Baptism of Infants and Children
St. Mark 10.13-16; Acts 2.14-41
(Lenten Midweek Vespers Sermon Series on Holy Baptism, Small Catechism)
[Pastor’s Note: This link brings you to Luther’s Large Catechism on Holy Baptism, which concludes with a section on Infant Baptism and faith.]
The Rev. Jacob R. Sutton, Pastor
“Let The Children Come Unto Me”
+ In the Name of Jesus +
And they were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
There’s a mixed message here concerning children. Fathers and mothers are eager to bring their child to Jesus for a blessing. The disciples rebuke the fathers and mothers – the rabbi has no time for little ones, it is incompatible with the dignity of our learned rabbi. One wonders if the disciples remembered how many men, women, and children had been fed miraculously by Jesus with the five loaves and two fish given by the little boy. Or if they remembered the raising to life of Jairus’ daughter.
It was how things were for children in ancient times. Important to the parents. Thought little of by members of a culture all of whom were at one time children themselves.
In some corners of the ancient world, from Old Testament times to the time of the Roman Empire, children were very expendable. Some cults sacrificed children to their gods, and the true God warned against this evil abomination through His holy prophets. The Pharaoh tried to kill the Hebrew baby boys by having them thrown in the Nile River. Some cultures used the practice of exposing infants and abandoning them to die, to weed out cripples and the unfit, often including girls simply as such. Prevention of pregnancy, abortion, and restriction of families to only one or two children were tools used to enforce depopulation by some Roman emperors, particularly when grain harvests were low. Infants and children were viewed to have no significance until they were able to contribute to society. It seems little has changed, considering where modern philosophy, ethics, and culture is today both in the west and in particular communist China – all of which props up the modern abortion industry.
Yet at the same time, families having newborn children in the ancient Greco-Roman world would immediately include the child in their particular home religious practices. In Greece parents would lay the child in a wickerwork cradle, a symbol of purification and fertility; also a nurse or female relative would carry the child quickly around the hearth to place it under the protection of the household gods on the mantle. In Roman homes, a birth was celebrated with a sacrifice to household gods and the concurrent giving of the name to the child.
Of course, the first child of an Israelite family was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for presentation to God, to make atonement for child and mother, as Jesus was presented at forty days old. And, every Israelite boy, our Lord included, was circumcised and named on the eighth day to keep the old covenant.
All of this inconsistency about infants and children is brought to a halt by Jesus Christ, who fulfilled circumcision and presentation Himself, by becoming an infant and a child Himself, living and perfectly fulfilling God’s old covenant, in order to bring about His new one, which He shows in word and deed includes babies and children:
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
This text from Mark’s Gospel is read every time there is a Baptism, whether of the tiniest infant or of the most elderly adult. For Jesus, and later the Apostles themselves as we see in the book of Acts, intellectual qualification and a lengthy instruction is not a requisite for Holy Baptism, nor is the ability to give some personal testimony, nor is age itself a qualification. If we waited for everyone to understand all things perfectly, we would never baptize anyone. Rather, our Lord seeks childlike humility, receptiveness, meekness, simple trust in Him and His Word from all ages.
There is perhaps no greater demonstration of fidelity to this text then the baptism of an adult. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child by submitting humbly to a water baptism, which to the mortal eye is mere water as we pour it, shall not enter it. A grown adult submitting him or herself to baptism would seem mighty incredible to many in our world today. But before the eye of faith in Christ unfolds the power of Jesus’ merit, His blood-bought redemption on Calvary, which all sinners, all children, all ages, all nations, so dearly need. Infants and children and every human are valued and loved by God, as proven by our Lord’s voluntary death to pay the price of sin; and so all need the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit by which God applies His Son’s blood-bought righteousness and justification to every Christian and so gives them entrance into His kingdom:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Did the Apostles remember, with the Holy Spirit’s power, our Lord’s indignant response to their rebuke of the parents? For sure. Thinking of Jesus folding up the infants and children in His arms, blessing them and laying on his hands upon them as one would treat one’s own family and dearest friends, Christ intends for children through Holy Baptism, to be blessed with His rescue from sin, death and devil, and to be blessed even with the faith which receives the grace and blessing He places in Baptism. There was no doubt about the place of children in the Holy Christian Church, for the Apostles baptized whole households, children included as we see in Acts and First Corinthians.
Even more, would not the Apostle St. Peter have this in mind in his Pentecost sermon, when he declares that Baptism delivers the salvation of Christ to every believer, of every age? Yes, for he said that day:
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.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +