1st Sunday in Lent

Originally published at: https://confident.faith/2020/03/05/1st-sunday-in-lent/

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  • Genesis 3:1–21
  • Psalm 32:1–7
  • Romans 5:12–19
  • Matthew 4:1–11

Why do we baptize infants? We could say that it is the historical practice of the Church, that only a tiny — if vocal — minority oppose infant Baptism, and that Scripture commands it — ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ — and commends it — ‘Baptism … now saves you.’ — but let us go deeper and further back. Let us go back to a Garden, somewhere in the Near East, and a Tree with fruit and a snake. In Adam all men sinned, and do not fall prey to the temptation to minimize this — original sin is not merely a predisposition or the inherited consequences of our forebears’ sin. Original sin is actual sin and it dooms as surely as murder, adultery, and theft. We all die — ‘For thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.’ — because the wages of sin is death, and we are all sinners.

I will not belabor the point, but suffice to say that we all know that children often act — let’s say — less than angelic. As the psalmist cries out: ‘I was born in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ ‘For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.’ In that one trespass in the Garden, all stand judged and condemned, for all stand in Adam. He is the federal head of our race, and we are his fallen and sinful children.

But it is not only that one trespass, for we stand doubly condemned — under original, inherited sin and under our own actual sins. Every day, we choose idols instead of God. We are fearful and anxious because we do not truly believe God’s promises — our faith is smaller even than a mustard seed. In envy, we stand condemned of theft; in lust, we stand condemned of adultery; and, in anger, we stand condemned of murder. We sin in what we do and in what we fail to do; we sin with our hands, with our tongues, and with our minds. It matters not if we start at the beginning — we do not love God as we ought — or at the end — we are covetous to our core — or select at random — we do not honor our fathers and our mothers and obey proper authority; we break every single one of the Commandments.

So, why do we baptize infants? Because they are in the same sinking ship in which we find ourselves. Conceived in sin and born in iniquity, they are just as spiritually dead in sin and trespass as once we were. In the waters of Baptism, we drown the old Adam and bring forth the new man in Christ. Though the water is, by itself, mere water and the pastor a fellow sinner, the Word makes the water a Sacrament and the hands of the pastor are the very hands of God Himself. None of us was baptized by a mere man, for Baptism is not a work of man — it is a work of God that offers regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. We baptize infants because we believe the words of Scripture that tell us the promise is for us and for our children.

Through the waters of Baptism we pass from the kingdom of sin, death, and the devil to the Kingdom of the risen Lord. In the Garden, Satan distorted God’s command: ‘Did He say you could not eat from any tree?’, and Eve was deceived and Adam ate. Many years later, but perhaps not so many miles from that tree in the Garden, Satan tempted a Man in the desert. He (Satan) used the Word of God, distorting it to fit his purposes, to attempt to push the Son of God from the path that would lead to Calvary. Whatever form the temptations took — fleshly pleasures and demands (the food), spiritual conceit (tempting God), or temporal power (the kingdoms) — Christ resisted them all. Finally, He did what our parents did not — He shouted: "Be gone, Satan!"

In the trespass in the Garden, many were made sinners, but Christ’s work is greater than Adam’s, greater than the Fall. Despite many trespasses, all were justified by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. It is that free gift following many trespasses that comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Though your sins are as scarlet, when you wash your robes in the blood of the Lamb, they will be made white as snow.

In the words of Isaiah, Christ bore our iniquities so that we can be accounted righteous. This is not our righteousness or grace infused into us; rather, this is an alien righteousness won by Christ in His perfect obedience — even unto death — and imputed to us. We have been declared righteous by grace through faith on account of Christ crucified. You are a baptized son or daughter of the Father, and Christ will not lose you from His hand.

Before the foundations of the Earth were laid, your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The world, the flesh, and the devil will tempt and accuse you, but the work is done — their argument is with Christ. In this life, you are simultaneously saint and sinner. You will be tempted and you will fall, but those sins have already been forgiven. Your every sin was nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago. In the desert, Christ rebuked Satan and told him "Be gone!"; on the cross, He spoke even more powerful words: "It is finished!"

Christ did not say: "It is begun." or "Almost done!" No, He said "It is finished!", because His work was necessary, sufficient, and complete. You can add nothing to Christ’s work, and that is the Good News — it is the announcement of Christ’s victory, and with it the setting free of those who were slaves to sin. If you believe that you can add something to Christ’s work, you will need to travel back two thousand years to Golgotha, and you will need to pull Him down from the cross and climb up there yourself.

Instead, when you are tempted to doubt or to sin, join with Christ and say: "Be gone, Satan, for it is finished!" Always remember that he would seek to accuse you here because he was cast from Heaven and cannot accuse you there, before the Father. In and under the blood of Christ, God has become our hiding place, our ever-present help in trouble, and our refuge from the vicissitudes of this life. I am a child of God — what can man do to me? Yes, original sin still clings to our nature and the ground is still cursed (and childbirth, I am told, is still rather unpleasant), but original sin is not our nature and it, too, will finally be burned away when we are raised imperishable — to eternal life at the sound of the trumpet. On that glorious day and for all eternity thereafter, we will never again suffer temptation or sin. Our sin is covered and our transgressions forgiven; in fact, God will not even remember our sins.

The world, the flesh, and the devil have their day, but they will not endure. At the consummation, even death will pass away, for death is a consequence of sin and where sin is no more, so also death must be no more. We, however, will be raised in restored, incorruptible bodies. For we know that our Redeemer lives, and as He hung on a cross outside Jerusalem and as He sits enthroned and is here — in this very place — with us unto the very end of the age, so also He will again stand upon the Earth, and in our flesh and with our eyes, we will see God.