Death to Life

Luke 7:11–17 11Soon afterward Jesus went on his way to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd were traveling with him. 12As he was approaching the town gate, there was a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother. She was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” 14He went up to the open coffin, touched it, and the pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

16Fear gripped all of them, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us” and “God has visited his people!” 17This was reported about him in all of Judea and in all the surrounding countryside.

“If we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8) Amen.

Maggie Sun was a Chinese student attending Shoreland. Maggie’s mother and grandmother were not Christians. The Holy Spirit converted Maggie, though, as she heard God’s Word at Shoreland, living with her host parents, Pastor and Judy Peters, and worshiping with us and taking adult confirmation classes at Epiphany.

When I baptized Maggie at our font in January of 2016, I choked up a little. My daughters teased me later that I teared up at Maggie’s baptism, but not at their baptisms or confirmations. I explained to them that at their baptisms and confirmations, I knew they were surrounded by a Christian family, Christian godparents, and Christian congregation. Maggie has none of that. When Maggie goes home to China, her mother and grandmother are not Christians. There is no Christian church in her hometown. Only 2.3% of China’s population is Christian.

The Holy Spirit had brought Maggie out of the darkness of atheism into the light of Christianity. She had been in bondage to Satan, but had the shackles broken through faith in Christ. Through the waters of baptism, Maggie was brought from death to life.

The prayer we prayed for Maggie’s baptism, and every private or public baptism, has these words: “Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father, through your stern judgment the unbelieving world was destroyed by the flood, but according to your great mercy, you saved Noah and his family. You engulfed stubborn Pharaoh and his army in the waters of the Red Sea but led your people through those same waters to safety on dry land. In the waters of the Jordan your own Son was baptized and anointed with the Spirit. By these signs you foreshadowed the precious, cleansing bath which you give us in Holy Baptism.”

God drowned sin and unbelief in the worldwide flood. Through those same waters, God kept Noah and his family safe within the ark. Through the waters of baptism, God drowns our sinful, unbelieving, inborn nature and creates new life with a new Christian nature. We are kept safe and secure from this dying world as we dwell in the holy ark of the Christian Church.

God parted the waters of the Red Sea to get the nation of Israel to safety from slavery and death in Egypt. God used those same Red Sea waters to drown stubborn Pharaoh and his chariots and horsemen. God uses his baptismal waters to pass his people from death to life. St. Paul writes: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).

God uses death to bring about life. The flood. The Red Sea. Christ’s cross. Baptism. Christ’s victory on the cross means Satan’s defeat. This victory is personally applied to every believer in baptism. It is no accident that the church to this day precedes baptism with the renunciation of Satan and all his works and all his ways. We all come into this world as slaves to Satan, the Pharaoh of hell. We are born with the inclination toward evil, just like the unbelievers drowned in the flood. In the waters of baptism, we are set free from our slavery to Satan. Our sinful nature is drowned and killed through the baptismal flood at the font. We share in the victory Christ won by his cross. But that victory comes out of death.

For baptism to grant us life it must first plunge us into death. This is precisely why there is life in this water; like the water of the Red Sea – it brings life by destroying the enemy. When we pass through the waters of baptism a death occurs. It is the same death Christ died long ago: “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10).

In baptism our sins are buried with Christ, and we die to sin. Our baptism is our grave. A grave like Pharaoh’s – a watery grave.

All of this happens at the baptismal font with a splash of water and God’s spoken Word.

Our baptismal font was not always in the center of the chancel. It used to be off to the side near the pulpit. It would only be brought to the center for a baptism. By placing the font at the center of the chancel, it symbolizes that baptism is important for our daily lives. The altar is the symbol of God’s presence among us in church. In order to see the altar, you must first see the font. That visually symbolizes that we must be made clean and holy through baptism to enter God’s presence.

Our font, like many baptismal fonts, has eight sides. There is symbolism of death to life in those eight sides. Eight is the number of the new creation. God began creation anew with the eight people who were saved on the ark. By baptism we are newly created to live in the risen life of Christ.

Jesus died on Friday, the sixth day of the Jewish week. He slept in the grave on the Sabbath, the seventh day. All four evangelists are careful to point out that Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Add it up: 7 days of Holy Week + 1 Easter Sunday = 8. Jesus rose from death to life on the eighth day. The first day of the week is thus the eight day of creation and at the same time the first day of the new creation.

It is no accident that our font has eight sides. We are made new creations in Christ in the waters of baptism. We die to sin and are raised to life in Christ. We drown our Old Adam, our sinful nature, in these baptismal waters and a New Man, a sanctified life, is raised to life anew. The problem is that our Old Adam is a very good swimmer. That’s why we need to keep coming to the font daily and weekly in our confession and absolution to daily drown our Old Adam by contrition and repentance.

On the eighth day, a dove soared free from the ark and eight people stepped out on dry land, and the world began again. On the eighth day Jesus stepped out of death into life, the first day of the new creation. This drama continues to unfold in our lives here at church. In baptism we are joined with our crucified and risen Lord. We, too, rise from death into life. Baptism is our personal eighth day, the beginning of our new creation as sons and daughters of the risen King.

There is death in that water. There is life in that water. It is the death and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus brings life from death at the baptismal font just as surely as he brought life from death on the road to Nain.

Jesus is approaching the gates of the small town of Nain. He has a crowd following him. He has been preaching to various groups, gathering disciples and healing the lame and deathly ill. There is a funeral procession coming out of Nain. The two crowds meet. Jesus can immediately pick the mother out of the crowd of mourners.

Perhaps some of you have felt this woman’s grief and pain. She has buried her husband and now she must bury her young son. Her eyes are surely swollen with tears; her face contorted with grief; her heart broken with pain.

This is what death does to us. It robs us of those we love. It separates husband from wife, son from mother. Death will come to all of us because all of us are sinners. That young man was a sinner, born with the congenital disease of Adam in his own flesh and bones. Whether the young man died of an accident or an illness, the ultimate cause of his death was his sin.

That’s before the Lord visits. When the Lord visits, he raises the dead. Jesus stops the funeral procession, he touches the unclean coffin, and he shatters death with the breath of life. Jesus has compassion on the helpless. See how Jesus addresses the grieving mother. She was helpless, but he was helpful. All Jesus said to her was, “Do not cry.”

In all the funerals I’ve done, I’ve never told people not to cry. Crying is natural. Sadness abounds and tears flow freely. But with Jesus, it’s different. His words come with action. His words actually do dry tears. Because his words carry life.

Jesus goes to the open coffin and touches it. Touching a dead body made one unclean in Jewish ceremonial law. But a dead body could not make the Lord of life unclean. Instead the Lord of life – who is perfectly clean, completely righteous and alive with almighty power –makes the dead boy alive again. “Young man, I say to you, ‘Get up!’”

Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus’ Word doing what he says in healing a centurion’s servant, even from a distance. But now we witness how far the Word of Jesus reaches. Even into the death and the grave. Even the dead hear his voice and must obey!

The little town of Nain becomes ground zero for the battlefield between the Son of God and the god of this world. The war is on between the Lord of life, and the death-dealing, life-robbing devil. When Jesus touches the boy’s coffin, Life and death meet. Neither willing to give an inch. Jesus in compassion; death in its cold finality. The procession stops but the battle commences. And with only a touch and a Word, Life wins. Death, which that morning had looked so powerful, was forced to flee and relinquish its grip on the boy. Where there had been sorrow, now there was joy. Where there was mourning, now there was faith. Where there had been tears, now there was the reality and the future promise that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

The Paschal Candle stands beside the font. It is directly connected to Christ’s resurrection. The word “Paschal” means “passing over.” Each year we receive a new candle that is lit for the first time at the Easter Vigil. During Lent, my 7th grade confirmation class studies the various symbols that can adorn the variety of Paschal candles, then they get to vote on the candle we order. This year they chose the Shepherd’s Candle, because the lambs and shepherd’s crook reminded them of our Good Shepherd stained glass window.

The Paschal Candle is the first candle lit for worship. All the other candles receive their flame from the Paschal Candle. This candle is lit only during the season of Easter, for baptisms and for funerals. We are baptized into Christ’s death; we rise to a new life in Christ’s resurrection; and in death we are assured of life eternal based on Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son with the power of his Word. Jesus raised Maggie and countless others baptized at this font from death to life with the power of his Word flowing in the baptismal waters.

Baptism is our personal water of life in this dying world, for baptism is our link with Christ. And there is life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

“If we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5) Amen.