Dead to Sin (Romans 6:1-10)
The Baptism of Our Lord Sunday (January 9, 2022)
Today we are being drawn to the Sacrament of Baptism. First, to Jesus’ baptism. This first Sunday after the Epiphany always focuses our attention to the Baptism of our Lord. Our Gospel reading relays Luke’s discussion of the significance of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. Our Epistle lesson, however, which will also serve as the basis for this sermon, is from the 6th chapter of Romans and speaks to the significance of our own baptism, especially as to its pertinence for living our lives to the glory of God every day. Later in the service we will also recall those who were baptized here over the course of the past year as well as the baptized who have died to highlight the wonderful connection between baptism and death.
Upon first thought baptism and death might seem like strange bed fellows. What does the giving of new birth by water and the spirit that occurs in baptism (John 3) have to do with the death of one of God’s holy ones? Jesus was, of course, baptized and He also died. Is there a connection? If so, what could it possibly be?
Well, thanks be to God, there is a most crucial connection between Jesus’ baptism and His death and correspondingly to yours and mine. In fact, without Jesus’ baptism and death our baptism would merely be an empty symbol. But as it is, we discover that the baptism and death of Jesus actually establishes our baptism to be the very means you and I are put to death to sin and made alive to truly live to God in Christ Jesus.
So we see with Jesus’ baptism. Luke says that after Jesus was baptized and was praying, the heavens immediately opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, like a dove; and the Heavenly Father’s voice boomed from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” At no other time do these three divine actions occur simultaneously.
This means Jesus’ baptism is a big deal, not only for Jesus but also for us. For you see, at His baptism Jesus was placing Himself in the place of all us sinners. He was accepting God’s will for Him to be the Lamb of God, who would give His live in sacrifice for every sin and every sinner. The heavens burst open to show that Jesus was indeed the One who was opening heaven to us sinners. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to empower Him to be the lightning rod for the punishment of the sins of the world. The Father joyfully endorsed Jesus’ willingness to submit to such humiliation, suffering and even death. In the waters of the Jordan the sins of the world were placed squarely on a willing Jesus. It was the right thing to do for you and me and all other sinners. We now can be forgiven… receive forgiveness for all our sins… even those sins we are still committing and will yet commit in the future.
Perhaps you can already see, then, a most essential connection to your baptism and why your baptism is such a life-giving event for you. Sure that baptism might have been performed on you long ago. And to be sure, it was a most simple affair, the pouring of water on your head in the name of the Father and 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.
Yet, if Jesus’ baptism is connected to your baptism, then you know your baptism was not just some initiation right into the church… nor some empty ritual that has no bearing on your life now. Instead, like Jesus’ baptism, your baptism also fulfills all righteousness for you as well.
In fact, your baptism defines who you are as a Christian and actually 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.
At the heart of what St. Paul says in our Epistle Reading is verse 4: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Now, despite this emphasis on walking in the newness of life, I would admit this text does seem rather “dark”. After all, at least 6 times in these eleven verses Paul speaks of us dying. He also says we were “buried.” He even says we have been “crucified.” This certainly does not sound a very uplifting does it!
However, if there is anything you and I who follow the Crucified One can be certain, it is that God brings life out of death. Thanks be to God Good Friday is followed by Easter morning. Marked in His baptism as our substitutionary sacrifice, Jesus absorbed God’s full wrath against all our sins. He paid the penalty God demanded of us all for our sin. “It is finished!” Jesus proclaimed with His dying breaths! His subsequent resurrection was God’s attestation that He had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in all our places. As St. Paul had already stated earlier in His letter to the Romans, Jesus was raised for our justification before God (4:25). Death has lost its sting! (1 Cor. 15) resulting in life over death for you and me.
The thorny issue Paul gets at in our text, however, is why it is that so often in our lives we still live day in and day out as though our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection is just some inert ritual and that it has no bearing on how we live our lives in the here and now? Paul asks: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (vs. 1,2)
Do we not see the absurdity of it all? Most of us regularly rail against the perversity, licentiousness, and godlessness of our society. Indeed it is so pervasive that there is not one corner of our culture untouched by it.
And, yes, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we are not aloof from it all. Perhaps we have become experts at hiding our lustful cravings, justifying our self-indulgent and wicked thoughts and hiding from view our manifest, openly sinful acts, but we are hardly living holy; that is, set apart lives to Christ. Even an observant child can see the duplicity and hypocrisy of our lives.
We fashion ourselves as being alive when we feel good and things are going the way we would like them to be. But are we truly alive? What are we alive to? Are we alive to God? Are we alive in faith and righteous living? Or are we merely alive to our lusts? What would an exhaustive inventory of our priorities and goals in life tell us about what or who we are living for: living to God in Christ Jesus or living to self in the flesh? What causes us greatest concern in our lives: losing our health? Losing our wealth or financial security? Losing a loved one? Or losing Christ and our salvation?
It’s definitely not easy to live to God is it? Just a quick examination under the scrutiny of the Law of God reveals we all have fallen far short of the glory of God. In fact, under the microscope of God’s perfect demands and high expectations to be perfect as He is perfect, we are left with no wiggle room to justify ourselves. We are definitely not dead to sin and living to God.
But the good news Paul is sharing with us today is that God has come to our rescue through our baptism. Paul does not want us to be ignorant of the fact that what is impossible for us God has made possible for us in Jesus Christ and granted to us by means of our baptism into Christ. He writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (vs. 3 -4).
It is so sad that so many Christians remain ignorant of the power, victory and continuous aid given them in their baptism. As a result, they think and live as though living to God, a life of true sanctification, lies entirely upon their shoulders. Accordingly, they either live in total despair seeing that they can never measure up to the high standards God has set for living in righteousness or they live in denial that they sin and then live a life of lies falsely imagining that they are actually righteous in God’s sight.
Do not be one of them. The LORD has never instituted empty rituals or made promises that do not confer what He says. Treasure the fact that in your baptism God put you, your sin, and your weaknesses to death in Jesus’ death. He bore your griefs and carried your sorrows. In your baptism all your failures, guilt and sins placed upon Jesus in His baptism were taken to His death. There you were made to die to sin. Sin’s power over you to control you, to disparage you, to lead you into all that is unrighteous was not merely weakened by Jesus’ death but totally vanquished! So Paul states: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (vs 6,7).
Talk about power for your living to God! That power was given you in your baptism in spades! By means of your baptism you have already died and been raised. There you have been united with Him in a death like His, so you shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (v. 5). You have been made to undergo what the apostle John writes about in his Revelations. You have been made to die the first death. You have been spiritually put to death by baptism into Jesus’ death. You have already, then, died. Accordingly, you have not only been set free from the enslavement to sin, you have been raised to the extent that the second death; that is, hell, shall have not power over you (Rev. 20:6). You now can consider yourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther rightly answers the question as to what baptizing with water indicates by saying, “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
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 have through baptism been put to death in Christ’s death and raised to life in His resurrection, are likewise no longer subject to sin’s power. You who have been raised with Christ, no longer are chained to sin’s dictates in your life. 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. Cleansed in the blood of Jesus and with the Holy Spirit upon you, 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 to you in Jesus Christ and enjoy the forgiveness of all those times you have not been successful in resisting sin. You can consider yourself dead to sin and say, “That was the old me. He’s been crucified in Christ. He is dead!”
Likewise, you can consider yourself alive to God in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to Jesus, no matter what happens in this world you have already been brought through your watery grave to real life…victorious life in Jesus Christ! You can say, “I am a new person in Christ. I can live in repentance, faith, hope, truth, peace and the joy of doing what is right in God’s sight!”