Monday, January 12, 2015

Sermon on Romans 6:1-11, for the Baptism of our Lord, "Baptized into Christ"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we remember God’s gift of baptism. We honor the Baptism of our Lord Jesus, when He came to the Jordan River to undergo a sinner’s baptism, in solidarity with and for us. We also remember our own baptisms into Christ Jesus, and what that means for our life today. St. Paul opens our reading from Romans 6 with some provocative questions: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” To understand his meaning, we have to look a chapter earlier, and see that he has just been talking about the incredible greatness of Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness and salvation. A gift that we did nothing to earn, that is ruled by no law, that is conditioned by no demand, but freely given by Jesus Christ. Because the Gospel is so free, and what Jesus has done for us comes as pure gift, Paul asks: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? He’s saying, if God is so free and generous in forgiving, why don’t we just sin more to increase His grace? Wouldn’t that mean more of His grace?
Paul immediately rejects this idea, and says, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He rejects the idea that our response to God’s free gift, would be to continue sinning as though nothing had changed, or that we were ungrateful. But then Paul immediately turns to how God’s free gift affects and influences how we live. Where does he begin? 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.”
What does it mean to have been baptized into His death? Jesus died on a cross, 2,000 years ago. Thousands of miles away in Jerusalem, the land of Israel. Many of our children, whom we’ll be recognizing later, were baptized here at Emmanuel Lutheran, on Maui. In the last several years. How is their baptism, a baptism into Jesus’ death, 2,000 years ago? Or your baptism, for that matter? Wherever and whenever it happened? Are they just reenactments? Going through some motions? Or does it mean more? How is baptism our death with Christ Jesus? What does His death and resurrection have to do with our baptism?
Simply put, baptism joins us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It unites us with Him, and the saving power of His life. Jesus went to the cross, freely, in love to put sin to death in His body, and securing forgiveness for us. This incredible free gift, He gift wraps and delivers to you in baptism. None of us were even born—probably few if any of us have ever even been near the site of His crucifixion, the hill of Golgotha. Yet in baptism those very events and Jesus’ own life and death are miraculously brought to us and made our own. You don’t have to travel through time or space to get it, but God brings it to you. We are united to Jesus and what He did for us there. True by God’s Word and promise. Not by any magical property of water, but God’s almighty power in His Word. And by His power we die and are raised again.
How do we die? No nails, splintered cross, or crown of thorns—as Jesus experienced. But the death of our sinful nature. Paul calls it “crucifying” our old sinful nature. It’s that we repent of our sins, reject the evil and wrong-headed desires of our old self, and turn to God for His mercy. We reject any strength, power, or merit of our own, for the sake of having only His pure, perfect, and innocent life to stand to our credit. We die, as Jesus said, to ourselves, surrendering everything to Him. Is this a painful death? Well, as painful as pouring water over your forehead. Plenty of babies cry when that happens. But in all seriousness, probably the greatest pain in this death of baptism, is the pain to our egos. Infants are beautifully free of this pain or sensitivity. They model pure receptiveness to God’s gift. But as adults, our ego, our pride takes a heavy blow when we die to our old sinful nature. When Jesus calls us to die with Him by dying to ourselves. It’s a blow to our pride that wants to gain the whole world on our own strength and achievements, and doesn’t need help from anyone.
Paul calls this bringing the body of sin to nothing. It’s not our hands and feet that are hammered into helplessness, but our sinful nature that is nailed to the cross. Our rebellion against God. Our seeking our own way apart from Him. This body of sin, this compulsion of ours to disobey and seek our own will instead of God’s, is put to death as we are baptized into Christ. But even more wonderful is that baptism is not just the death of our sinful nature, but the raising of our new nature. We are just as much joined to Jesus’ resurrection, as to His death and burial. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” God has a new walk, a new plan in store for our life. Not the dead man’s walk of sin and disobedience, of foolish paths that lead to death. But the walk of newness of life, in God’s truth and the wisdom of Christ Jesus. A holy walk.
What does that walk look like? It’s not a holy swagger, or an “I’m better than thou art” stroll. But it’s a humble walk with Christ, with brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a servant’s walk to help and love others. It’s a walk of encouragement and hope as we lift up those who have stumbled in any way, band together against temptation and the attacks of the devil, and care for one another as we have needs. A walk where we lovingly warn and call to our brothers and sisters who start to wander off the path, or get distracted, and encourage them to fix their eyes back on Christ. To walk in newness of life with Jesus Christ is to have His attitude, and to be His hands and feet of service to our neighbor.
Obedience to Jesus Christ is “obedience from the heart”, as Paul describes it in Romans 6:17. This means we are no longer enslaved and controlled by sin, but set free to live in Christ Jesus. Jesus breaks the chains of sin, brings the old self or body of sin to nothing, through His cross. He stands in our defense and comes to our aid in our weakness. As our bulletin quote describes, if we’ve received the gift of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, it works within us. It changes and influences us. Even when we fail or are ashamed of not succeeding, Jesus forgives and walks with His disciples. “As long as we walk with Jesus, listen to Him, and don’t want to be without Him, He will influence our lives” (Giertz, To Live With Christ, 440).
Paul must have anticipated that the talk of our new life, and of living with Christ Jesus would create some doubt and anxiety in the hearts of his hearers. No doubt we often look in the mirror and feel that we have completely failed in living up to the righteous way of life that God has called us to. Some of you may even be troubled by questions like: “Am I really a Christian? Can I really be saved? Am I good enough for God to love me?” Let’s quickly answer those questions in reverse order. Am I good enough for God to love? The answer is no! God doesn’t love us because of how good we are—we aren’t saved by what we’ve done, but by the full and free grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ for our sins. The second question: Can I really be saved? Yes! And the first—are you really Christians? If you trust in Jesus as your Savior and believe that He is the Son of God sent to free you from sin, then you are a Christian. If you were not a Christian, you wouldn’t be bother by your sins or whether you were obeying God. The fact that you are concerned, that you do want to listen to Jesus’ Word and have Him in your life, is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you. It’s evidence that you love Him and want to do better.
So how does Paul advise those who might struggle with the ups and downs of our Christian life, or the small beginnings of our new life in Christ? He brings us right back to Jesus: Romans 6:9–11 “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.” Built on the truth that Jesus has died once for all, and been raised from the dead, never to die again, Paul tells us we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If he has to tell us to think of ourselves this way, doesn’t it suggest that we might sometimes find it hard to believe? But that’s exactly what we need—faith in Jesus Christ. Count on and know that you really are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, because you know Jesus is truly risen from the dead. With eyes of faith we see we are joined to Him. But with the eyes of our flesh, we still see miserable sin and struggles.
But Paul is calling us not to lose hope! He’s calling us to grab hold of this marvelous reality that is ours in Christ Jesus, that we are dead to sin, and alive to God in Him. However weak you may feel in regards to sin, with you stands the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who has defeated everything for you. However helpless you may feel; take heart! You have died to yourself and been raised in baptism to new life in Christ Jesus! You walk in newness of life with Him amidst challenges and difficulties—the valley of the shadow of death; no one promises it will be easy. The devil is eager to knock you off the path. But you walk the path chosen for you in Christ Jesus. The path that He has made to the Father; the path that our Good Shepherd faithfully leads us along. The walk where we join other Christians, who know their sin, and even more, they know their Savior. Sin and death are not your masters! Jesus is your Master, and He loves you and leads you faithfully on His way, till our life is complete and one day He raises our new bodies in a complete resurrection like His. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Romans 6:1 begins with the question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” This refers back to chapter 5, which describes the incredible free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. The implication is that if grace is free, should we take advantage by continuing in sin? Or if works don’t save us, can we just live however we please? Paul’s firm answer is no (v.2). Why does God’s grace reshape who we are and how we live?
  2. Since God has prepared this new life for us, does that mean it all comes easy, and we won’t still struggle with sin? Romans 7:14-8:1. How does Jesus aid us in our struggles? 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:14-16.
  3. Being baptized into Christ Jesus means being baptized into His death. What does this baptism mean for our “old self” or “sinful nature?” What “kills” the old sinful nature? Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:24. How does repentance play a part? Who has the power to raise us to new life?
  4. Baptism not only brings death to our old nature, but new life and regeneration, by uniting us to Jesus’ resurrection. What does it mean to “walk in newness of life?” Galatians 5:16-26.
  5. Why is there no longer any need of sacrifice for sin? Romans 6:9-10; Hebrews 9:24-28. Since Jesus holds power even over death, how does that change how we live?
  6. Paul says in Roman 6:11, we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If we must be told to “consider ourselves” this way, that means we must be experiencing things that sometimes lead us to believe otherwise. What struggles does the Christian face, that might cause them to doubt or to worry if the Holy Spirit is really working in us? Instead of our personal experience, what objective truth stands as witness to the new start that God has begun in us? Romans 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; Ephesians 1:13-14.

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