The Baptism of our Lord January 7-8, 2023
“What A Journey” Romans 6:1-11
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Pope Benedict XVI died last Saturday on New Year’s Eve. He had served for many years as the Pope, the Papa, the Father, of 1.2 billion Christians all over the world until his retirement in 2013. During his years of leadership he had many important things to say.
In 2005 he was speaking to 1 million youth in Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day. He said to that crowd, “In vast areas of the world today, there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him.” He lamented, often, that the world thinks it can do just fine without God.
I think he was right. Too many people in our world, in all countries, in every region, in every neighborhood, have shut God out from His place in their life. They have taken this journey of life without Him. This sermon, preached on the day in the church called “The Baptism of our Lord”, directs us to a better journey than that.
My message has three key words in it. Dead. Alive. Living. If you can follow those three words you’ll follow what I want to say. Dead. Alive. Living.
There are two kinds of death. There is a good death and there is a bad death. We start with the bad death. The bad death is what Pope Benedict was warning the million youth in Germany about. When you forget God it brings a death to your spirit. You have no faith. You have no connection to a living God. You look inside and find yourself miserably empty. Life loses its ultimate meaning and there is no reason to live with hope. God and His Word and His ways are no where to be found. That is a bad death. And those who live like that don’t have to wait until they die to be dead.
At the end of the year newspapers have a number of articles that speak about the past year in review. What was good; what was bad. What grew more popular; what was forgotten. One of the articles was “The year that we lost it: America was angry.” (Denver Post, December 25, 2022, E2). It begins, “Whether it was Will Smith, the midterms or on the road, rage was everywhere.” They looked at many of the root causes of why we have become such an angry society. They looked at social media, politics, inflation, COVID and wondered why so many, in so many ways, are just angry. Me? I blame it all on the Broncos.
In another article about the trends in our society the drastic increase of the use of alcohol was noted. Spending on alcohol in the U.S., even adjusting for inflation, is 15% higher now than it was before that start of the pandemic. Deaths from alcohol-induced causes rose from 39,000 to 54,000 from 2019 to 2021.
There is a bad death and it caused by sin. Whether it is indifference to God or living in the pit of hostility or the escape to alcohol and drugs, it is a bad death to one’s spirit and body. In our reading from Romans, Paul begins, “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) Later he writes, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.” (Romans 6:12-13)
There is a bad death. But there is a good death. Did you know that when you were baptized you died? Not physically. But spiritually. You died to self and sin. You died to the silliness of self-justification and salvation by self. It was a good death. This is what these great words in Romans 6 tell us, “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 have a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
In the book of Colossians a unique phrase is given to those believers in that little congregation. In chapter 3 it says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Verse 3) When did they die? They weren’t already in heaven. They died in their baptism. They died to the old life, their former self and were made alive. Jesus, in John 3, when He tells Nicodemus that he must be born again is talking about dying and becoming alive in baptism’s washing.
One of the early Christian leaders, a man called Chrysostom describes baptismal death like this:
Being dead to sin means not obeying it any more. Baptism has made us dead to sin once and for all, but we must strive to maintain this state of affairs, so that however many commands sin may give us, we no longer obey it but remain unmoved by it, as a corpse does.
Our second word is alive. Remember? Dead. Alive. Living. You are dead to everything that wants to rob you of the fullness of life that Jesus Christ came to bring you. And now you have life. What glorious words Paul gives when he tells us what happened when we were baptized into Jesus Christ, into His death and resurrection. Paul says, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 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 – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5-7)
Your baptism gave you new life. A new beginning. Being born again – born from above. That day when Jesus was baptized, God His Father spoke gracious words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) He said to you on the day you were baptized, “You are my daughter. You are my son. I love you. I am pleased with you.” We will have a resurrection day on the day we die. Our souls will rise to heaven. We’ll have a resurrection of our flesh on the day when Christ returns. And we had a resurrection day on the day of our baptism. In Galatians it says of that day, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
Dead. Alive. Living. You are only baptized once but the effect of it is continual. Every day you die to self and sin. Every day you rise as a new creation. You have had the best death because you are connected to Jesus. You have a new life because you were connected to His resurrection and now you find a new way to live. What a journey we are on.
In the Small Catechism, written by Martin Luther almost 500 years ago, living one’s baptism is spoken of like this, “It indicates that the Old Adam is 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 journey of being a very child of God, under new ownership, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit is like this:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (II Corinthians 5:14-15)
For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:7-8)
Dead. Alive. Living. That is the blessed journey for every child of God. Amen!!