IN NOMINE JESU
As Lutherans, we have long been known as the “singing Church.” As Lutherans, we have a great treasure in our hymnody. As Lutherans, we sing of God’s grace, His love for us in Christ. As Lutherans, we sing these hymns based on the Word of God. Our hymnody dates all the way back to the Psalms, some four millennia. All through the history of the Church, the people of God have sung psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing of God’s love toward us, His grace given to us. Once in a while, we sing a hymn that has appeared in all four English-language hymnals that have been used in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod since 1912. It’s an 18th-century hymn: “By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless…” (LSB 566:1). And what exactly is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved love toward us. In other words, we don’t deserve God’s love, but He loves us, anyway. And what is meant by “free,” as it pertains to grace? This means we don’t do anything to earn God’s love; in fact, we CAN’T do anything to earn His love. God loves us unconditionally. Simply put, God loves you, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it! Martin Luther teaches us that, even when it comes to God blessing us with His First-Article-and-Fourth-Petition gifts, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in” us. If God is willing to bless us so richly with the earthly things, how much more does He want to bless us with higher things—the gifts He gives us in His Word and Sacraments? More than we can ever being to think or imagine, thanks be to God!
With God’s grace comes His forgiveness—His Holy Absolution. God, out of His love for us for His Son’s sake, forgives our sins; He absolves us. He absolved us at the beginning of Divine Service this morning, and His absolution is absolute. God has forgiven us completely and totally, and, as He tells us in Jeremiah 34, He forgets our sins once He forgives them; He wipes our slates clean. Does this mean, then, that He gives us a blank check—a license—to sin? Does this mean we may keep on sinning, firmly convinced that God will forgive us, regardless? Or, as St. Paul put it, as moved by the Holy Spirit: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1). He answers immediately by saying, “Certainly not!” Some translations have him saying, “By no means!”, “May it never be!”, or even “God forbid!” This is Paul’s “holy ‘heck-no!’” He, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, uses his divine call to tell us to not go out and sin, turning God’s free grace into cheap grace, cheapening this free gift by abusing it. We do great peril to our souls when we, as sinners—AND as the Church!—render His gift worthless through our actions, or lack of them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an early 20th-century German Lutheran pastor, said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves” means that we justify our own sinful behavior. We tell ourselves we’re not such bad people. In fact, we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that we’re actually pretty good people and that, as a result, God can overlook what we do. We’re good people, the televangelists and modern theologians tell us; we just make some bad decisions. We don’t think positive thoughts all the time, and that’s why some bad things happen to us, they say, selling us their venom—their poison—that kills our souls. For us to justify our own sinful behavior is to put ourselves in the place of God, breaking the First Commandment. We want to BE like God, just like Adam and Eve wanted to be like Him after listening to and believing the serpent’s lies. Through their sin, sin entered the world and is here to this day. In fact, it’s right here in my heart; it’s in your hearts, too. The Old Adam is in each and every one of us. We confessed this reality this morning as we each said to God, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment” (LSB 184). We can’t escape our sinfulness; it’s a part of us sinners, for “[i]f we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …If we say that we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1: 8, 10). And if God’s Word is not in us, this means we have separated ourselves from Him, and hell is our being separated from Him eternally. Woe to us when we deny our sinfulness! Woe to those churches and pastors who refuse to call out their members’ sins for what they are and who refuse to call them to repentance! And may God have mercy on me when I fail! Our Old Adam needs to die so that we would be spared this condemnation and live with our Lord forever. But how can we do this? How can we who are dying live?
The answer is simple: Remember your Baptism. Remember WHO you are as well as WHOSE you are! Remember that you are sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ! You belong to Him! You are children of the heavenly Father, and no one can snatch you out of your Father’s hand! Though the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature attack you daily, your Baptism is stronger and more powerful than anything that unholy triad can muster. Remember your Baptism each day by confessing your sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. Your Lord graciously invites you to live your Baptism each and every day. In fact, He has taught you to do so when He teaches you to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.” Your Lord calls you to repentance so that your heavenly Father would forgive you for His Son’s sake. The Lord does not desire the death of the sinner, except in the daily confession and forgiveness of sins, when He brings the new man to life. He who has killed the Old Adam in you at the font and in the confession of sins has raised the new creation at the same font and in the forgiveness of sins, for your God is a God of life and of love, with a love so deep that He sent His own Son, Jesus, into the world to become baptized into His own death, the death into which you became baptized. St. Paul reminds us in our text: "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (vv. 3-4). Christ became baptized into His own death for you, placing His human nature under the curse of the Law for you, tasting eternal condemnation so that you would not have to. He gave His body and shed His blood on the cross, washing you clean with His blood, for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin—the same body and blood He gives you in His Supper for your forgiveness. On the cross Jesus tasted eternal condemnation for you so that at His Table you would taste eternal life, the fulfillment of your Baptism. This is God’s grace given to you in its most personal form.
Your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has lovingly, willingly, and willfully gone from the Jordan River to Calvary's cross to die for your sins. You see, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25b-27). In the words of one of our Easter hymns we confess: Death’s flood has lost its chill Since Jesus crossed the river; Lover of souls, from ill My passing soul deliver: Had Christ who once was slain, Not burst His three-day prison, Our faith had been in vain: But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen; But now has Christ arisen! [LSB 482:2, refrain]
Since Christ has risen from the dead, you are baptized not only into His death, but you are baptized into His resurrection! His victory over sin, death, and hell is yours as well! As Paul writes in our text: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 8-11). In Baptism your Old Adam dies, even as on the cross Christ Himself died. You, the new creation, lives, for He lives and reigns to all eternity. Your Lord gives you what you need to live in His Word and Sacraments, as He has given His bride, the Church, the charge to administer. She births and washes you through Holy Baptism, continues to wash you through Holy Absolution, feeds you with every word from the mouth of God through His spoken Word and with the body and blood of her Bridegroom. Our Lord does not desire that you suffer or live as orphans, for He has given you to be part of His bride, the Church, until He comes again to gather us to Himself in heaven. That’s where God’s grace will take you, me, and all who believe in and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior because, in Holy Baptism, God has claimed you as His own, as His child. Remember your Baptism! Remember WHO you are as well as WHOSE you are! Remember that you are sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ and children of the heavenly Father by the grace of God—thanks be to God! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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