Monday, January 13, 2014

The Baptism of our Lord (Romans 6:1-11)

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on this Baptism of our Lord is from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter Romans. Dear friends in Christ, the Son of Man, the Messiah, Jesus, who was called the Christ, stood in the midst of Jordan’s stream. He came to this river where the people of Judea were washing away their sins and there He submitted to the baptism of sinners. He who had no sin was baptized in the place of all sinners, in your place and mine. The Father’s voice pointed us to our Savior: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit descended to anoint Him for His work, and from that river, Jesus traveled a long, winding road which led to the cross. At the Jordan that day, Jesus, declared to be the Son of God, was also declared as the One who stood in our place, the bearer of our sin. Every sin. There is no sin that you have ever committed or will ever commit that Jesus did not bear to the cross. God’s grace, shown through the death of the sin-bearer, is greater than your sin. Every sin. All sin. His grace, His forgiveness is so abundant that Saint Paul will say immediately before our text, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness is always more abundant than our transgressions; the grace of God shines from the cross more powerfully than all the darkness of our corruption. You cannot outsin God’s grace, although we certainly try. We pray “deliver us from evil,” and we think first about those things that are outside of us; we think of terrorists and criminals, we think of injury or death, we think of Satan. But this petition is prayed first against ourselves, against our own heart. We are the evil ones, corrupted through and through. We are a “body of sin” as Saint Paul tells us, a body corrupted by sin, a body infected with evil. And nowhere is this more manifest than in how we treat God’s grace.

Paul asks the question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The answer is obvious: ‘Yes!’ God likes to forgive, I like to sin; what better relationship could there be? You all know the grace of God; you hear it from the pulpit, from the altar, each and every week. We’re Lutherans, after all; that’s what we preach, more clearly than anyone else. You hear that you can’t outsin God’s grace, that His forgiveness is so abundant it covers every single sin, and you can’t help but take Him up on His offer. And so you turn the absolution into a license to sin, an excuse to sin. I’m going to get clean on Sunday morning, so I might as well get good and filthy on Monday through Saturday. As long as I’m a ‘good church person’ on Sunday morning, I can live my ‘other life’ the rest of the week. What a great deal! God likes to forgive, I like to sin—what more could I ask for? I can get drunk and make a fool of myself on Friday night as long as I ask for forgiveness on Sunday morning. Treating others like dirt, bullying, abusing, and speaking harsh words isn’t a big deal, because I know about God’s grace, and it’s available whenever I want it. I can sleep around and use filthy language as long as I remember to ask for forgiveness afterward. It really doesn’t matter what shows I watch, what I look up on the internet, or what magazines I read, as long as I’m in that pew once a week, looking good, hearing of forgiveness. Or, better yet, I can avoid the worship life of the Church altogether for the majority of my life, as long as I call in the pastor when I’m on my deathbed. Then I’ll square the accounts and cash in on this grace.

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? We answer with a resounding ‘Yes!’ Paul’s answer is a bit different: “By no means!” ‘Why?’ we ask. Paul, don’t you get it, we’ve got everything going for us! I like to sin, and so I keep sinning. God likes to forgive, and so He keeps forgiving. I’m doing what I want, and so is God. What’s the big problem? Paul’s answer is simple: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” You have died. I have died. Not a physical death, not the death that affects all creatures in a fallen world, but a different kind of death. We died to sin. We died in our Baptism. “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.”

At the font, you were put to death, you were killed. Not to destroy you, but to save you. We pray “deliver us from evil,” and at the font, God answered that prayer. That’s why we pray the Lord’s Prayer before every baptism, because the Lord’s Prayer, and especially that seventh petition, finds its answer in those blessed waters. He delivered you from Satan’s rule, from sin’s bondage, from death’s domination. He delivered you from the evil that dwells within you. “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.” The old man, that old sinful Adam, was crucified with Christ in the font; He was put to death, for Christ, our sin-bearer, took him to the cross and left him nailed there. His day is done, His reign is over. Should we continue to sin that grace may abound? By no means! We have died to sin, we are no longer under its slavery. “One who has died has been set free from sin.”

We are justified, made righteous in God’s sight, for Christ has linked together His death on the cross with our death in the font; at the cross He won salvation, in your Baptism He applies it to you. His death becomes your death, and as His death was followed by a resurrection, so too is yours. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” In Baptism, we are joined with the most important events in history; in the time that it takes to apply water saying “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” you are connected with the arrest and trial, the scourge and the whip, the cross and death, the rest in the tomb and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. All that happened in those three days comes to you in a matter of moments, it is made your own. His death is now your death, and the old man is crucified. His resurrection is now your resurrection, and you are raised to newness of life.

“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.” Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! Why walk in the paths of death, in bondage to the evil that dwells within us, when we have been raised to newness of life? God’s grace isn’t license to sin, it isn’t an excuse to sin, it’s forgiveness for when we sin. You have been given a new life—why dwell in the ways of death, the paths of your old life, living among the dry bones of sin, which can only deliver you into death? You have been set free! You have died to sin, why live in it any longer? You are the baptized, who have the inheritance of eternal life, not the unbelieving world, which without Christ is destined only for eternal death. You have died and been raised again—do not live in death, but in life!

That is easier said than done. We have died to sin, but that old man still dwells within us, and he continues to speak his enticing words. Baptism inaugurates a battle, a battle that continues throughout the life of every Christian. “Deliver us from evil” we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, starting with the evil that dwells within our own heart. Once again it is Baptism that answers this fervent prayer. At the font we died to sin and were raised with Christ; we return to that death and resurrection daily in our battle with sin, as Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism: “[Baptism] 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.” The Christian life is a life of returning to the font and remembering the death we died to sin. Whatever commands the old man of sin gives us, we obey them as much as a corpse; we have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer? Baptism shapes our lives: we daily die to sin in repentance, and we rise to Christ recalling what was given to us in our Baptism: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

We drown that old man in repentance and forgiveness each and every day, but he is a strong swimmer, he continues to entice us. We fall into sin, we walk in the paths of death. Here’s where the overflowing, blood-bought grace of God is so necessary. “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” God’s abundant grace isn’t license to sin, it is forgiveness for when we sin. It’s the promise that through Christ we have forgiveness, we have eternal life, for through our baptism, we were connected with Christ’s death and His resurrection. “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.” Christ died once for all; once for all sin, once for all sinners. What is true of Christ is true of us: we are not only dead to the life of sin, we are dead to sin’s penalty; we are dead to death. We are alive to God today and we are alive to God forever, for we died and rose again in the blessed waters of Baptism. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We are alive! Death cannot hold us, for we have died already, and the resurrection of our Baptism is the guarantee of our resurrection on the Last Day. “I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!” Amen.

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