Thursday December 7, 2017
News flash: Baptism is Reincarnation
We might miss the mystery Matthew reports when he quotes the angel as saying that Mary “will bear a
son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).
The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” But what does “saves” mean when used about Jesus? Jesus is God. We expect what he does to be a mystery. And the first mystery here is that Jesus does not just forgive sins; John the Baptizer called him the “Lamb of God” who “takes away” the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Forgiveness does not take away sin. It doesn’t change the one forgiven at all. If God just forgives us, we are just as guilty as we were before. Forgiveness doesn’t save us from our sins; just from their consequences.
What we have done, we have done. Forgiveness does not erase our history. But John says Jesus “takes away” our sin. How is that possible?
Even God cannot change history. But he can change the person whose history it is. Our sins are taken away because we died in Christ and rose in Christ as a “new creation.” That is the mystery of redemption.
Paul explains Baptism as a mystery of dying and rising: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” (Romans 6:3ff.).
And all of our sins—past, present, and future—were buried with us. When the body of Jesus went down into the grave, he carried in his body the “sin of the world.” When his body hung on the cross, all of us who became members of his body by Baptism were in that body—with all of our sins. Although Jesus could not be personally guilty, nevertheless, our sins were the sins of his own flesh. Paul’s words are shocking: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Corinthians 5:21).
When Jesus died, we died, and our sins went down into the grave with us—and were annihilated. Not just forgiven—“taken away,” “erased.” When we were “buried with Christ in Baptism,” God “erased the record that stood against us… nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13).
God could not erase the sins—they were historical facts. But he could erase them from our record by giving us a new history. The one who committed those sins had died; that life was over; that history consigned to oblivion. When we rose in Christ, we rose as a “new creation”—without any previous history of sin.
We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life… We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin (Romans 6:4ff.).
Baptism is a kind of "reincarnation". We die in Christ. Our previous life is over—at least insofar as it was sinful—and we rise in Christ to begin a new life; one with no history of sin.
This is the mystery of our redemption. This is what we mean when we say Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus saves, not by forgiving us, but by dying so that we might die in him. Our salvation is the mystery of dying and rising in Christ.
That is what Matthew meant when he quoted the angel as saying “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).
Question: Can I look back on the sins of my past and say with conviction that I never committed them; that the person who did commit them died, and that I am a “new creation” that Jesus has “made holy” to “present to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes holy and without blemish” for “the wedding banquet of the Lamb?” (see Ephesians 5:26ff., Revelation 18:7ff.).