Go, Wash in the Pool of Siloam!
”Having said these things, he [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:6-7 ESV) Brokenness is all around us. Sometimes we question the cause of this brokenness, especially when it seems cruel or unjust. Today at International Lutheran Church, as we continue our study of Luther’s Small catechism and look at the meaning of Baptism this morning, we see in John 9 Jesus’ personal gift to each of us through Baptism – the forgiveness of our sins!
As we noted last week, Lent is a special season of prayer and spiritual preparation. For centuries Christians have used these forty days as a special time of preparation for Baptism. In the Small Catechism, Luther takes up Baptism and its meaning for the strengthening of our faith. He presents four key questions and God’s Word that is related to each so that our eyes would be opened to what He is doing in us through Baptism.
What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is that word of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “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.” (Matthew 28:19)
What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
The Word of God - His command and promise - is the only basis for our faith. This is clear in Luther’s answers to what is Baptism, its benefits, how it can do this and what it means for us every day. Like the man blind from birth, we can do nothing to change our situation. This is why it was so astounding, and everyone kept asking how it was that he could now see. In one way or another, we are all born “blind.” We can be blind to God’s goodness and grace; blind to the brokenness of our own condition; or even blind to ways in which we add to this brokenness. Yet Jesus sees in all this the reason and purpose for His coming. In His words and actions, He opens our eyes to the good and gracious work of God to bring light into the darkness. As Jesus spit in the dirt, He made a healing balm to display the work of God in this muddied masked man. Just so, Jesus was made to be a healing balm upon the cross to wash away our guilt. Jesus is broken to break our brokenness.
While certainly Luther reflected on the “how” of baptism, he also saw his own need and ours to consider and see its significance - God’s work in our lives. Ordinary water connected to the promise and word of God is no longer ordinary, but a life-giving flood. Baptism saves, brings healing, forgiveness, and eternal salvation – not because of our acts or works but because of God’s acts and works in Jesus. Baptism connects us to the Sent One who now sends us. After the seeing man born blind was put out of the synagogue for giving his testimony about what Jesus had done, Jesus went to find him. John tells us that the man believed and worshiped Jesus. Daily we, too, rise to give glory to God. Our lives become a living testimony of God’s gracious work in Baptism. We, too, are sent so that others can see the One who was Sent for them!