By Scott Keith –
I am going to a baptism today! Today little Viveca will be made a child of our good and gracious heavenly Father. She will pass from death to life. I always hope that the babies scream when the water is poured over their head in baptism; for that is the moment of truth. I love to watch the little sinners, as Luther once said, kicking and screaming all the way to their salvation as they are cleansed by water and the Word.
Some time ago, I had a good friend who is about the hardest working man I have ever known. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call him James. James worked in the mining industry, which I came to find out is very demanding, especially of its managers. The mine demanded of him more than his share of hours and responsibilities. To make matters worse, he travelled a great distance to and from the mine every day. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but it is not like there is a mine on every corner.
James also had a wonderful family. He was married and raising two teenage children, as well as a fun and adorable two-year-old. During the time I knew him, his wife became pregnant again, this time with twins. Needless to say, James had good reason to be tired. Yet, he never really showed it. He still showed up to church every week and was an active member of the congregation. He did homework with his children, and even helped my oldest with math, because no one would want me to help them with Geometry. He was helpful around the house, and a good husband and father.
I got to know James well through riding back and forth with him to a Friday morning men’s Bible study we both attended. He would pick me up early, usually 6:15am, and we would drive to the Bible study breakfast and back again. Those car rides (truck rides, really) were full of all sorts of conversations, theological and otherwise. All topics were on the table and nothing was really off of the table. Needless to say, I really got to know James well during these times together.
When the time came for James’ wife “to be delivered” as it were, things happened in a somewhat awful flurry. She was in labor for a very long time and things did not go as well as anyone would have wanted. But, when it was all said and done, they were blessed with two new baby boys. Tired and probably overwhelmed, he, his wife, and the boys were released from the hospital some 24 hours later to head home and recoup.
Not long after their return home, tragedy struck. James, weary from all of his work and more than 48 hours without sleep, was trying to let his wife get some well-deserved rest. He got up when one of the boys was fussing to soothe the baby back to sleep. He sat with his child in a rocking chair and rocked him back to sweet slumber. Soon after though, James was asleep too. He slumped over and smothered the baby.
The baby was revived, for a time, by emergency medical personnel. Our pastor was called too and rushed to baptize James’ son into Christ. Though weak and frail of body, the baby was now a child of God! This life, which would soon pass away, was not his last life. He will be raised on that last day with all of the saints to hear the words of His Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)
James’ son died soon after being baptized. When I spoke with my friend, words seemed inadequate. Hugs and tears were more soothing than any words could be. When eventually we did talk in detail about what had happened, we did so through emails at 2:00 a.m. I still did not know what to say, so I did what every good Lutheran does and reverted to my hymnal.
God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free, lasting to eternity!
Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.
(“God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It, Lutheran Service Book, 394, Stanzas 1 & 4)
Recently, Joy and I have been catechizing a young lady who is, I am overjoyed to say, now a Christian. This young lady was baptized Roman Catholic as a baby, but had long since fallen away from the faith. She had struggled with the idea of assurance. She wanted to understand how she could really know the Christian claim was true. That is, how does anyone know that Christ really died for them?
This question can be seen in three ways. Sometimes it can be the sinner’s question, doubting God, and believing that there is really no good answer. Sometimes it is a question seeking intellectual answers which may or may not be available. And still other times, the question comes to us not out of the belief that there is no answer, but rather because of the hope that there is a really good one. The last was the spirit in which our young catechumen had been asking the question.
So what is the answer for our young lady friend desperately desiring the really good news? We can know through God’s Word and Sacraments. When God’s Word washes over us when connected to the water in baptism, God claims us. Our assurance is in His claim, not our worth, merit, or mental acuity. God places His claim on His own through water and the Word and makes little sinners who kick and scream all the way to the font His children.
Assurance is not ours to find, assurance is His to give, and He gives it on the lips of another when the promises are given through His Word. Faith comes to us on the lips of another, either through their witness, preaching, or the Word they proclaim when water is poured over us in holy baptism. “To obtain such faith, God has instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.” (Augsburg Confession, Article V)
To my friend James I still say: Your son was baptized into Christ! Amen. To our new friend, the young lady who was looking for and has now received answers: You were baptized into Christ! Amen. To our new little friend Viveca, whom we will meet today as the water and the Word make her part of the family of Christ: You are baptized into Christ! Amen, Amen, Amen!