A new part of the Trinity season starts today. Over the last few weeks, each Sunday has taught us how the Lord creates His Church. He sent His Spirit to His Apostles on Pentecost and they preached. They’ve been preaching to us through the Holy Scriptures ever since. They’ve been inviting you and all people to hear and believe God’s Word. They’ve been calling on us sinners to confess our sins and beg God for forgiveness. They’ve been begging us to join them in following Jesus.
Last Sunday we were taught to follow Jesus. I said there are 3 parts to this: you confess your sins, you believe the Gospel, and you act like you believe. That’s what the Sundays starting today and for the next 3 months or so teach us. We’ll be learning about sanctification: how the Holy Spirit works in us to help us change our sinful lives, to get ahold of our wicked flesh and work hard to do better, to see how sin has affected us and work to be changed. For God wants us to be new people, not sinners, but holy.
Where does sanctification begin? Where does the Holy Spirit make us holy and start to work in us? That’s what the Church teaches us today. That’s what God teaches us in Sacred Scripture, through the pen of St. Paul, today. St. Paul answers that question when he writes: “Or do you not know that whoever is baptized into Christ Jesus into His Death is baptized?”
We’ve been very blessed here at Redeemer this past week. Last Sunday we had a Baptism and 4 Confirmations, and today we had another Baptism. I told the confirmands the Friday before they were confirmed I was glad they’d get to see a Baptism up close, because you often don’t really see it too well unless you sit up front. You hear the words, but you crane your neck to see. It was definitely that way where I grew up, since the font is connected to the wall side of the lectern which is on this side of that chancel. We hear the words, but we don’t really see anything happen. You may hear the water pour, but it might be hard to see clear water.
What’s going on? You also hear words spoken. To be precise, you hear the Name of God spoken over and applied to the person being baptized. God is branding that person with His Name. That little ceremony where the child is marked with the cross on the forehead and heart pictures for us this reality. God uses Holy Baptism to put His Name on us. Judah was named by his parents when he was born, and when he was baptized he came out of the womb of our Mother the Church. God is now his Father. Jesus is now his Brother. He is rescued from the prison camps of the devil and safely made a beloved child of God.
How does Holy Baptism have power to do that? It’s just poured water along with words! How can that do anything? But St. Paul says it does! He says that word and water is connected to something very powerful indeed: Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. He says we were baptized into Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. That means we who are baptized in the Name of the Triune God now are intimately, completely, thoroughly joined to Him.
Look at it this way: When you look up at that crucifix, see each of your sins nailed to that back. Because you are washed in Baptism’s waters, those waters have cleansed you of your sins and put them on Jesus. Or look at it another way: you went into the water and the water did what it does when you’re in it too long without breathing or what it does in a big storm – it killed and destroyed; but when you came out God brought you back to life and remade you.
That’s the picture St. Paul uses. It’s not the lifeguard who pulls the person out just before he drowns and gives him CPR to get him to breathe again. The water of Baptism killed, St. Paul says. It killed your old Adam. It killed him and gave you new life. What is that old Adam? It’s the spiritual DNA you’ve inherited from the first Adam. It’s not believing in God. Not believing in God equals not being able to do anything good in His sight. Worst yet, it’s not even desiring to please God one bit. That’s the old man that everyone is born with that Holy Baptism killed.
So who’s the new man God gave you when you were baptized? He’s the opposite of the old Adam. He’s made in the image of the second Adam, Christ our Lord. He believes in God, trusts God, loves God. He believes his sins are forgiven. Therefore he wants to please God. He wants to keep His commands. He wants to live like Jesus has made a difference in his life and has saved him from his sins. He wants to live for Jesus and follow Him. Baptism has given us these new desires, for in it the Holy Spirit works. He forgives us and rescues us from death and gives us life eternal. The old is dead and gone; the new is come! Sin is defeated; righteousness is ours.
So Baptism is the start of the sanctified life. It gives us God’s forgiveness. Dr. Luther tells us to go back to it every day. How do you do that? By being truly sorry for your sins and asking God to forgive you, believing He will do it for Jesus’ sake. But it’s not just that. For we also are to desire to amend our sinful ways. We know our sins: name-calling, looking down on others and mocking them, getting into arguments and holding grudges. We must repent of these sins. And then we make amends. We apologize for our name-calling mockery. We change our views when we’re shown they’re wrong. We forgive and let go of our grudges. We repent and look to do good. We speak well of the people we would have mocked, give to help those we looked down on, make peace instead of argue. We struggle to say “NO” to sin and “YES” to godliness.
But that’s hard. We still live in this wicked world, and the devil isn’t happy about what happened at this font a few minutes ago. No, he’s raging mad that God has taken back another human being to love forever. So he’s going to be on the attack. You heard 3 weeks ago that he’s a roaring lion seeking to devour the faithful. He wants a good dinner of Christian every day and he knows how to get it. Sin itself still wants to come back to life in you and is always snapping at you, trying to get you back. So be on your guard. Watch out for him. Be ready for evil to tempt you. Be ready and prepared at every moment.
How can you do this? Not on your own. Your flesh is weak. That’s why God must do everything for our salvation. That’s why His Holy Spirit must help us in our life of sanctification. He alone is righteous, surely far more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees. So He comes to you to declare you righteous and to keep you righteous. He came to you when you were baptized. He comes to you whenever you hear His Word. He comes to you whenever you receive The Sacrament of His Body and Blood at this Altar. In His Means of Grace He works; He forgives sins, He gives strength to lead a godly life, and He prepares you for life eternal. For He is the Lord of all power and might, the Author and Giver of all good things. He alone grafts into our hearts the love of His Name, increases in us true religion, nourishes us with all goodness, and mercifully keeps us in these things. “The Lord is the Strength of His people; He is the saving Strength of His anointed.”