The Baptism of our Lord, 2017
“From death to life”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I love old Westerns... any and every John Wayne movie...as well as the old western tv shows... Gunsmoke, Bonanza, the Rifleman. Often in these Western's you would see a poster at the Sheriff's office that said: “Wanted: Dead or Alive!” The word or was quite significant! All that mattered was that the criminal was brought to justice! If the bounty hunter expedited matters, he would still collect his reward! The Lord our God posts a similar-sounding poster, but it’s significantly changed by replacing the word or with the word and: God wants us dead and alive. God wants to see the old man in us dead, but he’s even more resolved that a new man come forth very much alive. As Paul teaches us in our text, through our Baptism into Christ, our old Adam; our old sinful nature is dead to sin and we are raised to life again through baptism in Christ.
Sin shouldn’t live in the Christian anymore…but it does. Our old sinful nature tells us that we can keep sinning. It tells us that since Jesus died to forgive our sins and that all sins are forgiven…you might as well keep sinning. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1) It sounds logical…the more we sin…the more grace we receive. Really…its very appealing. We love hearing about God’s grace… why not get more of it…and the only way to get it is by sinning more and more. Maybe we could do all the things that sound appealing without the consequences of sin.
But this is not what the Gospel says. God does not want you to sin more and more. Our text quickly answers its own question: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
We were bound to sin in our old nature. But then our old nature died. Our slavery to sin is over. The new person God raised from sin and death is not the old person once enslaved to sin, but a new person.
But even the most faithful of Christians still sins. We go back to sinning…to our old sinful nature. We go back to the lusts and desires of this world. We try to do the impossible…we try to justify sinning and proclaim what fine Christians we are. It sounds like nonsense…and really it is. But the truth remains that we cannot serve God and mammon we cannot put our trust in ourselves and God.
The heart that willingly gives itself over to the old sinful nature does not live for God. If we continue to live for sin…and sin becomes our master…then faith has died. This doesn’t mean that Christians that are true to their faith no longer struggle with sin. Quite the contrary! The believing heart will always be a battleground, and the believer in us won’t win every skirmish.
This is why we must daily repent of our sins. This is why we come to church…to confess our sins each Sunday. This is why we come to the Lord’s Table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ as often as we are able…we do all of these things to receive forgiveness and strength. To put it simply…as Christians…we daily seek God’s forgiveness for our sins…but we do not remain slaves to sin.
Although we are assured of our forgiveness…often we aren’t certain. We wonder why we keep sinning if our old sinful nature has died. Maybe it isn’t dead, we think. How can we be sure? We can be sure…because we have been baptized into Christ Jesus! Baptism has joined us with Christ and His work.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:3-4, 6)
We have been joined into Christ’s death. We have been buried with Christ. We have been crucified with Christ. All of these things have been made ours through Christ in Baptism. We are told in verse 10 of our text that Jesus died “once for all.” So have we! For we have been united with Christ in His death (v.5). This is our assurance that our old sinful nature has died. We have truly been set free from sin’s control.
The good news doesn’t end there. Don’t forget what happened after Jesus died. He rose! Since we have been united with Jesus in His death we are assured that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:4b-5)
Not only is the old self dead, buried, and crucified, but God gives us new life! When our sinful nature died in Baptism, it was a onetime, past event, but now we “also live with him” (v. 8), and this is an ongoing event for all eternity.
Death no longer has power over Christ, so death no longer has power over us! We no longer fear death! Death is now the doorway to life…life eternal in heaven for all believers. How can we be so certain that heaven is ours? The answer is Christ. The life that Christ lives is enduring, and since we are united with Him, our new lives in Him are also enduring. Heaven is ours because we belong and are united with Christ in Baptism.
The hymn "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" gives me great comfort. It puts the truth of baptism in these words: "Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ. When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise! Though I lie in dust and ashes faith's assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.... Open eyed my grave is staring: Even there I'll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise!"
As Christians you are dead…and alive. You are dead to sin and you are alive in Christ. God does not say, “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” but says, “Wanted: Dead and Alive!” And through Christ that is exactly what you are! Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.