The text for our reflection today is found in St. Paul's letter to his student Titus, chapter 3, verses 4 to 7. This letter is very short, is very much like the first letter to Timothy, Paul's other protege, and was probably written sometime between the first and second letters to Timothy.
Paul mentions Titus in his other epistles. Galatians 2:3 says Titus was Greek, but we do not know anything more about his background. Titus was charged with the pastoral care of the Christian churches on the island of Crete, and this letter was his mentor's advice on how to build up and administer the young churches on that island.
The letter is brief, but our text for today is rich in meaning for us. It speaks of the love of God in Jesus, Christ as our Savior and justification by faith. Remember that this is the reason for Christmas: Christ appeared in our world to save us, to suffer and die on the cross for our sins, and to conquer sin, the devil and death.
We especially should understand what these verses say about baptism. The blessings of the cross and the resurrection of Christ belong to those who have had "the washing of regeneration." What is this washing of regeneration? Baptism.
The word, "baptize", is derived from the Greek language. Originally it meant simply to "wash." In Mark 7:4, the evangelist uses this Greek work to mean washing the dishes. In Lucas 11:8, the word, "baptize", refers to washing of the hands before meals. It is important to understand, this word does necessarily mean total immersion in water. Some evangelical churches insist Christian baptism requires total immersion, but this is not the case. Our Lord commands the application of water, but no specific form of application.
As the Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism says (this is the catechism we use in our confirmation classes here), "Baptism means applying water by washing, pouring, spraying or dipping."
However, the catechism also explains, "Baptism is not just plain water, but water included in God's command, and combined with God's Word."
Furthermore, we find in the Small Catechism this question with an answer:
What benefits does baptism give? That is to say, what are the blessings of baptism?
The answer is as follows:
1.It works forgiveness of sins.
2.Rescues us from death and the devil.
3.Gives eternal salvation.
Now some people may ask, "Is it not possible to be saved by faith in Christ without baptism?" What of those who say, "We believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior," but who die before they have the chance to be baptized?
It is true, when Jesus was dying on the cross with two thieves on either side, one thief said to Him, "Remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus replied, Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
So the thief was saved without the rite of baptism, but, look, in this case he received forgiveness for his sins and the promise of eternal life directly from the mouth of the Savior. Jesus Christ won forgivenes of sins and eternal life for everyone on the cross, and He has the power and authority to announce this good news in whatever way He pleases.
But He has ordered that the way we receive the blessing of the cross and the resurrection is by the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. This is the process: The Holy Spirit acts throught the preaching of the Word to touch the heart of the unbeliever. When the Spirit has sparked the desire for redemption in Christ, the convert receives in baptism the seal of his new identity as a son or daughter of God and the assurance of all the blessings of which we are speaking. In the sacrament of the Lord's Supper we receive spiritual nourishment to grow in faith.
Therefore, Mark 16:16 says, "He who believes and is baptized, will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned." That is, it not the lack of baptism in itself that condemnts, but rather the refusal of baptism. He who believes, desires baptism; he does not desire baptism, does not believe in Christ, who commanded baptism. There is no line of separation.
So, for example, if a child of Christian parents dies before the appointed date of baptism, we may say that the child is in the hands of a just and merciful God. He is not necessarily lost. But if the child is baptized before his death, we can be sure that he has the sure promise of eternal life. And we do, too, through our baptism.
Mark this well, baptism is something God does for us, not something we do for God. In baptism, God calls us, each and every one of us, by name, using the church, the communion of saints, as His instrument. God does not need the church, nor does He need anything from any of us, but He has founded the church and has called us because of His love and mercy.
In baptism, God adopts us publicly as His children and joins us to His church, the family of believers and the Body of Christ in this world. Amen.
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