A sermon delivered on Sunday, August 21, 2022 to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) on the occasion of Holy Baptism. By Fr. Justin Clemente.
It’s a joy to be celebrating Holy Baptism together today. I want to use our time to talk about just that. I want us all to have a better understanding of just what we’re up today. What we believe about Holy Baptism and why we bring the children of committed Christians to the waters of grace. Mark 10:13-16 is our passage for the day, pew Bible pg. 846. It’s not about Baptism per se, but it’s certainly right to connect it to Baptism. Let’s jump right in!
It’s the disciples, not the children who are the problem (v. 13)
The people of Judea are bringing their children (the word used here can mean infant, young child, or older child), but it isn’t Jesus that stops them, it’s the adult disciples. The messiah couldn’t possibly have time for such things, they think. Come back when you’re important enough!
I have found in the church that it is usually the adults that are sometimes hesitant to bring their children to Jesus in baptism and not the children themselves! We get all twisted up in concern. I’ve heard parents said, “but what if it becomes a means of false assurance?!” And what if assurance of embrace in the Gospel is the one thing God wants our children through Baptism!
And, we need to know that God has no problem at all reaching our children. Yes, children must grow into the promises shed upon them in Baptism, but Scripture, perhaps against our expectations, also says infants and children can have faith and know God. John the Baptist leapt at the presence of Christ from the womb! If God formed children in the womb, then certainly he can shed his grace upon them and bring them to himself.
When it comes to baptizing our children, we need understand that we sometimes we get as good as we’re willing to ask. And God wants us to ask. He wants us to bring them to the waters of grace and let him do the rest.
God welcomes our children (v. 14)…
Connecting this verse to Baptism, Jesus wants to welcome them in this way and make them visibly part of his redeemed people. What is Jesus’ reaction to the disciples’ rebuke here? He’s indignant and irritated! They have hindered them from making their way to him. Let us put no stumbling block in front of our children, either. From cover to cover, the Bible says that God welcomes children. Under the Old Covenant, Hebrew males were circumcised on the eighth day of life, and in the New, with Baptism as the fulfillment of the Old, children continue to be welcomed. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Our Anglican Catechism asks the question, “Why is it appropriate to baptize infants? Answer: Because it is a sign of God’s promise that they are embraced in the covenant community of Christ’s Church. Those who in faith and repentance present infants to be baptized vow to raise them in the knowledge and fear of the Lord, with the expectation that they will one day profess full Christian faith as their own.”
But that journey begins, rightly, at the font. Going back to verse 13, the disciples attempt to keep Jesus from touching the children. Jesus’ touch you may know, is associated in the Gospels with his healing power. To be touched by Jesus is to be healed. Children are not held up in here because they’re perfect or innocent (sorry kids!). David says in Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (By the way, two verses later he says, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” prefiguring Baptism!) The Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 52: 5 and says that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11) Our children, yes, even our cute, adorable children, share in the disease of sin. We bring them to the font that our Lord’s healing might begin. He desires to touch and to heal.
This is a helpful understanding for those of you who come from backgrounds that do not practice infant baptism. It is not the water that has power, it is the God who makes promises through the water. Christ, says the Apostle Paul, washes his church with water and the word (Ephesians 5:26). Martin Luther in his Small Catechism asks, “How can water do such great things?” Answer: it can’t. But God can and does. And God loves to use weak and physical means to do powerful spiritual things. Baptism is not a replacement for grace and faith. It’s a sign, a sacrament, of grace and faith.
…And tells us we need to become more like them, not the other way around (v. 15)
The kicker at the end of this passage is that Jesus tells us that we need to become more like a child and not they who need to become more like an adult before they can enter the kingdom. And notice here: Jesus says nothing about making the kingdom of God come – here it is simply to be received.
So why are children held up here as the model? Simply this: because of their dependence and lack of resources. That is how you must come under God’s reign in Jesus his Son. “The right way to approach God,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Is to stretch out our hands and ask [empty-handed!] of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”[i]
While studying, I noticed something that really highlights this. Jesus’ embracing of the children is sandwiched in Mark between what? Right before this, Jesus is met with a test from men who want to argue about how they can divorce their wife and still be righteous. After this, Jesus is approached by a man who has great resources, the Rich Young Ruler, and yet leaves in poverty – the poverty of not knowing and treasuring Christ.
How must you come? Not like these, but like a child.
Charge to Parents (v. 16)
Kyle & Larissa: whatever else you have learned from me about Baptism in our time together, be confident of this: today God has laid his hand of blessing upon your children. He has taken them to himself and adopted them as his own.
Be sure of this, too: today you are reminded that God has called you to steward anew the lives of his children – with his embrace of your children, he has dignified and honored your calling as parents. Kyle, you are the chief shepherd of your home and the spiritual head of your household. Larissa, you are called to stand in solidarity with Kyle and be what only can be to your daughters: a godly mother. You have made a good start by bringing your children to the waters of grace. Let no one and no thing hinder you from running well after this day. Amen.
[i] The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 164