Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last month we spoke about how Martin Luther formed his catechism so that after laying down the law and gospel in the Ten Commandments and Apostles’ Creed, he moved on the Lord’s Prayer to discuss how God’s children come to their heavenly Father. This month we begin to talk about how God the heavenly Father comes to His children on earth. The answer that Luther’s Small Catechism gives is the sacraments—Baptism, Confession & Absolution (seen as a return to Baptism, though some Lutheran confessional documents will call Confession & Absolution the third sacrament), and the Lord’s Supper. This month we deal with the chief part of Baptism.
There’s so much that the Bible has to say about Baptism. It’s everywhere in the Bible—Old Testament, New Testament—you can find Baptism all over the place. It’s such a great and beautiful gift that God gives to us, full of assurance and grace for us, His needy children on earth. But let’s start where Luther starts, Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I’m going to spoil something for you. I always ask this question of catechumens, and parents bringing their children to be baptized. And it stumps them. Every time. The question is: According to this verse, what does Baptism give? Have a guess? C’mon, make a guess. Got it? Let’s see if you’re right. The answer: His name. In Baptism God puts His name on you. He gives you His name so that you can call on His name in worship and in prayer. But even better than that, it’s like when your mom put your name on your mittens or your lunch box, or you put your name on your schoolwork. That name meant that that lunch, those mittens, that work was yours and no one else’s. God does the same thing in Baptism, He puts His triune name on you to make you His own child, you belong to Him because He put His name on you. You don’t belong to yourself, to the devil, or to the world. You belong to Jesus. You belong to the Father. You belong to the Holy Spirit. And no one else. You are His and He is yours, and He takes all that is yours (your death and sin) and then gives you all that is His (His righteousness and life).
Then we move on to Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” and Titus 3:5-8 “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 Saviour, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Baptism and faith, they go together. The one who believes will be baptized because the Bible teaches such wonderful things about Baptism. If you’re ever looking for a fun thing to do sometime, go on a Bible scavenger for every reference to Baptism and you find wonderful things about Baptism, it works forgiveness of sins and gives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), it washes away sin (Acts 22:16), it makes us holy and cleanses us of sin (Eph 5:26), it puts Christ on you (Gal 3:27), and so now we’re heirs with Christ of everything that Christ has now (Gal 3:29), and it saves you as it gives you a conscience clean from sin (1 Pet 3:21). How can it do such great things? Only by the power of Word that God attaches to the water. Baptism is an amazing gift.
Does that mean that once you’re baptized you’re automatically saved? Unfortunately, no. The prodigal son can and does, disown the father and leave the family. But the father never disowns the son (though he will let the son have it his way if that’s what he really wants). Which brings us to Romans 6. For the sake of paper & ink we’ll focus on v. 4, though the whole chapter could be read, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism begins a struggle. A struggle between you as the sinner, and you as the saint in Christ. It is a daily struggle of burying the sinner in the waters of Baptism and allowing the saint to rise up in the resurrection of Christ. Luther describes this as occurring through contrition, the terror over sin and the wrath of God it deserves, and then faith in Christ and His promise of life and forgiveness. This struggle is one that’s made possible, and carried out, by Baptism, so that daily we are returning to that baptismal event, repenting of our sin and believing the gospel. There’s more that we can speak about this, but for now, let it suffice to say that out of this daily reality grows out the doctrine of Confession & Absolution and the Office of the Keys, to which we’ll turn next month.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider