Baptism; Sanctification; Theology of the Cross; Isaiah 30:8-18; Romans 6:1-11; Luke 12:35-50; Galatians 2:20
Our New Life’s Resolution!
New Year’s Eve Morning, December 31, 2006
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ…AMEN! Our text this morning comes to us from Paul’s letter to Galatians, in the 2nd Chapter: “I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It has been provided for you in your bulletin as a “New Life’s Resolution; more on that latter.
Introduction: There is a battle wagging within each of us this morning, but it is a battle that has already been decided. I am speaking of the battle between the “new” you and the “old” you. As I just stated, the battle has already been won and the “old” you, that is your sinful nature has been destroyed, crucified upon the cross with Jesus Christ and drowned in the Baptismal font, the problem is of course the old you doesn’t know he’s been beat. He still works to have his own way. This morning we will look at this battle a little closer, and to do that we will use all three of our scripture readings. Together we will discover three things: 1. How similar we are today to the faithful Jews of Isaiah’s time. 2. How to use our Baptism as a source of hope for overcoming our fears that God is not with us. (And) 3. How our Savior’s Words “empower” us to overcome the things of this world that seek to separate us from living out our Baptismal grace.
I. Our Old Testament lesson is often referred to as part of Isaiah’s sermon of woe. He delivered it sometime in the latter part of the 8th century B.C. God gave these words to Isaiah as a warning to the still faithful Jews who remained in Judah, but Isaiah was also giving these words directly to his friend Hezekiah, the king of Judah. Hezekiah was a good king; he was a good man. He loved the Lord and he loved the Lord’s people. He was not like his father, King Ahaz who was an evil man who did not follow the Lord but instead followed the ways of the world. Yes, history and in fact the Bible (2nd Chronicles) would record Hezekiah as a good leader, with perhaps one major fault; Hezekiah like so many of the faithful Jews of that day struggled on and off with the same problem: They lacked trust in God’s faithfulness.
During the time Isaiah delivered his sermon, Israel had already been divided into two kingdoms. While both kingdoms were part of the nation of Israel, they were divided into the northern kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom called Judah. King Hezekiah, who led the kingdom of Judah, struggled to continue following God’s will and the advice of His prophets. But through political pressure and against God’s instruction Hezekiah chose to strike a deal with the King Babylon in order to secure his kingdom. King Hezekiah against God’s counsel trusted worldly power instead of God’s presence. We might say that an enemy within hoodwinked Hezekiah. It was this “lack of trust in God” that would eventually cost Israel and Judah sovereignty over both of their kingdoms. Israel was the first to fall. They had been conquered and exiled into Assyria as slaves, and now God through the prophet Isaiah had pronounced that Judah would soon suffer the same fate and be exiled into Babylon. Remember, Hezekiah did in fact love the Lord. He repented of his sin, but alas, the damage had been done. God’s pronouncement of the consequence of their sin would not be reversed. But God promised his people that He would still be with them to love watch over them.
In response to this prophecy of doom for Judah, many of the people began to conspire in regaining their kingdom, by creating an unholy alliance with their former slave masters, the Egyptians. It is within this environment that God now speaks to Hezekiah and his people through the prophet Isaiah: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (v. 15)
Perhaps when we look at King Hezekiah, we realize that we aren’t that much different from him. We too at times struggle with following God in trust. Why does this lack of trust in God seem to be so universal? Why do people of all generations seem to prefer trusting in the security of this world, instead of their Creator? Is it the fault of the devil? No; while the devil certainly hopes that we will loose faith in God, it is not his fault. Is it the fault of the sinful culture that surrounds us? No, while the culture around us is in many ways completely against us, it is not our cultures fault. But rather, like King Hezekiah, the fault lies with the strength of our old sinful nature.
ILLUST: Many years ago the Pogo cartoon character made a statement that revealed the real cause of human problems. He said, “We have found the enemy and he is us!” I would change that somewhat and say that, “We have found the enemy and he is within us!” It is the nature of our old sinful self to quickly blame the devil or someone else for all of life’s problems. We continue to beat our heads against an imaginary wall fighting a secondary enemy while the real enemy is within. We still carry with us that old man or woman who is self-satisfied, self-centered and self-sufficient. Since the beginning it’s been this way. Adam blamed Eve for his sin (Gen. 3:13), but his problem was with himself. Eve accused the serpent for causing her sin (Gen. 3:12) but her enemy was her own desire. Sin originated within them and sin continues today because people refuse to let go of their selfish desires. This is why Jesus once said that in order to find ourselves, we must first lose ourselves (Matt. 10:39). Yet, many of us still struggle with our old sinful self.
You have probably heard someone say, “I never had any problems until I met him (or her),” or “I don’t have any problems when people just leave me alone.” What they say is true because a person who is around only himself has no rivals. So what are we to do? In the past, some thought that completely removing themselves from others and this sinful world was the answer, so they withdrew from society and became hermits, monks and nuns. But scripture says that we are to be the salt and light of this world. God says that we must be in the world but not of it.
TRANSITION: There is a sound biblical solution to this apparent conundrum caused by our old sin self-centeredness, and it is a solution that most of you already have been given—Holy Baptism!
We all know that Baptism is what washes away our sin, on account of what Christ has done for us. We are sinners in need of this heart-cleansing bath. We are always in need of this washing, without it our hearts are blackened by sin; the sin we are born with and the sin we commit. We need this washing everyday because we sin every day, and without it we deserve nothing but punishment (Fifth Petition). Our original sin comes from our first parents, Adam and Eve. We carry their genes. We carry their sin, but we carry our own sin as well. Because of this then, our sinful nature needs this washing. More than that it needs to be drowned!
II. In verse 6 of our Epistle lesson, Paul said, “our old self was crucified with (Jesus) so that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
As good Lutheran’s, undoubtedly you can repeat the familiar phrase from our catechism that says, “This is most certainly true!” So here is a question for us: Are we still fighting the enemy with? Paul would tell us yes! Listen to his words found latter in this same epistle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate (to do) I do. (Rom. 7:15) Paul latter pronounces judgment upon his old sinful self and hope for his new self: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25) Thanks be to God indeed—for through our Baptism we have been washed clean and declared righteous through Jesus Christ, but are we living this truth? Yes, if we are trusting in the hope proclaimed in verse 11 of our epistle reading: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You see friends, it is within the promises of Baptism that God assures us that He is still with us, even as we fight and sometimes lose the on-going battle with our old sinful nature. He is with us to teach us to remember that our old self, that selfish sinful nature was crucified with Him upon the cross, but our old sinful nature never goes down without a fight! We continue to sin against God and our neighbor in thought, word and deed. Our old self is a godless person who needs to be killed every day. That is why we must daily confess our sins, and repent of them. Repentance is nothing more than living out the Gospel hope found within the sweet words of absolution, which you heard proclaimed this morning. You are forgiven for Christ’s sake and His sake alone, forgiven of all of your sins! You are forgiven because our Lord willingly placed Himself under our curse. He paid our price. He died our death, and we are baptized into His death and His resurrection! And now he calls out to our new self, the one who rose from the waters of Baptism when the old self was drowned, and he says, “Follow me and walk in the newness of eternal life. Follow me and walk where I have walked and live as I have lived.”
TRANSITION: In our “New Life’s Resolution” statement, St. Paul testifies as to how we can life the life that Jesus lived: “I am crucified with Christ. That person no longer lives, but it is Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” What Paul is saying is that as we walk according to the new nature, which is Christ living within us, we choose to daily sacrifice our old selfish nature, and allow the nature of our Lord to lead us.
III. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “Stay dressed for action (or be alert and ready).” This is simply the same message that God gave to the children of Israel when he said, “Be Holy, because I AM holy.” Jesus is encouraging us to live out the reality of our Baptism; to confess our sin and repent of it. But what Jesus adds next can perhaps be called putting our confession into action; He says, “Keep your lamps burning and be like men waiting for their master to come home.” Martin Luther taught that what Jesus meant by “keeping our Lamps burning” was that we must add acts of love to our Holy living. Acts of love are always sacrificial; they deny the old sinful self-centered nature and embrace the new Christ-like nature by putting God and our neighbor’s needs above our own. For example, let’s say that we have decided to live a more simple life and faithfully attend church and regularly read and study God’s word; these are good things, but Jesus says that we should also add to our holy living good works, which allow Jesus to work within us. These works will always be sacrificial in nature, because they are led by Christ’s nature within us. When we do this, the Lord is saying that we are living a life alert to God’s presence and we are prepared for action, or doing good.
In our Christian walk there is always a cross—always a sacrifice. Christ died on the cross and those of us who are baptized into death with Him must willingly put our old nature to death as well. As part of our cross is included even the most trivial of difficulties; included are every day chores where we are shown ways to put God and others ahead of ourselves. When a husband decides to miss the Sunday ball game to take his wife shopping (without complaint), he is allowing Christ to live within him. When a mother tends to he children, which interferes with sleep and enjoyment she is allowing Christ to live within her. When there is fairness in government and commerce and hard faithful work in labor displayed in the life of a Christian, then Christ is living and serving us in this world. All of these things and much more must be considered our sacrifice as we walk the way of the cross with Jesus. We do these things not so we may earn salvation, but because of the fact that we have salvation! We do not do these things to earn a reward, but because we have already been told what our reward is. Did you catch that part in our Gospel reading? Our Lord says to us this morning: “Blessed are those servants whom their master finds awake (living according to their new nature) when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at (His) table, and he will come and serve them.” Jesus will serve us more of His grace and mercy.
- \\ CONCLUSION: *King Hezekiah learned finally how to silence the enemy within him. By allowing God’s Word to fill him with faith, he learned to trust God. May we be resolved to experience the very same thing, with God’s Spirit working within us and equipping us to live out our Baptismal hope as He lives within us! To this hope we say “Come Lord Jesus, come!” ….AMEN!
(Stand and read the New Life Resolution)