3-3-21 Baptism 2 (Lent Midweek)

Bible Text: Mark 16:16 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Lent 2021 | Last week we talked about why Baptism must have power. It has Jesus’ word. And Jesus’ word is always powerful. It created the world, it raised the dead, it forgives sins. And the particular words of Baptism are founded on the power and authority Jesus won by His death and resurrection, an authority and power over death and the devil and all our sin. This evening then we’re going to build on the fact that Baptism has God’s power and talk about what this power does for us, what benefits Baptism gives.

First, though, let’s establish this fact. It does give benefits. It’s Jesus’ Word. When Jesus spoke to the man on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” His words gave heaven. St. Peter was absolutely correct when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So Baptism is, by virtue of being Jesus’ words connected with water, not man’s act, not an act of faith, but God’s work. When our evangelical friends say that Baptism is man’s work, our commitment to God, they are forgetting whose words are spoken in Baptism. They’re not ours. The words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the words connected with Baptism, are Jesus’ words, straight from His mouth. So the direction of Baptism is God to us, not us to God. Whatever else I add to Baptism, my confession of faith, my repenting of my sins, my pledge to be faithful to God, these do not make Baptism Baptism. It’s Jesus’ words joined to the water that make the Baptism. And it is indisputable, beyond any doubt, that Jesus’ words are Jesus’ work, not my work; and more than this, that Jesus’ words are words of eternal life.

So we say Baptism saves. I shouldn’t say “we say”. I should say God says. We say what God says. First, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, says it. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” So not only does He give the words to speak and command that the Church baptize all nations, He also attaches this promise to it, that it saves. And His apostle, St. Peter, says the very same thing. “Baptism does now save us.”

The word “save” is used a lot in Christian circles. People talk about getting saved. And that’s fine, it’s more than fine, Jesus talks about saving us. But I think people have used the word so much that they forget what it means. Being saved doesn’t mean simply getting to go to heaven. Being saved entails being rescued from something. Jesus saves, Baptism saves, yes, of course, but from what? That’s the question. Luther’s answer is a good summary. It saves, rescues from death and the devil. The word death is Bible speak for eternal death, separation from God. And the devil is of course the source of all sin, of misery, of selfishness and pride and envy and filth. Baptism saves us from alienation from God, from being God’s enemy, saves us from being found guilty of our sins, and more than this, saves us from wallowing in our sins, living in the filth of hatred and jealousy and lust and meanness, because not only have we been forgiven of these sins, but our God teaches us to hate them and avoid them and curse and fight the flesh that drives us to them.

This is why St. Peter, when he explains what it means that Baptism saves, says, it is an appeal of a good conscience with God. What a beautiful summary of the benefits Baptism gives! A good conscience with God. Jesus has poured His love out on me. He has called me a child of His Father. He has forgiven me all my sins. So I have a good conscience. God doesn’t accuse me. Satan can’t throw my sins in my face. They are drowned in Jesus’ blood. Hell can’t scare me. I am God’s own child. He won’t abandon me. I have His Spirit. By Him I live and by Him I fight against the sin that is still in me.

We can, as the Bible also does, summarize all the benefits of Baptism with the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter, when he preaches on Pentecost, and the people, pierced to the heart because of their sins, ask, “What shall we do to be saved?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.” And this we hear again and again. It’s like the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something. John comes preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Ananias, when he baptizes Paul, says, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins!” And the list goes on and on. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, everything else follows, fellowship with God, eternal life, a new life of living for God and not for ourselves.

Now there are those who say that Baptism is only said to give these benefits because we devote ourselves to God in Baptism, give him our heart, make our decision for Him. Once again, we have to answer this with the fact that Baptism consists in Jesus’ Word, not ours, and Jesus’ Word is powerful to save, because Jesus bled and died to speak this Word to us. So Baptism itself is simply and categorically not our work, not our faith, not our commitment. It is Jesus’ word and Jesus’ work, and Baptism saves, because it is what it is, not because I am what I am or because I do anything or believe anything.

But it is true that Baptism requires faith. Of course it does. Luther explains it well. What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this. TO ALL WHO BELIEVE THIS. Baptism isn’t holy water, it isn’t magic water, that will zap you and give you eternal life simply because the water was sprinkled. No, Baptism is Jesus speaking, Jesus offering what He suffered to win us and what He rose to give us, and the proper response, the only response, to Jesus coming to us with the promise of everlasting life and fellowship with Him is a heartfelt and sincere Yes, Amen, This is most certainly true. Which is what faith is. Our Amen to God’s work and God’s promise.

We can never turn Baptism into faith or faith into Baptism, just as little as we can turn faith into Jesus or Jesus into faith. Here is the beautiful and precious distinction. Jesus really lived and died. He really bore my sins in His body. He really suffered the torments of hell to answer His own wrath against my sins. And so He really made peace with God. Before faith ever enters into the picture, this is the objective reality: my sins were on Jesus, were buried in His tomb. And it is this objective reality that Baptism brings to me. Baptism says. It happened. It’s finished. The blood has already been shed. Peace with God once more is made. Here, take it, it’s yours. Eternal life. Communion with your Father. The Holy Spirit. And faith simply says yes. Thank you.

So before you can say faith saves, you must say Jesus saves and you must say Baptism saves, because faith only receives Jesus who comes to us in Baptism. And thank God for this. Because it means your trust can be in Jesus alone. Not in yourself. Not in the strength of your own sincerity. Not having to wonder if your faith is really strong enough. Jesus is strong enough. His blood is enough. And your Baptism gives Him, gives eternal salvation. And here there is nothing to wonder about or doubt. It is as sure as the marks on your Lord’s hands and in His side. Because of which He speaks now to you in your Baptism, Peace be with you. Amen.

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