Here Saint Paul speaks of the free justification, by grace, through faith.
Today we also heard about the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. On that occasion, God demonstrated the power of Baptism by great signs. These signs were the opening of heaven, the Holy Spirit as a dove descending on Christ, and the voice of the Father from heaven.
We also hear from Saint Peter, among others, what great power Holy Baptism delivers to us. He says that Baptism now saves us in his first epistle, chapter three. In his Pentecost sermon he says, ďRepent, and let every one of you be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.Ē
So Baptism gives remission of sins and salvation. It gives the Holy Spirit, which is consistent with the mighty sign of the dove that God showed at the Jordan. In other words, Holy Baptism IS justification. God declares us righteous and innocent by means of water combined with the Word. This is not to say that ONLY Baptism is justification, or that the only application of our text is in that Sacrament. But it does apply to Baptism, and therefore to all who have received this wondrous gift.
We could therefore hear the words of Paul in Romans three as applying to Baptism. We can hear him say to us, ďFor all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified IN BAPTISM, freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.Ē
As we approached the Baptismal Font to receive Godís gift, we were sinners like all the rest. Our state was inherited from Adam. Our image, which should have been the pure image of God without stain or blemish, was instead an image of corruption and sin and death. We should have been glorious creatures reflecting His holiness. But we fell short. Indeed, our works, even when we attempted to be righteous, instead revealed our sinful heart.
Many of us approached the Font as a baby. But that made us no less sinners. It only meant that we had been given less time and ability, up to that point, to demonstrate our sinfulness.
All men approach the Font the same way. We all lacked and needed the glory of God. Because of our state, we were excluded from Godís glory and would never enter it. No one comes to the Font with glory and holiness, except Christ, who approached the Jordan in a pure state. But we are not Him.
Yet in Baptism, we were freely justified as a gift. Nothing was required of us. The act of coming to the Font did not save us. The agreement of our will to receive the waters of Baptism did not give us remission of sins. Instead, the justifying waters gave us everything freely, unearned, purely by grace. The undeserved love of God alone was the motivation for God to give us His gift in and with these waters.
If it is by grace, then it is not by works. Holy Baptism is not our work, but Godís. We earn nothing there. Our presence at the Font did not mean that we had made the right choice to be saved or done the right thing. It meant that we acknowledged the fact that we were sinners in desperate need of Godís work in the waters there. This is especially true for those of us who came as infants. We were completely unable to do anything of our own at the Font. It all had to be by grace, a free gift.
This justification of Baptism is our reception of the redemption Christ won for us. He shed precious Blood as a propitiation for our sins. This means that Godís wrath against sin was appeased by the holy Blood. The price for sin was paid with the only thing valuable enough to do the job.
Yet Christ and His redemption are only received by faith. The redemption price was paid as a fact of history. The Cross shows the work of God to save all mankind. But only those who receive it in faith get the benefits.
Baptism is one of the ways redemption is given. The gift earned by Christ is delivered to us with the water. But without faith, we do not receive. So even Holy Baptism with its incredible, eternal gifts will not help someone who does not trust in God with faith.
What about an infant? Of course they can have faith as much as anybody else, because faith is not a work that requires intelligence or an act of will or other adult skills. Indeed, faith is not our work at all, but the free gift of God that He gives to whomever He chooses.
Even infants (or I should say, ESPECIALLY infants) passively receive justification in Baptism. But adults may think of all kinds of clever reasons why they should reject the gifts of God. By Godís grace, we passively received, like a little child the justification in Baptism. We did not earn or pay for it. It is all Godís doing, even down to the faith that receives the free grace.
Where is boasting then? What room is there at the Baptismal Font to say, ďI have done it!Ē What a foolish man that would be, who took credit for Godís grace! We may, in a sense, boast in Baptism. But that is only by boasting in what God has done for us. We are washed, we are cleansed, we are justified in Godís holy waters that deliver all the blessings Christ earned. What room is there in that for my doing? None at all! And that is just the way it should be.
So in Baptism, God justifies both Jew and Gentile by faith. It does not matter if you were a circumcised Jew, as if you would say, ďI have the promise given to Abraham and the law of Moses. I need no Baptism!Ē That would be foolishness upon foolishness! Why would someone turn away the atonement earned by Christ as if it were unnecessary? Why would we refuse to open a treasure box because we were proud of a few trinkets that we already had? The whole point of Abraham and Moses was to point to Christ. Where His Blood is shed, nothing else is needed.
Obeying the law cannot earn heaven. But Baptism gives heaven freely. Baptism delivers Godís righteousness. He does not use His righteousness as a kind of club, to judge people guilty because they fall short of it. No, Godís righteousness is what He gives to men. We see that righteousness in action at the Baptismal Font, where men are justified in the sight of God.
So Baptism does not nullify the law. Instead, the gifts of Baptism, received by faith, establish and fulfill the law of God. For we receive Godís own righteousness as a gift, through the atonement of Christ Jesus our dear Lord. In Him, all things are fulfilled and satisfied. Therefore, in us who receive Him in Baptism by faith, all is satisfied, paid, and forgiven.
All glory be to this justifying God, who comes to us in Baptism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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