Return to Sermons | Home

“The Doctrine of Holy Baptism”
Mark 1:9-11


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Baptism of our Lord–First Sunday after the Epiphany—January 11, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

On the First Sunday after the Epiphany we traditionally commemorate The Baptism of Our Lord, as recorded in the Gospel reading appointed for this day.  This is a good opportunity for us to look more closely at “The Doctrine of Holy Baptism.”  You are invited to follow along the sermon outline on the last few pages of the bulletin.

We begin by considering the necessity of Holy Baptism.  Is Holy Baptism necessary for salvation?  Holy Baptism is necessary for all of us, because all of us are “by nature sinful and unclean.”  Paul puts is this way in Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. . . You must be born again.”  Holy Baptism is not optional; it is a divine ordinance which our Lord himself has commanded. 

But, it is possible to come to faith in Christ through the Gospel and to die with saving faith without having the opportunity to be baptized.  A good example is the thief on the cross.  He came to faith in Jesus just before his death and didn’t have the opportunity to be baptized.  Jesus promises him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

So, is baptism necessary for salvation?  Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  It is not lack of baptism which condemns, but lack of faith.  However, Holy Baptism is not optional for Christians.  If someone who claims to be a Christian does have the opportunity to be baptized and refuses, that person is rejecting and despising the Lord’s own command and ordinance and putting his or her faith in grave danger.

So, Holy Baptism is necessary for all of us because we are all spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins, and we must all be spiritually “born again.”  But, Holy Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, because it is possible, like the thief on the cross, to come to faith and die in saving faith without having the opportunity to be baptized.

What is required for a baptism to be a true, Christian baptism?  Must it be performed in a church, by a minister?  Must it be, as some denominations teach, a baptism by immersion?  Is a Lutheran baptism the only true baptism?

The essence of Holy Baptism is stated by Paul in Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  The power of Holy Baptism comes from Christ’s sacrifice.  He gave himself up for us, sacrificing himself on the cross as payment for our sins. On his account, your sins are all forgiven. 

The essence of baptism is found in the phrase, “washing with water through the word.”  Holy Baptism is a washing, with water, connected with the word of God, as Jesus says: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Only two things are required for a true, Christian baptism: the application of water upon a living person, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

For the sake of good order, the pastor is delegated the privilege of administering baptism in our worship services.  But, it is not necessary that a baptism take place in a church or be performed by a minister in order to be a valid baptism.  All Christians have the right, power and authority to perform Christian Baptism, especially in cases of emergency.  That is why on the last page of Lutheran Service Book you will find a short form for “Holy Baptism in Cases of Emergency.”

Contrary to the teaching of some denominations, it is also not necessary that the person baptized be immersed in order for it to be a valid baptism.  The Greek verb baptizo means “to wash,” either by immersing, sprinkling or pouring.  We see this in a Bible verse which uses the Greek word baptizo to describe the washing of household items: “When they come from the marketplace [the Pharisees and all the Jews] do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing [literally “baptizing”] of cups, pitchers, kettles, and couches.”  They may well have immersed the cups, pitchers and kettles, but certainly not the couches.  There is nothing wrong with baptizing by immersion.  It is one correct mode of baptism.  But, it is just as correct to baptize by sprinkling or pouring water.

It is also wrong for one Christian denomination to re-baptize a person coming from another Christian denomination.  There is no such thing as “Lutheran” baptism, only Christian baptism.  Paul addressed that issue already in 1 Corinthians, “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Peter’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul? . . .  no one can say that you were baptized into my name.”  The baptism of any Christian denomination is valid if water was applied to the person in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  That is why the Lutheran Church does not re-baptize those coming from other Christian denominations.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

What are the effects of baptism?  What are the results of baptism?  What does your baptism accomplish for you? 

Through baptism you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Peter says in Acts, “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.”

Through baptism you are spiritually “born again” as God’s child.  Paul calls baptism “the washing of rebirth and renewal.”  As Jesus says, “Born of water and the Spirit. . .  You must be born again.”  Through your baptism you were adopted into God’s family of faith, as Paul says in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Through baptism your sins are washed away.  Holy Baptism does not just symbolize cleansing from sins.  By the power of God, Holy Baptism actually accomplishes what it symbolizes.  Through Holy Baptism, God spiritually cleanses you, God spiritually washes away your sins.  As the Book of Acts says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”; “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins.”

Baptism is a means by which the Lord grants you eternal salvation.  As Peter says, “Baptism now saves us,” and as Paul says in Titus, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Along with Word of God and Holy Communion, Holy Baptism is one of means of grace through which God grants you salvation, through these means working faith in your heart to trust in Jesus as your Savior.

That leads us to the question, should infants be baptized?  The baptizing of infants is not a peculiar practice.  The Christian Church has baptized infants throughout its history.  The Book of Acts records the baptism of entire households.  In about 225 A.D. the church father Origen wrote, “The Church has accepted from the Apostles the tradition of giving Baptism also to the little children.”  Infant baptism is still practiced by the vast majority of the world’s Christians.  It is only recently, mostly in America, that denominations have arisen which reject infant baptism.

It all boils down to the question, can infants have an active, personal faith in Jesus?  Jesus himself answers that question in the 18th chapter of Matthew when he calls them, “These little ones who believe in me.”  The Greek word for “little ones” in that verse is used for children all the way down to newborns.  So, Jesus himself clearly says that infants can have faith in him—“These little ones who believe in me.”

We see an example of this in John the Baptizer.  When the Virgin Mary was pregnant with Jesus she went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant herself with John the Baptizer.  The 1st chapter of Luke says, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  Can infants have an active, personal faith in Jesus? According to the Bible, John the Baptizer had faith in Jesus even before he was born. 

The Lutheran Church follows the ancient custom of baptizing infants for two reasons: Because the Bible tells us infants can indeed have an active, personal faith in Jesus as their Savior—Jesus himself describes them as, “These little ones who believe in me”—and because infants are included in Jesus’ command: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” 

“All nations” refers to much more that geographic and political boundaries.  “Nation” in that verse comes from the Greek ethna, from which we get “ethnic.”  An ethna is a nation not so much in geographic and political terms but a people-group with some common characteristic.  A good example is the American Indian “nations.”  They are not a geographic or political nations in the normal English sense, but a people-group based on their common ancestry.  In this sense, each of us is a member of several different nations, several different ethna.  Caucasian people are an ethna, middle-class people are an ethna, tall people are an ethna, short people are an ethna, red-haired people are an ethna, adults are an ethna, and infants are an ethna.  When Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he is saying, “Go and make disciples of all people-groups.”  The Greek phrase for “all nations” means “all people without exception.” 

“Go and make disciples of all nations”—how?  “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Baptizing and teaching, that is Jesus’ two-part plan for making disciples of all people, including infants.

Jesus’ own baptism was the first Christian baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  The Father speaks from heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love.”  The Son is present in the person of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form as a dove.

But, if baptism is a spiritual cleansing to wash away sin, why was Jesus baptized?  He was without sin.  That is why Matthew reports that John the Baptizer tries to deter Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus’ reply tells us why he was baptized, the meaning of his baptism for you: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus came to live a perfect life in your place, as your substitute.  Part of that perfect life included being baptized, not for himself, but for your sake.  Jesus was baptized not to wash away his own sin, for he was without sin; Jesus was baptized so that he would be a perfect sacrifice for our sin.  As he says to John the Baptizer, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” That is the meaning of Jesus’ baptism for you: He fulfilled all righteousness in your place, as your substitute.  He was the perfect sacrifice who paid for all your sin. 

In the book of Revelation, John sees a vision of “a great multitude that no one could count, wearing white robes,” gathered around God’s throne in heaven.  “One of the elders asked me, ‘These is white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?’  I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’  And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  That is what your own baptism means for you;  through Holy Baptism you are spiritually washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, you will be part of the “great multitude that no one can count” gathered around God’s throne in heaven.

But, here on earth, what does your baptism mean for your everyday life?  In 1st Corinthians, Paul gives examples of a sinful lifestyle and then says, “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Baptism leads to sanctification, living a holy life; Baptism gives you daily power to daily live a God-pleasing life: “You were washed, you were sanctified.”  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] 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.”  Baptism symbolizes death and rebirth.  But, it’s not only symbolism.  For, by the power of God, Holy Baptism actually brings to pass what it symbolizes, the death of your old sinful self and the rebirth of your new Christian self, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

But what if you fail?  What if you fall away?  When you do fail, when you do fall away, turn again to the baptismal covenant your heavenly Father made with you when he brought you into his family of faith.  At your baptism, your heavenly Father said of you, “This is my son or daughter, whom I love.”  Although you may break the baptismal covenant on your side, your heavenly Father is ever faithful to his covenant promises.  As Paul says in 2 Timothy, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”  Through Holy Baptism, God has made you “born again” as his own child.  Your heavenly Father will never disown you, but like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, your heavenly Father will always welcome you back because you are his beloved child.

That is the comforting doctrine of Holy Baptism.

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts