Baptism of Jesus Sermon
January 27, 2008
“Baptism Saves Us”
“Baptism doth also now save us.” 1 Peter 3:21
Jesus warned us of false teachers and false prophets. His apostles warned that men from within the Church would promote false teaching harmful to faith. Faith is not a human achievement. If it were, we would not need the Holy Spirit. But we need the Holy Spirit. Without the Lord and giver of life, our faith will die. We need to be aware of threats to our faith. Sometimes these threats to our faith come from very respectable people within the Church.
The Church has always needed to beware of false teaching. When she stands on God’s word against false teaching God will use the false teaching for the good of the Church by sharpening our understanding of the truth. For example, the most dangerous heretic in the history of the Church was a man by the name of Arius who denied that Jesus was true God. He said that the Son of the Father was not the eternal God, but rather the first creation of God. This would overthrow the faith entirely. If Jesus is not true God we are all lost in our sins. In fighting against the Arian heresy, the Church produced the Nicene Creed, many beautiful hymns, and writings that have been a blessing to God’s people for hundreds of years. By responding to false teaching under the direction of the Holy Spirit in the Word, the Church is blessed.
God’s truth has always been taught, confessed, and believed in the Church. And it always will be.
One particularly vicious error that has persisted for several centuries now concerns the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We need to beware of this false teaching and how to respond to it. The false teaching is that Holy Baptism is merely a symbol and that it does not actually provide us Christians with the benefits that Jesus has placed in it. While the Bible says that baptism gives us forgiveness of sins, delivers us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, it is common among many who claim to be Bible believers to deny that baptism gives us anything at all. They teach that baptism is a mere outward expression of an inward experience.
In response to this error, the inspired words of St. Peter stand true: “Baptism doth also now save us.”
Jesus explains how baptism can provide us with salvation when he insists on being baptized by John. He says, “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. He lived a righteous life, not for his own sake, but for our sake. He became our brother in order to live that righteous life that God had required all of us to live. In living that life he purchased for us everlasting life.
The law cannot require of us more than what the Lawgiver did when he became our substitute. Could the law find fault in Jesus? Did he ever covet, hate, lust, steal, lie, or do any wrong of any kind? I know the Hollywood version of Jesus portrays him as a sinner like the rest of us, but that’s a false portrait. The unanimous testimony of those who knew Jesus and who witnessed his life is that he never sinned. This is the divine verdict as well, for the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
He fulfilled all righteousness. He placed his righteousness in the waters of Holy Baptism. Those who are baptized into Christ put on Christ. They are thereby covered with his righteousness. In his baptism, Jesus became the Lamb of God. He took upon himself our sin. In our baptism, our sin is washed away. Because of what Jesus placed in Holy Baptism he can promise us, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
Those who falsely teach that Holy Baptism does not give us forgiveness of sins will point to those people who are baptized but do not believe. They point to their unbelief as evidence that baptism does not save us. But when people reject gifts that are given to them this is not the fault of the giver of the gift. It does not mean that the gift is of no value. Why should baptism be blamed for the unbelief of those who are baptized and reject what baptism provides? We aren’t just talking about a religious ritual here. We are talking about the truthfulness and integrity of Jesus Christ himself. He who fulfilled all righteousness for us is not going to lie about a thing like this. Nor are his apostles going to mislead us. Jesus gives forgiveness of sins, peace with God, deliverance from death, the Holy Spirit, a new life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit and he gives us all these treasures in Holy Baptism.
Consider St. Peter’s words: “Baptism doth also now save us.” Peter was an eyewitness to Christ’s death and resurrection. He goes on to say how it is that baptism saves us. It is not by washing dirt away from the body. It is by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
What had Jesus just done before he rose from the dead? He had just died. How and why? He died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. As St. Paul writes, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus was cursed by God on the cross to bear all the sin of the world. He was punished for the sins of the human race. He offered up his life to take away God’s anger against you and all sinners.
Did he succeed? He did wipe out the sin of the world? Or did he fail? The proof of his success is his resurrection from the dead. This is the proof as well of the efficacy of Holy Baptism. Baptism obtains its power from Christ’s resurrection. St. Paul, in Romans 6, joins our baptism to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He writes,
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Ah, but look at all of the baptized unbelievers running around. They were baptized as infants and they live as if Jesus never died and rose for them. If baptism saved us, how can we account for all of these “unsaved” people who were most certainly baptized?
But how does man’s faithlessness make God a liar? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Yes, there are theologians, preachers, teachers, who claim to be Bible believing who deny that baptism saves. They can take this up with Jesus who teaches us that it does save. By inspiration of the Holy Ghost, St. Peter wrote, “Baptism doth also now save us.” That settles it.
This is why we mark and avoid those who teach that Holy Baptism is merely a symbol that does not really give forgiveness, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. We will not listen to those who say that Holy Baptism is just a sign of something that happens separate from baptism. They are wrong.
But does it matter? How important can it be? It is very important, more important than most Christians realize. We need what baptism provides, not just to become born again when we are babies, but throughout our lives as Christians.
Immediately after Jesus was baptized he was led into the desert to be tempted. When we are baptized we renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Jesus never gave into the devil’s temptations, but we do. Jesus succeeded where we failed. Our faith is constantly under attack by the failure of our sinful flesh. Our baptism assures us of the truth. We are not identified by our sin. We are identified by our Savior. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” God’s name becomes our name. We become Christians and that is what we are.
We don’t define ourselves by our sins and failures. We define ourselves by our baptism. Just as surely as Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for us, our baptism gives us a good conscience before God. Baptism is our answer of a good conscience before God. It isn’t a plea for a good conscience or a request of a good conscience as if our baptism is asking God for something. No, our baptism gives us the answer. The question is, “Who do you think you are, you sinner? You’ve failed God. You’ve run away from him. You’ve not kept your covenant with the Almighty. You stand accused and condemned.” In response to this question and accusation we reply, “But I am baptized! I am covered with the righteousness of him who committed no sin. I am protected by his innocence and I am delivered from all my sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”
I am not a Christian because I chose to be. I am a Christian because God chose me. I had no strength to make myself into a believer. By nature, we are all blind to God’s grace, dead in our sins, and opposed to God’s will. We don’t become Christians by making a decision for Jesus. Jesus made the decision for us when he chose to fulfill all righteousness for us. When God baptizes us he pledges himself to us and God never broke a pledge. If you have been living as if you aren’t a Christian, return to your baptism and claim your true identity. Pay no attention to those who denigrate baptism by saying it is only a symbol. God’s opinion is the only one that counts. And God says that your baptism saves you. For it is not just water. It is water joined to the words and promises of God. That makes it a washing of rebirth to eternal life. It identifies you, dear Christian. It gives you the answer of a good conscience before God. This will give you comfort and peace in your time of need.
Rolf D. Preus