Midweek Lent 1: What is Baptism?

Lessons: Isaiah 66:1-2, Matthew 3, Matthew 28
Hymns: LSB 406, 590, 438

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

      Tonight, we learn what Baptism is. It is not plain water. Instead, it is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. Therefore, Baptism is water and the Word. The Word is clear. Jesus taught it. Sinners are baptized into Christ when water is applied, and the divine Word is spoken. That Word is “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

      Water and the Word. Any Christian may baptize in the event of an emergency. But ordinally the one who baptizes in a community is the pastor sent by God. That any Christian can baptize bears testimony to the reality that Baptism is water and the Word.

      The words spoken are important. It is not for us to replace the words taught by Jesus with other words. While some churches are finding in fashionable to replace the masculine names for God with other words, we will not do so. While the Father is the Creator and the Son is the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier, we should never consider it possible to change the words to, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” That’s not what Jesus says Baptism is. By changing the words spoken by Jesus, we run the risk of not baptizing at all.

      As Bible-believing Lutherans, our emphasis is, as always, on the Word. For this Gospel Word is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16) and it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12).

      The Word bears such importance that we honor those who are preachers of the Word and we even remember some who preached the Word. On this day, February 24, the Church observes St. Matthias. He was the apostle selected to replace Judas. Some believe he was among the seventy-two Jesus sent out to proclaim the Word.

      As they preached the Word, sinners heard the saving Word of Christ and their sins were forgiven them. That still takes place today, and so we rightly emphasize the preached and written Word, expounded the sole source and norm of any legitimate teaching, which is the Bible.

      Other churches sometimes find it necessary to place their emphasis not on the Word in Baptism, but on the ritual or the way in which the Baptism is conducted. Some churches insist that the only valid Baptism is by immersion, yet that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible is silent on how the water is to be applied. Some assert that the Greek word for Baptize means to immerse. But that is not true. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word is occasionally translated as wash. For example, Mark 7:4 states, “there are many other traditions that they [the Pharisees] observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.” Did the Pharisees wash dining couches only by immersion? Given the difficulty of obtaining water, it would have been a huge burden to draw enough water to immerse their dining couches. That’s why the word is not translated as immerse, but as wash. The Pharisees had a custom on how they washed their dining couches.

      So, again, our emphasis is on the Word. Baptism by immersion is acceptable. And Baptism by sprinkling water on the head is also acceptable.

      So, who should we be baptize? Jesus teaches in our verse today. “All nations.” We’ll talk about infant baptism in a few weeks, but truly infants are included in all nations. People across the globe are also included in “all nations.” You see, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is not the Lamb of God who only takes away the sin of Republicans or only the sin of the Democrats. He is not the Lamb of God who only takes away the sin of Americans. He is not the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of white people. God loved the world so that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

      One hundred fifty years ago on this very day, a terrible book was published by Charles Darwin called The Descent of Man. Twelve years earlier he wrote Origin of Species which teaches evolution. Not only does The Descent of Man teach evolution, but it also upholds Caucasians as the most superior humans. He also notes what he saw as a flaw in humans—sympathy. In other species, Darwin says, there is no such thing. So the weak die off; they’re usually given no chance to breed. But humans care for the weak and so the weak procreate and the weak are advanced from generation to generation. Thus the natural selection of the best does not take place in humanity. In Darwin’s thinking, it would be better for natural selection to eliminate not only the weak, but also those of color, whom he determined to be inferior.

      We live in a cancel culture in which all memories of those who were supposedly racist are to be erased. For example, the cancel culture is trying to eliminate all statutes and places named after Confederates. This is not only revising history and making it impossible for us to objectively look at our past.

      Why aren’t we canceling the racist man Charles Darwin and his thoughts which clearly contradict God’s will? Why does he continue to be celebrated? Why does his stance on evolution give him a pass from being canceled? It’s hypocrisy and a double standard. It’s crazy that he is revered, even though his teachings have fueled racism and hatred.

      Christianity has never been racist. All humans are descendants from Adam and Eve. God loves everyone. Jesus died for all. While some who go by the name Christian have been racist, that is not God’s way or His teaching. In the same way, Christianity does not allow men to put down women or women men. If you’re guilty of these things, repent.

      And use your Baptism. Baptism is water and the Word. By it, your sins are forgiven, and God grants you eternal life. Your sins are drowned, and you are raised to newness of life. Your identity is now in Christ, for all who are baptized have put on Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). This is not just for you but for everyone.

      For God loved the world. All nations are to be baptized. Jesus died on the cross to save anyone and everyone. This salvation is applied to all who believe and are baptized.

      So what is Baptism? Water and the Word. Who are to be baptized? All nations. And then, the baptized continue in the Word, for Jesus says, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). The baptized, redeemed by Christ, joyously grow in their knowledge of Christ’s saving Word. The baptized joyously hear the things written in Scripture as they increase in wisdom. The baptized, who had the water and the Word applied to them, continue to have the Word of Christ pour out upon them abundantly and richly. For this is the way of salvation. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen