Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We care more about what we feed our dying bodies than what we feed our eternal souls


Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Romans 6:3-8

Today people are more aware than ever before.  We want to know all the details about the food we eat, the cars we drive and what’s inside the latest cell phone we carry in our pockets, but when it comes to spiritual knowledge we are dull, too lethargic to learn God’s word.  Many even think that worship is optional, something a person only needs to attend on occasion, and then if he is not otherwise engaged.  Pity the poor dialysis patient who reasons that way, but is sin less deadly than kidney failure?

St. Paul wrote this section of Romans because he wants to make sure that God’s people understand the most important event of their lives, their baptism!  In it he teaches Christians about the nature and blessings of this primary sacrament, so that just as we are well-informed about the many aspects of our worldly affairs, we might be even more aware of the heritage given us in holy baptism, and evermore praise God for it.

It is safe to say that there is no more significant event in your life than the day you are born again of water and the Spirit.  A stock phrase in advertising today, whether for a new car or a new deodorant, is the phrase:  it will change your life.  Regardless of their claim, products do not do that, but baptism really does!  It changes our eternal status from sinner to saint!  We enter it spiritually dead, but emerge alive with Christ.  The transformation is not visible to the human eye so many doubt it, but for out part we will believe the simple teachings of scripture:  that baptism forgives all of our sins, delivers us from death and the devil and gives eternal life to all who believe, even as the words and promises of God declare.  St. Paul informs us that by it we are sacramentally crucified, buried and raised to newness of life with Christ, but please don’t think that the adverb “sacramentally” means that it is only symbolic or less than real.  There is nothing hazy about it.  In God’s reality baptism distributes the blessings of the cross to us, and without it we remain forever outside of God’s grace.

Defective versions of the Christian faith may speak about the death of Jesus as the source of life, joy and salvation…and so it is, but when they reject baptism they deny people access to the good news they proclaim.  Baptism is God’s delivery system, so to preach the Word without also highly prizing this life-giving bath harms as much as it helps.  Baptism makes us God’s heirs now and forever.  It comforts us in our distress so that in all the trials and temptations of life the Christian can say with confidence:  I am baptized!  I died with Christ.  I am buried with Christ.  I am raised again with Christ, and I can endure all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

Naomi held such a faith as this.  As an Old Testament saint she was not baptized in the conventional sense of the term, but she was baptized in fire.  For more than a decade she lived with agonizing loss and bitter disappointment.  She was forced because of famine to leave her home in Israel, and to live in the hostile land of Moab.  While there her husband died, her two sons married heathen women, and then both of them died and she was left all alone, but she was not alone!  God provided an unexpected blessing for her.  Ruth, one of her two Moabite daughters-in-law loved her, clung to her and pledged to follow her wherever she went.  She vowed to make Naomi’s people her people and Naomi’s God her God.  By these events Naomi’s life was turned from bitterness into joy, and Ruth, the heathen girl from Moab, became an ancestress of the promised Christ!

Likewise Paul Gerhardt the great hymn writer. He too was tested to the limits of human endurance and relied on the blessings of baptism to see him through.  He suffered greatly in his life from extreme poverty, poor health, the death of his wife and several of his children and persecution for his faith.  After all that he was able to sing:  My heart for joy is springing, and can no more be sad.  ‘Tis full of mirth and singing, sees naught but sunshine glad.  The Sun that cheers my spirit is Jesus Christ, my King.  The heaven I shall inherit makes me rejoice and sing.  (The Lutheran Hymnal #528,15)

The new birth does more besides:  It renders us dead in regards to sin.  It instills new impulses, new loves, new goals and new interests within us and give us the special power needed to carry them out.  It makes God’s will attractive and sin repulsive.  It gives us the power to repent when we fall prey to the devil’s temptations, and it is an objective anchor to certify that our wrongs are truly absolved.  Indeed, this sacrament is so inseparable from the cross that St. Peter writes:  baptism now saves you. (1 Peter 3:21) So we learn from this that the sacrament is not merely a means of grace, but grace itself, instituted by Christ and fueled with the power of His Word to destroy the sin within us, and give us abundant life.

Baptism also has eternal effects.  What happens to us sacramentally will also happen bodily. As Christ died we will die.  As Christ was buried we will return to the dust from which we came.  As Christ was bodily raised again from the grave we will be given a new and glorious body, one like our Lord’s own resurrected body, and in it we will spend forever in glory.  All these benefits come from the mystery that is baptism.  Like all Christian mysteries it looks unimpressive at first glance, but the more we probe it the deeper we discover it is, the less we realize that we know about it, and the more we want to drink its refreshing waters.  Nothing else quite satisfies the human mind like the Christian verities, so let us thank God for this sacrament, use it to its fullest and find comfort in it today.   Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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