And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise

Text: Mark 7:31-37

Listen to the sermon here

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Church has sung these words of King David for nearly three millennia. They come from Psalm 51, the great psalm of confession. These words spring from a terrible time in David’s life where he had fallen very wide of God’s commandments. After he saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, he began lusting after her and scheming ways to get her into his bed. It resulted ultimately in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David had put at the frontline hoping that he would be killed in battle. The prophet Nathan made known to David his sin, and the king was brought to repentance.

The words that he sang echo true for all humanity: we were brought forth in sin and conceived in iniquity. That is, today, we also confess that by nature our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths are used for anything other than speaking His pure and saving doctrine. But, as in our text Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of a man born deaf and unable to speak rightly, so He speaks to us His divine, “Ephphatha.” Through His saving Word, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens our mute tongues to sing His praises and proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him.

I.

We pick up this week in the seventh chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. The last time we were in Mark was a little over a month ago, when we looked at the Feeding of the Four Thousand. We spoke then about our Lord’s great compassion for all people. The people assembled at the feeding were not Jews, but Gentiles. We learned from that text that our gracious Lord has compassion on all people, including us, and He provides for all our needs of body and soul. That text, Mark 8:1-9, is what directly follows our Gospel today. These readings together, along with the whole of Mark 7, teach an important part of Jesus’ message: Jesus became incarnate for sins of all people. So, we find in Mark 7 Jesus journeying through Gentile territory.

St. Mark writes, “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” We learned last month that Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities along the cost of the Mediterranean. And, actually, some translators don’t really know what to do here, because Sidon is a bit north of Tyre. The verse ends with Jesus in the Decapolis, the ten cities, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. So, in the days when most travel was done by foot, it’s odd that Jesus would go in that sequence; some say that there is an error in the Greek text. Not so. St. Mark is simply demonstrating for us the point Jesus has already made: He has come to die for the sins of all people, so He’s going to tell all people – and that involves going all over the place.

II.

As He was preaching and teaching, some brought to Him a man who was born deaf. As a result, though able to speak, he would’ve been prevented from speaking plainly. (Remember that idea for later.) There’s no indication from the text that these people knew exactly who Jesus was, which is kind of a theme in Mark, but they knew that Jesus had great power – power to heal. So they begged Jesus to lay His hand on their friend.

Taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Sometimes in the Gospels when Jesus performed a miracle, it wasn’t received in an entirely right way. After the feeding of the five thousand, they tried to make Jesus king by force since He filled their stomachs. Perhaps perceiving that the crowd might again misinterpret the miracles He was about to perform, Jesus took the man aside in private. As the man was at that time unable to hear, Jesus took the time to demonstrate what He was going to do – He was going to open the man’s ears and loosen his tongue. Jesus may also have been preparing us to understand how God works: through the external, spoken Word, and through the Sacraments – which are the Word combined with physical actions for the forgiveness of sins.

Looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.” After taking the man aside, Jesus conversed with God the Father, and groaned. That is what St. Mark says. Sighing is what you do when you’re angry; groaning is what you do when you hurt. It pains Jesus to see the havoc that Satan has wreaked by the Fall into Sin. Because of sin, men are born with terrible ailments, contract ruinous diseases, and die. Jesus came to put an end to these things, and actually the healing today itself foreshadows the time where there will be no more affliction, disease, or death. When St. Mark says that man had a speech impediment, he’s using a specific word that is found only one other place in the Bible. God says in Isaiah 35, “‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God…will come and save you!’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Jesus spoke and the man was healed. This is what today’s healing means – in Christ, the salvation of God has come to man.

III.  

Jesus groaned and said to the man born deaf and unable to speak correctly, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Since ancient times the Church has seen in our text today a fitting opportunity to talk about our Lord’s work in Holy Baptism. In fact, the Baptismal liturgy of the ancient Church included a moment where the pastor would touch the child (or adult’s) ears and mouth and say, “Ephphatha.” In Baptism, through the application of our Lord’s Word in and with the water, our sins are washed away. We are given the gifts of faith and eternal life. King David prays in Psalm 51 for a clean heart and a right spirit. Those are received through the preaching of Christ’s Word and in Baptism where the Word is applied to us in a tangible way.

Thanks be to God for this great Sacrament, for we stand in dire need of it. We may not have been born deaf and unable to speak, but our ears and mouths are anything but innocent. By nature, our ears are closed to the Word of God. Instead of hearing God’s Word preached and taught, we devote our ears to hearing gossip and other sinful things. Instead of using our tongues to proclaim the glory and mercy of Christ, to preach His pure and saving doctrine, we use them to deceive others and glorify ourselves at their expense. In the text, it says the man’s tongue was released. Literally, it reads, “the bond of his tongue was loosed.” Similarly, our tongues are held captive by Satan until our Lord frees us.

In our text, the Lord travels quite a bit – from Tyre and Sidon to the Sea of Galilee – so that all people may hear His Gospel. Today, Jesus continues to travel the world through the preaching of His Word. He continues to send pastors, missionaries, teachers, and us, to share the forgiveness of sins found only in Him. Jesus speaks to us, even today, “Be opened.” Through His Word, in Baptism especially and in preaching, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens tongues to sing His praise. Our ears, He opens to hear His Word rightly – to hear that all Scripture is about Him, about His grace and mercy. Our tongues, He loosens from Satan’s bonds to speak His Word rightly – tongues which were formerly used for deceit and murder, are now used to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

Thanks be to God that He has caused His Word to be preached among us and has washed us through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As with King David whose ears and lips were mired in sin, through these things God has given us a new and right spirit – the Holy Spirit. He has forgiven us our sins. He has spoken His Ephphatha to us. He has taken our ears and opened them to understand His Word and caused our tongues to speak it plainly. Let us pray: O Lord, let my lips be opened by your divine and saving Word, and my mouth be led to declare your praise all the day.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Sometimes you need a pair of pants in a hurry. Or, at least, I do. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really need a pair of jeans or dress pants, but the ones you have on hand smell like lutefisk? You need your pants in a hurry, but they smell fresh, so you quickly throw them in the wash. You give them the time to wash, but then time itself starts to crunch when you put them in the dryer. You just hope and pray that it will all come out alright when you have to take them out before the cycle completes and leave for wherever you need to be. As you sit in your vehicle, you realize that your pants are still wet. They’re not full-on wet, but they’re soggy enough to irritate you every passing second.

Soggy pants remind me of Baptism. Wearing soggy pants can be quite unpleasant, but they remind me (most of the time) that what I’m wearing has been cleaned. But, in order for something to be cleaned in the wash, there needs to be a cleaning agent, a soap, a detergent – something that takes the dirt out. In Baptism, it’s the blood of Christ that purifies us from all iniquity, from dirtiness. Being washed in the water in the Word is being cleansed in the raging flood of Jesus’ blood.This blood covers us all life long and is a reminder of the new life we have in Christ. Every time we wake up in the morning, every time we begin the service with the Invocation, we are putting the soggy pants of Baptism back on.

Today is a Church holiday. Today we remember and commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus’ Baptism is not the institution of the Baptism we have all received, that will come later in Matthew; but it does mean some important things for us. At His Baptism, Jesus united Himself with us and our sins. He became our substitute by taking our sins upon Himself. There in the Jordan, Jesus was marked was the one who would go forth and fulfill the Law in our place, and then die on the cross as payment for all sin. At His Baptism, Christ was marked as our substitute, becoming one with us in our sin, so that through our Baptism, we may become one with Him in life.

I.

Our text today is from St. Matthew’s Gospel and comes towards the conclusion of John the Baptist’s public ministry. It wouldn’t be long before John would be thrown in the king’s prison. We’ve heard a little about that already from Matthew 11. You might recall that John is the one who testified that his ministry must decrease so that the Christ’s may increase; that turns out to be true, since Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin until John is in captivity. But, remember as well, John’s ministry. John’s ministry, his calling, was to prepare the way of the Lord. He did this by preaching God’s Law, His Words about the coming Messiah who would purify the world with fire, and by calling people to repentance and faith. This was the reason for the Baptism of John. After people were convicted of their sins through the preaching of the Law, they would repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins.

This Baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, and being forgiven your sins means that you come out of the fount resolving with the help of the Lord to be changed from what you once were. John taught the tax collectors to take no more than what they were authorized to, the soldiers to be content and not extort money, and everyone else to share what they have with their neighbors in need. But when the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to be baptized, they who already pronounced themselves to be without sin, John chastised them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

After this, Jesus came to be baptized, and John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Before, John stopped the ones who came to him presuming already to have no sin, but now here is Jesus – who really does have no sin. Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing fork is in His hand. John has need to be baptized by Him, we have need, so why would Jesus come to be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins?

Jesus answered John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” John rightly recognized that Jesus is the mighty Savior of the world, who had come to rule with justice and equity and purify the children of Israel, but his mind was set on the future. All this purification and justice and equity was the future to John, but Jesus brings his head back out of the clouds. “Let it be so now.” Now something is happening. The fulfillment of all righteousness is not just something that will happen off in the distance, but it is something that being affected even now at the Baptism in the Jordan River.

Scripture shows us that righteousness of God consists in showing mercy. This is what Jesus’ Baptism is all about. At His Baptism, Jesus becomes one with us in our sin. He goes down to the river to repent not of His own sin, but ours. Jesus goes down in humble repentance and submission to God’s will as a substitute for all the times where we are not and do not. At His Baptism, Jesus is marked as one with us in our transgression, just as He would become one with us in our death later on the cross.

II.

Then the text says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” At Jesus’ Baptism, not only does Jesus become our substitute and take upon Himself our sins and the sins of the whole world, but we also receive the testimony of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This is a passage where the Triune God is described to us: One God in three persons. God the Father is the Father, the creator and preserver of all things. He testifies to us that Jesus is His Son, and what Jesus is there to do pleases Him. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove, fulfilling His role to point to and lead us to Christ.

Both the Father and the Holy Spirit testify that Jesus is the beloved Son of God. Scripture tells us that Christ came to do and fulfill the Father’s will, which is to have mercy on sinners and shower them with His grace. These come through the work of Christ, beginning with His birth, His circumcision, His presentation in the temple, now at His Baptism, and later in His crucifixion for our sins. When God the Father and the Holy Spirit speak at Jesus’ Baptism, they show that this is the will of God: that Jesus become one with us in our sin and death, so that we can become one with Him in life.

III.   

We’ve now talked about Jesus’ Baptism, where He received John’s Baptism for repentance and forgiveness as our substitute and to become one with us in sin and death. But now we should talk about the Baptism we’ve received, where we were united (and are united) with Jesus in life. The closing stanza of the hymn, “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered,” speaks this way, “Jesus, once with sinners numbered, full obedience was your path; You, by death, have consecrated water in this saving bath: dying to the sin of Adam, rising to a life of grace; We are counted with the righteous, over us the cross You trace.” In Jesus’ Baptism, He was united with our death, so that in our Baptism we are united with His life.

This is what Jesus intended by instituting the washing of Holy Baptism in Matthew 28. He also promises in Mark 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Small Catechism teaches us what benefits Baptism gives: “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.” All of this hinges on Jesus fulfilling all righteousness, all the will of God, including bearing our sin and repenting of it in His Baptism, He who knew no sin.

What does it mean to be united with Christ as He is with us? It means wearing soggy pants. It means living the Baptismal life. By daily sorrow and repentance for our sins, the Old Adam is drowned and dies within us, and through the grace of the Holy Spirit the new Adam daily arises in righteousness and purity. The Catechism points us to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So Baptism is like wearing soggy pants. Every time we wake up in the morning or go to bed, every time we speak the words of Invocation we are reminded that we are baptized and forgiven our sins. At Jesus’ Baptism He became one with us in our sin and carried it to the cross. On the cross He became one with us in death, so that through our Baptism we are one with Him in life.

 

Born from Above

Text: John 3:1-17

This Sunday brings to a close what is called the “Festival” half of the Church Year. This means that in the first half of the Church year, we have all the sweet festivals like Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity. After today we don’t really have anything super special until we, as Lutherans, celebrate the Reformation in October. During the first half of the Church year we generally follow a chronological series of events in Christ’s life. But during the second half, the non-festival half, our Sundays are organized by theme.

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday where the Church has historically set aside time to specifically treat the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Traditionally, congregations recite the Athanasian Creed this one Sunday of the year. But of course, for us, every Sunday is a Trinity Sunday. We begin each service in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our hymns and prayers address all three persons of the Trinity. Just last week, the sermon mentioned the Holy Spirit over thirty times. This thinking is what led German Christians to be stubborn when Pope John XXII declared this Sunday Trinity Sunday in 1332 and keep the original Gospel reading, instead of switching to Matthew 28.

The original Gospel reading for this Sunday, the first after Pentecost, is from John 3. This gives us an opportunity to speak about another area of Christian doctrine that remains a mystery to many people. In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity of rebirth. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”1 But what is this being, “born again?” Why is it necessary, what is it, and how does it happen?

I.

You must be born again,” is really a slight mistranslation. I know that there is a footnote in my Bible that says the word, νωθεν, is ambiguous and could also mean “from above.” Given the context, we would wager that that is the correct translation; Jesus said, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”2 But Nicodemus didn’t understand. He thought that Jesus meant that one must be physically born again. And so Nicodemus scoffed at the idea of an old man returning to his mother’s womb to be born a second time.

Though Jesus is not saying that one must be physically born out of their mother’s womb again, He is saying that rebirth is necessary. In fact He makes it a fourfold oath. He uses the word, “truly,” four times. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then clarifies what He means, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”3

Jesus is dreadfully serious. Unless one is born from above, not only can he not enter the kingdom of heaven, but He can’t even see it. How true that is. Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, they can neither enter nor see the kingdom of God. And so the world misunderstands the Gospel. Instead of looking to Christ for forgiveness and renewal, many claim from Christ affirmation for behavior they are already dead-set in. The necessity of rebirth is underscored by Jesus’ words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”4

All things that are born in the natural way are tainted by the corruption of sin. Even the inmost desires of our hearts and minds are devoid of righteousness. Like Nicodemus, our natural inclination is to come to Jesus in the dark, clinging to our own good works and morality as proof of our goodness. But minds set on works and our own worthiness are minds set on the flesh, which St. Paul, says are “hostile to God.” For minds set on the flesh cannot please God.5 Therefore Jesus knocks Nicodemus and us on our butts: “You must be born again.”

II.

But what does that mean, “You must be born from above?” Jesus explains in verses 14-15 of our text, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”6 To be born again, from above, means to have faith. But lest we rest on our laurels and say, “I have faith, therefore I am reborn,” and stop there, we must say that to be reborn is to have a living and active faith. When you are physically born, you have a will, an understanding, and a desire to act. Thus it is also with the spiritual rebirth. We are given a new understanding, a new will, and new desires to act according to God’s Word.

Before rebirth, we were all by nature children of wrath. Our thoughts were evil, our actions were evil. Even our good works were a stench to God. But the rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, being again, is having faith. By faith we are made children of grace. Jesus says this faith, this rebirth is necessary for salvation. He says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” So far we’ve seen the necessity of rebirth, and that to be born again means to have faith in the Son of Man who was lifted up for our trespasses; But how are we born again?

III.

We are not born again by our own actions. It’s not your decision or prayer that makes you reborn, but it is solely the work of the Triune God. Thus Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”7 This also what James says when he writes, “Of [God’s] own will He brought us forth by the word of truth.”8

Article V of the Augsburg Confession, one of the documents that makes us Lutheran Christians, paints exactly where rebirth, where faith, comes from. It says, “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news…This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.”9

To be reborn, to be born from above, means to receive the gift of faith. Without a living faith, one can neither see the kingdom of God nor enter it. So that we may receive this faith, Christ instituted the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these things the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe in God the Father who created all things and still takes care of them. The Holy Spirit works faith in us through preaching and the Sacraments to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who suffered and died as payment for our sins. And, the Holy Spirit calls us through the Word to believe that He is the divine Comforter who is with us in all afflictions and assures us of the grace that we have in Christ.

Jesus said with utmost seriousness, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. These are serious words, and like Nicodemus, we can be left in bewilderment by them. The biggest question that comes away from these words is, what if I don’t feel reborn? The answer: believe. Believe in Jesus Christ, who was lifted up on the cross as payment for your sins, and you will be saved. Pray that the Lord would continue to beat back the old sinful nature in you. Continue to hear God’s Word preached and receive Jesus’ precious Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. By these things, Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit works in faith in you and causes you to be born from above, so that you already live in the Kingdom of God here in time and will always live there, in heaven.


1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 3:3.

2 Jn. 3:3.

3 Jn. 3:6.

4 Jn. 3:6.

5 Rom. 8:7-8.

6 Jn. 3:14–15.

7 Jn. 3:8.

8 James 1:18.

9 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 33.

Holy Baptism

“O Christian, firmly hold this gift and give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your baptism stands and makes you whole and then in death completes you.”[1] That was the fifth stanza of the hymn, “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized.” They speak pretty highly of Baptism. The hymn paints Baptism as a precious gift of God that is able to cheer us in all situations. Not only that, it makes us whole again. Interesting. We’ve now come to the fourth section of the Catechism, Holy Baptism.

I. The Nature of Baptism

We turn to the first question in the fourth Chief Part: What is Baptism? It’s a simple question, really, but depending on who you ask you’ll get different answers. Some will say that it is a sign of God’s good favor towards us. Some would say that it is a sign of our commitment to God. Both of those definitions would assert that Holy Baptism actually does nothing. If it is just a sign, than it doesn’t really do anything. A sign points to an action that has already happened or will happen. If Baptism is just a sign or something that we do, then it is just plain water. Let us turn to the Catechism. What is Baptism? “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.”[2] We see that Baptism is not just an empty sign, but it is actually a washing of water with the Word for the forgiveness of sins.

The washing of Holy Baptism actually does something, it introduces things to us that were not there before. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, it rescues from death and the devil, it grants eternal salvation and the faith that holds onto all those things. This is all because Baptism finds its institution not in man, but in the Words of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] Our Lord and Savior instituted Baptism to be a life-saving flood. In Baptism He places His own name upon us and marks us as children of God, bringing us into fellowship with the Triune God.

To that end, Jesus says that “all nations” are to be baptized. This includes all people, both young and old. One of the differences between the Scriptural teaching of the Lutheran church and others is that we hold to Jesus’ Word and promise in Baptism, which is why we baptize infants and children. Certainly they are included in Jesus’ instruction to baptize all nations. St. Peter also includes them when he says that the promise of Baptism, “is for you and for your children…everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”[4] Jesus is also especially welcoming of children, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”[5] St. Paul says that we were all by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and therefore children are in need of Baptism as well.

II. The Benefits of Baptism

LSB-Icon_039Jesus desires that all people be baptized. This is because of the miracles that Holy Baptism works. It brings life to the dead. It restores water in the barren wilderness of our souls. In Baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter said that Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is for the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul also exhorts us to, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins.”[6] Because in Baptism we are given forgiveness, we are also rescued from the powers of death and the devil.  We read in Galatians 3 that, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”[7] By Baptism we have been delivered from the realm of darkness and are transferred into Christ’s Kingdom. (Col. 1:13) In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and where He reigns death has no power.

Thus, having been given the forgiveness of sins and being rescued from the power of death and the devil, in Baptism we also receive eternal salvation. In 1 Peter we learn that Baptism has now saved us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21) Jesus also promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”[8]

One question that may come up now is, if we say we are saved by faith – that Jesus won for us full and complete forgiveness by His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection – why do we baptize? We baptize because, though Jesus won our forgiveness on the cross, He doesn’t give it out there. The cross isn’t where He distributes forgiveness; it’s where He suffered to pay for it. In order to give us that forgiveness, He instituted what are called the Means of Grace – the ways by which His grace gets to us. Holy Baptism is one of them. Titus 3 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”[9]

III. The Power of Baptism

Martin Luther asks the next question: How can water do such great things? The answer is that it’s not just the water that does all these things. It’s not the water, but the Word of God in and with the water that does all this, along with the faith that trusts the Word of God. Without the Word of God, it’s nothing but water, but with the Word is a water of life, a washing of renewal and rebirth. In Baptism we are given all these awesome things, including the faith that receives them. We are saved by grace through faith, and faith is given in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

We all probably know the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[10] He says that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless He is born of water and the Spirit. What Jesus is saying is that flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit. The old sinful flesh is bad, but the Spirit is good. One cannot enter heaven unless he has put off the old sinful nature and is reborn in the Spirit. Well, that is exactly what happens in Baptism.

St. Paul writes to the Romans that we were buried with Christ in Holy Baptism. We know that in Baptism our old sinful self was crucified in order that the body of sin be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. We know that, because of Baptism, we must also consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We are reborn through the washing of water and the Word and raised to new life in Jesus.

IV. The Meaning of Baptism

So, what does this all mean? If Baptism is a washing of renewal and rebirth in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, what does that mean for us years after Baptism? Does my baptism still have effect later in life, whether I’m 25 or 105? The explanation of what Baptism indicates says, “[Being baptized] 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.”[11]

That’s why we begin most of our services with the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to remind ourselves that we have been washed and made clean of our sins, that we have been claimed by Christ for His Kingdom. Therefore the Old Adam, the sinful desires and passions within us are daily drowned and die through repentance of our sins and faith in the promise of Jesus Christ. That is what the daily life of a baptized Christian looks like. Daily we walk in repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins. It’s a daily cycle, but one we walk together as redeemed in Christ.

Now we’ve covered 4 of the 6 sections of Luther’s Small Catechism. Next Sunday we’ll be looking a part that is sometimes neglected. We’ll look at these words, “Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself.”[12]


[1] “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized,” in Lutheran Service Book, 596.

[2] “The Small Catechism,” in Lutheran Service Book, pg. 325.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt. 28:19.

[4] Acts 2:39.

[5] Lk. 18:16–17.

[6] Acts 22:16

[7] Gal. 3:27.

[8] Mk. 16:16.

[9] Titus 3:5–7.

[10] Jn. 3:3–4.

[11] Lutheran Service Book, 325.

[12] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 341.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Mark 1:4-11

You probably know these words from the Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[1] We talk a lot about Baptism, about how it brings us the forgiveness of sins and rescues us from death and the devil through the gift of faith, which receives these things. We know that Baptism is for sinners. In Baptism the Old Adam in us, our old sinful nature, is daily put to death and the new creation we have been made in Christ daily arises to live in righteousness and purity.

Baptism is for sinners. Baptism is for the washing away of sin through the forgiveness of that sin. Today we celebrate Christ’s Baptism. Now, if Baptism is for sin, why was Jesus Baptized? Jesus is sinless; He has no sin that needs to be forgiven, so why be Baptized by John in the Jordan River? If you look in the hymnal at the Order of Holy Baptism on pg. 268, that first prayer is called Martin Luther’s Flood Prayer. Part of it affirms that God, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your [God’s] beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, [You] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] Luther would elsewhere say that Baptism was made primarily for Christ, and then afterwards for us. Through His Baptism in the Jordan River Christ continued His work of salvation by taking our place, and thereby made our baptism a true washing of salvation.

I.

The text from Mark 1 begins with the account of John the Baptist. We hear that, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”[3] By now we should be familiar with John; we had him pop up in the readings a few times in Advent as well. Part of John’s preaching included that there would be one coming after him whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. This one is mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John was identified by Jesus and the evangelists as the prophet who cries out in the wilderness. Jesus said John “is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” and, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”[4]

John proclaimed a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His call was to prepare the way of the Lord, calling to mind the people’s constant transgression against God’s Law. He reminded people of their sinfulness, but also comforted them with the promise of the Messiah who would cleanse them of their iniquity, and to that end people were baptized by him. They heard the Word of God, became repentant and confessed their sins, and received forgiveness. This all kind of revolves around the fact that people are sinful and need forgiveness. But then why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t have any sin, so what is this about “fulfilling all righteousness,” as Jesus says in Matthew?[5]

II.

I’ve already drawn upon Luther for some insight today, so I will let him explain a little bit. Preaching a sermon on Baptism, he said:

“[Christ] accepted it from John for the reason that he was entering into our stead, indeed, our person, that is, becoming a sinner for us, taking upon himself the sins which he had not committed, and wiping them out and drowning them in his holy baptism. And that he did this in accord with the will of God, the heavenly Father, who cast all our sins upon him that he might bear them and not only cleanse us from them through his baptism and make satisfaction for them on the Cross, but also clothe as in his holiness and adorn us with his innocence.”[6]

The purpose of Jesus being baptized is the same as His entire life on earth, to take our place. We are born and die as sinners. In this flesh we never escape the snares and schemes of the devil, the temptations of the world and our flesh. All too often, we find ourselves falling, or even ignoring the fact that we do not behave the way we should. We do not love God above all things and do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we do justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. But God desires not the death of the sinner but that he turn, repent from his ways and live. But, we even fail at the whole repentance thing, too.

That is why God sent His Son – to save us from our sins. It pleased God, even as it pained Him, to place our chastisement upon Christ. Jesus took upon our flesh to bear our sin and take our place in death so that we might take His place in life. Thus, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Christ even took our place in His Baptism. In His Baptism He made the good confession that we fail to make when we fail to be truly repentant. He who knew no sin became sin and was Baptized for our forgiveness. By His washing in the Jordan River Jesus sanctified all water with His own Body to be a renewing flood and washing away of sin. St. Paul illustrates what this means for us in his letter to the Romans.

III.

Paul writes, “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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[7] Paul is saying that when Christ took our place and sanctified Baptism by His washing in the Jordan River, He made it so that we too may share in His life. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are united with Christ’s death. Just as Christ died to sin, so is the old nature, the old sinful Adam in us, put to death. We were buried with Him by baptism, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may be brought to new life.

The context of Paul’s writing this was to encourage the Roman Christians to no longer devote themselves to the pleasures of the flesh, either by becoming slaves to the Law or by throwing off the Law entirely and committing whatever sins they want, figuring that God will forgive no matter what. But, Paul says that we are united with Christ through Holy Baptism. This includes the glorious when we shall see Christ in the flesh. Scripture says, “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 in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”[8]

By His Baptism Christ took our place, repenting when we too often fail to do so. He repented of sin He did not have and, by His Body, sanctified our Baptism to be a washing away of sin. In Baptism we are united with His death and resurrection. Through this washing we receive the gift of faith that receives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This eternal life in heaven we now have. For the Christian, eternal life begins at the font. So now we live, no longer as slaves to sin, gratifying the desires of the flesh, but as alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. All thanks, honor, and glory be to Him who by His life, death, and resurrection, even His washing in the Jordan River, secured for us the forgiveness of sins. Amen.


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 339.

[2] LSB, 268.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:4–5.

[4] Matt. 11:10-11.

[5] Matt. 3:15.

[6] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 315.

[7] Rom. 6:3–4.

[8] Rom. 6:5-6, 8-9.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Text: Matthew 22:1-14

We have another difficult text this week. Jesus gets right to the point of the parable in verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Elsewhere He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14) It’s a perilous question, and one that every single one of us will deal with at one point or another; Why some, and not others? Why will some go to heaven and feast eternally at the marriage feast of the Lamb and some to the eternal darkness of hell, forever separated from God’s love? This is the question that one of Jesus’ followers already had in Luke 13, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Lk. 13:23)

Why is it that not everyone will go to heaven; why is it that not everyone we see is a Christian, or that some people we identify as Christians are yet proven not so by their words and actions? This question has driven many a Christian to and fro. Some, like John Calvin, who lived during the 16th century, placed the responsibility for this in God. He said that, from eternity, God chose who would eventually go to heaven and who would go to hell. Thus, he sort of placed the blame for hell on God. This is contrary to Scripture. Some, in more recent memory, have said that hell doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it’s only temporary and one can get out of it once he’s in. This is also contrary to Scripture.

But rather than sit and debate the question within our own minds, let us look to the words of Jesus. He explains that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. It is a sumptuous festival, prepared by the king to be given freely to everyone who is invited. And yet, not everyone who is invited takes to the invitation kindly. In the parable, Jesus shows that God calls and desires all to come to the wedding feast, and yet few are chosen.

I.

The text for this week picks up as sort of a capstone to the previous chunk of Scripture we’ve been covering in the Gospel readings. We’ve heard Jesus says that the children of Israel were like a son who said he was going to work in the vineyard, but then later refused. They were like the tenants hired to work in the vineyard, but instead of bringing forth its fruits to the owner, they embarrassed and killed his servants, and ultimately killed the vineyard owner’s own son. Now today, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He “sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 3-6)

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet. It’s a banquet where all are invited to feast with the heavenly Bridegroom, the Word of God made flesh. They feast because Jesus has conquered death and brought the forgiveness of sins, life and immortality, to light. It’s God’s nature to be gracious and merciful, and He desires that all come to the feast. He begins by calling His chosen people, the children of Israel. The text says that the king first sends out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they wouldn’t come. Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther say this is like the time when the Patriarchs lived. At the beginning there were over a thousand years where people could hear the promise of salvation that God gave to Adam either from the man himself or from one of his sons, and yet people refused.

Jesus said that He longed to gather the children of Israel as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they would not. The Father prepared an incredible banquet for His Son and His chosen people, but they wouldn’t have it. Not wanting to be left alone, the king sends out servants again, this time appealing to His guests, “please come.” Everything was ready and prepared, all they had to do was come and receive God’s gifts. But instead, “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized His servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 5-6)

God again sent servants to call His people to the feast. He sent John the Baptist, the Apostles, even Jesus, but His own people would not have it. They would not come to the feast because of their own hardness and sinfulness. Rather than receive the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, they clung to their own righteousness. Rejecting the invitation to the feast, the people brought the wrath of the king upon themselves. Jesus says that whoever does not believe stands already condemned. The king will not force those who reject his invitation to come and sit at his table, only to have them reject him there, too.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (vv. 8-10) God created man to be in fellowship with them. He created us to give us all good things. That’s what God wanted to do with His chosen people, but they rejected Him. So He sent out His servants a third time, this time to those who weren’t invited. Just as Jesus sent out the Apostles to spread His Gospel, so He continues to send pastors into the world to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments, calling all to the wedding feast.

II.

The king sends out His servants into the world. They are to gather everyone they see, both the good and the bad, proclaiming to all the wedding banquet is prepared and ready. The servants do so and the wedding hall is filled with guests. The text continues, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” (vv. 11-13)

The king in the parable, representing God, comes into the feast to check out his guests, but he finds one there who didn’t have a wedding garment on. The wedding garment is the robe of righteousness, the robe of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Though the man made it to the banquet, he was speechless when it was found that he did not have a wedding garment; he was not clothed in the righteousness of the Lamb of God. And so he was bound and thrown into the outer darkness.

This is a tough teaching, and I wish that I were more eloquent and could convey it better. Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 14) God desires the death of no one. He loves all and wants all to come to the wedding feast, but admittance to the feast comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, the Father has continually sent out prophets, apostles, and pastors to proclaim His Word, which works faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The reason Jesus gives for why few are chosen is that the sinful nature rejects God’s invitation. It turns up its nose and goes to its own business or even ridicules God’s Word.

 But thanks be to Jesus Christ, who through the washing of Holy Baptism destroys the power that sin and death and unbelief had over us. In the washing of Holy Baptism you have been made clean, you have been given the white wedding garment and welcomed into the feast, through faith in the Son of God. St. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:3-4) In Christ you have been chosen to feast in heaven with all the saints who have gone before us.