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 Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord based on Matthew 3:13-17

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

If Baptism is our work, then we must question its validity and its effectiveness. If Baptism is our work, we must each ask ourselves: was I sincere enough when I was baptized? Did I understand Baptism completely and correctly? Did I know everything I needed to know in order for the Baptism to be of any use to me? If Baptism is our work, we must ask these questions and many more. If Baptism is something we do, we must continually question whether or not we did it correctly; if we did it well enough; if we did it earnestly, genuinely, and wholeheartedly.

That is why churches who believe that Baptism is our work, don’t baptize babies. If Baptism is just our confession of faith, you have to wait until you are able to confess the faith to be baptized. If Baptism is our work, you have to be able to do the work in order to be baptized, and you will never have certainty about your Baptism.

Thank God Baptism is not our work, but His work. This removes all questions and all doubt about its validity and its effectiveness; its genuineness and its sincerity. Why? Because it’s then not a question of our sincerity and genuineness, but God’s.

Do you think God is sincere or lying when He says, “Baptism now saves you”? (I Pt. 3:21) Do you think God is being genuine or joking when He tells us to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38) Do you think God is being insincere when He tells you that your Baptism is into Christ’s death and resurrection and that in Baptism you put on Christ? (Rom. 6:3,5; Gal. 3:27) When it is a question of our sincerity and genuineness, we can never be certain. Because Baptism is a question of God’s sincerity and genuineness, we can be completely certain.

In Christ’s institution of Baptism, we also see the revelation of the Trinity very clearly. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) Baptism identifies God, and it identifies you as belonging to Him.

We see the three persons of God also in the Baptism of our Lord. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

No less happened to you in your Baptism. Saint Paul writes that Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Thus you know the Holy Spirit descended also on you in your Baptism. Saint Paul follows this up with saying that through Baptism we become heirs with the hope of eternal life, (3:7) indicating our adoption as God’s beloved sons, with whom He is well pleased.

Baptism is God’s work. Baptism is God’s gift. You receive this gift of God through faith, while also obligating yourself to live a certain kind of life as a child of God. That is why, in the same passage from Romans chapter six that talks about our Baptism being into Christ’s death and resurrection, we hear, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” We are not to continue in sin. We are not to walk in the ways of the Old Man, but in newness of life; in the way of the New Man created in us by Baptism.

This is why the Christian life is a continual return to our Baptism. When we fall into temptation and we sin, we repent and turn away from the sin. We return to God’s promises to us in Baptism.

That’s the fourth part of Baptism in the Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires, and that a New Man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

When you fail to walk as a child of God, do not harden your heart and remain in your sin. Do not make excuses for your sin. Do not deny your Baptism by refusing to repent and refusing to live like a child of God.

Until we die, we will have our old sinful nature. We will be tempted to sin. When we fall into temptation, our Baptism calls us to repentance. It is not a one time repentance, but a continual, daily repentance. Baptism defines our relationship with God. It strengthens us to flee temptation, and when we fall into temptation, it provides us with forgiveness and the strength to avoid it in the future.

 

Flee to your Baptism for refuge from guilt, sin, and the devil. Flee to your Baptism in the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation. Do not forget how great of a gift your Baptism is.

Treasure your Baptism. When facing disease or death, know that you are baptized into Christ and have been given the medicine of eternal life. When you are burdened by the horrible guilt of your past sins; when your pet sins have again reared their ugly head; when you see the effects of sin in your life, then look to your Baptism. Your Baptism is the certainty that your sins were put on Jesus and that He carried them to the cross and died for them. Your Baptism is your certainty that Jesus has covered you with His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared God’s beloved son and pleasing to Him.

Baptism is God’s work. Therefore it is valid and effective. Even for those who have denied their Baptism by refusing to live like God’s children, their Baptism remains valid and effective, continually calling them to repentance, calling them back to God.

Daily contrition and repentance is the Christian life. Baptism is God’s free gift to you that keeps you in the Christian life and will bring you to eternal life. This is God’s genuine, sincere promise to you. Amen.

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

Fed by Jesus

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:30-44

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

God gave manna to the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years to physically nourish and strengthen them. Just as God’s people were set free from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, so we are set free from the slavery of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as God fed those whom He freed from slavery with manna from heaven, so we are fed by the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ himself. Just as the children of Israel couldn’t “stock up” on manna for another day but needed to gather it every day as their daily food, so we need Jesus every single day. We need his precious Gospel. We need the words of life He alone can give. We need to take His flesh and blood into us by faith, as well as by eating and drinking the sacramental bread and wine, which are, as Jesus plainly teaches, His real body and blood.

We see in His miraculous feeding of the five thousand that Jesus is the Creator. He worked a miracle that only the Creator could do. He created. Where there had been only five loaves and two fish, He created enough food to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with twelve baskets of food left over. Consider who this man really is. He is God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the one who sustains all things by His mighty power. He is the one who made us in His image, male and female. He is the one who rained manna from heaven, and now has come down from heaven to be with us, never to leave us.

Jesus is our Creator. We tend to think of God the Father as our Creator. This is of course true, but God is not divided. Saint John writes in the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn 1:1-3) God the Son was also creating, as was the Spirit of God who Genesis tells us was in the beginning hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together, one God.

Jesus created us, and He still sustains us. He gives us what we need for this body and life. Even more, He gives us eternal life. He has joined us in our own flesh and blood, that He might bring us back to Him as pure, holy, and perfect saints. He came to do what we could not do. He came to restore God’s lost and fallen creatures. He came to redeem us body and soul. See Him do what only the Creator can do. It is our Creator who has joined us in our human flesh and blood by becoming a human being while remaining the Creator God. Jesus is true man. He is a man in every single respect. He is like we are in all things except that He never sinned because He could not sin since He is eternally pure and holy.

Jesus provides us with what we need for this body and life, but the time will come when this earthly life will end. We will all die. This is for what Jesus prepares us most of all. He prepares us for death, because He has died the death we deserve. The eternal death we deserve for our sins was swallowed up by Jesus’ death. We have eternal life waiting for us as our promised inheritance because we are baptized into Christ. We have eternal life waiting for us because Jesus Himself forgives sin in Absolution.

And Jesus gives us His true body and blood to spiritually feed us. There are two kinds of eating and drinking that take place in the Lord’s Supper: physical and spiritual. The physical eating and drinking is done bodily with the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking is through faith. Just as the mouth receives the body and blood of Jesus – because that’s what the sacramental bread and wine are – faith receives the benefits of Christ’s body and blood: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Our Creator God who has taken on our flesh gives us His body and blood to recreate us through the forgiveness of sins. He feeds us hungry souls who are burdened by sin. He nourishes us and strengthens us by forgiving our sins, and He thus nourishes us and strengthens us to eternal life.

Jesus provided physical food to the five thousand, but it wasn’t really about the bread and the fish. Jesus’ miracle showed that He is God; that He loves those whom He has created; that He is the provider of everything they need. He wanted the people to realize that He is their Creator, and they should go to Him for everything they need.

Jesus provides physical food for our bodies, but He also wants us to realize that He is God; that He loves us; that He provides everything we need, and so we should pray to Him for our every need.

Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. With our sins forgiven, there is nothing to keep us from eternal life. With our sins forgiven, we will inherit Paradise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, as He did to little Roslyn this morning. Baptism is not just some empty tradition. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Absolution, as He did to you this morning. Absolution is not the pastor’s forgiveness, but God’s. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, as He will give to you this morning. The Lord’s Supper is not just some superstitious gimmick. It has God’s command and His promise.

The reason you know that Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins in these ways is because He is the one who created you. He can and does give you everything you need. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and take your punishment in your place. He gives you the benefits of His death in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

The God who created you will also raise you from the dead. It is His promise to you, because you are baptized into Christ and strengthened and nourished by His Word and Sacrament. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, so you too will rise, and our loving Saviour will give eternal life to you and to everyone who trusts in Him. Amen

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

(This sermon borrows much from two of Rev. Rolf Preus’s sermons on John 6.)

Born of Water and the Spirit

Sermon for Festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 3:1-17

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

If there are many ways to heaven, then it doesn’t matter what you believe or to what church you go. Do what you like. Find your own way that suits you. Go to whatever church makes you most comfortable.

Jesus, however, says that the way to see the kingdom of God is through Baptism. Indeed, He says that if you are not baptized you cannot get into heaven. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus said nothing about making a decision to follow Him in order to get to heaven. He said nothing about inviting Him into your heart and making Him your personal Lord and Saviour. He said nothing about praying a sinner’s prayer, being dedicated to Him, making an altar call, or being confirmed. He said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Being born of water and the Spirit is being born again. It is not a physical birth, like our first birth. If this second birth was a physical birth like the first, we would be no better off, since “flesh gives birth to flesh.”

Jesus makes it clear He is speaking of a spiritual birth. You must be born as a new creature and rescued from death and the devil. You must be born of water and the Spirit.  One might be tempted to ask, “How can water do such great things?” Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. Thus St. Paul calls Baptism “a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” and in the last chapter of Mark we read, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” And here Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

You can hear this as pure Law, as a command that you must be baptized along with your family. It certainly is Law, as Baptism is commanded by God. Rejecting Baptism is rejecting God’s promise to you.

Baptism, however, is the most beautiful Gospel. How much better of a promise could God make to you? “Baptism… saves you,” the Holy Spirit tells us through Saint Peter (I Pet. 3:21).

You are not saved by your own works or efforts. You are not saved by your own decisions, commitments, or prayers. If your salvation depended on these, it would never be certain. You could never know that you have worked enough, put in enough effort, made the right decisions, been committed enough, or prayed fervently and sincerely enough.

Thus, God makes salvation so easy for you. Baptism saves. He takes the guess work out of it and takes the work of salvation out of your hands and into His own, so that it will be sure and certain.

Baptism is not magic. It is God’s promise, and it is received by faith. That faith is also given by God in Baptism because He gives us His promise in Baptism. If you do not trust and believe God’s promise of salvation to you, then whose promise do you trust? Those promises that men make to you? Those promises that you yourself make? As opposed to all other promises, God’s promises are certain. Baptism cannot be useless, because what God institutes and commands and to which He attaches His promises cannot be useless.

Baptism was not devised or invented by men. It was not spun out of some man’s imagination, but revealed and given by God Himself, so we can boast that Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God Himself.

But here the devil sets to work to blind us with false appearances and to lead us away from God’s work to our own. It makes a much more splendid appearance when man is so dedicated that he goes on a difficult pilgrimage or when man dedicates himself to follow Jesus. It is impressive when someone makes a big donation to a charity or dedicates his life to serve those in an impoverished country. The achievements and merits of man are seen to be great and impressive. Mad reason rushes forth and because Baptism is not dazzling like the works that man does, it is regarded as worthless.

However, Baptism is such a great work because it is God who baptizes. It is performed by the hand and voice of man, but it is truly God’s own act. It is God putting His claim on the one being baptized. It is God forgiving sins. It is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit putting His name on the baptized and giving His promises.

So great is Baptism that it is the killing of the Old Adam in us and the resurrection of the new creature, both of which continue in us our whole life long. For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the Old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth.

What is the old creature? It is what is born in us from Adam: irritable, spiteful, envious, unchaste, greedy, lazy, proud – yes – unbelieving; it is beset with all vices and by nature has nothing good in it. Now, when we enter Christ’s kingdom, this corruption must daily decrease so that the longer we live the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.

Where the old creature is given free rein and continually grows stronger, there Baptism is not being used, but resisted. Where Baptism is used, there is repentance. What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into a new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in Baptism.

Baptism remains forever. Even though someone falls from it and sins, we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old creature. Baptism does not fade or wear out.

Baptism remains forever because God’s promises in Baptism remain forever. The Son of Man was lifted up on the cross and there paid for your sins and you receive the results of that payment in Baptism, because you receive forgiveness of sins in Baptism.

When you sin, remember your Baptism. Baptism saves. God has made salvation so easy for you. He has taken the guess work out of salvation by doing it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live, and He gives you this new life in Baptism. Your salvation is sure and certain because Baptism is sure and certain. The promises that God made to you in your Baptism remain true because God cannot lie.

The only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has claimed you as His own. You have been born again. You have been born through water and the Spirit. Thus, you will see the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

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

(Some portions of this sermon are rephrased from the Large Catechism, Part IV on Baptism.)

Baptism is Eternal

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord based on Mark 1:4-11

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

Thousands of years ago, God said, “Let there be light.” Since God’s Word does not wear out, wither, or fade, we still have light today. God’s Word which created light so many years ago has not expired, otherwise we would be in absolute darkness; there would be no light. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

God’s Word with which He claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism does not wear out, wither, or fade either. It doesn’t matter how long ago God claimed you through Baptism, your Baptism has not expired and will not expire. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

We confess this truth also in how we deal with the elements consecrated for holy communion. The bread that has been consecrated to be the body of Christ, and the wine that has been consecrated to be the blood of Christ are treated with the understanding that God’s Word does not wear out, wither, or fade. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

How can you undo God’s Word? Once God’s Word has been joined to the bread and wine, so that we have the true presence of Christ’s body and blood on the altar, how do you undo it? How do you reverse it? How do you cancel it? By waiting for a few minutes? By saying the benediction? By taking the elements out of the nave?

Since we cannot undo God’s eternal Word, we simply do what Christ instructed: we take eat and we take drink. We consume what has been consecrated to be the body and blood of Christ. God’s Word does not expire.

We, however, will expire. Our bodies will die, but God’s Word will not. The fact that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection cannot be undone. The fact that we are in communion with Christ through the Sacrament of the Altar will not expire.

In the Baptism of our Lord the heavens were torn open to Him and the Holy Spirit descended on Him. No less happened to us in our Baptism. We could not see it, but that is nevertheless exactly what happened. We were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the heavens are open to receive us when we die from this life. We were adopted as God’s sons and God is well pleased with us because our sins were washed away in Baptism.

There is a danger, however, that comes with Baptism. Baptism puts a target on your back for the devil. You either belong to the devil, or you belong to God. There is no one else to whom you can belong. In Baptism, God snatches us away from the devil, whose child we are by nature. God claims us away from the devil for Himself.

Don’t think for a second that the devil doesn’t care. The moment that one is baptized the devil goes to work to get him back. The devil knows that God’s Word will not expire, but his goal is to make us reject what God has given to us in Baptism. His goal is to make us believe that our Baptism wears off and that God’s Word is not eternal.

Immediately once Jesus was baptized, the devil tempted Him. That is the next verse if we would have kept reading in Mark’s gospel. This was no coincidence. The devil also comes after all of us with temptations immediately when we are baptized.

For this reason, it is not a good idea to baptize an infant if the parents have no intention of raising the child in the faith. Doing so brings the devil with his temptations, yet without God’s Word regularly sustaining the child’s faith, that faith will die.

Thus, parents are required to make an oath before God and the congregation that they will teach the faith to their child, promise to bring the child into God’s house, and bring him to the altar rail to receive the strengthening of faith in the Lord’s Supper when he grows up. Without these, faith dies, just like the flame of a lamp with no oil.

We even have sponsors for Baptisms, who are supposed to encourage the baptized in his faith and in regular church attendance, so that his faith does not die.

If you are a baptismal sponsor and your godchildren are not regularly attending Divine Service, call them up and encourage them. Tell them to stop acting like their Baptism has worn off, and to stop despising their Baptism. Tell them to come hear God’s Word and to be strengthened in their faith before it dies.

In all this, we see that the problem is not with Baptism, but with us. Baptism cannot be extolled and praised enough. Baptism cannot be held in high enough esteem.

Thus, Luther directs us in the Catechism during daily prayers at morning and evening to make the sign of the cross on ourselves in remembrance of our Baptism. Thus, our hymnal in every order of service directs us to make the sign of the cross during the Invocation, as a reminder to us that we are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. During the Creeds when we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, the hymnal also directs us to make the sign of the cross to remind us that this very body of ours will be raised from the dead because we are baptized into Christ.

The certainty of Baptism is why we should continually remember and celebrate our Baptism. God’s Word which claimed us in Baptism will not wear out, wither, or fade. Our Baptism will never expire.

When guilt comes chasing us, we should flee to our Baptism for refuge. When the devil comes with his temptations, we should flee to our Baptism for strength to resist and overcome temptation. When death and disease come knocking, we should find comfort in our Baptism which has rescued us from death, disease, and every danger to our bodies and lives.

Baptism is how you can stand before the holy Lord God almighty without fear of being destroyed because your sins are covered. Baptism is how you can receive the body and blood of Jesus without receiving the Sacrament to your judgment and death. Baptism is how you have been set free from sin and live in newness of life.

Just as God’s Word which created light has not expired, so also His Word which has claimed you in Baptism has not expired. He has also given you His eternal Word and the Sacrament of the Altar which nourish the faith given to you in Baptism, and strengthen you against the devil and his temptations. They strengthen your faith in what God gave you in Baptism, so that you do not reject His great gift to you.

Just as the heavens were opened to Jesus at His Baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and He was declared by God the Father to be His beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased, so also because of our Baptism into Christ, the heavens are open for us, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, and God declares us His sons who are well pleasing to Him.

God’s Word will not be undone. His claim on you will not wear out, wither, or fade. God’s name on you will not expire. You belong to Him forever. Amen.

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

The Wedding Feast

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 22:1-14

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

Apart from Christ, the Church is one ugly bride. Ezekiel sixteen describes her as a baby wallowing in her own blood on the day of birth, cast out into the open field with no eye to pity or show compassion, abhorred by all. No one loved her to wash her or clothe her. No one even bothered to cut her umbilical cord.

Then her bridegroom came and gave her life. He bathed her and washed her and anointed her with oil. He made her to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. He clothed her with embroidered cloth and shod her with fine leather. He wrapped her in fine linen and covered her with silk. He adorned her with bracelets on her wrists, a chain on her neck, with jewellery, and a crown on her head. She thus had gold and silver and fine clothing, eating the highest quality of foods.

In Christ, the Church is a beautiful bride. Christ washes away the ugliness of her sins and clothes her with His own righteousness. He offers up His life for her on the cross, obtaining for her the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He clothes her in Holy Baptism. A wedding feast is prepared to celebrate this union.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready.

How do those invited respond? Some pay no attention to the invitation from the King. They go off, one to his farm, another to his business. These are the polite ones. They don’t hate the King, but they really don’t care. They don’t hate the Church, but they are indifferent to the King’s invitation. They don’t hate Christ, the bridegroom, but they have better things to do. They just don’t care.

Then there are those who are invited to the wedding feast who hate Christ, the bridegroom, and His bride, the Church. The King’s servants who went out to invite them are treated shamefully and disrespectfully. The King’s servants are even murdered for bringing the invitation just because these people hate the King. Such people get angry if a Christian dare speak the truth of God’s Word, because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear about how God expects us to behave and they don’t want to hear about how God gives us free forgiveness in His Son. They’d rather kill the messenger than hear the message. They are so vicious and hostile because they are poor, miserable sinners, who don’t want to admit that they are poor, miserable sinners.

There are those who politely ignore God’s gracious invitation, and there are those who respond in anger and hostility. There are also those who respond with hypocrisy. They join the church. They are baptized. They go through confirmation. They attend Divine Service. They outwardly confess that they believe what God’s Word says. But they believe none of it. This is the man without the wedding garment. He does not believe that he needs Jesus’ righteousness to cover his sins. He thinks Baptism is a nice ceremony but that it does nothing. He receives the body and blood of Christ but believes it to be nothing more than bread and wine.

All three of these groups of people invited have the same end. The King sends His angels to destroy them and their cities. They are bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness, that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether they reject God’s gracious invitation through polite ignorance, open hostility, or faithless hypocrisy, their place is in the eternal fires of hell.

This is a warning to us. The goal of this is not to say, “Hey I know someone who hates God. I know someone who doesn’t really care. I know someone who is a hypocrite.” No. This is us. We must confess our own sin.

We have politely ignored God’s gracious invitation. We are the ones who do not always care. We have failed to prioritize the hearing and reading of God’s Word. We have failed to treat God’s gracious invitation as the most important thing. We have failed to raise our children in the faith. We have had better things to do. Repent.

We have shown hostility toward God’s gracious invitation. We, according to our sinful nature hate God. We hate when His Law commands us to do something that we don’t want to do. We hate when His Law forbids us from doing something we want to do. We hate the fact that God’s Word says we are poor, miserable sinners. Our greed and lust, our desire for fame, money, and recognition, our anger and pride are all hostile to God. Repent.

We have acted like hypocrites. We go through the motions. We say things we don’t mean. We confess to believe what the Bible says but we’re not actually even that interested in what it says. We say we value God’s Word, but it sits somewhere in the house collecting dust. We speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer without so much as a thought as to what the words mean. Repent.

In your repentance, realize the gracious invitation of God to you. The wedding feast of the Lamb is for you. Not because of what you’ve done or left undone. Not because of who you are. Rather, because God’s gracious invitation is for everyone. The King sends his servants out to invite to the banquet everyone they can find. Thus, Jesus says that the servants brought in the evil and the good into the wedding hall – those who were thought of as evil because their sins were known to everyone, as well as those who were thought of as good because their sins were not known to everyone.

The evil and good alike will be at the wedding feast because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We lament our indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy and we cherish the wedding garment that covers all our sin. We love our bridegroom who came and gave us life; who bathed us and washed us in Baptism; who made us to flourish like a plant in the field and grow up. We love Him who clothed us with His white and pure robe of righteousness and feeds us with the highest quality of foods – His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

We love Christ, who has made us, His Church, a beautiful bride. Christ has washed away the ugliness of our sins and clothed us with His own righteousness. He has offered up His life for us on the cross, obtaining for us the white robe of beauty and innocence with which He has clothed us in Holy Baptism.

God wants you at the wedding feast, both here at the altar where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come, and eternally when we will see its fulfilment. He graciously gives you forgiveness. He forgives you your indifference, hostility, and hypocrisy, because Christ has paid the price of your sins. He gives you forgiveness so that you will care, so that you won’t be hostile, and so that you will believe that His death was for you and that He gives His forgiveness to you freely, graciously, lovingly, and abundantly.

Come to the wedding feast. Everything is prepared. Come eat the feast which is better than any earthly banquet; food and drink which give you eternal life. Come receive what God the Son has earned for you. Come and feed your soul which hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

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

Faith in the Midst of Storms

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 14:22-33

Dear storm-tossed disciples: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know for certain that you are saved? How do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven? How do you know for certain that you will receive eternal life? How can you be certain that when you are sinking and you cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus will save you?

Do not respond by saying that it is because you have faith. You do have faith, and because of the faith that God has given you, you are saved (John 3:16), but that is not the answer to the questions.

Look at the example of Peter to understand why having faith is not the answer to the questions. When Peter stepped out of the boat, he had faith in Jesus’ Word. When he saw the wind, he was afraid and doubted Jesus’ Word.

Do we not do the same? We believe Jesus’ Word until we see the wind and waves of this life howling and threatening. That’s when doubt sets in. When we are overwhelmed by loss and strife, illness and death, we doubt. When we pass through trials, with sin and ills contending, bearing the cross that God has sent us; when we are facing adversity and the storms of woe dismay our souls; when death pursues us without rest and the only thing between us and death’s strong grasp is a failing breath – at such a time, do not turn inwardly to find your faith. You will have a hard time finding anything but doubt.

Our response is not likely to be one of faith, but despair. We question why God would allow such tragedy. We may even feel angry towards God. We respond like the widow of Zarephath to Elijah when her son died, who said, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (I Kings 17:18)

The widow responded with those words because when she turned inwardly to find faith, she found only sin. She thought because of her past sin, God had taken her son from her. She thought because she remembered her sin, God also remembered her sin and punished her for it.

To find certainty of your salvation; to know for certain that your sins are forgiven and not remembered by God; to know for certain that you have eternal life, do not look inward to your faith. We are sinful people whose faith waivers, especially in trials and temptations. When we are sinking and we turn inward to look for faith, we will find only doubt and despair.

For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. God has promised you salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism. Scripture tells us that Baptism gives the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and washes away sins (Acts 22:16). Scripture tells us Baptism rescues from death and the devil (Romans 6:3-5) and clothes us with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Scripture tells us that as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the flood waters, so the flood waters of Baptism save us (I Peter 3:21).

When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to your Baptism where God has given you faith. Look to your Baptism which is not a feeling or emotion. Your Baptism doesn’t waiver. Your Baptism doesn’t wear off. Baptism saves you.

You have certainty in Baptism because that is where God has promised you salvation. In the midst of trials and tribulations, remember your Baptism where God claimed you as His own and promised you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. In addition to Baptism, God has also promised you salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Scripture tells us that in the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s true body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:28). Scripture tells us that Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI.2), thus eternal life and salvation are also received in the Sacrament of the Altar.

When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to the Sacrament of the Altar where God gives you the forgiveness of sins and strengthens your faith. Look to the Sacrament of the Altar which is not a feeling or emotion. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t waiver – you always receive Christ’s true body and blood. The Lord’s Supper saves you through the forgiveness of sins.

You can thus be certain of your salvation through the Sacraments because they are where God has promised you salvation.

When Peter doubted and began to sink, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of Peter and saved him. Jesus didn’t say, “No, I’m not going to save you because you are doubting instead of believing.” It was not because of the strength of Peter’s faith that Jesus saved him. In spite of Peter’s doubting and lack of faith, Jesus saved him.

All of this does not downplay the importance of faith. Faith is what saves, but faith has an object. Faith believes in something.

Faith in false gods does not save. Faith in one’s own goodness does not save. Faith in one’s own faith does not save.

Saving faith is trust in Jesus and His promises. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death on the cross was for your sins. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus’ Word tells you Baptism saves you, you believe it to be true. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus tells you that He gives you His body and blood to eat for the forgiveness of sins, you believe it to be true. Faith is trust that Jesus gives you all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection through the Sacraments He instituted for that very purpose.

This is why faith does not turn inward to look to itself. Faith looks to Christ on the cross. Faith looks to the empty tomb. Faith looks to Christ and what He has accomplished for our salvation.

Faith must also look to where Christ has promised that we receive that salvation. We cannot receive salvation from the cross. We cannot receive salvation from the empty tomb. We receive salvation in Baptism. We receive salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Thus, faith looks to Baptism. Faith looks to the Sacrament of the Altar. Faith looks to these two Sacraments where Christ has promised us salvation.

When the storms of life gather and our road looks dark; when great woes and troubles overtake us; when disaster brings our sins into remembrance and death looms near, know for certain that you are saved. Know for certain that your sins are forgiven. Know for certain that you will receive eternal life. Know these for certain, because these are the promises God Himself has made to you in your Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

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

Holy Trinity

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on Matthew 28:16-20

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

There’s an animated movie called “Up” in which the dogs in the movie continually get distracted by the sight of a squirrel. Whatever mission they have going on, whatever discussion they are in the midst of, even if serious and intense, the second the dogs see a squirrel, everything else ceases, they turn and stare at the squirrel, and shout out “squirrel!” It is humorous how easily the focus of these dogs can turn away from what they are doing; how quickly they get distracted from what they are doing every time a squirrel is near.

How easily dogs get distracted in a movie may be funny, but how easily the church gets distracted is not so humorous. The church has a mission, given to her by her Lord, but all too often, the church acts like these dogs, losing focus of the task at hand very easily. The “squirrels” of this world so easily distract the church, whatever those squirrels may be.

First, what is the mission of the church supposed to be? Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus has given His church on earth the mission of making disciples.

Jesus has also given the church the means to make disciples: baptizing and teaching. There are no other ways to make disciples of Jesus except for baptizing and teaching. Too often the church gets distracted from this truth. Too often the church starts to spend all of its energy doing other things to try to make disciples.

Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to entertain in order to make disciples. But entertainment doesn’t make disciples of Jesus; it makes disciples of entertainment, and the world entertains better than the church ever can. Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to start every imaginable program, camp, and event under the sun. Soccer camp may be fun but it makes disciples of soccer, not disciples of Jesus. Even programs that are good and helpful to the community can be a distraction when those programs replace the only means that Jesus has given to His Church to make disciples – baptizing and teaching. Such programs can become the squirrel that distracts the church from what she is supposed to be doing – baptizing and teaching.

And these two things go together. Baptism goes with teaching and teaching goes with Baptism. Baptizing children without teaching them the faith into which they are baptized will result in the children leaving the faith when they grow up. It is like giving a child a meal to eat when they are young and then never feeding them again. Faith must be nurtured by the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper.

Likewise, teaching without baptizing is like teaching someone about God’s gifts but not actually giving the gifts; teaching about how forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, and adoption as God’s children take place in Baptism, but then not giving those gifts. Thus, these two means of making disciples go together, as Jesus clearly commands.

Baptism in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is indeed a gift. Everything that is received in Baptism is hidden in the water, like a present you receive that is covered in wrapping paper. The wrapping paper covers up the gift so that you cannot see what it is.

If you receive a gift that has a peculiar shape, the shape of the package can give you a hint as to what is inside. Something like a frying pan, tennis racket, or drill that’s in wrapping paper can still give you a clue as to what the gift is. So also the visible appearance of Baptism gives you a hint as to what the gift of Baptism is.

Titus chapter three gives us more than a hint, telling us that Baptism is a washing of rebirth, poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Baptism washes away our sins. It is a drowning of our Old Adam with its sins and evil desires, and the emerging of a new man arising to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The wrapping paper of Baptism is water, but the gift in the wrapping paper is the washing away of sins and eternal life. The benefit of Jesus fulfilling the Law for you is given to you in Baptism. The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ death on the cross for you is given to you in Baptism.

Baptism does such great things because you are baptized into the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are baptized into the name of God the Father, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. You are baptized into the name of God the Son, the Word through whom all things were created; the Word who later became flesh and dwelt with us and died for us. You are baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the waters and brought life into being.

Yes, the Trinity is a mystery to us, but a mystery worthy of adoration. We cannot understand the triune God, but we can confess who He is based on His Word that He has given us about Himself. In the Athanasian Creed we get as specific as we can get without inventing something that God has not Himself told us. Attempts to simplify the Trinity so as to be understood by man, or attempts to explain the unexplainable fall into various errors and heresies. Instead, we cling to what God Himself has given us, and confess this to be our faith in the one true God and how He has saved us.

This faith is what the church confesses, and this faith is what the church teaches. This faith is the focus of the church’s existence so that we don’t get side-tracked by all the distractions that can occupy our focus. This faith is the gift of God to His church, the faith into which we are baptized, and the faith by which we are saved. Amen.

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

Let us then confess our faith in the triune God in the words of the Athanasian Creed on page 319.

The Marks of the Church: Holy Baptism

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service

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

The true Christian church, or God’s holy people, is recognized by the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Wherever Baptism is rightly taught, believed, and used according to Christ’s institution, there God’s holy people are. Baptism is a public mark by which God’s people are made holy and washed clean from sin and death, as we are made clean by the innocent, holy blood of the Lamb of God. Wherever you see the mark of Baptism, know that the Christian holy people must certainly be there.

Is Baptism, then, always certain? A controversy arose in the Early Church about the certainty of Baptism if performed by a bishop or pastor who denied Christ under persecution. A group called the Donatists said that if a pastor denied Christ under persecution then he does not have the Holy Spirit. If he does not have the Holy Spirit, he cannot pass the Holy Spirit on to those he baptizes. If he cannot pass the Holy Spirit on to those he baptizes, those Baptisms must be invalid. They thus questioned the validity of God’s Word and sacraments if administered by an unfaithful pastor.

This is a relevant matter for us today also. Today is a day of scandal, as we hear news of one pastor after another who has fallen into great shame and vice, even getting entangled in abominations that would make an unbeliever blush. Today is also a day of false teachings, as it seems like every other pastor speaks his own mind rather than the Word of God. A common question then comes up: “That pastor who has fallen into scandal baptized me. Is my Baptism valid? That pastor who now teaches something completely contrary to Scripture baptized me. Does my Baptism count?”

The answer is that you should not be concerned about the person who baptized you. Baptism doesn’t belong to the one baptizing, but to the one baptized. Baptism is given as a gift to the one baptized, not to the one who is baptizing. Baptism was instituted by Christ and has His command and promise, therefore it cannot depend on the one who administers it, as long as it is administered according to Christ’s institution.

If Baptism depended on the one administering it, you could never be certain that your Baptism is valid. You cannot see the heart or faith of the pastor who baptizes. Baptism cannot depend on the faith or piety of the one whose hands God uses to administer His gift. Baptism depends on the institution of Christ and His promises.

Luther writes that this is true even if the Gospel-denying pope baptized you himself. So long as Christ’s institution is followed, that water is used and you are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is a valid Baptism.

The Donatists were wrong in saying that if a pastor does not have the Holy Spirit then he cannot pass the Holy Spirit on to the one he baptizes. It is not the pastor who passes the Holy Spirit on to the one baptized. A pastor has no such power. The Holy Spirit is not at the pastor’s beck and call to come and go as the pastor sends Him. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, not the pastor. The Holy Spirit effects faith where and when it pleases God, and God has so decided that Baptism is an instrument through which He gives faith.

Further, you are not baptized in the name of the one who administers Baptism, but in God’s name. To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God Himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act (LC IV.10).

Baptism is valid if Christ’s institution is followed, regardless of the one who administers the Baptism. Therefore, in cases of emergency, anyone can administer Baptism. The pastor has no special power to make Baptism valid. It is God’s Word that makes it valid.

For proper order and administration, the church calls pastors to baptize, but where there is danger of someone dying without Baptism and a pastor is not immediately available, it falls on every Christian to step in and perform the Baptism. Because Baptism is a public mark of the church, such Baptisms will be reported to the pastor and recognized publicly by the congregation, but such a Baptism is valid and certain because it is God who Baptizes through human hands.

Baptism is therefore a mark of the church. You can recognize a Christian church because you find Baptism there; Baptism through which we are saved.

Scripture says, “Baptism now saves you.” (I Peter 3:21) Baptism saves because it delivers from sin, death, and the devil, and brings the baptized into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with Him forever. Baptism saves because it gives the forgiveness of sins that Christ earned by His death on the cross.

Because Baptism saves, it is necessarily found in the Christian church. A Christian church is recognized as such because the mark of Holy Baptism is found there. God’s holy people cannot be without Baptism and Baptism cannot be without God’s people because Baptism saves and thus creates and brings into being the people of God. So where Baptism is, there God’s people are, and where God’s holy people are, there Baptism is treasured and held like a most precious gift from God. That is how you can recognize the true Christian church. Amen.

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

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

Born Again

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent based on John 3:1-17

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

Jesus says that you must be born again to see the kingdom of God. There is no side-stepping or skirting around the issue. If you want to see the kingdom of God, that is, if you want to receive eternal life, you must be born again.

Why must one be born again? Because what is born of the flesh is flesh. The sin that all mankind has inherited from Adam is in our flesh. Sinful parents cannot conceive sinless children. Thus the Psalmist writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:5) The Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul that all mankind by their first birth are by nature children of wrath and enemies of God (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 5:10). Being born of the flesh means we are born as sinners into this sinful world, so we must be born again by the Spirit if we are to see the kingdom of heaven. The first birth is into this world of sin. The second birth is into the kingdom of God and everlasting life.

We must be born again. We must be born of water and the Spirit. To be born of water and the Spirit means to be baptized. Baptism is a rebirth, as the Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul, calling it a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Baptism regenerates and renews; it gives a new life now and promises a new life in eternity. It is necessary because you must be born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must come into you and change you into a new person because without Him you are captive to sin, captive to death, and captive to the devil. You must be born again to be released from the bonds of the sin, death, and the devil.

Does this mean that everyone who is baptized is born again? No, it does not mean that. It is possible to be baptized but reject the Holy Spirit by unbelief. The benefits of Baptism are received only through faith.

Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Whoever believes has eternal life. If you are baptized but reject the Holy Spirit through unbelief, your Baptism does you no good; it is of no benefit to you.

A believer, however, looks to the Son of Man lifted up on the cross. A believer looks with trust to Jesus on the cross because it was there on the cross that the price of our sins was paid. It was there on the cross that our punishment was laid on Jesus. It was there on the cross that Jesus earned us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

How do we get that forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus earned for us? Through Baptism. We receive it through Baptism because we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3,5).

Don’t try to figure it all out. That’s where Nicodemus got tripped up. He tried to make sense of the spiritual benefits of Baptism through his understanding of earthly things. Jesus responded to Nicodemus by saying, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Don’t try to figure out how. You can never do it. You cannot put faith under a microscope. You cannot put God’s promises under a microscope. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) In Baptism, we cannot see anything but water. We cannot see what God does in Baptism, but we trust His Word and His promises that He has attached to Baptism. Our faith is not in what we see, but in the promises of God.

John’s first epistle tells us that everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (I John 5:4). We may not always feel like conquerors of the world. When we suffer we do not feel like conquerors of the world. When we fall into sin we do not feel like we have overcome the world.  Thankfully, overcoming the world does not depend on our feelings but on our faith.

We may have to face dark and trying times in the world, but that does not mean we have not overcome the world. We may have to face anxious and difficult times in the world, times when it seems death is drawing near. But baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death and resurrection. We will rise from the dead because He rose from the dead and we are baptized into Him.

Jesus, my Redeemer lives; Likewise I to life shall waken.

He will bring me where He is; Shall my courage then be shaken?

Shall I fear, or could the Head Rise and leave His members dead? (LSB 741 st. 2)

We don’t have to worry about life or death. We are baptized into Christ, so we are members of the body of Christ. Christ rose from the dead, so we will also rise. Our fears or our feelings will not keep us from rising from the dead. Our sins will not keep us from rising from the dead. Jesus, our Head is risen. How could the Head rise and leave the members dead? We have nothing to fear. The Head will not forget about the body. Jesus will bring us to where He is.

The fact is, we already have new life now. We have new life now because we have been born again by water and the Spirit. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. God has claimed us as His own through Baptism, by putting His name on us. The Holy Spirit has saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal. He has washed away the old and put on the new.

Thus, we will see the kingdom of God. We have been born again by water and the Spirit, so we will see the kingdom of God. There is no side-stepping or skirting around the issue. We have been born again because we have been baptized into Christ. Christ, our Head is risen from the dead, so we also will rise, and we will see the kingdom of God. Amen.

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