There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet!
Come to Prayer!
Come to forgiveness!
God is great!
There is no god but God!
These are the words, spoken in Arabic that echoed across the loudspeakers from the tall minarets in every town and city we visited in the country of Turkey five times a day beginning at sunrise. These words are recited in Arabic because Arabic is considered the sacred tongue of Islam whether one can understand them or not. The devout Muslim bows down facing Mecca at each sounding of the call to prayer.
However, as Christians, we could agree with a good deal of the so-called “call to prayer,” at least on the surface. We believe God is great! We believe there is no god but God as the First Commandment says! We believe in the gift of prayer! We believe that we can go to God for forgiveness as Jesus says. But we stumble over one sentence that speaks volumes, “Muhammad is his prophet.” In speaking that phrase, what they purposely omit is that Jesus Christ is God and LORD.
In effect, the Muslim believer is left to contract his own “forgiveness” from Allah based on how well he performs in this life. “Devout Muslims pray five times a day, hoping that Allah will see their faithfulness and give them mercy.” This is contract theology, or perhaps the lack of theology.
In contrast this morning, Jesus points us not to prayer five times a day or to our own goodness, but rather to the blessed Sacrament of Holy Baptism through the pen of St, Paul. As we hear the words of St. Paul, I would have us think on this word of comfort:
Baptism is what being a Christian is all about.
- We are dead to sin.
- We are alive to God.
I would like to share two comments with you from Dr. David Scaer, professor of systematic theology at Concordia seminary, on the doctrine of Baptism:
“In Lutheran Theology, Baptism is not only the antidote to original sin and prior actual sins, but remains the refuge for the sinner throughout life.”
“Baptism for Lutherans is more than the sacrament of entrance into the Christian community, but is what being Christian is all about.”
As we examine these words, we need to keep something in mind. First, Baptism is like a two-sided coin. In the first half of this sermon, we are going to look at the side that tells us that we are dead to sin. Second, Paul is not speaking to the most perfect congregation that ever existed, but to a congregation deeply embedded in the manure pile of sin and rebellion against God’s commands. The attitude of the Romans in which Paul speaks is this, “Let’s go on sinning so that God may be more gracious to us.” Precious redeemed, the context of our baptism is no different. Our Savior baptized us and placed His robe of righteousness on us not when we could show proof of sinlessness, but in the very midst of the most horrid sin, original sin, the stain and effect and rebellion of Adam and Eve. It is this inborn attitude, the Old Adam that says the same thing as those in the Roman congregation, “Let’s just keep sinning. I don’t care if it is wrong because lust is so great, gossip is just so fulfilling, revenge so sweet.”
Dr. Scaer also said, “Despising Baptism is far worse than disregarding God’s moral requirements, because Baptism brings all of God’s grace, including God Himself, to the believer. It is one thing not to do what God requires and quite another thing to despise His gracious activity in Jesus Christ.”
- Is it possible that we have despised our baptism?
- Do we daily drown our old man with all its sins and evil lusts?
- If we claim to be Christians, can we say with all confidence that we have kept the Law of God as delineated in Exodus 20 this morning?
- You and I tell others, “Do not steal,” but are you stealing?
- You and I say, “You people should not live together, that is adultery,” but are you guilty of lust?
- We tell others, “People who murder should face the death penalty,” but are you harboring hatred or malice or anger or revenge?
- Who is it that really brings dishonor to God’s name? Could it be said of us, “Because of you the Gentiles speak evil of God’s name.” (Is. 52:5 and Rom. 2: 24).
Paul could have said to the Roman congregation, “Your despising of baptism stinks in the nostrils of God.” Instead he reminds them of their Holy Baptism, “Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. The death spoken of here is Jesus’ physical death. This is not a generic death but “death” into Christ. Paul then goes on to say, “Now when we were baptized into His death, we were buried with Him. This is nothing short of forgiveness. Through these inspired and immortal words, Paul is telling us that “in Christ” we already died for our sins. We were buried already for our sins. How can they then come back and haunt us; how can they be of any use in charging us with guilt? They cannot for Paul says only two chapters later, “There is therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
He then tells us, “As Christ was raised from the dead with the same glory as the Father’s, we too will live a new life. Paul now explains in quite some detail what this all means to us. “If we were united with Him in this likeness of His death, then we will be united with Him also in the likeness of His resurrection.” The word “united” means being planted together. Baptism plants us together with Jesus and everything he did. Because He rose from the dead, we are planted together in His likeness: holy and pure. As Paul says in Ephesians, our Savior’s goal through baptism is, “To make the church holy by using water together with the word to wash her clean.”
But there is even more gospel for us here, “We know that our old self was nailed with Him to the cross to render our sinful body powerless in order that we might not be slaves to sin any longer.” Please think clearly about what Paul is saying. Our Old Man was nailed to the cross!! That is another way of Paul saying our sins are forgiven in Jesus. Our old sin-filled body is powerless, rendered useless to the body of sin, to the extent that we are no longer slaves to sin. Because we died with Jesus, because we were buried with Jesus, because we were raised with Christ in the miracle of Holy Baptism, the charges of sin against us must be thrown out. Paul says it, “The one who has died has been justified from sin.” Indeed we are dead to sin.
The comfort we have is again summarized in the words of Dr. Scaer, “In Lutheran Theology, Baptism is not only the antidote to original sin and prior actual sins, but remains the refuge for the sinner throughout life.” In the midst of your accusing conscience, in the face of your Old Adam which will entice you to follow those words, “Let’s go on sinning…,” take refuge in your Holy Baptism where in Christ you are declared free from sin. As we learned in the Psalm for today, “O God, save my by Your Name.” In baptism, you have been saved for the Name of the Triune God was spoken over you.
We are alive to God.
As we continue to consider the words of our lesson, Paul reveals the other side of this coin of Baptism in the next several verses. “But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, since He was raised from the dead will not die again. One side of the coin says we died to sin. The other side of the coin says that we will live with Him. If Jesus was raised from the dead, He cannot die again, indeed, death has no claim or hold on Him. But if that applies to Jesus, and we are “in Christ,” it must also apply to us. It must apply,
- not because we merely wish it to be so,
- not because we turned ourselves around and reformed our lives,
- not because we finally made the right choice, but because of our Holy Baptism.
In your baptism, death no longer has a stranglehold on you. Yes, we must die, but because of Holy Baptism, your body must be raised a glorious body. As Paul stresses in I Corinthians 15, “For it is necessary that what is decaying be clothed with what cannot decay.”
This must be because of what Paul says next, “For when He died, He died to sin once, never to die again.” “Sin” here is not sin generically, but a specific sin. The Greek text says “The Sin,” as if to point us to a specific sin. This hooks up with the Old Man Paul spoke of earlier. “The Sin” is the unbroken series of sin from conception to birth to death, the Old Adam. This word jerks us back to the Garden of Eden and places each of us there.
- “The Sin” means that we rebelled against God.”
- “The Sin” means that we wanted to be like God “knowing good and evil.”
- “The Sin” reaches into our daily life causing us to continue in our lustful desires and malicious thoughts.
- “The Sin” brings the totality of God’s horrible and eternal anger resonating in the vow, “The soul that sins, it shall die.”
But Jesus died to “The Sin” so much so that He can never die again. Since we were baptized into Christ with His death and burial and resurrection, that is tantamount to God’s guarantee that “The Sin” can never come back to condemn us or lay a charge against us.
Paul emphasizes that since Jesus has died to “The Sin,” “The life He lives He lives for God.” His life now is complete property of the Triune God. Since Satan is defeated through the death of sin, there is only one possible life left, the life lived for God. Herein lies our legacy of Holy Baptism. Because we are “In Christ” we have been freed from the slavery of “The Sin” with its eternal condemnation and brought into the kingdom of God where the life we live is now for God and to the glory of God.
Precious redeemed, the closing phrase of St. Paul is not Law, it is gospel, “So you too, because you are in Christ Jesus, think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God.” Please think about it, If God had not condescended to us in Word and Sacrament, the exact opposite would have to be true. We would have to resign ourselves to being alive to “The Sin” still living with its terrible legacy and still fearing its eternal condemnation. If God had not brought us into His kingdom, through water and the Spirit, we would still have to live for Satan. Because of your Holy Baptism, “The Sin” is behind us never to have the ability to condemn us again. The New Life in Christ in which we live to glorify God, is all that is ahead of us. That is God’s decree to you in Holy Baptism not merely when you feel like you might finally be a “Good Christian” but every day of your sinful life.
In the past I have suggested placing your baptismal certificate in a frame whereby it might be placed in a prominent place in your home. Let it remind you, daily, of who you are. As Dr. Scaer says, “Baptism for Lutherans is more than the sacrament of entrance into the Christian community, but is what being Christian is all about.” Go in peace. You are washed and sanctified in the blood of Jesus. Amen.