Frowns Changed to Smiles

The disciples had endured a very difficult week. They had seen one of their own betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The spokesman of the clan denied Jesus at his most critical hour, and a chief politician bowed to the demands of a cruel mob and had Jesus crucified. How could all of this have occurred in only a few hours?

The frowns on the disciples’ faces gave evidence to the fact that they were an unhappy group.

Early on Sunday morning, women who had been close to Jesus went to the tomb to anoint his body. When they arrived, the stone was rolled away and they discovered the body was gone. Now their frowns turned to scowls, and they were angered in their soul. “Could we not have his dead body?” they asked. “Why did they have to take it away from us?”

As they stood there puzzled, two men in bright clothing stood by them. Out of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised!” Then the women recalled what Jesus had said and returned to tell the disciples about it.

I believe that, on the way from the tomb to the headquarters of the disciples, the women’s frowns had begun to turn to smiles. They had hope that he had been raised from the dead. I personally also believe, from personal experience that when we know and believe that Jesus lives and he lives in us, our frowns are changed to smiles.

Our facial expressions often reveal what is going on inside of us. We can fake a smile, and it’s good for a little while, but then it goes away. What’s behind the frown? In some cases, it’s defeat.

Take, for example, a basketball team that came in second at the state tournament. This happened to one of our hometown’s teams. After the game was over, I spoke to some of the boys who belonged to our church. I remember one young man saying, “Thank you pastor for coming! It was a great experience!” He tried to be upbeat as long as he could.

Finally I said to him, “How do you feel inside?”

He answered, “I feel defeated. I am a senior and will never be on a team that wins the state tournament.” His smile was superficial, and it soon turned back to a frown.

Frowns can give evidence that something is not right between us and God. Frowns can also be evidence of a disappointment. The thought of Jesus hanging on the cross is not very uplifting. Yet he has not been defeated, for he lives.

One day, not very long ago, I had a cup of coffee with a man who belonged to our congregation many years ago, but moved to another town to work in the construction business. However, business was not going so well there, and he was laid off his job. So he and his family returned to our area. The loss of his job was difficult news to receive, yet he had a smile on his face.

When I asked him how he felt about losing the situation, he said, “It was tough. We liked where we were living. I enjoyed my job, and my supervisors liked my work, but they just had no business.” I asked how he could smile at a time like this, and he looked straight at me and said, “I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is alive; He will direct me, help me, and strengthen me. Everything will be alright.”

That is how a frown is turned to a smile Ð only through Jesus Christ. Even when you lose your job and don’t know what you are going to do next, you can still smile. It is not a fake smile, it is a smile put there by Jesus Christ.

Many years ago, a man who ran a grocery store died suddenly. He and his wife had a large family, and she was left wondering how to provide for her family without him. When she moved to Cedar Falls, I called on her on behalf of our church.

As I visited with this lady, it was easy to see the frown on her face. She was lost and disappointed. “I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said. “But this I do know: God will guide me. He will direct me. And we’re going to make it with his help.” This lady wore a frown because she faced some extreme difficulties and real challenges. However, down deep, she smiled because she knew Jesus Christ lived.

How do we put a smile on our faces during difficult times? It is an important question for us to ask.

During tough times, we may feel the need to get away for a new, refreshing look at life, so we spend a lot of time and money on a trip somewhere. Vacations give us a new look at life, and we all need one from time to time. Others decide they need to change their surroundings, so they sell their old house and buy a new one. Or perhaps they buy a new automobile in the hopes that it will give them a lift.

These are all good things, however we cannot find lasting peace in giving ourselves gifts. Only the Easter message Ð Christ has been raised. He lives! Ð can put a lasting smile on our faces.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a physical, historical event. It is the center of our Christian faith. Remember what Jesus said after hearing Lazarus was dead: “Lazarus will live again.” Then Jesus raised him from the dead.

When Jesus Christ is the living Lord in our lives, we can walk away from the cemetery knowing that, because he trusted in Christ, the loved one we just laid to rest is now with the risen Lord. We also know that Jesus walks with us every day.

While Jesus walked on this earth, he taught his disciples that if they confessed their sins and believed in him, they would be forgiven. However, this was a bit too much for Peter to understand, and so after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter felt quite guilty for denying the Lord. But one day Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” After Peter replied that he did, Jesus said to him, “Then feed my sheep.”

Jesus’ response was an absolute. He forgave Peter, and at the same time, the Holy Spirit fed Peter’s soul.

Easter Sunday is a glorious day! We sing joyous hymns and spend time with family. We hear Jesus’ words: “I am with you. I will comfort you. And when you die, I will take you home to heaven.” That message put a smile on the faces of those disciples, and it has put a smile on the faces of many evangelical believers who trust Christ and allow him to live in their hearts.

I can’t help but believe that Luther and Calvin had a smile on their faces, even in the midst of the Reformation as the church was being torn apart, for they saw the Gospel was there. It would build the church, and the gates of hell could not prevail against it because Jesus Christ was alive. He was with them, and all was well.

It is the same smile you and I wear. We will have some frowns, some days of disappointment when we won’t know which way to turn. But if we live with Jesus in his Word (that is the secret), the living Christ will speak. Jesus Christ is our comfort and our strength.

May you have a good Easter. While I often center my thoughts on the suffering and death of Jesus, I am really glad when we have come to this glorious Sunday Ð Easter Sunday Ð and we can say, Jesus is alive! May he bless you this day and all your days. He will, if you will let him into your heart.

Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of holy week. I would like to talk with you about the suffering and death of Jesus for the sins of the world, for it tells us how much God truly loves us. He sent his Son to this earth to die in our place.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The first part of the week, he was primarily in the Temple telling the scribes, the pharisees and others who were there that he was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. When they heard his remarks, they decided he must be put to death. However, since they did not have the power to do this, they would have to send him to Pilate’s court first.

As the plot was being made of how he should be killed, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his twelve disciples in the Upper Room. He visited with them about the days that were ahead, then instituted the Lord’s Supper, where he took the bread and wine, blessed it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat. This is my body which is given to you. This do in remembrance of me.”

It was through that bread and wine, in a way we do not understand, that Jesus imparts himself to us. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament: a holy act, instituted by Jesus Christ, in which a visible means Ð the bread and the wine Ð is used to convey a spiritual blessing. We also celebrate it in remembrance of the suffering Jesus endured for you and for me.

During that supper, Jesus also said that one of the disciples Ð primarily Judas Ð would betray him. When Judas asked, “Is it I, Lord?”, Jesus replied, “Go and do what you have to do.” So Judas left the group. Then Jesus went with his remaining eleven disciples down to the Garden of Gethsemane. He then took Peter, James, and John into the inner garden while he prayed. “Father, if it is possible, let this cup be withdrawn from me.” (Remember, Jesus was a human being.) He was asking, If it is possible, may I escape this suffering. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

Three times Jesus returned to find Peter, James, and John sleeping. And soon Judas came along. He had made an arrangement that, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver, he would betray Jesus to them with a kiss. As he came back with the enemy carrying torches and weapons, Judas said to Jesus, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed Jesus’ face. Jesus looked at him and said, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men arrested Jesus, and all the others deserted him.

Judas’ betrayal caused the Lord Jesus Christ awful suffering, for he had taught Judas for three years to be one of the leaders to take the Gospel to the world. However, Jesus was not the kind of Messiah Judas wanted, so he decided to profit from his experience.

In order for Jesus to be crucified, he must first be found guilty by Pontius Pilate. So they took him to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. Peter followed to the courtyard, where a servant girl recognized him and said, “This man was with Jesus.” But Peter denied it and said, “Woman, I don’t know him.” A little later, someone else saw him and said, “You are also one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I don’t even know him.” About an hour later, another person said to Peter, “You also are one of them.” But Peter again denied knowing Jesus. Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at him. Peter then remembered what Jesus had prophesied: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” Peter knew he had denied his Lord, and he went outside and wept bitterly.

You may wonder why Peter denied Jesus after he vowed to stay with him even when all the rest had gone. Why then, even after hearing Jesus’ warn that Peter would deny him three times, did Peter still disown him?

The only thing that I can say about this is, we have lived with him for many years Ð why do we deny him? I have lived with Jesus for 88 years. So why do I, by silence, sometimes deny him? Why do some of our churches deny him? Is it so culture may be more apt to receive parts of the gospel?

The reason we deny Jesus is an individual matter, but the fact remains that all of us do, at one time or another, deny knowing him.

Jesus is led on to Pilate’s court, where Pilate argues with the leaders a bit. Believing this to be a religious matter, Pilate did not want to act as Jesus’ executioner. But the people threatened to report him as an enemy of Caesar if he did not take care of Jesus. So Pilate took Jesus into his house and questioned him. “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

Pilate then went back out to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Ôthe king of the Jews’?”

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But fearing what they might say to Caesar, Pilate quietly gave approval and handed him over to the crowd to be flogged and crucified. When the crowd got hold of Jesus, they pounded him, spit on him, and sent him on to Calvary.

As Jesus carried his own cross, he collapsed because he was so weak. So the soldiers forced a man from Cyrene, named Simon, to carry his cross. And when they came to Golgotha (which means, The Place of the Skull), they nailed his body to the cross. Just imagine the pain he felt when they put a nail through his hands into the wood of the cross. See his pain when he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God the Father could have nothing to do with God the Son while our sins were upon him. Jesus was carrying the sins of the entire world, including yours and mine.

Then, on the sixth hour, darkness covered the entire earth until the ninth hour. Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he breathed his last. What a torturous time this was when he suffered and he died for you and for me.

We have a lot we can say about these events. The day of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was Palm Sunday, for that was when Jesus began his walk to the cross. But Jesus relives Palm Sunday every day, for he realizes the price he paid for the sins of the world. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, God forgives all those who confess their sins and trust Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. That is the important part to remember, friend, for if we turn our backs on him, then we are doing exactly what Judas and Peter did, as did the rest of the disciples when they scattered.

When we reduce Jesus to nothing more than a great teacher, when we overlook his suffering and his glorious resurrection that we will celebrate next Sunday on Easter, when we omit or call secondary that which is the very center of all of his coming, then we have denied him. Then we have sold him to a society that considers him a great teacher only. “After all, everybody’s going to be saved, aren’t they?”

No, according to Jesus, all will not be saved for he said, “No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

This is an important day for us to look at Jesus’ suffering and death in order that we may rejoice in the resurrection with our whole heart.

Days of Joy and Days of Sorrow

It was dedication day in our congregation, and we were having a great time! Our church had been growing. So when one of our members gave us a gift of 15 acres of land, we decided to leave a smaller building and construct a new building that could be the seat of the Gospel in our city for those who chose to use it as such. We had invited an executive from the church at large to come and perform the dedicatory rites. He preached a marvelous sermon, and all were filled with joy that morning. In the afternoon, we held some additional festivities with a lunch, and then that evening we enjoyed a grand choir performance. It was a big day, and we were filled with joy.

Later, when the church executive was ready to leave, he asked to have a few words with me. So we went into my new study. He thanked me for the invitation, but then continued with a concern: “I have seen, not only what you have built, but also what you plan to build in the future. It includes just about everything one could hope for in a church. But I wonder if some of these plans could be scaled back a bit, built cheaper, or perhaps not be built at all.”

I assured him this was what the congregation wanted, and they were the final authority. He in no way tried to dampen the enthusiasm felt during that time, I am sure, but he left some real hurt in my heart. I wondered if we had done wrong by building this church?

However, as I turn to today’s text, I find great comfort in knowing we were correct in celebrating, for we can have both times of sorrow and times of joy in our Christian faith. These new facilities made it possible for us to do both.

Today’s text is very interesting. Jesus would begin his final walk to the cross on the next day, where he would face all kinds of suffering, tears, and concerns. But this was the day before and they were having a great festival and a great dinner. Jesus’ feet had been anointed with pure nard, and he placed his blessing upon it. This scene taught me that we had not done wrong in celebrating, for the church needed a day that held much joy. These facilities would see joy even in the midst of sorrow.

In the case of that group there in Bethany, the dinner was an opportunity to draw Jesus’ friends aside and tell them about his plans for the future, which they did not fully understand. Jesus was going to build a kingdom, and they would be a part of it. He would be crucified in only six days. But his believers were to go into all parts of the world and tell the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and that he is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

This day was a day filled with joy concerning the plans of which they would be a part. Although they did not fully understand the plan, they enjoyed the great joy of being a part of it. However, the cornerstone for building this kingdom was more than their joy. It was also Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When Peter made that confession, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:13-17).

The Church would be built upon Peter’s confession Ð not Peter himself. The people rejoiced to have a Savior who would give them peace, joy, and comfort while on this earth and eternal life in heaven. Joy!

The next day Jesus would begin his journey to the cross, and those feelings of joy would turn to feelings of sorrow.

The church is an emotional place, for it is where we come to experience what Christ has done for us. We experience the joy of being gathered with the Lord Jesus in his Word and sacrament. We gather as God’s people sharing faith with a sound foundation. That foundation is Christ, the Son of the living God. Yet faith with joy is also very sound. We see that as Jesus blessed the wedding feast in Bethany.

It is a great joy to visit church buildings in our country, for they reveal the desire of people to have a place to gather around the Word of God and enjoy one another. When I see some of our great cathedrals, I often think of the people of faith who built them, not just to be a museum, but also a place of worship.

One of my favorite places to visit in Washington, D.C. is the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower worshiped. One of its pews even has a silver plate stating it was where Abraham Lincoln sat.

Let your mind go: It’s Sunday morning and here sits Dwight Eisenhower. He earlier had the responsibility of commanding our troops in Europe during WWII. Now he is here in Washington, D.C. serving as the President of the United States. Last night he said to Mamie, “We have to go to church tomorrow. I haven’t seen John Foster Dulles for several weeks, and I need to have a good visit with him.” So that day they went to church and heard the Word of God expounded well. But then he also met John Foster Dulles and others who were worshiping in that place.

That church is a place of joy! It is where Ike could understand that, although he was commander and chief of the armed forces, he was not the final voice of our country. Christ was the head! In this building he could experience all of this with his fellow brothers and sister in Christ.

I am thrilled when I see country churches not only built with little money, but also with a desire for a place to hear the Word of God, receive the sacraments, and joyfully fellowship with those who also trust the Savior. I am thrilled when I hear great musical writings, beautiful choirs, and trained voices, for it is a joyful time and can bring tears to my eyes. I am also thankful when I go to a less liturgical church and hear great gospel songs. God grant that we may sing them also in the larger churches.

“What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

O the joy that is in these buildings when believers come to worship the Christ and to be with one another!

What a joy it is to see some of the great works of art that men of great talent have put on paper to show what he means to us. Places and things, centered around Christ, that give the message of sorrow of what he had to do, but also joy for what he has done.

It is necessary for us to have our times of joy and our times of sorrow in our homes as well. Those in Bethany needed it; so do we. They needed Martha’s dinner; we also need to have dinner. Jesus loves the shout of a joyous “hallelujah!” coming from a person whose heart is touched when the preacher makes a point. The Gospel is something we rejoice in, but we also sorrow that Christ had to suffer and die.

I am happy we had that dedication day. I am happy for the church executive’s advice. I am also happy we have a place for the people of our community to come and worship our Lord. It is my God-given prayer that Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa will be a place where one can always hear the gospel and can sing, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my sov’reign die?” for he died for me and for you.

That is the message of Lent; it is the message for every Sunday. It is a message of joy and a message of sorrow every time we meet in worship.

Their Complaint Is Our Good News

Is anyone beyond God’s help and love and concern? What about child and animal abusers, drug dealers, murderers, adulterers, pornography kings, and bullies? Are they beyond God’s help, love, and concern? Some people think they are, and that is the mind set to which Jesus is speaking in this text.

Jesus came into this world proclaiming that the kingdom of God was drawing near; “Repent and believe!” Start living this new life God wants to give you. People became very curious about him.

In Luke chapter 14, Jesus is telling them how one becomes a disciple of his. Then, at the end of this chapter, he says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear. ” In chapter 15, we find the tax collectors and “sinners” (those considered to be despicable) gathering around to hear him. They were open to him and what he had to say.

Tax collectors were thought to be unpatriotic, dishonest, and very unlikable. They did not fit in with the rest of society, and the culture wished the worst for them. Sinners were those who were considered to be immoral. They had no time for religion and did not keep the Jewish laws. When the Pharisees and Scribes saw this group sitting at a table with Jesus, they didn’t approve and grumbled about it. “He welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

What’s the big deal, you might wonder. Well, table fellowship around the world, especially in the Mideast, is a fairly serious matter. To invite someone to share a meal is to bestow an honor upon them. To share a table is to share life with them. It is an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood. So when Jesus shared meals with these questionable types and welcomed them to join him, it offended the cultural and the theological sensitivities of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were doing their best to live according to God’s laws. They were moral people who wanted to do what was right and please God. However, they could not understand how anyone would have time for these terrible characters gathered around Jesus. So instead, they questioned Christ’s credibility.

In response to this behavior, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The shepherd in the story was a metaphor for God. The Pharisees would have known this quite well, for the Old Testament uses the same imagery (Psalm 23).

Sheep are often used as a description of the people of Israel or humanity, though not a complimentary image. They are quite helpless, and easily nibble themselves lost. Sheep are very dependent upon the shepherd for survival. Nevertheless, they are very valuable. To lose one would be a tragedy. So the shepherd conducts an all-out search to bring that sheep back home. And when he finds it, he rejoices and invites his neighbors to rejoice with him. The story ends with great joy.

Jesus wants us to get that, and he wants the Pharisees to get it as well. So he hits the Pharisees right between the eyes with his summary of the story: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

This is a picture of what happens in heaven when people, like those who were sitting around him, come home Ð when they are found. God and all of heaven celebrates so much more so than over the ninety-nine righteous. I have to wonder if Jesus smiled and looked at the Pharisees when he said that.

The story ends with a sting Ð “the ninety-nine who need no repentance.” Of course Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, for the Father loves sinners. He is passionate about lost people, for they are like lost sheep, and Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd in pursuit of lost people.

Who is lost? According to the Scriptures, a lost person is one who has become separated from God. He is living on his own power and his own terms. Perhaps he has nibbled himself lost in the busyness and distractions of life. He set his relationship with the Shepherd aside to pursue life, only to wake up one day and realize everything is kind of empty and something is missing. He is lost.

Some people get purposely lost. They just shake their fist in the face of God and say, “I don’t want anyone telling me how to run my life. Get away from me, God!” Others get religiously lost and end up doing all these right things for the wrong reasons. They may look good on the outside, but on the inside they are just as lost as those who have run away. I think Jesus was saying that about the Pharisees in this chapter.

However, the Pharisees’ complaint about Jesus is our hope and our good news. This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them! I am one sinner who is glad that he does. This statement, meant to be a criticism, is in reality a glorious truth that both comforts and afflicts.

First, it comforts us and encourages us to trust it as sinners.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6a). That’s you and me!

“. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). That’s you and me!

We are sinners in need of a Savior. The good news is, he welcomes us when we draw near to him and ask him in to take over our lives.

How can you be sure this is true? When Jesus tells this parable, he is on a very important trip. He is walking toward Jerusalem to suffer and die on a cross to pay for our sinfulness. But he will rise again in order to bring the lost ones home to their heavenly Father. All this he does to prove his love and his faithfulness.

The statement Ð he welcomes sinners Ð is true. He died on a cross in order to make that a very real possibility for us.

I’m reminded of the story of a man riding on a train who noticed a highly agitated young man sitting across the aisle. The man asked him what the problem was, and he was told that several years earlier, the young man had left home simply because his parents had not given him his own way in some matter of minor importance. Though he knew it would break their hearts, he stubbornly persisted in not writing to them. He ended up getting into all kinds of trouble, and, for several years, his parents had no knowledge of his whereabouts and activities.

Finally, filled with remorse and homesickness, the young man wrote his parents to say he wanted to come home if they were willing to have him. He suggested they tie a cloth to a pear tree in the corner of their orchard to indicate their willingness to forgive and receive him. As they passed by their farm just before arriving at the railroad station, he could see from the train window if they had forgiven him. If no cloth appeared, he would know he was not welcome and would continue on the train.

The young man was in agony as they neared the family farm. So the older man said he would look, and if the answer was negative, he would try to soften the announcement. The younger man agreed.

As the older man looked out the window, the train rolled past the family farm. He smiled and said, “It’s alright, son. There is cloth tied to every tree in that orchard.”

That’s the Good News: Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. It is our comfort as sinners in need of a Savior, but it is also our affliction; we are to pass this glorious truth along to others who also need that Savior. It’s a challenge to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and be a person who doesn’t write off sinners, but instead welcomes them. Wouldn’t it be great if someone said about me, “He welcomes sinners and eats with them!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have it said about your church, “They welcome sinners and eat with them.” Isn’t that the business we are really in as followers of Jesus Christ?

We are to passionately pursue lost, ornery sheep who need the Shepherd just like we do. We welcome the not-so-easy-to-love folks in the name of Jesus and then rejoice with all of heaven when they turn in his direction and begin to move toward him.

That is what we are about. It is the Church at its best.

What a marvelous Savior, Jesus Christ! He welcomes sinners and even eats with them.

Learning From History

There is an old saying Ð Don’t throw away history. You can learn a great deal from it. This is what today’s text is teaching us.

Israel was God’s chosen nation. As they traveled in the wilderness under Moses’ leadership, God took care of them. He fed them, gave them water to drink, and protected them from their enemies. They were the children of the promise. But one day God told Moses that, because of their disobedience, he and most of the people of Israel would never enter the promised land. Instead, they would be buried in the wilderness.

Now you might wonder why St. Paul brings up this particular incident from the Old Testament when writing a letter to the Corinthians. The answer is clear: “. . . these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” What does this mean for us?

Most of us in the world of Christendom baptize our children. Some prefer to wait until their child is old enough to make a confession before they are baptized. The bulk of this message is directed to those who baptize their children. For those who do not, I will give a special note at the end on how the lesson can also be applicable to you.

Baptism is a sacrament through which God speaks. It’s the beginning of God’s act of regeneration, which brings us into fellowship with him and with his people. Typically, parents bring their child to be anointed with water. They promise before Christ and congregation to raise him in the faith. They bring along sponsors, or godparents, so that, if the parent is not able to do what he has promised to do, the godparents will do it.

It is good for those of us who have stood at the baptismal font to remember that we promised God to teach those children the way of salvation. We promised to bring those children to church on a regular basis so they are surrounded by God’s people. We are to bring them to Sunday school and confirmation class. Then, on their Confirmation Day, we hear that child say, “I believe in Jesus Christ. I trust him.”

But the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of that young person has just begun, for he will want a life of his own, one different from the one he has been used to living. Those people who choose to live without Christ, however, are out of a relationship with God, even though they were baptized, for they turned their backs on God.

I often like to use a commentary by Dr. Tom Wright. He is an Episcopalian, a denomination that baptize their children. Writes this man,

“You must not presume that because you are baptized Christians, sharing in the community life where the spirit is known and present, and eating and drinking the bread and wine of the eucharist, you have automatically reached a level that requires no further moral effort or restraint. In other words, baptism has taken care of it all. Paul has a strong view of baptism and the eucharist: baptism really does bring you into the Messiah’s family, and the eucharist really does let you share in the life of the crucified and risen Jesus. But Christian sacraments are not magic. They don’t make you holy in all other respects. They don’t automatically bring you salvation. On the contrary, precisely because they are huge privileges, they carry corresponding responsibilities. Just as the children of Israel went slack on their responsibilities, and so lost their privileges Ð almost all of them failed to reach the promised land Ð so Paul is anxious that the Corinthians, who are insisting upon their Ôrights’ and Ôfreedom’, may slide back into paganism and so fail to make real for themselves the full Christian inheritance they have been promised. If even Paul needed to engage in a boxing match with his own body, in case he might find himself disqualified from God’s kingdom after having announced the message to others, how much more must the Corinthians be prepared to live out the life to which baptism and the eucharist point.”

Wright is saying our baptism, if we depart from it, will not save us. But after we have walked away, if we will be converted and return to the baptismal font Ð not to be baptized again, but return to what our folks have promised there Ð we will be saved.

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I am living in my baptismal covenant. I was born into a god-fearing home. My parents taught me to pray, they taught me the scriptures and sent me to Sunday school and church every single Sunday. I grew up in the faith; Jesus has always been my savior. From time to time, I have had awakenings in which Jesus comes to me in a precious way. He has always been mine. But not everyone can make this claim.

I think back on my confirmation class. A man from my confirmation class in Westbrook, Maine came to listen to me preach one time. Afterward he asked to speak to me. Then he said, “You know as I sat there listening to you, I thought ÔI have departed from the faith. I no longer consider myself a Christian. I no longer trust Jesus Christ as my Savior. In fact, I no longer believe in life after death!’ Can you help me?”

Well, in a few brief minutes I did everything that I knew to help him. I pointed him to passages in the scriptures, and I asked him to speak with the pastor of his church. I told him to lay it all out to his pastor in order that he might be converted.

I remember one time, when we were printing our annual report, we listed every person who was a member of the church except for one man. His name was omitted because he never came to church. He was in a business that was not very reasonable for a Christian to be in. Someone had even talked to him about his lifestyle, but he felt he knew what he was doing.

One day, this man became ill. As I stood by his death bed, I said to him, “My friend, are you trusting in anything to happen after you breathe your last? Is God going to do anything for you?”

“Oh, of course,” he said. “It’s all taken care of. I have been baptized.”

Now God forgive me if I am being judgmental, but nothing in that man’s life indicated that he was a believer in Christ. He could well have been likened to the people of Israel who were baptized into Moses, but then went on their jolly own way. God continued to bless them with food and shelter and protection, but they chose to live life their own way and do things not pleasing to God. They all ate and drank spiritual food, but they also committed adultery and wanted nothing to do with the hearing of God’s Word. God continued to protect them, but he would not allow them to enter the promised land. And so, even though all were baptized, only a few received their inheritance.

I don’t want to take anything away from baptism; I cherish my baptism. But if we think that because we have been baptized we can go on our own way and do just what we want to do, for we are going to heaven no matter what, we will be lacking the more important and wonderful things God has given us in our heavenly home. Again, being repetitious, baptism is very important; it is the beginning of the act of regeneration. However, if we believe that simply because we have been baptized, we can walk away and no longer consider Jesus Christ, no longer read his Word, come to the church, or point people to the Savior, we cannot, in any way, be saved.

Does this mean that we are saved by works? No, of course it doesn’t. It just means that baptism has to be followed until we get in a living, personal relationship with God. Then and only then are we his, both now and forevermore.

Think of those Israelites living out in the wilderness. They had their fun believing they could do whatever they wanted to do, for they were the children of Israel. Now think of us in today’s world. We choose to live as we please, but it is not according to God’s will. We scoff at God’s will and laugh at it believing he will see through our time of death. However, if, at that time, we have not come back to our baptismal covenant, then we will not be his forever.

To those who do not baptize infants: You wait for a time of awakening to stand before the congregation and make your confession. And then you are baptized. But that baptism is of no avail unless you continue to grow and live in it.

Baptism is extremely important, for it is where we begin our relationship with Christ. It is important, then, to also continue walking with him. The Word of God tells us that, when we do, we will be new people, different from those who have never been attuned to the Savior.