What Benefits Does Baptism Give? – St. Mark 16; 1 Peter 3 (Lenten Midweek Vespers Sermon Series on Holy Baptism, Small Catechism)
The Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Tonight we prayed the 85th Psalm, which begins:
Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
The Psalm recognizes that the people have sinned against God, and restoration or reconciliation is needed. Salvation is needed from eternal death, the just punishment for sin from the righteous God who is justly angry over our sin. That’s the story of ancient Israel time and again, but it is the story of all of God’s people in this temporal, sin-corrupted life. The Lord chooses for His people, saves them time and again, and the people reject Him and sin against Him – and the repentant cry out for help when faced with God’s holy anger over sin. “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, put away your indignation toward us!”
Yet, says the Psalmist, God will speak peace to His people, to His saints. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, urges the hopeful Psalmist.
But how does the God of our salvation go about restoring you to Himself, and putting away His grief-filled anger towards you because of your iniquity – the iniquity which every son and daughter of Adam are powerless to get rid of on their own, can never amend for with anything they have?
The holy apostle St. Peter tells us the first answer:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… (1 Pet. 3.18)
This making alive in the Spirit – the resurrection of the crucified Christ – is the sure guarantee and public judgment God has spoken peace to and restored His people. Hear the angel again to the women at the empty tomb:
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (St. Mark 16.6-7)
But how does God apply His salvation and resurrection victory over sin and death and devil, and so bring His salvation near to those who fear Him? How are Peter, and the women, and every disciple of Jesus to come after them to be comforted by the saving act of God’s Son?
Jesus has instituted the washing of regeneration, of renewal in the Holy Spirit – with water and the Word, in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The benefit of this Baptism to the baptized is that the God of our salvation, the God who saves His people from their sins and iniquities – in the blessed washing of water and by applying His Name – saves all who believe, who by faith receive this resurrection victory blessing He puts into Holy Baptism.
The Lord Jesus promises this blessing very clearly to be:
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mk. 16.16)
What does it mean to be saved? Holy Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as these words and promises of our Savior and Lord declare. The resurrection victory of Jesus over sin and death and devil is made ours in Holy Baptism – we who once were dead in our sins and trespasses are now made alive again together with Christ.
St. Peter confessed Baptism’s blessing and benefit this way: it is to be brought safely into the ark of the Church – where like Noah’s Ark that once saved eight souls in all through the Great Deluge: Baptism, which corresponds to [that Ark], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pet. 3.21-22)
Now, living as baptized children of the heavenly Father, you have a real reason for the hope that is in you to confess to this evil and lost world and to its prince when they try and test you and your Christian faith and hope. Your confession is: “I’ve been baptized into Christ, the Savior who died for my trespasses and was raised again and now lives and reigns from heaven, and in Him, my conscience is good, cleansed. Joined to Him by baptism, I am saved from eternal wrath and everlasting condemnation that I was once owed for my sin. Not even the devil has a claim over me. The God of salvation acted for me through cross and resurrection, and applied the blessing of forgiveness and salvation to me in a personal, blessed, and holy time and place and ceremony that can never be taken away from me. My baptism.”
It is fitting this Lenten season to remember the connection of Holy Baptism to the singular and culminating saving act of mankind by Jesus Christ. Every Lenten season points us to and culminates with the Easter Vigil – where the Paschal Baptismal candle and the Baptismal font are blessed for the new year of life in Christ, and we all remember our Baptism into Christ, the culminating saving act each Christian receives that unites you to the whole salvation story of God’s people from Adam and Eve to Noah to ancient Israel’s rescue from Egypt to the salvation of the Three Men from out of the fiery furnace to the ultimate fulfillment of this history by the Lord Jesus Himself on Calvary and seen by all the world in His empty and conquered tomb. Baptism is God’s gracious act to save you and be for you the God of your salvation, applying to you the salvation He won for you from eternal death and thus restoring you to be His saints, who live before Him righteous here in time and there in eternity.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +