Read: 2 Kings 5:1-15; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38-39
Jesus told Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). Most of Christendom is in agreement when it comes to how salvation was won. Most Christians agree that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. However, there is quite a divergence in Christian teaching when it comes to the matter of how the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Jesus has won for sinners is distributed and received. This is very apparent when we examine what the various churches teach concerning the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Are the sacraments mere outward symbols of an inward work, merely man’s work of obedience offered up to God, or are they God’s gracious work for the benefit of sinners? These questions are not difficult to answer if one stays with the clear words of the Bible.
When the Syrian army commander Naaman was directed to seek help for his leprosy from the prophet Elisha, he was expecting something magnificent to happen. Instead, the prophet Elisha simply told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman’s reason and experience told him that there was nothing special about the waters of the Jordan River. It was not the special waters of the Jordan River that brought about Naaman’s healing, but rather God’s word and promise attached to those waters. Likewise, it is the word and promise of God attached to the waters of Holy Baptism that make it a healing washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).
In Holy Baptism, God works for the benefit of sinners. In Baptism, God washes away and cleanses us of the leprosy of our sin. The Bible says that we were all born spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses and that unless we are born again from above, we cannot see the kingdom of God (Ephesians 2:1; Psalm 51:5; John 3:3). How does God bring about this spiritual rebirth which brings us into His kingdom? Through the Gospel in the Word and Baptism (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18; John 3:5). St. Paul writes, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). The fact that Baptism is God’s work is evident in the blessings that He has attached to it. The Bible says that Baptism bestows the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11). It says that in Baptism we are clothed with Christ and His righteousness and made sons of God (Galatians 3:26-27). Baptism joins us to Christ and His saving death and glorious resurrection (Romans 6:3-11; Colossians 2:11-14). Because Baptism joins us to Christ, it saves us and gives a good conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is a means by which we are made disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19).
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15-16). When we see the universal problem of sin and the need for the great blessings that God has attached to Holy Baptism, we begin to understand why Jesus has given His church the instruction to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). “All nations” includes men, women, children, the elderly, and babies. We all need the new birth, forgiveness, life, and salvation which Baptism brings and seals to us. This is why Peter preached, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off” (Acts 2:39), and this is why the book of Acts records that entire households were baptized (Acts 16:15, 33).
In his Large Catechism, Luther writes, “Imagine there was a doctor somewhere who understood the art of saving people from death or, even though they died, could restore them quickly to life so that they would afterward live forever. Oh, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain. No one could find access to him because of the throng of the rich! But here in Baptism there is freely brought to everyone’s door such a treasure and medicine that it utterly destroys death and preserves all people alive” (LC IV:43).
Sins, disturb my soul no longer;
I am baptized into Christ.
I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
(ELH #246, verse 2)
Rev. Trent Saari
Lakewood Lutheran Church
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church