This is the epistle reading for the Baptism of our Lord in every year of the three-year lectionary. Rightly so. That said, there are challenges to approaching a “classic” text like Romans 6, especially when its themes are so central to Christian theology, not least because its familiarity can sometimes keep us from seeing how all the parts work together to make a whole.

As the Apostle Paul explicates what it means to be “baptized into Christ Jesus,” united into “a death like his” and “a resurrections like his,” he is undoubtedly thinking about the cross and the empty tomb. Those are the events that make all this ground-breaking work possible. But the means that make the event transcend time and bodies is in the baptizing, mine and yours. Martin Franzmann summarizes, as only he can, how this new life overflows from the “new status” Paul had spelled out in chapter five:

“The creative force of the gospel as God’s power for man’s salvation is not exhausted in creating a new status for man; it creates a new life in man… That death and resurrection embraced us all and ushers us into a wholly new kind of life, the resurrection-life of Christ… Our present life gets its character, direction, and purpose from the fact that we shall live with Him who now lives a life beyond death; a life lived wholly to God, now that He has died an atoning death, once for all, to sin.” (Concordia Self-Study Commentary, 131)

So far, so good. What kicks things up a notch is the occasion. Paul is thinking of the cross and empty tomb, but the liturgical calendar places us at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not the end: Jesus standing waist deep in the Jordan River, John the Baptizer beside him pouring water over his brow. And yet, the juxtaposition only intensifies the association. Reading this text for the Baptism of our Lord inevitably recalls for me the imagery of Martin Luther’s “happy exchange.” It is not just that Christ exchanges my sin for his righteousness. All of him becomes mine, and vice versa. So when the water of the Jordan runs down his face, dripping from his chin, he is baptizing my baptism. I am waist deep in the Jordan River. I look up to the skies and see the heavens open above me. The Holy Spirit descends upon my baptism just as it descended upon Jesus of Nazareth. And because of him, that same voice speaks in my ear, “You are my child. Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

So, when the water of the Jordan runs down his face, dripping from his chin, he is baptizing my baptism. I am waist deep in the Jordan River.

The prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading signals as much in his declaration: “…everyone who is called by my name…whom I formed and made” (43:7, emphasis added). Jesus’ baptism ushers in not only his own life of ministry, the reign of God come near. It opens up the power of the baptism he received from God—the power of the Spirit with fire—to all the baptized into the “resurrection-life” of God in Christ, freed wholly from anything that might ever enslave us again.

In a recent conversation, my good friend James Wetzstein, university pastor at Valparaiso University, remarked that of all the gospels, Luke opens like a musical. Think of all the songs: Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, the angels, Simeon, Anna. And now, perhaps, it is God’s turn to sing. “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (v. 21). The Father sings to his child as only a parent can, but because of the life Christ lived, died, and rose again, the song is sung for you and me too. Just as it will be for every child on Earth who will be baptized this day.

Now—and only now—united with Christ from death to life, does Paul gives us his first imperative: λογίζεσθε (logizesthe), “reckon,” “consider,” “think,” “see” (v. 11). According to Danker, it is a verb of “numerical calculation” and “computational imagery” (The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 216). I prefer the NIV rendering, for two reasons. First, it maintains a more direct imperative tone: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (cf. the stilted “you must” of “So you also must consider yourselves…” in the ESV/NRSV). Second, the verb “count” concretizes the “calculation” of the original. We could easily put such counting into forensic terms, but in light of the Gospel of Luke, I wonder if we might just as much be counting out the four-beat rhythm of God’s song, the rhyme and refrain of grace in Christ.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 6:1-11.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 6:1-11.