by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
Someone once said, “Courage is faith that has said its prayers.” I prefer to say, “Courage is fear that has been baptized!” The theme for this summer’s LCMS convention is “Baptized for This Moment.”
The theme verse is from the great missionary book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38b39).
If ever the Church has needed courage, it is now. But as an armchair historian, I’m familiar enough with what Christians have written and experienced through the centuries.
There is a common theme from Paul’s epistles to Luther to C. F. W. Walther: “Things can hardly get worse! We are in the very last days, and Jesus will return soon!” “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
So as bad as things may look to us now, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Indeed, the Lord has blessed and preserved the Church through all the centuries, and Jesus promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” (Matt. 16:18).
In all of history, this is the moment the Lord has given us. Like Luther standing in front of the powers of the western world when he gave his “Hear I stand speech,” we stand in the face of “principalities and powers” of darkness (Eph. 6:12). The devil knows his time is short, and his attacks are intense, especially upon the Missouri Synod (Rev. 20:7f.; Matt. 24:24).
The devil and our sinful flesh would lull us into apathy over the Gospel and do anything to decrease our passion and zeal for proclamation of the Gospel to those who need Christ, tempting us to believe that, having it all correct, we can smugly sit back and keep our light under a bushel, hoping that a few parched souls might stumble upon us (Matt. 5:15; 22:2f.).
Or we might be tempted to jettison portions of God’s Word and our confession for the sake of mission—a kind of mission reductionism (Matt. 28:20; Acts 20:27). If the devil can set confession against mission or mission against confession, he’s got us! The two belong together (1 John 4:1415).
The convention theme verse has something to say to us all.
- “Repent!” I love to confess the sins of someone else! “I thank thee that I’m not like other men!” (Luke 18:11). It’s time for me to confess my sins of apathy, coldness toward the Gospel, lack of love for my neighbor who needs Christ, apathy for the fellowship of which the Lord has made me a part and so on.
- “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus!” “I am baptized” was Luther’s greatest comfort. Despite my sins and manifest and manifold failings, God has grabbed me by the neck, sinner that I am, and made me His own (Titus 3:5).
- “For the forgiveness of your sins.” I’m forgiven! I forgive! (Read all of Matthew 18.)
- “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I have the Spirit of Christ. I recognize the Word of my Savior in Holy Scripture (John 10:27). I have comfort in affliction (Matt. 11:28). I have courage in duress! (John 14:27). I can speak the Word of God to my neighbor (1 Peter 2:9).
- “The promise of for you and your children, for all who are far off, and everyone whom the Lord will call.” I have a promise, God’s own promise in Christ! His blood sealed it. The promise is for me and my family and for all whom the Lord will call. And just how does the Lord do His calling? Through His Word preached from pulpits and shared by everyone in his or her vocation, whether missionary or humblest father, mother, son, daughter or friend (Rom. 10:8).
Have courage! We are baptized for this moment. And courage is fear that has been baptized.