Baptism: A Matter of Life and Death

Romans 6:1-11. Epiphany.

Rev. David Domanski

1/3/20243 min read

The American Red Cross likes to motivate us to donate during their blood drives. It’s a good cause, as donors help both strangers and friends alike through their small sacrifice of a pint of life-sustaining blood. In their advertisements, the group speaks about “giving the gift of life.” And certainly, it is a gift.

We don’t hear much about giving the gift of death. Perhaps that’s due to our realization that death really is not much of a gift. At least, it’s not a gift we’d typically want, and with good reason: death is our enemy. But today, St. Paul speaks to us about Holy Baptism in such a way that In Holy Baptism, Christ Bestows on Us the Gifts of His Death and Resurrection.

As the Church, Christ’s sacrificial death is a gift to humanity. He lays down his life out of his own volition. He can lay it down and takes it up again. No one takes it from him. And Jesus’ motivation for dying is his own divine selflessness. He is willing to become a servant and be obedient to his Father unto death. His sacrifice is not due to any of humanity’s deserving, for everyone completely lacks such merit. He takes the guilt of mankind’s sin upon himself, becoming accursed in their place. He removes mankind from the imminent eternal punishment that their sin and imperfection deserve.

And even as Christ’ death in our place is a gift from God, the gifts of Christ’s resurrection are important to remember too. Sin is no longer master over humanity, as the Second Adam has lived and died without sin. Death has been defeated and defanged, and the grave stands wide open. Satan and his dominion are looted. His captives are freed. The strong man lies bound by the Stronger Man, and Hades is pillaged. The devil’s great weapon of death in which he trusted is taken away from him in Christ’s resurrection.

God’s gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection given to humanity through Baptism. In Christian baptism, as Paul describes, the baptized die to sin (vv 1–3). Their old, sinful natures inherited from Adam are drowned (v 6). Their sins sink to the bottom of the baptismal font and are washed away. Sin’s control over them is broken (v 7). The baptized are made “alive to God in Christ” (v 11). They are redeemed from total depravity and sin (v 6). They have a new, sinless nature created in them. They live free and eternally in newness of life (v 4). They share the same characteristics as Christ as they follow him as his disciples, empowered by his Holy Spirit, which dwells within them (v 5). The baptized are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. They are marked as the ones ransomed by Christ. They are made children and heirs of the Father with whom he is well-pleased (Mt 3:17 and the Collect of the Day). They are promised full redemption, to be perfectly renewed at the Last Day and raised incorruptible to live with Christ forever. (“What does such baptizing with water indicate?” Luther’s Small Catechism, p. 24.)

So we can see that Holy Baptism is all about gifts—gifts from your Lord and Redeemer to you. Those gifts include those of his death and resurrection. Baptism truly is a matter of death and life, not just sustaining life, but also creating spiritual life where none existed. But without Christ’s death baptism would have no power, for the forgiveness that it bestows is dependent on Christ’s sacrifice. Likewise, without Christ’s resurrection, Baptism could never give you life everlasting, because the power of sin, death, and Satan would be proved stronger than even God-in-the-flesh.

But thanks be to God, the gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection are real, certain, and everlasting. Without any merit or worthiness in you, Christ our Lord has suffered death on your behalf. Taking all the power away from sin, death, and Satan, your Redeemer, Jesus, has risen gloriously from the grave. Victorious over all of your enemies, Christ bestows his gifts on you through this Sacrament of Holy Baptism. For you, the baptized, have been united with your Savior in both his death and his resurrection, so that you may share in life everlasting. That is your inheritance, the ultimate gift of Baptism, as it has made you the eternal Father’s children with whom he is well pleased.

May the peace of our Lord, who has bought you back from death, won you from Satan, and gifted you with His righteousness, keep your hearts and minds in Him forever. Amen.