The Festival of the Holy Trinity, 2013
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
May 26, 2013
Central Passage
John 3:1-15
On the occasion of the baptism of Halle Jo Baird

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We learn from the Small Catechism, from Scripture itself, that baptism is not just plain water. It is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. Baptism isn’t a simple ritual, an age-old rite of passage. It is a heavenly bath as St. Paul teaches in Titus chapter three: “He saved us by the washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Why did He wash us, pouring out His Holy Spirit on us? “So that we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-5)

Little Halle is washed by God. As St. Peter preaches in Acts chapter two, she has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for her and all the Lord calls to Himself. This means that she has been born again, born from on high. She has been born of the Spirit.

So, yes, Lutherans, you are born again believers. In fact, there’s no other kind. For unless one is born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.

But there is all manner of confusion among the different denominations and churches about baptism and being born again and pretty much all things pertaining to salvation and godliness. Some say that being born again is a matter of the heart and has nothing to do with baptism. Other say that baptism is merely an outward sign of an inward condition. Still others claim that there are two baptisms, one of water to show our commitment to God and one of the Spirit to show that we really are believers.

But let us be good disciples of Christ, good students and learners. Let’s hear what He says about baptism and what it is and what it does. Not merely by quoting Bible verses, an exercise that yields very little fruit since many quote the same things but attach different meanings. Instead, let’s look at the whole work of God for the salvation of men.

In His infinite council, God the Father sent forth the Son to redeem man from sin, death, and the power of the devil, by being crucified and killed as a sinner – though He was just and innocent – and by being raised to life as a testament to His innocence. Then, having been raised from the dead, this Jesus who was crucified ascended to the right hand of God where He fills all things and gives gifts to men, sending the Holy Spirit to enlighten and save those for whom He died and rose again, and that are given to Him by the Father.

And those to whom He gives the Spirit, they are children of God. They are born of God, not by the blood or will of men, but by the blood and will of God. The Spirit gives birth to spirit.

The Christian life is not about advancing in morality or becoming a better and better person, though certainly we might pray for such a thing. Rather, the Christian life is living life in the waters of holy baptism. For we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. But it is not merely that we do things called “sin” but that we are sinners because we are born of a sinner, Adam. You’re not an American because you do American things. You’re American because you were born an American. Either by birth or by naturalization, but either way, being a citizen of the United States isn’t about what you do or don’t do, it’s about being born in or you might say, by, America.

So it is with sinners. You’re not a sinner because you do sinful things. You do sinful things because you are a sinner. For flesh gives birth to flesh.

But you are also a saint, a holy one. For you are born again by the Holy Spirit. So you have this law at work within you: when you want to do good, evil is right there fighting against you. And the good that you would do you don’t do, and the evil you don’t want to do, you find yourself doing it over and over again! Who will save you from this body of death?

Christ Jesus our Lord, that’s who. He saves you by washing you with His Spirit, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clean conscience by the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 3:21) who has gone into heaven before you and who is Lord of heaven and earth.

And this same Jesus who is the crucified one, who is risen from the dead and reigns over all things seen and unseen, who is Lord and Master, this same Jesus now brings you into the heavenly places were He feeds you spiritual food and speaks to you spiritual words, having washed you with spiritual water. And who sends forth the Spirit that proceeds from the Father to gather His people together to bless you with His benediction and to keep you firm in His word and faith until you die.

The baptized are not those who have succumbed to some ancient ritual or superstition, they are those who have been washed of God, chosen to be bearers of His Spirit, called to be holy ones amid a world of unholy things; a people of His own choosing made ready for the resurrection on the Last Day when both the Lord Jesus and His holy ones will be made manifest before the whole world, giving glory to God the Father.

This holy gathering, made holy by the Holy Spirit who gathers us by the gospel, this holy gathering isn’t a gathering of mere men, women, and children who want to please God or who think they have to go to church to be a Christian. This holy gathering is the kingdom of God seen by those who are born of the Spirit.

+ In Nomine Iesu +