Just a little while ago we witnessed Lily’s/Natalie’s baptism. We saw her parents, accompanied her godparents, bring her to the front and stand around the baptismal font. We heard Jesus’ command to go to people everywhere and make them his disciples by baptising and teaching. We were told that baptism washes us clean, we are born again as his children, we are given the assurance of life forever in heaven.
Water was poured on Lily’s/Natalie’s head, and she was baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. This is followed by the words of blessing, “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you new birth by water and the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with his Spirit, so that you receive eternal life”.
A very simple ceremony. As water is poured over the person a few plain words were spoken. But as ordinary and mundane as this is, it is has a powerful affect, not only at the time of the baptism, but right throughout life, and even right through to eternity. God is at work through the water and God’s Word of promise. His grace and love are bringing that child into his family, even though the infant does nothing but lie in his/her parent’s arms and look cute.
I know there are some who question, even reject, the idea that babies should be baptised. What’s the use, they say, when they have no idea of what is going on? They don’t understand what is happening and aren’t able to contribute in any way? Why don’t we wait until they are older and can decide for themselves if and when they want to be baptised?
And yet the Lutheran Church (along with others) insists that anyone at any age can be baptised and that no one is too young for the Kingdom of God. This has been the case from Old Testament times. Children, including babies have always been a part of God’s plan for his people. Baby boys were circumcised in order to participate in God’s covenant with their ancestor Abraham. God had commanded it. He said,”I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your seed after you…. Every male among you shall be circumcised…. It will be a token of the covenant between me and you” (v. 7, 10-11).
For the early Jewish Christians, it didn’t come as any surprise when whole families were brought into the family of God through baptism (Acts 11:14; 16:15; 18:8). They were used to the idea of children belonging to the covenant of God. As I said, no one is too young to belong to God.
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The important thing to remember about baptism is that the power in baptism is God’s. It doesn’t matter whether the person being baptised is a university professor, a labourer, a teenager, a baby, it is God’s Word of promise, God’s saving power, that makes that ordinary water life-giving water. Nothing from anyone else is required.
In baptism God gives new life,
God gives the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus has won for us, God gives freedom from the power of our sin and the devil to condemn us,
God gives eternal life.
For me that’s the great thing about baptism. Its power doesn’t rely on my understanding, my spiritual maturity, my worthiness, my decision, my commitment or how old I am. As Paul said to Titus,”But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
Salvation comes to us in baptism as a free gift without any qualifications on our part. And so as Lily/Natalie was baptised this morning, as small as she is, we witnessed the pure grace of God at work as God created a new relationship with her and made a covenant with her to always be her Saviour and Helper.
Another compelling reason why babies are baptised is because they too are mentioned in the verse that goes, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). There is no age qualification here. All people no matter what age they are fall under the words “All have sinned”. And because all people are sinners and fall under God’s judgement, people of all ages need to be saved. Didn’t Jesus say, “Unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God!” (John 3:5)?
But look at baby Lily/Natalie, she looks so innocent. Come on now, she hasn’t caused any harm. Look how sweet she is. She’s an angel. But remember that sin is more than saying and doing bad things. It is part of our whole being. With all humanity, baby Lily/Natalie is a sinner. This is her inheritance. No one is immune to sin. In due course the sinfulness in her will come to the surface with sinful actions, words and thoughts.
The Good news that just as the promises of God included children in the Old Testament, the promises of God also include all his New Testament people no matter how old they are. Christ died for all people and in baptism Lily/Natalie was united with him in his death and resurrection as the apostle Paul said, “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
But what about faith? Can a baby have faith? It’s very hard to prove whether a baby has faith at the time of its baptism but I do know that Jesus took a small and helpless child (a toddler) in his arms and said that the Kingdom of God can only be entered by a person who is like a small child. A small child very trustingly accepts what is given by a loving parent. If the father playfully lifts the little child above his head, the child trustingly accepts that what he is doing is good. When the mother puts her baby to the breast, he/she accepts that what is being given is something good and wholesome. Faith is not the same as reason, acceptance, or understanding. Someone has said that faith is the empty hand that is waiting to be filled.
How old you are has nothing to do with receiving a gift. If Lily’s/Natalie’s parents opened up a bank account for their daughter and put $1000 in it for her, that gift is a good and valuable one even though Lily/Natalie doesn’t have any idea what that gift means. As she gets older and her parents tell her all about this gift will she come to realise it value. Needless to say that if her parents never told her about the treasure they had given her, it would be a wasted gift.
That leads me to say that the role of parents, godparents and the congregation becomes very important at this point. Unless they seriously follow Christ’s command to teach those who are baptised (Matt 28:20), the gift that God has given at baptism will become an unused gift. How will a child know that God’s power and presence is available to them throughout their journey in life, if they have not been told and not had the opportunity for their faith and trust in God to develop?
Nurturing their child’s awareness of God and their faith in Jesus is a very important responsibility that God places on parents. God wants every child to come to the realisation that Jesus has died for them and that, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God has made a lifetime promise to always be the helper and support of the baptised person in times of trouble, and he wants parents to teach their child about this special kind of love that God has for their child. God wants every child to grow in understanding and faith so that their love for their Saviour and their willingness to be a disciple of Jesus will affect everything they do and say.
This is where this sermon on baptism hits each of us personally. In the few seconds that our baptism took, God began a revolution in our lives. He cleared away the old and brought in the new. He gave us a new life. We are God’s new creations.
We are to consider ourselves disconnected from all that belongs to the old, sinful ways and see ourselves as connected to Christ, to his body and his life. When we were baptised a tremendously intimate relationship was established between Christ and us. It is as though we were made members of Christ’s body, parts of Christ’s body. It is as though we were joined to Christ and because we have been joined to Christ our old sinful selfish attitudes have no place any more.
Again and again Paul reminds his readers that they are the children of God therefore they ought to get rid of such things as evil desire, greed, anger slander, foul talk – and so forth. And put on qualities like kindness, humility, patience, compassion, a forgiving spirit. These latter qualities belong in Christ’s company and in your new life. The others don’t. Put them to death! Listen to what Paul says on this matter,”Put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit…. Put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
I’m sure you realise that we don’t do very well living the new life, putting off the old, turning our lives around to be more like Christ, more like the people whom God has made us to be in baptism. The revolution is a daily one. Renewal is a continuous event. Daily we need to repent, admit that we are too willing to resurrect our old ways. Daily we need to be forgiven. Daily we need to return to our baptism and be renewed and reoriented. Daily through the power of the Holy Spirit, we renew our commitment to let Christ rules our hearts and lives.
No one is too young – or too old – to receive the blessings that God has in store for you in baptism. He wants to claim you as his own, create a relationship with you that is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He wants to create a revolution in your life – turning you away from the ways of sin to God’s ways. If you have ignored the relationship that God has created with you through baptism, isn’t it about time that God became the God of your life. Let the Holy Spirit make your Christian faith something that is real and active in your daily life.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.