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.

 

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.)

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.

I AM

Sermon for the festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 8:48-59

Dear people who will never see death: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13-14)

“I AM,” or the original Hebrew “Yahweh”, is the name of God as He revealed it to Moses. It is translated as “the Lord” in most English translations of the Bible, but we would do well to remember the meaning is “I AM.”

When God revealed His name to Moses as “Yahweh” or “I AM,” it is not the first time God’s name appears in Scripture. Already in Genesis chapter two the name “I AM” appears multiple times when describing His creation of man and woman and His placing of them in the Garden of Eden. The name “I AM” is the most frequent name for God in the Old Testament, appearing over 5000 times.

“I AM” is God’s holy name. Out of fear of taking God’s name in vain, the Jews of Jesus’ time never uttered it. They were so scared of breaking the Second Commandment that they never spoke God’s name in prayer or worship. Even when reading from the Scriptures in synagogues, they would say “Lord” instead of “I AM,” which is written in the text.

“I AM” is God’s personal name indicating His eternal existence and the origin from whom all things came to be. Only God can say, “I AM.” He has no beginning; He has no end. In the book of Revelation, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8) In Isaiah God says, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares I AM, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am I AM, and besides me there is no saviour.’” (Is. 43:10-11)

So you can imagine the outrage of the Pharisees when Jesus describes Himself as “I AM.” The Pharisees, as usual, were arguing with Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” This set the Pharisees off in an uproar. They said, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets… who do you make yourself out to be?” The Pharisees did not understand Jesus was talking about eternal death and that Abraham and the prophets are alive with God in Paradise even though they died from this life.

Part of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” This only added fuel to the fire. The Pharisees replied, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Genesis tells us about I AM appearing to Abraham and speaking with him. I AM made promises to Abraham and made a covenant with him. I AM called Abraham out of his country and promised to make a great nation of him (cf. Gen. 10-25, esp. 18). This was more than two thousand years before Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees. So how can Jesus claim that Abraham saw Him? What is Jesus saying about Himself?

Just to remove all doubt, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is claiming to be I AM. Jesus is taking God’s holy name for Himself. He is saying He is eternal with no beginning and no end. He is saying that before Him no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Him. He is saying, “I, I AM who I AM, and besides me there is no saviour.”

That’s why the Pharisees picked up stones to stone Jesus to death. Not only was He speaking God’s name, He claimed to be I AM, the one and only true God. In their eyes, this was blasphemy. Someone is guilty of blasphemy if he claims to be God and is merely a man. Recall that this was the only charge against Jesus of which He was found guilty in His trial before the Council.

Jesus’ words left the Pharisees with two options: believe that Jesus is God or believe that Jesus is some lunatic claiming to be God. There are no other options.

If Jesus was just a prophet of God, but not God in the flesh, then He would not have claimed to be God. No other prophet sent by God ever claimed to be the eternal I AM. If Jesus was a good teacher but nothing more, then He would not have said that Abraham had seen His day and was glad. No teacher is good who makes up such lies. Either Jesus is God or He’s crazy. There are no other options.

This means that you also only have those same two options to believe. Either Jesus is the great I AM, Yahweh, God in the flesh, or He is a lunatic and a liar. Either Jesus is right when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death,” or He is a liar and we should discard His every word. It’s all or nothing.

Any thinking that Jesus is anything other than I AM in the flesh is false. This is why today, being Trinity Sunday, we will confess in the Athanasian Creed that along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is equal in glory and majesty, that He is uncreated, infinite, eternal, and almighty.

Although He is the eternal I AM, the Son humbled Himself by taking on flesh and becoming man. Although equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God, the Son humbled Himself to be a man, and thus to be less than the Father according to His humanity. Even more, He humbled Himself to the point of suffering and death.

The eternal I AM who has no beginning or end, before whom no god was formed and after whom no god shall be, the great I AM, besides whom there is no saviour gave His life for fallen man. The Creator of the universe died for the sake of His creation that has rebelled against Him. So great is His love towards us.

Since Jesus is the eternal I AM who kept His promises to Abraham, we know that He will also keep His promises to us. Whoever keeps Jesus’ Word will never see death, because Jesus saw death instead. Whoever trusts the promises of God has the promise of eternal life.

These promises to you are sure and certain because the eternal I AM has made them to you. He who has no beginning or end promises you that you will have no end. He before whom no god was formed and after whom no god shall be promised you in the waters of Holy Baptism that you belong to Him. The eternal I AM gives you His very body and blood to eat and drink making you eternal by giving you eternal life.

I AM saved His people Israel out of slavery in Egypt and He has likewise saved you from slavery to sin. You are saved from the punishment of sin. You are saved from eternal death. You are saved to call on God’s name in prayer and praise. And because you cling to this Word of God, you will never see death. Amen.

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

 

 

 

Confessing the Faith

Sermon for Trinity Sunday based on the Athanasian Creed and John 3:1 – 17

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

“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”  Those are the first two verses of the Athanasian Creed which we just confessed.  They make quite a bold and serious confession of faith.  You must hold the catholic faith or you will perish eternally.  This is of course not referring to the Roman Catholic faith, but rather the faith of the whole Church throughout the world and throughout all time; the universal faith that is believed by all Christians.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the three creeds all Christians confess. The other two creeds, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, are more familiar to us since we confess them more often. However, for Trinity Sunday, it has been the custom to recite the longer Athanasian Creed.

A creed is a statement of what we believe. It is a summary of our faith as taught in Scripture. Historically, there came to be a need for creeds primarily for two reasons: to deal with false teachings within the church and to deal with false teachings outside the church in the form of other religions.

The Apostles’ Creed has its origins as early as the first century [cf. Irenaeus’s Adversus haereses]. It is a summary of the Christian faith founded on the Great Commission of Christ when He sent out His apostles to teach and to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed thus confesses faith in the Triune God since Jesus instructed the nations to be taught and baptized in the name of the Trinity, and to confess such faith.  Thus, the Apostles’ Creed became a baptismal confession and is still used as such in our rite of Holy Baptism and in our remembrance of Holy Baptism.

The Nicene Creed was written in A.D. 325 to combat false teachers, especially one named Arius, who started teaching that Jesus is not really God. The heretic Arius taught that God the Son is not eternal with the Father and that He must have been created by the Father and can have no communication with or direct knowledge of the Father. He also taught that God the Son was thus not truly God, but some sort of demigod in a human body.

Such false teaching needed a response from the church, and the church did respond by condemning Arius and his teachings and by writing the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed thus confesses that the Son is equal with the Father and is very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. The Nicene Creed thus confesses the Scriptural position of the church in the face of the lies which were causing trouble in the church.

The Athanasian Creed, written about a century later, fleshes out the Trinity further. It further delves into the mystery of the Trinity and precisely confesses what Scripture teaches us about the Triune God. But more than that, it provides us a bit of a wake up slap in the face. Sometimes we forget that to confess one thing to be true, we at the same time necessarily confess that anything that is opposed to this truth must be false. It is easy to say that we confess the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It’s a bit harder to say that anyone who does not confess the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed is heading for eternity in hell, but that is in fact what necessarily must be true.

This is confessed in the Athanasian Creed as it starts out by saying, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” The Athanasian Creed also concludes with saying, “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” In order to be saved, it is necessary to hold to the faith as taught in the Athanasian Creed, and to believe what the Creed confesses about the Trinity. Those who do not confess this cannot be saved.

You will notice that the Athanasian Creed uses very precise and careful language. Sometimes it may seem repetitive and long, but each phrase gives us exact language of the way Scripture describes the Trinity. If we use imprecise language or make up our own words it becomes very easy to fall into heresies like Arius did and others have because they tried to understand the incomprehensible.

The Holy Trinity is not something we can understand. We cannot possibly understand God. Three persons but one God? We don’t get it. How can this be? We don’t know. What does it mean exactly? We’re not exactly sure. But why should we think that we can understand God? Should we really be shocked that we cannot understand everything about the creator of the universe and also our creator? So we confess about God what He has told us about Himself even if we don’t fully understand it. We confess to the certainties that God has told us about Himself instead of making up our own thoughts and ideas about Him.

This confession of faith in a God that we cannot comprehend goes hand in hand with confessing the faith in situations that we cannot comprehend. God has not given us an explanation for everything that happens to us. He hasn’t told us why we go through certain difficult experiences.

Christians living in Syria may wonder why God is allowing Muslims to persecute them and desecrate their churches. Christians in Texas may be wondering why God allowed flooding to cause such destruction, ruin, and death. Christians in our congregation may be wondering why God is allowing them to suffer with pain, illness, or loss. We do not understand. But why should we think that we can understand God and His reasons? Do you expect a God that you cannot comprehend to do only what makes sense to you? If God would only do what makes sense to you there would have been no coming of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus. If God would only do what makes sense to you there would have been no death of the Son of God in your place. If God would only do what makes sense to you the water of your Baptism would have been nothing more than a sprinkling of water that does nothing.

But God, in His infinite wisdom did send His only Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God became man and took the punishment of our sins on Himself, dying on the cross in our place. And you have been washed clean in your Baptism as you were born of water and the Spirit.

With Nicodemus we can ask, “How can these things be?” but we already have the answer. It can be because God is God. We cannot comprehend Him and we cannot comprehend what He does. But He tells us that He is one God in three persons, so we confess this to be true. He tells us Baptism saves (I Peter 3:21), so we believe that it is true. God tells us that He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn. 3:17), thus in faith we cling to His promises. Thus when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead and requires us to give an account of our deeds, we know we will have no sinful deeds of which to give an account because they are all covered by His blood. Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” We are blessed because our transgressions are forgiven. We are blessed because our sin is covered. Incomprehensible as this may be, this is what God tells us in his Word, and on this we can rely.

We cannot know why we have to face difficulties in our lives but we do know that God’s will for us is eternal life away from this world of sin and suffering. This He will grant to us for Jesus’ sake.

We thus continue to confess our faith in the words that God has given us in His Word, as summarized in our creeds. We will continue to confess that although we cannot comprehend God, He has given us His Word which tells us who He is and how we are to speak of Him and know Him. And we will continue to confess our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord who gave His life so that we might live with Him eternally. This is the catholic faith; whoever believes it faithfully and firmly will be saved. Amen.

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