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The text for today comes from our Epistle lesson, 1 Peter 3:15-22, which has already been read.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Death is inevitable. Sooner or later you and I must face the prospect of the end of our lives, because unless the Lord comes back for us first, we are all going to die. At this point, you may fear dying. You may be angry at the prospect of death. These are appropriate and valid feelings. Death never was God’s will or intention for humanity. He created us to live forever, but sin brought death.
At the same time, we Christians need not fear death, for it is only the doorway into the loving presence of our heavenly Father. It is not a leap into the dark, but a welcome home into the arms of the One who first created us and has loved us from our mother’s womb. I firmly believe this. I am not courting my own death, but I have no anxiety about it either. I know that my eternal life—in which I already live through my Baptism—is assured through Christ’s death and resurrection for me and for all who believe in Him. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus guarantees it: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
I live daily in that hope. Not that I hope I’ll be saved, for I am saved—by God’s grace. But I live in the biblical understanding of the word “hope”—the confidence and conviction that when I die, I shall be forever with the Lord.
Do you believe this about your own death and the life to come? God wants you to have that certainty. Our text says, “Christ also suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God… Baptism… now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:18, 21-23).
Still, whether lurking on the fringes of our consciousness or blocking our direct vision, the cold, hard fact remains that death awaits all mankind. All die, for all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. And because mankind generally rejects God’s Word, it looks for some other ways to deal with death.
There are the scientific options—attempts not just to extend life, but to defeat death. Scientists examine chromosomes and map DNA, looking for causes of disease or aging, in the hopes that death can be beaten with genetic engineering. Some pay to have themselves cryogenically frozen in hopes that technology will successfully reverse laws of God and nature. It’s all a losing game, though, because the world of science is governed by the law of entropy. All things eventually fall apart, wear out, and die.
So that option fails, leading to another. In a desperate attempt to overcome the grave’s terror, man seeks to make death a friend. Many will say that death is simply part of the great cycle of life: we live and we die. Some make this into a religion, declaring that we’re simply an organ of a greater organism—the Earth, and our life continues after death by fertilizing the greater body. Life and death go together as close companions. We’re just aimless accidents who breathe for a while. But if that is the case, then our existence is futile, and we have no hope.
Others seek to create eternal life without life or eternity. Some seek to comfort themselves by declaring, “Upon our death, our spirits simply live on and on.” This is a nice sentiment, but there is simply no proof for it. Likewise, others will say that our lives continue by the legacies we leave, the contributions we have made or the families we have brought into being. These things continue, for a while at least, yes; but we still die and, at least eventually, so do our legacies.
There’s one other option—the popular choice of denial. Simply pretend that death doesn’t happen. Let’s just not talk about it. Focus all of society on being young, feeling young. Make fitness into a god and pay the plastic surgeon.
Our society is largely in a huge denial of death. It’s one reason why genocide overseas gets so little attention, because it seems so unreal. It’s also a reason why disasters and terrorist attacks close to home are so shocking. They cut through the imaginary Kevlar that says death is just a concept, nothing more.
Sooner or later, though, we all die. Sooner or later, casket and grave preach Law that cannot be refuted—or overcome by science, fond wishes, or denial. Death is close at hand, dear friends, and that would lead us to despair. Except that the Savior was born in Bethlehem, was crucified on Calvary’s cross, and is risen from the grave. And, dear baptized people of God, He has already given you eternal life. You are already alive forever. Hear again this Word of the Lord:
“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death but made alive by the Spirit… Baptism now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand” (1 Peter 3:18, 21-22).
Jesus died for you. Most of you have heard this often. Jesus died on the cross to take away your sins. We teach that in the earliest years of Sunday school. But ponder His death for a moment in a different way. On the cross, Jesus died twice. He suffered eternal death—the “second death,” and He suffered physical death, too. The second death came first and was far more horrific. On the cross, Jesus suffered hell for the sins of the world. God damned His Son on the cross for the sins of all. He forsook His Son and made Him to be sin there (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus suffered an eternity of the second death while He was on the cross.
That eternal second death came to an end, however; when Jesus prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having undergone eternal death, and already being delivered from it, He then declared, “It is finished!”—and He breathed His last. He suffered the physical death of His battered flesh and blood.
But even that was not the end! Three days later, Jesus rose again from the dead. He appeared to the women, then to the disciples, and then to many more. He showed them His body, His hands, and His side, demonstrating both that He had died and that He was risen. Risen again, He lives and reigns forever at the Father’s right hand. He has conquered the inevitable ends of death and grave.
We embrace and confess this when we recite the Creed. With joyful anticipation we say, “We look to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This is good news, but it is not all the good news. There is more, and it is this: you do not just look forward to eternal life. You already have eternal life. Jesus gave it to you in your Baptism.
He died your death for sin, suffering God’s wrath on the cross. In Baptism, He shares it with you and you die with Him. Having borne the totality of hell for your sin, Jesus shares this death with you with a splash of water accompanied by His Word. If you are asked, “Will you suffer God’s judgment for your sin?”, an appropriate response is, “I already have suffered all the judgment that is left for me. That is, Jesus suffered it for me, and shared it with me in Holy Baptism.”
This is one of your great comforts as you ponder the end of life. You can be sure that the second death does not lie ahead, because it’s already done. You’ve already died to sin. But it doesn’t stop there, either. Christ suffered that death and rose again. And not only does He share His death with you, but He also shares His resurrection. You have died to sin in Holy Baptism, and you have been raised up with Christ there. Your once-dead soul now has eternal life already now.
Of course, we must condemn the error of the one who says, “Since I am baptized and I have already died and risen in Christ, I can now quit church and do whatever I want. My salvation is secure.” This leads only to condemnation, for it really says, “In Baptism, I died to sin with Christ and rose again. But I prefer sin and desire to return to that dead state. No eternal life for me, thank you.”
You can see, then, the precious treasure and power of Holy Baptism. And you can see the frightful sin of avoiding it. The one who says, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t want to be baptized” is saying, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t want to die and rise with Him. I don’t want Him to share His death and resurrection with me.” Faith in Christ and a rejection of Baptism simply do not compute.
You can also see why we bid new parents to hurry to the font with their newborn children. So great is the curse of sin that even infants suffer death at times. So Jesus was born an infant so that He might go to the cross and redeem them as well. He shares His death and resurrection with them at the font, too.
And you can see why Luther rejoiced, “I am baptized!”, not “I was baptized.” We do not say, “Once upon a time, I had eternal life with Christ,” but “Because of Baptism, I have eternal life in Christ.” We do not shout, “He was risen!” on Easter Sunday, but rejoice that Christ lives forever: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”
“I am baptized” does the same. It declares that eternal life is already ours now, for the sake of Christ. What a precious treasure this is! And this treasure grows only more precious in the face of death. It’s important that we drive this point home, because you may not think much about Baptism when death draws your baptism lies in time at the far end from your dying. But it happens even more so because the devil and your Old Adam wish to deny you this comfort.
You see, when death is near, it looks like the final end—that the mouth of the grave will swallow you up. But your Savior tells you different. He says, “I’ve died, and death could not hold Me. I’ve conquered death of body and soul. In Holy Baptism, I share that victory with you. Your soul has already been raised up to eternal life; and now, My beloved child, your body is about to be raised up again, too. Death remains your enemy, but I keep it under My feet.
“And until I destroy this last enemy once and for all, I use it to transform your battered, afflicted body into one like My glorious, resurrected body. You have been living eternally by faith since the moment I baptized you. Now you are about to start living eternally by sight in My glory, too.”
I do not pretend to believe that this removes the haunting specter of death or the terror that it will whisper. But even as we do not mourn as those who have no hope, neither do we die as those who have no hope. In fact, St. Peter encourages us to, even in the face of suffering and death: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Dear baptized people of God, rejoice! Baptism now saves you! Christ has died, and Christ is risen. You were dead. In Baptism, you are alive. You have eternal life even now, because you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.