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Would you take out your hymnal again and turn to page 325.
This morning, we’re going to use the occasion of Olive’s baptism to talk about Holy Baptism. In his Small Catechism, Luther treats Baptism in four parts. You can only cover so much ground in one sermon, so we’re going to focus on the first two parts: First, “What is baptism?” Second, “What happens in baptism?” Third, “How does baptism work?” And fourth, “How long does baptism last?”
That’s more ground that we can cover in one sermon so we’re only going tackle the first two parts this morning. But we also want to make specific application as to how all of this applies to little children, even infants no older than Olive.
I. 1st – What is baptism?
In your hymnal, page 325, under the section in red letters: “The Sacrament of Holy Baptism,” would you answer together please, “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.”
“Which is this 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.”
First of all, we need to be clear that Baptism is not something that men and women came up with on their own. We come up with lots of things on our own in the church, the liturgy we use as an ‘order of worship, the hymns that we sing, even the day of the week that we come together for worship, Sunday School, Confirmation, LWML, Men’s Breakfast Group. It’s all stuff we’ve come up with. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad. But it’s man-made. Which means that it’s not perfect and it’s never going to be perfect for everyone and its never going to be perfect forever. And we shouldn’t insist that it is.
But Baptism is not ‘man-made.’ It’s ‘God-made.’ It’s something that God Himself established. As He is about to Ascend into heaven, Jesus’ final instructions to His Apostles are for them to go to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Just imagine if instead, the scene went like this. Jesus said to His Apostles, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me… therefore, go and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And one of the disciples, probably Peter, spoke up and said, ‘I’ve got an idea. Let’s baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ That would change everything about the very essence of baptism. Then we would be right if we said that baptism is purely optional and not necessary.
But the fact that Jesus Christ instituted and commanded baptism means that it’s not optional, any more than we would say that the 10 Commandments are 10 Options. Baptism is necessary because Jesus instituted and commanded it. Because Jesus Christ is God, Baptism is ‘divine,’ it is perfect, and it is perfect for EVERYONE, and for all time.
I’m sure that there are more, but I’m particularly aware of two things that make this hard for some folks to swallow.
First, we have somehow come to believe that what comes from ‘inside’ a person is what really matters. “It’s what in your heart that counts.” And sometimes that’s true. But Baptism says just the opposite. Baptism says, ‘it’s NOT what in your heart that counts. In fact, your hearts the problem. It’s what’s in God’s heart that really counts.’
But we like to have at least a little ‘say’ in the matter and exercise our so-called, ‘free-will.’ I’ve got to participate in this somehow. But in Baptism, we don’t get to participate. God does everything.
The second problem with baptism is simply that it’s too simple, too ordinary. It’s just plain old water. And Jesus doesn’t even say how much water has to be used. It might be more ‘special’ and ‘spectacular’ if He had included in His command that baptism has to use lots of water, enough water to submerge the entire person in, lets say.
But no, it’s not the water in itself that’s so important but the One who says, “go and baptize” that makes it so special. A shirt is just a shirt, how much is it worth? Well in May of last year, someone paid $4.4 milion dollars for a shirt. And it was a N.Y Yankees baseball jersey. (How do you like that, Boston fans?) What made it so valuable? It was worn by Babe Ruth.
How infinitely more valuable and precious is Holy Baptism, simply because Jesus Christ not only commands it and but He Himself has worn it Himself?
So, yes it looks simple and ordinary, but as Luther says, we should look at Baptism like we do a nut, or to bring it a bit closer to home, like a lobster. Don’t just look at the shell but at what’s inside.
And that brings us to the next point.
II. 2nd – What Happens in Baptism?
Back to your hymnal. “Second – What benefits does Baptism give?”
“It 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.”
“Which are these words and promises of God?”
“Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Here we get to the meat under the shell. “Whoever believes and is baptized SHALL BE SAVED.” (Mark 16:16). The Apostle Peter writes to the church saying, “Baptism now SAVES you.” (1 Peter 3:21).
SALVATION. ETERNAL LIFE.
The only thing that is separating you from GOD and SALVATION and HEAVEN, is that ugly little business of your sin. GOD is HOLY, SINLESS and wants nothing to do with UNHOLY and SINFUL.
The dilemma for God is that He really wants to be YOUR GOD. And He really wants you to be MY PEOPLE. But we are UNHOLY and SINFUL.
I guess He could’ve said, ‘stop sinning and atone for all your past sins so that I can be YOUR GOD and you can be MY PEOPLE.’ Yea, good luck with that.
God took your sin onto Himself and crucified it on the cross. He atoned for your sins, past, present and future. And to show you that it is sin that separates us from Himself, once the debt of our sin was canceled on the cross, death no longer had any hold on Him. He rose again from the dead.
What God the Father accomplished through His Son Jesus Christ, from all eternity, for the whole world, is applied here and now, to one particular person at a time, in Holy Baptism. “Baptism NOW saves you.”
Don’t loose sight of that little word “you” among all those other big words. It’s ‘singular,’ not ‘plural.’ All that God has accomplished for the whole world through Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead, comes crashing and splashing down on “YOU” in Baptism.
Every doubt and temptation to wonder whether or not God really loves “ME,” whether “I” am really saved, is answered in “YOUR” Baptism. How can I know if I am one of the ‘elect of God?’ The answer is, ‘I am baptized.’
Here, God connects His act of forgiveness and life, not to the world in general, but personally, by name, to one, unique individual at a time. “Olive, I baptize YOU in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Whenever Olive has doubts, which are sure to come, about whether she is really a child of God, can God really forgive me after I have screwed up so badly, will God really save me even though I am not worthy of such love, she should not look inside herself or to her good works or her good confession or eternal election, but to her baptism. This is where and God has chosen her. This is His good work and where He writes her name onto His promise. And God’s Word and Promise never fails and never changes.
So, what do we call that which trusts and hopes in something or someone for help and rescue; not just from the daily dilemmas of life, but for the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God? We call that ‘faith.’
We all have ‘faith.’ We all put our hope and trust in something or someone for our ultimate help and rescue. The sinful person puts his or her ‘faith’ in what cannot ultimately help and save her, because they are ‘false.’ ‘False’ faith in ‘false gods,’ comes into us from the outside, from society, culture, the media, influential people. And sinful hearts BELIEVE and put their trust in what is false – that’s just what sinful hearts do.
Likewise, true and right ‘faith’ does not come from INSIDE OF US. It comes from the OUTSIDE OF US. “For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH. And this (this being faith), is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.” (Eph.2:8)
God not only gives us the gift of His forgiveness and life through Holy Baptism. But He also gives us a true and right faith that believes and trusts in Word that says, ‘I forgive you all of sins,’ ‘I give you eternal life.’ ‘You shall be MY PEOPLE. And I shall be YOUR GOD.’
III. Baptizing Infants
And this brings us right to the question of why we baptize infants, like Olive.
The question is sometimes asked, ‘does someone this young have faith? Is it even possible for an infant to possess faith?’ And, ‘how can we tell whether or not she has a ‘right faith’ in the ‘only true’ God?’ Doesn’t the Scripture say, “Whoever BELIEVES and is baptized shall be saved.”
The temptation is always to separate belief from baptism, when really the two go together. In our desire to have some participation in our salvation, we say that ‘faith’ is ‘our part’ to play. How many times have we heard it said, maybe from our own lips, “God does it all, ALL THAT YOU HAVE TO DO IS BELIEVE.” It’s not much, but it’s our little part that we have to do.
And we want to see some evidence that faith exists. “Let’s hear you express your faith in your own words.” “Give us your testimony.” Listen, if evidence for faith depending on expressing our faith in our own words, I’m pretty sure that most Lutherans could not be saved. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone tell me, “I believe, I just can’t express it.” Thank God, we Lutherans are not afraid to use words to express our faith that have been hammered out and used by others for centuries in the Creeds.
So, the reasoning goes, how much less can infants be saved since they absolutely can’t express their faith?
But, if true and right ‘faith’ in the only true God is a ‘gift,’ that is given in Holy Baptism, then everything changes. Then the question is, ‘does the church have any right to exclude infants from Baptism?’
Christ has given this precious and holy gift to be distributed through His Church, not on the basis of individual worthiness, but on the basis of individual need. And infants need what Baptism gives. They need the forgiveness of sins and the life and salvation that Christ Jesus has won for them. And they need the ‘faith’ to believe that Jesus has done this for them. FOR ME.
Whatever the difference between adults and children may mean for us, they mean nothing to God. Before God, a person is a person, either a child of the first Adam who brought death through sin to all, or a child of the 2nd Adam, who through His precious blood, brought forgiveness and life to all.
Today, we give thanks to God, that He has given this precious gift to Olive.