"Through Baptism She Has Been Saved"
+Alona "Sis" Nieswaag+
January 14, 2004
The Baptism of Our Lord—First Week after the Epiphany
IN NOMINE JESU
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, especially Bert and Dennis,
Sis has been delivered. She has been rescued. How can I say this? Church records indicate that she has. Furthermore, Martin Luther's Small Catechism tells us that she has. Luther asks, "What benefits does Baptism give?" His answer: "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." How do we know this? Or, as Luther asks, "Which are these words and promises of God?" Luther turns to Scripture and says, "Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned' [Mk. 16:16 NKJV]". On the basis of Scripture, and as attested to by Luther, we know and firmly believe that, through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Sis's sins were forgiven, she was rescued from death and the devil, and now reaps the fullness of eternal salvation in heaven, where she now rests from her labors.
What is of great comfort to us is that, through faith, we will one day join Sis in heaven. Having received the gift of faith at our Baptism and remaining in the one true faith, we too possess the same gifts. We have received forgiveness of sins and continue to do so. We are continually being rescued from death and the devil, and we have the promise of eternal salvation, which we shall fully reap when the Lord calls us home, whenever that day will be. This is God's gift to us, a gift we all desperately need, as Scripture also reminds us.
In the baptismal rite of our church we hear: We also learn from the Word of God that we all are conceived and born sinful and are in need of forgiveness. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Yes, we all were conceived in sin, as was Sis, for all our parents also were (and in this world still are) sinners. Sis was born in sin, as we also were, inheriting our parents' sin, which goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. So we were conceived and born and remain in sin. As St. Paul asks in our text, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (vv. 1-2).
Yes, we are in need of forgiveness, but this does not mean that we should continue sinning so that we would continue receiving forgiveness, that grace may abound. Deliberately sinning means that we change God's free grace into cheap grace; that is, we cheapen the free gift God gives in Holy Baptism. In our sinful nature we turn the water and the Word in Baptism into our own dog and pony show, making a mockery of this blessed Sacrament. For this we need to repent. We need to be delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. This is why we need to draw near with a true heart and confess our sins to God our Father, beseeching Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness. This is why we cry out in Matins and Vespers, "Make haste, O God, to deliver me. Make haste to help me, O Lord!" This is our cry of repentance. This was Sis's cry. We ask God to deliver us. We beg Him to change us, to create in us clean hearts and renew a right spirit within us. We call upon Him to forgive us.
Confessing our sins means we are living our Baptism. Every time we confess our sins, we live our Baptism. Every time Sis went to her heavenly Father and confessed her sins, she went back to the font. There at the font we first received God's good gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins. Before Sis went to the font—before we went to the font—we were all little heathen. But we drowned there, for Baptism "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever," as Dr. Luther tells us. "Where is this written?" we ask. In fact, Luther himself asks this question. The answer, he says, lies within our text: "St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: 'Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life'" (v. 4 NKJV).
Therein lies that hope that Sis had. Therein lies that hope that we have. Our hope lies in the reality of the resurrection of our Lord. This historical fact is the source and basis of the hope that we have, the eager anticipation of the life of the world to come, life with our Lord into all eternity, the life that Sis now enjoys, the life we too will enjoy. You see, not only are we baptized into Christ's death, we are baptized into His resurrection, as St. Paul also says in our text, "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (vv. 5-6).
To ask the great Lutheran question, what does this mean? This means that Sis is free of the slavery of sin forever. This means that we too are free of sin's hold on us. Yes, we feebly struggle, she in glory shines. But the same God who took Sis from this vale to tears will one day call us to Himself in heaven. For "when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying…" (Titus 3:4-8a).
This is a faithful saying, for St. Paul wrote these words under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God poured out His love for Sis—and for us—abundantly through the blood of Jesus Christ, which purified her—and purifies us—from all sin. Her sins were—and ours are—washed away by Jesus' blood, and she bore the seal of this promise with the sign of the cross both upon her forehead and upon her heart to mark us as redeemed by Christ the crucified—as we also bear this seal upon ourselves. As the hymn stanza says, "All newborn soldiers of the Crucified bear on their brows the seal of Him who died." We who are baptized bear the sign of the cross and the Name of Jesus, the name which alone saves us through faith.
What does this mean for us? It means that Baptism, which also now saves us, saved Sis, all through our and her faith in Jesus Christ. Through Baptism we receive grace upon grace, and by grace are we saved. This means that through faith we have not come here to say goodbye, for we will see Sis again. As joyous a reunion in heaven as this will be, we will exceedingly rejoice when we will behold our Lord face to face as we join Sis at our Lord's heavenly banquet table, where we will forever sing His praises at the eternal Feast. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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