3rd Midweek Advent Service
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 6:1-5 Sermon
December 18, 2013
Hymns (from Lutheran Service Book):
357 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
341 "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates"
602 "The Gifts Christ Freely Gives"
Order of Service: Holden Evening Prayer
Baptismal Font at St. John Ev. Lutheran Church, Seward NE
(as described in the sermon, delivered at St. John)
“BAPTISM: A GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING”
TEXT: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The human heart. We all know what that is, because we all have one. And since we are all gathered here at this worship service, we know that our hearts are working; otherwise we'd be gathered here for a funeral.
The heart is undeniably the most important organ in the body; because if it isn't working, then nothing else does. It is central to our very existence. It pumps blood throughout our bodies; and that means the rest of our anatomy is getting the oxygen and nutrients needed for life.
But you know as well as I do that hearts don't always work the way they should. There are various forms of heart diseases that cause people problems. One condition we know as arterial blockage. And the most common treatment for this is what's called a coronary bypass operation. This is so common that I would guess all of you are acquainted with it. Maybe you've had a bypass yourself; and if you haven't, then you probably have a family member or at least an acquaintance who has had one.
What happens, is that arteries become blocked and clogged for a variety of reasons. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that a person's heart stops working or doing its job when this happens, but the heart's function is compromised to a greater or lesser degree. There are definite effects resulting from arterial obstruction.
To correct this, a surgeon usually removes a section of a person's vein from the groin area, and it is inserted as a type of shunt around the blocked artery so the blood can flow freely like it should. This type of operation is highly successful, and a person's health is restored.
Today we are concluding the Advent series about the gifts that keep on giving. Previously, Pastor Ratcliffe talked about absolution, and Pastor Bruick talked about the Lord's Supper. And today we are concluding this by talking about Baptism, and what it means for us.
Thinking back to the illustration about the heart I just used, I'd like you to think of God's Word, the Holy Bible as being the very heart of everything. Through the Word, Jesus gives life to his Church and to his people. The Word is our connection to God himself, and through the Word we see God both speaking and acting. This is the primary vehicle of the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews chapter 4 verse 12 says, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." So God's Word is no dead letter; but it is alive with the very power of God the Holy Spirit himself. And we also know that God's Word is sure and reliable. God doesn't make errors or mistakes; and this is very important for us to remember as we talk about the means of grace, or the way God promises to come to us.
With absolution for example, these are the words of forgiveness we use to comfort the penitent sinner. Without the power of God's Word, these words would be no more than empty phrases. They would have no meaning at all.
Or we can look at the Lord's Supper as another example. Without the power of God's Word, we would have nothing more than bread and wine; we might as well go to a wine tasting at James Arthur Vineyards for all the good it would do us. We wouldn't have the Lord's Supper without the power of God's Word behind it.
The same is true with Baptism, which is our focus for today. That same Word of God gives Baptism its power and meaning. Dr. Luther reminds us of this when he says, "For without the Word of God, the water is simply water, and no baptism; but with the Word of God, it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus 3:5-7: '...he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.'"
In order to understand Holy Baptism, we have to go to the Holy Scriptures, to God's Word and read what God has said about it, and see where we fit into the picture. When we look at Scripture, there are several things we need to keep in mind.
First, we must always remember that God said what he means, and he means what he says. God doesn't make any mistakes. The Bible is of divine authorship, and not human.
Second, we must look at the Bible as being objective truth, and not subjective according to our own will and logic. We don't add to, or take away from what God has told us.
Third, we must take the words literally unless the context tells us otherwise. It's true that the Bible does use a lot of metaphors; for example when Jesus calls Herod a "fox," he doesn't literally mean that Herod is an animal with red fur, a pointy nose, and a bushy tail. That's a metaphor, and they are relatively easy to spot.
Fourth, we must understand the words of Scripture according to their standard definitions. That's one good reason why it is so important to use a Bible translation that is readily understandable and yet is still faithful to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
And finally, we allow the Bible to interpret itself without subjecting it to our own personal bias. Therefore we allow the clear passages of the Bible interpret what is unclear to us. We must remember that if we are having difficulty comprehending what God has said, the problem is with us and our limited minds, and not with God.
When it comes to Baptism, we hear the words Jesus himself speaks in Matthew chapter 28, verses 19-20: "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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you....." So Jesus commands us to make disciples for him. How? By Baptizing, and by teaching. In the case of a young child, that's the order in which we do things. We Baptize according to Christ's command, and we bring them up in the Christian faith. That's the way Jesus wants things to be.
Now before I go any further, there's one very key question that you need to keep in mind when you study Baptism: Is Baptism something God does for us, or is it something we do for God? Look at each and every passage of the Bible that deals with Baptism. What does it clearly say? Is God doing something for us in Baptism? Or are we doing something for God?
The conclusion here, is that God is the one acting in Baptism. It's not something we do for him; and if it were, then it would fall under the category of salvation by works. However, there are many who operate under this notion, and remove God from Baptism. Then the focus gets shifted to the method of Baptism rather than the meaning, and the significance is no more than a demonstration of obedience. There's no Gospel there!
I Peter chapter 3 verses 20-21 gives us a clear meaning for Baptism: "...God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Faith in Jesus Christ is what saves a person. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism, which receives its power through the Word. Baptism has the power to work faith in the heart of even the smallest child, giving them a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Scripture is very clear about the saving power of Baptism, and there can be no mistake. Baptism is purely an act of God himself.
Unfortunately, many not only doubt this promise of God, but will reject it and outwardly mock it, even many Christians. And why? Simply because they don’t understand it. It doesn’t seem logical to them. God? Working faith through Baptism? Oh, come on now. Yeah, we believe that God is all powerful, and that He can do anything, but to give someone the Holy Spirit through Baptism? No way!
But God doesn’t ask us to try to define this concept. He doesn’t ask us to try to figure out how it happens. It is a miracle that God does, which is beyond definition. He simply states what it is in his Word. And according to Christ’s command, we are asked to simply do it. To do otherwise, or to doubt this, is like thumbing your nose in the face of the Almighty. This is calling into question what God clearly tells us in his Word.
In our Romans text for today, the Apostle Paul explains how we are completely joined to Christ through Baptism. We are joined to that baby inBethlehemwho came to this earth to be our Saviour from sin. Jesus became one of us to share in our humanity, to essentially become one of us, but yet remain sinless. And so as sinful as we are, we are joined to him through faith alone. Our sinful selves were buried with him, and we have risen a new and reborn creature. Through faith, Christ's righteousness becomes ours. And the final reward is our inheritance of heaven, which is a reward of grace and not of merit.
Every time you come into this sanctuary, the baptismal font is right there in plain sight for everybody to see. The words "I am the door" are there to remind us that faith in Christ Jesus is the only way to heaven. The water mosaic behind symbolizes that Baptism has its power from the water connected to the Word of God. The open circle symbolizes God's love reaching out to the newly baptized. And the small sculpture above the font symbolizes an angel who rejoices in the newly baptized soul, and who gives strength to God's children. Here you have a visible reminder of that gift of Baptism that keeps on giving.
At the beginning, I used the illustration of the human heart and what it does as a way to describe God's Word. When arteries get blocked, people suffer and even die.
If you were Satan, and you wanted to distance people from God, what would you do? Wouldn't you try to cut people off from the Means of Grace, to clog the proverbial arteries of God's love? We see it happening all the time. People attack the Bible. People try to remove all meaning from the Lord's Supper. And people try to make Baptism into something man does for God instead of something God does for man. Satan is having a field day.
God keeps on giving us gifts through the Means of Grace, and we need to be sure that all of those arteries are unclogged and flowing freely. We need to regularly hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God's Word, and take comfort in the words of forgiveness in the absolution. We need to regularly partake of his true body and blood in Holy Communion. And we need to live each and every day as a Baptized child of God who has been buried with Christ through Baptism, and has risen with him into new life, being reborn as one of God's own children.
As Dr. Luther says, "[Baptism] signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily sorrow and repentance, be drowned and die, with all sins and evil lusts; and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever." This is most certainly true.