As I conclude my sermon series this morning on baptism, follow along as I read our text, Colossians 2:11-13.
11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sin.
Some say this is the most important passage in the New Testament about baptism. These verses clearly identify baptism as the time when a sinner is buried with Christ and raised up with him. In addition, faith is plainly shown here to be related to baptism and for those who might complain that baptism is a work Paul teaches in our text that it is not our work but a work of God.
We are dead today whether we know it or not. And what can a dead person do? Absolutely nothing. Someone else has to bury you and if you are dead you cannot change anything. In baptism we bury that dead guy living within us and the good news is that we do not stay in that grave but we are raised up to walk in newness of life having all our sins forgiven. Are your sins forgiven because you deserve it? Do we walk in newness of life because we are good? No, we are forgiven and we walk in newness of life because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. It is by his blood that we have been saved. The water grave we go into marks our acceptance of God’s grace and mercy and seals us to him by his word.
So using the idea of baptism this morning as a water grave, let us see what our text teaches us about baptism.
I. BAPTISM IS A DEATH.
Around the turn of the last century, Bismarck of Germany was making a call on the Czar of Russia. He noticed, while there, a guard standing, for no apparent reason, in the middle of the lawn. Bismarck inquired about the reason for the sentry. The Czar admitted he did not know why, but for as long as he could remember, guards had stood at that spot twenty-four hours a day. The question however made the Czar curious so he questioned other members of his staff about the tradition but no one knew the reason for it.
Finally, after a lot of research, the captain of the guard discovered the reason for the lone sentry guarding nothing. Apparently, several decades before, the Czar's grandmother had noticed a wild flower blooming at that spot in the lawn and ordered a guard posted to keep careless feet from trampling it. The little flower had long since withered away, but no one ever rescinded the order and no one ever questioned the tradition. Two generations later, sentries were still being posted at the spot, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year - for no reason whatsoever.
We do that kind of stuff in church all the time: From the order of our worship to the way we arrange the pews to the programs we offer, we become victims of traditions that often have lost their meaning. Contrary to the old cliché, traditions do die, it's just that when they are dead we refuse to believe or accept it. That is sad when it happens at church but not nearly as sad as when we become so trapped in sin that we are dead and do not even know it. We keep on going through our routines, pretending to be ok, when inside there is nothing there anymore.
For years Juan Peron, when he was president of Argentina, kept the preserved body of his dead wife Evita, in his mansion. Each evening he would prop her up at the dining room table and discuss the day's events with the corpse over dinner. He sought advice from lips that no longer spoke and listened for a voice he could no longer hear.
Outside of Christ, we are as good as dead. Our physical bodies may live for many more years, but our flesh will eventually decay and we will die. The question Paul keeps asking in the book of Colossians is if we know that, why do we keep living like we don't?
Baptism can be seen as a death. It is the death of our old way of life. We no longer depend on traditions or laws and we no longer wallow in our sin and shame. All those things are dead to us when we are baptized.
Being dead is used two ways in our text. In verse 13 Paul says we are dead in our sins. In other words, because of the sin in our lives, we are already as good as dead. Whether we know it or not, every tiny sin we have ever committed, every slight act of disobedience, every little infraction has separated us from God. The result of all sin, no matter how big or small it may be in our lives, is for us to be cast out from the presence of God because God is such a pure and holy God that he cannot stand to be around sin. And since life can only be found in God, we are nothing more than dead men walking.
The second way Paul talks about being dead can be found in verse 11 where he talks about the spiritual circumcision we experience with Christ. Circumcision was a physical act performed on the male children of Israel that marked them as belonging to God. The act requires a cutting away of a piece of the skin. In a spiritual sense our text is teaching that we need to remove, or circumcise, from our bodies that which is dead. This is what Romans 6:11 calls, being dead to sin. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Baptism confirms that our old way of life is dead. Are you ready to admit that? The trouble is even though we are dead we either don’t want to admit it or try to ignore it. But what normally happens when something dies? We bury it, don’t we?
That leads us to my second point which is...
II. BAPTISM IS A BURIAL.
We hadn't lived in our first home in Champaign, Illinois very long before we noticed a musty odor. It wasn't so bad at first: we could not smell it all the time and it was limited to the back of the house. I could open the bedroom window and the smell would go away.
However after a few weeks the aroma got stronger. We could smell it all the time, even with the windows open, and the terrible stench began to fill the whole house. In addition, opening the bedroom window was no longer an option because it was getting cold outside. I casually mentioned the problem to a friend who suggested that I open the furnace up and look around. Now I'm totally ignorant about furnaces but I did what he told me and to my surprise I immediately discovered the problem.
Apparently a bird had made a nest in the air duct right above the furnace. Even though it was summer when we moved in, one of the first things I did was to turn the heat on to make sure the furnace worked. Well the heat was too much for the bird, which normally would have flown the coop before it got cold, and the bird died. So when the furnace was not running during the last warm days of summer, we did not notice much of anything but when the weather turned cold and the furnace ran a lot, the fragrance overwhelmed us. So I took the bird outside and buried it in the trash can and the smell left with it. If we do not bury our sin, it will continue to live in us, polluting our body with shame and guilt. The question is not do we want to get rid of this dead thing but how do we get rid of it?
The following spring another bird took up residence in that air duct. In fact, the whole time we lived there, I was constantly removing dead birds from the house. Many will tell you to get rid of sin in your life simply pray for God to remove it. That's kind of like what I was doing over and over again with the dead birds in my furnace. It got rid of the immediate problem but it did not prevent another bird from taking up residence.
I remember one man told me once that he never asked God to forgive a specific sin in his life until he had overcome the temptation. I wondered if he ever was able to ask God to forgive him. Trying to constantly remove sin from our life is never enough because as soon as you clean out the mess something else moves in. What I should have done about the dead bird problem I had, instead of checking the furnace every few weeks, was I should have sealed the vent on the roof where the birds entered my house. I did not do that mainly because of my stubbornness and pride that caused me not to ask anyone for help. If I had, chances are someone would have told me to put a screen over the hole and maybe even climbed up there and done the job for me and my bird problem would have ended. But as a result of my refusal to ask anyone, I never solved the problem. How often do we do that with sin in our lives? Instead of seeking out the only one who can wash away our sins, we try to overcome the problem by ourselves. We might get rid of the sin for a little while but it, or something like it, will always come back.
The only way to remove the sin in our lives is to bury the sin. Baptism is that burial. The promise in verse 13 of our text is expanded on in verse 14: 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. In baptism our old way of life is dead and buried. The sin that use to trap us and swallow us up no longer has a hold on us because it was taken away from us and nailed to the cross and it is through baptism that it is buried, gone, and washed away. If we believe that, why do we act as if rules and laws and traditions will save us?
Baptism is a burial. It is a funeral service where we say goodbye to sin and shame. Baptism is where we leave our old life behind. Are you ready to do that?
Finally, we see...
III. BAPTISM IS A RESURRECTION.
Note verse 13 again. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
Through the use of modern embalming techniques and the skills of trained professionals, a body in a casket does not look dead. The body looks as if it were sleeping. Often, at funerals, we comment on how good of a job the funeral home did preparing the body. And we take a certain comfort in seeing our loved one looking so nice and comfortable. But no matter what the professionals do, the body is still dead. There is nothing we can do to change that truth. No amount of denial or grief will bring our loved one back.
A few years ago, there was a movie called, "Weekend at Bernie's." It was a tasteless comedy amount these two guys who carried Bernie, who had died, around with them so they could party on the beach because he had the credit cards and money. They pretended he was alive although he was dead.
At one point in the movie, a witch doctor applied some magic and when music played, the body would rise up and dance. But as soon as the music stopped, the corpse would collapse to the ground because, after all, he was still dead. We do the same thing with sin in our lives. We pretend we are alive when we are dead. We dress up our dead bones and pretend that everything is ok. Churches are very guilty of this. We set up rules and creeds and standards, that may be good but they cannot save us. We say if we follow them, or at least make an honest attempt to follow them, than we are alive. But we are still dead.
No amount of tradition will save us. No amount of religious ceremony will save us. Only Jesus can save us. Baptism is a resurrection. In other words, when we are baptized we have buried our old self, which is dead anyway, and we have put on a new life.
Modern RV's and campers allow us to put all the conveniences of home on wheels. Go to a dealer or stop in when they are displayed at the mall and you will be amazed at how nice they are. Sometimes they are nicer than the house we live in. A camper no longer needs to contend with sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking over a fire, or hauling water from a stream. Now he can park a fully equipped home on a cement slab in the midst of a few pine trees, hook up a water line, sewer line and electricity, pop in a DVD or adjust the satellite dish and spend the evening in air-conditioned comfort. No more bother with dirt, no more smoke from the fire, no more drudgery of walking to the stream, no more insect bites or cook's surprise for dinner. Now it is possible to go camping and never go outside.
People buy a motor home with the hope of seeing new places, of getting out into the world. Yet we deck it out with the same furnishings we have in our living room. So, nothing has really changed. We may drive to a new place, set ourselves in new surroundings, but the newness goes unnoticed, for we've carried along our old setting. The adventure of new life in Christ begins when the comfortable patterns of the old life are left behind.
“As Christians we need to realize that we once were dead in sin but have experienced a literal, though spiritual, resurrection from the dead. God can say of us as of the prodigal son, `This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.’” Or as John 5:24 says, we have “passed out of death into life.” “How can we doubt that this is the most significant thing that has ever happened to us? And when does Paul say it took place? In baptism!” As verse 12 said, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Baptism is a resurrection. That means we no longer live the way we lived before. We are a new creation. Do you want that? If so, what is keeping you from being baptized?