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Psalm 51


Have mercy on me,O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
 
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
 
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
 
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(ESV)
Why Wait?
Monday of Pentecost 25
16 November 2015

Some early Christians delayed baptism, thinking that if they received this sacrament in their last moments on earth, it would assure their entrance into the heavenly home of the baptized. The idea was that sin would have no chance to mar the blessing of the gift. There are a number of problems with this theory, not least of which is the idea that sin is a matter of "doing." If we are weak and upon our death bed, it is thought that the chances that we might sin are somewhat limited by our circumstances. Some years ago, I remember an elderly church member upon her death bed declining confession and absolution. She remarked, "How could I have sinned, while lying here?" Perhaps this too is a satanic delusion, a kind of false security that is dependent on human fantasy and the prideful idea that we will be in better spiritual condition in our last moments than we are now. Yet as death approaches the trials of faith may become more furious.

 

Delaying baptism also ignores the power of Satan to put on a late fourth quarter rally, à la Eli Manning. Our enemy is frantically committed to your perdition. He will press hard at the end to snatch your defeat from the jaws of the victory of the Lion of Judah. Even the prideful human plan to wait until the last to receive the seal of baptism is a step into the mouth of our enemy. Has our heavenly Father not promised to watch over us and care for us? Has He not sent the holy angels to surround our death bed? Has He not sealed us unto salvation with the sacrament of life? Has He not already seen to our death in the font of life by burying us with His Son? What about this later death should cause us to fear?

 

Baptism is not a one-time gift, but it is the gift that truly keeps on giving. Baptism is God's work, not our own. Thus it will always apply in our lives whether we have been baptized a month before dying or at the beginning of life, when we have been born dead in our trespasses and sins. Baptism is a remedy to death in every case, because it is God's remedy and He promises to stand behind it. Baptism marks you with the clothing of Christ. In holy baptism the sign of the Triune God has been set upon our hearts and foreheads, to mark us as redeemed by Christ crucified. Just as the rustler is delighted to see a calf that is unbranded, so Satan smacks his lips when he sees those who have avoided baptism, disdaining the seal of the holy Trinity. Such a person is an easy mark, dependent as he is upon his own spiritual strength, instead of on the strong name of the Triune God (Pro 18:10). He is readily devoured, stolen from the flock. In baptism the good Shepherd creates his flock, marking them by the holy name, which gives holiness. So why wait?

Some early Christians delayed baptism, thinking that if they received this sacrament in their last moments on earth, it would assure their entrance into the heavenly home of the baptized. The idea was that sin would have no chance to mar the blessing of the gift. There are a number of problems with this theory, not least of which is the idea that sin is a matter of "doing." If we are weak and upon our death bed, it is thought that the chances that we might sin are somewhat limited by our circumstances. Some years ago, I remember an elderly church member upon her death bed declining confession and absolution. She remarked, "How could I have sinned, while lying here?" Perhaps this too is a satanic delusion, a kind of false security that is dependent on human fantasy and the prideful idea that we will be in better spiritual condition in our last moments than we are now. Yet as death approaches the trials of faith may become more furious.

 

Delaying baptism also ignores the power of Satan to put on a late fourth quarter rally, à la Eli Manning. Our enemy is frantically committed to your perdition. He will press hard at the end to snatch your defeat from the jaws of the victory of the Lion of Judah. Even the prideful human plan to wait until the last to receive the seal of baptism is a step into the mouth of our enemy. Has our heavenly Father not promised to watch over us and care for us? Has He not sent the holy angels to surround our death bed? Has He not sealed us unto salvation with the sacrament of life? Has He not already seen to our death in the font of life by burying us with His Son? What about this later death should cause us to fear?

 

Baptism is not a one-time gift, but it is the gift that truly keeps on giving. Baptism is God's work, not our own. Thus it will always apply in our lives whether we have been baptized a month before dying or at the beginning of life, when we have been born dead in our trespasses and sins. Baptism is a remedy to death in every case, because it is God's remedy and He promises to stand behind it. Baptism marks you with the clothing of Christ. In holy baptism the sign of the triune God has been set upon our hearts and foreheads, to mark us as redeemed by Christ crucified. Just as the rustler is delighted to see a calf that is unbranded, so Satan smacks his lips when he sees those who have avoided baptism, disdaining the seal of the holy Trinity. Such a person is an easy mark, dependent as he is upon his own spiritual strength, instead of on the strong name of the triune God (Pro 18:10). He is readily devoured, stolen from the flock. In baptism the good Shepherd creates his flock, marking them by the holy name, which gives holiness. So why wait?

 

Gregory Nazianzus

"If you fortify yourself with the seal of baptism, you will secure yourself for the future with the best and strongest of all aids. You will be marked both in body and soul with the anointment, as Israel was of old with that blood anointment of the firstborn at night that guarded him (Ex 12:22). What then can happen to you, and what has been worked out for you? Listen to the Proverbs. 'If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet' (Pro 3:24). Listen to David giving you the good news, 'You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day' (Ps 91:5). This, even while you live, will greatly contribute to your sense of safety, for a sheep that is marked is not easily stolen, but that which is unmarked is an easy prey for thieves. At your death baptism will be a blessed shroud, more precious than gold, more magnificent than a sepulcher, more reverent than fruitless libations, more seasonable than ripe firstfruits, which the dead bestow on the dead, making a law out of custom (Lk 9:60). If all things forsake you (Ps 27:10), or be taken violently away from you; money, possessions, power, honors, and everything that belongs to this earthly turmoil, still you will be able to lay down your life in peace and safety, having suffered no loss of the helps which God gave you unto salvation."

Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.15
 
Prayer
Jesus, You are the good Shepherd who creates Your flock by marking the lambs with Your own precious name. Help us to repose quietly in the promises that You have made to us in holy baptism. Free us from presumption about the power of our own piety. Give us confidence in your power to save alone. Amen.
 
For the family of Vinson Wegner, who was laid to rest on Saturday, that they would be encouraged by the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
 
For Pastor Sagar Pilli who was installed as missionary to East Indian people at Memorial Lutheran Church yesterday, that the Lord would bless his ministry with godly growth
 
For the people of France mourning the deaths caused by the terrorist attack, that they would find strength and resolve in the face of evil
 
For the members of the Council of Presidents, that their deliberations would be shaped by the Word of God
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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