Text: Romans 6:1-11 (Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:9-11) W 1st Sunday after Epiphany
Crucified, Died, Buried, and Raised with Christ
In the name of him whom the divine voice from heaven declared to be the beloved Son of God, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: in our worship last week we spent some time considering the one story in Scripture that tells us something about the childhood of Jesus. It’s the episode that takes place when he’s twelve years old and he goes with his family to Jerusalem for their annual Passover celebration. The main action of the story takes place after the festival when the family begins its return trip to Nazareth. Unbeknown to his parents, Jesus stays behind in the city. When they discover he’s missing, poor Mary and Joseph spend three long and very frightening days searching for him. They find him at length in what was probably the last place they’d think to look. He’s in Temple of the Lord deep in conversation with the religious scholars there. After the initial response of relief his parents feel because they’ve found their son safe and sound, Mary takes Jesus to task. “We’ve been sick with worry trying to find you. We looked everywhere. Why did you do this to us?”
As I said last week, what follows are the first recorded words of our Savior – and for that reason, we might expect them to be rather important. They are. He answers, “Why were you searching everywhere for me? Did you not know that I had to be here in these things of my Father.” What he means is that if they didn’t know where he was, there was only one place in the world he possibly could have been: in the things of his Father, which I explained was not the Temple building so much as what went on there – namely the reading, meditation upon, and discussion of God’s Holy Word and the sacrifices that were offered there. Jesus had to be in those things because those things are what he’s all about. It’s in God’s Word and the prescribed sacrifices for sin that Jesus is always found. The main thrust of my message last week was that’s true for us too. If we are missing Jesus, if were looking to have him (or more of him) in our lives, we don’t have to go searching high and low for him. We will always find Jesus where he said he must be: in God’s Word and in the sacrifice he made for us, the latter of which is communicated to us through Holy Communion—where he gives us his body and blood. That’s where Jesus is. And we’re only wasting our time if we try to find him any other place …
… with one exception. There is another place that Jesus always can be found that I deliberately did not mention last week (mostly because I knew I’d be devoting a whole sermon to it this week) and that’s Baptism. It’s one more of the “things of his Father” that have been given to us by God so that we can find Jesus Christ, know him as our Savior, and receive his blessings of forgiveness and eternal life.
How do I know? Well, the short answer is that Bible says so in a number of places. But we see it so clearly illustrated for us in today’s readings – and like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So let’s look at the pictures, starting with the Gospel reading first. In it we’ve got John the Baptizer out in the desert calling people to repentance. He preaches the coming wrath and judgment of God like no one else can. He’s so severe and convincing as he speaks that you can practically feel the fires of hell scorching your eyebrows. His message is powerful. So powerful that notorious public sinners, scofflaws, and prostitutes – the kind of people who formerly behaved like they didn’t have a religious bone in their body and would have laughed in your face if you suggested that they might one day be called to account – they come to John by the hundreds. And repenting with tears of sorrow and contrite hearts, they are baptized in the Jordan by John for the forgiveness of their sins.
And then along comes Jesus. He too goes down into the water for baptism. But did you ever wonder why? I mean, Baptism is for sinners. So why in the world would the one guy who is perfect and doesn’t have any sins to repent of join the many others who do in the tepid river water? The answer is revealed in the text. John makes it clear that his work and his baptism are only preliminary. His job is to prepare people for the One he says will come after him – the One whose sandals he’s not fit to handle. John’s mission is to point people to him when he comes. And so, in a sense, John’s baptism is incomplete until such time as the Christ appears.
But notice then that it’s precisely in his baptism that the Christ is made known. It’s when Jesus goes into the water and then comes out that the Spirit as a dove descends, and the Father’s voice from heaven announces, “Here he is! This is the One! You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This is key: John’s baptism had been about pointing people to an as yet unknown Christ; but now in Baptism the Christ is revealed. Now he’s got a name and a face. He’s a real person you can point to and say, “There he is”. So what I’d have you see is that the reason Jesus is baptized is to locate himself in Baptism, to fill Baptism with himself so that he will be revealed to sinners and be made known to them there. Now Baptism is complete because Jesus the Savior is in it. More than that, because Jesus is in Baptism the whole of the Triune God is revealed through it. It’s only when Jesus has entered the water that we hear the Father’s voice and see the Spirit descend. Or to say it another way, through Jesus in Baptism we are introduced to the whole mysterious Godhead – which is why too, not coincidentally, Jesus later commanded his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. With Christ in Baptism you get all three.
It may not be immediately apparent, but the same truth is shown to us in today’s Old Testament reading. It’s the first five verses of the Bible – the very beginning of God’s revelation to us – so again, we might expect these words to be rather significant. Once again, they are. Look at the picture: after the initial creation we’ve got the earth in a sad state indeed. It’s dark, chaotic, empty, and lifeless. And it’s under water. So what does God do? First he locates his Spirit above the water. He hovers there above the deep like, oh I don’t know, a dove maybe? But by Himself, the Spirit doesn’t change anything. It’s only when the Father speaks that something happens. Again, that’s key; because what the Father speaks is the Word of God. And we know that the Word of God isn’t just information, he’s actually a person of the Trinity; namely, the Word of God is God the Son. He is the very content of what is spoken by God. And what the Father says here, literally in Hebrew, is “Be light.” And as soon as he says it, that’s what the Word becomes: Light. The Word (that is, the Son of God) takes on physical form, the form of Light, and so joins Himself with the creation. He actually enters into the creation and shines upon the earth. And of course, Light can penetrate water. So once again, we’ve got the person of God the Son in the water – and that makes everything that follows possible. From here on out, as the Lord speaks the Word the creation responds. Because the Son is in it, it obeys the voice of the Lord and is increasingly changed for the better. What was chaos moves toward order, what was empty is filled, what was dead becomes alive – all because the creation was introduced to the Triune God through Christ in the water.
We understand that the same thing happens today in Baptism. We bring our children here who are conceived and born in sin. In a spiritual sense they are like the primordial earth: dark, chaotic, empty, and dead. But then we bring them to where Jesus is: in the water through the Word of the Father. And there they meet him. There, you can say, they actually enter into Christ who is in the water. And in their little hearts and minds the spiritual Light of Christ comes on. Now they can see, know, and trust him who is their Savior. The Spirit who hovers above the water descends on them. And the Father says to them, “This one; yes you. You are my child with whom I am well pleased.”
And having become a child of God through Baptism into Christ means that through continued exposure to God’s Word improvements – that is, changes for the better – can begin to take place. This is what St. Paul is saying in today’s Epistle. He’s saying that formerly, when you had only a sinful nature, your heart was dark and you were bound to sin. You had no choice. You were incapable of doing any better. But in Baptism you were united to Christ. You entered into him and he entered into you. And so from God’s perspective, the things that happened to him also happened to you. Specifically, when Christ died carrying the sins of the world, your sinful nature died with him. When he was buried in the tomb, you were buried with him in the water. And most importantly, when he rose up to life again, your old body was given a new godly spirit that is free of sin and its curse. Now you can walk with him in the new life.
The problem you still have, however, is that the job is not one hundred percent complete. As long as you remain in this life, the new godly spirit you have is still joined to what remains of the old sin nature. And the two are at odds. The question you are confronted with at every turn is: which will or spirit will you follow? The one that would take you back to death, or the one that is leading you step by step more completely into the life of Christ?
According to Paul, it’s a no brainer. Count yourself dead to sin, he says. Whenever and as often as you see sin in yourself or when you feel like succumbing to a temptation, remember what God did to you in your Baptism. He crucified your sin nature with Christ. Therefore it has only the power and life you choose to give it. And you no longer have to make that choice. Remember too that in Baptism you were raised with Christ. He’s in and with you to lead you to more godly thoughts and desires – and you can increase his presence and strength with you by finding more of him where he has said he always must be: in the things of his Father.
That is the life of a Christian: daily, through the remembrance of Baptism, dying again to sin through repentance and rising to new life in Christ, and finding more of him in the places he said he would be in order to grow progressively more like him until that day when the promise of Baptism is complete: when this body of death dies for the last time and rises with Jesus in the final resurrection in glory never to die again. It’s a promise we can trust, because it was made to us by Jesus himself when he met us in the water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!