Lessons: Psalm 85, 1 Peter 3:8-22, Mark 16:1-20
Hymns: 601, 594, 451
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last week, we began a series on Baptism. Baptism is Water and the Word. Jesus instituted Baptism and it is for all nations.
Now that we have come to that understanding from last week, why is it so important to baptize all nations? That is, what benefits do Baptism give? These words are clear from two key passages in tonight’s readings. First, as St. Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit, he writes very simply, “Baptism now saves you.” Second, after our Lord Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave, He declared, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” That Baptism saves should be readily received by all Christians and there should be no debate.
But Satan loves to wreak havoc whenever and wherever he can. He loves it when people give in to his temptations and believe in other understandings of Baptism. Satan knows that Baptism unifies as we are adopted into God’s family, so the Devil strives endlessly to bring about disunity in the Church concerning Baptism. The Devil is horrified by the means of grace and so he works tirelessly to confuse people concerning the ways in which God the Holy Spirit applies to us the gifts Jesus earned for all nations on the cross.
Last week, we heard how the Greek word for Baptize has been misunderstood to mean immersion. If only immersion versus sprinkling could be the only disagreement on Baptism. But sadly, that is not the case.
At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther recovered the wonderful teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. This means good works do not contribute toward our salvation. Some churches took this true teaching to the extreme to say that Baptism does not save because we are only saved by faith in Christ. Their intention is to keep the statement true that we are not saved by our works, but then they pit Baptism against faith in Christ.
We must be on guard that we do not fall into this snare of Satan. We must be on guard that we keep the distinctions clear without then voiding other words of Scripture.
It’s sad that when we say, “Baptism saves” because that is the teaching of both Peter and Jesus, then others will respond, “No baptism does not save. Faith in Christ Jesus saves.”
How do they pit Baptism against salvation by faith in Jesus? Well, they consider Baptism not the work of God but the work of man. And they rightly testify that works do not save. Therefore, they reason, Baptism can’t save.
But we believe, teach, and confess that Baptism is not our work. It is the work of God. After all, God saves. He saves in Baptism. God is doing the action. He is driving those verbs.
If Baptism were simply the work of the one is being Baptized, John the Baptist would not have objected to Jesus when Jesus came to him to be baptized. John would have delighted in seeing Jesus do the work on Himself. But John instead knew that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. He needed something from Jesus. For Jesus is the One who offers forgiveness of sin in Holy Baptism.
Yet, despite this clear example, some churches still deny that God does the work in Baptism. Now if God is not the One doing the work, what will they say Baptism does—or what benefits does Baptism give? They may say it does nothing. Or they may say, “Baptism is an outward testimony of an inward faith.” Have you ever heard that phrase? It is commonly held by those who insist on immersion for a true Baptism, those who assert Baptism does not save, and those who do not believe infants and small children should be baptized.
This type of thinking is often so foreign to us Lutherans that we have a hard time believing that anyone would strip Baptism down to that. But many who hold to this were raised thinking that this is what Baptism means and what the Bible teaches. They want to hold so dearly to what they have been taught that they are often unwilling to listen to what the Scriptures actually teach. Which is very sad.
If anyone tries to tell you that Baptism is an outward testimony of an inward faith, politely ask them where that is recorded in the Scripture. They won’t be able to show you anything even remotely close to it. They rightly want to give the credit of their salvation to Jesus, for He alone died on the cross for their sin. But in doing so, they mistakenly set Baptism against faith alone. You see, God works faith. And He is the One at work in Baptism. He saves by grace through faith. He saves in Baptism. The One God has established multiple ways to be confident of our salvation. This confidence comes by God’s grace, through faith, through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper, and through God’s Word.
You see, Baptism does not clean a dirty body of dirt. Instead, Baptism cleanses a sinner of his sin. God washes our sins away in Baptism. This forgiveness is available to us because Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. Had He not fulfilled His Passion, there would be no forgiveness. And without forgiveness, there would be no eternal life or salvation. But Jesus did what He was set out to do. He went to the cross and paid for the sins of the entire world. He was held guilty for our sin, for the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. And so Jesus, who went to the cross as the Guilty One, shed His innocent Blood on our behalf, suffered the wrath of God, and earned our salvation. That salvation is now applied to us by faith. And in faith, sinners are baptized and received into God’s family.
Baptism is a means by which God delivers forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. In Baptism, we are adopted into God’s family. We are rescued from the Devil’s domain and brought into our Lord’s Kingdom. With all of this, eternal life becomes ours.
The works of God in Baptism is not just a past event. Instead, God continues to be a work in our Baptism, for He has joined us to Himself and received us into His family. Adopted children do not talk about their adoption as if it were something that happened in the past and has no bearing on the present. Instead, adopted children remain in the new family and learn and grow and become part of the new family.
In the same way, our Baptisms were not simply past events. We are baptized. We belong to God’s family now. Our sins continue to be forgiven. They continue to be drowned and we continue to rise in newness of life.
So 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. You are baptized into Christ. Salvation is yours. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen