What Does Such Baptizing With Water Indicate? – Romans 6.1-23
(Lenten Midweek Vespers Sermon Series on Holy Baptism, Small Catechism)
The Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
“Dying and Rising”
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Every Christian baptism involves a drowning. The sinner is put to death in the water. Someone dies, and that is the Old Adam, the Old Man, the sinful self. But a new man comes out of the water, one cleansed by the same waters which caused the death of the Old Man.
We baptize infants according to our Lord’s command that all are to be baptized if they are to receive salvation. The imagery of being placed under water is somewhat lost in our day where our fonts are rather meager vessels of water. Luther remarked that a baptismal font should be large enough to hold a ten pound baby. Luther’s preference was for immersion, while the radical reformers, Bucer and Zwingli preferred pouring. [AE 35. 29 fn 2; see also AE 53.100, fn 2].
Immersion clearly implies a drowning, a watery grave. Luther’s Flood Prayer, used in our baptismal rite, names the drowning of the unbelieving world in the Noaic Flood and the drowning of unbelieving Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. All of this is a picture of Holy Baptism. Luther says that the German word for Baptism is Taufe, which he says undoubtedly comes from the German word tief, which means “deep.” One is placed very deep into the water to bring about death so that there can be a resurrection. Into Christ’s death and resurrection every Christian is baptized. There is a dying and a rising.
But what is to die? It is the body of sin, the Old Adam, the first rebel against God. Our sinful self must be killed. However, the Old Adam proves himself to be a good swimmer! The Apostle Paul makes clear that the old sinful self arises from his watery grave to afflict us and pull us away from Christ. This Old Man doesn’t die at once and neither is the New Man completely formed, so a daily struggle ensues.
I have always thought that drowning is a most horrible way to die. One struggles in vain to gain breath, without which one cannot live. It is an agonizing death. Think of putting to death all your sinful urges and habits. In the following chapter in Romans the Apostle mourns this condition that afflicts every Christian:
19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 7:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Putting our Old Adams to death is the most difficult work of all, yet the battle must be engaged every day. There are no days off, no R & R from the bloody battle. By way of illustration, it resembles World War II in the Pacific. Island by island the enemy had to be engaged. This enemy did not surrender, did not give up, but launched suicide attack after suicide attack. It was all or nothing. No Japanese soldier allowed himself to be taken prisoner, so desperate was the battle.
That’s how it must be for the Christian, not to die in a hopeless cause, but to gain the sure and certain victory of Christ who was crucified, died, and was buried in a tomb, but rose victorious on the third day, having vanquished sin, death, and hell. From this watery grave of Baptism the new man comes forth. He lives the new life of Christ, using his his body as an instrument fo righteousness. the Christian is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. He lives in the freedom of Christ’s victory.
It is at this point that Luther states in the Large Catechism:
74 Here you see that Baptism, both by its power and by its signification, comprehends also the third sacrament, formerly called Penance, which is really nothing else than Baptism.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 445–446). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Sadly, for many Christians, one’s baptism goes away once completed. The continuing power of baptism lies in this, that we have access to it whenever we repent. That means whenever we subdue the Old Man. As Luther said, so it is true:
75 What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old man and an entering upon a new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in Baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and promotes it.
76 In Baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and power to suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong.
77 Therefore Baptism remains forever. Even though we fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old man.
78 But we need not again have the water poured over us. Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, and the effect and signification of Baptism would continue and remain.
79 Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, to resume and practice what had earlier been begun but abandoned. [LC Baptism, 75-79]
Many years ago a woman in our congregation asked me to baptize her again. She said that she felt that she needed to be baptized again to regain the promises. I refused, telling her that baptism remains eternally effective. She needed simply to repent and confess to reclaim the promises. Sadly, she joined a Baptist congregation which was all too happy to rebaptize her. She never understand the power of Baptism.
Practicing Confession and Absolution is really living in one’s Baptism. Daily contrition and repentance is the essence, the heart of it. Sadly, the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is not widely practiced, even among members of our congregation. For many it is seen as a leftover practice of Roman Catholicism, but it has little in common with that papal tyranny. Confession and Absolution is a privilege that you have, that you may return to your Baptism by confession your sins and evil lusts, drowning the Old Man, and receiving the freeing word of Absolution from Christ through the pastor’s lips. This is like an unclaimed treasure. God provides it for you so that you may live in your Baptism.
Luther’s own words encourage you:
32 Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. [Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 460). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Dying and rising daily is what comprises the baptismal life of the Christian, that is, repentance and forgiveness, putting off the body of sin and putting on the righteousness of Christ. To live in repentance is to live in your Baptism. That is what all of this means. Baptism is not an empty symbol but the practice of the Christian life. In Baptism you receive grace, the Holy Spirit, and power to suppress the Old Adam, so that the new man may come forth and grown strong. [LC Baptism, 76].
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.