Epiphany 1: The Baptism of our Lord
Preached: January 15, 2012
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus is Romans 6
What then should we say? Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase? Not at all! How can we, who have died to sin, still keep living in it? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also we walk in the newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4).
This is the word of our Lord.
Death by drowning. That’s not a pleasant thought. But we need to be aware of the dangers even at this time of the year. A warmer winter thins the ice. People on the lake need to be careful not to break through and become trapped underneath. A rather sick horror creeps into our stomachs at the thought of death by drowning.
Dear Christians, you have drowned. You drowned in the waters of Baptism. But we don’t put up danger signs around the baptismal font, warning about drowning, as we might see posted where the ice is thin or the current strong. For unlike drowning in a lake, drowning in Baptism is a good thing. In fact it’s the best thing that has happened to you.
In Baptism you died. For you were baptized into Christ’s death. You died with him and were buried with him. That’s how thoroughly and surely baptism drowned you. In addition remember what happened to Christ Jesus on the third day. So let’s rejoice in the good news of Baptism as the Holy Spirit through God’s Word opens our heart to understand what it means that we are baptized into Christ’s death. That’s the theme this morning. What joyful news that is, for what a connection with Christ Baptism makes for you and what power over sin it gives you. Those are the two parts.
As the Apostle Paul reaches this point in his letter to the Christians in Rome, he has already laid out the deadliness of sin and the overwhelming wonder of God’s grace in Christ, freely forgiving sinners through faith alone. In fact, Paul has just written, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20 NIV1984). As the great darkness of our sin is exposed, the overwhelming greatness of God’s grace in Christ shines ever more brightly. What a wonder!
But the perverse natural mind might reason: “Since my sins make God’s grace look so good, maybe I should just keep on sinning so that others see just how great God’s grace is to forgive even me.” Or as Paul puts it, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1 NIV1984).
Now even though our own natural mind might not think it through far enough to make such a logical argument, haven’t you ever struggled with that gut feeling when facing a sin: “Why don’t you just give in. It’s no big deal. God will forgive you. It’s just a moment of fun. He can’t begrudge you that. You know how gracious he is. So why not keep on sinning, a least a little? It'll make his grace look even greater.” It’s that same natural mindset that Paul addresses here.
What is the Apostle’s answer? What answer does our own faith give? Should we go on sinning? “By no means!” he writes. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 5:2 NIV1984).
Strong words. But how can it be? Sin is so powerful. Look at what it did to our first parents. They began life in God’s image, They're hearts and minds were holy, perfectly lined up with God's will. Yet sin separated them from their Creator, driving them to run and hide from him. Look at what sin did to mighty King David, a man after the Lord’s own heart. After he had tried to hid his sin, he writes, “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3, 4 NIV1984). His sin cut him off from God. The prophet Isaiah proclaims to you and me, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2 NIV1984). How powerful sin is! It denies us any true connection to God. How could we ever die to sin so that we no longer live in it?
You know the answer. You haven’t forgotten. “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” (Romans 6:3, 4 NIV1984), the Apostle writes. Baptism connect you to Jesus in the most profound way. You were baptized into his death. So when he was nailed to that cross, so were you. When he breathed his last, so did you. When he was laid in the cold tomb, so were you. What a connection! The connection, which sin destroyed by separating you from God, Baptism has restored. What a connection with Christ! In Baptism you died with him.
Therefore, as Christ’s body was nailed to the cross, your sins were nailed there. For Baptism connects you to Christ. You were baptized into his death. As he suffered God’s justice and endured the punishment for sins, God’s wrath was turned away from you. For Baptism connects you to Christ. It’s as if you had died and already had been punished for your sins. For you were baptized into Christ’s death. And just as the Father declared his Son holy and righteous by raising him from the dead, so also he has declared you holy and righteous. For you have been baptized into his death. You have been buried with him. And so also through baptism, you have been raised with him. The hymn writer Kurt Eggert expresses it like this, “We were there on Calvary; We were pardoned, saved, set free, Saved to live eternally -- Blessed Calvary!” (‘God Was There on Calvary’ Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 140:6). You were baptized into his death. What a connection!
But there’s more here as well, dear Christian friends. Being baptized into Christ’s death not only takes away the guilt of your sins so that sin can no longer condemn you, but it also breaks the sin’s power to control your hearts and lives, which brings us to part two.
“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” (Romans 6:4 NIV1984). As powerful as sin is, Christ’s resurrection proves he’s even more powerful. And just as in Baptism you died with him, so also in Baptism you’ve been raised to life with him. The power to resist sin is yours through faith in Jesus. What power over sin!
Think of it this way. A person’s criminal record has a lot of power over him: the power to keep him in prison, the power to make him report to a parole officer, the power to take away some of his rights. But once that person dies, all that power is gone. Once they’re dead their crimes no longer keep them locked up, do they?
You, dear Christian, have died to sin. It no longer has the power to control your heart and mind and life. For you have been baptized into Christ’s death. You have died with him. Sin has lost it’s power not only to condemn you, but also it’s power to control you. Now, instead of the power of sin ruling over you, you have the glory of the Father that raised Jesus from the dead reigning in your heart. What power over sin!
Or do you imagine that the glory of the Father that broke death’s hold and raised Jesus from the grave isn’t enough to overcome your sin? Of course it is. He’s given you a new life, a life no longer ruled by sin, a life no longer dominated by evil desires, a new life that drowns the old. Why return to the old by giving in to temptation? Why return to sin’s domination? Why let evil desires rule in your heart expelling you from the kingdom of his Son? The glory of the Father has made you new in the Son. Walk in that newness. Live in it.
And what do we do when we see the evil that still lurks in the dirty corners of our hearts? We run to our Baptism and its promises. Your were baptized into his death. That evil can no longer condemn you or control you. You have died with Christ. Your sin is paid for. You have been buried with Christ and raised with him. You are justified before God. You are reconciled to him.
Such daily repentance clings to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. It finds life through his death and hope through his resurrection. Such repentance rejoices and gives thanks by drowning our old self each day and living a life that is new, washed clean, righteous, pure, and holy.
Yes, although you were baptized only once, its promises continue day after day. Don’t forsake the blessings of life and salvation baptism brought to you. Don’t forsake them by returning to sin. For then, even though knowledge of Jesus remains, faith has died in you. Rather return to your Baptism each day. As you live in faith put into practice what Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism under Baptism Fourthly: “What does baptizing with water mean? Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, WI, (c) 1998)
What a blessed drowning Baptism is, a continually drowning! For through the water and word, you were baptized into Christ’s death. What a connection with him! What power over sin!
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.