1st Sunday after Epiphany January 13, 2019
1 Peter 3:18-22
298, Lutheran Service Book 405 (alt TLH 302), LSB 596 (alt TLH 301), Worship Supplement 751 (alt. TLH 373)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Collect: Merciful God, in Holy Baptism You washed away our iniquities and cleansed us from our sins. Do not cast us from Your presence, but restore to us the joy of Your salvation. Open our lips to declare Your praise that we may sing of Your righteousness for all eternity. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (NASB)
Dear fellow Children of God,
Whenever we witness a baptism we should ask the question, “What happened here?” Was it some ceremony and tradition that the church has developed over the years to help make us feel good about the eternal welfare of our infants and children? Was this baptism just a sign or symbol of God’s forgiveness for our and our children’s sins? Or is this baptism something more: more than just a tradition or symbolic act performed in obedience to Christ’s command? When you witness a baptism you witness something miraculous, and it has happened to every one of us who has been baptized. Many of us, I would guess, were baptized as infants, so we don’t remember our baptism. However, we still witness the effects of our baptism in our daily lives, so we should remember our baptism, and its importance, every day of our lives. The Apostle Peter’s words in our text remind us of the importance of this baptism for infants—and its importance for us—when he writes in v. 21 that “baptism now saves you!” By taking a closer look at our text, and some other key passages in Scripture we will see how Baptism Saves Us!
First of all, the sacrament of holy baptism is more than just a church tradition. It was instituted and commanded by Christ Himself when He told 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.” (Matthew 28:19) In obedience to Christ’s command we perform baptisms. However, the saving power of baptism is 1. not found in our act of obedience. Nothing we could do for ourselves, or for each other, by itself, could save anyone. Its power is not found in the water itself either. This was not some sort of magic holy water that was used to baptize our children. The water is simply the earthly element that Christ chose to use in this sacrament of baptism. It’s plain to see why He chose water as the earthly element in baptism. Think of the properties of water: it is life-giving and life-sustaining. Water is absolutely necessary for us to sustain our physical lives. It is a cleansing agent. We bathe in it. We wash with it. These properties are powerful visual images and pictures of what happens in baptism. But the sacrament of baptism is more than just a powerful image or picture of Christ cleansing us from our sins. That is why the other part of this sacrament is the Word of God used in connection with the water.
This powerful, life-giving, life-sustaining Word is why Peter can say in our text, Baptism Saves Us! Its power and its saving properties are found (2) in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Take a look again at the words of our text and notice just how interconnected baptism is with Christ’s redemptive work. The Gospel message is very clearly spelled out in these verses. We have in this text the events of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation listed almost exactly how we have them in the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: v. 18 “For Christ also died [Literally: suffered (death)] for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh.” He descended into hell: v. 19 “He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison.”
[A note on this verse, and Christ’s descent into hell, just so there’s no confusion: When Christ descended into hell and “made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (v. 19) He did so, not as part of His suffering, or to give these condemned souls a second chance, but to proclaim His victory over death and Satan. The Greek word used here literally means to announce, to publicly proclaim, to make known. This descent into hell was part of Christ’s exaltation. Like a parading, conquering general He was proclaiming His absolute victory over His defeated enemies!]
Going back to the words of the Apostle’s Creed and our text, The third day He rose again from the dead: v. 18 He was made alive by the Spirit…v. 21 “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: v. 22 “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Peter connects this saving work of Christ with our baptism, which he says “now saves you” (v. 21)!
Elsewhere in the Bible this connection between Christ’s work of redemption and our baptism is also clearly made. Think of Paul’s words in Romans: “Or do you not know 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. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Romans 6:3-6) He also writes in His letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) Should this connection of baptism to the Gospel of Christ’s saving work surprise us? No. After all baptism is the Gospel! It is God’s Word used according to Christ’s command in connection with the water.
Baptism is what we Lutherans call, a “Means of Grace.” In other words, it is one of the “Ways in which God gives us His grace.” Baptism is one of those “ways,” the Word and the Lord’s Supper are the other two—but the common denominator with all three is the Word of God—the Gospel!
Think of a water tower that holds the water for a town or city. How does that water get to the citizens? Through pipes that connect to your home and eventually to your faucet where you turn it on and get water. Think of the cross of Christ like a huge water tower or storage tank where all the forgiveness for all the sins of the world for all time was won. That grace of God and His full and free forgiveness is there for all at the cross. How does that grace and forgiveness come to us personally? Through the Word of God, and through the Word of God in connection with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they all bring that life-saving, life-giving “water” of the Gospel!
Speaking of water, in our text Peter uses a very unusual and unique example to illustrate the role of baptism in God’s plan of salvation. He writes in verses 20-21 “…in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The very waters that destroyed the whole earth in the great flood recorded in Genesis at the same time, in a sense, “saved” Noah and his family by keeping the ark afloat. In the same way the “saving” waters of the flood “corresponds to” the saving waters of baptism, which “now saves you” (v. 19). Just as the floodwaters themselves actually saved Noah and his family, in the same way, baptism actually gives salvation and forgiveness to us by connecting us with the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism does not wash away dirt from the body, but gives us a clean conscience by removing the “dirt” of sin from our souls (see v. 21).
This all may be fine and true according to the Bible, but what about infants? These blessings cannot possibly be given to an infant, can they? What does the Bible say?
The Bible tells us that we are all born in sin—even from the time of our conception—and are therefore in need of forgiveness, even as infants. King David wrote in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
Jesus Himself gave the command to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Infants are included in “all nations” (everyone is! Old people, young people, middle-aged people—everyone!)
Listen to Peter’s words to the thousands who were in the crowd at Pentecost. Listen to how all-inclusive baptism is and that it does, in fact bring us Christ’s forgiveness: “And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Also Jesus specifically invited infants and young children to come to Him, “Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 18:15-16)
Finally, Jesus also tells us that these “little ones” can believe in Him, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6) (The Greek word here “for little child” means “a newborn child, infant, babe; a small or young child.”)
Now, this obviously makes no sense whatsoever to our human reason. How saving faith is created in the heart of a young infant who can’t confess or express his or her faith, or even understand what we are saying, is a mystery to our minds, but is a comfort to our hearts of faith. This baptism is nothing short of the miraculous working of God’s Holy Spirit.
Let’s make sure that we don’t go too far, however, and treat baptism like it’s some sort of “magic bullet.” “Well, my kid’s been baptized. Nothing to worry about now. No need to bring them to church or Sunday School or do anything more!” An infant that is born into this world needs to have nourishment and care in order to sustain his or her life and good health. If the instant a baby was born they were left to themselves and not nursed and cared for, they would not live very long. In the same way if an infant is spiritually reborn through baptism and has saving faith created in their heart by the water and Word. But if it is never again nourished with the life-giving message of the Gospel, their faith will not live very long either. That is why our Lord urges parents to “bring [their children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 4:6) It is also why our Savior’s invitation to “Let the little children come to Me” is an ongoing invitation, not limited to baptism. Baptism for an infant is the beginning of a blessed life of faith.
I remember reading a plaque in one pastor’s house that had this question on it, “Have you thought of your baptism today?” The question sort of took me by surprise and made me realize that I hadn’t thought of my baptism that day, or in a long while, for that matter. Shouldn’t we think about our baptism more often? As the Apostle Peter said in our text, Baptism Saves You! That was the day the Lord made us His child and sealed us with His Holy Spirit. We were given the personal assurance of our salvation through the water and the word. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, and have had all our sins washed away. Therefore, we can daily say with the hymn writer:
God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any That brought my salvation free
Lasting to eternity! Amen.
(Hymn 751, Worship Supplement 2000)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.