Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 15)
August 14, 2016
Text: Luke 12:49-56
“Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21; ESV). That’s what the Bible says. It’s right there in black and white. In the Catechism we memorize the words of the blessed Reformer: “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying’” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).
But before your Baptism into Christ by water and the Word can save you, Jesus must first undergo a Baptism of fire and blood. “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). What our Lord means by that He explains by way of Hebrew parallelism in the next verse: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (v. 50). The fire is the Baptism. And what is the fire? It is the cross. It is the shedding of His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death for the forgiveness of your sins. It is the fire of God’s wrath suffered in your place. Jesus, of course, was already baptized by John in the Jordan River at the beginning of His earthly ministry. This, too, is very important. There our Lord stepped into the muddy river where so many had confessed their sins and received the Baptism of repentance. There our Lord soaks up the sins of all the world, your sins and mine, the sins of all people, to bear them to the cross and put them to death in His flesh. Behind Him, in the water, He leaves His perfect righteousness and the gift of eternal life. Jesus is baptized into you in the Jordan, that you may be baptized into Him at the font. He is baptized into your sin, that you be baptized into His righteousness. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. But our Lord’s Baptism is not complete until He is nailed to the tree and bathed in blood.
Baptism and the cross are inseparably connected. For Jesus. For you. They always go together. The fire Jesus casts on the earth is the hellfire of God’s wrath which He suffers for you on the cross. That is His Baptism of blood. He is covered in it. Because He was baptized by John into your sin, He must pay for it all, and there is no paying for sin apart from blood. So He pours it out from every vein, from every gouge of flesh made by Roman scourge, from His hands, His feet, His sacred head, His riven side, water and blood, font and chalice, that you be baptized into Him and receive into yourself the fruits of His cross. Baptism and cross, two sides of the same coin. On the cross your salvation is accomplished. In Baptism it is bestowed. And now Jesus says things like, “If anyone would come after me,” if you want to be my disciple, if you want to be a Christian, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (9:23). That is simply to say, be baptized and live as one baptized into Christ. Die daily with Christ (repentance), and daily arise in His resurrection life (forgiveness and the Holy Spirit). And that means that with your Baptism also comes a cross. Not for your salvation. That is done with Christ’s cross. This is simply the cost of following Jesus. And this is the division Jesus talks about in our text: division between believers and unbelievers, division of loved ones on account of Jesus and His Gospel: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (12:51).
This doesn’t sound like we think Jesus ought to sound, and it certainly doesn’t square with our Christmas card theology. But you have to ask, what does Jesus mean when He says He’s come to bring division? It’s not that He delights in division. Far from it. Division, especially in the things that pertain to God and our relationship to Him, is sinful. Jesus prays that His Church would be one (John 17). On earth, it appears to be anything but. This is not as it should be. But the things that divide us matter. You can’t just pretend they don’t exist. And the thing is, if you love Jesus, you love what He says. And you’ll insist on it. You’ll even die for it. As a result, what happens? Even your own family members take offense at you. They divide themselves from you. And this is more than simply strife at the dinner table or tension during the holidays. In the Soviet Union, children were to report their parents if they tried to teach them the faith. Family members were to report Christian family members to the government for investigation of subversive Christian activities. Friends were to report friends. It is even worse today in the Islamic world. Family members are to persecute Christian family members, shun them, even murder them for the Christian faith. And you may say to yourself, “Those examples are from other times or other places. It won’t happen here.” But now there are Christian teachings that are disfavored by our own government. Christian employers must pay for abortion coverage, no matter if it violates religious principles. There is talk of forcing pro-life doctors and nurses to participate in abortions, and that already happens at many hospitals. Christian bakers and photographers and florists must participate in same-sex weddings. There is talk of stripping the Church of her tax-exempt status if she does not approve of homosexual marriage. Measures have been proposed to force churches and clergy to perform these weddings. If this is not governmental religious coercion, I don’t know what is. Now, as these things as codified in law, what do you think will happen here? Church members will report their pastor’s sermons. Children will report their parents’ intolerant views. It will be just like Jesus says: “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:53). And it hurts! There is the sword of division Jesus brings. There is the cross of the Baptized.
And these things are signs, Jesus says. Signs of what? Signs that Messiah has arrived, that He’s done His saving work, and He is coming back. The End is near. Put not your trust in princes or presidential candidates. Only Jesus saves. Interpret the signs. He is coming soon. He said this would happen.
But do not despair. Repent and believe the Good News. Jesus Christ is your Savior from sin and death. He died for your forgiveness. He is risen and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is where His Baptism leads. Baptism always includes the cross and death, to be sure, but what is the end result of all of that? Resurrection! Easter! New life, eternal and abundant! That is what happened to your Lord. And you are baptized into Christ. That is what will happen to you! It already has, in your Baptism, but for now it is hidden in Christ, hidden under the cross. But then, on that Day, when Jesus returns, it will be manifest. All will see it. Jesus will raise you from the dead. You will live with Him forever. No more danger. No more death. No more mourning or crying or pain. The old order of things has passed away. Behold, the new has come.
Plain water could not do this. But the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the Words and Promises of God declare: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Beloved, rejoice in your Baptism. Live in it. Rest in it. Exult in it. You are baptized into Christ. He has been baptized in fire and blood for you, assuaging God’s wrath and atoning for your sin. And whatever you suffer now is but a brief, momentary affliction in comparison with the joy that awaits you. Jesus died and rose for you. You live forever in Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.