The Baptism of Christ and Miscarriages (A Sermon)

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Baptism of Jesus is an integral part of the season which we call Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation.” While Christmas is about the fact that God became man, Epiphany is a season celebrating the manifestations that this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is truly God. Jesus’ baptism was done to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus’ baptism shows us what we receive in our own baptism.

Just as Jesus received the Holy Spirit when He was baptized, so do we. The Heavenly Father, who identified Jesus as His only begotten Son with Whom He was well-pleased, also identifies us as His children by adoption and is well pleased with us for the sake of Christ. During my time here, we have spoken quite a bit concerning the benefits which baptism gives, especially to babies.

But as I was reading through Mary Ellen’s obituary, I was reminded of another conversation we had in Bible study. What about those babies who die in the womb? What about miscarriages? It often happens that devout parents, particularly the wives, suffer such agony and heartbreak in child-bearing when, despite their best intentions and against their will, there was a premature birth or miscarriage and their child died at birth or was born dead. What about the children who do not have access to the divine benefits of Holy Baptism?

There are some who taught that unbaptized infants would be damned. Dante Alighieri, in his famous poem The Divine Comedy, taught that Limbo–technically the first circle of hell–included virtuous non-Christian adults in addition to unbaptized infants. These souls would not see God but they would not suffer any punishment either. The Roman Catholic church still teaches that Limbo is “a possible theological hypothesis.”

So, what do we know from Sacred Scripture? First, we know that babies are sinners in need of a Savior. Babies die because they are sinners; death is the direct result of sin, as Romans 6:23 says: “the wages of sin is death.” We also know that there is no age of accountability. Obviously, infants are held accountable for their sins; otherwise, they would not suffer deformity or death. In short, infants are not innocent. They are enemies of God and children of wrath, until the Spirit of God creates faith in them.

But why does God take some infants and spare others? Why, after every possible care had been taken, does God not allow the child to be born alive and be baptized? We do not know. We cannot, and ought not, know the hidden judgment of God in such a case. These things are beyond us. But these mothers should calm themselves and have faith that God’s will is always better than ours, though it may seem otherwise to us. Parents should be confident that God is not angry with them or with others who are involved. As the Psalmist says; “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.”

Another point which we can take comfort in is this: God has not limited his power to the sacraments, but has made a covenant with us through his word. As our wonderful hymn today expresses: “GOD is no captive Deity,/ But all things’ Source and Measure:/ The Lord of life and death is He,/ Who takes us at His pleasure.”

And again, “We are the ones constrained, not He. He never shall be captive.” God is free. While He has bound Himself to the Word and to the Sacraments for the sake of our certainty, He can do what He wills. But this is not by itself a comfort. Just because God can do something, it doesn’t mean that He will do something. We must go to the Scriptures, as our hymn does, for answers.

There are many examples that our wonderful hymn today gives. But the best is the reading from 2 Samuel 12. After his adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan delivers the Lord’s consequences concerning David’s sin. There are a few which will happen in the future, like the rebellion of Absalom, but one very poignant consequence of sin will be that David’s newborn son will die. “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”

By divine revelation, we know that David’s sin directly caused the death of his son. But is that always the case? Many mothers feel guilt when their babies die in the womb. They feel as if they have done something to deserve this punishment. But that cannot be said. We have no Word of God which says that you, like David, caused the death of your son.

On the contrary, mothers with stillborn infants can take John 9:2-3 to heart: “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

And David prayed hard for the life of his son. He fasted, he wept, he laid on the ground all night. And yet, his son still died. But that’s not the only heartbreak here. David’s son didn’t have a name in the reading because he wasn’t circumcised yet.

As we learned from December 31st’s Gospel reading, Jesus only received His name when He was circumcised. Why else would the first reading say: “Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died?” Circumcision was the sacrament of the Old Testament.

Indeed, baptism and circumcision are compared in Col. 2:11-12: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This child didn’t receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant.

And yet, look at David’s change when he learned that his son is dead. “So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate.”

Why? Don’t you usually mourn for a child after they are dead, not before? But it shows David’s great faith and trust in the effectiveness of prayer. Listen to David’s
wonderful confession: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?”

Our God listens to prayer. Jesus commands us to pray and promises that He will hear us. Jesus prays for us before the Father’s throne. Romans 8:26-27 applies here: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Also Ephesians 3:20 applies here, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”

Our God listens to our prayer because Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for our sake. At His baptism, our Lord Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit for the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. At His baptism, our Lord began His trek toward another baptism, which He speaks of in Luke 12:50: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!”

That baptism was a baptism of blood. In that baptism, Jesus was dipped, not in water, but in the fire of God’s wrath and displeasure. That baptism of Jesus was accomplished on the cross at Calvary. It was that baptism which only the Son of God could undergo for our sakes.

And it was that baptism that gave us the right to pray to God and to ask Him for favor. As the explanation of the catechism says; “We pray in this petition that God would not look at our sins nor deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.”

The apostle James writes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” While David’s prayer concerning the physical life of his son wasn’t granted, David had complete and utter confidence that God did give his son eternal life.

Listen to David’s confident words: “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” The hymn which we sing today says it better than I ever could: “The infant son of David died/ Before his circumcision,/ Though much the king for mercy cried,/ Denied was his petition;/ When David yearned to go as well,/ It was not to the flames of hell/ But to the joy of heaven.”

This episode from 2 Samuel 12 teaches us quite a bit. It teaches us about the consequences of sin. It teaches us about faith and prayer. It teaches us about children who died before receiving the sacrament, either of circumcision or of baptism. And it teaches us that we do have a great promise in prayer. God promises to hear us. Of that we can be sure and certain.

This is why it is important that when husbands and wives find out that they are pregnant, that they tell the pastor. Not for gossip’s sake. But tell them so that they too might pray for the unborn child. God hears prayers. We know that not all children survive. And while you cannot give them the promise of baptism at this point, we can rely on God’s promise which He attaches to prayer.

And if, God forbid, your unborn child does die, let us bury that child with all Christian pomp and honor. Let us comfort you with God’s Word. Let us pray that God would comfort you who mourn. Let us bury that child in consecrated ground, next to all of the saints who have gone before us. You don’t need to hide it. You don’t need to suffer alone. You don’t need to pretend like the child never existed. He or she did exist. He or she did have a soul. He or she was a person. Don’t hide, but let the church help you heal.

The will of God is always best, even when we do not understand it. And so, let us take comfort where God has constrained us. He has constrained us with the command and promise of prayer.

Jesus promises in John 14:14: “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” Pray, weep, and fast while the child is alive. But when the child is dead, trust that God has graciously heard your prayer for that child on account of the merits of Christ. And so, rejoice in these words:

Dear Christian mothers, then take heart!
For grief this comfort borrow,
That if your infants should depart
In urgency and sorrow,
When you commit them first to God,
The heav’nly gate through Jesus’ blood
Is open to receive them.

Amen. May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our lord. Amen.

The hymn referred to throughout this sermon can be found here.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord” copyright Edward Riojas. Used by permission. Prints are available here.


Comments

The Baptism of Christ and Miscarriages (A Sermon) — 13 Comments

  1. Introduction
    As the National Sanctity of Human Life Day approaches, I would like to offer a prayer of comfort for God’s people who mourn the loss of unimaginable numbers of helpless children who have been aborted or miscarried without the benefit of Baptism. The Christian Church has historically taught that infants need a Savior who can redeem them from original sin and that salvation from eternal punishment requires removal of sin in order to fit them for God’s presence. It is my prayer, then, that infants, who have died before or shortly after being born and, as a result, were not baptized, are regenerated and saved as they were bathed in the prayers of their faithful loved ones. We read in Matthew 12 Jesus’ words, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” and elsewhere in 1 Timothy 2, “God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And so we ask Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us to comfort us in our affliction with the knowledge that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He has compassion; to the multitude of discarded children, that they are brought safely into His loving presence on the basis of His mercy and compassion and the fervent prayers of His people offered on their behalf while they were being made in secret, being intricately woven in the depths of the earth and knowing that our faith rests on the proposition that whether with the ordinary means of Holy Baptism or without those means, the author of regeneration is the Holy Spirit and it is His accomplishment and good pleasure to regenerate sin-tainted souls and fit them for eternal life in heaven with their Triune God.
    Prayer
    Heavenly Father, God of all comfort, we rue the day of our collective decision as a nation to allow abortion on demand and repent of our part in such a heinous sin against You and crime against humanity. Abortion in America since 1973 has been nothing less than the “mother of all genocides.” We now behold the mounting, massive body count and societal damage after just two generations of unrestrained sexual revolt and abortion used as birth control. Now the abortionists’ bloodshed hearkens back to the blood of Abel, the first murder victim of the human race, and we are numb with grief and filled with a sense of Your righteous wrath that can see with the eyes of hindsight just how egregious is our so-called enlightened solution to what should be an occasion for joy and blessing – a final solution not unlike the Holocaust of the not-so-distant past. And so, we humbly ask you to forgive us for any small part that we may have played in promoting abortion or acquiescing to it, even in attitudes that once bordered on apathy because, after all, it wasn’t our immediate problem and we didn’t necessarily agree with the Court’s decision in the first place. Many of us, to our shame, weren’t even paying attention. We stand guilty, O Lord, as does Your Church, for not fighting an institutionalized atrocity with the sword of the Spirit, the very Word and power of God, for salvation to everyone who believes. For the sake of Your dear Son, Jesus, comfort us in our affliction, not only with the good news of our forgiveness in the Gospel, but also with knowing that as we bathe our unborn brothers and sisters in tearful but hopeful prayers that You will hear those prayers and have mercy on these little ones that You beckon to Yourself saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Let the power of your Word as verbalized by the prayers of Your faithful people through Jesus Christ our Lord, the one mediator between God and men, vouchsafe the salvation of our weakest neighbors as your Holy Spirit hovers over their alive and gestating bodies that, due to no fault of their own, may not see the light of their days. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Trusting in your infinite wisdom and mercy, we commend these precious ones and their parents to your care.
    Amen

  2. Thank you, Pastor Berg. I lost a baby in Jan. 2013, and a set of twins in May, 2015. The Lord has graciously given me 5 children here on earth. I eagerly await my heavenly reunion with my 3 other children. I take a lot of comfort knowing that my children are safely in their true home with their real Father. They will never have to know the pain, sadness, disappointments, and heartaches of this sinful world. I will never have to worry about them. They are at perfect peace and rest.

  3. This is a wonderful sermon. Excellent use of Holy Scripture and a powerful reminder of God`s love and almighty power.

  4. @Mark #2

    I think about this a lot and I absolutely join you in praying for these precious children who are murdered without Baptism by the very people who should be protecting them. It`s very hard to put into words the full horror of the abortion outrage. I pray for the souls of these children and also ask God to unleash a judgement on our nation that will bring this crime to an end.

  5. I must confess that I have struggled to write a reply to some of the above posts because I may become judged as selfish, but I need to say something.
    I have buried two sons and a grandson prematurely, so I write from experience. I am so tired that everytime someone brings up this sensitive subject and a dear pastor comforts them through the hope as outlined above; someone else, usually someone who has not lost a child prematurely, throws out the abortion issue. I’ve politely smiled and nodded for forty years as this has been said to me. This is not the same thing and I don’t think that you realize how politicizing and (unintentionally perhaps) downplaying a personal grief helps those suffering this loss. In fact, it hurts, because I wanted those children more than anyone can even imagine, and the murderers of babies in the womb did not. Please don’t compare our losses to that. Do I feel for and forgive those who have repented of this act? Absolutely. They must be comforted too. Do I oppose abortion? Of course! All of you might be more sensitive to that the next time you are in the presence of those suffering the premature loss of a child. I know firsthand how tired we can get of the comparison.
    I don’t believe anyone intentionally tried to bring pain by bringing up abortion, but I do think perhaps someone else can be spared any by making the readers more sensitive toward these two different subjects.

  6. I was not comparing the two things. There is no comparison, obviously. One is a tragedy out of one`s control and the other is an intentional crime. I was simply responding to a previous commentators remarks about the abortion holocaust. In my mind, there is nothing in common between losing a child and intentionally killing one. In fact, such a comparison would never occur to me, as it is totally nonsensical. I`m sorry if my comments about abortion gave the impression that I was comparing losing a child to having an abortion. No such comparison was intended in any way.

  7. @LadyL #6

    I don’t believe anyone intentionally tried to bring pain by bringing up abortion, but I do think perhaps someone else can be spared any by making the readers more sensitive toward these two different subjects.

    I sympathize with you in your losses, LadyL.
    Any child whose mother stands alive at the graveside died ‘prematurely’, whatever his age. We hope in the resurrection…

  8. @helen #8

    Helen, yes, absolutely! We know that, with them, we will be with the Lord and we shall see Him face to face. Hope will not fail us.

  9. Does our hope in some way depend upon God working through our prayers?

    My wife had a miscarriage when we were Baptists. We never prayed for the child’s salvation in utero, because we assumed the child would be saved if it died before birth or in infancy. We did not have the same understanding of original sin as we do now.

    Does that mean that we cannot have the same hope, since we did not offer prayers for that child while it was in her womb?

    We did not know of the miscarriage until weeks after the child had already died. I was formerly taught that praying for the deceased was necessarily wrong and pointless. I offered no prayers after the child had died, because I didn’t think I was allowed to pray for the dead.

    Does that affect the potential hope that I could have for that child’s salvation?

    Thanks

  10. @Ken Miller #10

    Ken, I have gained much comfort reading The Conservative Reformation and its Theology by Charles Porterfield Krauth, a towering authority on the Church, its doctrine and history, originally published in 1871 wherein he writes:

    From the time of Luther to the present hour, the Lutheran theologians have maintained the salvability and actual salvation of infants dying unbaptized.

    At the same time she rejects the theory of the Anabaptists, that infants unbaptized have salvation because of their personal innocence, and maintains that the nature with which we were born requires a change, which must be wrought by the Spirit of God, before we can enter into heaven (A. C., Art. IX. and II.,) and that infants are saved by the application of Christ’s redemptory work, of which Baptism is the ordinary channel.

    Is Baptism absolutely necessary?
    Hence, of necessity, goes to the ground the assumption that the Augsburg Confession teaches that unbaptized infants are lost, or that any man deprived, without any fault of his own, of Baptism is lost. When we say absolute, we mean that which allows of no exceptions. The absolute necessity of Baptism, in this sense, has been continually denied in our Church.

    The Lutheran Church holds that Baptism is necessary to salvation, inasmuch as God has commanded it, and obedience to His commands is necessary to salvation; and, furthermore, because He has appointed Baptism, as one ordinary and positive channel of His grace, through which channel we are to seek the grace He offers. But our Church denies that, where the command cannot be carried out, because of a necessity which is of God’s creating, the lack of the sacrament involves the loss of the soul.

    On the more difficult question, whether infants born out of the Church are saved, many of our old divines, of the strictest school, have maintained, as we have already seen, that it would be harsh and cruel to give over, absolutely, to condemnation, the infants of pagans, for the lack of that which it was impossible for them to have.

    I recently finished the 830-page tome and recommend it to all Christians who want to strengthen their faith and confession. Hope abounds in knowing God’s word!

  11. @LadyL #6

    And to you, LadyL, it was never my intention to cause you pain with my words, but rather comfort. I can assure you that my prayer was never intended to be political sloganeering but goes much deeper than that. I have had some experience with this issue myself. Years ago my wife had an amniocentesis done with our third child a few weeks after she suspected that she was pregnant. The news was not good and the child had Down syndrome. We became frightened and convinced ourselves that it was for the best that the pregnancy be terminated. So I said nothing. That was my contribution. I was a coward. There’s no getting around it. It was easy enough to terminate the pregnancy because she was barely showing. It was a secret that no one would know but us. But as the years went by and I became more involved in the church and matters of our doctrine, I had a tremendous sense of guilt that overcame me as though Nathan the prophet pointed his finger at me and said, “You are the man.” To this day, I cannot talk about it with my wife because our marriage isn’t strong enough, so I have asked the Lord for forgiveness and fully trust in His absolution from my sin. I also see evidences in my own family that the sword of which Nathan speaks has not departed from our house. The difference between your anguish and mine is that you had no hand in the death of your children. A comparison was not intended, nor was an equivalence suggested. Only the eternal welfare of the children is my concern no matter how it happened that they were not afforded an opportunity to be baptized. I hope this explanation alleviates some of the pain I caused you and that you will forgive me for any indiscretion.

  12. @Mark #12

    Of course, you are forgiven!
    I am sorry for your pain, and I pray you always remember the great mercy of our Heavenly Father whenever Satan wants to bring up past sins.
    My point was in making others aware that whenever miscarriage and stillbirth are discussed, there is no mandate to bring up abortion. I had hoped to save others the frustration/pain with my life experience. Indeed, maybe others do not feel that way. Maybe it’s just me. Anyhow, I think that ship has sailed and we can move on.

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