Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020 - 1 Peter 3:13-22
St. Peter speaks of Baptism today in crystal clear language, incredibly straightforward. No tricks. No bait and switch. We don’t have to figure out the deeper meaning. “Baptism… now saves you.” It’s easy to understand, plain language speak. And yet, people ignore it. They explain it away. They’ll find an alternative meaning. They’ll do what they can to say, “Baptism doesn’t save you.”
A large number of our Christian brothers and sisters contend that these words, “Baptism… now saves you,” are purely symbolic of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter says that Baptism saves you. Unfortunately, some read that and say, “Now of course he doesn’t mean that Baptism actually saves you, it’s symbolizes a changed life through faith in Christ.” Baptism becomes a commitment. Even though the words – plain as day – say, “Baptism now saves you.” The comfort offered by Scripture – that God saves you through the waters of Holy Baptism – is ripped away from sinners as ferociously as a bandage that won’t let go.
People will argue the same way with the Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Jesus says, “This is my body… This is my blood.” And yet, many Christian brothers and sisters will boldly – and foolishly – declare, “Jesus doesn’t really mean what He says. What He means to say is that the bread and wine represent or symbolize His body and blood.” Incredibly understandable four words each – “This is my body… This is my blood” – just as the four words – “Baptism now saves you” – are denied.
When we hear that Baptism saves us, we should offer our thanks and praise to God. When we hear that the bread and wine are the Lord’s body and blood, we should offer praise and thanks to God. We should receive all of these gifts – not doubting – but firmly believing!
However, a temptation among God’s people ever since sin came into the world, is to trust our own reason over God’s Word. Eve had God’s Word – “don’t ever eat from that tree.” But she rationalizes the command according to her own reasoning. "It looks good, it’s edible, and it apparently will make me wise. I know God said this, but surely, I should eat of the tree. Here Adam, try some of this.” Boom! Sin and death come into the world. We mere mortal creatures think way, way too often that we’re wiser than our eternal Creator. This calls for repentance.
Yet, not only does our human reasoning get in the way of faith in the Word of God, so does peer pressure. My whole life I grew up being told not to give in to peer pressure. Then, when I became an adult, I learned that grownups play the biggest peer pressure games of all! As a result, Christians struggle with the plain words of Scripture as culture and popular opinion changes. And that changes all the time. What’s in vogue now, won’t be five years from now, maybe not even one year from now.
God's Word teaches us that God spoke creation into existence over the span of six days. But that’s not what the culture says! So Christians are tempted to do some rationalizing, reinterpreting by human reason. People will explain away or find alternative meanings to words that are so, so simple and straightforward. What does one do when they finish reading Genesis and get to the book of Exodus? Will they realize, “Oh wait, God centers the Sabbath Day directly on the seventh day of creation itself. Maybe I ought to believe the plain meaning of the words”?
Culture and opinion absolutely hates what God’s Word says about pastors. Through the Apostle Paul, God says that in all the churches, as a command of the Lord, certain men and only certain men are called to be pastors, and sometimes those men would have never guessed they’d ever be called as pastors. Today – this same Paul whom Jesus Christ personally called to be an apostle – is considered unloving, sexist, and out of touch with the times. Those who listen to what he says as an apostle of Christ Jesus are labeled in the same way. And many people – many Christians – ignore what God says as they march right along with popular opinion.
What part of God’s Word do you struggle with? What part of Scripture are you tempted to ignore, reinterpret, or find an alternative meaning? Where does Scripture conflict with your own reasoning? Where are you tempted to follow the crowd rather than keep and cherish Jesus’ commandments? Where do you have difficulty listening to God?
Maybe it’s one of the above. Maybe it’s what God commands about marriage, divorce, or the relationship between husband and wife. Maybe it’s what God commands about loving your neighbor as yourself – even your enemies. Perhaps you struggle with God’s command to obey those in authority over you when you think you know better. And maybe you do! Perhaps you struggle with any number of things. As sinners, every single one of us struggles to perfectly keep and cherish God’s Word in its entirety. Even so, the Holy Spirit calls us by God’s Word to believe it for our salvation through faith in Christ and in leading godly lives in accordance with that same Word.
Peter writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to [the salvation of Noah and his family in the ark], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.”
This is a comforting Word of promise. Baptism relates to the time God drowned the world through the flood, and saved Noah’s family through the destructive waters by means of the ark. The ark didn’t symbolically save Noah’s family. They actually were saved by means of the ark as they rode out the mighty waters. God delivered Noah’s family from the judgment of the flood through the means of the ark. Baptism corresponds to that.
God has saved you through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. The water all by itself is plain water. There’s no doubt about that. When to this plain water is added God’s Word, the water becomes – Baptism – a means of salvation. It doesn’t wash dirt from the body. That’s not even the problem. Baptism washes our hearts of sin that taints us so thoroughly. It’s an appeal to God for a good conscience, so that through this Baptism into Christ, we may approach the throne of grace.
Baptism isn’t an ordinary bath. It’s not symbolic of salvation. Through Baptism, God works in the life of a sinner. He buries you with Christ and raises you with Christ to new life in Him. He clothes you with Christ. He regenerates and renews you by the Holy Spirit whom He pours out on you generously through the waters of Baptism. He cleanses your conscience of sin as you trust the forgiveness of sins for you through Christ Jesus our Lord. In working all this, God rescues you from death and the devil.
Baptism saves you, for the Holy Spirit connects you to absolutely everything Jesus did for your salvation, so that you may share in His life and righteousness.
When the devil, the world, your sinful nature, and even death itself tempt you away from Christ Jesus, you can say “I am baptized into Christ. I’m His.” This is most certainly true. Amen.