by Erling Teigen, delivered at Bethany Lutheran College Chapel on October 28, 2010
Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Martin was baptized. On November 11, 1483, the day after Martin was born, Hans Luder, his father, took his son to the church there in Eisleben to have him baptized. In happened to be Martinstag, after the saint, Martin of Tours, and so the name he was given was Martin.
Martin of Tours also was baptized, but not at the age of one day – rather at the age of 18. That Martin had not so pious a namesake, but was named after Mars, the Roman God of war. The boy, born in Hungary ten years before the Council of Nicea, served in the Roman army and was converted, as the story goes, after he gave his coat to a beggar, and then in a vision saw that the beggar was Christ. A turn in his life came when, no longer able to be faithful to his namesake, he refused to fight in a battle that was about to take place, with some irony, in the German city of Worms – a decisive place for both Martins. He entered a monastery, then became a priest, and finally, not a doctor of theology but a bishop. He too was something of a reformer – he worked earnestly to convert the heathen in Gaul and Germania, and fought especially hard for the Trinitarian faith against the Arianism of the Visigoths of eastern Germany. (We could also speak here of a third Martin, born November 9, 1522, likely baptized on November 11, and thus also called Martin – Martin Chemnitz.)
So, it is not without significance that in his baptism, the baby baptized in Eisleben on November 11, 1483 got the name of an earlier saint, who was a Christian in word and deed, and a defender of the faith, even though the name first came from a heathen god. In holy baptism our Lord takes the heathen, unbelieving natural man and washes away the sin, the guilt, and the unbelief in him and names him a saint to walk in newness of life.
According to God’s mercy, these boys were saved through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…and being justified freely by God’s grace became heirs according to the hope of eternal life. And they lived under God’s promises made in baptism.
To live under one’s baptism is to trust that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done that we can stand before God, but that it is purely by God’s grace, the kindness and love of the Savior toward us. It means that by daily contrition and repentance, the old evil flesh is daily drowned in the waters of baptism. Fifty-seven years after his baptism, in a sermon on the baptism of Jesus, Luther preached this:
He sacrifices Himself on the cross, becomes a sinner and a curse; and yet He alone is the blessed seed through whom all the world shall be blessed. . . . He is both the greatest and the only sinner on the earth, for he bears all the world’s sin. . . .
And whosoever believes that his sin and the sin of the world is laid on our dear Lord, who was baptized and nailed to the cross for it, and shed His precious blood in order that He, the only sin-bearer, should thus cleanse us from sin, and make us holy and blessed, that man receives forgiveness of sins, and eternal life; and Christ’s baptism, cross and blood becomes his own.
They are some surprising, indeed shocking words – that Jesus, in his baptism, becomes a sinner and a curse. Jesus comes to John, whose baptizing in the Jordan is a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, so that presenting oneself to John to be baptized was to acknowledge one’s sinfulness. So Luther can preach that “He is both the greatest and the only sinner on the earth.” This is the “kindness and love of God our Savior” accomplished in his sacrificial life and death – not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to HIS mercy he saved us. God has laid on HIM our sin, so that he is sinner; and he thereby has laid on me my Lord’s righteousness so that I am a saint. This is the great gift which has been poured out on us abundantly through baptism, the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
We give thanks to God that this pure work of God’s grace was proclaimed so clearly and simply, in all of its magnificence in the Reformation. To Him alone be the glory. Amen.