Baptismal Mastery

Think of a person you know, an everyday type of person; a person to whom you look as a role model. This person is someone that you may have had dealings with, but then again maybe they’re not. They might be someone you have read about, or seen on television. They might be one of your parents, or grandparents. This person might be a friend or someone with whom you’d like to be friends.

Perhaps they are someone with confidence, or wealth, a healthy lifestyle, successful in whatever they do, or they seem to be at peace with themselves.Whoever this person might be, you see them as one who has it all together. They are lords of their lives, it seems. You see them as masters of their domain.

We don’t use the language of lords much these days, when speaking of everyday people. We no longer use the term to honour those whom we respect, and we don’t use it as a name for the rulers of our country, or for landholders, as they still do in other parts of the world.

Nor do we have a great cause to ponder the function of masters and slaves. We might hear the word master when talking about someone skilled at the top of their trade, or when master is used as a definition of a principal, such as a master bedroom or a master builder.

When we uphold these role models as masters of their domains, or as lords of their lives; we receive a terrible blow when these people begin to fade and struggle with life, or when their domain comes crashing down around their ears. When death comes to those we love and look up to, it usually hits hard. Or when the person we have upheld as such a good example, is not who they first appeared, the let down can leave us feeling deflated.

A harder shock for us all is when we find life harder and harder to master. Our bodies and our wills seem to enslave us. We find that we can’t do what we know we should be doing. Or perhaps we shudder when we find out someone else looks up to us. Disgusted, perhaps you think, “If only they knew what I’m really like!”

We humans are very good at making ourselves slaves, belittling ourselves, and burdening ourselves or others by our misconceived ideas as to who and what is worthy of lordship. When we make these types of judgement, the very elements of life we uphold as being necessary, become the very things killing us and driving us to despair.

The best example of this is at funerals. While hearing the deceased person eulogised, thoughts can arise that either crush you or confuse you. As you listen you might wish you were as good as the person who has passed on, but go away crushed and downhearted. Or you might wonder if you are at the right funeral, thinking to yourself, “Hang on, this person wasn’t as good as what they are being made out to be!”

And so we arrive at the reality of life. This reality is revealed for every person at their death. Unfortunately though, it’s too late for the revelation to do anything, once we die.

However, for Christians, we who believe in, hold onto, and remain in our baptism, the reality is daily revealed why we die but also who is really worthy of being eulogised in our death, and in our being raised to eternal life.

Therefore, we find that baptism and funerals are inseparably joined. And in the inseparability is the need for us to remain with Jesus Christ given at baptism, who is faithfully walking with us every day of our lives, and willing us to trust him for salvation even in our last breath of earthly life.

Death, and our need for baptismal living, reveals that no person can be lord of their lives, and that any mastery of one’s domain is temporary at best.In fact we hear from Saint Paul that in our original condition we can only master one thing — that is sin leading to death.

We hear in Romans 5:19-21… For just as through the disobedience of the one man (that is Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul then goes on to speak of our struggle against sin and the reality in which we live as believing baptised children of God.

He says… 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11)

No longer do we have to eulogise or uphold the things that end in death; rather we can give all glory to Jesus Christ whose life we have received in baptism. In other words we uphold and remain in the only thing that ends in life, our baptism into Jesus’ death. In baptism we no longer have a master standing over us, enslaving us. But we now have a Saviour who faithfully stands and has mastered sin and death in us.

In the gospel we hear, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. (Matthew 10:24-25a)

We have already seen that Jesus is not our master in the religious sense. We are not bound again as slaves doing works for righteousness. But Jesus is our role model, the only worthy role model. We look to Jesus’ baptism as our example as we hear John the Baptist declare, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Jesus was baptised with water and the Holy Spirit came, we too are baptised with water and the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit came. Jesus endured a baptism of fire ending in death at the cross, and we too will face many fiery trials in this life ending in death. This is the cross we all must bear.

But, like our teacher, we will be raised to life, because this teacher now lives in us. His death has mastered our sin and our death. Sin and death have no power. They now are dying slaves of Christ; serving him in us so we might have life with him forever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are Lord of lords, and you are master of all dominions, powers, and authorities, and yet you live in us and daily win the battle of sin and death in us. Thank you precious Lord Jesus, not only do we abide in you, but you faithfully abide us. Amen.

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