3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
5 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. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
Introduction: Spectators and Participants
In life, there are spectators and there are participants. Not all sports fans are are content just watching the game; they want to play. And so they spend years learning, practicing, and actually playing the game. They are no longer merely spectators of the sport, but also participants. You and I may be only sports spectators, but we are participants in other areas of life—in our family, in our church, and at work. In all areas of life, we are either spectators or participants.
As we gather together for the Divine Service every Lord’s Day, we are truly celebrating Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if we are to celebrate Easter rightly, then we must be participants in the Easter story. It is not enough to merely listen politely to the Easter story. God wants us to become part of the Easter story by faith in Christ. This faith holds on to God’s promise of forgiveness and the hope of the resurrection. By trusting God to keep His promise to us, we affirm that our Lord Jesus really did rise from the dead. And by faith in our risen Lord, we become participants in the Easter story.
God makes us participants in the Easter story!
Do you confess to almighty God that you are a poor, miserable sinner; that you have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed; and that you justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment? Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins? Do you pray God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, to be gracious and merciful to you? If so, then you are a participant in the Easter story.
Now, we can choose to participate in a sport or a club, but we cannot choose to become Easter participants. Rather, God chooses us. God gives us faith. In the words of the catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit has given us faith in Christ Jesus our risen Saviour. Through this gift of faith, God makes us participants in the Easter story. To those without faith, the Easter story is merely a story about someone else’s death, someone else’s resurrection. But to us with faith in Christ, the Easter story is also the story of our own death and resurrection. In trusting that Jesus died and rose again in order to rescue sinners from sin, death, and hell, we also believe that we died with Christ and that we were raised with Him. This is what it means to be participants in the Easter story.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are events that occurred nearly two thousand years ago. And yet, His death and resurrection are also events in which we participate today through Baptism.
In Baptism, we are united to Christ in an intimacy that is beyond human comprehension. United to Christ in Baptism, we die to sin and we live to righteousness, just as Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins and to make us righteous in God’s sight. On Good Friday, Jesus died and was buried. We too died and were buried. We were … buried with [Christ] through baptism into [His] death…; we have become united and grow together with the likeness of [Jesus’] death (Middendorf translation).
On Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead. We too rise to a new life. We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into [His] death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, thus also we too might walk in life’s renewal. Indeed, since we have become united and grow together with the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be [united in the likeness] of His resurrection (Middendorf translation). Indeed, we have already been raised with [Christ] through … faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).
Christians are saved in Christ, and thus we have received the abundance of our Saviour’s forgiveness, life, and salvation. However, just because we are recipients of God’s grace in Christ does not mean that we can persist in sin. Oh, it is certainly true that God’s grace, like a mighty flood, overflows above and beyond our trespasses. But we should never intentionally sin, thinking that it is okay to do evil things in order that good things might come. God’s grace in Christ is always greater than our sins, but we do not persist in sin that God’s grace might multiply. Rather, we count ourselves to be dead to sin on the one hand, but on the other hand, living to God in Christ Jesus (Middendorf translation).
For you, as one baptized into Christ, every day is Good Friday. Everyday you die to temptation and sin. And for you, everyday also is Easter. Everyday, you arise as a new person who lives before God in righteousness and purity forever. On the cross, Jesus won salvation for us. And in our baptism, God forgives us our sins and gives us the hope of eternal life. Yes, in baptism, God makes us His dear children and heirs of heaven. And today, our gracious Lord continues to work through our baptism so that by daily contrition and repentance our sinful nature is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (adapted from Small Catechism, Holy Baptism, IV). Everyday we die to sin and live to righteousness–this is what it means to be participants in the Easter story.
The Lord’s death and resurrection—for you!
Some people are merely spectators of the Easter story; they read the Easter story as if it were a encyclopedia article about something that happened to someone else a long time ago. But those with faith in Christ read the Easter story as a family history in which past actions profoundly affect our lives today. Everyday, my life is affected by the fact that my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany and also that Sandy’s parents moved to Canada after the war. Even more so, my life has been forever changed by the fact that Jesus died for me on the cross and has risen from the dead. In Good Friday and Easter, past acts profoundly transform present-day lives in an even greater way than how our lives have been shaped by our ancestors. For in Baptism, we are united to Christ in an intimacy that is beyond human comprehension. Yes, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we today die to sin and live to righteousness. Jesus died and rose again for us, so that our sins may be forgiven and so that [we] may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (Small Catechism, Creed, Second Article).
Do you know what are the two most important words in the Christian faith? They are the words “for you.” Jesus died on the cross for you. Jesus rose from the dead for you. Jesus gives forgiveness of all sins for you. Jesus gives eternal life for you. And in Holy Baptism, you have entered into and you have received the power of your Lord’s death and resurrection. By faith in Christ, you know that Good Friday and Easter are not merely about someone else’s death, someone else’s resurrection. You know that Good Friday and Easter are also about your death and resurrection—your death to sin and your resurrection not only to newness of life here on earth but also to eternal life in heaven. In spite of your great failures to resist temptation, in spite of your many sins, God keeps you in your baptism, intimately bound and knitted to your Lord Jesus and to His death and resurrection so that you may live and walk with Him in newness of life forevermore. Amen.