A Violent Baptism?

Theme:  Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

How does the church view baptism? Yes, how does the church look upon baptisms?  


Regardless of which church denomination one finds himself in, I think it is safe to say that pretty much every Christian church in the world is favorable towards a person being baptized.  


For the sake of time, we cannot go into all the different theological positions of the various denominations and why they do different things with Baptism, and we simply do not have the time to do that in a sermon. Furthermore, covering a topic like that would be better suited for a Sunday Morning Bible Study. Nonetheless, even though the majority of Christian churches have a favorable view towards Baptism, I do still believe that Christians still have a skewed view toward Baptism. For example, let us consider how you and I view baptisms here at St. Paul’s.  


I know for myself when I look at a bulletin and see the word “Baptism,” it conjures up a warm and happy feeling. When I look out at you in the pew, I suspect there are also warm feelings of happiness. Furthermore, baptisms typically have a nostalgic feeling to them as well. It is a rite in the Christian church that brings us back to the past. We see a baptism, and it may remind us of baptisms that happened long ago.  


Now, if St. Paul’s were to be one of those contemporary churches with a big band, special lights, and a big stage with a pool on it, baptisms would not have a nostalgic and warm feeling. Still, instead, baptisms would be viewed with feelings of victory, commitment, dedication, and will-power. In fact, it is quite common in these contemporary churches to see someone dunked under the water for baptism and then to come out of the water with their hands raised and cheering like they just hit a game-winning home run in the World Series. 


Again, I believe it is safe to say that most Christians have a favorable attitude towards Baptism but still may view it a bit incorrectly.  


So, how should we view Baptism? In a word: violent. Yes, you heard that correctly; baptisms are violent, and they are fierce, and they are destructive. Take our Baptismal liturgy, for example, and you will see what I mean.  


The Lutheran Church has long mentioned two Biblical accounts from the Old Testament in our baptismal liturgy. If you look right in your hymnal on page 268, we hear about Noah and the Ark, as well as Moses parting the Red Sea. Indeed, the church has long seen the water in both of these accounts as figures of Baptism. That is to say, the water that covered the earth and the water of the Red Sea foreshadow Baptism.    


Briefly, with Noah, we read in the Old Testament that after the ark was built and the animals gathered, water burst from the earth and poured down from heaven. And the water? It was not a nice warm shower, and it was not a spa treatment. But instead, it was destructive power. The water destroyed all evil that had filled the earth. The flood drowned idolatry, perversion, and evil. Sure, we are all used to seeing happy Noah and happy animals in the ark waving their hands like they are on a Caribbean Cruise, but we are often unaware of the evil that is being drowned underneath the ark in the mighty violent waters.  


Consider also Pharaoh and his great army. After the Hebrews left Egypt for the Promised Land, Pharaoh and his great army pursued. At the Red Sea, though, the Lord parted the water so that the Hebrews could walk through it. But Pharaoh’s army? Well, quite simply, Moses was commanded to stretch out his arms to make the sea come crashing down upon the pursuing Egyptian army to destroy every last one of them. And the water did exactly that. This was no accident but intentional destruction of Pharaoh’s evil army through violent water. 


In both of these accounts, the point is that the water was violent, and it drowned and destroyed. It was not a gentle smooth stream but a mighty destructive power.  


And so, it makes sense why we say that baptisms are violent. They are violent toward sin, death, and the devil.  


Consider some of the fierce and destructive words used from the Scriptures and our Lutheran heritage. Yes, Baptized Saints, hear what happened in your Baptisms: 


When you were baptized, you were plunged into water so that you were “snatched from the jaws of the devil.” (LC IV, 83)  


In Baptism, you died with Christ on the cross. (Romans 6:3)


In Baptism, you were buried with Christ in the tomb. (Romans 6:4)  


Baptism means death to all your selfishness and sin. (The Explanation to Small Catechism: p. 302)


Baptism sets the rhythm for your daily lives . . . how you daily drown the old Adam. (The Explanation to Small Catechism: p. 302)


Plunged, snatched, died, buried, death, and drowned – that is your Baptism for you.  


Now, perhaps, you have not thought of your baptisms with such strong and aggressive words before. And, perhaps, these strong and aggressive words may cause a bit of discomfort or fear. If so, trust me, you and I do not want an apathetic, calm, and incapable baptism. The reason is, you and I do not have an apathetic, calm, and incapable Savior.  


You see, your baptisms are fierce, destructive, and violent because Jesus is the end of sin’s condemnation, the antidote to death, and the victor over the devil. Baptized Saints, mark this; your baptisms are fierce, destructive, and violent towards sin, death, and the devil – and that is a great thing!  


And so, baptisms are not just warm spa water applied to a child for nostalgic reasons. Baptisms are not a lame symbol of a puny human dedication towards God. Baptism is none of this nonsense, but instead, it is a mighty flood that drowns your sin, washes over your death, and destroys the power of the devil, for God sanctified your Baptism to do this because of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River that one day long ago.  


And so, remember your baptisms, dear Saints, and remember them often by making the sign of the cross on your head or your heart. Never forget that Christ instituted your baptisms, and they are a work of your Triune God – for you.  


And also, do not forget that your baptisms are not only violent but also wonderfully powerful for you. Do not forget that in your Baptism, you were also raised with Christ to the newness of life. In your Baptism, the Lord gave you the Spirit and made you His own. He did this to keep you secure in the holy ark of the Christian church as you approach promised rest at the end of your pilgrimage.  


Your Baptism is violent and powerful – it is mighty because your Jesus is mighty.  


May you be strengthened through the mighty waters of your Baptism today and until your last day. May you always be reminded of who you belong to and what you have been given in your baptisms.  


In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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