Baptism: The Way to Heaven

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 3:1-15

Dear people born again by water and the Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Nicodemus went to Jesus at night and they had a conversation about how one gets into heaven. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is so simple and easy that he struggled to grasp it or understand it. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Yes, the water of Baptism which gives you the Holy Spirit brings you into the kingdom of God. That’s it. That’s how you get into heaven – through Baptism.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus asks. Surely it must be more difficult than that. Surely I must do something. There must be rules for me to follow to distinguish myself from others. Surely I must make some grand confession before witnesses, study the Scriptures, and go to church. Jesus says, no. The way to heaven is by being reborn of water and the Spirit.

How can these things be? Because Jesus says so. Because Jesus gives you the forgiveness of sins through Baptism. He puts His name on you and claims you for Himself in Baptism.

Heretical spirits will say that Baptism is not important; that it is a useless ceremony. We are saved by faith alone, they say, so we don’t need Baptism.

We have God’s Word and command that have instituted, established, and confirmed Baptism. What God institutes and commands cannot be useless (LC IV.8). Thus, God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)

What is faith without Baptism? Faith in what? Faith must have an object – faith must have something to believe – something to which it can cling and upon which it may stand (LC IV.29). Faith clings to God’s promises. God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Faith clings to God’s promise that we are baptized into the death of Christ, and we therefore get all the benefits of Jesus’ death through our Baptism into Him (Rom. 6).

Of what use is Jesus’ death on the cross if you do not receive the benefits of His death? If you do not personally receive the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned by His suffering and death, His death is of no advantage to you.

How important is Baptism? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” If you’re not baptized, you’re not getting into heaven. That’s how important Baptism is.

If Baptism is so powerful and gives the forgiveness of sins and saves from sin, death, and the devil, and brings us into Christ’s kingdom to live with Him forever, why do we need anything else? Why do we seek to follow God’s commandments? Why do we need God’s Word, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper? Why do we go to church?

We seek to follow God’s commandments because they are for our good. They are God’s good and perfect will for our lives. There is no better way to love God and your neighbour than following the commandments of God. There is no better way to live than the way God created you to live.

We need to hear God’s Word so that we can hear His commandments and how He wants us to live. In His Word we also hear His promises, including the promises He connects to Baptism. God has given us Absolution and the Lord’s Supper to continually give us forgiveness because we fail to follow His commandments perfectly. He uses them to continually strengthen our faith to life everlasting. These things God gives to you in His Church on earth, and that’s why we go to church.

This is why parents and baptismal sponsors make promises to bring the child to church and eventually to the Lord’s Supper. The faith given in Baptism will die if it is never nurtured by God’s Word. Jesus didn’t give us His Word and institute the Sacrament of the Altar because we don’t need them and don’t benefit from them. He gave them to us because He knows we need them to bring us to everlasting life.

Do not neglect the means of grace that give you life. They are for your benefit. Baptism is what has brought you into the kingdom of God. God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper keep you in the kingdom of God. That’s why your salvation is sure. It is not up to you. It is up to God.

God has brought you into His kingdom here on earth and keeps you in His kingdom so that He will also bring you into His kingdom of heaven. His kingdom here on earth is His Church. Through His Church on earth, He brings you into His kingdom of heaven, because through His Church on earth He baptizes, feeds, and nourishes you with His Word and the body and blood of Jesus.

Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the whole world doesn’t benefit you if you are not actually receiving forgiveness. That is why Jesus instituted the church and the means of grace – the ways that He gives you forgiveness, which are His Word and sacraments. They are not useless ceremonies, but they are the miraculous way that Jesus gives you forgiveness and brings you to eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

The Day of Pentecost

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost based on Acts 2:1-21

Dear believers who have the Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christians long for another Pentecost; another Peter to rise up and call sinners to account for their sins so that they are cut to the heart and ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37) Another day with lots of Baptisms. Another day when three thousand souls join the church after hearing one sermon.

Especially as churches are closing, Divine Service attendance is dwindling, and people are just plain getting bored with hearing God’s Word, we may wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t come with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and fill this room and cause tongues of fire to appear and rest on our heads while granting us to speak in tongues we have never before studied or spoken.

The first thing to clarify, is that there will not be another Pentecost. Pentecost was the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Joel as Peter preached, and was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles in writing the New Testament, in preaching God’s saving Word, and to work in the hearts of those who would hear the Word, which is for all peoples of all languages. Those prophecies have been fulfilled.

Secondly, don’t need another Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit. He continues to call sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word as He did on Pentecost. Does that mean we will see three thousand souls saved in one day, after hearing one sermon? It doesn’t seem to be happening today, but He certainly could do so again.

What we need to realize is that the Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases Him. We might think He should work faith in our community and fill our church. He will do it if it so pleases Him.

We cannot control the Holy Spirit or tell Him what to do. We cannot manipulate Him by our own efforts or schemes. He is working wherever the Word is heard. He continues to call sinners to repentance. Will they heed His call? We will have to see. The question for each one of us is not “Will others heed His call?” but rather, “Will I heed His call? Will I turn away from my sin and repent, or will I harden my heart to His call?”

What we should realize is that even while the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word, hard, sinful hearts are rejecting His call, today just as they were on Pentecost. Yes, three thousand souls where saved, but how many heard Peter preaching? How many mocked the apostles and called the miraculous preaching of the Gospel in many languages nothing more than drunks babbling? Hard hearts will always reject the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance and faith.

Meanwhile, hearts that are convicted of sin cry out with those on Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (2:38-39)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you. Already baptized? God be praised. Repent and return to your Baptism. Circumcise your hearts. Turn from your sin. Throw yourself upon God’s mercy. Confess your sins because you are baptized. You have been named with God’s name. You belong to Him. But then, if that is the case, He also belongs to you. He cannot and He will not refuse your call. He has promised to be your God. You have access to Him through prayer, confession and absolution, His Word, and holy communion. Return to His name, His way, to His promise. Return to Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon you and where God’s own Word was made your inheritance. There you will find a Father eager to accept and welcome you home (from a Rev. David Petersen sermon for Pentecost).

Longing for the Holy Spirit to turn sinners to faith is a good, Christian desire, even if we will not have another Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is working through the Word to call sinners to repentance. The work that He does in others we can leave to Him. The work that He does in us, we can also leave to Him.

What work does the Holy Spirit perform in us? He calls us to repentance. He convicts us that we are sinful and need a Saviour. He also grants us faith through the Gospel, when we hear that we do have a Saviour, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. He gave His life as a ransom for us. He died for our sins. He has saved us from everlasting condemnation by being condemned in our place.

The Holy Spirit still works in us through our Baptism, reminding us that we were adopted as children of God through Baptism. He strengthens our faith and nourishes us to life everlasting through the body and blood of Jesus, which take away all our sin. And finally, on the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

We Confess that Christ Reigns

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord based on Mark 16:14-20

Dear confessors of the faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mark writes that upon His ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. This we confess in all three of our creeds.

At the time of the Reformation, Zwingli and other radical reformers used this as an argument that Christ cannot give us His body and blood in the Lord Supper, since His body and blood are at the right hand of God in heaven. Luther wrote an extensive response to these fanatics, showing how the right hand of God is not a localized physically confined space, as if Jesus is incarcerated on a throne in heaven and cannot leave.

This is shown in Ephesians, where it is written, “When [God the Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (1:20-23)

This passage shows that to be at God the Father’s right hand, though referring figuratively to a place, far from being confined to a space, it represents a power that is working everywhere; a power that is above all power, all rule, authority, and dominion. Thus, Luther contends, if God’s right hand is an image for His almighty power and if God’s mighty power can be shown to be at work in all places, then the right hand of God to which Christ is appointed is also everywhere. And if Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be.

That Christ sits at God’s right hand means that He rules over all things. He has all power and authority. He is no longer in the state of humiliation, to suffer poverty and hunger with no place to lay His head, to be beaten and suffer and die. He accomplished all these things for us and our salvation, but now He lives and reigns forever.

If sitting at God the Father’s right hand meant that Jesus was stuck someplace in heaven, He also would not have promised us saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20) and “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) Jesus is with us. He is wherever His Word is.

Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say that it is to His disciples’ advantage that He go away because He would then send them the Holy Spirit. This morning, we also heard His promise of sending the Holy Spirit. It is to our advantage that Jesus ascended into heaven and has sent us His Holy Spirit to give us faith through the Word of God.

It is also to our advantage that Jesus has ascended into heaven and rules over all things, especially His Church. As we heard from Ephesians, Jesus is the head of the Church, which is His body. As the head of the Church, He rules through His Word. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). His Word is eternal and will not wither or fade any more than Christ’s reign over us will wither or fade.

This is the confession Brooke will be making this morning. She will be confessing that her ascended Lord Jesus Christ rules over all things. She will be confessing that she believes what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. She will promise that she would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church.

That is a rather huge promise and confession to make. One might even ask, “How can the church ask her to make such a confession and promise?” The answer is that it is Jesus who says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32) Romans 10:9, which is Brooke’s confirmation verse, tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The other reason we ask for such a confession is that which one of you can see her heart? Which one of you can see what she believes? You cannot. But you can hear her confession when she tells you what she believes.

This is why the church has always based admission to the Lord’s Supper upon confession. No pastor can see your heart, but he can hear you confess what you believe.

Every member of this congregation has confessed and made the same promises that Brooke will confess and promise. Those who have not made such a confession and promise therefore are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper at this altar. Why? Is it because a judgment is being made against their faith? No, not at all. Remember, no one can see another’s faith. Rather it is because their confession of faith has not been heard. Or, if it was heard some years ago, it has since changed.

The confession of Lutheran Church Canada says that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. This means that we do not believe that as society changes, we should follow society, but continue to follow the Word of God. There is thus necessary conflict between what our church believes and what the world believes.

Church bodies that follow society instead of God’s Word have abandoned the confession of this congregation and church body. Sometimes people join such churches to avoid the conflict that Jesus tells us Christians will have in this world (John 16:33). Sometimes it is done without knowledge of the differences. Either way, everyone must be taken at their confession, which is made through the promises and confession you have made at the church where you are a member.

Why are we such sticklers to following Christ’s Word? Because we believe that He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead. We believe that He reigns far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and thus we fear no other power. We desire those who are lost in errors maze to hear the truth and be set free.

Most especially, we believe that Christ is our head and we are His body. Jesus, our head, rose from the dead. Do you think that we, His body, will remain dead? Jesus, our head, ascended into heaven. Do you think that we, His body, will remain here on earth? Where the head is, there will His body be also.

Jesus made sure of this by His suffering and death in your place. What is there to keep you from ascending into heaven? Your sin? You sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus and left in the grave when He rose. Your sin was removed from you in Baptism, and Christ offers you forgiveness again and again in Absolution and in His body and blood.

Since Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be. Not in the same way as He is everywhere, for Christ never promised concerning anything else that in it He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin.

Yes, Christ who reigns at the right hand of God says, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christ is not incarcerated in heaven. He reigns from heaven and is everywhere, filling all in all. He is where His name is confessed before men. He is where two or three are gathered in His name. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. And He has promised to give us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

Let the world and the devil rave and storm. We will follow our risen and ascended Lord and confess what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. We would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.