The season of Easter could be called the season of Baptism. In the early church, the catechumens would be baptized at the Easter Vigil – midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The resurrection of the Lord is the source of Baptism’s power and comfort. We are baptized into Jesus death, and raised again to a new life in him. The Epistle readings throughout the season of Easter talk about this new baptismal life– how we no longer live according to our old manner of living. Instead we live according to the life of the Spirit which Christ has given us in Holy Baptism. In the Small Catechism, we teach the children “Baptizing with water indicates that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and again a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” In the Easter Epistle, Paul talks about getting rid of the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, and to live as unleavened – that is righteous and without sin. When we talk about Baptism we aren’t talking about some ritual we do because God said so. We aren’t talking about some magic trick that suddenly makes our lives easy and our salvation simple. We are talking about being crucified with Jesus. That’s death talk. Death is never easy. Crucifixion makes sure it is painful and drawn out. But in Baptism we are also raised with Christ. Death is hard. Resurrection is impossible. That’s why Baptism is such a great miracle. Because we are given Jesus resurrection as our own. This is too much for human reason. We can’t figure it out. We can only receive the promise by faith.
It’s so incredible, that without being fed and nurtured in this word week after week, out sinful nature isn’t able to keep up with the promises of God. Too soon, we fall away – our faith withering. That’s why we return to be fed and strengthened each week. And why we say that Baptism isn’t some strange ritual unconnected from us – as if it’s just a matter of obedience or of doing the right incantation at the right time. Baptismis the source of our life. It is what sustains us on our pilgrimage through this world. And it makes our lives radically different than they were before. If not for the gift of Jesus given in Baptism, we would be lost, living hopeless and meaningless lives of desperation just like the rest of the world. Instead, we are redeemed and pulled out of this world, joined to the cross of Jesus and to his death, and we now live lives of resurrection joy, even in the midst of sorrow and sadness.
And this world knows how to bring us sorrow and sadness. Even the disciples were almost overcome. Jesus told them last week “You will weep and lament and the world will rejoice.” And that’s just what happened. Peter wept bitterly, the disciples locked themselves away for fear. This week Jesus says “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” The disciples were distraught at the news of what was coming. They didn’t understand it all, but they knew it wasn’t going to be good. It’s Jesus who says, “Actually, all these things are for your good. If I don’t go away, no death on the cross, no redemption, no raised the third day, no breaking the power of death. And even if after that I stayed and walked with you forever, then no Holy Spirit being sent to you, no church exploding across the world, beginning in Jerusalem, and Judea, and then Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. None of that happens if I don’t return to the Father. It has to happen – even though you are grieved – it has to happen just this way so that you can be given all the gifts, all the blessings God has planned for you, so that the church can continue to grow and do its work throughout the world, not just here where I am one day then over there the next, but preaching the Gospel in every town and city and province and nation, constantly having sinners torn from Satan, having them restored to the Father as his children, so that they would live holy and righteous lives in the Lord.
In spite of the difficulty from the disciples point of view, everything is for their good. First and foremost – his death. The most severe going away. The one when the disciples will lose just about all their hope, when their faith will be tried most severely, and they will be found wanting. We’ve heard over and over they couldn’t piece it together on their own. That’s a sort of secondary theme starting before Holy Week, and continuing through Pentecost. Because it drives us to through Easter to Pentecost – the 50th day. Today we have the first promise of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit to enlighten our hearts, they remain darkened. Without the Spirit giving us faith in the promise, we can’t believe the promise. Without the spirit creating in us new and cleansed hearts of flesh, we end up with hearts of stone that are dead to the word and promise of God. On our own we can not love God, we can not trust him. We can not fulfill even the first commandment. It’s not only that we are dead in our sins him, it’s that he is dead to us. We can not approach on our own. We need the Spirit to make our hearts alive again.
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. This is such good news for us. The Spirit enlightens our hearts so that we would receive the promised salvation in Jesus. Without the Spirit we are dead. Dead in our sins. Dead to Christ. Dead to God. We can’t revive ourselves. The Spirit makes us alive in Christ. He gives us faith to believe the promise of salvation. That’s what James is talking about in the Epistle – the implanted word which is able to save our souls. This is the work of the Spirit. He works through the word preached. Through the gifts given in the church to bring us the salvation of the Lord. The word is planted in our hearts, and when the Spirit gives growth, it sprouts, and grows, and produces much fruit. By the power of the Spirit, working through the word, we are brought to faith.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. He says the Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because the world doesn’t believe in Jesus. We are all convicted in our sin. That’s why we begin the service with a confession of our sin. No excuses – and we’re really good at those. But in the presence of God, in his church, we leave all the lame and dead lies, and instead speak the truth. We have sinned. We deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. And so we are convicted of our sin, but in Christ the Spirit brings us to faith in the salvation he offers. Those who deny their sin lie to themselves, lie to God. We speak the truth – we have sinned by our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault. There is no bit of good in us, and we deserve to be condemned. And yet, the same Spirit that convicts of sin because of unbelief, has now through Baptism brought us to faith so that we come each week to hear the Word of the Lord, to receive the promise, to confess and hear the word of absolution that is forgiveness from the pastor as from Christ himself. It’s a word that we so desperately need. We need the forgiveness given in Christ’s church each day – to give our lives meaning, to help us through this weary world, to avoid the coming judgment. And Jesus gives us all that we need to be saved and to be his dear lamb, as we also heard Jesus say this Easter season. “I am the Good Shepherd.” And we responded by confessing the truth “I am Jesus little lamb”. What a wonderful promise and comfort we have been given. We need not perish in the judgment to come. Rather, Jesus has saved us by his death and given us new life in his resurrection.
This is why we pray that God would make our minds to be of one will. Not that we lose our own personality, or just become a door mat for others to take advantage of. But that we all believe and confess rightly the truth of Jesus, true God and true man, who died and rose for us and now gives salvation to the whole world through his holy church by the power of the Spirit where the word is preached the little ones are baptized, and the faithful are fed with food that does not spoil, and so joined to each other.
The world tells us that we need to express who we are as individuals. That no religion can force us to be something we are not. And statistically, the world has never been more miserable. Jesus doesn’t force us to believe in him, to become a part of his precious little flock. But the Spirit does make willing hearts out of unwilling ones. That’s the power and gift and miracle of conversion. That we were enemies of God – isolated and on our own, wandering and even rebelling against him. And now we have been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus and we are joined to him and to each other. We are no longer on our own, no longer tossed around by every fad and trend of the world. Rather we rest in the stable and secure ark of the church, bound together in Christ, and kept safe by the confession of the true doctrine: the teachings of Jesus himself. We are not on our own, every man for himself. Rather, we have been joined to Christ, and are one with him as surely as he is one with the Father. We no longer languish in isolation. We are a part of his body the church, and we are joined to him through the waters of Baptism where we are given the salvation of the Lord. And no one can take it from us.
Grant dear heavenly Father that we remain in you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, and never wander off on our own into judgment, but remain in the salvation which you offer freely through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.