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The Small Catechism, Part IV: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

 

First Reading: Acts 2:36-39

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”” (NKJ)

Second Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

From Parts 1-3 of Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1 being the Ten Commandments, Part 2 being the Creed, and Part 3 being The Lord’s Prayer, we come to Part 4, God’s Means of Grace through water and Word.

In the Ten Commandments, God gives words for how we are to live before him and with our neighbors. On account of our not keeping them, we stand condemned before God, except for Jesus Christ, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, confessed in The Creed, the 2nd Chief Part of the Catechism.

Here, we confess God’s work to and for us sinners in providing all that is temporary for the body and all this is eternal for the soul.

Here, we confess God’s goodness, our salvation from sin, death, and hell through the Redeemer Christ, and God’s work of preserving us in the truth faith through the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to create, sustain, and nourish faith through Word preached, sins absolved, water poured, and the body and blood of Christ given to eat and drink in the Holy Supper of our Lord.

In the Third Part of The Catechism, having to do with the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord instructs self-centered sinners how to pray and what to pray for.

He turns us away from ourselves in submission to the Lord’s Holy Will—in everything, excluding nothing, giving the very word to pray, that we would learn that all comes from Him.

The Commandments, The Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father), the first three parts of The Small Catechism, all Christians should readily be familiar with.  They cannot be exhausted, known, or contemplated enough.

Baptism, ShellThe same applies to the next chief Part, Part 4, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the chief parts that follow.

Concerning Holy Baptism, Luther outlines the topics therein in four sections, and then also gives Biblical references in support of each.

Each section consists of a question:

1 What is Baptism?

2 What benefits does Baptism give?

3 How can water do such great things?

And, 4 What does such baptizing indicate?

In beginning to address these questions, it is necessary, at the first, to speak about the word “baptize” itself, as any number of people have been mislead to believe that “to baptize” means something that it does not, or that it only should be used one way and no other, lest it be invalid or not a true baptism.

Some teach and believe that “to baptize” means “to immerse in water only,” or “to dunk only,” and that baptism is truly a baptism if only immersed, or that a greater amount of water must be used, because baptism is only a symbol, not a work of God and a Means of Grace.

In truth, “to baptize” with water can mean to immerse or dunk in water.

It can also mean “to dip,” “to sprinkle,” or “to pour.”

Biblically speaking, “to baptize with water” includes all of these.

While many want to give emphasis to the washing of water only, and to the amount of water used/applied, as do all who deny infant Baptism and God’s grace given in Baptism, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” (SC, Baptism, First).

We do not deny, therefore, God’s work in water due to the amount used or to the mode applied.

Instead, as Christians, we look to the Word and promise of God.

The identification of Baptism as God’s work is determined according to the Lord’s revelation and not according to our definition, disposition, or symbolic attribution to the Sacrament.

Writes Luther,

17 …Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added. God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water—praise it in any other terms you can—all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word which no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God.

18 From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament…When the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.

19 Therefore, we constantly teach that the sacraments and all the external things ordained and instituted by God should be regarded not according to the gross, external mask (as we see the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed.”

Luther continues,

22 I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. For where the Word is separated from the water, the water is no different from that which the maid cooks with and could indeed be called a bathkeeper’s baptism. But when the Word is present according to God’s ordinance, Baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s Baptism.” (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶17-19, 22)

In Matthew 28, verse 19, Jesus is recorded to have said to His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 NKJ).

Likewise, St. Mark records Jesus to have said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16 NKJ).

Concerning these verses from Matthew 28 and Mark 16, Luther observes that,

6 …these words contain God’s commandment and ordinance. You should not doubt, then, that Baptism is of divine origin, not something devised or invented by men. As truly as I can say that the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer are not spun out of any man’s imagination but revealed and given by God himself, so I can also boast that Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat.

7 It is of the greatest importance that we regard Baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted. It is the chief cause of our contentions and battles because the world now is full of sects who proclaim that Baptism is an external thing and that external things are of no use.

8 But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s Word and command which have been instituted, established, and confirmed in Baptism. What God instituted and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw. (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶6-8)

As what God has instituted and commands cannot be useless, neither can Holy Baptism.

Not at all apart from faith, Holy Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, preserves from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation” (SC, Baptism, Second).

Unlike those who posit Baptism to be only an “outward sign of an inward grace,” that you have to be old enough in order to make a decision to be baptized, or that Lutherans believe Baptism to save without faith in God’s promise (because babies can’t believe), the Bible declares distinctly and definitively that Holy Baptism in the Name of the Triune God—in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—is in His Name, done by Him.

Baptism into God’s Name can be none other than God’s work, independent of what we think, what reason has to say, or what the fallen sinner defines baptism to be.

Can infants, can babies, believe?

Christians say and affirmative, “Yes,” because such faith does not come from within.

The faith which believes God’s Word and promise comes from the God who gives it—through His very Word and promise given, the means by which the Holy Spirit creates and nourishes faith.

When Peter rightly confesses Jesus to be Christ, Jesus did not then say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,” for you have come to this conclusion on your own and have decided the truth by yourself. Good for you!

Not at all.

What does Jesus say?

Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17 NKJ).

St. Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 NASB).

In another place, St. Paul reveals that, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3 NKJ).

As the child, so also the adult does not come to saving by self, but by the gifted revelation of God, His Holy Word, even that Holy Word attached to water.

Through the very Means God has instituted to bring about new birth unto eternal life, God raises to life that which was dead in trespasses and sins.

St. Peter, therefore, connects “the remission of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to the water and word of Holy Baptism, extending that promise also to children (Acts 2:38).

Such blessings are attached to Holy Baptism.

To be baptized into God’s Holy Name is to be born anew, born from above, born of water and the Spirit, born of God, having His Name upon You, His blessing–yours (John 3:3, 7, 13).

Scriptural baptism is not at all man’s work.

It is God’s.

If Baptism was man’s work, all who claim baptism to be merely an outward sign to God (as if God needs to be shown) or a testimony/sign to man, in union denying God’s great gifts, would then be correct and the Bible in error.

If Baptism was man’s work, there would not be attached to Baptism the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Man’s work cannot do these things.

Yet, St. Peter writes, “Baptism saves” (1 Peter 3:21).

God’s Word is too clear to deny not only what Holy Baptism is and its blessing to sinners, but also its continual comfort to the Christian.

As we believe in God and Christ, so also we believe His Word and work.

With St. Paul the apostle, we confess with Him “That as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…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” (Rom. 6:3-4 NKJ).

Thus does Baptism indicate, “that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC, Fourth).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJ).

God’s one-time act of baptizing you was sufficient.

Into His Name you remain, as you believe His promises.

In what God has done, here is where you have your identity.

What defines you is not how you live, what you do, or who you are as a sinner.

What defines you is what God says of you: washed, forgiven, Mine. Amen.

 

Luther’s Small Catechism

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

First.

What is Baptism?–Answer. Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.

What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer. It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.

How can water do such great things?–Answer. It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasGracious God, through the water of Holy Baptism you washed me clean of my sin. Strengthen my confidence in Your Word and work, that through the challenges of this life, I live by faith as Your beloved child, certain that my identity is in You, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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