Friday, October 2, 2020

Friday/Saturday of Trinity 16

 The Compelling Promises of Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV) Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
“That’s not just a threat; it’s a promise.” I can remember various teachers I had over the years saying that to the class when they wanted to get really serious. “I’m not making any old idle threat that I won’t follow through on,” they were saying.
But when God makes threats, He doesn’t need to say, “This isn’t just a threat; it’s a promise,” because His threats are always promises to act according to the threat. He doesn’t make idle threats. When He told Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would lead to death, it was a promised threat. God always is faithful to His Word (2 Timothy 2:8); He always does what He says. So when He tells us, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), we can take that to the bank.
God is just, so for Him not to punish sin would be an inconsistency on His part. But in His unfathomable mercy, God took the threats and aimed them at Himself rather than at us. He sent His only-begotten Son into human flesh to stand in our place: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The threat to punish sin was followed through on Mt. Calvary, where the Son was forsaken to the torments of hell by the Father in our place, so that we need not face the threats of eternal death, but receive the promise of eternal life in Christ: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
And the promise of resurrected eternal life with Christ is a compelling promise. The Holy Spirit uses that promise to bring us to faith in God our Savior. On the other hand, we law-minded humans rely on threats to compel changes in the behavior of others. Just think of our entire legal system; it is based on the power to punish injustice. Its threats compel people to obey. But when God wants to compel us to trust in Him as our Savior, He doesn’t use force; He uses His promises. He sends His Son to die for us, and then sends us Holy Baptism to incorporate us into His Son’s death and resurrection.
Dr. Luther highlights this promise in his catechetical hymn about Baptism. As Luther portrays the Baptism of Jesus Christ, he says that the Trinity’s presence there offers us compelling promises:
There stood the Son of God in love,
His grace to us extending;
The Holy Spirit like a dove
Upon the scene descending
The triune God assuring us,
With promises compelling,
That in our Baptism He will thus
Among us find a dwelling
To comfort and sustain us. (LSB 406:4)
God’s compelling promises are to comfort and sustain us by dwelling with us in our Baptism. Believe it, because it is true!
St. Peter wrote, “Baptism…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” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism saves us by crying out to God on our behalf, begging for and obtaining a good conscience, one clear from the guilt of sin, because of the resurrection of Jesus.
Since Baptism is always at work obtaining a clear conscience for you, that means Baptism saves you now! Not just in the future, but you are saved from the guilt of your sins. Dr. Luther summarizes this when he asks and answers in the Small Catechism: “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Notice how the compelling words and promises of God are given in the present tense. We possess all these things now!
All of us need to continually hear God’s compelling promise, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). It is a free gift of salvation, through water and the Word, by the promise that Baptism forgives our sins, rescues us from hell, and gives us eternal salvation.
That promise is to be received by faith, but note well that faith is not a work. Dr. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “this single phrase, ‘Whoever believes,’ does so much. It excludes and repels all the works that we can do, when we suppose that we gain and merit salvation by our works. For it is determined that whatever is not faith does nothing or receives nothing [Hebrews 11:6]…Baptism…is not our work, but God’s…God’s works are saving and necessary for salvation. They do not exclude, but demand, faith. For without faith they could not be grasped.”
So believe the promises, and receive them with an “Amen,” which means, “yes, it shall be so.” “Amen” is the right response to God’s gifts, the right answer to God’s promises, so join me in a hearty “Amen.”
Prayer (LSB 616):
1. Baptismal waters cover me
As I approach on bended knee;
    My Father’s mercy here I plead,
    For grievous sins of thought and deed.
2. I look to Christ upon the tree,
His body broken there for me;
    I lay before Him all my sin,
    My darkest secrets from within.
3. Lord, may Your wounded hand impart
Your healing to my broken heart;
    Your love alone can form in me
    A heart that serves You joyfully.
4. From Your own mouth comes forth a word;
Your shepherd speaks, but You are heard;
    Through him Your hand now stretches out,
    Forgiving sin, destroying doubt.
5. Baptismal waters cover me;
Christ’s wounded hand has set me free.
    Held in my Father’s strong embrace,
    With joy I praise Him for His grace. Amen.

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