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The Small Catechism, Part IV: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

 

First Reading: Acts 2:36-39

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”” (NKJ)

Second Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

From Parts 1-3 of Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1 being the Ten Commandments, Part 2 being the Creed, and Part 3 being The Lord’s Prayer, we come to Part 4, God’s Means of Grace through water and Word.

In the Ten Commandments, God gives words for how we are to live before him and with our neighbors. On account of our not keeping them, we stand condemned before God, except for Jesus Christ, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, confessed in The Creed, the 2nd Chief Part of the Catechism.

Here, we confess God’s work to and for us sinners in providing all that is temporary for the body and all this is eternal for the soul.

Here, we confess God’s goodness, our salvation from sin, death, and hell through the Redeemer Christ, and God’s work of preserving us in the truth faith through the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to create, sustain, and nourish faith through Word preached, sins absolved, water poured, and the body and blood of Christ given to eat and drink in the Holy Supper of our Lord.

In the Third Part of The Catechism, having to do with the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord instructs self-centered sinners how to pray and what to pray for.

He turns us away from ourselves in submission to the Lord’s Holy Will—in everything, excluding nothing, giving the very word to pray, that we would learn that all comes from Him.

The Commandments, The Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father), the first three parts of The Small Catechism, all Christians should readily be familiar with.  They cannot be exhausted, known, or contemplated enough.

Baptism, ShellThe same applies to the next chief Part, Part 4, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the chief parts that follow.

Concerning Holy Baptism, Luther outlines the topics therein in four sections, and then also gives Biblical references in support of each.

Each section consists of a question:

1 What is Baptism?

2 What benefits does Baptism give?

3 How can water do such great things?

And, 4 What does such baptizing indicate?

In beginning to address these questions, it is necessary, at the first, to speak about the word “baptize” itself, as any number of people have been mislead to believe that “to baptize” means something that it does not, or that it only should be used one way and no other, lest it be invalid or not a true baptism.

Some teach and believe that “to baptize” means “to immerse in water only,” or “to dunk only,” and that baptism is truly a baptism if only immersed, or that a greater amount of water must be used, because baptism is only a symbol, not a work of God and a Means of Grace.

In truth, “to baptize” with water can mean to immerse or dunk in water.

It can also mean “to dip,” “to sprinkle,” or “to pour.”

Biblically speaking, “to baptize with water” includes all of these.

While many want to give emphasis to the washing of water only, and to the amount of water used/applied, as do all who deny infant Baptism and God’s grace given in Baptism, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” (SC, Baptism, First).

We do not deny, therefore, God’s work in water due to the amount used or to the mode applied.

Instead, as Christians, we look to the Word and promise of God.

The identification of Baptism as God’s work is determined according to the Lord’s revelation and not according to our definition, disposition, or symbolic attribution to the Sacrament.

Writes Luther,

17 …Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added. God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water—praise it in any other terms you can—all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word which no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God.

18 From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament…When the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.

19 Therefore, we constantly teach that the sacraments and all the external things ordained and instituted by God should be regarded not according to the gross, external mask (as we see the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed.”

Luther continues,

22 I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. For where the Word is separated from the water, the water is no different from that which the maid cooks with and could indeed be called a bathkeeper’s baptism. But when the Word is present according to God’s ordinance, Baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s Baptism.” (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶17-19, 22)

In Matthew 28, verse 19, Jesus is recorded to have said to His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 NKJ).

Likewise, St. Mark records Jesus to have said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16 NKJ).

Concerning these verses from Matthew 28 and Mark 16, Luther observes that,

6 …these words contain God’s commandment and ordinance. You should not doubt, then, that Baptism is of divine origin, not something devised or invented by men. As truly as I can say that the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer are not spun out of any man’s imagination but revealed and given by God himself, so I can also boast that Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat.

7 It is of the greatest importance that we regard Baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted. It is the chief cause of our contentions and battles because the world now is full of sects who proclaim that Baptism is an external thing and that external things are of no use.

8 But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s Word and command which have been instituted, established, and confirmed in Baptism. What God instituted and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw. (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶6-8)

As what God has instituted and commands cannot be useless, neither can Holy Baptism.

Not at all apart from faith, Holy Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, preserves from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation” (SC, Baptism, Second).

Unlike those who posit Baptism to be only an “outward sign of an inward grace,” that you have to be old enough in order to make a decision to be baptized, or that Lutherans believe Baptism to save without faith in God’s promise (because babies can’t believe), the Bible declares distinctly and definitively that Holy Baptism in the Name of the Triune God—in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—is in His Name, done by Him.

Baptism into God’s Name can be none other than God’s work, independent of what we think, what reason has to say, or what the fallen sinner defines baptism to be.

Can infants, can babies, believe?

Christians say and affirmative, “Yes,” because such faith does not come from within.

The faith which believes God’s Word and promise comes from the God who gives it—through His very Word and promise given, the means by which the Holy Spirit creates and nourishes faith.

When Peter rightly confesses Jesus to be Christ, Jesus did not then say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,” for you have come to this conclusion on your own and have decided the truth by yourself. Good for you!

Not at all.

What does Jesus say?

Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17 NKJ).

St. Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 NASB).

In another place, St. Paul reveals that, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3 NKJ).

As the child, so also the adult does not come to saving by self, but by the gifted revelation of God, His Holy Word, even that Holy Word attached to water.

Through the very Means God has instituted to bring about new birth unto eternal life, God raises to life that which was dead in trespasses and sins.

St. Peter, therefore, connects “the remission of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to the water and word of Holy Baptism, extending that promise also to children (Acts 2:38).

Such blessings are attached to Holy Baptism.

To be baptized into God’s Holy Name is to be born anew, born from above, born of water and the Spirit, born of God, having His Name upon You, His blessing–yours (John 3:3, 7, 13).

Scriptural baptism is not at all man’s work.

It is God’s.

If Baptism was man’s work, all who claim baptism to be merely an outward sign to God (as if God needs to be shown) or a testimony/sign to man, in union denying God’s great gifts, would then be correct and the Bible in error.

If Baptism was man’s work, there would not be attached to Baptism the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Man’s work cannot do these things.

Yet, St. Peter writes, “Baptism saves” (1 Peter 3:21).

God’s Word is too clear to deny not only what Holy Baptism is and its blessing to sinners, but also its continual comfort to the Christian.

As we believe in God and Christ, so also we believe His Word and work.

With St. Paul the apostle, we confess with Him “That as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…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” (Rom. 6:3-4 NKJ).

Thus does Baptism indicate, “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” (SC, Fourth).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJ).

God’s one-time act of baptizing you was sufficient.

Into His Name you remain, as you believe His promises.

In what God has done, here is where you have your identity.

What defines you is not how you live, what you do, or who you are as a sinner.

What defines you is what God says of you: washed, forgiven, Mine. Amen.

 

Luther’s Small Catechism

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

First.

What is Baptism?–Answer. Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.

What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer. 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.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.

How can water do such great things?–Answer. It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasGracious God, through the water of Holy Baptism you washed me clean of my sin. Strengthen my confidence in Your Word and work, that through the challenges of this life, I live by faith as Your beloved child, certain that my identity is in You, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Baptism of our Lord, Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And 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; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The text before us is a text is a most amazing text. Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,” this same Jesus came to John the Baptist for the purpose of being baptized by him in the Jordan river (Nicene Creed).

This is a most strange, yet wonderful, doing of our Lord.

It is most strange because John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).

John the Baptist preached the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1).

Those who came to John to be baptized by him were repentant, that is, they were sorry for their sins.

They came confessing their sins, for they were sinners.

John’s preaching of repentance was a call to turn from unbelief to belief in the Lord and His word and promises.

This is what is strange about Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized by him—Jesus had nothing to repent of.

Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  He had no need for forgiveness, for remission of sins, or for pardon.  Jesus had no sins to confess that were His own.  He was complete, whole, and without blemish.

It was not Jesus who needed forgiveness.  It was John himself and all who came to him who needed redemption, everyone else but Jesus.

For this reason, we might be able to understand John’s hesitation to baptize Jesus and why he said what he did when he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John knew and understood that Jesus was upright.  He recognized that Jesus was mightier, the greater, the Righteous (Matthew 3:11; John 3:30).

John understood that his baptizing was a baptism of repentance, a baptism for sinners.  Jesus was not a sinner.

Jesus needed no baptism.

This was the dilemma for John.

Jesus coming to him to be baptized by him did not make sense.

This is that strange thing concerning the text—Jesus, a non-sinner, comes to John to be baptized by him who baptizes sinners.

Fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness

As strange and incredible as Jesus coming to John to be baptized by him is, his coming to John to be baptized by him is also the wonderful doing of our Lord.

Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, not because He, that is, Jesus, had any sin of His person or because of anything that He had done wrong, did do wrong, or would do wrong.

 Jesus remained as sinless before His baptism as after His baptism.

Rather, Jesus came to John to be baptized by him because by doing so, He identified Himself with sinners and as a sinner, really, not only as “a” sinner, but “the” sinner.

By undergoing a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, Jesus identified Himself as THE ONE on whom all sin would rest—THE ONE on whom God’s judgment would rest—THE ONE who would stand in the place of a sinful people and be THE substitute for sinners, both in suffering their judgment for their sin and for fulfilling all righteousness by keeping God’s Law.

Jesus would be the one, who with John, would fulfill all righteousness: John, by baptizing Jesus; and Jesus, by being baptized by John as a sinner, though He knew no sin, even as St. Paul testifies, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid for your sins and mine.

By His being baptized, Jesus identified Himself as your substitute, even your righteousness, before God.

Jesus did not need to be baptized for Himself.

He had no sin for which to give answer.

However, for you was He baptized, that you not rest on your own doings for salvation, but on Him—and on Him alone—that you rest your hope and confidence in Christ and none other.

God the Father also testifies to this, for the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

If Jesus’ baptism had not pleased the Father, the Father would not have said what He had said.

Nor would the Spirit have descended and rested upon Jesus.

The events of that day give evidence to God’s approval of His Son, and the approval of His work—a sin bearer and Savior for all of mankind.

John permitted Jesus to be baptized by him

John humbly consented to baptizing Jesus.

He did not refuse Jesus his request.

John did not resist Jesus’ Word because he didn’t understand it.

He simply let the Word of the Lord take the lead.

He permitted to be what the Lord had spoken.

Even though John was less than Jesus and Jesus the greater, John abided by the Word of the Lord, and, filling his office, he did according to the Word that the Lord gave Him to do.

This is no small thing.

It is the work of God that the sinner give in to God’s Word, believe it, and do it.

This is not the work of sinful man, but the grace of God to believe, even should one not know the reason for doing so—except that God say it.

Initially, John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized.  But at the Lord’s Word, he let it be.

This is what the Lord’s disciples do.

They let God’s Word be as it is—God’s Word—without equivocation, without misrepresentation, without falsification, and without reinterpretation.

They permit God’s Word to speak as it is, and on that alone do they rest their case, believe, and do.

The heaven’s opened—Jesus, the Spirit (as a dove), the Father (voice)—The Holy Trinity—The words of the Father–This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased

And then what do we see?

John permits Jesus to be baptized.

Jesus, so humbly, is baptized by the baptizer.  And the heavens are opened.  The Holy Spirit descends as a dove and rests upon Jesus.  There is a voice from the opened heaven.  And the voice of the Heavenly Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

What else can this mean but that Jesus is the one with whom the Father is well pleased?

What else can this mean but that Jesus, the one who “numbered” Himself “with the transgressors and…bore the sin of many,” who later “poured out His soul unto death, even the death of the cross” (Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:8) is your Savior, Redeemer, and deliverer from sin, death, and hell?

What else can these words of the Father about His Son mean than that in Jesus, you too, are well pleasing to the Father?

Christ, serving as your substitute, as the sinner of all sinners, means that all your sin is off you and on Him.

If your sin be on Him, your sin is not on you.

Therefore, that sin, your sin, is no more your judgement, for in Christ, that judgment is no more.

“He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26-28), even your sins.

“He redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

All this means that the Father’s words about His Son now also apply to you—because of Jesus.

Because the Father is pleased with His beloved Son, and that Son fulfilled all righteousness and put to death your sins on the cross that they be no more, the Father is now pleased with you on account of Jesus.

No more trying to impress God or earn His favor!

Only believe Jesus, your Advocate (1 John 2:1) and Mediator (1 Timothy 2:4), and you have a gracious God.

Like John, permit this to be so.

Suffer the words of Jesus and the words of the Father.

Remember your Baptism, for as Paul says, “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” (Romans 6:3-4, epistle).

Since both Jesus and the Father looked highly upon the baptism of Jesus, so also are you to look upon Christ’s baptism for you, and even your own baptism, for you were baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God’s Name is no Name to minimize—it is the only Name to regard as High and mighty.

That Name is on you through water and Word.

Should you ever wonder God’s disposition towards you, should you ever doubt God’s favor upon you, should you ever be uncertain that your sins are forgiven, or should you ever find yourself questioning whether your sin is too great for God to forgive, look to Christ.

Hold fast to Christ’s Word, “You are forgiven.”

Be bold to say, “God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ,” for so you are.

Through Baptism, God calls you His own.  You are His.

Also be bold to say, “Christ was baptized for me,” for so He was.

This is just the kind of Savior that you have in Jesus, One who truly saves, in whom you can say with certainty, “I am His, and He is mine.”  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Holy Baptism, You made me Your own through water and Word.  Help me not to despise this, Your work, claiming it as my own, but to believe in your grace and favor to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21

 

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

2019 was a dynamic year, and much has happened since its beginning last January.

From politics, broadly, to personal, individually, this year has been one of change, and also sameness.

As Christians, it is good to reflect on the past year, even as we move forward, recognizing God’s work among us.

It is also good, “meet, right, and salutary,” to reflect on the words and doings of our Lord as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Tonight, we want to consider eight days after our Lord’s birth to the Virgin Mary, the day of His circumcision and Naming.

We also want to consider the establishment of God’s covenant of circumcision with His people of Old, and God’s work among us, still today, not of circumcision, but according to His Word and promise.

Eight days after the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world, Jesus was circumcised.

In our day, circumcision is of little religious significance to us Christians on account of Christ.  But to the more immediate descendants of Abraham, to whom God gave such a covenant, circumcision was a “big deal.”

To refuse circumcision was to reject God’s promise and to demonstrate unbelief.

Circumcision, for us, does not have such a meaning.

Christians today generally view circumcision as a means of hygiene, not as a religious observance.

We can choose to circumcise or not to circumcise, not as a means of being in or out of the covenant with the Most High, but as a means of exercising our Christian freedom.

We are not bound to the ceremonial laws and institutions of the Old Testament as the people of the Old Covenant were.

Because of Christ and His work, we are no longer obligated to keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, like circumcision, the sacrificial system, keeping the Sabbath day, the priesthood, and the like, as St. Paul declares.

“Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16).

For Abraham and his descendants until the time of Christ, circumcision was the sign of the covenant, given by God—to Abraham—by which God pledged His faithfulness to His people, for the sake of His people.

Circumcision was not Abraham choosing God.  Nor was circumcision primarily an act of obedience of Abraham to God, as if Abraham worked His way into God’s covenant by performing the rite of circumcision.

It was in Genesis 17 that God established this sign and pledge to Abraham, not for God’s sake, but for Abraham’s, and his descendants, that they might believe God’s Word.

In that account, God said to Abraham, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations” (Genesis 17:10-12).

God institutes the covenant.

Abraham only receives what the Lord gives, as do we, and the receiving of what the Lord gives is faith in what the Lord gives according to His Word.

Abraham had no worthiness of himself by which he could claim anything before God.

Instead, humbly claiming only what the Lord said, and believing it, Abraham heeded the Word of the Lord and “took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:23).

Abraham wasted no time in fulfilling the Lord’s Word.

Such was His faith.

But more than this, such was the Lord’s Word and promise.

As a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham, circumcision did not establish God’s mercy and faithfulness.

Rather, in the words of St. Paul the apostle, circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he” (That is, Abraham) “had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11-12).

Abraham was good in God’s eyes and had God’s favor before the covenant of circumcision.

Before being circumcised, Abraham already believed, as recorded in Genesis 15, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This believing concerned God’s promise of many descendants, even when Abraham at that time had none.

Such limitations on our part are not limitations of God.

What we are unable to see because of unbelief, God reveals according to His Word.

This we believe, and believing according to the Lord’s Word, we, too, stand before God as righteous.

So, what does circumcision have to do with Jesus?

According to the covenant that God had given to Abraham, all males of the people of God were to be circumcised at the age of eight days old.

As a descendant of Abraham, from “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), Jesus was to be circumcised.

Unlike the males before and after Him, however, Jesus did not need this sign of the covenant.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is in no need of God’s pledge of the Holy One to come, because Jesus IS that Holy One promised to Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; 26:4To Isaac; Acts 3:25).

Jesus is that One, that “Seed of the Woman” (Genesis 3:15) who would, and did, crush the serpent’s head, conquering death by means of His own death on the cross, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and who was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).

In being circumcised, Jesus demonstrated His obedience under the Law, not apart from you, but for you.

As the Holy One, Jesus became the sinner that you become the righteous.

The Lord God, in Jesus, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in your stead.

In Him, you see your salvation.

Because Jesus is your salvation, you are no longer under the covenant of circumcision.  God has given you a new sign—the sign of Holy Baptism.

“In” Jesus, writes Paul, “you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14).

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us what faith in Jesus and Holy Baptism means when he writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:23-39).

Because of Christ, circumcision as God’s covenant is obsolete.  Christ having come means that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but under the New, which Christ has now ushered in.  Life as God’s children is not about do’s and dont’s, as many assume it to be.

Being a Christian is about believing in the One whom God sent.

Such believing in the One whom God sent is also believing according to the very Word of our Lord.

This is what Abraham did.

This is what the descendants of Abraham do.

They desire to live, not by sight, but by faith, by faith in the promises of God.

They do not trust in themselves or in what might be, but have confidence in what the Lord has said, and rejoice in all that the Lord gives.

They look back on the previous year and the times before and find comfort in the Lord’s forgiveness and in His mercy.

For what is new and forthcoming, they seek the Lord’s will, leaving whatever may be in the Lord’s hands and entrust themselves into God’s gracious care and keeping.

They do this because they know that the present and the future do not rest on them, but on God alone.  As the Lord’s children, their life is not their own.  They are the Lord’s, as are you.

You’ve been given a name, a new name, that of Christian, bearing the Name of Christ.

Your life is no longer your own.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, you received your new identity, where God placed his Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon you.

This means something.

Named of God, His Name upon you, you are His.

As a beloved child, as an heir of God’s eternal kingdom, all God’s blessings are yours.

They are yours to eternity.

Nothing do you lack, today, tomorrow, or for the remainder of your life here on this earth.

What is Christ’s is yours, because all that was yours, all that separated you from God, your sin, is Christ’s, and on the cross, Jesus put them to death.

This new name of yours means that you are clean before God, holy and righteous in His sight.

The Name of Jesus, given to Him by His parents at His circumcision, means something.

It was the Name given by the angel of the Child before He was born.

That Name “Jesus” means Savior, and that is just who Jesus is.

It was the angel who had told Joseph that Jesus to be the name of the Child, because “He” will “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This is what Jesus did on the cross when He died, not for the sinless, but for sinners.

If He hadn’t, you would still be in your sins and your faith in Christ would truly be in vain.

We would be, in fact, the most pitiable of all people (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).

“But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Jesus is who He says He is.

His circumcision and the Name given Him mean something.

They mean everything.

Jesus is your life and your salvation.

Because of Him, you have a new name.

You have life and salvation.

“Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This new year do not be troubled by doubt or anxious with uncertainty about what has been or what might or might not be.

Do not worry about what tomorrow will bring. Rest in the Lord Jesus.

Take comfort in His salvation and in the Name placed upon you.

Though stumble and fall you will, the Lord will uphold and sustain you.

God’s forgiveness in Christ is certain!

Tomorrow is a new day.  Tomorrow begins a New year.  Yet, in the Lord, every day, and everything, is new!  Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember my baptism, that is, Your Holy work of placing Your Holy Name upon me, that I live forevermore to you, believing your salvation through Christ my Lord. Amen.

 

 

“I have my faith”?

Therefore, having been justified by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much talk about faith these days. Recently, I heard one numerous times in discussion say, “I have my faith.” Yet, such talk about faith is quite vague. It seems to emphasize the “me,” of faith, and doesn’t really get to the object of the Christian faith, which is Christ.

MyFaithChristian faith doesn’t exclusively speak in the way of “me” or “my” kind of faith. Rather, Christian faith confesses Christ, front and center.

Remember the words of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Remember the words of St. Paul, too. “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

These words also apply to Christian faith, even our own faith, which is neither self-derived or self-chosen, a personal decision or a choice. Rather, the Christian faith is the God-given faith.

The Bible teaches such truth, for as Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Speaking of the flesh, St. Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

According to God’s Holy Word, which is what the Bible is, “those who are in the flesh” are not of faith. This applies to all people, as all people are born through the womb. Naturally, such people are in need of a Savior since the Fall of AdaBorn-of-God1m and Eve (Romans 5:12). Dead in sin, from conception to physical death, a spiritual birth is needed. One must be reborn.

Such rebirth cannot and does not happen by choice or personal decision. That which is dead cannot do anything of itself. It is God, through His Holy Word, which gives life, new life, abundant life (John 6:63, 10:10). Thus do we have Christ, who speaks life, that we be born anew, even through water and word (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Similar to the account of Jesus calling dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44), so Jesus calls us from death to life by means of His Word, even His Word preached today (John 6:63). Where His Holy Word continues to be preached today, He continues to bring forth the hearers from death to life.

The preaching of Christ’s cross does not make Christians either lazy or unproductive (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6). Instead, the preaching of Christ’s cross, of His death and resurrection, enlivens true faith. Evangelicalism here gets it wrong where they empty their preaching of the Gospel and instead preach only what you must do of yourself and how to live, yet apart from faith in Christ. They also get it wrong where they emphasis personal faith over and against objective faith, which is the faith given by God through the hearing of Christ and His holy Word (Romans 10:17).

This faith, and this faith alone, that which is of God and His Son Jesus Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is that faith which does not seek its own, but glories in Christ, clearly confessing Him to be Savior.

Rom01.16,4The Christian faith does just this, and unashamedly (Romans 1:16). This faith confesses Christ, giving Him and Him alone all the glory. So, more than speaking of “my faith” and taking comfort in what “I personally believe” (subjectively, as in “I have my faith”), the Christian faith speaks of Christ and what He has done for me, according to Holy Scripture. Instead of confessing, “I have my faith,” the Christian boastfully confesses in who that faith is—Christ.

My faith” does not save me. Christ does! Thanks be to God! Amen.

“For the faith that takes hold of Christ, the Son of God, and is adorned by Him is the faith that justifies, not a faith that includes love. For if faith is to be sure and firm, it must take hold of nothing but Christ alone; and in the agony and terror of conscience it has nothing else to lean on than this pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45–46). Therefore whoever takes hold of Christ by faith, no matter how terrified by the Law and oppressed by the burden of his sins he may be, has the right to boast that he is righteous. How has he this right? By that jewel, Christ, whom he possesses by faith. Our opponents fail to understand this. Therefore they reject Christ, this jewel; and in His place they put their love, which they say is a jewel. But if they do not know what faith is, it is impossible for them to have faith, much less to teach it to others. And as for what they claim to have, this is nothing but a dream, an opinion, and natural reason, but not faith.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p88-89)

Prayer: Father in heaven, give us faith which takes hold of Christ and no other. Preserve us in this faith by the means which You freely give and deliver, and keep us from despising Your free gifts of Baptism, Word, and Supper, that we remain yours, and, denying ourselves, follow you. Amen.

Identification with the people of John 9

We are the blind man who cannot see

Until God opens the eyes of me and thee.

He opens our eyes that we believe

How He saves only through Christ -That in sin we were conceived.

He grants us faith by His grace

That we confess His name, all of our days.

We are the disciples who ask the question why

We are of those who ask out of curiosity

But as they received a Godly answer from God’s only Begotten Son,

So we too learn to see that always, God’s will is done.

He opens our eyes that we see

The Works of God among us through the ord-in-ar-y.

We are the doubting Pharisees & the unbelieving Jews

We question again and again God’s revealing news.

We wish to see God, but only according to our own perception,

Rather than the way God reveals Himself, even in the Holy incarnation.

Only in Christ do we have a Savior.

Only through faith in the God made flesh

Do we stand holy before our God, now and forever.

We are the timid parents of the man given sight.

We hesitate to speak, of God we make light.

We fear what may happen if we should say

What we know to be true, for what may happen by they.

But God opens our mouth, the ears to hear, the eyes to read

That we study diligently and speak boldly, that to fear we do not concede.

Christ Jesus is our Lord, our Savior and King,

On Him we stand, He is our everything.

Through holy baptism and faith in His Son we are His.

We simply say what is true, what He has done And we simply rejoice in this. Amen.

A case of disunity in the LCMS…from The Lutheran Witness

Koinonia

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Lutheran Witness is the “official periodical of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p2).  Since the presidency of Pres. Matthew Harrison, elected in 2010, The Lutheran Witness has undergone a transformation.  The following letter may help illustrate this.  “Last night I read the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, and I could not help but praise the Lord for the content.  Here was the material that I have wanted to see in our church periodical for many years, clear biblical expositions of theological, doctrinal and life problems confronting clergy and laity in our Synod at this time.  We need more of this clear, open of Scripture in common English for all to see” (The Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p22, 24).

I am in agreement with this observation.  The majority of articles now the in The Lutheran Witness are doctrinal, and thus, practical, in nature, directing the reader to the Word and to Christ, drawing distinctions where they should be maintained, and genuinely Lutheran.  I enjoy reading the articles and am encouraged greatly by them.

Before President Harrison was elected, The Lutheran Witness had a more “church growthy” approach, having the assumption that the gospel and the doctrine were “there,” but not explicitly indicated as such, generally speaking.  It seemed that the emphasis was more on human activity rather than God’s activity through Word and Sacrament, emphasizing the “mission,” minus the content.Walking together

Yet even as The Lutheran Witness has changed, for the better, I believe, others do not have this view, not at all.  Such a negative view of change towards The Lutheran Witness is illustrated by this letter from a more recent issue, “The March 2013 number of The Lutheran Witness is on of the most troubling I have ever read” (The Lutheran Witness, May 2013, p25).  Another letter illustrates a similar negative view, “I grew up in the ELCA and was active there until age 40, when I moved my family to the LCMS for doctrinal reasons.  The move was the right choice for our family.  That said, I had an extremely negative reaction to the March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness” (May 2013, p25).[1]

Reading even only a few of the letters offered in The Lutheran Witness gives a taste, albeit, only a nibble, of the discrepancy found within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  One writer says, “More, more.”  Another says, “No, no.”  Such responses indicate that, like so many other denominations, we are not 100% united, specifically, in doctrine.  If one greatly appreciates what is right and true and another does not, what does this say of a united faith that we claim to possess?  It essentially demonstrates that we’re not as united as some claim us to be.  Of course, in Christ, true unity remains.  But then again, the question remains, “What does this mean?”


[1] The March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness, entitled, “Free in Christ” included articles such as, “Can’t we all just get along,” “Free in Christ,” “Finding a home,” “The Life of the baptized,” and a chart, “Differences and Distinctions” between the LCMS, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic on such teachings as God’s Word, Justification & Sanctification, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

The Word of faith which we preach


 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul seems to indicate that there is only genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a definition does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

    Luther

 

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

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