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“No Greater Comfort”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
(NOTE: due to technical difficulties, the podcast beings a few minutes into the sermon.)
Martin Luther spoke about Holy Baptism probably about as much as anything he wrote. It was one of his favorite subjects. He spoke about Baptism and its blessings hundreds of times as he reviewed the lives of the patriarchs and especially as he spoke of his own life and death. As early as 1519 Luther wrote, “There is on earth no greater comfort than Holy Baptism.” [What Luther Says, #164].
We long for comfort in an age of turmoil and uncertainty. Life is very often uncertain. Tragedies and unexpected events turn our lives upside down. No amount of government programs can comfort us in that hour. Well does the Psalmist remind us:
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (Ps 146:3).
Trusting in one’s own instinct or brain cells yields no better outcome. Yet, when all human comfort fades away, there is the comfort of your Baptism, which is greater than all of them. The comfort of Holy Baptism never ends.
Besides your physical birth no other event is more important than the day of your baptism. Luther instructs us in the Small Catechism to begin and end each day in remembrance of our baptisms by reciting the words “In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit” and making the sign of the holy cross as we say it. This reminds us of the ongoing effect and comfort of Holy Baptism.
What makes Holy Baptism such an important, life-changing event? (Podcast audio begins here) It rests in this: In Holy Baptism your old sinful self, the one you inherited from your first parents, was drowned in the death of Christ Jesus. All of your sins were carried away by Christ in his death on the cross. It wasn’t anything you did to cause this forgiveness, but only what Christ did in living a sinless life on your behalf and taking all your sins into his own body and burying them for good. It isn’t baptism plus something else you must do, something you must add, obedience, good intentions, happy emotions, or a decision to think and do better. It is Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection conveyed if Holy Baptism. Your comfort rests only on Christ’s righteousness, not your own, not on anything added to it. Period.
In Holy Baptism Christ conveyed his righteousness to you, making you a new person. You were buried with Christ in his death. You were washed clean from your sins, all of them. When Christ rose from the dead three days later, he rose as the Victor over sin, death, and hell. Your old sinful self was crucified with Christ, and your new self, the one washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, was raised with him.
Holy Baptism, then, snatches you from the jaws of the devil, makes you God’s own child, restrains and removes sin, and then makes the new man stronger daily. All of this is God’s work. Holy Baptism is not a work which you do, but a work which God does in you and for you. It is the treasure, the one true jewel, which God gives you and which faith grasps. The Apostle Peter wrote:
21 Baptism. . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pe 3:21–22).
Paul’s point is clear: If you have been baptized into the death of Christ, then you have the forgiveness of all your sins because Christ left them in his grave. if you have been baptized into the resurrection of Christ, then you also participate in his resurrection, a real flesh and blood resurrection. Because Christ lives, all who have been baptized into Christ, live also. Forever.
But it’s true that you have sinned after Baptism. Yet, it is also true that the Christian life is one of daily repentance. That is nothing more than a return to the cleansing waters of your Baptism. The Holy Trinity’s work in Baptism is continually effective because it depends only on Christ’s work. You must not add anything to it, as if that were even possible, which it isn’t. You can’t lose the benefits of Baptism except through unbelief, yet even if you return to Baptism the benefits are still there. The benefits of Holy Baptism are just as you learned them from the Small Catechism:
What benefits does Baptism give?
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.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” [Mark 16.16]
That life bestowed in Holy Baptism is a genuine, true, eternal life. At some point, our earthly flesh fails us and we die. We call this death, but for the Christian it is not death; it is merely the death of the sinful self. The sinful self dies so that only the new man lives. This new man enjoys immediately the glory of eternal life. That is the status of the life which every baptized Christian has. Your baptismal life has not ended, but it has changed. In the resurrection of the body on the last day, your resurrected body and soul will be reunited without any sin. For the baptized person death is no more because sin is no more. The baptized have passed through physical death to eternal life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (2016). (Ro 6:5)..
Christ’s death was “once for all,” Paul says. His death is perfect. It covers all sins that you have sticking to you. No one, not even an angel from heaven can take this away. Not even God can take this away from you because it rests in Christ alone.
Luther said this when tempted to disbelieve these great promises:
I shall cling to the Word of God and be content with that. By it I shall die, and by it I shall live. . . . It is as Job says: “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (cf. Job 13:15). If He should cast me into the depths of hell and place me in the midst of devils, I would still believe that I would be saved because I have been baptized, I have been absolved, I have received the pledge of my salvation, the body and blood of the Lord in the Supper. Therefore I want to see and hear nothing else, but I shall live and die in this faith, whether God or an angel or the devil says the contrary.
Dear friends, in this Baptism you have true joy and true comfort, especially when the day comes also for you to depart this vale of tears and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, fully absolved by the blood of the Lamb who died and rose again for you. Then there will also be that happy reunion before the throne of the Lamb of God with all those who were also baptized into Christ, and you will exclaim, “I am baptized! I belong to Christ and he shall never disown me! Christ has promised that I shall be saved. Eternal life is mine.” [cf. Large Catechism, Kolb-Wengert, p. 462]
Truly there is “No Greater Comfort” than Holy Baptism because it brings you forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Live confidently whatever may happen in this life until the day when Christ calls you home to himself awaiting the great day when your body will be raised imperishable and you will enjoy the glory of heaven.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Martin Luther, vol. 6, Luther’s Works, Vol. 6 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, Ge 32:25 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1970).