Baptism: Mercy for Worship

Here is something that is not to be done: stepping on a king’s train.

With that in mind, recall what Isaiah saw. “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1). Since the train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple, and since we must not step on a king’s train, that leaves nowhere for us to stand in the temple.

He saw the Lord, and what more he saw was the all-filling robe of the indescribable One. As far as the eye of the seer could look at first, the ground was covered by his splendid robe. There was consequently no room for any one to stand. And the vision of the seraphim was in accordance with this.[I]

“Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” (Isaiah 6:2) They needed their wings. Even the holy seraphim cannot stand on the King’s train.

So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am I undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

As sinners, we have no standing before the Lord. With his train filling it, we cannot get through the door into his temple. How, then, can we worship? What makes worship possible? Somehow, we must get standing. We need standing before worship can proceed.

A form of worship that saunters casually into a sanctuary and commences with our service to God by attempting to praise him steps on the train of the Lord’s robe. It fails to begin where we were: in sin, outside the temple.

A better form of worship begins by invoking the presence of God according to what gives us standing to enter before him: Baptism, Confession, and Absolution. By these, we have the forgiveness of sins, which is the sole ground upon which we can stand. No wonder, then, that our Lutheran liturgy begins with the Invocation of the Name into which we were baptized, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and proceeds to Confession and Absolution. Luther recovered Confession and Absolution from Penance (some we must do) and restored it to Baptism (something God does for us).

By the Law, worshipers went through the seven courts of the Temple in a gradual approach to God. By the Law, ordinary sinners never got there. Only the priests could enter some precincts. Only the High Priest could enter the innermost court, the Holy of Holies. He could enter it only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.

At the death of Christ, the veil of the temple between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was torn. Christ is the High Priest who, by his death, throws open the Holy of Holies.

In Baptism, we are baptized into his death, by which “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (Romans 5:2) This is the standing we need.

“As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3)

In Christ, “we have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” (Hebrews 8:1) By his work as our High Priest, we may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Spiritually, we were raised from the dead by Baptism. That is where our life began. “Baptism now saves you,” and gives you “the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

Upon the standing of forgiveness, resurrection, and a good conscience, worship becomes possible, and indeed, God earnestly invites you to come with all boldness before the throne of grace.

As marvelous as what has been said to this point might seem, the full extent of it is beyond human comprehension. Although Baptism makes us holy, recall that the holy seraphim do not stand on the Lord’s robe. And neither do we, even in the holiness of Baptism. Standing on the King’s train simply is not done by anyone in any condition. What, then, did our Baptism do for us?

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)

The gift of Baptism gives us the standing of justification forensically, but in worship, it gives us seating liturgically. We can be in the presence of the King, we can worship him, because he has seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In this posture, we are not stepping on the King’s train because He gives his train to us.

Many will recoil at this. How could we receive his train? How could we deserve it? Wait, did you say deserve? That doesn’t enter into this. It is a gift. This is the “exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The recoil is a faint hint of how exceeding are the riches of his grace.

Once a gift like this, the gift of Baptism, has been given, we have an entrance into the temple. No wonder, then, that the historic liturgy next proceeds with the Introit (entrance). The historic liturgy of the church is not haphazard or synthetic. It embodies and portrays faithfully the scriptural truths of sin and salvation. This liturgy can be learned but never mastered. It can be believed yet remains overwhelming. It crushes with contrition and consoles with gracious assurance by the propitiatory blood of Christ, which the liturgy will give into your mouth in the Service of the Sacrament. This blood was shed for the remission of all your sins, and when Christ gives you his blood to drink, He gives with it what He shed it for, the forgiveness of all your sins.

Recall what we heard earlier from Hebrews 4:16, when we “come boldly to the throne of grace,” we do it “ that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” No wonder, then, that the next thing after the Introit is the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.” The liturgy simply enacts what Scripture says. And since the Kyrie is both a prayer and a confession of faith, as if we were also singing, “The Lord has mercy, Christ has mercy, the Lord has mercy,” no wonder, then, that the liturgy next breaks forth in the Gloria in Excelsis. Believing and confessing his mercy first applied to each one of us in our Baptisms, we can praise and worship him in his temple.

[i] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 7:124 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1866-91; Hendrickson Publishers reprint, second printing 2001).

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of


Baptism: Mercy for Worship — 6 Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Halvorson: I always enjoy your contributions, and this time was no exception. I never thought of the problem with “the train” (although I was trained to properly address royalty and how to kiss their hand).
    There is one thing I take issue with, and it is not for pointless debate: it clearly involves the purity of the Gospel. When you write, “This blood was shed for the remission of all your sins, and when Christ gives you his blood to drink, He gives with it what He shed it for, the forgiveness of all your sins,” I want to point out that none of the Scriptural accounts related to the Lord’s Supper say this. It is a rationalization, which, as a lawyer, you might want to consider with some skepticism. I suspect you would not accept it in a court of law. You might also want to consider how the Eucharist relates to the cups drunk during the Passover Meal.
    More importantly, how does it affect the forgiveness of sins promised in the Gospel. When we receive forgiveness of sins in Baptism, it is not some substance that is infused into us, but it is a coming into life of the will of God by His Word. So what sins are left to forgive? Well, let us assume that God forgives us our sins when we receive absolution just a little while before we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. Then the only sins that could be forgiven when we drink the blood of our Lord are those that we have committed since receiving absolution. Any sin that is forgiven is a great thing, but there seems to be something not right with this.
    As I have suggested before, I think the church should convoke an assembly of learned men in order to discuss the whole matter of forgiveness. For instance, I firmly believe that when we pray, “And forgive us our sins,” that asks God to forgive the sins that we will commit “this day.” The ones we have committed are already forgiven. Be that as it may, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer just before the Eucharist, does God not forgive the sins we have committed since the Absolution? So there are just a few sins left to forgive, depending on the length of the line of communicants.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. @George A. Marquart #1

    “This blood was shed for the remission of all your sins, and when Christ gives you his blood to drink, He gives with it what He shed it for, the forgiveness of all your sins,” I want to point out that none of the Scriptural accounts related to the Lord’s Supper say this.”

    Your favorite hobby horse, I know, George!
    But Jesus does say in instituting the Sacrament that this cup is My blood, given for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28 (and others, if I looked them up).

    I think you are nit picking!

  3. George,

    This past Wednesday, did you take the time to reflect on the meaning of these words:

    “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

  4. @Steve #3

    Steve, I did not, and I do not think anyone else should either. This is false humility; early Luther, before he rediscovered the Gospel. Instead, we should heed Philippians 4:4-7, not long after St. Paul urges us to take on the slavery, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
    Luther actually came close to repudiating his First Thesis, when he later commented on this Thesis, saying that, after all, we repent every time we pray “and forgive us our trespasses,” in the Lord’s Prayer. But this is far from “the entire life of believers to be on of repentance.” In the Smalcald Article, he also repudiates this Thesis, but due to a translation error into English, all of our pious pastors think our Lord urged us to repent constantly.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  5. @George A. Marquart #1


    I’ll ask a similar question that I just asked in another thread.

    What do you believe is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? What do we receive (if anything) and what for? What does receiving it do (if anything)? What is the point of it?

  6. T-rav, That is some burden you have laid on me. Although every Christian ought to be able to answer this question, but at least for me, it is a formidable task. Orare et labore.
    Just to make sure, I believe that Scripture teaches that we receive the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    As to what for, the first thing that comes to mind is why do we think there always has to be something in it for us. Luther was somewhat of the same mind when he chided the people who were now demanding Communion in two forms, saying that the German peasant always thinks of his stomach first.
    I will begin by looking at what Luther’s Small Catechism has to say about it. Obviously much more is written on the subject in the Large Catechism and other parts of the Confessions, but I think this gets at the substance of the matter:
    “What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?
    That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
    Luther begins with a perfectly Scriptural account of the Eucharist, but then he introduces the next clause with “namely.” That permits one to add one’s own meaning without regard to Scripture, and this Luther does. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given us in Baptism. Is that not enough? Do we need more of them? Forgiveness is an act of God, in which by His will God “forgives our iniquity and remembers our sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34) It is not something we ingest; we appropriate it by faith, which is, in itself, a gift of God.
    “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
    It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”
    Note that Luther here says something different. Here we have forgiveness, not because we drink the blood, but because we believe the words. Actually we do not receive forgiveness here either, but the forgiveness we received in Baptism is confirmed and through that God strengthens our faith. Luther is much closer to the truth here.
    For the rest of this opus I am using the following picking out those sections that deal with the question of what benefit we receive from the Eucharist:
    Only those statements which are supported by Scripture are mentioned.
    “Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper
    A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations The Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod May 1983”
    From the Prologue: p. 5
    “It is in Christ’s word that the Christian Church receives the Lord’s invitation: “Take and eat; this is my body.”2 Since the Gospel has kindled faith in Christ, the church gladly obeys this command. In order rightly to follow the Savior’s guidance, one must understand the setting and the words of the Lord’s Supper.” Amen to that.
    p. 8.
    “In the words of institution Jesus openly asserts that His blood is being “poured out” (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20) and that His body is being “given” (Luke 22:19). Both terms underscore the sacrificial nature of His death. Further, the words of institution contain the important reference “for many” (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24) or “for you” (Luke 22:19). Jesus now presents His body and blood in bread and wine as the means of divine grace “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). With His body and blood in the sacrament, He thereby bestows all the blessings and benefits of the atonement (Heb. 9:14-16) .”
    This is fine until the last sentence. Here is what Hebrews 9:13-16 says, “13For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
    15For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.”
    This is one of Luther’s dearest tricks, and many Lutheran theologians have inherited it: say something and then give a portion of Scripture that allegedly proves the point, but it has nothing to do with it. There is no reference in this passage to the Sacrament at all.
    “St. Paul also links the institution of the Lord’s Supper with the second coming of Christ: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11 :26). Thus the communicant confesses or “proclaims” confident faith in the Lord’s promised return when he partakes of the Lord’s Supper.”
    “3. The Lord’s Supper strengthens faith.
    Thus the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the church so that as this sign reminds us of the promises of Christ, the remembrance might strengthen our faith and we might publicly confess our faith and announce the blessings of Christ, as Paul says (1 Cor. 11 :26), “As often as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death” (Ap IV, 210).”
    Here, it is not the Sacrament itself that strengthens our faith, but the remembrance of Christ.
    Based on the above I conclude that the purpose of the Eucharist is:
    1. To remember our Lord. Books could be written on all that this involves.
    2. To strengthen our faith.
    3. To confess the second coming of our Lord and to strengthen our faith in our own inheritance of eternal life.
    You might think that this is a sparse list and does not involve much. Think again.
    I am aware of our Lord’s “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6, but I would rather avoid it, because Luther claimed that “not one syllable” of that discourse has to do with the Eucharist. Some Lutheran theologians believe that Luther was wrong here.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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