The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 8, 2018
“Baptism, Dying, and Rising”
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:3-11
We Lutherans have been confirming young people and old people for nearly five hundred years now. Many Lutherans have suggested that we get rid of the practice. They make some good arguments.
First of all, confirmation is not commanded by God. Jesus does say to teach those who are baptized everything that he commanded should be taught in his church, but he didn’t say anything about confirming them.
Secondly, we usually don’t invite a young Christian to the Lord’s Supper until he has been confirmed. But baptism, not confirmation gives us the right to go to the Lord’s Supper. Why should a human ceremony, Confirmation, be required for a divine sacrament: the Lord’s Supper?
Thirdly, people often think of Confirmation as graduation. They think that receiving instruction in God’s word is for children. Once you’re confirmed, you’re an adult, and adults don’t need to be instructed in God’s word. Since we need instruction in God’s word our whole lifelong, if this is how people understand confirmation, we would be better off getting rid of it.
But if we understand Confirmation according to the words that are actually spoken in the rite of Confirmation, it’s a good custom to keep. Here is the first question the pastor asks the confirmand: “Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism?” The confirmand replies: “Yes, I do.” This is what confirmation is. When we are confirmed we confirm our baptism. We agree with it. We claim it. We take hold of it and hold onto it. We take our stand on the promises God sealed to us in this holy washing.
What do you think of your baptism? Is it a ceremony by which we celebrate the birth of a child? Is it a religious ritual that brings family and friends together to celebrate? Is it a symbolical act by which we confess to the world that we are Christians?
Oh, it is more – much more – than any of these things. The Bible says that baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” St. Peter said that those who are baptized receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When God baptizes us in his name he gives himself to us. On August 16, 1953, God through his minister said to me: “Rolf David Preus, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” That was the most important event in my life.
Nobody can be a Christian without the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nobody can live like a Christian without the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism gives us forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died, water and blood poured out of his side, signifying that the water of baptism washes us in Christ’s blood. Jesus died for our sins. Baptism gives us the forgiveness of sins Jesus died to obtain for us.
Baptism gives. It doesn’t lend, rent, or sell. You cannot buy forgiveness. You cannot earn forgiveness. If God is going to forgive you, it will have to be on his terms. He required the obedience and death of his only begotten Son. That’s where forgiveness comes from. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead. That’s where our new life comes from. In our baptism, God has united us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This means he has given us forgiveness of sins and a new life.
God baptizes us. We don’t baptize ourselves. A man may pour the water over our heads, but he is only a servant of God. God is the One doing the baptizing. If baptism were merely our work it could not provide us with the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. But baptism is God’s work. It is a wonderful work.
When God baptizes us he unites us with the death and the resurrection of Jesus. This is where baptism gets its power to save us. It’s not in the water, as if the water has special spiritual properties. It’s not in the minister who pours the water over our heads, as if he has some special pastor power to make baptism work. It’s not in those who are being baptized, as if baptism does what it does because of something we do. No, the power of baptism is the death and resurrection of Jesus. We were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven and death cannot rule over us. God has given us new lives to live.
We are united with Christ. We call this the mystical union. It is closer than the union of a man and a woman, a mother and her child, or any brotherly or sisterly love known to mankind. It is the union between Christ and his bride.
When a man marries a woman he gives her his name. Everything that belongs to him is hers. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul compares the relationship of Christ and the church to the relationship of a husband and a wife. Listen to what he says about the love of the husband for his wife:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Baptism is how Christ makes his church holy. The church is the Communion of Saints, the fellowship of God’s holy people. They are made holy by the washing of Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit washes her clean in the blood of the Lamb. This washing unites her with Christ’s death and resurrection.
What does this mean? It means that when we are baptized, we die and rise again. The old Adam, the rebellious, self-willed, malicious, lustful, proud sinful nature that we inherited from Adam is drowned. He is killed. How so? The sins into which our sinful nature led us are forgiven. Sins that are forgiven cannot control us. They cannot claim us.
When we were baptized we died to sin. When Jesus died he died to sin. He bore our sin, destroyed sin’s power, and triumphed over our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Death cannot touch Jesus. He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. He is the victor over all evil. He faced the sin of all humanity to destroy it and its power. He rose from the dead, never more to die.
When you, dear Christian, were baptized God brought you back to Calvary and the open tomb and united you to Christ’s death and resurrection. You were not there when Jesus died and rose from the dead. It happened thousands of miles away and nearly two thousand years ago. How could you have been there? God took you where you could not go. God joined you to the time and the place where he saved you. Jesus died and rose again. So did you.
It doesn’t feel that way, does it? If we are living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, why do we still feel the desire to sin? Why do the bodies in which we live get sick and die? If we really are living a new life and eternal life, why do we still experience sin and death? Didn’t Christ defeat sin and death when he died and rose? Didn’t we die and rise with him?
Don’t judge by what you feel in your body. Judge by what God promises you in his Word. We are alive. We are alive to God in Christ. Not only will all our sin be purged and our bodies be glorified at the resurrection of the body when Jesus returns to take his church home, we are living the new life right now.
Every day we can return to the washing where God sealed to us forgiveness of sins and filled us with the Holy Spirit. When we get up in the morning, we claim the promise of our baptism. We thank God for the new life he has given us to live: the life of faith, of hope, and of love. We live that life.
When we go to bed at night, and consider the wrongs we have done, the errors of which we are guilty, we confess our sins to God and God washes us once more in our baptism. He unites us with the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus and makes us clean and pure, ready to sleep in peace.
Baptism isn’t magic. It is received through faith. Without faith, baptism will save no one. But the God who elicits faith through baptism also uses our baptism to strengthen us in the true faith. He sustains our faith through the gospel he preaches to us. He keeps us in the faith through the Lord’s Supper that he gives to us. This is why when we are confirmed we are asked: “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” We promise, “I do, by the grace of God.” We need to be fed with God’s word or our faith will die. This is why we need to attend church faithfully, and not just any church, but a church where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity, and that means a church that teaches according to the Catechism we have learned. Through God’s pure gospel he sustains us in the faith that our baptism establishes in our hearts.
We face temptations in life that are assaults against the faith. When we fall, we don’t give up and quit and live a life disconnected from Christ’s death and resurrection. No! When we fail, when we sin, when we fall flat on our face, we will remember who we are, who our baptism made us to be. We are God’s children! We died and rose with Jesus Christ. God, through our baptism, enables us to live a new life every day of our life. He prepares us to die in peace, with the confidence that we will rise to eternal life in sinless and glorified bodies by the same power that he raised Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead.
Pastor Rolf Preus