The Baptism of Our Lord – Series C (January 10, 2016)
“God’s Great Interruption” (Isaiah 43:1-7)
“But now.” Those are the first two words of our Old Testament reading today. It’s always awkward when a reading begins like that. We want to know what came before. What’s the reason for this “But now”? This “But now” introduces to us God’s great interruption in the history of the people of Israel, and it will lead us to consider God’s great interruption in world history in the Baptism of our Lord. And then, we’ll see how God interrupts our lives in the waters of Holy Baptism.
At the end of chapter 42, Isaiah foresees the way in which Israel would be plundered by the nations because of their unfaithfulness to God and his Word. They would be swept away and taken off into exile far away from their homeland. Then comes God’s great interruption. “But now…” Although Israel has been disobedient, Yahweh will rescue them. Although they were scattered to the nations, he will gather them. Isaiah foretells the day when Israel, God’s elect people, will be brought back from exile. They were created and formed by God, created for his glory … created for him to display his saving grace among them. Therefore, there is no need to fear. Yahweh assures them, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.
The Lord also promises to be with them in their watery and fiery trials. They passed through the waters of the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt. They crossed the waters of the Jordan River on their way to conquer Canaan. During their stay in Babylon, three of their own would be delivered from the flames of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Ultimately, through repentant trust in God’s promises, they would be delivered from the fire of God’s wrath.
Still, a great is price necessary to rescue them from their sinful disobedience. “I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you,” says the Lord. “I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” Although the people of Israel deserved to die because of their sins, God continued to care for them and rescue them, in particular by involving himself in the history of other nations, especially those who have afflicted his people. Egypt was nearby. Cush and Seba were farther away. All this to say that God will go to any length in order to save and deliver his people.
And that is exactly what he did in the Incarnation. God himself became Man. This was God’s great interruption in the life of the world … or should I say the death of the world, for this is a dying world which he entered to give life.
But until his Baptism, Jesus lived in relative obscurity. Another great interruption occurred when he was baptized by John.
The people were wondering if John was the Christ. He replied that one mightier than he is coming, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Yet when Jesus arrives at the Jordan, he does not baptize. Instead, he receives baptism by John. He does not give the Holy Spirit (that came later), but the Holy Spirit descends upon him. This was the public manifestation – an “Epiphany” – that Jesus is God’s chosen One, precious in his Father’s eyes, honored, and beloved. “Behold, my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights” (Is 42:1a; Introit). “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
The baptism of Jesus was God’s great interruption in a long line of sinners. All the people of Israel from days of old. All the people lined up to be baptized by John. “But now” the sinless Son of God shows up and cuts in line. He goes to the head of the line. Here to begin his public ministry. Here to pass through the waters for us, to bear the sin of the world all the way to the cross. Here to face the fiery judgment of God’s wrath as our substitute. Although each of us deserves to die because of our sins, Jesus received our punishment. One man was given in return for us, the Son of God in exchange for our life.
Jesus goes forth from the waters and begins to gather a new people. Instead of 12 tribes, he calls 12 disciples. He commissions them and sends them out to baptize and teach. He gathers in a new people to be the Church, to gather in all who are far from God and bring them near to him in faith and forgiveness. And he sends the Church into the world to carry the apostolic message, to baptize and teach and gather in all whom the Lord will call to faith, everyone who is called by his name, those created for his glory … those among whom he will display his saving grace … that’s you!
Baptism is the great “But now” in your life. You and I were disobedient like the people of Israel. We were outside of God’s promises, scattered, far away from God’s love and promises. “By nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” is the way Paul describes us in Ephesians 2 (Eph. 2:3). “But now” … in water and the Word … God interrupts our sinful, selfish existence. He washes away our sin, adopts into his family, chooses us in connection with Christ. He calls you by name. Your name takes on new significance when you are named at the font. It becomes your “Christian” name. And the Lord calls you by HIS own name. The name of the Triune God is placed upon you as you are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You were in the devil’s kingdom, apart from the life and the love of God. “But now” you belong to the one true God, a member of his kingdom, joined to his eternal life and everlasting love.
Recreated, reformed, redeemed, when you pass through your own watery and fiery trials, you do not need to fear. God is with you. He joined himself to you in the waters of Baptism. Jesus endured your fiery trial at the cross. The flames of hell will not consume you.
And the refining fire of the Holy Spirit is upon you. You are no longer living in sin, but walking in newness of life. Your old sinful self was crucified with Christ. The body of sin that still clings to you has been brought to nothing. Oh, sure, it seems like something. We fight it all the time. You know all about that battle. But as God’s baptized child, your sinful nature is not the ruling factor in your life. The Holy Spirit is. The new spiritual life that he gives you in Word and Water has the upper hand. That’s why you know you need to be here often, to confess your sins, to receive the forgiveness of sins that God offers to you, to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all your sins.
So acknowledge who you are. Confess who you are. Remember your baptism, just like we did a few moments ago in our service. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That is your condition! That is what you are! And the Lord’s words through Isaiah are for you, too. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”