Beloved. In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns against a mere superficial keeping of the holy Ten Commandments when He says: You have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of hell fire. It is not just a superficial outward keeping of the commandment that God requires; it’s not that we can think that we have obeyed the Fifth Commandment if we have merely not strangled or shot anyone to death. But as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, it is also an inward matter, a matter of the heart, of how the heart is disposed: is there anger, hatred, a heart lacking forgiveness? That, too, is sin against the Fifth Commandment, a sin against the holy will of God. The inward sin, the sin of the heart, is sin and will show itself also in outward sin. Later Jesus says [Mt. 15.19]: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, etc. Our Lord requires us to be pure from our whole heart. And it is precisely this that makes the Ten Commandments so holy and perfect and also so impossible for us to keep perfectly and completely. Even though we may not have clubbed someone to death, if we harbor ill will, if we even merely call him a fool, we will be in danger of hell fire. That is how seriously God expects us to keep each of His holy Ten Commandments. As we honestly and sincerely examine our heart and life, our thoughts, words and deeds in this light, how we must see all of our sin, all of our failings, all of our sins against the holy commands of God! How we must lament our sin and see so clearly that we cannot earn God’s favor and heaven; that we only deserve His wrath and hell.
But just as serious as God is about His holy Ten Commandments and that we keep them, so also is He serious about the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus. The very reason why the Son of God/ Second Person of the Holy Trinity became also a true human being and placed Himself under the Law of God was to keep it; to do for us what we are unable to do—all so that the holiness and righteousness that God demands of us could be fulfilled. And not only did Jesus obey the holy Law of God perfectly without ever once sinning, but He also took our sins on Himself and suffered God’s wrath and punishment for them. The wrath of God over sin has been placated, poured out on Jesus, who willingly took our sins on Himself to the cross. This is how serious God is about the forgiveness of our sin! He Himself did the work for us—keeping the Law and suffering for us the consequences for our sin, all so that we could be forgiven our sin and be eternally with Him in heaven.
This is where today’s Epistle, our text, comes in. The great blessing of the forgiveness of sin, which is at the heart and core of Jesus’ work and the holy Christian faith, is something that the devil wants to corrupt and destroy in the Christian. One way the devil wants to get us to think lightly of—and really to despise the work of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and our salvation—is to try to get us think that since God’s grace and forgiveness to us in Jesus is full, free and abundant, why not sin? Right before our text St. Paul writes: What shall we say then? Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase? And his answer? Absolutely not! We may not be as crass in thinking that if I sin more, that’s a good thing because that way God may show me more grace. But it is a great temptation to think that our sin is no big deal or that “God will forgive that one too.” Every time we are not actively engaged in fighting sin and striving to live in holiness, we are despising the work of Jesus for us and our salvation.
So where can we find help and strength in our fight against sin and in striving to live a holy life? The short answer: our baptism. St. Paul writes in our text: Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life. Baptism is our strength in the fight against sin and our power in striving to live a life of holiness. Or don’t you know –ignorance of this is the enemy through which many are defeated in the fight against sin. That’s why St. Paul is very clear here that baptism is real; it connects us with Jesus and His death and resurrection; baptism gives us the Holy Spirit and faith. Many Christians forget their baptism and what it is and does; many do not even think what an inexpressibly great and glorious treasure they have in their baptism. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Baptism connects us with Jesus in His death. Baptism is that great “connector” between us and Jesus; it unites us with Him. Our text: For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. Because of baptism, that means that we, dear Christian, have already died. When we see Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, that is—because of baptism which unites us with Jesus—also our death. What happened when Jesus died on the cross? He endured the worst that death could give—God’s wrath and the very punishments of hell. But what? In baptism we have been united with him in the likeness of his death. That means that when we die our physical death at the end of our life, we will, united with Jesus by our baptism, have already suffered God’s wrath and hell and will then be with Him in heaven. And why? Because of/ in baptism we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.
And being united with Jesus in baptism does not just affect us at the end of our life, but also now. What does St. Paul say here in our text? We know that our old self was crucified with him, to make our sinful body powerless, so that we would not continue to serve sin. Our old self, that is, our corrupt sinful condition and state that we were born in; it is our natural depravity; it is unbelief and all its fruit—our old sinful self was crucified with Jesus. That’s what we talk about when we say that Jesus took all our sin on Himself; that’s why Jesus could die/ why then death…[had] control over him—because of our sin He took on Himself. So why did Jesus take our sins on Himself/ why [was] our old self…crucified with him? Our text: to make our sinful body powerless, so that we would not continue to serve sin. Our baptism unites us with Jesus; and as Jesus died, so did our old sinful self. And why? –So that we would not continue to serve sin. Our old sinful self, that sin we were born with occupies and infects us; it uses our body as its instruments—our eyes to lust, our mouths to speak ill, our ears to hear gossip, etc. To be sure, we still have our old sinful self with us until our dying breath—but because it was crucified with Jesus sin lost all might and right over us. That means that we don’t have to serve and obey sin. Here we see that baptism is our power in the fight against sin. We are not thoughtless beasts who are just led by our old sinful self from one sin to another. We are in baptism united with Jesus. Our sinful self was crucified with Jesus, dead and buried. That means that just like you can poke and prod a dead person all you want, and will get no response, so also we, having died with Jesus in baptism do not have to respond to the poking and prompting of sin. We don’t have to do its bidding—St. Paul puts it this way in our text: For the person who has died has been declared free from sin. Through baptism, we have died to sin, We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death that is, the bond that bound us to sin is completely broken.
Baptism, which connects us with Jesus in His death and burial, is the powerful weapon in our fight against sin and for holiness. In baptism we are delivered from the guilt and punishment of sin—it’s something that happens to us. And because baptism unites us with Jesus’ death and resurrection we are delivered from the power of sin—baptism is something that happens in us/ changing and transforming us. That means that baptism is not a mere symbol or symbolic action; but it is, instead, a mighty working of God in us and on us as baptism actually unites us with Jesus; it is the beginning of our Christian life and a real power in our fight against sin. Our text: We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life. That’s our life of holiness—our life striving to keep the holy Ten Commandments inwardly, wholly and completely from our heart/ our life of holiness. Look at what the apostle writes here: just as with His resurrection Jesus entered into a new life, he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so now also we, who were buried with him by this baptism into his death, now have a new life: walk in a new life. The wonderful thing is that baptism, unites us with Jesus and actually gives us the Holy Spirit, faith, the forgiveness of sin, new life, and every heavenly and spiritual blessing, in short, it gives us salvation. And this very salvation which we receive in baptism works in us a life of holiness. To put it differently—we receive in baptism the gift of faith and salvation and from this holiness follows. It’s not that holiness comes first and God deems us worthy and then gives us salvation. Salvation works holiness. That life of holiness we live is grounded in the salvation Jesus won for us and gives us in Holy Baptism. We now live a life of faith and good works/ a life of holiness because we were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection so that now, dear Christian, just as [Jesus] was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life.
St. Paul then continues: For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. In holy baptism we have entered the most intimate union with Jesus: we have been united with him. That means that in baptism the new life of Jesus is implanted in us. Jesus rose from the dead and this same life, this same Jesus is in us. Baptism unites us. With Jesus in us, with the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us, how can, we, dear Christian, not, live a life of holiness? How can the thought of even wanting to tolerate sin/ not caring whether we sin or not even enter our hearts and minds? The sad fact, is, that such thoughts do. We are sinners until our death. But do you struggle against sin? Do you feel the battle within you between sin and the desire to do good and to live a life of holiness? That’s a good thing/ a natural thing for the Christian. That’s because you are united to Jesus; that’s because He is in you; that’s because the Holy Spirit He gave you at baptism is leading and strengthening you against sin. If there is no struggle against sin, if you don’t care whether or not you sin, if you try to justify your sin then that’s the time to worry that you have forsaken your baptism and rejected your union with Jesus. But even here, don’t despair! Run to you baptism! Reclaim once again the gifts and blessings God gave you there. May all of us daily and anew crucify our old sinful self by daily examination of heart and life and then confess the sin we find and then run again and anew to the font and receive the Lord’s blessings and forgiveness He gave us at our baptism and reclaim them anew. And since we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Baptism, which unites us with Jesus’ death and resurrection, is our mighty weapon in the fight against sin. INJ Amen