Romans 6:1-10

The Baptism of Our Lord – 1/8/2023

Today, our total attention is drawn to the sacrament of baptism. The first Sunday after the Epiphany is the week of the Baptism of our Lord. Our Gospel reading relays Matthew's account of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. Secondly, our Epistle lesson from the 6th chapter of Romans references our baptisms into Christ Jesus.

Now, some might want to say, "So what?" Okay, Jesus was baptized. I was baptized. That has little bearing on my life now. I don't live in the past! "The present is what I am concerned with." Are such sarcastic and unappreciative comments warranted?

We may address such concerns by listening to what Jesus told John about His baptism. After all, John himself was somewhat puzzled as to why Jesus even needed baptism. John knew Jesus to be God's appointed Messiah. John also knew that Jesus was without sin as God's Son. The idea that a perfect man should be baptized made no sense to him. John expressed his bewilderment to Jesus by saying, "I need to be baptized by you; will you come to me?"

But being ignorant about the need for baptism, whether it be Jesus' or our own, does not mean baptism is not necessary or beneficial. Jesus responded to John's verbal roadblock by saying, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Clearly, Jesus is saying that His baptism was more than just the right thing to do; it was the "essential" thing to do for Jesus and, most importantly, for each of us. So God confirms! After He was baptized, the heavens immediately opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove, and the Heavenly Father's voice boomed from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

At no other time do these three divine actions coincide. That means Jesus' baptism is a big deal, not only for him but also for us. At His baptism, Jesus placed Himself in the place of all sinners. He was accepting God's will for him to be the Lamb of God, giving his life as a sacrifice for all sin and all sinners. The heavens burst open to show that Jesus was the one who opened heaven to us, sinners. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to empower Him to be the lightning rod for the sins of the world. The Father joyfully endorsed Jesus' willingness to submit to such humiliation, suffering, and even death.

A righteous thing happened there in Jordan. The world's sins were placed squarely on a willing Jesus in these waters. It was the right thing to do for you, me, and all other sinners. We can now be forgiven and receive forgiveness for all our sins, including those we continue to commit and will commit in the future. There is no "so what?" concerning Jesus' baptism. Instead, it is "How great you are, O LORD!"

Jesus has also made your baptism far from some "ho, hum," uninspiring, inconsequential affair. Sure, that baptism might have been performed on you long ago. Sure, that baptism was merely a simple affair—pouring water on your head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And, sure, if you were baptized as an infant or young toddler, you no doubt have no recollection of it. But know this: Your baptism was not just some initiation into the church, nor was it some empty ritual that has no bearing on your life now. Instead, like Jesus' baptism, your baptism fulfills all righteousness for you. Your baptism places you in Jesus' baptism. Since God put your sins on Jesus in His baptism, His forgiveness is imparted to you through your baptism. You are defined as Christ's little one there. It empowers you to live, day in and day out, that new life of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus procured for you through His suffering and death for your sins.

To get us to the heart of what you have received through baptism, the apostle Paul reminds his original readers in Rome and you today that you, as baptized believers in Jesus Christ, have something that everyone else in the world does not.

God has freely and graciously given to you in Jesus Christ the forgiveness of all your sins. As Paul stated earlier in his letter, even where your sin increased, God's grace abounds all the more (5:20). No matter how greatly you have sinned, God's grace for Jesus' sake looms even larger to cancel out all your guilt and sin, making you an heir of eternal life. You stand justified before God by His pure grace, for Jesus' sake! Yes, God has given you an unbelievably sweet deal!

Unfortunately, because of all this grace, one might conclude: "Hey, how can I ever go wrong?" I like to sin, and God loves to forgive. It's a perfect combination for me! I can live my life however I want and do whatever I want. I'm baptized. God is gracious. No matter what I do, he will forgive me anyway! Why not indulge my lusts? Why not even do those things His law says are wrong? He will forgive me anyway. "Since He loves to forgive sinners, I'll oblige Him with more sin to forgive!"

Paul replies to this distorted rationalization, "What shall we say then?" Are we to continue in sin while grace may abound? By no means! "How can we, who have died to sin, continue to live in it?"

Isn't it a perverse and wicked thought process that reasons that if God loves to forgive, then I should give Him more to forgive? I mean, who thinks that way? The devil does. It comes straight out of the evil mind of Satan to exploit God's grace to serve one's selfish will or to use God's good gifts to support our rebellion against God.

It is the same twisted logic the Tempter used on Jesus: "God said He would give His angels charge of you to bear you up so that your head wouldn't hit a stone." So, throw yourself down from here!" Paul expresses his utter horror at such thoughts, saying, "May this never be!"

As baptized believers in Christ, you and I ought to be equally appalled by even the mere suggestion of such a blasphemous attitude that seeks to take advantage of God's grace to forgive, not to mention Jesus' great sacrifice to earn that forgiveness for us. 

And as Paul reminds us, the fact that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus ought to preclude any such repugnant thought of taking advantage of God's grace or desiring to remain living in our sins so that His grace may abound even more to cover us. Paul exclaims, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" "We were therefore buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life."

Paul does not describe your baptism simply as a historical, purely ritualistic, and unimportant event. Whether or not you recall your baptism or felt anything physically when you were baptized, it was a death and life experience for you. God plunged you into Jesus' death through the power of His word of promise combined with that water and concealed within it. "You were united with Jesus' death," he explains. To be united, or joined, with His death means that His death caused your death—not your physical death. One day, you will physically die. Your body and soul will separate, and your body will stop functioning. That death will end in a victorious resurrection to life when Christ returns in His glory at the end of the ages.

But in your baptism, you died a different spiritual death. You were made a partaker of the effects of Jesus' death. Jesus was put to death. He was brutally crucified under the wrath of God to atone for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world. Being one with His death means that your death has become His.

Jesus experienced that death in your place, but the redemption from punishment and the power of sin gained by His death were made to be yours in those blessed waters. Your baptism is your watery grave. As a baptized believer in Christ, you will never face the eternal punishment earned by your sin. You are free! You have already died and been buried.

That also means that just as you are free from God's wrath against your sin since you have been united with Jesus' death and buried with Him in baptism, you have also been set free from the power of sin in your life. Listen as Paul explains, "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing and that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. "For one who has died has been set free from sin."

One of the most difficult struggles any one of us faces is fighting against sin's power. Yes, daily, the devil actively assails us with all sorts of temptations to disobey God, to serve our fleshly lusts, and to walk in wickedness. And, yes, we were conceived and born into this world with a nature already infected with Adam's sin. As Paul calls it here, this old self dogs every step or action of our bodies, wraps itself around every emotion, thought, and desire of our hearts to hate God, and wants us to do the opposite of His will.

But on top of this, sin can keep us in it. It causes us to love our sins and justify our sins so that we convince ourselves that what we think, say, or do is okay and does not place us under the wrath of God but is something good for us. As a result, we live in our sin, never confessing or repudiating it and instead making excuses for why we can't stop.

The good news is that in your baptism, you were crucified with Christ so that your old self was also crucified with Him to bring to nothing the body of sin, freeing you from the enslavement of sin. Paul tells you to consider this hypothesis: "One who has died has been set free from sin." Dead men can't sin any longer. Sin no longer has any power over them to hold them captive to its dictates. Dead men not only tell no tales, but they also can't do anything, even sin.

In like fashion, you, who have been crucified with Christ through baptism, were put to death for your sin. You were indeed dead. You were buried with Christ. The power of sin over you has been put to death in Christ. It's buried; it will never return to haunt or control you unless you let it.

When it comes to rising, anyone baptized into Christ's death has also been baptized into His resurrection. Christ Jesus did not remain dead but defeated it and rose to life again. Therefore, the risen Christ's power is at work in you. Paul continues: "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him." We know Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. In his death, he died once and for all to sin, but in his life, he lives to serve God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul parallels Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead with your spiritual resurrection. Just as the risen Jesus is no longer subject to death's power, so you who, through baptism, have been put to death in Christ's death and raised to life in His resurrection are likewise no longer subject to sin's power. Death is the consequence of sin. If death's cause is defeated, it can no longer hurt or harm anyone.

You raised with Christ are no longer chained to sin's dictates. In other words, you do not have to give in to its lure. You do not have to feel forced to continue doing whatever is wrong or evil in God's sight. You no longer have to think those wicked thoughts. You do not have to go along with the wicked crowd. You can resist. You can live a Christ-like life. You can say, "Get behind me, Satan!" You can turn in repentance daily, seeking God's grace for you in Jesus Christ, and enjoy the forgiveness of all those times you have not successfully resisted sin. You can consider yourselves dead to sin and say, "That was the old me." He's been crucified in Christ. "He is not me any longer."

Likewise, you can consider yourself alive to God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, you can live a victorious, new life! You can say, "I am a new person in Christ." In His resurrection, of which I am a part because of my baptism, I have been raised to live a new life of repentance, faith, hope, truth, peace, and the thrill of doing what is right in God's eyes.

All this is because you are baptized into Christ! Still, do you think your baptism is useless to you now?

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