Return to Sermons | Home

“What is Baptism?”
Matthew 28:16-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Midweek Vespers—April 15, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther divides Christian doctrine into Six Chief Parts: Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Office of the Keys and Confession, and Sacrament of Holy Communion.  In our Midweek Vespers meditations this year, we have so far considered the Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer.  For the remaining weeks of Midweek School classes, we are going to look at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

The word “catechism” means a book of instruction in the form of questions and answers.  In the Small Catechism, Luther teaches us by asking and then answering questions about these key doctrines of the Christian faith.  For the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, he has four main topics, which we will consider over the next four weeks:

“What Is Baptism?

“What Benefits Does Baptism Give?

“How Can Water Do Such Great Things?”

“What Does Such Baptizing with Water Indicate?”

We begin this evening with the first topic.  It is printed from the Small Catechism on page two of the bulletin.  Let’s now responsively read the questions and answers as printed in the bulletin:

What is Baptism?

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

Which is that Word of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a phenomenon in medical research known as the placebo effect.  A placebo is a pretend pill, made up just of sugar or other inactive ingredients, and really containing no actual medicine.  To test medications, researchers often divide the test subjects into two groups and give half the real medicine and half a placebo—without telling them which one they’re getting.  The placebo shouldn’t do anything, but the strange thing is that often the people who get the pretend pill feel remarkably better, even though there’s really nothing there.  The power of a placebo is not in the pill itself, but only in the minds of those who receive it.

Some people think that Baptism is only a placebo.  It is just symbolic, there’s not really anything supernatural actually happening in Baptism.  The power of Baptism is not in the Sacrament itself, but only the minds of those who receive it.

“What is Baptism?  Baptism is not just plain water.”  Baptism is not just a placebo.  Baptism is real spiritual medicine that our Lord gives us, for our spiritual healing.  For we are all born with a deadly spiritual disease, as Psalm 51 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Left untreated, the disease of sin would bring death, as Paul says in Romans, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Just as medicine may be administered in different forms, perhaps a pill, or a inhaler, or an injection, to cure you of your disease of sin God dispenses to you in three different ways the forgiveness of sins Christ earned for you by his death and resurrection.  “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and this “gift of God” comes to you from God through the Word of God, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

“Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.”  That’s what gives Baptism its power: the application of water, combined with the Word of God, according to Christ’s command.

“Which is that Word of God?  Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew:  ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”

Paul puts it this way 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.”  That’s what Baptism is: “the washing with water through the Word.”

Paul goes on to tell us what this “washing with water and the Word” accomplishes: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

From our perspective, Baptism might appear to be just a placebo.  Because, to our eyes, after a person is baptized they don’t, for instance, glow with a halo, but from our perspective appear externally quite the same.   However, from God’s perspective, Baptism DOES makes you “radiant” in his sight, with the holiness of Christ, “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Let’s close by repeating again responsively the questions and answers from the Small Catechism printed in the bulletin:

What is Baptism?

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

Which is that Word of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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