August 23, 2020

Baptized into the Death of Christ

Passage: Romans 6 1-4

Romans 6:1-4
“Baptized into the Death of Christ”

By a show of hands how many of y’all have ever been to the zoo? (pause for hands) Now how many of y’all have ever stopped to look at the monkeys, or the lemurs swing from branch to branch in their enclosures? (pause for hands). To understand this morning’s passage, we have to understand something about how monkeys swing through the trees. Before a monkey can swing forward to the next branch it has to let go of the branch behind.

There is a story from the ancient first century church about the practice of Baptism. The story comes from one house church where there was a balcony above and a pool in the courtyard below. Those who were to be brought for baptism had been sequestered or set apart for two days. During that time they fasted and prayed eating nothing but a little bread and some water. Then, just before dawn on the third day those who would be baptized were brought out of their room one at a time. One at a time they would be brought to the courtyard and to the edge of the pool. At the edge of the pool they would take their clothes off and a member of the church would come and take their old clothes away. Standing naked they would enter the pool where the pastor was standing, waiting. With the house church watching from the balcony above the person to be Baptized was lowered into the water. At first, all would be quiet. Then the person would begin to struggle. After two days of fasting and prayer their senses were heightened by the discomfort. Their mental state was disturbed. They had not been told before hand specifically what would happen only that they would be Baptized in water. They wondered if the pastor was trying to drown them. The person would begin to struggle. The pastor would stand firm saying the words I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Water would splash everywhere. The person in the water did not hear the words so clearly. They felt as though they would drown. Then, at what seemed the last possible moment the pastor would lift the Baptized out of the water. The newly Baptized believer would gasp for air like a newborn baby just being born.  The pastor would help the person to the far edge of the pool where a member of the congregation would offer them a white robe, without blemish, or stain. They would enter a room at the far side of the court where a banquet would be waiting and members of the body of believers would be waiting to celebrate their baptism. Having been baptized into the death of Christ, they could celebrate being raised from the grave. Now, they were a part of the family.

In this way the baptized experienced a kind of death to the old life and rebirth in the new life in Christ. They left their old lives behind, their sinful garment, their hunger from fasting. Now, on the other side they have been initiated into the household of God and feast at God’s heavenly banquet. This was the practice of Baptism toward the end of the first century.

As we consider our sermon series on Baptism this month I’d like you to keep this story in mind as we consider Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 6 verses 1-4. When we confirm our faith, or when we receive the believer’s Baptism we have to let go of something. Truth be told we have to let go of a lot of things. We have to let go of the things; behaviors, and in some cases relationships which have kept us from being able to hear God’s call on our lives. And unlike a tool we may have dropped or a hangar which needs to be picked up off of the floor we cannot be content with just not picking that thing up again. When we are Baptized we are to hate and destroy those parts of our lives which prevent us from growing in our relationship with God and with one another. In this way we are to die with Christ.

One of the greatest heresies of the early Church was to say Jesus Christ did not really die. They had all kinds of wild and crazy explanations. Jesus was only asleep. Jesus the man died, but the spirit of Christ left the body. There was a whole lot of huey about whether Jesus actually died. There was so much damage and drama caused by this mistaken belief that in the Apostle’s Creed it originally says, “And in Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried, he descended to the dead. The third day he arose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and siteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Many main line Protestant and Catholic churches use this line to this day. Some even say Jesus, “descended into hell.” All of this is to say, Jesus Christ really did die. Amen? Amen!

The fact Jesus Christ actually died on the cross is really important. If Jesus Christ did not die on the cross then none of our sins and transgressions have died. If Jesus Christ was not raised FROM THE DEAD then we cannot be raised from the dead. Paul explains this in Romans 5:12-14

“therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

Okay. That’s a little confusing. What Paul is trying to say is the Law of Moses did not create sin because the Law explains what it means to sin. The first sin occurred a long time before Moses. The first sin is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden willfully choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. Adam and Eve chose to break the relationship. Adam and Eve birthed the first sin into the world. That sin was willful disobedience to God. When they disobeyed God Adam and Eve brought death into the world.

Paul goes on to address this point further in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15 verses 42-45.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[a] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

My sisters and brothers Jesus had to die. Jesus had to die so all of our sins and mistakes could die with Jesus Christ. The things of this world in our lives which keep us from the love of God must go. That’s the reason why the first century pastor held the person being Baptized down for so long. So they Baptized would get the message their old lives, their old sins, their old mistakes can completely die as well. Jesus had to die so we can die. We have to die to sin. We have to die to sin and the sins of our past have to stay dead. With God’s help we cannot allow them to return to our lives like a zombie from a B-rated movie. We cannot live with undead sins because they will destroy us, and they will tear us away from the love of God. The sin itself has no power over us, but the temptation, and the immediate comfort of those sins calls to us. We have to die with Christ to those sins. Just as God drew the Israelites through the Red Sea we have to leave Egypt behind. Like a monkey swinging through the branches we have to leave the last branch behind so that we may stretch forward to the next branch. That means we are to die as well. Our old selves, our old lives, our old mistakes, our old habitual sinning, and our old failures. It all must go into the grave with Christ. We have to die with Christ if we are to be raised with Christ to eternal life.

Adam and Eve were created good. They were created without sin. That is why as the first humans they are the representatives of us all. Jesus Christ is the last Adam. Jesus Christ is God, the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. Jesus Christ was born like us, but without our sin. Therefore, Jesus Christ, born in flesh, now appearing is the last Adam. Jesus Christ really did die. Jesus really did go down to Sheol. Jesus really did go to the dead. Then Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus did not come back with the same body we have today. Jesus came back with a resurrection body. Amen? Amen! Jesus returned with a body filled with a life-giving spirit. Amen? Amen! The life giving spirit is the Holy Spirit. It is the same Holy Spirit which fell upon the disciples at Pentecost. It is the same Holy Spirit we talked about last week when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentile, Roman Centurion’s home and his whole family was baptized. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Jesus Christ.

My sisters and brothers do not be afraid. (pause) Do not be afraid to leave your old lives behind. Do not be afraid to leave your sins behind. Yes. Some of our relationships will change. All of our relationships may change and need to be left behind. There will be patterns and behaviors that we will be motivated to change through the work of the Holy Spirit. We should not be afraid of this. We should not be afraid of these changes. Even as we go to the grave with these sins we should not be afraid. Yes. It can be scary. It is scary. But we must take our courage in Christ. Just as God told Joshua we are to, “be strong and of good courage.” We are to trust in Christ because there aint no grave can hold this body down.

“There Aint No Grave” (modified lyrics)

There ain't no grave
Gonna hold my body down
There ain't no grave
Gonna hold my body down
(repeat x3)

Oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh
(Let me tell ya why.)

Oh, fear is a liar with a smooth and velvet tongue
Fear is a tyrant
He's always telling me to run
Oh, love is a resurrection and love is a trumpet sound
Love is my weapon
I'm gonna take my giants down

There ain't no grave
Gonna hold my body down
There ain't no grave
Gonna hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound
I'm gonna rise up outta the ground
There ain't no grave
Gonna hold my body down
Oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh
(Songwriters: Molly Skaggs / Melissa Helser / Jonathan David Helser
Ain’t No Grave lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Round Hill Music Big Loud Songs, Bethel Music Publishing, Carlin America Inc)


In the name of Jesus Christ,

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