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Baptism Saves And Drowns

By mid-summer in most normal years the South Dakota short-grass prairie is turning brown. It then becomes a visual, daily reminder of sinful mankind’s true status: weakness, frailty, and death. This pride-bashing judgment of God was recorded through Isaiah: “All flesh is grass . . . the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (40:6-7).

In the temperate rain forest of Southeast Alaska, brown, withering grass is rather uncommon. But there are other visual reminders of spiritual truths. The mountains of solid stone bring to mind Psalm 121 [“I will lift up my eyes to the hills . . .”] and 2 Samuel 22:2 [“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer”]. And the annual rainfall of 160 inches plus, the boats at harbor and the sea are constant reminders of the grace of baptism which saves and drowns.

Amazing Grace

It is amazing how several inches of rainfall can restore the green to once-brown prairie grass. It is truly amazing grace by which God restores life to spiritually dead sinners through baptism.

St. Paul referred to this grace as a “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Jesus instructed Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). St. Peter wrote that even as eight souls were saved by the waters of the Flood, “there is also an antitype which now saves us, namely, baptism” (1 Pet. 3:21).

Water alone does not save–Noah needed the ark; nor do baptismal waters simply wash away dirt from the body. Baptism is what God graciously does for the sinner “by giving us a good conscience.” But a good conscience can be ours only when by faith in Christ Jesus our sin and guilt are washed away, and we have peace with God.

Grass withers and fades away, but never God’s Word. It is that holy Word of God in baptism that gives this sacrament its power and efficacy. A doctor prescribes certain medicines–to be drunk with water. But the water itself doesn’t heal. So God’s Word with the water is that spiritual medicine that is the power to save by creating faith and forgiving sin. It is the means by which God gives to us everything Christ has accomplished for our salvation. We are grass. Let every raindrop splashing on our heads be a visual reminder of our baptism which washes, restores, and gives life to the heart and soul.

Baptism also signifies death. All human flesh except eight were drowned through the Flood–water being the means of judgment. So baptism signifies that our yet sinful flesh is to be drowned by daily contrition and repentance. Daily the Old Adam in us attacks with lusts and counteracts with temptations. Daily the Christian repents and so keeps his flesh coughing and choking on baptismal waters, never to regain control over him. Through baptism God gives such spiritual strength so to drown the old nature and walk in the newness of a godly life.

Practice Baptism Without Ceasing

Luther wrote of this significance in his Large Catechism, “Baptism must be practiced without ceasing.” And, “The Christian life is nothing else than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.”

Baptism is the beginning of our new life in Christ, and a daily, continual washing and drowning and receiving by faith all that God has done for us grass-like sinners.

Thus it is profitable to use every reminder we can to recall this mercy of God. The Germans called their baptismal certificates a Taufschein — a show of baptism–and hung such certificates on their bedrooms walls.

The original use of ‘holy water’ was intended to recall to mind one’s baptism. Baptismal candles and the font itself remind us of this grace of God.

And in Southeast Alaska, the not uncommon daily rain and the ark-like cruise ships are a striking, visual reminder of how baptism graciously drowns and saves.

–Pastor David Fuerstenau