Baptized in Christ from Tomb to Womb
“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” (Romans 6:4).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In the midst of its songs about drinking beer, driving pickup trucks, and chasing pretty girls, country music occasionally reveals a spiritual side. I remember as a kid, listening to my Dad in the barn singing along with Kris Kristofferson, asking “Why me, Lord?” or Johnny Paycheck as he urged, “Let’s all go down to the river.” Carrie Underwood’s recent hit, “Something in the Water,” follows in the same spiritual stream. And its baptismal theme is hard to miss.
I’m guessing that some of you have heard the song, but for those of you who haven’t, let me summarize. The lyrics speak of the wasted life of one who, late one night, is “all out of hope and all out of fight.” She recalls the advice of someone who had been in her shoes, where “down every hallway’s a slamming door,” where there’s “no way out, no one to come and save me.” Encouraged to have “a little faith and it’ll all get better,” the man had “followed that preacher man down to the river.” Not having anywhere else to turn, the distraught woman gets down on her knees and prays the only prayer she knows, “God, if you’re there, come and rescue me.” And He does. She’s “washed in the water, washed in the blood.” And she’s changed, she’s stronger, because “there must be something in the water.”
It’s a very powerful, moving song. And the first time I heard it, I thought to myself: “It’s a good start. Oh, I wouldn’t include it in a worship service. But this song says a lot more about baptism and its power than you’ll hear from many Christian pastors. Rather than merely viewing baptism as a pledge of my allegiance to Christ, it ascribes a power to that baptism—a life-changing power. And we Lutherans who confess that baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare, would do well to remember such power and live in the power of our baptism. There certainly is something in the water!
It’s a good start! For a country song about a spiritual journey. But the problem with the song theologically is that it doesn’t go far enough. It still sells baptism short. Baptism doesn’t just change you. It doesn’t just make you stronger. Baptism puts you to death, it buries you, and it raises you to new life in Christ!
Now, I’m guessing that your life is not as dramatic as the lyrics of a country song. And that’s probably a good thing—in most ways. We would all rather avoid the heartache of broken relationships or the consequences of a misspent life. But the reality could well be that your life is going along just good enough that you’ve become comfortable in your sin. When you consider your life in comparison to the rest of the world, it looks like you’re doing well. Certainly better than most others.
And therein lies the trouble. For God does not grade on a curve; His standard is perfection. And you are not perfect! Your real problem is not that you are weak and need to get stronger; you need to die to sin and be reborn. You don’t need to just be changed; you need to be recreated. You don’t just struggle with a few bad habits you’ve picked up along the way; you are a slave to sin. You are not just someone who has made mistakes or poor choices in life; you are a poor miserable sinner who justly deserves God’s wrath and His temporal and eternal punishment.
Fortunately, there is Someone in the water! And you are exactly the kind of sinner He is seeking! So, let’s all go down to the river! There’s a man named John. Some say he’s a prophet, and dressed in camel hair and leather, eating locusts and wild honey, he certainly looks like Elijah, who called Israel to repentance in the days of King Ahab. The people of Judea and Jerusalem come out to hear this man “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
Centuries before, Isaiah had predicted such a messenger would appear to “prepare the way for the Lord” (Mark 1:3). And so there in the wilderness along the Jordan, John has set up his camp, preaching his fiery message of repentance in anticipation of the Lord’s coming: “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).
Confessing their sins, people come to be baptized by John. But when Jesus steps up for baptism, John objects, “I need to be baptized by You,” he says. And we know what John means. After all, since Jesus has no sins of His own to confess, how can He qualify for John’s baptism—a sinner’s baptism, a baptism of repentance? Jesus insists that He be baptized anyway: “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness,” He replies (Matthew 3:15). Jesus wants to take on our sin. He insists on bearing our guilt. For He is intent on dying our death. And die He does. Ultimately, Jesus breathes His last after hours of excruciating shame on a cross. “He was pierced for our transgressions,” Isaiah prophesied. “He was crushed for our iniquities. By His wounds we are healed.”
And Jesus’ baptism is not His own, either. It is ours. By His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus takes upon Himself the obligation of the sins of the world. At the Jordan the sinless Son of God is made to be sin for us. His destination is sealed and the Lord of life steps heroically into death. For since the wages of sin is death, the baptism of Jesus points relentlessly to His cross and death.
Dying to live. It sounds strange, but that’s exactly how Christ brings life into this dying world. Through death; His death on the cross. From His body flows blood and water that day, the signs of His death. But they are signs of life for us. In fact, there’s no other way to live than through the death of Jesus. We are all dying; we can either die alone, or we can die in Jesus. But His death brings life, and it’s when we die with Him that we really begin to live.
God does things backwards in Jesus Christ—at least, He always seems to act exactly the opposite of what you and I would expect. He shows His power in weakness, His glory in shame, His majesty in lowliness. From the day that the angel announces to Mary that the baby conceived in her womb is none other than the Son of God until the day the soldiers take His body down from the cross and His friends bury Him in a borrowed tomb, there is always more to Jesus than meets the eye. What you see is what you get, we think. But that’s not the way it is with Jesus. When you look at Jesus, you are actually looking at the back side of God.
But the back side of God and His backwards ways are not an attempt to hide from us. He is actually hiding—in seeming weakness and apparent foolishness—so that He can reveal Himself all the more clearly. God backs into our world, so to speak, in order that we can face Him without being annihilated in our sin. It is His way of being up front and personal.
And the cross is about as personal as God can get. In Eden, Adam and Eve hide their shame from God. At Calvary, a new Adan is clothed in naked human shame. But the Lord of life does not hide—not from either God or man. On His cross He openly displays His love for all to see. It is a hidden love, wrapped up in shame and death so that we might have His intimate love and life here in this dying world of ours. And out of the body of Jesus flows water in His death. It is water drenched in life; the life of God for the death of mankind. But that water flows out from death: the death of God for the life of the world. Nothing else will do.
If the children of Adam are to go on living, then death has to die. And there is only one way death can die; the curse can only be broken by one of Adam’s children—the Seed of the woman. And Jesus is uniquely qualified. A descendant of Adam through Mary, His mother, and yet the Son of God at the same time, He deals conclusively with death by taking it in His own body. Thus the death of the Lord of life is the death of death itself.
“He has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to life through the Gospel,” writes St. Paul (2 Timothy 1:10). Similarly, the letter to the Hebrews elaborates: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (2:14).
In the cross, Satan’s tyranny is broken. The old ancient foe is defeated. The deceiver is deceived, the accuser stands accused, and the destroyer is destroyed. On His cross, Jesus undoes all the havoc wreaked by the devil in the Fall. In the Garden of Eden, Satan had overcome Adam by a tree. But on the tree of the cross the New Adam overthrows Satan. An instrument of death becomes the instrument of life. And so it is in baptism: the very water that destroys brings new life. Drowning becomes rebirth. Christ’s victory means Satan’s defeat. And this victory/defeat is personally applied to every believer in his or her own Baptism.
It’s no accident that the Church to this day precedes baptism with the renunciation of Satan and all his works and all his ways. We all come into this world as slaves of sin, death, and hell. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are set free from slavery; we share in the victory Christ won by His cross. But that victory comes out of death. And the same baptism which raises us to life first plunges us into death. This is precisely why there is life in this water; it brings life by destroying the enemy. When we pass through the waters of baptism a death occurs. It is the same death Christ died long ago: “The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives to God” (Romans 6:10).
It all begins in Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan by John. There He assumes your sins. There He is given over into death just as surely as the day He takes up His cross and heads for Calvary. Your baptism begins with the Jesus’ baptism, where He steps into His saving work by that washing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit descends on Him like a dove. The Father’s voice affirms Him and His saving work: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The baptism of Jesus, in other words, is a seal and affirmation of His saving work. That baptism is His consignment into your death.
And it works the other way around, too. As Jesus is baptized into your death, so you are baptized into His death. Your death means death for Him, but His death means life for you. Consigned into His death by baptism, you are partners with Him in His risen life. Thus baptism is at once your tomb and your mother, as the ancient church fathers continually reminded the faithful. Holy baptism is both your tomb of death and womb of new life.
Your baptismal link with Jesus in His death lies behind St. Paul’s repeated use of the phrase “in Christ.” Because you have shared with Him in His death by baptism, you also share with Him in His resurrection. Because you were buried with Him by baptism into death you now share in Christ’s own risen life. And if you have been given over into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are given over into Jesus Himself. Hence you now live “in Christ.”
This is not just a figure of speech. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the believer’s life is not his own; he lives in Christ as Christ lives in him. Baptized into Christ, we can truthfully say: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Human willpower is notoriously anemic and fickle. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is firm, steady, and sure. I wonder—do you suppose the reason you and I have such a hard time living the Christian life is that we try to go it alone, apart from our baptism into Christ? Baptismal renewal happens as we confess our sins and return in repentance to the forgiveness of sins we first received in Baptism. Small wonder that St. Paul would say, “For to me, to live is Christ.” You simply cannot live apart from the life you have in Christ by your baptism into Him.
The ancient church described baptized believers as fish, conceived in water, born to swim in water. And you know what happens to fish out of water.
So keep in your baptism. Drown your Old Adam through daily contrition and repentance, so that he would die with all your sins and evil desires, and that your new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. St. Paul declares, “We were therefore buried with Him through 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” (Romans 6:4).
Baptism is both your tomb of death and your womb of new life. It is a link with both Jordan and Calvary, with river and cross, with water and blood. Baptism offers here and now all that your Lord accomplished for you then and there.
What amazing grace! You been washed in the water, washed in the blood—the water and blood that streamed from Jesus’ side on the day He died for you. And there’s no better place to be. For here, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.