Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2012
Text: Eph. 3:14-21
St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is, happily, all about Baptism and the baptismal life lived in the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church, the Body of Christ. We’ll be in Ephesians for a few more weeks, and the Epistle lessons will serve as our sermon texts. Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians from prison, probably in Rome. He expects to die. He is suffering for the Name and Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As an apostle, as a pastor, he desires to leave the congregation in Ephesus with a parting Word of encouragement in the Holy Spirit, a Gospel Word of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, a uniting Word that binds individual Christians together in the one Body of Christ by the ties of Christian love, a strengthening Word to fortify the Ephesians and all who read this letter for life under persecution from without and the temptations of the flesh from within. In our text this morning, Paul is talking about the Christian life that grows out of Baptism into Christ. For it all starts in the water and the Word where our sins are washed away and we are made God’s own child. And firmly planted and rooted in that water, we grow in faith toward God, and in fervent love toward one another.
Pastor Paul prays in his prison cell for his people in Ephesus. He bows His knees before the Father (Eph. 3:14). Now the Jews and the early Christians traditionally prayed standing up. That Paul fell to his knees indicates a particular intensity in his prayer. This is important stuff. As a side comment, this verse is where one of the traditional Christian prayer postures, that of praying on our knees, comes from. Paul prays intensely to the Father for his people, as every pastor should pray for his flock. And he starts with their Baptism. From this God and Father to whom Paul prays, every Christian receives the family Name (v. 15), the Name “Christian,” “little Christ,” the Name of God Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s Baptism. That’s what happened this morning to little Matthew James. His sins were washed away and He was made God’s own child as the very Name of God was put upon Him in the water, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You, beloved, are baptized into that reality. God has put His Name upon you. When you put your name on something, it is because that thing belongs to you and you never want to lose it. You even do it with your spouses and children. You share the same last name. Matthew’s last name is Krenz. He belongs to me. But more importantly, He belongs to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you do, too. You are precious to Him. He doesn’t want to lose you. You’re His dear child. You call upon Him as “Our Father…” You pray in the Name of your Brother, Jesus Christ. For baptized into the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, you are now sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And there’s more. You are the heir with Christ. You inherit the very Kingdom of God.
So Pastor Paul prays for his people on the basis of their Baptism, and he knows that God will hear him, because he knows that God loves His own. He prays that God would pour out strength upon His people by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 16). He prays that God’s people would be strengthened in their inner being, the part of you that wars against your sinful flesh, the Baptized saint in you that hates that you’re also a sinner, that loves God and desires to serve God and love the neighbor and do all manner of good works. Paul prays that that inner being would be strengthened and the old nature, the sinful flesh, be put to death. This, again, is Baptism. For “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Paul prays that Christ may dwell in the hearts of God’s people through faith (v. 17). This is Baptism, where you are given the Holy Spirit who creates faith by means of water and the Word. How can a little baby like Matthew believe? It is impossible by Matthew’s own reason or strength. He doesn’t have the intellect or ability to reason or believe or confess. The Holy Spirit must call him by the Gospel and enlighten him with His gifts. You saw it happen this morning. Just as Matthew trusts in his mom even though he has no ability to reason or believe or even confess her name, so now also he trusts in Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has given him faith. It actually happens the same way with you. You cannot believe by your own reason or strength, either, beloved. The Holy Spirit calls you to faith and enlightens you by the same means, Baptism, preaching, Scripture, Sacrament. Outside of the Spirit’s work, you are dead in your trespasses and sins and unable to come to Christ. Your will is bound. You are a slave of sin and death and the devil. But the Holy Spirit frees you by calling you out of slavery and to faith in Jesus by His divinely appointed means of grace.
And what happens to you, now that you’ve been called and enlightened by the Spirit? The Spirit continues to do His work in you. He continues to strengthen you. And you continue to grow in faith and in love, as Paul says in our text. Christ dwells in you by faith, and you are rooted and grounded in love (v. 16). You do good works to serve your neighbor. You do works of mercy. You provide for your neighbor in his need. You aren’t saved because of these works. You do these works because you’ve already been saved by Christ. Good works aren’t necessary for salvation, but good works are necessary. That’s the Christian life. You’ve been freed to do these works, with joy and thanksgiving that God is using you to do His work in the world. You do them in your vocations, your various callings as fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and citizens and neighbors and church members and every other relationship to which you’ve been called. And God calls you to come and hear His Word and receive His gifts in the Divine Service and in Bible Class and Sunday School. Paul says he prays this, that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (vv. 18-19; ESV). That happens as you hear and read and study and meditate upon the Word of God and pray and receive the holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. When you want to deepen a relationship with someone, you listen to them and talk to them and, never forget (you do this all the time as families or with friends or when you date someone)… you eat with them. That’s how you deepen your relationship to God, or better, how God deepens your relationship to Him. He speaks to you in His Word and you speak to Him in prayer, and then He feeds you with the meal of the Baptized, the body and blood of His Son.
But it all starts with Baptism. Jesus comes to you as He came to His disciples in the boat in our Gospel this morning. He comes on the water, in the midst of the deadly storm. He speaks His Word of peace, the holy Gospel, and suddenly there is life in the midst of certain death. The Lord washes away your sin in Baptism just as He baptized the whole world in our Old Testament lesson, washing away the wickedness but preserving believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. And then He makes His covenant, His bow in the clouds, life for His people. Never again will there be such a catastrophic flood to destroy all creation. God is for us, not against us. He loves us. We are baptized into Christ.
And all of this is a mystery. It is revealed in Christ, but it is beyond our comprehension. We know it, and yet, we don’t. We live by faith, not by sight. How could God do all these wonderful things for us in common tap water combined with a few words from Holy Scripture? He’s just that good. God is for us. His Son died for us and is risen from the dead for us. We are baptized into Him and into His death and resurrection. Sins forgiven, we have eternal life. God’s own child, each one of us, another added to our number this morning. We don’t have to understand it. We just confess it. And what better words to end with than those of St. Paul: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us” the power at work in our Baptism, we might add, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 20-21). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).