This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Romans 6:1-14
Sermon prepared by Rev. Melle Poole, Stony Plain, AB
How often do you think about your baptism? Take a moment to think about it now. Do you think about it once a week? Do you think about it once a month? Let’s have a show of hands. We think about it when someone is baptized, of course. But most of us probably do not think about our baptism all that much or all that often.
It is clear from our Scripture reading that our baptism into Christ Jesus is very important. It is so important that we need to reflect again and again, personally and communally, on what baptism says to us about living. Baptism gives us a new way of seeing and being. For that reason it must be the agent that flavours and shapes our worship, our schooling, our family life and our personal life.
Old Testament believers were instructed to talk about the commandments of God "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up," according to Deuteronomy chapter 6. Baptism is like that. We need to talk about it when we have family meals and when we visit with our friends. We need to preach it, teach it, talk it and walk it. Baptismal services remind us of that. Good Friday and Easter remind us of that. How these significant annual church celebrations serve as reminders will become clearer later.
Today we will talk about baptism. There is likely no one to be baptized since this service and message is prepared for a reading service. The absence of a baptism may even be helpful since there are no persons on whom the focus might be, such as, a pretty baby, the actions and words of the pastor, or the way the parents present themselves. Baptismal ceremonies or services are wonderful. But ceremonies may get in the way. At baptismal services we expect certain words and actions. But baptism is much more than a ceremony. The ceremony in church serves to point to "the more" and to confirm it. Without a baptism we might hear that more clearly.
This message will not be about infant baptism or adult baptism. It will not be about remembering words that you may have said, or an event in church that you may or may not recall. Those of us who were baptized as babies do not remember their baptism. But we likely know it took place because we have been told about it. And when it did take place, God spoke very important words to us, to our parents or guardians, and to the church.
We will hear that baptism confirms and declares that we have a new identity in Jesus. We will be challenged to live that identity.
Let us hear very clearly once again that our baptism in church is very important and that baptismal services are very important! But baptism is more than a ceremony, it is more than a christening or a once in a life time event that happens to babies or to some adults.
Paul writes in verse 3: "Don’t you know that we who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death and resurrection?" It seems that the question is born out of frustration. Don’t you know? Have you forgotten? Have you not been told? Don’t you give it any thought?
Our baptism tells us that we were "baptized" into Christ Jesus. The meaning of that may not be immediately clear to us. The word "baptism" is a foreign word. Maybe that is why we do not normally think about baptism all that much and associate it with, or limit it to, a ceremony in church.
The word "baptism" means: dip, immerse, wash, to be drenched with, to be plunged into, to sink into, to be dyed or coloured with. The Romans had no trouble understanding such dipping or colouring. It was an everyday sight. They saw cloth being dipped into dye and changed into a different colour.
To be baptized into Christ is to be dipped into, immersed into, drenched with, coloured with Jesus. Imagine a baptismal service giving us an occasion to put a different colour on the one who is baptized.
Look at your baptism! Look at your drenching! Look at your colouring with Jesus! You need to pay attention to it! Some of us may remember the dunk tank at church events. What fun it was to dunk someone, especially a person who might try to get away or who was deemed to be a challenge to dunk. How delightful to see someone coming out of that tank dripping wet. Imagine if the persons dunked would come out green. That would help us understand what baptism is about.
The Romans knew what Paul meant. They did not have the language problems that we might have. But a reminder appears to be necessary. "Don’t you know?" You were immersed into Jesus. Therefore:
- When Christ died you died.
- When he was buried you were buried.
- When he arose to a new life you arose to a new life.
Baptism is a visible sign, a constant reminder, a road sign, pointing us to who we are in Jesus. It affirms our identity in HIM.
- It tells us that we are part of a new people, the people of Jesus.
- It tells us that we are no longer immersed in Adam but in Jesus.
- It tells us that we are no longer subject to death because of Adam’s sin.
- It tells us that we are subject to life because God immersed us in His Son.
How significant! How wonderful! Through our drenching in Jesus we have been "clothed with" Him, we have "put on" Jesus, Galatians 3:27 tells us. Every time we look in the mirror we see someone who is raised to a new life. Every baptismal font calls out to us to live our identity in Jesus, to clothe ourselves with Him, to put away stuff that marked us before we died and arose with him, drunkenness, dissension, jealousy and the like according to Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:13 and 14.
In order to be really grabbed by what Paul tells us, it is necessary to understand the bigger picture that he presents in his letter to the Romans. In summary this is what he says: God makes it clear in the created order what it is that we need to know about Him and about life. We sang about that earlier in the service and said: "in the heavens with radiant signs, evermore your glory shines." God’s "glorious name" is proclaimed in all his "wondrous works." When we ignore God we become subject to his anger and our godlessness increases. Failure to listen to God’s truth comes at a cost. It is costly not to listen to God’s truth as that comes to us through His created order. It is costly not to listen to His Word of grace as that is revealed to us in Jesus and declared to us in the Bible. The cost is death.
But now listen to this says Paul: God amazingly and surprisingly did something completely unexpected: He gave His Son Jesus to take away His anger, to take away our sin, and to set our feet on a new path. God made His Son Jesus to be the head of a new people. God replaced the old humanity of which Adam was the head with a new humanity of which Christ is the head. The "one trespass" of Adam "resulted in condemnation for all people." The "one righteous act" of Jesus "resulted in justification and life for all" (Romans 5:18, TNIV).
What God does goes beyond us. It is very hard for us to grasp such divine glory and grace. But what His action through Jesus means for us is that with Christ as our head, His dying becomes our dying and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Through Adam, death and sin came into the world. Through Christ, life and righteousness has come into the world. Through Christ, life and righteousness has come into our life. What a gift! Do you believe that?
Christians in Rome "who are loved by God and called to be saints" may and must believe that. Persons who are part of the body of Christ wherever that may be, and thus "loved by God and called to be saints" may and must believe that. We have been united with Christ in His death and in His resurrection. Such words make us think of Golgotha, the grave in which Jesus was laid, the stone that was rolled away and the tomb that was empty. What happened to Jesus happened to us. When "Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father" (verse 4), we were raised to a new life. That is the good news of baptism. It is not the baptismal ceremony that makes us participants in this wonderful work of God in Jesus. The baptismal ceremony is a sign and seal to the congregation and to the person being baptized that in God’s eyes we are "dead to sin but alive" to Him in Christ Jesus.
The apparent frustration, the "don’t you know" question of Paul, leads me to think that the Roman Christians carried on with life as they always did. Baptism into Jesus made no difference in their life.
It sounds familiar does it not? We can relate, can’t we? But Paul won’t settle for that. Therefore the question: "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" Of course not! We may not live that way since we have died to sin in our dying with Jesus. Our old nature was crucified so that sin might be done away with. Our resurrection in him took place so that we might live a new life. So "do not let sin reign in your body." Away with self gratification, self indulgence, and self centeredness! Away with idolatrous pursuits! Away with passive submission to the evil forces that once enslaved you and still try to ensnare you! Sin is not your master! Jesus is your Lord! See yourself as belonging to Him. Grace is your umbrella. You live in its shelter. You are raised from the dead to bear fruit for God.
Baptism is a promise and a challenge: We died to sin. We have been raised to a new life. We have received a new course outline for living. Therefore, put on the new life. Set your heart on the things of God. "Count yourself… alive to God in Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:11). This is an imperative! Thus is how you must and may see yourself.
Baptism is a sign to the church, and to all members personally, that God has given us a new way of seeing ourselves. The church must be slow to preach "that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil" (question 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism). It must be quick to preach that when "we are born again by the Spirit of God" (answer 8, H.C.), "we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4). We do not have to "let sin reign" in our life and "obey its evil desires" (verse 12). We will be how we see ourselves. See yourself as "freed from sin (verse 7 and "under grace" (verse 14).
Count yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus. You are more than what a negative upbringing may have given you. Some who hear these words may have been given a very bad image of themselves in their family of origin. You may have been told that God, who sees everything, sees you as worthless, sinful, and inclined to all evil. You may be haunted by an image of yourself as someone who can do no good. You may even feed that image by living a life that is a dead end street. Hear this: you have been raised to a new life and are able to be an "instrument of righteousness" (6 : 13). God sees you as worthy, as wonderfully made, as uniquely gifted by Him.
Count yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus. You are able to rise above the violent and traumatic experiences that may have marked your past. No, you will never forget them. Some who hear these words may have been scarred by abuse. Some may have been bullied at home, at school, or on the streets. That may still be your experience. You may even perpetuate what has been handed down to you. Violence and abuse can breed more violence and abuse. Hear this: you have been raised to a new life and are able to be an "instrument of righteousness." See yourself as clean, able to learn new ways of being in relationship, and capable of self control because the Spirit of God is within you.
Count yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus. You are more powerful than the forces of the market place and the creed of more and more. You may experience its lure and perhaps even enjoy its possibilities. Perhaps you pursue a lucrative life style that may be at the expense of persons in another part of the world. Hear this: you have been raised to a new life and are able to be an "instrument of righteousness."
Look to your baptism in Christ. Look at who you are and let your baptism in church be a constant sign and witness to you.
Perhaps you say: Baptism is not important to me. My parents brought me to church to be baptized. I had no choice in it. I ask you, does that really make a difference? What counts is your immersion into Jesus. What counts is not your choice and affirmation but God’s choice and affirmation as declared to you in baptism. What counts is God’s call to all of us to be instruments of righteousness in our personal life, in our churches, in our homes, and in our world. Jesus set us our feet on a new path.
Perhaps you say: I am young. I am baptized but it does not speak to me. But baptism does speak to you. Perhaps you need to learn to listen in a new way
Life may not be going well for you. Perhaps you suffer from doubt. Maybe you experience depression. You might be unemployed or sick. Your marriage may have broken down. You lost a loved one. You wonder if God cares about you. You are not sure about salvation. Why should I live a new life, you ask, what has God done for me? Look to your baptism. No more can be said.
In the year 1563 the persons who wrote the Heidelberg Catechism taught that baptism tells us that our sins are forgiven and that the Holy Spirit renews us to more and more live a holy and blameless life (Lord’s Day 26). In the year 1648 the Westminster Larger Catechism was written. This teaching tool was used by the Church of Scotland to teach the reformed faith. It teaches in Question and Answer 165 that baptism is a sign and seal of being grafted into Jesus, cleansed from sin, and adopted by God. Those who are baptized "enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s." That is good language. The Christian Reformed Church states the following in Article 40 of Our World Belongs To God: In baptism "God reminds us and assures us… that His covenant love saves us, that He washes away our guilt, gives us the Spirit, and expects our love in return."
Believers throughout the ages have echoed the words of the Apostle Paul. Our baptism is good news: our sins are forgiven, we are grafted into Jesus, we are able to bear the fruit of righteousness, and we have been blessed with the Spirit of Jesus.
Our baptism is indeed Good News. Amen.
Prayer of thanksgiving (adapted from Litany of Thanksgiving: Sing! A New Creation)
We give you thanks, O holy and gracious God, for the gift of water.
In the beginning of creation, your Spirit moved over the waters.
In the waters of the flood you destroyed evil.
You led the children of Israel through the sea into the freedom of the promised land.
In the river Jordan, John baptized our Lord, and your Spirit anointed him.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ the living water, frees us from sin and death and opens the way to life everlasting.
We thank you, O God, for the gift of baptism.
In the waters of baptism you confirm to us that we are buried with Christ in his death, raised to share in his resurrection, and are being renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Help us to put on Jesus.
Pour out upon us and on your whole church the gift of your Holy Spirit, so that all who have passed through the waters of baptism might be dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.
Help us to put on Jesus.
To God be all honour and glory, dominion and power, now and forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we are bold to pray the Lord’s own prayer.
Our father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom,
And the power,
and the glory forever.
Order of Worship
GOD CALLS US TOGETHER FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 105 : 1 - 4
Gathering Songs (as chosen by the reader or the church’s worship leaders)
God greets us with the words of Romans 1 : 7:
"To all…who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
Hymn 8 : 1,3, 4: Lord, Our Lord, Your Glorious Name
WE MAKE OUR CONFESSION
Confession: Let us make a confession of our faith by using the words of Articles 24, 25, 26, 27 of Our World Belongs To God, page 1026 Psalter Hymnal (this can be read by the reader or by the whole congregation)
Prayer of Thanksgiving (adapted from Book of Common Worship, p. 322):
Dear God, we rejoice that the grave could not hold your Son, and that he has conquered death. We rejoice that he rules over all the powers of this earth and that he calls us into new life to follow him with joy and gladness. By your Spirit lift our doubts, transform our despair, and set our feet on the way of Christ so that our lives may point to him and show forth his love. Amen
Hymn 548: When We Walk With The Lord
GOD SPEAKS HIS WORD TO US
Let us pray: Lord God, may our reading, speaking and listening be such that we come to know you more, and come to believe more deeply that we have new life in Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.
Scripture: Romans 6:1-14
Message: Look To Your Baptism
OUR GRATEFUL RESPONSE
Hymn 188: Praise the Lord, Sing Hallelujah
Offering of Our Gifts
GOD BLESSES US TO SERVE HIM
Hear these words of blessing from Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the holy Spirit."
Hymn 284: Father I Adore You