The Difference Between the Baptisms of John and Christ

Epiphany 2 Thursday

John 1:32-33

“And John testified and said: I saw how the Spirit descended like a dove and remained on him. And I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me: “He on whom you will see the Spirit descend and remain, he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.””

The difference between Christ’s baptism and John’s baptism is this: John neither gives nor offers the forgiveness of sins, but only points to him who gives it. In John’s baptism the forgiveness of sins is promised; in Christ’s baptism sin is forgiven. This is why John’s baptism is now no longer valid. If someone said: “I baptize you with the baptism of John the Baptist,” that would not be a correct baptism. For John’s baptism was only a forerunner of the forgiveness of sins. John
goes ahead of Christ; Christ follows. Rather, we simply are to say: “All your sins are forgiven in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ: I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is, I take all your sins away from you, wash you clean right now. I do not send you elsewhere, as John did.” But John had to say: “Go and receive him who will give you the Holy Spirit in baptism and who will bring the forgiveness of sins.” So there were two differences between John’s and Christ’s baptisms. First, John admonished everybody to repent to prepare for the coming Christ. Second, that they should wait for the forgiveness of sins of him who was to come. John’s baptism had the promise of the future forgiveness of sins through Christ. Repentance comes first…John must say: “You are sinners, even if you are the most holy Pharisees.” This must be preached to all evil and hardheaded people even today, so that they may recognize their sin and learn that they need the forgiveness of sins. For although we have received the forgiveness of sins, we sin daily because we carry the old Adam around our neck. Sin has not been swept out; and the devil also has not died yet who entices our flesh and blood to do evil. This is why one must always teach and urge repentance on earth until the old Adam dies and man ceases to sin…Thus, the Lord Christ received from John a baptism of water alone. But he also added the fire, that is, he gives us the Holy Spirit who sets us ablaze with his virtues. And this is how baptism continues to be, so that we are baptized into Christ and he forgives our sins, baptizing us with the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins, so that we have the forgiveness of sins for the sake of the Lamb who bears the sin of the world. But we are nonetheless baptized for repentance for the sake of the old Adam. We must always repent; always kill the body. That is, we must always be improved and cleansed while we at the same time always hope for the forgiveness of sins which we presently have. If we are baptized and believe in Christ, we have all this together. For our baptism is not as John’s was, merely pointing to him who was to bring the forgiveness of sins. Our baptism is Christ’s; it has already brought us forgiveness of sins…Now, even if someone were a rogue and did not believe this, this would nonetheless be true, and baptism would be proper. And even if you did not believe that Christ died for you–what does it matter? The words I hear are nonetheless truthful; they do not become false or lies for the sake of my unbelief. Accordingly, if you have been baptized, you are truly and honestly baptized, whether you believe or not. Likewise, when you receive absolution from a preacher or a Christian brother, be certain that your sins are forgiven. Even if Judas or someone else absolved you, absolution is nonetheless God’s Word and a divine office.

St. Louis ed., 7:1734-1738.

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