1 Peter 3:18-22 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series A)
“Baptism Saves. Period!”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 17, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is from the Epistle lesson from 1 Peter 3:
18For also Christ suffered, once for sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, so that he should bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20who formerly disobeyed when the patient endurance of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which also corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers being subjected to him.
Gene Edward Veith, Jr., writer and retired literature professor, wrote on his blog, “Some churches that work hard to get people to ‘make a decision for Christ’ never get around to baptizing them! In fact, there are some ostensibly Christian bodies that don’t baptize at all. And more that will baptize if someone asks for it, but most members don’t go to the trouble. And according to Christian scholar Roger Olson, ‘one Texas megachurch pastor reported that nearly a third of the people who receive Christ in his church are never baptized.’
Apparently, in churches that teach ‘believers baptism,’ some believers, having been taught that baptism is nothing more than a symbolic ritual, are too embarrassed to submit themselves to getting dunked in front of everybody. And those believers and the churches they are members of do not seem to believe in what the Bible says about baptism.
I realize that there are many different theologies about baptism, but surely no one can deny that Jesus commanded that it be done. The Great Commission, which so many of these non-baptized megachurches generally make a big deal of, is a commission to baptize (Matthew 28:19-20).”
Baptism is a Means of Grace. It is God’s gracious way of giving people the gifts Jesus Christ purchased and won for the world through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ instituted, set up, Baptism for His Church in order to make disciples of nations by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching the Gospel to all nations. Baptism is a Sacrament—a sacred act, instituted by God, where His Word is combined with a visible element, which delivers to the person the forgiveness of sins won for the world by Jesus Christ. Baptism, instituted by the Lord Christ in Matthew 28, works “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” (Small Catechism). In other words, “Baptism saves!”
Congregations that withhold Baptism from children because they rationalize that infants and children are too young to know what’s going on reject the saving power of Baptism that is intended for all people. It’s not a matter of knowing or of understanding. Did any of us know or understand the birth process? No, and yet we were all born! So why is it that humans have to assume that, in order for Baptism to be something, one has to understand it. “New birth” by water and the Spirit in Baptism doesn’t require that knowledge and understanding, just like our physical birth didn’t require our know-how.
But isn’t Baptism just a symbolic act anyway? Does it really matter if the church baptizes or not? Well, let me ask, “Did Christ institute a symbolic act that just pretends to make disciples or did His set-up a Sacrament that actually makes disciples?” Baptism isn’t just a washing of dirt from the body—a symbol to help us think about Jesus removing our sins from us. Baptism IS a divine washing away of sin as the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ is applied directly and personally to you. Baptism saves! It is “not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with 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 the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy.’” (Small Catechism).
Rather than rejecting Baptism, instead of calling Baptism a symbolic action that doesn’t really do anything, Peter writes the Spirit-inspired word of God that clearly says, “Baptism now saves you.” It does what God says it does. No need to rationalize it. No reason to set it aside as something not necessary. Christ commanded Baptism of all people—infants, children, adults. And Christ said that Baptism makes disciples, followers of Him by faith. And here in 1 Peter, Christ says that Baptism saves you.
The salvation from sin, death, and devil that Baptism delivers to you is illustrated for us with the picture of Noah’s ark. Noah and his wife, their three sons along with their wives, were saved from the flood in the ark. The water drowned everything that had life. But Noah and his family were saved. Baptism drowns our sinful nature and makes us spiritual people, new creations by the gift of faith in Christ through the forgiveness of sins which Baptism bestows on us. Pastor Luther wrote in 1519, “Baptism was foreshown of old in Noah’s flood, when the whole world was drowned, except for Noah with his three sons and their wives, eight souls, who were saved in the ark. That the people of the world were drowned signifies that in baptism sins are drowned. But that the eight in the ark, with animals of every sort, were preserved, signifies—as St. Peter explains in his [first] epistle—that through baptism man is saved. Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah. For that flood drowned men during no more than one year, but baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment. Moreover while that was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace.”
Baptism is indeed a flood of grace. It is God’s gift in Christ of saving faith in Jesus who delivers in this Sacrament forgiveness of all your sins. It’s nothing you earned, nothing that you did to make it so. You simply received this holy washing at Christ’s commandment and according to His Word. God does the Baptizing, even though it is the pastor’s hands pouring the water. Since it is His Baptism, you receive what His Word promises—salvation from sin, death, and hell. You receive “a conscience that is in league with God and can say: ‘He gave me this promise. He will keep it, for He cannot lie.’ When you cling and cleave to His Word in this way, then you must be saved. Now the covenant is faith, which saves us. No external work you can do accomplishes this.” Baptism is a gift of God through Christ who died, rose again, and has ascended into heaven. Because Jesus is the Living and Ascended Lord, we have His gift of Baptism and so we are saved in body and soul! Baptism saves!
The Large Catechism summarizes our text and the whole teaching of Scripture on Baptism for us: “Since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted. We must learn what it profits, gives, and works. For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ’s words quoted above, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved’ [Mark 16:16]. Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this—to save [1 Peter 3:21]. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he ‘be saved.’ We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil [Colossians 1:13–14]. It means to enter into Christ’s kingdom [John 3:5], and to live with Him forever.
Here you see again how highly and preciously we should value Baptism, because in it we receive such an unspeakable treasure. This also proves that it cannot be ordinary, mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing. But the Word does it and, as I said above, so does the fact that God’s name is included in Baptism. Where God’s name is, there must also be life and salvation [Psalm 54:1]. So Baptism may certainly be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water. Such power is given to Baptism by the Word that it is a washing of new birth.” Amen.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31–32.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 30 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 116.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 425–426.