24 April 2017

The One Who Believes and Is Baptized

St. Mark was an Evangelist, in the first place, because he was a preacher of the Gospel.  He is said to have gone to Alexandria and preached the Gospel there.  The Church identifies the Apostles and Evangelists with particular places, because the Gospel and the Church are historically grounded and located in real space and time.  Christ has sent His preachers of the Gospel into all the earth, into the whole world, to make disciples of all nations, and yes, in fact, to preach the Gospel to all of creation.  For all of creation is made new in the Resurrection of Christ, in His flesh and blood.

St. Mark is an Evangelist because he was such a preacher.  But he is also one of those four holy Evangelists by whose hand the Lord has given us the written Gospel of Jesus, a record of our Lord’s words and actions, of all that Jesus began to do and teach.  It is not only an historical record, but a theological treatise, and really nothing less than the preaching of Jesus, in which He is actively present, breathing His Holy Spirit upon His Church.  These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you have life in Him.

St. Mark begins his record of the Holy Gospel — the Gospel of Jesus Christ — with the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  He came in the wilderness preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the Kingdom of God was at hand in the Person of Christ Jesus.

Then Jesus came and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And after He was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days, He also began to preach, “Repent, and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Repent, therefore, each one of you.  Believe the Gospel, and be baptized.  This Word is for you and for your children.  It continues from the Cross and Resurrection to the close of the age.

If you have not been baptized, submit yourself to Baptism.  Be put to death and raised by the washing of water with the Word.  And if you have been baptized, then live as a Christian.  Do not forget your Baptism, but daily wash yourself in it by repentance, by trusting the Word of Christ, by receiving His means of grace.  Be put to death each day, and rise again with Christ each day.  Repent, and believe the Gospel.  For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Trust the Lord your God.  Look to Him who is your Father, who has called you His own dearly beloved and well pleasing son.  Look to Him who promises to give you all good things in Christ, and pray as He has taught you.  Do not doubt but firmly believe that your prayer is heard and answered with a resounding “Yes and Amen!” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

And that you may believe and pray in this way, hear and heed the Word of God.  Rejoice to hear His Word and the preaching of it, the preaching of the Gospel, as St. Mark wrote by inspiration, and as your pastors to this day preach into your ears, into your heart, and into your body and life.

This Word is true.  It is Spirit, and it is Life.  Do not doubt it.  Be not unbelieving but believing.  For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.  But he who disbelieves will be condemned.

The Lord will give a crown of righteousness to all who have loved His appearing.  He grants His salvation to those who believe His Word and promises.  He gives the Kingdom of God to all who repent, as He gives that special authority to His Church, such as we heard yesterday, to forgive the sins of those who repent, but to retain the sins of those who do not repent.

But what does this mean?  For all that Jesus has done, does it still come down to you?  Must you figure out how to repent, and how to believe, and how to live by faith, or else it is all for naught?

Consider the example of those eleven disciples.  They had already heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women.  They had already heard the testimony of the two disciples who were on the Road to Emmaus and saw the risen Lord Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  But they refused to believe the testimony of those witnesses, and Jesus rebuked them for their hardness of heart, just as He calls you to repent above all for your unbelief and hardness of heart.

But your Baptism does not rest upon your faith.  The Lord Jesus does not stand upon your love.  And the Kingdom of God does not depend on your repentance.  Your faith rather stands on Christ, as it springs from the waters of His Baptism and relies upon His Gospel.  And it is because the Kingdom of God first comes to you, that you are called to repent.  Not only to sorrow for your sins and turn away from them, but to find shelter in this One who has come in the Name of the Lord.

He has come in the flesh as true Man.  He has borne your sins and suffered your death.  And He has done it all — He has lived and died for you — by faith in His God and Father.  This Lord Jesus Christ has believed.  This Lord Jesus Christ has been baptized, even unto death.  And this Lord Jesus Christ has been saved from out of death and the grave through the Glory of the Father.

Do not ever look for your salvation in yourself, not even in your own faith.  You cannot choose to believe.  You cannot will it.  You cannot decide to do such a thing.  For sin and death reign in your flesh until the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart through the forgiveness of your sins.

It is the work of Christ that is credited to you as righteousness.  It is the work of Christ that is given to you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.  It is Christ who speaks to you through those whom He has called and sent in His Name.  He forgives all your sins and grants you His Peace.

This, then, is the work of Christ, which He has done, and which He works in you.  When Christ is preached to you as the One who believed and was baptized, who was crucified and raised, this work of Christ is worked in you.  So that you are called to faith through the narrow passage of the Cross.  And you are born again into newness of life.  You are called out of darkness into His glorious Light.  Where once there was nothing but doubt and fear and sadness, now there is joyful confidence in the One who was raised from the dead.  For He has come to take up residence in you — through your ears and through your mouth, into your heart and mind, into your body and life.

He opens the Scriptures to you.  Not that you should know the rules better and try harder to keep them, but that you should know them as fulfilled in Jesus for you.  As He has died, you also die with Him.  As He is raised, you also are raised with Him, to live with Him, now and forever.

Be encouraged in this life by the sort of men whom Jesus calls and sends.  Men like Simon Peter, who denied his Lord in fear, and yet he was restored and sent as the prince of the Apostles.  He preached boldly on the Feast of Pentecost, and he kept on preaching until he was martyred as a testimony to his crucified Lord Jesus Christ.  Men like Thomas, who doubted to begin with, but who was sent — not in doubt, but in confidence — to preach boldly until he also was put to death.  And men like Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the Church, the hater of Jesus, who was called to become His great champion to the Gentiles.  He preached the Gospel even to the ends of the earth in his day, until he too was martyred for the Name of Christ Jesus.

And then there’s Mark.  Many believe that he was that rich young man who came to Jesus, asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?”  When Jesus told him, “Love your neighbor; keep the Commandments,” he replied, “Oh, I’ve already done that!  But now what else?  There must be something greater, more noble and courageous, that a wealthy young man like me can do.”

Okay, then.  Jesus says, “Go ahead and give up your wealth.  Get rid of it all.  Give it to the poor.  Feed the hungry.  Take care of the widows and orphans in their distress.  And then, as for you, come, follow Me.  To Jerusalem.  To the Cross.  To suffering and death.”

At that point, the young man (Mark?) went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions.  He could not let go of those gods.  His belief in his stuff was too strong, his belief in Christ Jesus too weak.  Yet, Jesus loved him and looked on him in compassion, and He did not forget him.

Flash forward to the events of these past few weeks.  It is St. Mark who records in his Holy Gospel that young man who was there in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Remember?  There he was, wrapped in a linen sheet, watching, and wondering what will happen.  Suddenly he’s caught up in the fracas, and the soldiers grab him, but he slips out of his sheet like a Roman toga, and off he runs into the night, bare naked.  And whether he was that same rich young man or not, he’s been stripped down to nothing at that point.  And he has followed Jesus to His Passion.  But that is not the end.

There is finally that “young man,” as St. Mark describes, who sits in the open, empty tomb, clothed in white.  A young man, not naked.  A young man, not relying on himself or his wealth or his good works, but a young man who preaches Jesus.  “He is not here.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  Go and tell His disciples and Peter, He will meet you, and He will tell you what to do.”  We know that young man was an angel of the Lord, but this is also the preaching of St. Mark, who was himself crucified and raised with Christ Jesus, and clothed in His righteousness and holiness.

Such are the men, fallible and flawed, weary, weak, and wounded, whom your crucified Savior raises up in His strength and sends in the way of His Cross to the glory of His Name.  They have their doubts, they have their fears.  They suffer hurt and pain and ridicule and persecution.  They are even put to death, despised and rejected by men, though they are precious to God in Christ.

It is through such weakness, by and with the Cross, that the Gospel is preached to you.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  It is the preaching of repentance, which puts you to death, and destroys your self-confidence, and robs you of any claim to righteousness or merit or good works.  It is a word that wounds you in order to heal you, and kills you in order to make you alive, because it is the Word of Christ the Crucified, who is also risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever.

This is the Word that is preached to you.  And with this Word of Christ there are signs, which you cannot recognize by your eyes, but by the faith that God works in your heart you know what is going on here.  By the waters of your Baptism, and by the forgiveness of your sins, all of your demons are cast out.  All of your darkness is enlightened.  All of your dirt is washed away.

When Jesus lays His hand on your head, and His servant speaks with that new tongue of the Gospel, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name and stead of Christ,” you know and believe that you are thereby healed.  Your body is made ready for the resurrection on the last day.  You shall not perish but have everlasting life.  You shall not die but live.

The deadly serpent’s sting has been undone.  That old dragon, Satan, cannot harm you.  He can still try and bite you.  But it doesn’t stick.  The sting of death is removed.  The sting of sin is gone.

Nor is there any deadly poison in that overflowing Chalice which the Lord Jesus sets before you on His Table.  It is rather His Blood of the New Testament, the Blood of Christ Himself, which He pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

When you have doubts, do not be afraid, and do not run away from God, but listen to His preaching of the Gospel.  By this Word He keeps on loving you.  He keeps on forgiving you.  He keeps on coming to you.  So does faith come by hearing, and hearing by this Word of Christ.  And as you believe, so it is done.  In fact, before you have called, God answers.  And while you are yet speaking, already He is acting to save you — through men like Mark, pastors He has never failed to provide for His Church on earth.  So are you and all the sheep of the Good Shepherd nurtured on the green pastures of His Gospel, refreshed by the living waters of His Baptism, and fed at His Table in His House, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of body and soul

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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