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Paul’s Short List

In Romans six we find one of Paul’s shorter lists. It contains only three words. Though some have found fault with my reasoning, I find in this tripartite list the very essence of the gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life so that he might die, be buried and then rise from the tomb. This seems to cover the purpose of baptism as we obey the gospel in childlike faith. I am grateful God didn’t ask us to build an ark or march around the walls of Jericho or sacrifice our eldest child. Let’s take a closer look at this short list from Paul.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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” (Romans 6:3,4).

The KJV has the last part to “rise and walk in newness of life.” I prefer that. Is not the gospel the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord? Without those three components there is no good news.

Jesus died! I admit I don’t know all the reasons why God felt the need for bloodshed in the salvation process. But he did. And he is God. And I am Goad. So who am I to question his methods? We have been informed by the writer of Hebrews that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). It’s horrifying to reflect on all the bloodletting that took place under the old law. The smell of death and the sight of innocent animals being slaughtered must have driven home in graphic detail how disgusting sin must be to Father God. Leviticus 17:4 reminds us that “the life of every creature is in the blood.”

The sins of those living before Christ were atoned for yearly by the sacrifice of animals. It sounds macabre to think of this in our present culture. Even the story of Abraham and Isaac seems disturbing to us this far removed from ancient culture. Isaac is a type of Jesus. Abraham a type of God. A father. A son. The need to sacrifice the son. Abraham was willing, by faith, to offer his son to God. God was willing to offer his “only begotten Son” to die as a substitute for us personally. He took on the sins of humanity that day at Calvary. Scourging. Mocking. Humiliation. The blood. The nails. The suffering in extreme. How could God allow such a thing? “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). If only people understood how much God loves them they would all fall on their knees today and worship him!  Jesus, freely died on the cross that Friday that we might live. Awesome!

Jesus was buried! Our Lord had no place to lay his head. Even in death he had to be buried in a borrowed tomb. Why would deity in human flesh need to die that we might be saved? We accept this amazing truth by faith. Jesus lived as a man and suffered in every way we suffer and was tempted in every way we are tempted. And, as a man, he died the death that all humans must face. Only his death was different. He was buried as prophecy foretold only to remind us of how death overtakes us all. We die as imperfect humans with feet of clay. He died and was buried as the only one to live a perfectly sinless life. From his youth he said he must be “about his father’s business” (Luke 2:49). We also must be about our Father’s will for we shall experience the same fate of all humans. “Man is destined to die once and after that the judgment” (Heb 9:27).

From the moment of Jesus’ birth he was being groomed and prepared for the tomb. From the moment we are born we began to grow older and find ourselves racing to the very day we take our last breath. Unless Jesus intervenes, all of us face the moment when we give up our mortal shells and cross over to be with the Lord. Jesus had to be buried so that we might follow in his example and also be buried. It is a graphic image of how serious life and death and salvation really are.

He arose! Without the resurrection Jesus would be just another voice crying in the wilderness. But his resurrection was a deathblow to Satan who at the cross thought he had accomplished his greatest victory. By rising from the tomb Jesus once and for all reminded us that God has the power of life and death, not the devil. Satan may vex us and slay us, but he has no power over our eternal destinies. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:14,15).

Why do we fear dying so? Is it because of the unknown? It’s it because we haven’t experienced it and think it might be too hard for us? Are we like the comic who said he wasn’t really afraid of dying but that he just didn’t want to be there when it happened? Let me tell you something now. We will be “there” when it happens. No one is immune. Nobody will escape. Satan is in the dying business. We grow old and lose our teeth and hair and health because of the devil. But Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was the deathblow to Satan’s power over us. We no longer need to fear life or death. We can embrace both knowing that Christ conquered the very best Satan had to throw his way. And we need not fear death because we, too, shall rise from the grave as did our Lord. “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:52-57).

Church, we serve a risen Savior. He is our guarantee of eternal life. Our earthly sojourn is temporary and fleeting. From the garden onward sin invaded our lives and we have been suffering ever since. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 6:12). Jesus took all of that sin upon himself when he died. And in baptism we die to the old self, bury it symbolically in the water of baptism and enjoy a resurrection with Jesus when we come up out of the water to rise and “walk in newness of life.” To me, this short list of Paul’s is the greatest of all his lists. Death. Burial. Resurrection!

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