The Baptism of Our Lord
8:00 a.m. Divine Service: Part 1
8:00 a.m. Divine Service: Part 2
Sermon Title: Your Watery Grave to Life! (Romans 6:1-10)
Today our full attention is drawn to the Sacrament of Baptism. First, to Jesus’ baptism. It is the week of the Baptism of our Lord, always the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Our Gospel reading relays Matthew’s account of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. Secondly, our Epistle lesson, and our sermon text, from the 6th chapter of Romans references our baptisms into Christ Jesus. Later in the service we will also recall all those who were baptized here over the course of the past year.
Of course, as part our special remembrance, we will also remember those of our number who died this past year. Now baptism and death might seem like strange bed fellows. What does the giving of new birth by water and the spirit (John 3) have to do with the death of one of God’s holy ones? Actually, they find their connection in the baptism and death of Jesus. In fact, upon closer examination of our text from Romans, we discover that in and on account of Jesus’ baptism and death our baptism has become our watery grave to true and eternal life!
We begin by first listening to what Jesus expressed to John concerning His own baptism. Please keep in mind that 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, as God’s Son, was without sin. The whole idea that a perfect man should be baptized made no sense to him. In fact, John expressed his bewilderment to Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”(Matt. 3:14).
But simply being ignorant about the need for baptism, whether it be Jesus’ or our own, does not mean that baptism is not necessary. 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.” Jesus’ baptism was more than just the right thing to do.” It was the “essential” thing to do, not only for Jesus but, most importantly, for each and everyone of us.
So we see. After Jesus was baptized, the heavens immediately opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him 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 occur simultaneously. That means Jesus’ baptism is a big deal, not only for Jesus but also for us. 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.
Now, to get us to the heart of what you and I have through baptism, we are going to zero in on our Epistle reading wherein the apostle Paul discusses the import our baptism has for our life right now.
On the surface, though, it seems like a rather “dark” text by any sort of worldly standard. 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.” Many would insist, “This certainly is not a very uplifting text!” But, if there is anything you and I who follow the Crucified One can be certain, it is that God brings life out of death.
I can’t think of a better time to hear the message of life out of death. We have been living in some rather dark and death focused days. Throughout 2020 and now at the beginning of 2021 we are being bombarded daily by the ongoing Covid death count. And now with the political winds changing in Washington and what appears to be a swift and forced push of the progressive and socialist agenda of those in power, it is not hard to imagine a real death to our most cherished freedoms and way of life. This can be quite demoralizing.
At the same time, even though we live in a culture of death, a culture that has no problem carrying out the genocide of the most vulnerable among us, our innocent little children in the womb through the barbaric practice of abortion, we are a culture obsessed with holding on to life in this world as if it is real life and our most cherished possession. This is daily born out in people’s irrational and absolute paranoia about dying.
In our text, however, the apostle Paul reminds us that we, as baptized believers in Jesus Christ, enjoy something radically different than everyone else in the world; a hope of life over death and real life in Christ that is not subject to the pitfalls of this world.
Why is that? Because God has freely and graciously given to us in Jesus Christ the forgiveness of all our sins. In fact, as Paul had stated earlier in his letter, even where our sin increased, (God’s) grace abounded all the more (5:20). No matter how greatly we have sinned, God’s grace for Jesus’ sake loomed even larger to cancel out all our sins, making us heirs of eternal life. We stand totally justified before God by His pure grace for Jesus’ sake!
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 anyway I want, 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 is wrong. He will forgive me anyway? Since He loves to forgive sinners, I’ll oblige Him with more sin to forgive!”
To this sort of distorted rationalization, Paul replies, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace my abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Isn’t it really 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 this 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 won’t hit a stone. So, throw yourself down from here!” Paul expresses his utter horror at such thoughts saying, literally, “May this never be!”
As baptized believers in Christ, you and I ought to be equally appalled, yes, even horrified, by even the mere thought of taking advantage of God’s grace to forgive. After all, if we seek to continue in our sin, reasoning to ourselves that we can always ask for forgiveness later, what are we saying about Jesus’ great sacrifice to earn that forgiveness for us? Does His spilt blood mean nothing to us?
And as Paul reminds us, the very fact that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus ought to preclude any such repugnant thoughts of taking advantage of God’s grace or of 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 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 the newness of life.”
Paul clearly does not speak of your baptism simply as some dead, historical, purely ritualistic, and unimportant event in your life. Whether you have actual remembrances of your baptism or not, whether you actually, physically, felt anything when you were baptized or not, it was a death and life experience for you. By the power of His Word of promise combined with that water and concealed in it, God plunged you into Jesus’ death. As he goes on to further explicate, with that application of the consecrated water on you, you were united with Jesus’ death. To be united, or joined, with His death, means that His death was made your death.
Obviously, we are not talking about your physical death here. One day, you will, like everyone of us human beings, physically die. Your body and soul will separate and your body will stop functioning. Thanks be to Jesus, however, that death will end in a victorious resurrection to life when Christ returns in His glory at the end of the ages. Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead is the proof that your body will rise too.
But in your baptism you died a different death… a spiritual death. There the Holy Spirit made you 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 sins of the whole world. To be unified with His death means that Jesus’ death has become your death. Jesus’ experienced that death in your place but the redemption from punishment and from the power of sin gained by His death was made to be yours in those blessed waters. Your baptism is your watery grave. There you have already died and been buried. Now, as a baptized believer in Christ, you will never, ever, face the eternal punishment earned by your sin. You are free!
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 your 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 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.”
One of the most difficult struggles any one of us faces in life is to fight against the power of sin. Yes, daily the devil actively assails us with all sorts of temptations to disobey God… to serve our own fleshly lusts… to walk in wickedness.
And, yes, we were conceived and born into this world with a nature already infected with Adam’s sin. This old self , as Paul calls it here, dogs our every step and action of our bodies. It wraps itself around every emotion, every thought and every desire of our hearts, to cause us to hate God and want to do the opposite of His will.
On top of this, sin itself has a power of its own to keep us in it. It causes us to love our sin and justify our sin 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 actually something good for us. The end result is we live in our sin, never confessing it or repudiating it, but rather even making excuses for ourselves that we just can’t stop it.
To live this way, controlled by sin, is not true living. It is slavery to death. The wages of sin is always death. It always drags us away from Christ and the Life He came to give us.
The good news is, though, 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 to sin. Paul says to you, think of this axiom, “One who has died has been set free from sin.” Dead men not only tell no tales, they can’t sin. Sin no longer has any power over them.
In like fashion, you who have been crucified with Christ through baptism were put to death to sin. It was your watery grave. You were buried with Christ. The power of sin over you has been put to death in Christ. It is buried never to rise up to haunt you or control you, unless, that is, you allow it to.
Speaking of rising up, everyone who has been baptized into Christ’s death has accordingly been baptized into His resurrection. Christ Jesus did not remain dead but defeated it and rose to life again.
The power of the risen Christ, therefore, is at work in you. Paul continues: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to 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 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!”