The Small Catechism: Holy Baptism (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
January 8, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For many of us, our Baptism was a long time ago. For most of us, we were infants when it happened. But our Baptism is something that impacts us every day whether we realize it or not. Today, as we observe the Baptism of our Lord, we see that Christ Himself honored baptism not only with His Word of Institution, “Make disciples by baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but Christ also honored baptism with His actions and confirmed it by a miracle from heaven. “And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’” Martin Luther would remark in the Large Catechism, “Do you think it was a joke that the heavens opened when Christ was baptized, that the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and that the divine glory and majesty were manifested everywhere?”
Of course, it is no joke. That is why “we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: “But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.” (LC IV.44) But we can do this only if we continually remember our baptism, what it is, and what it gives us. That’s what we want to do together this morning using Luther’s Small Catechism. So I invite you to turn to page 325 in the front of your hymnals. There, on page 325, you will find the Small Catechism’s section on “The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.” Let’s work through this section together this morning to refresh and renew ourselves in our baptism.
Let’s look the First Part. Please read the two questions and answers with me.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
What is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
This answers very clearly the question, “Why do we baptize?” Because Christ commanded us to do so. Baptism is the Lord’s idea. It wasn’t invented by human beings. It is a divine command, a “God thing.” It is important for us to remember that “to be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God Himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act.” (LC IV.10) As we will see, then, baptism is one of God’s means of saving people. That’s why He wants us to baptize in His name, so that people are saved from sin and death.
Let’s read the Second Part together on page 325 and get another piece of the puzzle.
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Clearly, baptism does something. Clearly, in baptism, God is doing something. Luther in the Large Catechism puts it this way, “The power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but, as the words says, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone well knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with Him forever.” This is what God does in baptism. That is why it is so precious and important because in baptism we receive this inexpressible treasure!
But didn’t Jesus already win forgiveness of sins and salvation for all of us when He died on the cross and rose again from death? Why do we need Baptism? We need baptism in order to receive what Jesus won for us. Jesus won our forgiveness, our rescue from death and the devil, and our eternal salvation with His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection. In Baptism, Jesus distributes those same gifts to us personally through “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) In Baptism, the Holy Spirit works faith and creates in us new spiritual life. That gift of saving faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior receives the gifts of Christ’s forgiveness, rescue, and salvation that He gives us in Baptism. Baptism is a Means of God’s Grace, a way in which God gives us His blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation won by Jesus on the cross.
But how can water do such great things? Let’s read the answer to this Third Part in the right-hand column on page 325. “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saves us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.”
Where the Word of God is separated from the water, the water is “no different from the water that the maid uses for cooking.” (LC IV.22) When the Word of God is with the water, according to Christ’s command, it is Baptism and it saves! But who does it save? You, me, and all people, including infants. Babies and infants are baptized because they are included in “all nations.” In Acts 2:39 we are reminded that the promise of baptism is for you and your children.” As sinners, infants also need what God gives in Baptism—faith in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. And so we baptized solely on the command of Christ trusting completely in His Word, that it will accomplish what He promises in babies and adults of all ages!
So how does God’s gift of baptism impact us daily? That’s where the Fourth Part comes in. Let’s read the questions and answers together on page 325.
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Perhaps you remember hearing those words this morning. They are part of the Epistle lesson for today. When we were baptized, we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus our Savior. We daily die to sin in baptism and rise again to live a new life, a Christian life of righteousness and purity. As baptized Christians, we are always purging whatever pertains to the Old Adam, our corrupt, evil, sinful nature. We get rid of what belongs to that sinful nature through the power of our baptism so that what belongs to the new spiritual life and nature in Christ may come forth. When the Old Adam in us is drowned and dies so does our spite, envy, greed, laziness, pride, and unbelief. When the new person rises up through baptismal faith the more we become gentle, patient, and meek. We break further away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride. When we become Christians and enter Christ’s kingdom the old sinful nature “daily decreases until finally it is destroyed. This is what it means truly to plunge into baptism and daily to come forth again.” (LC IV. 72)
“In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings—victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts. In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true. Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps all people alive. Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: ‘But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’” (LC IV.41-44) Amen.