Monday, April 12, 2010

Baptismal Mediation: The Kingdom as Gift

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life… For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:4, 23)

Paul seems to be summing up at least part of his point here at the end of chapter 6. As we have already noted today in the sermon, Paul is drawing off of a number of Exodus categories in this passage, and similarly, we noticed that Paul is calling Christians to offer their bodies as weapons of righteousness, calling Christians to embrace their vocation as the armies of God. When Israel marched out of Egypt they plundered them. They marched out of Egypt as triumphant victors. The slaves and peasants marched out of Egypt having destroyed the greatest civilization in the world at that time.

How did this great army carry out this conquest? How was Egypt destroyed by these hosts? They slaughtered lambs, smeared the blood on their doorposts, and ate this sacrificial meal dressed for travel. And these unconventional battle tactics were preceded by the Israelites watching an old man with a stick take on the great Pharaoh of Egypt. How was freedom won? How was this victory secured? It was given as a gift.

Paul is still thinking about the Exodus when he says that the wages of sin is death. He has contrasted slavery to sin and service in the army of Christ repeatedly, and he uses the word wages here to describe slavery to Pharaoh. The word for wages is literally the rations of a soldier. Remember John the Baptist exhorted the soldiers that came for baptism to be content with their wages, and the word is used widely outside of Scripture specifically in military contexts.

The question for Paul has everything to do with armies and warfare. Who’s your Lord? Which army are you in? Recall that the Israelites arrived in the wilderness and promptly started longing for the wages of Egypt, the food in Egypt, the rations of slaves. But what has happened to Egypt? What has happened to the Egyptians? They have died. The wages of Egypt is death. The rations of a slave-master like Pharaoh are death.

And notice the sharp contrast: You can slave away for Pharaoh and his empire and end up dead under a pile of hail or at the bottom of the Red Sea. Or you can watch and see the deliverance of God and march out of the land as a victorious army. The gift of God is life and freedom and glory forever. You can watch and see how frogs infest the enemy land, how darkness falls on the enemy, listen and hear the cries of the bereaved, those who have lost their firstborn in the land of the Egypt: all given, all gifts of life. You can slave for one master and die or you can make dinner with a lamb and cover your house with his blood. The rations of Pharaoh are death; but the spoils of Yahweh are life and glory and freedom forever.

John, you mentioned to me that you have named your son very purposefully. In addition to having family significance for you, the meaning of his name is significant. Jonathan means “God’s gracious gift” and Reich means “kingdom.” As you well know, these two ideas and themes go so well together, and the Exodus is one example of that. But Paul insists that this is what baptism means. Baptism is our Greater Exodus in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If Israel marching out of Egypt through the sea was a great deliverance and salvation, Paul says baptism is more so. If Pharaoh and Egypt were shattered in the Exodus, in the death and resurrection of Jesus sin and death and Satan were overthrown and undone.

And that is what Easter is all about. That is what the gospel is all about. Freedom and forgiveness and new life is not earned or manufactured in any way. It’s all gift, it’s all grace. And as the Israelites were told to look and see God’s great deliverance, so too, you must teach your son to see Jesus and His death and resurrection as salvation and freedom and life. This season of Easter is a time of reveling in this victory, and every baptism is a mini-Easter, a Great Exodus. God is here freeing your son from service to the enemy and enlisting him in the hosts of King Jesus. Jack is being given the gifts of life and glory and freedom. And therefore, John and Beth, remind him of this continually. Remind him that he is a soldier of the kingdom of God. He is to renounce all allegiance to every Pharaoh and leave Egypt far behind. And teach him about the joys of the Promised Land. Teach him how to find the biggest, juiciest grapes and how to take down the greatest giants in the land, three at a time.

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