Summary: In baptism God puts his name on us making us "valuable" - like a baseball that has received the autograph of a famous player...
In places like Europe and Japan, people love the spa. I’m not talking about day spas where you sit around in a bathrobe and get your nails done. I’m talking about mineral spas, places where water infused with minerals from subterranean rock bubbles to the surface. The water at mineral spas can look quite muddy and smell like rotten eggs, as does the water from this hot spring in Japan (pictured on slide), and so the average North American wouldn’t think of dipping a toe in such water but Japanese will gladly pay for the privilege of soaking their whole body in it. Why? Because they know that the mineral-laced water has healing properties. It gives relief from various skin ailments and even somehow penetrates the skin to relive arthritis pain. Soaking in a tub full of hot water from the tap at home won’t give you the same results. The minerals dissolved in the water of a spa make all the difference.
Throughout our sermon series on baptism we’ve been talking about what an awesome sacrament baptism is. However, we have yet to answer the question of how the water of baptism can do the wonderful things it does like forgive sin, make us heirs of eternal life, grant the Holy Spirit, create and strengthen faith, and break the sinful nature’s control over us. In the third part of his explanation of baptism Luther wrote: “It is certainly not the water that does such things, but God’s Word which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this Word used with the water. For without God’s Word the water is just plain water and not Baptism… God’s Word makes [baptism] a washing through which God graciously forgives our sin and grants us rebirth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” The Apostle Paul supports Luther’s assessment. He says in our text: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25b-27).
As we consider this watery sacrament again let’s think of baptism as God’s Word spa. Just as the water of a spa accomplishes much because it has been infused with minerals, so the water of baptism accomplishes great things because it has been infused with God’s powerful promises. Let’s find out why it’s so comforting to know that baptism’s power comes from God’s Word.
I want to begin by making it perfectly clear that the water of baptism is just ordinary water. The water we use in our baptisms at St. Peter’s doesn’t come from the Jordan River in the Holy Land. It hasn’t been blessed by the pastor or the synod president. It’s water that fell from the sky as snow or rain, and before it splashed its way into the font via our kitchen tap it may at one time have been used to wash clothes, dishes,…or someone’s hair.
Have I just ruined the mystique of baptism for you? Well perhaps now you can appreciate Naaman’s irritation. Naaman was a Syrian general who lived 2,800 years ago. He had leprosy and was directed to the prophet Elisha who told Namman to go wash in the Jordan River for healing. Go bathe in the Jordan? Naaman figured he would contract another disease rather than be healed from leprosy should he come into contact with the muddy waters of that river. Anyway, what would a simple swim do? Thankfully Naaman’s servants persuaded their master to go bathe in the Jordan River. Naaman did and was healed. Was there some sort of mineral in the Jordan River that made the healing possible? No. The water in the Jordan was plain water. What cured Naaman was God’s promise connected with the bathing.
Friends, when we witness a baptism, we might say, as did Naaman: “That water grants healing?” It’s hard to believe because the water used in baptism is just ordinary water. But let me ask you this. Does a king look much different than you and I? Dress him in jeans and a t-shirt and a king won’t look very kingly…except for one thing - the crown. And since a king wears a crown of authority he’s worthy of respect and honor, says God. In the same way, the water of baptism is ordinary water except that it’s been crowned with God’s Word making the sacrament worthy of our honor and respect (Luther).
It’s great that the water of baptism is crowned with God’s Word because when it’s poured on our heads, we become crowned with that Word, God’s triune name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That might not seem like a big deal but it is. It’s like an autographed baseball. Without the signature of a famous players on it, a baseball is just a baseball and isn’t worth much. But the moment a hall-of-famer scribbles his name on a ball, it increases in value. No, it’s not the ink that makes an autographed baseball valuable but the signature written with the ink. So it is with baptism. It’s not the water of baptism that makes us valuable but God’s name that is spoken while the water is applied. Through baptism God “autographs” us, he claims us as his own and by doing so made us who were ordinary, actually, who were worthless because of our sins, into something valuable. Paul speaks about that transformation in Titus 3. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit ” (Titus 3:3-5).