A Sign and a Pledge: H.C. Lord's Day 27

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 27

Q 72. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? 
A 72. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

Q 73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins? 
A 73. God has good reason for these words. To begin with, God wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins just as water removes dirt from the body.

But more important, God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water physically.

Q 74. Should infants also be baptized? 
A 74. Yes, Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.

Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.  This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

What God first called Abraham, He gave him a sign of covenant belonging that we know as circumcision.  This sign was given to all male boys that were born into Abraham’s family from that time forward, 8 days after their birth, of their belonging in the family (or nation) of Israel.  In the same way that the last name of a parent is given to their children upon their birth, signifying their belonging in their family, so too were these young offspring of Abraham a part of his family.

This sign, however, saw its true meaning realized in the coming of Jesus and the revelation that it indeed was not a physical sign that distinguished God’s people, but rather an internal change that took place.  Paul describes this a “circumcision of the heart” in which the Holy Spirit, through building faith, transforms a person.  This inner change is marked by an outward change different than a physical mark on a body; it is a life change that happens when one turns from living their life for themselves and begins living for God.

All of this is symbolized in baptism.  When people come to faith, baptism is a sign and a symbol that their sins have been washed away, that they are cleansed and renewed, and that they are sustained by Jesus Christ, the living water.  Being immersed in water, going down and bring brought back up is also symbolic of dying and rising, like Christ who died and went down to the grave and was raised to life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We too, when we come to faith, experience this through dying to the “old self” and the new life that we experience in Christ.

So then, what about infant baptism?  There are a great deal of questions surrounding infant baptism, especially if we talk about baptism carrying the symbolism of new life, redemption, and salvation.  None of these are possible without faith and therefore, seem to be out of place within the context of infant baptism.

Furthermore, there is no place in Scripture where we are expressly told to “baptize babies.”  Certainly, this is true.  However, Colossians 2:11-12 links the acts of circumcision and baptism and gives both spiritual importance.

In fact, both do carry a significant amount of similar themes including belonging to the covenant community and the assurance of God’s covenant promises.  Actually, the Jews also practiced baptism for those who would convert to Judiasm and it symbolized this covenant belonging.

How, then, can Baptism, which carries many other themes that are related to forgiveness and cleansing, be something we do to people before they have been forgiven or cleansed?  Well, drawing from the themes of Scripture that point to the promises of God being offered uniquely to the families of those who are God’s people, we claim that God’s promises are for our children as well.  The sign, symbol, and seal of those promises is seen now through the act of infant baptism in a similar way that it was seen in circumcision in the Old Testament.

Infant Baptism expands the image of circumcision, bringing both genders equally under God’s promises, reminding us of the promise of forgiveness and salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, welcomes children as full participants in the community of faith, and reminds us of our identity in Christ and God’s faithful presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

The Effects: H.C. Question 72

Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

Matthew 3:11 – “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

1 Peter 3:21 – and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Blood and Spirit: H.C. Question 71

Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Mark 16:16 – Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Titus 3:5 – 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,

Acts 22:16 – And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

John 13 – Embodiment

Read John 13

The narrative of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is one of the most meaningful and beautiful pictures we get of Jesus’ love and humility.  Honestly, the longer that you think about it and read it, the more beautiful it becomes as it is the embodiment of everything that Jesus has been teaching.

Though not necessarily recorded in John until now, Jesus talks at length in the three synoptic Gospels about “greatness” in the Kingdom of God.  The one who would be great (read: a leader) among you must be a servant.  Here Jesus lives into that teaching in a very tangible way, taking the lowest of household jobs as an act of love.

Also not recorded in John is Jesus’ teaching about the treatment of others, especially our “enemies.”  John makes a special note here that Judas, the disciple who would betray Jesus, was also sitting at the table and had his feet washed by Jesus.  We know that Jesus knows what is about to transpire; He would not be surprised later in the garden by Judas’ kiss.  Yet in this moment, Jesus washes Judas’ feet as well which takes servanthood and humility to a totally new level.

Still more interesting in this chapter are Jesus’ interactions with Peter.  First, at the table, Peter’s reaction of indignance that such a thing would happen, and later Peter’s unwitting commitment to follow Jesus and even lay down his life for Jesus.  Both times Jesus lovingly puts Peter in his place, working to show him that there are much deeper things happening.

We too can be like Peter, and even like Judas at times, outwardly showing our commitment while inwardly scheming for our own gain.  Thanks be to God that Jesus went to the cross to show us His grace too.