We live in a culture of death. Everybody hides it. They hide their destruction of life beneath the pleasures of sex. They hide the murder of their loved ones beneath the supposed mercy of ending pain. They hide the murder of innocents under the guise of just retaliation.
But the culture comes from people, and we are those people. In the midst of life we are in death. God is justly displeased with our sins. The end of those things of which we are now ashamed is death, and we feel still the desires for them in the pride, the envy, greed and lust that infect our hearts. We cary in ourselves death, and that is why Baptism must indicate that the old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.
We must die every day. That’s what the cross does. It kills. It isn’t pleasant. It hurts us. It makes us hate ourselves when the world says we need more self-esteem to serve God. It makes us see no purpose in our works while the world is boasting in her own. The cross makes us confess ourselves to be fools while the world basks in her progress and wisdom.
The cross means death every day to us. And this is a good thing. If we did not die we would not live. Note this carefully in the great hymn of our mother Hannah.
“The Lord kills and He makes alive / He brings down to the grave and raises up.”
She does not sing, “He makes alive and He kills.” He first kills. Then He makes alive. He first wounds, then he heals. He preaches the Law, and then the Gospel. He tears us down, then he builds us up. He humbles, and then exalts.
Ours is a different culture of death. It is a kingdom where there is more slaughter and sacrifice than there were bulls and goats in the Old Testament, “For in the Law the slaying of victims signified both the death of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel, by which this oldness of flesh should be mortified (i.e. put to death), and the new and eternal life be begun in us.” (AP XXIII.34)
Our experiencing the death of our old Adam cannot happen apart from Christ’s own death, since his death gives us the forgiveness of sins, which alone can silence the devil and the ally he has in our old sinful nature. Only Christ assuaging God’s anger can end the enmity between God and man, reconciling the Father to us; and so only the Gospel which preaches this can render us personally reconciled to God. This is why we must cling to our baptism in these days when nominal Christians are so ready to offer up their sacrifices apart from Christ’s death and resurrection. (See Ecc. 5:1) Our baptism teaches us how to enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, because baptism puts to death the lies of our flesh and that first false teacher the devil, and raises us up to a life that is as new and pure and spotless as Jesus’ resurrection.
In baptism you learn how to face death, because in baptism you learn to die and live. You learn to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior throughout your whole life of daily sinning much, so that when death comes, you have already passed from death into life, and have learned from your baptism that you have nothing to fear, but only Christ to know, and the power of his resurrection.
Here is a hymn I recently wrote about death. The tune you can find here:
It is hymn 594 in The Lutheran Hymnal
- Lord Jesus Christ, my life in death,
Be near me in my sorrow;
Increase with your pure word my faith,
That I may meet tomorrow
Without a fear of when I die,
With confidence in You that I
Inherit life eternal.
- There’s nothing that my soul can do
To give me such protection;
Baptized I have received from You
Your pledge of resurrection
That joins me to Your holy cross,
Where You in death redeemed my loss
And gained for me God’s favor.
- Let joys that I have loved depart,
Let sadness, pain and sickness
Assault this poor and guilty heart,
I find still in my weakness
That You are stronger than my sin,
Nor do the doubts I feel within
Have pow’r that can defeat You.
- So let death come with all its pain,
Your promises prepare me
To now confess the grave is gain;
Nor will its power scare me.
I overcome death every day
When You take all my sins away
And cover me in mercy.
- And by Your Spirit God will give
New glow to dying embers;
The Spirit by whom You now live
Will bring to life my members,
So that through grave and rot and dust
All hell and death and devil must
Yield to Your resurrection.