The Baptism of our Lord, 12 January 2020
A Sermon on Romans 6:1-11 by Samuel David Zumwalt

Romans 6:1-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 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. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD: LIFE IN HIM

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Holy Baptism did not exist until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Before the crucifixion and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus, truly God and truly human, there could be no Christian Baptism. Because the Greek word for Baptism means to apply water, Matthew tells us that John the Baptist was baptizing. He was applying water as a Jewish purification ritual. He was not performing Christian Baptisms, because the Lord Jesus had not yet died on the cross as the Savior of the world. He had not yet risen from the dead or ascended to the right hand of the Father. Just as our English word “love” has multiple meanings in both daily speech and in the pages of Scripture, so the word “baptism” has multiple meanings in Scripture and in the world.

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus is one of a kind in that God’s Son was born without sin and remained without sin. So, then, His Baptism is a powerful transitional moment as He leaves behind the mostly silent years of childhood and adolescence and makes Himself known to the world. At His Baptism, His heavenly Father declares that He is the servant King of Israel, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him to empower His faithfulness unto death. Let’s go deeper.

The Reign of Sin

Almost three weeks ago, we gathered to celebrate the birth of God’s Son Jesus, the Savior of the world. But why did the world need saving then, and why does the world need saving now? Sin!

When Paul speaks of sin in Romans 6, he is not talking about mere deeds done and left undone. If that were the case, those who successfully kept their New Year’s resolutions to change bad habits would have no need of a Savior. Sheer stubbornness, an iron will, yes, a backbone of steel would be all that anyone would need. Join a gym. Set yourself up for a big reward like a winter trip to the Caribbean if you meet your goals, and there you have it. Bad habits changed.

But it’s far worse than taking off a few pounds, losing a few waistline inches, and cutting the consumption of things that are bad for you. We are born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We are born dead in our trespasses. What can the dead do for themselves? Nothing!

This means that the Christian faith is not simply one choice among many belief systems. There are not many different roads leading to the same place. That’s not what Scripture teaches. That’s not what the Church of every time and place confesses. But everyone is born with the same problem called sin, and everyone is heading to the same last breath in these bodies of death. That’s what it means to say we are dead in our trespasses. When we are under the reign of sin into which everyone has been born, we are lost in the dark. We can’t will or choose our way out.

A person stuck in a dead-end job or living in a place without any hope of change can get fed up one day and make a move. A kid without hope of advancement can join the military and open up a whole new world of possibilities. A woman or man tired of taking verbal and physical abuse can finally break away, usually with some encouragement and a hand up. But someone born in bondage to sin and unable to free him- or herself, someone dead in his or her trespasses can’t. We need a Savior, and only God’s Son Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, can save and redeem us.

The Reign of God

When God’s Son Jesus presents Himself for Baptism by John, this is God making Himself known in human flesh as the Savior of the world. His Father declares He is both the eternal King promised to David in 2 Samuel 7. He is the Suffering Servant of the Lord foretold by Isaiah in 42:1. To those who know the Scriptures including the royal Psalm 2:7 sung on a coronation day, the Father’s declaration is clear when He says: “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.” The Trinitarian moment is underscored by the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove. The Savior of the world has made Himself known to those lost in the dark, dead in our sins.

The Reign of God first broke into the world when the Holy Spirit made Jesus known in the Virgin’s womb. At our Lord’s Baptism, the Reign of God casts down the gauntlet, the reign of Sin is done for. In Word and deed, the Lord Jesus marches into enemy territory and tells the father of lies, his demons, sin, and death that the Light has dawned. Crucified in human history, executed by Pontius Pilate, suffering, dead, and buried, our Lord destroys Sin’s hegemony, its vile and putrid rule, and does what those in bondage to sin, dead in our trespasses, cannot do. Raised from the dead on the third day, the new Adam brings Life to the dead. In Martin Luther’s words we sing each Easter Vigil, the reign of death is ended. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christian Baptism is no more our choice or our work than being born human. Baptized into Christ’s saving death, we, who have been buried with Him in Baptism, pass from death to life. We leave behind the realm of Sin, death, and the devil. We are presently placed under the power of Christ now…today! The Reign of God has broken into our lives. Our Father has declared us to be His beloved sons and daughters. The Holy Spirit has descended upon us in our Baptism. We have been set free from the reign of Sin so that we can live under the forever Reign of God.

Because God has done such a marvelous thing by joining us to the death and resurrection of His Son, therefore we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and now living in the Reign of God!

The Return of the King

The miracle of your Baptism into Christ and mine is this. We live in that place between His saving death/resurrection and the King’s return in glory to judge the living and the dead. Paul will go on to talk in chapter 7 about this old body of ours that knows it must die and struggles to go back to the reign of Sin. So, then, we practice our Baptism each day between the one Baptism in which we were joined to Christ and the day when that Baptism is finally complete when He either takes us to Himself or He returns to separate His sheep from the goats, wheat from weeds.

We know that these bodies are not made for eternity. The older we are the more readily we admit that each day. Because death has no dominion over our Lord Jesus Christ, at the last it will have no dominion over those who are God’s beloved sons and daughters through their Baptism into His saving death and glorious resurrection.

Brothers and sisters, we have been given an entirely new life in the washing of Holy Baptism. As Paul will later say about Baptism to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). We have life in Him!

As we await the return of the King whether to take us one at a time to Himself or to take us all at once, we return daily to our Baptism, the only identity that will survive our physical death. We will be God’s sons and daughters because He made us male and female in His image. So, there will be no more national identities. No more ethnic identities. No more divisions by assets, politics, worldly ideologies, or narcissistic declarations based on one’s own thoughts or desires. Everything other than our baptized identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters goes into the grave, and it doesn’t come out. There is, then, no other hope for eternity but through Jesus Christ.

If you have not been baptized with water in the name of the Triune God, the One God in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then the door of the Church is open to you. The Holy Spirit is calling you. The water of Baptism is ready for you. The Savior of the world has died for you. And His Father’s arms are spread wide open to receive you as a beloved son or daughter. Why do you wait? If you are shy, uncertain, or afraid, please speak with me today. Don’t wait.

On Sunday afternoon, I will preside at the fifth funeral in less than a month. Thanks be to God each of the five had already been crucified with Christ and raised with Him. They had been delivered from the reign of Sin and transferred to the Reign of God. What joy they already know.

If you are baptized, come to the Lord’s Table today with empty hands and grasp hold of the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Receive the Medicine of Immortality and rejoice that you have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Christ… and through Christ alone!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Light of the World: Life in Him

Praying

Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful in their calling to be your children and inheritors with him of everlasting life; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (The Daily Prayer of the Church, p. 273).

Listening

Romans 6:4 “…as Christ was raised…by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Ambrosiaster [Late 4th century Latin commentator on Paul’s epistles]: “It also means that we now have a new way of life which has been given to us by Christ. For by baptism we have been buried together with Christ in order that we may henceforth live according to the life into which Christ rose from the dead. Therefore, baptism is the sign and symbol of the resurrection, which means that we ought to abide in the commandments of Christ and not go back to what we were before” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 155).

Romans 6:8 “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Ambrosiaster: “It is clear that those who have crucified the body, i.e., the world with its vices and lusts, die to the world and die together with Christ, and that they are also conformed to his eternal and saving life so that they might deserve to be made like Christ in his glory. But the flesh, i.e., the body, is crucified in such a way that the lusts which arise in it as a result of the sin in it, which comes from the transgression of the first man, are trampled underfoot” (160).

Romans 6:9 “Christ, being raised… will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

St. Gregory the Great [late 6th – early 7th century Bishop of Rome]: “Christ is now risen from the dead, and death has no more power over him, yet living in himself immortal and incorruptible he is again immolated for us in the mystery of the holy sacrifice. Where his body is eaten there his flesh is distributed among the people for their salvation. His blood no longer stains the hands of the godless but flows into the hearts of his faithful followers” (161).

Romans 6:11 “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

St. Hilary of Poitiers [4th century Bishop of Poitiers, France]: “Paul attributes death to sin, i.e., to our body, but life to God, to whose nature it belongs that he lives, so that we must die to our body in order to live in Christ Jesus. While assuming the body of our sin, Christ already lives wholly for God, since he has united the nature that he shared with us in a mutual participation in the divine immortality” (162).

Reflecting

1. Do I treat my Baptism as simply a past event unrelated to the daily practice of Christian faith?

2. Have I come to understand that my Baptism will not be complete until I draw my last breath?

Learning

The Lord’s Prayer (from Luther’s Small Catechism)

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

The Fifth Petition

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray daily for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray daily for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship with you next weekend as part of striving to “encourage spiritual growth in others.”

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the danger of praying the 5th petition without being willing to forgive one who has wronged us? Ask how that changes our striving to “pray daily.”

4. If you haven’t signed up to serve in one of the many worship ministries of our congregation, please do so as part of striving to “serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s.” God is calling you!

5. If you aren’t already attending Sunday School or Bible study at St. Matthew’s, please do so as your palpable indication that you are striving to “worship weekly; read the Bible.”

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”