O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Baptized to Death
"Baptized to Death"
January 9, 2011
Fellow baptized saints, do you ever think about death? Do thoughts of death ever enter your mind? Perhaps they are sad thoughts. Or terrible thoughts. I can remember as a young boy worrying about the death of my parents. I could not help thinking about how mortified I would be if they died. What would I do? Where would I go? Everyone thinks about death from time to time, that is why there are so many quotes on the subject. You've probably heard this one. There are two things every man must face: death and taxes. However, death doesn't get worse every year.
We hear about death all the time. We see it in the news. We experience it in our families, with our loved ones. More and more, the things that we see on the television, the images that adorn the clothing of our children, even the science exhibits that are featured in our city are all about death. We are obsessed with it. We can't get enough of it. Halloween is the most commercial festival in the United States. And gone are the days of black cats and jack o lanterns. Blood and death are the name of the game now. Death sells clothes, newspapers and video games. It is fashionable, popular and exciting. We live in a death culture, a culture that bends to display death in as many ways as possible.
And yet - It terrifies us. It is an idea that we do not want to meditate on. Why is it so terrifying? Why are we so afraid of death and dying? Is it the pain? Do we doubt who we are? Are we uncertain what will happen when we die? Mark Twain once wrote, "The fear of death comes from the fear of life." Even though, our Lord and Savior said He came to bring us life, that we may live to the fullest - we are afraid to live the way He has commanded us, and we are afraid of the death that awaits us.
And so we do our best to make death pretty. We dress it up. We cover up its true nature with a smear of cheap makeup. We have done our best to change death into something dignified because deep down we don't know how to face it with confidence. Deep down we resist death. We run away from death. We would do anything to escape death, because we know we haven't really lived yet.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not run away from death. Even from His birth, Jesus went towards death. He was focused on it. He meditated on it. It was the goal and purpose of His life. He did not try to make it pretty, or cover it up. In fact, on many occasions He told His disciples that He would be handed over to death. Jesus was not afraid of physical death, because He knew He was truly living. He knew He was living His life as it had been created to live. He knew that the same power that created His flesh would also raise His flesh when He died.
We often get this idea confused in our head. We think there are two different powers - one that created life in the beginning and a different one that will hopefully bring me back from the dead in the end. But they are one and the same power. And we see this best in the Baptism of our Lord. Let's take a look.
When Jesus was baptized, all three persons of the Trinity reveal themselves together. The Father opens the heavens and says, "This is my beloved Son." The Son, that is the Word of God, has just been baptized, He is Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit is revealed descending like a dove and coming to rest on Jesus. The Holy Trinity shows us that they are all working together in this special moment.
Now, what's interesting about this, is that the last time the Holy Trinity revealed itself to us was in the beginning - at the creation of the world. The baptism of our Lord has as much importance as the creation of the world - for only at these two moments, does the Holy Trinity choose to reveal itself to us.
In both situations we hear a declaration about what is happening. In the creation account, God looks at all He has created and sees, "It is good." In the baptism of our Lord, the heavens open and the Father says of His Son, "I am pleased." In both cases, God is using the same power, first to create the world, and second to save the world.
God will save you from death just as certainly as He created life in you the first time. You have already experienced His power when you were born, in fact, you experience it with every breath you take. For the very same power that gave you life, and will keep your life when you die, holds the universe together. People do not go about their lives worried that the universe is going to come apart. There are not hundreds of quotes about the universe breaking. We are not worried about that, nor need we worry about death, for God's power is at work in all of these things.
Now, I will be the first to admit, that for me and most other humans on this earth, though reasonable, that explanation is not enough to remove my fear of death. The Baptism of our Lord means much more for you than an exciting display of power. It has direct influence on your life and death. Consider what happens when your perfect Lord enters the Jordan river.
He tells John, He must fulfill all righteousness. Jesus goes into the water of the Jordan to take all of the filth and sin and unrighteousness of the whole world into Himself. As John the Baptist proclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." There in the water, Jesus absorbs your sin. He carries your sin through His public ministry to the cross where He receives the punishment of death that it deserves. In His Baptism, Jesus takes your sin and death. However, Jesus does even more than this. In His Baptism, Jesus gives you His perfection. There in the water, Jesus releases His righteousness so that you may be washed in it. When He entered the Jordan river, He sanctified all waters for use in Holy Baptism. The Christian is washed in the righteousness of God by water and the Word in Baptism, and receives, as if their own, not only the full life of Christ, but also His innocent death. God pours life into death and death into life without spilling a single drop.
This is the great mystery of Holy Baptism. In Baptism you died. St. Paul says, "Your old self was crucified with Him." You have already died. You were drowned. St. Paul assures us, "we were buried with Him"- In baptism, you were laid in the stone cold tomb, dead with Jesus - sealed in the dark with him - breathless, lifeless and cold to the touch. You have already faced death. And you are alive.
In baptism, you were permanently given Christ. The heavens were opened to you - the Holy Spirit descended upon you - Your heavenly Father said to you: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" - He did not leave His Son in the grave - and He will not leave you in the grave - He has spoken His Name on you - He has already declared it - As He boldly spoke through Isaiah - "Behold, the former things have come to pass and new things I now declare, before they spring forth I tell you of them." Through your baptism into Christ, Your heavenly Father looks at you as He looked at His new creation in Genesis. He looks at you and sees, "It is good." His Son has made you new. And He wants to you to rest in Him. Born again - New Creation - Death no longer has dominion over you. It cannot hold you.
Do you want to be more certain about death? Do you want to stop being afraid? Live in your baptism everyday! Remember that you have already died with Christ. Learn and read your catechism and Bible out loud. Pray for understanding and strength, confidence and faith. Fight against the sin that you struggle with most. And then remember your baptism again. You have already died with Christ. He will slowly remove your fear as you hear His promises. He will teach you how to pray. He will take your sin away.
What about your loved ones? Are you worried about the death of your loved ones? Remind them about Christ. Tell them He has died for them. Pray for them - not that they will not die - but that their death, when it comes, will be in Christ. For His mission continues. He continues to baptize people into His family. He continues to proclaim His grace and love towards them. He continues to pour life into death and death into life without spilling a single drop. May He do this for us all. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr