The Beatitudes: A Call To Holiness

All Saints 2018

Mt. 5.1-12

In last Sunday’s sermon I addressed the subject of spiritual maturity teaching you, from the Bible, that a mature Christian is one who loves, honors, and obeys the word of God. The word of God, revealed to Moses and the prophets and to the apostle’s of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been by the grace of God recorded and written for our learning in the Bible. The words of that book is food for our souls every bit as much as meat and vegetables is food for the body. Show me a mature Christian and I’ll show you a man or woman who hungers to learn more about the Bible and about the God who is the primary actor and subject of that book. Show me a person who comes to church but has little interest in the word of God and I’ll show you a soul who has a lot of growing up to do.

God has put us on this earth for a reason: to know Him and love Him, to serve Him in this world faithfully and be in communion with Him eternally in the greater world to come. A spiritually mature person knows this and seeks to fulfill his or her destiny by loving and serving God. But the world is full of many religions worshipping thousands of various deities. Does it matter which one we serve? Yes it matters. It matters absolutely. Faith begins by recognizing that God is not whatever we want God to be. Human beings did not invent God from out of their own imaginations. God created human beings from an act of divine will. And God revealed himself to the first humans. But human beings rebelled against God and invented many deities more to their own liking. And they soon forgot entirely who God was. God could have quit on this project, but because God’s motive in everything is love, God did not abandon his favorite creatures nor give up on winning back our love. Moved by divine pity God called out Abraham and his tribe, those who become known as the Jews, to bear witness to His word. “You shall have no other gods but me,” our Lord said to Moses on Mt. Sinai. By which he meant there is no other God but me, all the various faith traditions of the world other than the one founded on the revelation of God to Abraham and Moses are false (Ps. 96.5).

When it comes to the worship of God, diversity is not our strength. And to make the point even more clear and certain that there is but one true and living God, God came to the Jews in person, in the man Jesus Christ and revealed himself to be not only our Creator and Lord of all but our Savior and Redeemer, as well. The world tells us that a spiritually mature person is one who affirms all faith traditions on the grounds that they all essentially say the same thing and accomplish the same good. But what good is there in worshipping someone other than God’s only begotten Son, who alone guarantees the promise that, “All who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16)? Contrary to the confusion of the world, a spiritually mature person is one who sees Jesus for who he is, the Word of God incarnate (John 1.1-14)—the world’s Savior, and worships Him exclusively.

If asked, “Who do you think you are to talk like that, buster?” a spiritually mature Christian may reply with certainty, “I am a creature of God, a sinner in God’s sight. I’m the guy Christ died for, buster.” Or when asked, “What do you do?” She may say with passionate conviction, “I live each day to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ by obeying His every word in the hope that on the last day when He judges my soul He will look down upon me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Who doesn’t want God to be pleased with him or her? All of us who confess the faith of the Creed implicitly say we want that. But how many of us are willing to do all that God requires? Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his church explicit instructions to “observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28. 20). A mature Christian is one who is all in for Jesus, who does not listen idly to the word of God and give lip service to believing it, but who takes the word of God to heart and really lives it.

The Bible has a name for Christians like that: they are called “saints” (Col.1.1–5; Rev.22.21). Saints are the holy ones of God, those who are dedicated to serving Him by doing what His Word commands. Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. After Easter, this is the most ancient of the Christian holy days. The early Christians began to keep this day in honor of the martyrs, to remember those who gave up everything rather than betray the faith. Jesus told his church that if you wish to be counted among the saints you must “take up your cross daily and follow me”(Lk.9.23). We each have a cross to bear. We each have others who need us to be there for them but who will not be there for us. We all have undeserved suffering to bear, we all have those who oppose us, torment us, accuse us falsely, and aim to hurt us. We all cry out at times without being heard. We all have friends who when we need them most desert us. We all are attacked by devils that are relentless in their attempts to break our faith. We all are surrounded by unbelievers who want us to join them in their unbelief. We live in a world that hates Jesus Christ and resents no one more than his disciples. His disciples are those who follow him in the way of the cross, who dare to take up the cross he sets before them and carry it to the end no matter what. Jesus has many disciples who are faithful believers on Sunday morning. But when Friday comes with a crown of thorns, many run from the cross and cowardly shout, “I never knew the man!” But those who run to the cross, who dare to die to self so as to rise to the new life of grace, are called, “saints.” And it is to them that the Lord will say on the last day when the trumpet sounds, “Come, O blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25.34).

How I long to be in that number when the saints go marchin’ in. That’s a great joyful spiritual song that’s makes you want to kick up your heels and dance for the Lord. But it raises a serious question. Do you long to be in that number, and if so, are you willing to do what it takes? Some will say, “I’m willing and I know what it takes to be a Christian. Just believe in Jesus, that’s all it takes. All you have to do is confess your sins and accept Jesus as your savior and he takes your sins away and sets you free. As the Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2.21); and once saved always saved. You can be certain that if you believe in Jesus you are saved. That’s the promise of God. Amen, brother.

But that begs the question, what is belief? Can a person be said to be a believer if he confessed faith in Christ once long ago but never darkened the doors of the church again, not even to say a prayer or surrendered his soul to the socialist cause and then lived his life with his fist in the air? Christ did his part to secure our salvation by giving himself to death on the cross for our sake. But what is our part? Is nothing required of us other than a sincere confession of faith? I take issue with those who say that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and after that, no matter what you do, you are assured a place in his heavenly kingdom. To the contrary, it’s hard to listen to the Sermon on the Mount without feeling intimidated by the high expectations that Jesus sets for his disciples. After telling them that for the sake of the gospel they must be humble servants of each other, and endure suffering and loss courageously and without regret; that they must learn to love nothing so much as the Word of God, worship, prayer, and the beauty of holiness; that they must be merciful even to their enemies and not give in to sensual lust or lash out in anger but bear every burden and brush off rejection to keep the faith. And in case they didn’t understand what he meant, he made his point absolutely clear: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” he said (Mt. 5.48).

The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s game plan for Christians. He delivered this sermon to his nascent church on a mountain not far from Capernaum. And you can be sure that after hearing it many of those in the crowd quit following Jesus and never came back to his church, as it were. Most people like religion as long as it doesn’t infringe too much on their lifestyle. Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount is the ultimate alternative lifestyle. The spirit of this world goes one way, Jesus says go another way. The world says do your own thing. Jesus says do God’s thing. When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the holy mountain talking idly to themselves while Jesus was transfigured before them, God called them out and said to Peter emphatically, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” There are those who pay Christ lip service and there are those who listen to him. Which kind of Christian are you? Believers are those who obey his word and seek the perfection of holiness. If you don’t accept the goal of holiness and seek the perfection that Christ demands of his followers, for all your church attendance and confessions of faith, you aren’t really a believer at all. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom heaven,” Jesus said, “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me you evil doers. (Mt. 7.21-23). And again he warned them who were confident in their salvation without suffering for the sake of keeping the faith, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7.19–20). Saint Paul, the great expositor of Christ’s teaching put it like this, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6.7-8). In other words, salvation is more than saying, “I believe in Christ, I believe in the cross”. Salvation is God’s reward to those who prove their faith by seeking the spiritual perfection of the Beatitudes. Faith begins for each us in baptism with a confession but faith is infantile until it becomes a way of life that seeks the perfection of holiness.

The saints are those who do not run from the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount but embrace the high calling to which Christ has called us. That calling to the perfection of holiness he summed up for us in these few words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”( Mt. 6.33). In modern English that means put God first in your life and prove it by seeking to be a saint. A common saying is that wisdom comes with age. But that is humanistic nonsense. Wisdom begins in a fear of the Lord, in an awesome respect for God’s word and those at any age who have not yet determined on this are not even in the game. The kingdom of God that we are called to seek is not a feeling of inner peace nor is it found by looking into your center. The church is the visible body of the kingdom of God on earth and all who would be saved must enter it faithfully to receive the forgiveness of sins and be in Holy Communion with God. The Sermon on the Mount is a call to sinful humanity to come out of one’s self and live for God in the community of Christ’s body the church, the institution he founded to be the ark of our salvation.

Christianity is not a do-it-yourself religion. We either do it Christ’s way or we lose our way. Don’t be one of those who hides behind the excuse, “I don’t need organized religion. God loves me just the way I am.” Well yes, God loves each of us; his arms outstretched on the cross embrace us all. But remember also what he said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men” (Mt. 5.13). Just as salt can lose its taste so a Christian can lose his or her faith. Don’t let that be you. And it won’t be you if you do one thing: take the Beatitudes to heart and make it your goal in life to become a saint. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us how to do it. A saint is an ordinary man or woman who becomes extraordinary by trusting Jesus enough to begin to live for him and then having begun to live for him never quits trying, every hour of every day, to honor his every word.

The Mature Christian

Pentecost 23
Oct. 28, 2018

Hebrews 6.4-6

In the passage from Letter to the Hebrews that we read this morning, the priest chides his congregation for being like children, and then he lectures them about Christian maturity. I do not wish to chide you or lecture you. But picking up on the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews, I’d like to talk to you as a pastor and friend about spiritual maturity. Who is a mature Christian and what distinguishes a person with a mature Christian faith from one whose faith is immature and childish? I’ll begin by drawing attention to something easily overlooked. The New Testament reading this morning is from Hebrews 5.12-6.1; 9-12. It omitted verses 2-8. I don’t know why the authorities who designed this lectionary did that. But they did. I wish they hadn’t because these omitted verses, especially Hebrews 6.4-6 contain a powerful teaching about Christian maturity. The preacher who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, although he wrote it 2000 years ago, has an important message and warning about the cost of discipleship that we Christians today need to hear. Hebrews 6.4-6 is the heart of his message and so it’s to those verses that I wish to speak. We’ll look at those verses in a moment.

But first, as a way into this vast subject of Christian maturity, I’d like to introduce you to the Lectionary. For some of you this is elementary but for others this will be new. What is a lectionary? “Lectionary” is one of those words we only hear in church. It means a selection of readings from scriptures appointed to be read at religious services. Let me show you our lectionary. Take out your Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 889. You see there in big bold letters the Lectionary. This is where our readings come from for each Sunday. You see that there is a Psalm assigned for each Sunday. In the column that says lessons, there are three readings assigned for each Sunday: one from from the Old Testament, another from the epistles of the New Testament and then a reading from one of the four Gospels. You notice also that it says year A. And in year A the first Gospel reading is from Matthew. You’ll notice as you turn the pages that in year A, especially as we get to the season after Pentecost, p. 896, all of the Gospel readings are from Matthew. Now turn to page 900. This begins year B. And in year B you’ll see that the gospel readings are mostly from Mark. Turn to page 911 and you’ll find there the readings for year C, and you’ll note that the Gospel readings in Year C are mostly from Luke. The lectionary is designed so that over a three year cycle we read through much of Matthew, Mark and Luke with significant portions of John included each year. This means that every three years we read through all four gospels.

Now look at page 910. Can you find today’s reading? What is next week’s Gospel reading? No, it’s a trick question. Turn to page 15. There are 7 Principle Holy Days. When is All Saints’ Day? What are the special instructions for All Saints’ Day? Right, we keep it the Sunday after November 1. So next Sunday we’ll celebrate All Saints’ Day; but with what readings? Turn back to page 921. Here you’ll find the readings for Holy Days. What is the gospel reading for All Saints? Matthew 5.1-12. Matthew 5.1-12 is called what? Put down your Prayer book and take out your Bible and find Matthew 5. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. You can see that Matthew 5 is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and these first few verses are known as what? The Beatitudes. So it’s a safe bet that the text for next week’s sermon will be from the Beatitudes.

So the point of this primary instruction is to remind you that our Bible readings each Sunday are not chosen randomly by the parish priest but they are the same throughout the church. And great thought and care is given to offering readings for each Sunday that reflect the theme of the season. So during Advent we have readings about the second coming of Christ and about John the Baptist announcing Christ’s coming. At Christmas we read of his birth. During the eight Sundays of the season of Epiphany we read of God’s revelation of his Word to the Jews and to Gentiles. In Lent we read about temptation, sin, repentance, and conversion. During Holy Week we read about Christ’s Passion and death. During the Easter season we read about Christ’s resurrection and ascension. And during the long season of Pentecost we read stories that teach us how to live a mature Christian life following the example of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” The lectionary is designed to take us through the New Testament every three years with appropriate readings also from the Old Testament and from the Psalms. The Old Testament reading is almost always a prophecy and the Gospel reading shows its fulfillment. So, if you come to church every Sunday for three years, you will read all four gospels as well as the most important prophecies and stories in the Old Testament, plus the Psalms and if you pay attention and if the preacher does his job and preaches from the lectionary text, you will really learn a lot about the Bible.

And of course that is the whole point of it. We come to church to receive the sacraments and to, thereby, have our sins forgiven; to pray together with the church; and to hear the Word of God read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit. The Bible is the Word of God. That means that the Church has deemed the books of the Bible to be uniquely authoritative sources of doctrine. The Old Testament books are authoritative for us because they contain the words of Moses and the prophets and Jesus commending them to us. At age twelve, when he was teaching the rabbis in the Temple, he taught them from the books of the Old Testament which he thoroughly knew and loved. And the New Testament books are authoritative because they contain the teachings of Christ, revealed truths that heaven has handed down to us from his mouth, and through his apostles who received the inspired teachings from him, in person. The Bible is, therefore, a book unlike any other book. Each Sunday when we say after each reading, “This is the word of the Lord”, we are reminded that the stories and prophecies in the Bible not only speak to us of God but that God addresses us directly and personally in these words that we are, therefore, required by faith to receive, honor and obey. The word of God demands our solemn attention. Mature Christians have a responsibility to, as one of our Collects puts it “to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s word written in the Bible. The word of God is food for our souls. You don’t become a mature Christian by eating junk food but by eating healthy portions of the word of God on a regular basis.

The word of God written in the Bible is the foundation of our religion. Someone once asked me what is the difference between the catechism and the Bible? A catechism is a short book of religious instruction usually presented in a question and answer format. For example, a typical catechism would ask, what are the Ten Commandments? And then it would give the answer. Then it might ask, what is the Lord’s Prayer? And then give the prayer. And then it may ask, why do we call Jesus the Son of God? And then give a short answer. So a catechism is a kind of question and answer book from which we learn elementary doctrines of the Christian faith. We traditionally use a catechism to teach children in Sunday school or to instruct candidates for baptism and confirmation in the basics of the faith. And so there have been in the history of the church many catechisms. Just as there are many American history textbooks, each generation of Christians looks for a new way to teach the same old truths.

So catechisms come and go out of style but the Bible is what the church says it is. You can’t add books to it as the Mormons have done or subtract from it as some Protestant sects did at the time of the Reformation. The Bible is the rock on which our religion is built and so you can’t change it without changing the religion. Nor is the Bible an answer book. As anyone who has read the Bible knows, the Bible often raises more questions than provide answers. Catechisms are designed to be easy reading. The Bible is just plain difficult reading through and through. For one thing, the Old Testament, which runs over a thousand pages, tells the history of Israel from its beginning with Abraham right up to Christ; that’s over a thousand years. If you’re not in to ancient history, the Old Testament can be really tedious reading. The New Testament epistles are also difficult reading. For instance, many of them were written by Saint Paul whose writing style was so challenging that even Saint Peter complained in one of his letters that he couldn’t make sense of much of what Paul was saying. The four Gospels, which tell Jesus’ life story, are relatively easy and fun to read. But they are also complicated by the fact that Jesus’ birth, miraculous life, suffering, death and resurrection fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. So without a good grounding in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Gospels make no sense. If you’ve tried to read the Bible but gave up because you felt overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Everyone who attempts to read the Bible experiences that to some degree. Mount Everest is an intimidating mountain to any would-be climber, and the Bible is a very intimidating text.

Students are often expected to memorize the catechism. No one will ever memorize the Bible. Nor should we try. The Bible is a word spoken to us by God our heavenly Father. So the best way to read it is to welcome it as you would a letter sent to you from your Dad. You read it over many times and cherish it. And hold on to it. Read it over again and think about it some more. And hopefully, act on it and grow to know and love your father all the more for his having written to you. That’s how mature Christians are, they love the Word of God and cling to it and cherish it above all things.

Now, in your Bible, turn to Hebrews 6 and let’s read verses 4–6. “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.”

That’s a mouthful but it comes down to saying this: mature Christians love, honor and obey the word of God; in season and out of season, in war and peace, whether the cup is full or dry they “keep the faith once and for all delivered to the saints”, (Jude 3) and never ever commit apostasy. Apostasy is to turn away from Christ, deny his divinity, abandon the church, leave the faith and no longer live the word of God. If you apostatize, the apostle tells us, you are as good as dead. Or, as the preacher to the Hebrews put it, once you partake of the divine nature and receive the Holy Spirit, and taste the goodness of the word of God, you commit to Christ. If you leave him after that you become then no better than the faithless goons who cast lots for his clothing after nailing him to a cross. We’re not talking in the abstract. We’re talking about our children and grandchildren, our parents and grandparents, our friends and neighbors. We’re talking about an American secular society that treats religious commitment as if it were a fashion. We don’t have control over others, but we do have control over our own decisions and actions. Others may fall away, but don’t you fall away. There is nothing more important in this world than that a man or woman hear the word of God and act on it. A mature Christian will give up everything rather than knowingly betray the word of our Lord. This society is filled with childish Christians who are Christians in name only. Don’t be deceived or seduced by their cavalier attitudes. But above all things, keep the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and always to the end love, honor, and obey.

The Meaning of Baptism

Pentecost 22
October 21, 2018

I am happy to present to you today a book I’ve written. It’s called My Beloved Son, The Meaning of Baptism, Keeping the Faith in a Secular Age. I wrote the book for you and would like you to have a copy of it. So, if you didn’t take one as you came in please do so after the service, and if you’ll bring it to the coffee hour after church I’ll sign it for you. Those of you who have been coming to church here for the past 25 years will find little in this book that you haven’t heard from this pulpit many times. But then again, this is a book about the gospel of God: the teachings of Christ and the message of our salvation in Him (Rom. 1.1–6). The richness of that message, which is a revelation of the wisdom of God, is inexhaustible. I have found it to be a rule that we cannot meditate on the wonder of the gospel, study it, listen to it, and ask questions of it, without learning something new. The gospel of God is like a great symphony. As often as we hear it, we hear something new in it. Imagine a diamond with more facets than you could count in one lifetime; you would never tire of seeing it sparkle always from a different angle. Not that the gospel changes; it does not. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But because the gospel of our salvation is the message of God’s grace delivered to us in person by Him, it is not just a story of something that happened once in a time long ago, in a land far away. If it were such a story, I guess we could hear it once or even twice and be done with it. But, the gospel of God is more than a report of things past. It is an event that is always immediate and new because He who loves us is with us here and now. His wisdom and his love, which flow from his divine nature, are infinite; therefore the meaning of the gospel of God is a mystery we can never fully comprehend or exhaust. To hear it once and love it is to always want more of it. That’s a poetic way of saying that if you are inclined to take this book home, put it on a shelf, and not read it because you think you’ve heard it all before, think again. Jesus called his followers “disciples” for a reason. Disciples are students. As long as we are on this side of the grave walking with the Lord, class is in session. When it comes to the meaning of baptism, we all have a lot to learn.

Having attended Sunday school in our youth and come to church these many years, what can we learn about baptism that we don’t already know? Let’s reflect for a moment on the curious question that Jesus put to his disciples when he asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk.10.38). The disciples replied, “We are able.” And Jesus assured them that they would drink from his cup and receive the same baptism as He. But on that day before the triumph of Palm Sunday, when the disciples thought he was going to be crowned a king like all other worldly kings, only greater, the future bishops of Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic church had no idea really what he was talking about. They would soon learn, the hard way. What is the cup that Jesus called “the cup that I drink?” What was Jesus referring to when he spoke of “the baptism with which I am baptized?” What does that “cup” have to do with baptism?

Let’s begin our meditation on these mysterious words by remembering where the disciples and Jesus were at the time. They were approaching Jerusalem. And as they neared the city, Jesus, foreseeing the prophetic events that would transpire there, told them that “the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will mock him and scourge him and kill him and after three days he will rise.” (Mk. 10.33) Jesus knew what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. But by their response to His saying this, the disciples revealed that they did not hear what He was saying, nor did they understand his mission. The clue that they were clueless about him comes when, following this prophecy of his death, they called him “teacher” and then asked a favor of him. Jesus was not just a “teacher.” The rich young man, whose sad story we read last week, made the same mistake. He thought Jesus was a rabbi like any other rabbi and so missed a singular opportunity to serve the Lord. The disciples, likewise, were incredibly slow learners. Jesus was, as he said to them repeatedly, “the Son of man”: the perfect representative of mankind to God, the divinely appointed mediator between man and God. As the Son of man, his mission was to do much more than just teach wisdom and morality. As he would say to them, “The Son of man came not be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mk.10.45). A man who could say that about himself is not just a teacher. He was a prophet. But he was also more than a prophet. By giving his life as a ransom, he would become a Redeemer, Deliverer, and Savior. He did not prophecy that in Jerusalem he would be randomly murdered or assassinated by plotters. He said that he would intentionally give himself, willingly to death in order to free others. But free others from what? And how could he know all this ahead of time?

Jesus’ mission was to fulfill the scriptures. He knew what was going to happen to him because the Old Testament prophecies laid out what he would have to do to accomplish our salvation and what his enemies would do to him. The prophecy from Isaiah 53.1–12 that we read today tells the story. This is the most important prophecy in the Old Testament. You should know it by heart. It says that God’s “righteous one will make many righteous”, that he will be “numbered among the transgressors”; that God will “lay on him the iniquity of us all” and “by his wounds we are healed.” This prophecy was delivered to Israel five hundred years before Christ was born. But it remained an enigma to the Jews who didn’t understand it, and still do not. Israel waited all those centuries for God to act. Then Jesus was born, grew up in Nazareth, and received the baptism from John. Then Mark says he came into Galilee preaching the gospel and saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel” (Mk.1.15). Jesus called his message “the gospel”, the good news. His good news was the assurance that God’s righteous one foreseen by Isaiah had come and that he was about to fulfill the scriptures and by suffering and dying make many righteous.

But how would his suffering and death make many righteous? What could he accomplish by dying that he couldn’t do better by living? And what has his suffering and death to do with baptism and with a cup? It all seems so confusing, doesn’t it? The Bible, especially the prophecies, is not easy reading. One of the factors that makes reading the New Testament so difficult is that almost everything in the New Testament is a commentary on the Old, so that unless you know the Old Testament well, there’s no hope of understanding what’s written in the New. I’ve told you before; the gospel is not rocket science. It’s harder than rocket science. That’s why there are more capable rocket scientists than there are capable theologians. So pray for me, friends, as I try to explain the gospel.

Jesus told his disciples that he was going to drink from a cup. What cup? The cup that Jesus was destined to drink is the cup of God’s wrath. Isaiah 51.17-23, Jeremiah 25.28-29 and Ezekiel 23.31–35 spoke of it. The cup of God’s wrath is God’s anger poured out on the Jews for their disobedience to his laws and on Gentiles for their idolatry; the cup of God’s wrath is the punishment that God pours out on sinners for their immorality and apostasy. The cup is poison to our minds and souls. And yet the people of the world keep drinking from it because they prefer to be drunk and disorderly rather than keep sane and sober for their prayers. In this image of a world gone mad, there’s only one hope. Someone needs to drink the whole cup and drain it in order for others to stop drinking from it. If someone would drain the cup dry, there would be nothing more for the others to drink and without it, sanity and holiness would return to the earth. Human beings would then have hope of living in peace again with God and each other. When Jesus said that he would drink that cup, he meant that he would fulfill the scriptures of Isaiah and Jeremiah and that he would drink the poison cup of madness, drain it dry, and take God’s wrath upon himself. Jesus’ mission was to fulfill the scriptures and thereby win our salvation by drinking the cup of God’s wrath meant for us. By taking on himself the anger of God towards sinners, Jesus set us free; he abolished the curse put on Adam and Eve and their descendants and so restored us to God’s good graces.

Now, let’s think about something further. The Lord God said that “my righteous one will make many righteous.” He said “many” not “all.” Why are many saved to eternal life but not all? Because although Christ died for all, not all will believe in him, not all will accept him, not all will love him, not all will receive baptism in his name. It remains up to each one of us as individuals to decide whether we will believe in Jesus and rejoice in what he has done for us. As Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in him may not perish but will have eternal life”( John 3.16). Jesus has done his part. He has drunk the cup of God’s wrath and fulfilled the scriptures that demanded his self-sacrifice. Now it’s up to you, as it’s up to each of us to decide. Will you love him or not? Will you open your heart to him or not? Many have, many do, and many will. But not all believe and not all will be baptized.

So that brings us to the meaning of baptism. Jesus instituted baptism to be the sacramental means by which God unites us to his Son so that, through baptism, all the benefits of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection become ours. Because He drank the cup of our punishment, died and then was raised up to eternal life with God in heaven, we who are united to Him in baptism also are freed from God’s wrath and blessed with a new eternal life. In other words, because God’s Son makes us one with him in baptism, we become in baptism as much sons and daughters of God as he is. We are not, as he is, in full possession of the divine nature. That prize will be ours in the final judgment. But until then we are, as the Son of man is, forever reconciled to God who has forgiven us our sins because our Savior obediently fulfilled the scriptures even unto death. Adam’s disobedience left us estranged from God. Christ’s obedience has restored us to full communion with God. Therefore, we no longer drink the cup of God’s wrath, but we drink the cup of God’s forgiveness that Our Lord shares with us in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

So that is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized.” Jesus has instituted the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion to be the means by which we receive the forgiveness of our sins. Don’t take any of this for granted. Many who think they know something think that baptism is just a little ceremony we do to initiate newcomers into the church and that Holy Communion is a little memorial we keep for the sake of tradition. Many grow weary of the gospel and tired of the church and lose their faith, thinking that all of this stuff about drinking the cup of God’s wrath is nothing but mythology. I can only tell you what I tell you every Sunday, that the gospel is not mythology but theology grounded in history that proceeds from a genuine revelation of God. Christ has really done this. He accomplished his mission by fulfilling the scriptures. If you don’t believe me read Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 again and then read the story of Christ’s passion and death on the cross and see for yourself. Jesus did what he said would do. He gave his life as a ransom for many, as prophecy demanded. And we, who have been baptized in his name, owe our salvation to him. Today as we come to Holy Communion and drink from his cup, remember and never forget that salvation is not cheap. Christ purchased our salvation at the cost of his life. We owe him everything, really everything; and because of him we have everything, really everything to hope for and even in the darkest hour no reason ever to despair.