This morning we baptize Jameson Josten. As part of the rite, I read the words of Jesus from Mark, where Jesus begs us to bring little children to Him because the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children by faith.
Then I remind Ben and Jeanne, and all of you of God’s promises about Baptism: “By the power of God’s Word, this gracious water of life washes away sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe.” That’s how Luther put it in the Small Catechism. God’s Word, God’s promise attached to this water makes it more than just water – but Baptism.
We believe that Baptism delivers from death and the devil. That is, Baptism rescues us and saves us. Luther points us to Mark 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” because in Baptism the Holy Spirit renews Jameson and rebirths Him. The Spirit today makes Jameson one of Jesus’ disciples. He gives Jameson a place in the kingdom of God – now God’s kingdom belongs to Jameson. Where, o death, where o devil, is your sting?
Except Jameson has a lot of growing up to do. Lord willing, he has seventy years, eighty if he has the strength, ahead of him. Yet Moses says those years are trouble and sorrow. Paul vouches for that. Writing from prison he talks about being poured out like a drink offering. He’s tired. He’s battled out. He’s at the end of his endurance. Everyone’s abandoned him. He barely escaped the lions. He sits in chains.
That could all easily happen to Jameson, to any of us. For this reason Jesus arms us with His model prayer, in which we say, “Deliver us from evil.” There’s that word again: “deliver.” Baptism delivers us. We ask God, better, tell God (it’s an imperative after all) to deliver us. And today Paul says, “The Lord will rescue [deliver] me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
But Jameson’s Baptism is soon over and done. Is God’s promised now finished? It sure looks like it some days. It’s been months and years since we’ve seen God’s mighty hand, it seems. Think of Israel going centuries between prophets – 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist. In the meantime, they bow under the weight of Greek invaders, Egyptian invaders, Roman invaders. Delivered indeed!
Meanwhile the devil, from whom Baptism delivers us we say, still prowls around like a roaring lion. He throws barrier after barrier up in front of us, as he did for that rich young man we read about. Whether that barrier is wealth and money and the things of this world, our stuff, what we cannot and will not give up in order to love God with all our heart, or that barrier is our self-satisfied pride that sees a job well-enough done when we haven’t been too bad today, or even worse, when we say, “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” there stands the devil chipping away at our faith, at our safety in the kingdom of God so surely placed into our hands at the Baptismal font. We’ve seen him devour enough souls in our family and world. Delivered indeed!
Back in some of the darkest days of the Old Testament, the angel of the LORD, that is, Jesus, appeared to a man named Gideon and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior!” To which Gideon replied, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about….But now the LORD has abandoned us.”
Bold words. Gideon said, “You haven’t delivered me at all.” Ben and Jeanne, Jameson, all of us find ourselves in a position to use these words. This world tempts us to shake our fist at God, to call Him out, to say, “Hey, you haven’t done for me what you did for them!” Where is God the deliverer when He allows a deadbeat dad to murder a young child? Where is this Deliverer when I commit that sin again? Where is this Deliverer when he plants the Tree of Good and Evil in my life and lets the devil whisper sweet nothings in my ear, to which I listen? Where is God the deliverer when I still die? Conveniently, you fail to place any blame or burden on yourself for listening or bringing these things into your life yourself. Only God deserves blame.
We so quickly run away from the promise of God delivered to us in Baptism to some other God who can scratch our itches. It’s the money and goods of that rich young man, that will deliver me. It’s relying on my own life – I’ll pick myself up, I’ll do my best – that will deliver me. It’s turning totally in on myself and ignoring God, ignoring my neighbor, taking care of myself first by whatever means necessary that will deliver me from evil.
No. Paul says, “The Lord will rescue me.” In reply to the disciples asking, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus said, “With man this is impossible.” Moses told Israel, “You didn’t choose God, God chose you. He loved you, not because you’re you, but because He’s God!” Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.”
Trying to save yourself only damns yourself. It’s impossible. You can’t. The enemies are too strong. The devil out-benches you. The world out-benches you. The wretched body of death that is your sinful flesh out-benches you. Only God trumps those things. Hence Paul’s confident future tense: “The Lord will rescue.” “The Lord will bring me safely.”
It begins at the baptismal font. Here God marks Jameson as His child. He adopts Jameson, clothing Jameson with Christ, covering and not counting against him any more Jameson’s very real sin. But God doesn’t stop there. The promises reflected by the certificate I give to Ben and Jeanne remain eternally valid. You learned it in catechism and profess it in the Creed every week.
“I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, etc…. God also preserves me by defending me against all danger, guarding and protecting me from all evil.” Yesterday, today, forever. Not because you’ve earned or deserved it, but because God is a good and merciful Father.
“Jesus Christ…is my Lord.” Not the devil, not the world, Jesus. “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”
“The Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel…and kept me in the true faith…. In this Christian Church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.” To forgive is to rescue and deliver and bring us safely through.
What God says and does once now in Baptism, He repeats daily and fully, fully and daily. “You are mine, I’ve saved you,” He cries out. That petition, “Deliver us from evil,” isn’t spoken by us as a pious hope, “Maybe God could deliver my body or my soul from this. Maybe in my last hour He will grant me a blessed end and remove me from sorrow.” It’s a sure thing, a done deal. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack.” He rescues me from every evil work and deed, whether I work it, the devil works it, or the world works it.
It’s the logic of Paul to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” And so Paul, tired as he is, wiped out from his years of missionary work, the arrests, the beatings, the trials, the knowledge that he’s about to be murdered says, “There is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me.”
It started at Paul’s Baptism, just as it does for Jameson. There God took ownership of Paul, just as He did Jameson today, and all of you on the day of your Baptism. At the font, God united you with Jesus in His death – He killed you. And then He united you with Jesus in His resurrection – He brought you back to life.
He does it daily and fully, fully and daily. Because we still sin much. Jameson hasn’t yet scratched the surface of his sinful potential, but neither has He begun to scratch the surface of the gift of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord. Today God gave Jameson rebirth, new life, faith in Jesus. Tomorrow God will feed Jameson’s faith with the Word, the bread of life, which removes the hunger of sin. Soon, Jameson will receive Jesus’ body and blood and receive again what he received here at the font: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Just as you will when you hear God’s Word, when you eat Christ’s body and blood.
The Lord really does rescue you. At the font. From the pulpit. At His altar. He gives you, literally putting it on you, putting it in your hands, your mouth, you ears, the lifesaver that is Jesus. He takes the blood of Jesus poured out on the cross and pours it over you and in you, clothing you. He takes Jesus body, laid in a tomb, and lays it carefully in your hands and on your tongue. He whispers in your ear: “All things are possible with God.”
All this He did in Christ. For Christ did not escape all the works of evil. He took them on, head-on. He bore them. He endured them. He suffered them. He wore them. For you. Instead of you. Sin, death, hell, devil, world – crushed, destroyed, defeated. By Christ. Now given to you, daily and fully, fully and daily: Word, Water, Meal. All deliver to you what Jesus did for you. All promise you a blessed end, treasure in heaven, a crown of righteousness, safe delivery into the heavenly kingdom.
The Lord really did rescue you. The Lord really does rescue you. The Lord really will rescue you. In Christ, through Christ, because of Christ. To Him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.