Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
While only water and God’s Word are essential to Baptism, there are other ceremonies that extol what God does in this Sacrament. Two ceremonies common in today’s Baptism are the baptismal candle, to remind us that Baptism enlightens with the light of Christ, and a white cloth, to show that Baptism clothes with the righteousness of Christ, the sign of the cross shows that Baptism works forgiveness of sins. The essential parts of Baptism, though, are water—because to baptize means to wash with water—and God’s Word—because it is God’s Baptism, with His command, His promise, and His name attached to it.
The additional ceremonies as well as the prayers and liturgy that go along with it, are all secondary. In fact, if you look on the last printed page of your hymnal, you can find “A Short Form for Holy Baptism in Cases of Necessity,” which states, In urgent cases, in the absence of the Pastor, any Christian may administer Holy Baptism. Take water, call the child by name, pour or sprinkle the water on the head of the child, saying: I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. If there is time, the baptism may be preceded by the following prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. If there is time. It’s a pretty stripped down Baptism, but still a Baptism nonetheless. Water, Word. If there is time, the Lord’s Prayer.
So why all the ceremony, then? The Large Catechism teaches: So, and even much more, you must honor Baptism and consider it glorious because of the Word. For God Himself has honored it both by words and deeds. Furthermore, He confirmed it with miracles from heaven. Do you think it was a joke that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty? (LC V.21). The ceremonies are because of God’s command and promise that’s added to the water. And ceremonies are necessary to teach.
So the candle and the white cloth and the cross and the prayers are all designed to teach something about Baptism. But those are not the only ceremonies that have been used in Baptisms. In fact, the first Lutheran order of Baptism included a lot of ceremonies that would be quite foreign to you. It included three—count ‘em, three—exorcisms; salt was put into the baby’s mouth; the pastor touched the baby’s ears and nose with some spittle and said Ephphatha; a procession; and an anointing with oil. It was a good thing that the Wittenberg worshippers didn’t need to get home to watch Sunday football.
While these ceremonies might seem excessive to our modern, streamlined sensibilities, and even strange, they were not included randomly or haphazardly. They taught an aspect of Baptism—one that is illustrated in today’s Gospel.
And He was casting out a demon, who was also mute. And it happened that, when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds marveled (v 14). This is one of the many miraculous healings that Jesus performs, but one of the few that is actually reported with any detail. The evangelists report typical healings, and give them some theological significance; they aren’t just wonders to ooh and ahh over.
As is often the case, a person with physical maladies is also oppressed by a demon, or an evil spirit. Not every illness is directly linked to a spiritual cause, but all spiritual afflictions manifest themselves in physical afflictions as well. This particular man was mute, and along with being mute, a person is also often deaf, because hearing and speech go together.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals a deaf and mute man and we get the gritty details. He touches the man’s ears and tongue and spits and says “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” One could imagine a similar situation happening in this situation as well, Jesus addresses the man’s tongue, and all of a sudden he begins to speak.
The onlookers try to account for this strange turn of events, and some stoop to accusing Jesus of using dark arts and satanic powers to perform His works. Briefly, Jesus explains that the devil cannot be against himself, or else he’d be bound to fall. Jesus is, in fact, the one who has come to disarm Satan, and render him powerless. But what He says next is of great importance to our story today. He says, “But if by the finger of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (v 20). This is an interesting metaphor, and one that’s a bit obscure. Does God literally stick His finger out of heaven to bring His kingdom? Well, yes, in the case of the man whose deaf ear was introduced to the finger of God in Jesus Christ. But to get a deeper understanding of what Jesus is saying here, we have to turn to Matthew’s Gospel. He tells the story with a slight change. Jesus says there, “But if by the Spirit of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (Mt 12:28). Precisely the same, but instead of finger, Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Spirit.” So the finger of God is the Spirit of God. And this is true when Jesus sticks His finger in deaf man’s ear, when He cures this mute man, and whenever He ministers to the sick and the demon-oppressed. The kingdom of God is invading the devil’s kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The phenomenon of the mute man starting to speak causes everyone to marvel, but Jesus’ gives some commentary on what cannot be seen. “When the unclean spirit has gone out from a person, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and when he does not find it, then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it having been swept and arranged in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself and after going in takes up residence there; and the end of that person is worse than the beginning” (vv 24-26).
What kind of place does an unclean spirit seek out? Anhydrous. Waterless. A waterless place could be just about anywhere, but one place it cannot be is Baptism, because water is essential to it. And what’s more, Baptism is the union of water and the Spirit of God, who comes through the Word. It is a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. And it casts out the devil and the evil spirit that are inhere in us since birth.
But Jesus’ commentary should also warn us that Baptism is not a once and done thing. We must continually return to our Baptisms, remember our Baptisms, and nurture our Baptisms. Or else, that same evil spirit will return and find everything set in order for him.
How do you prevent this from happening? Two ways. First, by confessing your sins and hearing again the Absolution. As the Large Catechism teaches, Here you see that Baptism, both in its power and meaning, includes also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance. It is really nothing other than Baptism (LC V.74). So repentance—confessing sins and believing the absolution—is just Baptism reapplied. It’s not necessary to find new water and get rebaptized. Just remember your Baptism, and what it means for every day of your life. Repent. Confess. Believe.
Second, is by catechism. Catechism is the word we use for the way the Church teaches the faith. It’s teaching by conversation, by questions and responses. Catechism is the unfolding of the name in which Baptism is administered. Catechism shouldn’t just start in junior high, but it should begin as soon as the water dries from the baby’s head. Read the Commandments, confess the Creed, pray the Our Father, use the Daily Prayers. Junior high is the time to start digging deeper. Notice, though, it’s the start. Catechism doesn’t end with confirmation. It goes on. Every day of our lives.
In this way, we can keep ourselves well watered with baptismal grace and remain occupied with the Holy Spirit. And our ends will be more blessed than our beginnings.
The Spirit of God Given in Baptism Is the Finger that Casts Out the Devil
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard