A Baptism That Burns
What a tough text. Jesus says, "I have come to bring a fire on earth." Then He asks, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be divisions in the most basic human relationships." Good thing He goes on to speak of a Baptism that burns.
Thankfully our Baptism does not. O the water temperature might not be right for the baby, but our baptism doesn't burn. It's not something painful in our memories. Actually it's something joyful to recall. Why? Because of what Baptism gives. Baptism gives us the forgiveness of sins. Acts 2 says, "Be baptized for the remission of sins." Acts 22 says "Be baptized and wash away your sins." Baptism doesn't burn or scar; it washes and forgives. It cleans dirty consciences according to I Peter.
You all know people who are troubled by their sins in some way. They can't get beyond a moral failing, a horrible deed, a burst of passion. What a blessing therefore that God has provided Baptism which is able to put out a conscience burning with guilt. I Peter 3 assures us, "Baptism now saves us...by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God." The waters of baptism are able to put out fires in consciences sparked by sins done long ago or just yesterday.
Our baptism doesn't burn; it forgives, and it rescues us from Death and the Devil. You all know people who are haunted by a fear of Death and the Devil. These 2 are rightly linked in our minds because Hebrews 2 says that the Devil is the one who has the power over the death that enslaves people because they are afraid of dying. Baptism delivers us from Death and Devil. Neither of them has any control over us in Baptism. Why? Because Baptism joins us to Christ according to Romans 6. He went to death on the cross. We were crucified with Him. He was raised on the third day; in Baptism we were raised with Him and now walk about in a new life. Once Christ was raised from the dead did He have anymore confrontations with the Devil? Nope. Could Death touch Him any longer? Nope. Your Baptism likewise places you out of reach of Death and the Devil.
Our Baptism puts out fires, not starts them. We're not burned by Baptism but forgiven, rescued, and saved by baptism. You all know people who are worried about their salvation, don't you? The thought constantly comes back to them, "How do I know I'm really saved?" They search their lives for evidence in their behavior that they're really saved. They search their hearts and find only faltering faith and disturbing doubts about religious questions. Where can the certainty of salvation be found?
In Baptism. 1 Peter clearly says, "Baptism does also now save us." Titus 3 says just as clearly, "God saved us through the washing of rebirth." Baptism is God's act not ours. Certainty of salvation can only be found in God and what He does. Everything else is doubtful. In your Baptism God reached down in those waters and took you right then and there into heaven. Think about it. What else does it mean to be baptized into the Name of the Triune God? Those waters placed you into the family of the God of heaven. The flames of hell can only reach you if they can reach all the way to heaven!
Our baptisms don't burn. In fact, our baptisms defend us from a burning conscience, the flaming darts of the devil, and the flames of hell. But Christ's baptism did burn. He says in our text, "I have a baptism to undergo, and how I am distressed until it is completed." It was the opposite for Jesus as it is for us; whenever He thought of His Baptism sorrow gripped Him. Hear Jesus' thoughts in Lamentations: "Look and see if there's any pain like the pain that the Lord has caused Me to suffer...He sent fire from above. He made it go deep into My bones."
While you were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, Christ was baptized in the Jordan to be given sins. While you were rescued by Baptism from Death and Devil, Christ was delivered by baptism to Death and Devil. The Devil attacked Christ right after His Baptism. On Maundy Thursday Christ said, "It's the Devil's hour." And where Baptism gives us certainty of salvation, Christ's Baptism assured Him that the gates of hell would get a hold of Him; the fiery judgment of God would roast Him.
Our Baptisms are mirror images of Christ's. His burns, our soothes; His delivered Him to Death and the Devil, ours rescues us from Death and the Devil; His damned, ours saves. And our Baptism does what it does because His Baptism did what it did. Or as Isaiah says it: "By His wounds we are healed." Because He suffered and died, we are relieved and alive. But there's one qualification. I John 4 says, "While we are in the world, we are exactly like Him." That means the burning, the distress, and the division that Jesus knew in this world we will experience.
The first part of this sermon assured you that there is no payment for sin in any of the sufferings that you will undergo in this world. Your Baptism into Christ washes sins out of the picture and joins you to Him. However, being joined to Him means you go where He goes, and He goes to war in this world. Jesus plainly says, "From now on there will be division." The division originates with Jesus. Like a mountain everyone is on one side or the other of Jesus from now to the end of the world.
That means that having been baptized into Christ we must give up any idea of having peace in this world even in our families. Christ brings division into the closest human relationships. Able and his brother Cain were on different sides. Lot and his wife were on different sides. David and Absalom were on different sides. Even Paul and Peter for a while were on different sides of Christ.
In Christ we have no peace in this world because the world and those in fellowship with it won't let us. Christ promises: because the world hated Him it will hate those He chooses out of the world, and because the world didn't listen to His words it won't listen to ours. By Baptism we have Christ which means we do have a world without end, but it also means we have no peace in this world. In Christ we can make no peace with the world. Christ will not let us. We are under orders to teach everything He commanded us not just those things that the world can agree with. The Romans persecuted Christians because the Christians wouldn't tolerate what was contrary to the Word of Christ. It wasn't that Rome asked Christians to teach falsely; they were simply asked to allow the false teaching of others.
This those in Christ can't do. Being joined to Him in Baptism they can only think what He thinks and speak what He says. This means the world will oppose them. But you know what? This "opposition from sinful men," as our Epistle lesson calls it, happens with the blessing of God. It's a way that God makes sure we won't make peace with this fallen world.
You know how it is when you try to sleep in a bed that you just can't get comfortable in? You toss and turn and toss some more. Finally, you get so frustrated you jump out of bed fed up with trying. Our Lord makes life in this fallen world difficult for His baptized children just so they won't be able to lie down and go to sleep in it. He disciplines us, He whips us (literally), just so we don't get comfortable in this world. Because woe to us is if we do get comfortable. Then we're Lots in Sodom but our righteous soul is no longer vexed. Then we're Christs in the midst of a perverted generation but we're no longer wondering how long we must endure it. Then we're no longer looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. No we're quite happy with the city we have found here.
The Lord doesn't want that to happen to His baptized children, so He plagues them in this world. He gives them heartaches and headaches so they long for a world other than this. He allows death to shorten lives in this world so that we ache for a life without end. He corrects and spanks His children when they become involved in the sins of the world just so they won't be damned with it.
As Christ was uncomfortable in this world, so we will be. But as Christ overcame this world so do we in Him. He told us the night He was betrayed, "In the world you have sorrow, but be overjoyed; I have overcome the world." By Baptism, the very Baptism that plunges us into the same hot water that Christ experiences in this world, we are joined to Christ and so overcome the world even as He did.
On the Last Day when Christ visibly triumphs over the world it will burn up. Joined to Him by Baptism we will triumph with Him rather than being burned up with it. In Baptism we're safe from the fiery judgment which Christ will bring upon the world because our Baptism has separated us from it. Even now, says Jesus, this dividing is going on. The world despairs over division, but Jesus' dividing isn't pointless. He is beginning now what He will finish on the Last Day. And thankfully He doesn't wait till the Last Day to show people which side they're on. Then it would be too late. As Lot, Noah, Abraham and Israel clearly showed that there were two sides, so the Church of Christ is called to do so today.
I told you this was a tough text, but put the load on Jesus, and take heart that He said He was distressed until it is finished. That's what Jesus told us from cross, isn't it? It is finished! His distress is over. Ours can be too in this way. As redeeming us from sin, death and the devil, as baptizing us to forgive, rescue, and save us all belonged to Jesus, so the dividing does. A great artists divides with color, perspective, shadow and more to make wonderful art. How much more the Lord of artist and art can do with the divisions He makes. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20100822); Luke 12: 49-53