Friday, March 08, 2013

Sermon for 3/6/13--Midweek 3 (Catechism Series)

Life-Giving Water (Sacrament of Holy Baptism)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Is there life after Baptism?  Of course, this is like asking, “Is there life after birth?”  Holy Scripture plainly teaches that Baptism is the new birth of water and the Spirit.  Our Lord says in John 3, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  The Apostle Paul calls Holy Baptism “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  To be baptized is to be born again, which means that those who call themselves “born-again Christians” are being redundant.  To be a Christian means you have been born again, born of water and the Spirit.

In fact, there is no life without Baptism. The source and shape of the Baptized life we see in Romans 6 is reflected in the fourth chief part of the Small Catechism.  In the preceding section of Romans, Paul expounded the doctrine that is the very heart of all of Scripture, namely, that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, died for the ungodly, and through His death God has graciously justified us.  “Therefore,” Paul says, “we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  To understand what Paul says about Baptism, one must understand what he says about justification by grace through faith, for it is into the death of Jesus that we are baptized.  Justification is His free gift, and this free gift is placed upon us in Baptism.

Paul anticipates the objection of the old Adam in verse 1 of our text: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  The old Adam is skilled at asking “What if?” questions.  What if God really does forgive all my sins freely and fully for Jesus’ sake?  Does that mean I can continue to live as I please?  The cool logic of the sinner says, “I delight in sinning, and God delights in forgiving.”  Paul answers, “Certainly not!”  That’s because life after Baptism is a death to sin.

Baptism is not an excuse to keep on sinning or to protect you in your sin.  It is God’s means of putting sin to death.  It is God’s way of killing the sinner, so that the sinner will be raised to life in Christ’s heavenly kingdom.  That is why the Apostle Peter says, “Baptism now saves you.”  It saves you by joining you to the death of the One who died for you on Calvary.  Death destroys our mortal bodies.  But how different is the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His death gives life—life with God forever—for God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, making peace by the blood of Christ.  To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death, which gives life.

Life after Baptism is life lived in union with Jesus Christ.  In Baptism He puts His name on you.  His name identifies you as one who belongs to Him.  Just as in the Old Testament God’s name made His presence manifest in the Temple, so in Holy Baptism God puts His name on you.  He makes your body His temple.  This life you now live, you live as one who is under new management, new ownership.  You belong to the Triune God.

We live in a time of radical individualism.  We are told that we are in control of who we are.  ”My body belongs to me; I can do with it as I please”—thus the excuses for abortion, homosexuality, and other perversions. But the Psalmist writes, “Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.”  In Holy Baptism God puts His mark of ownership on you.  That is why in the baptismal liturgy the pastor says, “Receive the sign of the cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.”  You belong to Him who “purchased and won you not with gold or silver, but with His own holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.”  If you do not belong to the Lord who suffered and died for you, then you belong to the prince of this world, the devil.  For that reason the old Baptismal liturgies always included an exorcism.  The Holy Spirit never comes into a vacuum; He displaces Satan and his unholy spirits.

The Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism keeps us in union with Christ Jesus.  Working through His saving Word, He continues to build and sustain our faith.  Life after Baptism is a continual return to Baptism.  It is a daily dying to sin through repentance and faith, daily being made alive to walk in the newness of life.  And we walk in that newness of life as those whom the Son has made heirs of all the riches of the Father’s house: grace and peace, forgiveness of sins, living hope, and life everlasting.  God uses Baptism to give us those gifts in our lives right now.  He has delivered us from the bondage of sin, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

The death that Jesus died was the death of sin.  As the Lamb of God, our substitute, He died in our place.  And so Paul says, “Count yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  That is life after Baptism: learning how to live as those who have already died, and with Christ even now walk in newness of life.  What great and wondrous gifts God bestows in and through Holy Baptism.  God grant you faith to trust His merciful words, and so live in the newness of life that belongs to His children—a life lived in the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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