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January 12, 2020   Connected to Christ

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 Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

The event of Jesus’ Baptism is important,  & all 4 Gospels refer to it.  Jesus needed to be Baptized;  but not for the same reasons you & I need Baptism.  Jesus needed to be Baptized for   4 purposes:  1)  in order to fulfill the righteousness of God.   That is,  to present Himself as the Righteous One under God’s Law;   2)  His Baptism marks the official & authorized beginning of the Messiah’s ministry with the full & public agreement of the Trinity: F,S & HSp;   3) by submitting to Baptism,  the Son of God fully identifies with both our human & our sinful condition  so that He could be our substitute under God’s Law;  & 4)  Jesus then becomes the chief NT example for us to follow into Baptism.

John was exactly right that he needed Jesus’ baptism instead of the other way around.

But when Jesus submits to our Baptism  He is leading us to see how vitally important this work of God is upon us.   So,  today we recognize Jesus’ Baptism in the Church Year;  but we also recognize how vital it is for you & me  to know what our own Baptism means  for our daily life  of Christian faith.   *What does it mean?   St.Paul gives some  =not all=  but some explanation in our Epistle lesson from Romans 6;  … and,  we’ll get to that in a minute.

If I have water in my ear,  I might ask if you have a ‘cotton swab’;  & you might respond: do you mean a ‘Q-tip’?   Well,  ‘Q-tip’ is a manufacturer’s brand name for a cotton-tipped stick for your ears.   +If I sneeze,  you might ask me if I need a ‘kleenex’.   Again, ‘kleenex’ is a brand name for a certain company’s paper product;  and if I said ‘yes’,  I would expect you to hand me a ‘facial tissue’.    +If I say the words ‘hook and loop fastener’  you might hesitate  & have to think about it.  But if I said ‘Velcro’,  you’d know exactly what I was talking about.  I wouldn’t even have to say that word,  I could just do this:  (rip some Velcro).  Velcro is so widely used to connect things  that everyone can identify that sound.

A Swiss engineer,  named Georges de Mestral,  took a walk in the woods in 1941,  and noticed how burs clung to his pants & stuck to the fur of his dog.  He wondered how that phenomenon might be turned into something useful.  After years of research,  with trial & error, George came up with two strips of material,  one with thousands of tiny hooks,  the other with thousands of tiny loops.  He named his invention Velcro,  combining the words velvet and crochet.

NASA quickly adopted the use of Velcro to secure all kinds of items,  & keep them from floating away in a weightless environment.  Parents appreciate the Velcro straps on small children’s shoes in place of shoelaces;  old people appreciate it, too.   I wonder how many thousands of things  have this universal way of connecting two items together.     St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome about  being connected to Christ.    He didn’t use the word Velcro; he used the Greek root-word ‘baptizo’.   Thru Paul,  the Holy Spirit makes clear that in Baptism  God connects us with The Savior,  Jesus Christ;   both in His death and in His resurrection:  “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.”  (Rom 6:4).

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Now,  two things are being said here.  To say that Baptism  ‘connects us to Christ’  is to  also say  that  =prior to our Baptism=  we were disconnected from Christ.   Disconnected from His saving death,  and disconnected from a resurrection-newness of life.   This serious, lifeless disconnection is why Jesus arrived,  and why God uses Baptism.   And just saying ‘disconnection’  is a real understatement;  because the Bible uses other harsh words & phrases for this terrible condition.   In Ephesians 2,  Paul describes our condition prior to Christ  as being  “dead in our trespasses & sins.”  (Eph 2:5).   He also describes us -by nature- as being  “children of wrath”(Ep 2:3) == in other words,  just by being conceived & born into this fallen world,  by parents with a sinful human nature,  God is angry with us,  and we are condemned because of our condition;  that inborn sin  has made us deathly-disconnected from the Living-God.

AND,  things just get worse from there!  This disconnection from our Holy Creator is what makes this world & life miserable with sickness, evil, sorrow, & death.   Good parents don’t teach their children to lie, cheat, or steal;  those are our natural impulses.  Our sweet little girls throw a tantrum & say something mean;  our cute little boys hit people & break things ==  that’s in their fallen nature.    The sinful self is self-focused;  it starts as an infant,  and we struggle with it all our lives.  We want what we want & when we want it,  and we’ll misuse & abuse others  in order to satisfy our selves.  Our corrupted nature is why we do it;  and we can’t fix that.

Yes,  we can learn to be ‘nice’ and civilized,  but that doesn’t reconnect us back with God. From our side of the equation,  that break is real & permanent & unfixable.   The Holy Creator is the One who gives  -each of us- life & breath,  but we live without a connection to Him; a living death.

And our nature’s attitude is that we’re doing fine on our own & we don’t need a connection to Him;  we don’t want Him  to tell us how to live our life.   This is truly a horrible wonder of earthly, human life!  People are NOT naturally good;  we are naturally self-centered.  And the world around us  supports that selfish attitude.  The world says:  /do what you want;  /do what makes you happy;   /live according to your own truth;   /don’t let others tell you what to do.   /Why let some old religious bible-book  tell you what is right & good & true for you?   That’s why the American culture around us has changed:  less people respecting God’s authority over them;  more people deciding for themselves what is good, right & true.  Our Creator has given us His facts-of-life,  and our old nature  tunes Him out.

Because this is what everyone’s old nature does,  so doing immoral, mean, & selfish things  is the easy thing = it’s natural.   That’s why doing things God’s way is hard = very hard;  because it goes against what comes natural.   So,  to say that we are  ‘disconnected from God’ by our own human nature  is definitely an understatement.  The truth is:  we are dead to Him.

Therefore,  living in a different way  is done ‘by faith’;   it can only be done by God turning us  away from ourselves,  and trusting  -that The One who made us-  has a better way for us to live:  /a way that is going to be far more valuable than what we can do;   /a way that’s not only better for this earthly life,  but will also extend into a heavenly life with Him.

*How can this happen for us?   God tells us.   It begins when God makes a change in us;  He gives us another nature which is willing to listen to Him,  and to live in His ways.   It’s a NEW nature.  The old one must be drowned & die  so that the new one  can live today,  and aim to live in His ways  in all our days-to-come.

This is why God has given & designed a ‘drowning’ thing He calls BAPTISM.   Our old nature doesn’t realized what a big thing Baptism is.  We are tempted to take this little ‘church thing’  for granted’   like its just a ritual,  or a family ceremony,  or our dedication toward God.

None of those things can fit the deep & spiritual significance of how the Bible describes this ‘water event.’   It is actually is a real-time working of God  upon the body & soul of a person.

His promise is to work in & thru Baptism;  an action of His Church  applied to people  which connects us to Christ == two connections.

First,  God connects us to Christ’s DEATH thru Baptism.   Paul says,  ‘have you heard His promise?   …>

Know this:   “…that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…   We were buried -therefore-  with him by baptism into death.”   

We are so closely connected with Christ’s death in our Baptism,  that it’s as if we’ve traveled back 2,000 years  and are there with Christ,  in the tomb with Him.  We are dead with Him on Good Friday as the sun is going down, & as He’s taken down from the cross, & laid in the tomb.   And every time we Baptize a person,  whether a child or an adult,  the promise is the same.   God is at work  joining that person,  young or old,  to the death of Christ.

AND, second,  God connects us with Christ’s resurrection.   Just as He buries our old rebellious nature with Christ in death,  so He also raises us with Christ to new life.   Paul writes,  “in order that,  just as Christ was raised from the dead  by the glory of the Father,  we too would walk in newness of life.”    We notice the present-tense language;   this ‘newness of life’ is something we are walking in right now,  because NOW is when it counts the most;  now is like the qualifying round  before the eternal finale.   How gracious of Him  to not make us wait until after death  to have this new,  good & holy life.  We are Baptized into a new earthly life  with the blessings of a good conscience and peace with our Creator.

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Spiritually speaking,  there’s no bigger contrast between 2 people  than when  one is Baptized  and the other is not Baptized.  Paul is saying that it’s the difference between being connected to Christ  and remaining disconnected from the world’s only Savior.  It’s the difference between  life and death;  between being dead in our sins,  or now being raise up by God to new life.    This is what your Baptism means for you:  you have been turned away from living for yourself;  and you are turned toward living for The One who has joined us back to God once again.   It’s a life which is not struggling against God & His things,  but struggling against that old nature,   and striving to obey the One who gave us life.

That’s what the Spirit means when Paul says,  “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin  and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  When you are ‘dead’ to something,  you don’t respond to it == just as a dead person doesn’t respond to anyone or anything.  This is why Paul asks that senseless question at the beginning:   “Are we to continue in sin  that grace may abound?  By no means!”

In other words,  now that we are reborn into a new life as Christians,  and our sins are forgiven,  & covered by the grace of God in Christ Jesus,  *should we keep on sinning  so that God can exercise His grace even more?  If God is willing to forgive us anyway,  *why shouldn’t we just keep on disobeying Him?

This is not a question from faith,  but from our old nature.   It would be like asking: /Should I set my house on fire  so that the fire department can get more practice at putting out fires?”   /Should I crash my car into a tree  so that first responders get more practice in responding to accidents?   /Should I jump out of the boat again  after the Coast Guard has rescued me from drowning?   By no means!  Our new nature is grateful in God’s rescue &relief;  our new nature has a new desire to remain safe,  and to aim our life & walk with our Rescuer.

At the same time,  we are told  that we will not be free from our old nature  this side of heaven;  our struggle with being disconnected from God  is a daily struggle.  Our old nature still wants to pull us away;  the ways of the world  want to pull us away from our connection with God.   Other disconnected people want us to join them in tolerating sins & immoralities & ungodly thinking;   and if we don’t join them,  they ridicule us  for trying to be ‘so holy’;  which puts their behavior in a bad light,  so we’re accused of being ‘judgmental.’

That’s why being alive-to-Christ is such a struggle:  our old nature doesn’t want to be different than the world,  & the world condemns us for being different.   But this new Baptized life IS different;  we ARE different,  and we cannot live in sin anymore.   Sometimes we will fall for those sinful lies;  but we cannot aim to live in sin against our Savior.

We thank the Lord  for the fact that our life is lived in the present-day.  Each morning   we are repenting of the old & putting it behind us;  we look at the cross & are grateful for the promise of the forgiving blood of Christ Jesus;  and we aim to walk in this newness of life.  That’s what it means that God brought you to His Baptism,  and Christ has brought you this life-changing connection with God.

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The promise of your Baptism is also a promise of the future.  Your connection to Christ now  will strengthen you thru your struggles,  AND that Christ will bring you from this faith into sight.   And Paul says,  “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.”

We are Baptized into the promise of heaven.  Just as Christ was physically, bodily,   raised from the dead,  so will we  be raised from the dead.   So,  this Baptismal faith & connection to Christ Jesus  has not only changed how we view this life  as we walk with God,   it has also changed how we view our death;   we are not abandoned to the grave,  but The One who gave us life to begin with  will also bring us thru death  to live with Him forever.

As we recognize today Jesus’ Baptism,  you are reminded  -in Romans 6-  that this is what it means that you are a baptized child of God.  You are connected to Christ,  not living for yourself;   you are dead to sin,  and buried with Him;    in order that,  just as Christ was raised from the dead  by the glory of the Father,  you would walk in newness of life.

Amen