Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Alive to God in Christ - January 12, 2014 - The Baptism of Our Lord/1st Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Romans 6:1-11
Our Christmas celebration has now come to an end. Monday was the day of Epiphany. Epiphany, that word means appearing. Perhaps you have heard of someone having an epiphany, that is someone had something appear or dawn on them. For us, we celebrate the Epiphany of the appearing of the Magi or wise men who came to visit the child Jesus. And here we should make some corrections in what really happened. The Magi did not visit Jesus while He was still in the manger in a stable. If you recall, the Magi asked Herod where the king was and Herod’s wise men told them in Bethlehem. By the time the Magi came to Jesus he was over a year old and Matthew tells us that they came to the “house” where Jesus was to present Him with their gifts. Anyway, that was Monday. Today, we move ahead thirty years and in the Gospel reading we have the account of Jesus being baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan river in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was baptized in order to identify with us and in order to be ordained into His Office of Holy Ministry. And so, this morning we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and Paul reminds us how this baptism relates to us.
We begin with Paul’s words beginning at verse one, “1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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” (v. 1-4). Christ was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” in order to be our substitute, in order that His grace and forgiveness may abound. So, the argument of some, perhaps even some of us, is that if grace abounds should we not go on sinning so that it may abound even more? Martin Luther is attributed with the quote that we are to sin boldly, but he continued, “believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for He is victorious over sin, death and the world.”
Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound? No, we cannot go on sinning because grace abounds. We cannot go on sinning because we are new creatures. Through our baptism our old sinful natures have been drowned and we have been reborn, new spiritual creatures so that we might walk in the newness of life.
How does this baptism thing work? Is it a symbolic act of obedience? Is it really important? What does God tell us through Paul? God through Paul tells us it is a uniting with Christ as we read picking up at verse five, “5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We 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. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 6-11). Through baptism, that is, through our own baptism, through the putting on of water and God’s name we have been united with Jesus. And what we may not notice in the English is that this baptism is a passive action. We do not bring ourselves forward in obedience, but we are baptized, we are being done to in Holy Baptism. We are being made one with Christ.
That we are united with Jesus, that we are being made one with Him means that Jesus death becomes our death. It was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. It was our sin of thought, word and dead. It was our sin of omission, not doing what we should be doing and our sin of commission, doing what we should not be doing, that put Jesus on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross it was for our sins, because He took our sins upon Himself. His spiritual, eternal death is our spiritual eternal death. But even more, when He rose from the dead, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Because He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil, we know that these have no power over us and we too will rise again. Sin, death and the devil now have no power over us and with the help of the Holy Spirit we may defeat them.
Instead, Jesus’ life now influences our lives. When temptations come, we know that we can go to our Lord and He will help us. We know that He has already faced all that we will face and even more. And we know that as He never sinned, as He took our sins and paid the price for our sins, and as He defeated sin, death and the devil, He is with us to help us to do the same.
What comfort we find in the words that “the death He died He died to sin, once for all.” His death, His suffering the eternal, spiritual death penalty paid for all sins of all people of all places of all times, once for all. Nothing else needs to be done, no satisfaction, no nothing. Nothing else needs to be done, as if we could do anything. We may pass away from this world, that is we may suffer physical death, but we will never have to suffer eternal, spiritual death.
And, yet, Paul is not done. Verse eleven brings words of sanctification, we are “dead to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit we live lives of faith, we do the good works God has for us to do. But this not something that comes from within us, no, this too points back to Christ. Yes, our justification points to Christ, who did it all and our sanctification points to Christ as well, who moves us to respond with lives of faith.
So, what does this mean? As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism we understand how important is our own baptism. Think about it, Jesus did not need to be baptized, at least not to be baptized for Himself and He did not need to subject Himself to John’s baptism which was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins because Jesus never sinned. He was baptized in order to identify with us, in order to fulfill all righteousness, in order to be our substitute.
We are sinners, conceived and born in sin and we do need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But even more, we need what God gives through Holy Baptism, through this sacrament, that is through this mystery of God working through simple earthly elements of water and His Word. Yes, with water and God’s name, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” we are united, made one with Christ.
Through His baptism Jesus identified Himself with us. Now, through our baptism we are identified with Him. Through our baptism Jesus’ life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. The fullness of the Gospel is not simply the last part of what I just said, that Jesus’ death and resurrection are for us, but the fullness of the Gospel is in Jesus’ life becoming our life. We cannot live as we ought. We cannot do anything we ought to do. We cannot keep the law perfectly, or even close. Thus, the fact that Christ’s life becomes our life means that everything that He did, perfectly is credited to us as if we lived perfectly. And as our substitute, He did take our sins upon Himself and suffer and die in order to pay the price, the cost, the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell for us, in our place. And He rose showing us that He defeated sin, death and the devil and as He has defeated and won, so His victory is ours.
Baptism is not a symbolic act of obedience, rather baptism is a sacrament, it is a sacred act. It is not we who are acting but we who are being acted upon. Through this simple earthly element of water and God’s powerful Word and name, God, working through this sacred act, does great things. Through Baptism, God puts His name on us. He makes us His children. He puts faith in our hearts. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He writes our names in the book of Heaven. He does it all and we are passively done to. He gives and we are given too.
And now, now that we have been baptized. Now that we are children of God. Now that God’s name is on us, He continues to send His Holy Spirit who works in us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. And we do them, again, not in and of ourselves, but because He motivates us to do them, because He gives us the good works to do, and because He works them in and through us. Here again, always pointing back to what He is doing.
Finally, we give praise to the Lord. And here again, this too, is not according to our conceived and born sinful human nature. We give praise to the Lord as He stirs in our hearts to give Him praise.
How important is baptism? Very important. So important in fact that Jesus Himself was baptized even though He did not need to be. As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, I pray that you might be reminded of your own baptism so that as you are reminded of your own baptism you are reminded that you are a redeemed child of God and that your name is written in the book of life. And I pray that you might continue to remember the words we speak at one’s baptism, that is that “through Baptism God has added [you] to his own people to declare the wonderful deeds of our Savior, who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.