- Order of Service: Morning Praise, CW p45
- Lessons: Isaiah 52:7-10, 2 Timothy 4:6-11, 18, Mark 1:1-15
- Hymns: 168, 158, 150
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
We were supposed to have a baptism today. Lennon Coleman was to be brought to the font to be made a child of God. Unfortunately he came down with a contagious virus that his family didn’t want to expose people to. So he’ll be baptized next week. But it would have fit for us to baptize babies when we celebrate the festival of St. Mark, evangelist, the namesake of our church. Mark, who worked with Paul, Barnabas, and Peter, wrote one of the four books we call “Gospels,” that is, good news books. And we call Mark an “evangelist,” that is, someone who tells the good news.
But Mark wasn’t just a teller. He advocated the whole great commission. Remember, Jesus didn’t just say, “Go and tell.” Jesus said, Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them (Matthew 28:19, NIV84). Matthew wrote that, but Mark picked it up in his Gospel, which begins and ends with Baptism. Mark began by introducing us to John, known as the Baptist, or Baptizer. He preached a baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And when Jesus arrives, He has John baptize Him to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15, NIV84). At the end of Mark’s Gospel, He quotes Jesus’ parting words, words almost all of us memorized in catechism, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16, NIV84). Mark the Baptist! This means that we, Christian’s named after this Mark, do the same, we are St. Mark the Baptizers!
That brings us to Lennon Coleman, being brought to our font soon. Many people don’t do, don’t like, or scoff at what we do when we baptize babies like Lennon. Unbelievers, non-Christians, of course, don’t believe what we believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Baptism. We shouldn’t be surprised that what we do they consider incomprehensible or wrong. They have their own rites (including initiation and cleansing rites) and their own beliefs. You would think, though, that no Christian who reads the Bible would have a problem with us baptizing a baby. Yet, many do. Many call what we do here superstitious or presumptuous. “What good,” they ask, “is baptizing a child who’ll never remember that he was baptized and never decided to be baptized? How can he commit his life to Christ?” Or, “Why do you put your faith in water?”
These anti-Baptism attitudes reflect wrong understandings about Baptism, not to mention faith and original sin. Baptism isn’t merely a symbol. Nor is our faith in the water. Scripture tells us that Baptism saves us. As Luther explains plainly in the Catechism, not because we applied some magical water do these things happen, but rather because of God’s promise attached to the water. It is certainly not the water that does such things, but God’s word which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this word used with the water. For without God’s word the water is just plain water and not baptism. But with this word it is baptism. God’s word makes it a washing through which God graciously forgives our sin and grants us rebirth and a new life through the Holy Spirit (Small Catechism, Baptism).
That being said, keep those thoughts in mind as you listen to our sermon text this morning. These words, written by the apostle John, fit so well as we prepare to baptize Lennon, remember our own Baptisms, and remember our namesake, St. Mark. 1 John 3:1-2: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
John doesn’t directly mention Baptism, but he does mention Baptism’s effects when he describes the Father’s lavish love: that we should be called children of God. Through God’s gift of Baptism, now Lennon can say with the family of believers, “I believe in God the Father almighty,” and he can pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Because through Baptism God makes Lennon His child. Now, John says.
What a word that is from John. Dear friends, now we are children of God! When God makes you His, when He gives you faith, whether at a font as in infant, or through the preaching of a pastor or evangelist before you were ever baptized, He makes you His. Now. When you come to faith, you aren’t on probation. He doesn’t give you a trial-faith, and when you achieve six months of faithfulness, or finally burst through and speak in tongues or give up that besetting sin, then He confirms it. Nor is it only in heaven, or at the moment when Christ returns, that you can truly call yourself a child of God. Right now, when you believe in Jesus, God is your Father and you are His child.
Don’t take that for granted. The world does. “Oh, whoopee-ding-dang-dingle, you got some water poured on you. So what? Now you’re a child of God? Wow-wee! What changed?” Consider Lennon. After I baptize him will he suddenly become ten-feet tall? Will he now confess articulately a faith he never had before? Will Lennon never stumble and fall into sin, perhaps even into unbelief again?
Or, put it into the terms John used in his letter. Through chapter two he described the world that surrounds us and the Christian’s life in it. He says that a Christian like Lennon, like all of us here, lives a life of obedience to God’s commands, specifically, not hating your brother. Does Baptism suddenly make that the easiest thing to do in the world? Then John says that baptized Christians do not love the world or anything in the world. Does being baptized suddenly take us away from this world and make us not eager to live in it and of it? John says that we live in the last hour, the world passes ways, and the Antichrist is coming, and not just one, but plural antichrists have come and will come. Does Baptism suddenly make it a piece of cake to deal with all those who set themselves up as, against, in the place of, or opposite Christ?
You know the answers to those questions. Your baptisms didn’t suddenly turn you into perfect little angels. You are saints who still sin. Now you have to do battle with a world, and a sinful nature that scoffs at that sprinkle of water you received and says, “So what? What has God done for you lately?” You have to battle with a voice, or voices, that say, “What’s the big deal about being a child of God?” The big deal is that that’s not just some meaningless title. Being named a child of God changes everything.
Being a child of God means you finally, really, know God. He is the Father, the almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And He is your Father, to whom you can go as a true child and say, “Dad, I need this. Dad, help me with that.” And He does! The sinful world doesn’t know that! The sinful world doesn’t get that! The sinful world doesn’t have that! Neither does the Antichrist or the antichrists that surround us. But you have that, by faith in Christ. You have that now! You have a Father who listens, a Father who cares, a Father who responds, even before you know to ask! You have a Father who lavishes not only that upon you, but His Son and the forgiveness that Son won, as we heard both last week and this week. Your Father gives you the blood of Jesus, that purifies you from sins. And He listens to the risen and ascended Christ speak on your behalf, satisfying His wrath and anger by saying, “I did it. I paid it. I died their death.”
As they say in the game show world, “But that’s not all….” We’re sons now, the Spirit tells us, with more coming, What we will be has not yet been made known. We are children of God. What will we be? Here, perhaps, you find the most frustrating part of the Gospel, and of Baptism. The message of Scripture boils down to “Now…not yet.” Now, through faith, baptized, you are children of God, with all the benefits and privileges that come from that. Well, actually, not all of them. Right now, it’s all been declared, “This is what you are.” But God still holds something in trust for you. What great “not yet” do we wait for now? We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Now you’re a son, then, you shall be like Him, like Christ! Paul revealed a little of that in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Philippians, when he talked about imperishable and incorruptible resurrection bodies transformed to be like Jesus. Jesus did as well, in Luke 16 when He pictured for us Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham, and in Luke 20 when He said that in the resurrection we will be like the angels, that is, immortal. Yet, except for the 40 days when Jesus popped in and out on the disciples, no one has ever seen a resurrection body, what we’ll be when we live, even though we’ve died. Hence John’s “now…not yet.” Now you are children of God. What’s in store hasn’t been fully made known just yet.
Very helpful, that is. It’s easy to denigrate the body and exalt the soul. It’s easy to be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. It’s also easy to be so earthly minded that we ignore heaven. That’s the challenge of the Christian faith, and the challenge of the holy ministry your pastor holds. I want to transfer souls to heaven, and yet that doesn’t happen 24/7. There’s all this earthly work to do. Like baptizing those bodies and reminding people that Jesus died for bodies and souls. He calls us, right now, in these bodies, from oldest to youngest, children of God. You have that now, through faith, the Father’s love that says, “You’re mine!”
As we wrestle with the call to obedience our Father places upon us through both John the Apostle and John the Baptist, as we deal with life in this passing away world and the assaults of antichrists both capital and lowercase “a,” the Holy Spirit comes to us today and says, “Let’s celebrate the resurrection and get ready for the return of Christ!” by rejoicing in the kind of love that God has given us. He calls us His children now, more than that, He made us His children through the blood of Christ poured out upon us in Baptism. He promises us resurrection bodies in the not yet, so that He can say through John, Continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at his coming (1 John 2:28, NIV84). See what sort of love the Father gives you. He makes you His child. He calls you beloved. Now. And into the “not yet.” Amen.