Texts: Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21
The Latin title for this Sunday is Sexagesima, and it means “about sixty days.” We are now only about sixty days away from celebrating our Lord’s Resurrection. By His rising from the grave, Jesus defeated death and the devil for us, and His resurrection becomes our own through faith. Last week we spoke about the grace of God, particularly His giving water to the grumbling children of Israel in the wilderness. Though they grumbled and complained against Him, He had mercy and provided for them. So, also, does He look upon us in grace. The Lord will not punish us for our sins eternally but instead, by His own good favor, He put Christ forward to bear the punishment of our sins on the cross. The Gospel readings in the season of Pre-Lent each teach on the solas of the Reformation. Last week was grace alone, next week will be faith alone; this week is Scripture alone.
The Scriptures are the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith. This is brought out especially in the Old Testament and Gospel readings. I want to do something different this week, although it is related. We’ve had the privilege and joy this week to witness a Baptism among us, something which is becoming less frequent in these latter days than when we were younger. We’ve witnessed this washing of water and the Word, by which a little child became God’s own. Let’s take some time today to be reminded about Baptism. Baptism is a precious gift of God, whereby we receive the gift of salvation and new life in Christ.
If you want, you can open to the Small Catechism at the front of our hymnal. It’s not necessary, but you may browse and listen at the same time. We are all Lutherans here and most of us have been fully catechized; that is, we’ve heard all these things before. Still, it’s good to be reminded; especially on days like today. Let all the world fall away around us; we’ll hold on to these things. Let’s start at the beginning, then. What is Baptism? The Catechism says, as we’ve memorized, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” (Catechism citations are from http://catechism.cph.org/en/sacrament-of-holy-baptism.html) This is good and true, but it does jump a step or two. What, literally speaking, is Baptism, what does it involve, what action is done?
The word, “baptize,” comes from the Greek New Testament and means, literally, “to apply water.” Take water, put it on something. At one point in the Gospel, the Pharisees took issue with our Lord’s disciples because they (the disciples) ate with unwashed hands. St. Mark tells us that, on the other hand, the Pharisees wouldn’t eat until they’ve washed their hands, their cups, their pots, and even their seats. (Mark 7:4) The word through all of this is baptize. They don’t eat unless they baptize everything, apply water to it. Baptism involves applying water to something: by sprinkling, pouring, dipping, immersing. But there’s more to it, isn’t there? Baptism involves applying water while speaking.
This is what Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20, English Standard Version) Although Baptism is hinted at in other parts of Scripture, yet we find its beginning in the words of our Lord. Having won for the whole world the forgiveness of sins, He sends out His disciples to apply water – to baptize people of all nations in His name. Christian baptism is not just applying water to people, but applying water by God’s command and in His name saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Holy Baptism is a washing of water combined with God’s Word, but what is it for? Why did our Lord Christ give us this washing? In the Catechism we learn that Baptism, “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” This is keeping with what St. Peter taught in his Pentecost sermon. When the people heard his preaching of Christ, how they had crucified and killed the Lord of life, they were convicted deep in their hearts. They asked Peter what they must do. This is what Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) When St. Paul was making his defense before those in Jerusalem who sought his life, he recalled how Ananias preached the Gospel to him in Damascus saying, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins.” (Acts 22:16)
These passages, and more, teach us what Baptism is for; it’s for the forgiveness of sins. We’ve confessed already today, as we always do, that we are sinners. We have sinned in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We also confess that we aren’t just sinners because of what we’ve done but also because of how we were born. We were born in this sinful condition, as we are descended from the flesh of Adam and Eve. This condition is called original sin, and we all have it. It means that we are born turned away from God. We are born not believing in Him, not loving Him, and not wanting to do His will. Instead, what we all want to do by nature is our own will, and only our own will. Hear what St. Paul has to say about this, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
God saved us when He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise for our sins. He applies that salvation to us – each and all – through the washing of Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism, our sins were washed away. Our old evil nature, called the Old Adam, was drowned and died, and we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit makes His home in our hearts and does this work in us – He creates faith. In Holy Baptism, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of faith, which takes hold of that forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there the devil no longer holds sway. Baptism rescues from the devil and his handiwork, death. By our Baptism into Christ, we were united to Christ. Just as He rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, so will we at His return.
This brings us back to today. Today, we’ve had the joy of witnessing a Baptism among us. We have seen with our eyes this gracious work of God taking place. Though it seems to the world such a small thing, a sprinkling of water and a few spoken words, yet this is a wonderful work of God. The Lord has taken a little child and made her His child. She has received the forgiveness of her sins. They were washed away, those sins which were inherited from Adam and which she has committed. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit has worked to create faith in her heart and unite her to the body of Christ. According to the Lord’s will, she will grow and be nurtured in the Christian faith and will await with joy our Lord’s glorious return.
Let us not forget, though, that these promises have been given to us. We, too, have been baptized. Most of us were baptized as children, some were saved by God’s grace as adults. In our baptisms, all of our sins were washed away. We received the gift of faith and, by faith, we take hold of these promises. When our sins give us pause, let us remember that we are baptized. When the world rages and tears, let us remember whose children we really are. Let us remember, also, that in our Baptism each day we die and rise with Christ. When we rose from the font, we came up as new creations in Him. We are those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, so that we might love and serve our neighbors.
“Baptism,” the Catechism says, “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to those that believe this.” Such a small thing in the world’s eyes but, by God’s work, a big thing in ours. Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.