Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism is one of those beliefs and practices that unfortunately divide the Church into at least two groups. There is the group we belong to that baptizes people of all ages and then there is the group who baptize only those who have reached an age of accountability; in other words, the person has to be able to confess their faith. Baptism also divides the church between those like us who believe that baptism is primarily God’s gift or Gospel and those who believe that baptism is the law – what we do in obedience to God or in connection to our profession of faith.
Now if numbers determined who was right, 90% of Christians around the world belong to church bodies like our own who baptize people of all ages. The remaining 10% only baptize those who can speak for themselves. Even so, both groups go to Holy Scripture to make compelling arguments for their position.
Now I suppose its possible that we’re all wrong, but both positions cannot be true unless we want to join our current culture in watering things down to something meaningless.
When we look at the New Testament, it appears that on the surface anyway, that those who are baptized are able to speak for themselves. From John the Baptist’s approach we read that the people who came to be baptized, came “confessing their sins.”
However, the New Testament also speaks of entire households being baptized and nowhere does God’s Word oppose the baptism of infants and children who are unable at the time of baptism to speak for themselves. In fact, if God accepted the circumcision of Jewish boys at the age of 8 days as a means of incorporating them into God’s covenant, would God not consider baptism an even more important gift since baptism incorporates us into Christ’s own death and resurrection?
On this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, I want us to listen to what the God’s word says about baptism and to help us unpack the meaning of baptism I want to use the verses of the last hymn we will sing today, “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized.” It is written by the famous German theologian, Lutheran pastor and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt.
It begins with these words…
1 All Christians who have been baptized,
Who know the God of heaven,
And in whose daily life is prized
The name of Christ once given:
Consider now what God has done,
The gifts He gives to ev’ryone
Baptized into Christ Jesus!
At the very start, it appears that the author of these words is emphasizing that those who are baptized need to have some knowledge of God, Christ and what baptism is: All Christians who have been baptized, Who know the God of heaven…
Consider now what God has done…
It is true that it is vital for those who have been baptized to be taught the truth and to understand the truth of who God is, what God has revealed to us in Christ and what God has done for us. Jesus Himself said (Matthew 28:19-20),
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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Learning and growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is essential to our life as God’s baptized people. At the same time though, the gifts that God has given to ev’ryone baptized into Christ Jesus as this first stanza says, is in no way changed by those who are baptized and not taught or baptized and leave the church or baptized and reject Christ or even by those who have never been baptized. The gifts that God has given in Christ through His life, death and resurrection remain the same for all.
But why do we need to be baptized and as early as possibly? Paul Gerhardt writes in the second verse…
2 You were before your day of birth,
Indeed, from your conception,
Condemned and lost with all the earth,
None good, without exception.
For like your parents’ flesh and blood,
Turned inward from the highest good,
You constantly denied Him.
When Adam and Eve fell to the temptation to become their own gods, they infected every human being with sin and death from that day forward. King David wrote (Psalm 51:5):
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
As cute as those newborn babies are, they are not innocent as that 10% group of Christians would teach. These babes from conception are born without fear or trust in God and with a natural desire for what is evil. These babes do not need the dedication of their parents as much as they need the saving promises of God’s Word and Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism.
It is as Titus (3) wrote:
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…
That is what Paul Gerhardt says in his third verse
3 But all of that was washed away—
Immersed and drowned forever.
The water of your Baptism day
Restored again whatever
Old Adam and his sin destroyed
And all our sinful selves employed
According to our nature.
Baptism is the washing of regeneration; the action of God joining us to Christ in His death and resurrection. As St. Paul writes in Romans 6…
“We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4)
As Paul Gerhardt on to write in stanza four
4 In Baptism we now put on Christ—
Our shame is fully covered
With all that He once sacrificed
And freely for us suffered.
For here the flood of His own blood
Now makes us holy, right, and good
Before our heav’nly Father.
Why would anyone not want to have their child baptized if this is true? Why would any adult be standing on the sidelines, waiting to be baptized, if this is true?
St. Paul writes in Galatians 3(27): For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This image of being clothed with Christ was made visible in the early church as people walked naked into the baptismal font, were baptized and then a white garment was placed over them. This tradition of placing a white garment over a person having been baptized is still part of our Lutheran tradition too.
In baptism we are clothed with Christ and all our sin and guilt and shame is covered by Christ’s righteousness. God no longer sees us as we are, sinners, but as we are in Christ, forgiven and righteous. In baptism you receive Christ’s sacrifice for you; Christ’s suffering for you; Christ’s blood for you and in baptism Christ makes you holy, right and good before our heavenly Father.
It’s so easy to think of our baptism as a past event. We might say, “I was baptized…” But Paul Gerhardt in stanza five reminds us that baptism is what we are and the our baptism has meaning for us every day. He writes
5 O Christian, firmly hold this gift
And give God thanks forever!
It gives the power to uplift
In all that you endeavor.
When nothing else revives your soul,
Your Baptism stands and makes you whole
And then in death completes you.
Baptism is God’s gift. At Pentecost (Acts 2), when the crowds heard the preaching of Peter they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Thanks be to God that this gift is yours too, for through water and the Word the Holy Spirit comes, not just once, but is there for you every day, leading you back to Jesus, back to the Word, to revive your soul, to help you stand when your sin and the world would knock you down and most importantly, to make you whole. You are whole in Christ and in death, you will be raised to new life in Christ. That is the promise of baptism.
So Paul Gerhardt rightly says in stanza six…
6 So use it well! You are made new—
In Christ a new creation!
As faithful Christians, live and do
Within your own vocation,
Until that day when you possess
His glorious robe of righteousness
Bestowed on you forever!
Baptism is not a trophy to put on the shelf or a confirmation certificate hung on some wall, but it is the means by which we have been made new in Christ. Our baptism enables us to undertake our various vocations or callings faithfully and in confidence that when Christ returns, we will be wearing His robe of righteousness forever.
On that day some two thousand years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ went into the River Jordan which today is nothing but a muddy stream. In those waters He not only was declared the beloved Son of God, but in those waters, He took upon Himself the sin of the world, your sin and mine. From there, he carried our sin to the cross where He died for you, for me and for all. Then three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and went on to command His disciples, which includes us to…
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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is not a command to baptize only some people or a command to dedicate babies or to put aside the ongoing instruction in the faith. This is a command to baptize all; to instruct the baptized always and to hold to the promise that in God’s Word and in our baptism, Christ is with us always to the end of the age.
Let us pray. Almighty and most merciful God and Father, we thank and praise You that You graciously preserve and enlarge Your family and have granted your people here the new birth in Holy Baptism and made them members of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and heirs of Your heavenly kingdom. We humbly implore You that as your children, You would keep us in our baptismal grace, that according to Your good pleasure we may faithfully grow to lead godly lives to the praise and honor of Your holy name and finally, with all Your saints, obtain the promised inheritance in heaven; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.