It's a Miracle that Sinners Can be Brought into the Triune God
December is the month for miracles even among the secular minded. Snow in the south is regarded as miraculous, particularly for Christmas morning. The "Miracle on 34th Street" isn't religious in nature. Even the miraculous change of heart that happens to the Grinch is done without God doing anything. Let me show you a greater miracle than these: sinners being brought into the Triune God.
It's a miracle that sinners can be brought into the Triune God because we are so far outside of Him. Scripture says and experience shows that on our own we're spiritually blind. Children aren't born seeing the true God. Left to themselves, men see gods in their own image. They speak about gods by speaking about men in a loud voice. Their gods are just big men. On his own no man has seen a Triune God. No Greek, no Roman ever spoke of One God who is three Divine Persons yet one God. All fallen mankind can do is grope after the Triune God like a blind man.
Being spiritually blind doesn't indicate just how far outside of God we are. We're not just blind to spiritual things; we're dead to them. What does it indicate when the doctor sticks the needle in the fallen football player's foot and he doesn't wince? Why does the dentist tell you not to eat anything after getting Novocain? It's not a good sign when a body is dead to physical stimulus. You can hurt yourself physically if you're dead to physical stimulus. You're in danger spiritually if you're dead to spiritual stimulus. People think: if my conscience doesn't bother me, it must be clear. A dead conscience won't bother you either. It can be spiritually poked with the needles of God's Law, and not wince. It can be bitten by its sins and like a Novocain-ed lip not even know it.
We're not there yet. We're not as far outside of the Triune God as we really are even when we talk about being spiritually blind and dead. Only when we see that we're still enemies of His do we get there. Now we've arrived at the realm of vampires and zombies. Now we're in the realm of the living dead. Though we can't see God and He is dead to us, yet we protest against Him; we accuse Him; we ridicule Him. God's not fair when a drunk driver kills a family and walks away. God's not just to afflict some families with cancer after cancer. God's either not loving enough to stop evil, or He's not powerful enough, or He's not aware enough. A God who is either not all loving, all powerful, or all knowing can't be feared, loved, or trusted because He isn't God at all.
Do you see what a miracle it would be to bring me who is spiritually blind, dead, and yet still an enemy of God into the Triune God? It's bigger than Scrooge being brought into the Cratchit family, or Rudolph being brought into the reindeer games. It's the blind seeing for the first time. It's the dead person in the coffin getting up. It's Palestine and Israel reconciling.
The biggest miracle you're going to hear about this Christmas doesn't happen in a chimney, around a tree, or at a dinner table. It happens in that font. It's a miracle that sinners can brought into the Triune God there because of how far outside of Him we start, and because it cost God so much to bring us inside.
To bring us into heaven, it cost God the Father His own Son. Not one of us would give up a child willingly to save someone. And because Scripture says while we were still ungodly enemies God saved us, God didn't give up His only Son for nice people caught up in circumstances beyond their control. No it was as if our neighbors hurt our family and were still laughing about it, and then we gave up a child into death to save them. Who would pay such a cost? Who could?
It cost God the Father His Son to save us spiritually blind, dead, enemies of Him. It cost God the Son a holy life in a sinful world and an innocent death under His Father's wrath against our sins. You know what happens if you do the right thing in the world? You almost always suffer. Imagine God the Son taking on your flesh and blood and always doing the right thing in a world that is so wrong. You know how you suffered in body and soul that time you took the right stand on something or for someone. Imagine doing that all the time for everyone?
In order for human beings to get into the Triune God, at least one would have to be worthy. Jesus was that one. God the Son took on flesh in Mary's womb and lived a perfect life in our place, but that wasn't the total cost to get us into heaven. The Law was broken. God had promised punishment to every person who ever broke one of His commandants in deed, word, or even just by thinking about it. Jesus accepted responsibility for everyone's broken Commandments, and He paid His holy Blood, His divine sweat, His sacred tears. It takes God to satisfy God, but it takes a Man with blood, sweat, and tears to do so in place of all men. Jesus is that God who is Man.
It's a miracle that sinners can be brought into the Triune God because it cost God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit so very much. God the Father gave us His own Son. God the Son gave His life and death to win our holiness and God the Spirit gave that holiness to us. You don't think that's such a miracle? You don't think that cost very much? Ever see a movie about a bad Santa? They're out there. They're never PG or even PG-13. Society won't allow Santa's name to be soiled, stained, or even besmirched. Yet God the Spirit for Jesus' sake puts God's holy name on us who have managed to even soil the dirt and ashes we came from.
This debased dirt and ashes is brought into the Triune God by Baptism and that's a miracle because Baptism looks like plain water. Sure it does. It tastes like it too. Luther said, "The Anabaptists and fanatical spirits today say that Baptism is nothing more than ordinary water. May the devil take these slandermouths! Dogs, sows, and cows also see nothing in the water but its taste. But a Christian ought not to go by taste but, by the Word" (House Postil, I, 220-221). It's precisely against such spirits that Lutherans confess, "Baptism is not just plain water." In our Large Catechism, we go on to say: "Understand the difference, then. Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water.Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water.So Baptism may certainly be called a divine, blessed, fruitful and gracious water" (IV, 17, 27).
Over against the Protestants, Lutherans confess that Baptism isn't plain water, but over against the Catholics we confess that it's not holy water in and of itself. It is holy because it's "included in God's command and combined with God's word."
God commanded that water be used this way. Who would dare do this without a command of God? Who would dare take water and apply it to someone and say, "I baptize you into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?" Do you know how much trouble you get in for impersonating a mailman? How much more serious is it to do what only God can do? Do you know how much trouble you get in for putting a doctor's name on a prescription pad? How much more serious is it to put God's name on a sinner? No one would rightly dare do it apart from God the Son's command, "Baptize all nations."
Baptism looks like plain water, and used apart from God's command water is plain water and no Baptism, but used by His command the water is combined with God's Word. Combined with God's Word, Baptism is divine, blessed, holy, miraculous Water. Where Baptismal Water is there God's Word is. Therefore, "It has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do." That's what we confess in our Large Catechism (IV, 17).
If you look in the font now, you will see no water there; even if there was it wouldn't be baptismal water and therefore it wouldn't be holy, divine, miraculous. So where is baptismal water right now? If you've been baptized, it's on you. Therefore, God's Word is on you too, and it's "able to do all that God is and can do." As Jesus said to the blind, "Receive your sight," and they saw, so Baptismal water says to the baptized, "See," and we do. We see a giving Father, a sacrificing Son, and a claiming Spirit. As Jesus' Word said to the dead live and they did, so baptismal water speaks life to the baptized and those dead in their transgression live. As Jesus spoke to Judas and called him "friend", so in the waters of Baptism the Triune God calls us "friend."
Baptism is a miracle. Though it looks like plain water it brings sinners into the Triune God. You'd remember that if we actually said that when we baptize, but we don't. We say, "I baptize you in the name." You think then the pastor is baptizing in place of Jesus. That's true, but that's not what Jesus said in His baptismal command. He said, "Baptize all nations into the name." It's a different Greek preposition. One that denotes movement.
Hear Luther on this point: "When I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is just as if I were saying, "I am snatching you from the hands of the Devil and bringing you to God, and I am doing this truly and in fact" (LW, 5, 141). Hear New Testament scholar Oscar Cullman, "God sets a man within, not merely informs him that he sets him within, the Body of Christ" (Baptism in the New Testament, 31).
Baptism takes spiritually blind, dead, enemies of God like me and places them into the Triune God, into heaven, into salvation. Baptism done here places a person into the hereafter. Luther told the story of a man who happened to be at an infant Baptism. He heard "those sublime words that are spoken at Baptism. He was surprised at their power: If I knew that I, too, had been baptized with such words, I would never again be afraid of the Devil" (LW, 12, 256). Why should those baptized be afraid of the Devil, or Death or even their own sinfulness? Baptism has placed them into the Triune God, and these have no say, no power, no influence there.
People often say: I was baptized Lutheran, or Catholic, or Methodist. That's not true. There's only one Baptism, and it baptizes a person not into men but into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that's a miracle which this evening we've only scratched the surface of. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers I (20101201); Baptism I