Ascension Day Sermon (Confirmation)
May 20, 2007
ďHe who believes and is baptized will be saved.Ē Mark 16:16
After Jesus rose from the dead
he showed his disciples infallible proof that he was alive.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is documented
history. Jesus rose bodily
from the dead. For forty
days he appeared to his disciples.
He continued to teach them so that they could teach others.
He instituted Holy Baptism.
He gave to his church the office of the keys with the authority
to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain the sins of the
impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent.
He opened up the Holy Scriptures to them so that they could
understand it. Then, on the
fortieth day, Jesus ascended into heaven.
He ascended until a cloud hid him from their sight.
Then he sat down at the right hand of God the Father.
We cannot see him.
One would assume that if we
cannot see Jesus he is not here. But
he is here. In fact, Jesus ascended into heaven in order to remain with
his church on earth. St.
Paul tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven in order to fill all
things. You cannot confine
Jesus to this or that geographical location.
You cannot find the right hand of God on a map.
Jesus ascended into heaven to assume his full authority as the
Son of God.
For thirty three years he had
humbled himself. He did not
always exercise the power he had. He
hid his almighty power under the form of weakness.
Even though he was the almighty God, he chose to suffer as a man.
He chose to suffer for us.
In suffering and dying for our sins he would take the burden of
guilt off of us. By
receiving the punishment for our sins he removed that punishment from
us. But this would require that he set aside the use of his
power. When the devil
tempted him to turn stones into bread he refused to do so.
He had the power to do so. When
the crowd mocked him on the cross and taunted him, telling him to come
down from the cross, he had the power to do so.
But Jesus deliberately chose not to do what he had the power to
do. He chose to become the
obedient servant of God. He
humbled himself all the way to death.
In this way he destroyed the power of death.
He rose from the dead.
He ascended into heaven. He
assumed all authority in heaven and on this earth. He governs all things for the benefit of his holy Christian
Church. He sits at Godís
right hand. This means he
exercises the same power and authority as God the Father.
And he does so as our brother, for he is both true God and true
man. He rules over all
things. All things are
under his authority. There
is nothing beyond his power, and whatever needs doing for us he does
without fail. He is equal to the Father in power, glory, and authority.
He baptized us.
No, it wasnít his hand that held the water or his mouth that
spoke the words, but he baptized us.
When a minister of Christ pours water over our head, calls us by
name and joins our name to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost, it is Jesus Christ himself who is baptizing us.
It looks, feels, and acts like simple water.
It gets you wet. Thatís
it. Thereís no dramatic
sign from heaven. No dove
flying down. No voice
speaking out of a cloud. Thereís
just a minister standing at the baptismal font pouring water over your
head, saying your name, and then saying, ďI baptize you in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.Ē
It doesnít look like much.
Just water making you wet.
But we donít go by
appearances. Baptism is not just water.
This water is used by Godís command.
It is connected with Godís word.
Baptism wasnít just get you wet.
It washes away your sins. It
delivers you from death by joining you to the death and resurrection of
Jesus. It gives you
Christís victory over the devil.
The water of your baptism is joined to the blood Jesus shed on
Calvary. This is how baptism saves you.
Make no mistake. Jesus
is the one who claims that baptism saves us.
He says, ďHe who believes and is baptized will be saved.Ē
Today you confirm your baptism. You publicly say with your own voices what was previously
said by others. You
renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.
You confess your faith in the true God: the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit. You
confess that the teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as you have
learned to know it from Lutherís Small Catechism is the true teaching
of the Bible, which is Godís holy word.
You say that it is your intent to keep on confessing the truth
you have been taught until the day you die.
You promise to be faithful Christians.
You will need Godís grace to do that, so you promise that you
will go to church to hear the gospel and receive the Lordís Supper.
You need what God gave you in Holy Baptism.
Today you confess that you want and you need what you received
years ago when you were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism isnít much to look at. Thatís why many people despise it. Some say that God doesnít give you anything at all when you
are baptized. They claim
that baptism is something that we do to show others that we are
Christians. Since they make
baptism into a human work they say that babies shouldnít be baptized
because babies canít do anything.
But they are wrong. Baptism
is Godís work. To despise
baptism is to despise God Himself.
He has attached his promise to this sacred sign.
In so doing the sign gives what it signifies.
This means that baptism not only signifies the washing away of
sin. Baptism washes away
sin. Jesus blood cleanses
us from all sin, and Jesus even now Ė as I speak Ė is ruling over
the whole world for the sake of those whom he has baptized and made into
the children of God.
The one who controls the
weather, keeps the earth rotating on its axis, raises up nations and
brings them down to destruction is the one who came into your life when
you were baptized and made his home in you.
He has authority in your life.
For many, authority is a
threatening word. They
think of the authority to lay down the law and punish people for
disobeying it. Well,
thereís no denying the authority of Godís law.
The Ten Commandments arenít ten suggestions.
We donít make our own rules.
God is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong since
God is the one who is always right and when he defines good and evil his
definition stands. When
youíre fourteen, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-two, thirty-five, fifty,
eighty, and ninety years old you are being bombarded by all sorts of
false notions about authority. The
fact that God has claimed us and we have claimed him and we are joined
to him by our baptism doesnít change the fact that within us there is
a desire to rebel against everything God tells us to do.
The whole notion of authority strikes our rebellious hearts as an
unfair imposition. And
while we love the law when it tells our neighbor he is wrong to do what
he does against us, we resent the law when it tells us what we have done
wrong against our neighbor. So
authority is not always the most welcome idea.
But there is another authority
and Jesus has it. It is the
authority to save. Jesus
promises, ďHe who believes and is baptized will be saved.Ē
To be saved is to be rescued.
Youíre in trouble and you canít get yourself out of it.
Jesus rescues you. He
delivers you. He saves you
from your trouble. You got
yourself into it by sinning against God.
You brought upon yourself Godís anger.
You deserve to be destroyed for your sin.
But Jesus has the power to save you.
ďHe that believes and it baptized shall be saved.Ē
Most people today donít
believe that they need to be saved.
If you talk about sin they make light of it.
They point to others who are worse than they are.
When the law of God accuses them they make excuses for what they
do wrong but they refuse to repent.
They think that whatever makes them unhappy is wrong and whatever
makes them happy must be good. They
look to themselves instead of to God to decide what is right and what is
wrong. They donít look
for forgiveness because they donít think they need it.
They are fools. They
assume that God does not care what they do or say or think.
They are wrong. And
so they live as if God doesnít exist.
They ignore Godís law and they do not confess their sins.
They think that by ignoring their guilt it will go away.
They do not believe the gospel.
It is not good news for them.
According to Jesus they will be condemned. They will go to hell. They
will never find peace with God and they will suffer Godís anger
forever. They will not go
to hell because God did not love them.
They will not go to hell because Jesus did not die for them.
They will go to hell because they did not believe the gospel.
The gospel is the good news that God forgives us all our sins for
Christís sake. Those who
do not believe the gospel do not have the forgiveness that God gives us
for Christís sake. As
Jesus said, ďHe who does not believe will be condemned.Ē
He who believes and is baptized
will be saved. Jesus shed
his blood for them. He now
pleads for them at Godís right hand.
He will rescue them from the destruction that he will bring upon
this world. They can rely on their baptism.
It doesnít look like much.
But then, when Jesus was suffering on the cross for us he
didnít look like much. People
turned their faces away from him. Donít
judge your baptism or the Savior who has baptized you by appearances. He has made you wealthy in the waters of your baptism.
He has rescued you from every evil and has made you a child of
heaven. Every day you live
in this world you live as a citizen of another country.
Jesus has ascended to where you will be.
There is so much in this world
that captures our affections. But
there is nothing in this world that cannot be destroyed.
Only a fool will trust in what can be destroyed.
Fires, floods, thieves, rust, and a host of other destructive
agents can and will destroy everything we have in this life except the
gifts Christ gives us in Holy Baptism.
The God who loves us, washes us clean of every sin, joins himself
to us, and rescues us from every evil is the God who watches as the fire
and the flood destroy what we love so very much.
Thereís a place up on the Canadian shore of Gunflint Lake.
I have loved that place more than any other place in the world.
Nowhere on earth is more of a home to me.
Eight years ago God sent a wind that blew down most of the
beautiful pine forest where our cabins were. Just a couple of weeks ago
God sent a fire that burned everything to the ground.
Who is this God who sent the wind storm, and then the drought,
and then the fire? Who is
this God who destroyed what we loved so very much?
He is the God who baptized me and made me his child.
He is the God who governs the whole world for the sake of his
children. He is the God who
loves me more than I can know. He
gives and he takes away. You
will lose things you love in this life.
Youíll attach your affection to things that will be destroyed
and youíll be powerless to stop it.
But what God gives you in Holy
Baptism no power on earth can take away.
He that believes and is baptized will be saved.
So says Jesus. The
whole world will be destroyed. But
you will not be destroyed. Everything
that promised such pleasure will turn bitter and be gone.
But Christ your Savior will remain.
He will remain faithful to you.
He will continue to forgive you your sins.
His baptism will keep on washing away your sins.
As you listen to his gospel, eat and drink his body and blood,
and believe the words he speaks to you, he will deliver you.
He will save you. He
will give you the desire for heaven and then he will fulfill what you
desire. He will join you to
himself in heaven. He will
hear and answer all your prayers. He
who believes and is baptized will be saved.
Grant this Lord, unto us all.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus