Sermon for Wednesday of Laetare, 2021

Text: Matthew 28:16-20; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is true that God is everywhere, but he is not necessarily everywhere for you. In other words, the fact that God is omnipresent is not necessarily a comfort. God fills his creation, but he doesn’t attach his promises to everything we see. Instead, in his grace and mercy, he identifies and sets apart very specific places where he puts himself for your benefit. We call these things sacraments. The sacraments, that is, baptism, confession, and the Lord’s Supper, are where you can be certain that God is working for you. No, God can’t be put into a box, but God does put himself into boxes where you know he is.

If you want to have a theological argument here in the South, just bring up the topic of baptism. Differences of opinion abound when it comes to who should be baptized, who should to the baptizing, how one should be baptized, how the baptizing is done, and how old a person should be before they are baptized. In the end, however, our own opinions mean nothing. We may have our own thoughts about how to answer all of those questions, but if they aren’t informed by the Word of God, they are worthless. Instead of opinions, let us instead form our thoughts on baptism on the concrete words of scripture. Luther’s Small Catechism aides us in tackling what the scriptures teach about baptism by telling us what baptism is, what it does, how it does what it does, and what it means.

By definition, in order to have a baptism, you must have water. The word that is translated from the Greek into English for us that means “baptize” simply means to apply water in a ceremonial way. There is no insistence on a certain mode of applying water, just that water is applied. On the one hand, there’s nothing special about water used for baptism. It comes from the same place as all the other water that we use for drinking, washing, or cooking. The water used in baptism is different than other water for only one reason: the word and promises of God are attached to it. The water in your sink washes things. The water in your glass re-hydrates you. The water you cook with causes food to have the proper flavor and texture. The water of baptism makes one a disciple of Christ. That’s what Jesus promises in Matthew 18. There he says that the way that disciples are made is that they are baptized and taught. Therefore, in baptism, the water is not just plain water, but it is water that is included in God’s command to baptize, and combined with his word that promises great blessings.

The blessings of baptism are where you will quite often run into arguments with other Christians. They will often go out of their way to try and make it clear that baptism doesn’t actually do anything. They will say that it doesn’t forgive sins. They will say that it doesn’t provide salvation. They will say that it’s only a symbolic act that shows what’s happening on the inside of a person, but it doesn’t actually do anything. This is where we must look to the Word of God. If you sit down with a concordance and look up the word “baptism,” you’ll find that almost everywhere it’s mentioned it’s got the promise of forgiveness of sins or salvation tied to it. In Mark 16, Jesus says that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. In Acts 2, Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. In 1 Peter 3, which I read a few moments ago, it says that baptism now saves you. When we say that baptism forgives sins or that baptism saves, we aren’t saying something radical or provocative; we’re simply saying what God says about baptism.

So then is baptism a “get out of jail free” card? Does the simple act of baptism bring salvation even if the person being baptized has no faith? By no means. Faith receives the blessings of the gift. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples about making disciples. They are to baptize and teach them. Baptism is our entry into the Church. Faith is created in baptism, but it needs to be sustained. It needs to be fed throughout our lives by the Word of God which strengthens it as we hear again and again the promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Christ Jesus and his death and resurrection. Much of the confusion around the role of faith in baptism has to do with the difference between passive and active faith. Faith that does things is active. Active faith manifests itself in acts of love toward our neighbor. Passive faith is the faith that receives. This is the type of faith that’s at work (or rather, not working) in baptism. God gives gifts as promised in his word. We believe what the Word of God says to be true and we receive the benefits of these gifts. Think about the little children that were brought to Jesus that he might touch them. Did they do anything? No. They didn’t even bring themselves into the presence of Jesus. They were brought by someone else. There was no work on their part. This is why infant baptism is the greatest illustration of salvation by grace alone. Infants are clearly completely passive when it comes to baptism. They are only on the receiving end of God’s gifts. So it is with everyone who comes to be baptized. It is not an act of obedience that they’re doing or a statement of what they believe. It is God’s action on them.

The Lord is not done working on us or in us after our baptism. Rather, the work is just beginning. For that matter, Satan tries every day to destroy the faith that was given to us in our baptism. Luther says that baptism indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before him in righteousness and purity forever. Daily we battle our Old Adam, that is, our inclination toward sin. Daily we rise to new life. We do this living the life of the baptized. The life of the baptized is not a life lived in sinless perfection. It is a life lived the realization that we have sinned against God in thought, Word, and deed. It is a life that sees that left to ourselves, we have no hope. But it is also a life lived in the knowledge that in our baptism we died with Christ and that in his death, Jesus destroyed sin and death. Just as we died with Christ in our baptism, we also are raised daily to new life in him in the joy of sins forgiven.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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