Ascension Day Sermon (Confirmation)| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 20, 2007
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” 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 God’s 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 wasn’t 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. That’s it. There’s no dramatic sign from heaven. No dove flying down. No voice speaking out of a cloud. There’s just a minister standing at the baptismal font pouring water over your head, saying your name, and then saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” It doesn’t look like much. Just water making you wet.
But we don’t go by appearances. Baptism is not just water. This water is used by God’s command. It is connected with God’s word. Baptism wasn’t 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 Christ’s 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, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
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 Luther’s Small Catechism is the true teaching of the Bible, which is God’s 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 God’s grace to do that, so you promise that you will go to church to hear the gospel and receive the Lord’s 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 isn’t much to look at. That’s why many people despise it. Some say that God doesn’t 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 shouldn’t be baptized because babies can’t do anything. But they are wrong. Baptism is God’s 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 – as I speak – 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, there’s no denying the authority of God’s law. The Ten Commandments aren’t ten suggestions. We don’t 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 you’re 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 doesn’t 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, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” To be saved is to be rescued. You’re in trouble and you can’t 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 God’s anger. You deserve to be destroyed for your sin. But Jesus has the power to save you. “He that believes and it baptized shall be saved.”
Most people today don’t 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 don’t look for forgiveness because they don’t 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 doesn’t exist. They ignore God’s 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 God’s 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 Christ’s sake. Those who do not believe the gospel do not have the forgiveness that God gives us for Christ’s sake. As Jesus said, “He who does not believe will be condemned.”
He who believes and is baptized will be saved. Jesus shed his blood for them. He now pleads for them at God’s right hand. He will rescue them from the destruction that he will bring upon this world. They can rely on their baptism. It doesn’t look like much. But then, when Jesus was suffering on the cross for us he didn’t look like much. People turned their faces away from him. Don’t 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. There’s 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. You’ll attach your affection to things that will be destroyed and you’ll 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.