Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism 3.

But here the devil is busy to delude us with false appearances, and lead us away from the work of God to our own works. For there is a much more splendid appearance when a Carthusian does many great and difficult works; and we all think much more of that which we do and merit ourselves. But the Scriptures teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must derive their nobility. But insane reason will not regard this, and because Baptism does not shine like the works which we do, it is to be esteemed as nothing.*

In the above section of his Large Catechism Dr Luther uses an example of a group of monks to end all monks due to the severity in their practices. The monks lived as hermits in reaction to the degeneracy in the church of the day. The chief monastery was located north of Grenoble France. What made this order so special is they would go out of their way to not interact with other monks to the point that if one was dying no one would care for him. The works of the monks are admired by the monks and some others as great acts for God.

This is the way many in our evangelical and reformed congregations treat baptism. The evangelical will claim it is their work and therefore it cannot save as scripture proclaims so clearly. In our reformed it is taught that it is the work of the visible church to make members out sinners. It is taught to deliver some grace but it is quickly taken back due in part to the doctrine of limited atonement. In both instances due to it being the work of man St Peter’s proclamation in his first epistle is reevaluated so that there is no salvation at all.

1 Peter 3:21 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. ESV

To deny the powerful gift of baptism and make it a pitiful work of man robs it of the firm promise that one can look to in struggles on this fallen world. This promise of salvation, apprehended by faith, indeed justifies us. Since it is Jesus’ work for us we are not claiming any of the credit for this benefit so that the salvation is still all about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus has determined to both locate and deliver the benefits of his cross and resurrection in baptism. Instead of trying to snatch this gift away from Jesus let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

*Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jesus, Our Mercy Seat.

Leviticus 16:12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. ESV

Wow, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant was serious business! One had to have it covered by smoke or he would be killed. The covering of the ark, and the blood sprinkled on it, was the propitiation for the people of Israel. This was bloody business. Both a bull and a goat were sacrificed, and the blood of both were for the sins of the people. This happened during the Day of Atonement which happened once a year. In addition to the sacrifice of the bull and goat, a live goat was also required. Aaron would place both hands on the goat confessing the sins of the people and send the goat into the wilderness. Even after all that, the work is not done, because a ritual cleansing was also ordered by the Lord.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ESV

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus shed his blood to form a new and better covenant. No animal sacrifice is needed; no goat being released to run into the wilderness; no threat of death to any man serving God. Jesus became our high priest and gave His life on the cross to make us right with God. The laws' requirements are covered by the fact that our Lord has become the mercy seat, the propitiation, for all our sins. This happens for a person whether or not he or she believes. Apart from faith in the finished work of Jesus, one does not receive these benefits. Such a tragedy when one refuses the only salvation provided; their eternal death is so unnecessary since their sin debt has been paid in full.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. ESV

Since the shed blood of Jesus has atoned for our sins, let us let go of them after confessing them and realize the books are balanced. Our Father, in His wonderful grace, will not hold us accountable for our sin, so we have no need living under the guilt in our minds. In His mercy, He will not reward us with eternal death, but through faith we receive the right to be called children of God and have an eternity of life awaiting us. Let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism 2.

Acts 4:11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. ESV

We see clearly that in the name of God, in the name of Jesus, there is salvation. When a person is baptized into the name of the Triune God there is salvation. This is so painfully clear one wonders why it is so hard for some to come to understand. They maintain baptism is the Christian’s work to show loyalty to Jesus and make a profession of faith in him for salvation. There is a dearth of scripture that teaches that fact so it is merely church tradition once again, wrongly, being placed over and against clear scripture.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. ESV

For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do?*

Baptism is not man’s work whatsoever. Nor is it the invention of man. Jesus uses the hands and the voice of the minister to apply the water and to invoke the name of God. However, it is clearly Jesus doing the baptism. Jesus has located the delivery of the fruit of the cross in the preached word and in baptism. He cleanses his church and makes it to his sight without spot or wrinkle no matter what sin captivates the heart and mind of the baptized believer. Rather than rejoicing in the sin like the unbeliever he or she will be granted repentance in the same Triune name of God. These are strong and precious promises given to us in God’s word. Jesus has given us such a wonderful gift in baptism that no matter what the world, our own sinful flesh or the devil says or does we remain able to tell them “I am baptized!” Let us believe this good news and live in the peace it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

* The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Stuff of Jesus: Baptism.

Today, as in the day of Martin Luther, Christians have mistaken to whom the sacrament of Holy Baptism belongs. You will hear “I was baptized in a ___________ Church.” or “I was baptized as a witness to the world of my faith in Jesus.” These totally miss the point of who instituted baptism and the purpose of the sacrament. There is only one baptism in the Triune name of God. That is Christian baptism which does not depend on the name of the congregation in which it is administered.

In the first place, we must above all things know well the words upon which Baptism is founded, and to which everything refers that is to be said on the subject, namely, where the Lord Christ speaks in Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.*

Likewise in St. Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.*

In these words you must note, in the first place, that here stand God's commandment and institution, lest we doubt that Baptism is divine, not devised nor invented by men. For as truly as I can say, No man has spun the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer out of his head, but they are revealed and given by God Himself, so also I can boast that Baptism is no human trifle, but instituted by God Himself, moreover, that it is most solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we cannot be saved, lest any one regard it as a trifling matter, like putting on a new red coat.*

In this section Martin Luther recaptures baptism and places it back in the realm of Jesus things rather than man’s things done for Jesus. This changes, of course, what one believes about baptism and its effectiveness as a means of grace. If it were merely the work of men we could not look at it for assurance of our standing as children of God.

Rather than looking for ways to wrestle with scripture to make baptism our work we should rather believe scriptures strong teaching. Leaving baptism to be the stuff of Jesus we can live in the peace and certainty it gives.

In the name of Jesus. Amen †

*Martin Luther’s Large Catechism