a little scream or if they need a diaper change or want something while you hear and receive God’s Word and sing His praises. When a child is teething or hungry at 2am, he could careless that mom needs sleep or that dad has 2 classes and a service along with other work the next day.

Just like the child within the womb, we see their sin in that they die. There are infant deaths aplenty.

From conception these children need to be saved and by grace alone. It is the miracle and gift of God. This is the miracle of baptism, it is the Word attached to water that actually does something for you!

But babies can’t believe?

Really? Where is that?

Do babies have a different level and ability of comprehension and vocalized confession? Sure!

The child within the womb hears, faith comes from hearing. The baby is brought with the parents and hears, for faith comes by hearing. Hearing through the Word of Christ. Thus we have our babies here with us, for they need to hear it just like you do, young and old your sins are forgiven in the death and resurrection of Christ.

If we are going to say something about baptism, like babies and children can’t receive it then Scripture must say it. Rather our Lord says these ridiculous things like, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder.” Adults, we let our own reason and strength get in the way. Rather the child receives what is given to him. A child trusts what is handed over to him and what is told is true. Adults have reason that gets in the way.

Just as we have different words for children that reflect age and development: newborns, infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, so does other languages including Greek in these texts. There are “paidions” which the Latin translates for us as “infantes” which means children who are unable to speak from which we get the word infants. There are also “teknons” which means a child, in Greek and in Latin refers to those children who are able to speak. Jesus says, “let the paidions come to me and do not hinder them. Whoever does receive the kingdom of God as a paidion shall not enter it.”

The gifts of the kingdom of God are poured over you and given to you by grace. If I tell Zachary an object that he is not able to identify is something else, he will believe what I tell him that it is. As you teach a young child colors and shapes, he only learns and receives as it has been given to him. Not by his reason which interferes with the working of the Holy Spirit but given and received as a gift.

But there are no examples of children being baptized in the Bible, so why baptize your babies?

You know what else, there are no examples of children being refused baptism in the Bible. Hey now, they are both arguments from silence. Basic logic and rhetoric teaches that an argument from silence is no argument at all.

Many will look at Acts where they see an adult being baptized and say, ‘hey look, it’s not a baby.’ Umm, Jesus says to go to “all” nations, whole families and households are baptized, and when Peter preaches at Pentecost in the book of Acts he tells them that this promise is for you and… your children.

The parents bring their children to Jesus. The disciples send the parents away, and Jesus rebukes them. Thinking that salvation is not by grace alone, but a choice of your will, a work you do and a choice you make, thus a step you make not a gift given.

Also, as we heard from our Lord, it is the circumcision made without hands, circumcision done by the way at 8 days old. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3)

Is baptism then necessary for salvation?

Well, definitely yes, baptism is most definitely necessary for salvation. It is the normal way in which the risen Christ has sent the Church into the world, through giving the promise attached to the water.

And it can only believed. It is not a work you do, nowhere does Scripture call this gift an act of obedience, but declares it as a gift of God. The whole point of a promise is that it is given to be believed. And it is not declared to be a symbolic act of you giving yourself to God, but declared to be a means of grace, for “baptism now saves you.” (1 Peter 3) Baptism buries you with Christ and raises you with Him. Everywhere in Scripture it declare that baptism actually does these things, not just symbolizes them.

Can people be saved apart from baptism?

Yes, kinda. Once you believe that Jesus is the Christ, risen from the dead for the forgiveness and taught in accordance with the Scriptures that this baptism gives you this gifts, why would you not get baptized?

It is true and yet not true that one can be saved without baptism because one is saved by faith alone. But why drive a wedge between baptism and faith alone, it is the same as driving a wedge between baptism and Jesus.

Baptism is Jesus’ Word, wash them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That’s Jesus’ Word to save you. That you would try to believe in Jesus apart from His Word and Sacraments is insane. Where else are you going to find him? In the couch cushion, underneath the chair, waiting for you in the car? He has located Himself for you in His Word, in this washing of Baptism, and in this Lord’s Supper.

How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him whom they have never heard? The Word had to come to you in first place, and if you believe because you have heard the Word, why not believe the Word as the Word made flesh says receive this water it is me saving you.

Can an unbaptized person be saved?

This comes because of the simple truth of the Gospel, we know this, we are justified by grace through faith (Ephesians 2) and that hearing comes through the Word of Christ (Romans 10). There is no denying this. It is by grace, it is a gift of God. And yet Scripture makes it clear that in this Holy Washing, He gives Himself and gives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

This is important in what baptism is – it the Word of God combined with water. For without the Word of God it is plain water and no baptism but with the Word of God it is a baptism, a life-giving water. We do not separate the action of baptism from the Word of God. It is the Word and promise of God that deliver the gifts of Christ.

So what about those who die without baptism?

Well, that’s not good. There is the classic argument: what about the thief on the cross, he wasn’t baptized and Jesus clearly said, ‘today you will be with Me in paradise.’ Note what this man had, the Word and promise of God right at his side.

The same question is applied to babies who die or the new adult Christian who has heard the Word of Christ and not yet received this gift of baptism. Simply saying that we don’t want someone in hell does not give them life and salvation, well wishes for someone does not give any promise and assurance, yet baptism does, via the Word united to the water. We trust the Word and promise of God, which tells us this gift is given in baptism. Not because of the action or the ceremony but because this Word and promise of God in baptism promises that it connects you with the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). We trust that our Lord saves by faith and for the one who truly did not have opportunity to receive the gifts of Baptism, we trust He is gracious and merciful and trust that faith came by hearing.

What about the method of baptism? Immersion only, sprinkling, pouring, what’s right?

Baptizo means to wash. Can it at times imply being immersed? Yeah, but washing does not necessarily mean to immersed.

If this baptism is just a symbol of salvation, then why must it be done in an extremely legalistic way. Did Jesus go down into the Jordan to be baptized? Yeah. He was coming down from Jerusalem, which is an elevation of about 2400 feet to the Jordan River, which starts at 1000 feet in elevation and is the river with the lowest elevation in the world emptying into the Dead Sea at an elevation of 1300 feet below sea level. And truth be told, it is a very shallow river. Could he have been immersed? Yeah. Was he definitely? Well, we don’t know. Did he go down to the Jordan? Yeah.

Same with all the people at Pentecost, you know, the 3000 who were baptized in Jerusalem on the mountain where Peter was preaching – there is no river there.

You can be washed without being immersed. Many of you had water sprinkled over your head at some point today and were washed in the shower. Some of you have been hospitalized or handicapped to the point where you were bed ridden and had to be clean by sponges and wash cloths. Or perhaps you had a little something on your hands and only a bottle of water and yet were able to clean it off.

Baptizo, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Water with God’s Word.

There are many good Christians out there but on this subject they simply do not know what the Scriptures say. This baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3), not as a removal of dirt but a cleansing of a clean conscience before God.

Hear the Words of our Lord on baptism:

“Repent and be baptized in the name Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2)

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6)

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5)

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith.” (Colossians 2)

Everywhere we find baptism we find the death and resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, all for the sake of giving the faith which you are saved through. The Christ who was crucified and raised gives you that crucifixion and resurrection as a promise as water is poured over you in the Holy Triune name of God, clothing you a robe of His righteousness by grace.

This is God’s gift to you as He gives you Himself. This you are reminded of daily, as the Old Adam is daily drowned and died and a new man daily emerges to new life in Christ. Thus as Luther encouraged Christians do daily remember their baptism, making the sign of the cross in the morning and evening and praying the prayer given to you at your baptism in the Lord’s Prayer. The Apostle’s Creed confessed at baptism, thus the symbol at the end of the Creed to encourage you to make the sign of the cross, remembering this is your baptismal faith. At the Absolution as you trust your sins are forgiven in this baptismal faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism is the flow of our entire service. From the Invocation at the beginning as we call upon God’s name into which we are baptized through the Benediction where God places His name and blessing on you as He did in your baptism. It is even the flow of the structure of the Church building. As you come through font to the altar, where our Lord gives you Himself and through these gifts go out.

O Christian, firmly hold this gift
And give God thanks forever!
It gives the power to uplift
In all that you endeavor.
When nothing else revives your soul, 
Your Baptism stands and makes you whole 
And then in death completes you.
So use it well! You are made new— 
In Christ a new creation!
As faithful Christians, live and do 
Within your own vocation, 
Until that day when you possess 
His glorious robe of righteousness 
Bestowed on you forever!
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