5th Sunday in Lent
April 7, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson as read for you from Isaiah 43.
My dear friends,
Sarasota is a coastal city. We are on the east coast of the Gulf of Mexico and on the west coast of Florida. “Congratulations Pastor, you win the geography bee!” That’s not the point. I bring it up because many people come, including MANY of you, because of our proximity to the water…that, and the beautiful weather of course. In all the research and searching that scientists do in outer space, one of the things they are most anxious to find is not spacemen, but water. Why? Well, if they can find water, it may prove that there are other forms of life in the universe besides life here on earth. Water is always essential to life. I know we think that if we couldn’t shower or wash our clothes for a week we would just die. Been in that situation after Hurricane Irma – didn’t like it – but didn’t die either. But the reality is that without water, there is only death. That was true in the history of the people of Israel, and it’s crucial not only to our physical life, but our spiritual life as the church. When God speaks of or uses water, it usually signals something that is literally of life-and-death importance to his people. Truly, God’s use of water is a holy matter of life and death.
Throughout the Bible, water is a “big deal.” Today’s First Lesson from Isaiah recalls when God destroyed Pharaoh’s army by water. The Israelites, just days after coming out of Egypt, were trapped with water on one side and the vengeful Egyptian army on the other side. Water was their problem; water would be their solution. God provided a way through the water, but when the Egyptian army entered the sea, they were drowned (v 17). For the Egyptians, this use of water was not so good. But for God’s people, those waters were saving waters of life (v 16). For God’s people, the way through the sea was the way to safety and life – a new life of freedom instead of bondage and oppression. Both groups went into the water, but only one group came out alive. This was not just random chance or bad luck; it was the Lord’s mighty, saving hand at work in the midst of His people.
In our text, though, the Lord tells Isaiah’s hearers not to look back on all that: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (w 18-19a). The something new is a whole new era of history, a time when it would be as if the desert would flow with rivers, providing abundantly for both man and beast! This would be the age of the Messiah, the day when the Christ would come and restore the reign of God, making right all the corruption that sin brought into a once-perfect world.
My friends, this age is now. The new reality – the “new thing” – has happened when Jesus came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the grave. It was no coincidence that when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side with his spear while he was on the cross that blood and water gushed forth (John 19:34). The new age came with death – Jesus’ death on the cross – but in that death He provides what is necessary for His people to have life: His blood and the life-giving water to free us from our bondage and oppression to sin and its consequence – death.
The death that Jesus died, as horrible as it was and as graphic as it is portrayed on TV and in movies especially this time of year with Easter so close, it was for a purpose. By dying Jesus paid the ransom price for our sinfulness that we could never, ever pay. But death is not strong enough to hold Jesus. God’s salvation history does not end with Jesus’ death. 3 days later Jesus rose again from the dead to new life! And because we share in a Baptism like His, we will share in a resurrection like His.
Do not forget, though, that Baptism with water first kills. In Baptism, we die with Christ: “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 6:4). By Baptism God also makes us alive again.
We don’t keep a special drum of “holy water” around for Baptisms. The water for Baptisms comes right from the sink. Rather, Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism, it is not the water that does such wonderful things, “but the word of God in and with the water…along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water.”
The water of our Baptisms is long gone, but the words that made that water a life-giving Baptism are still with us, and we are invited to recall them daily. Being baptized is no small matter. From a human standpoint it’s not as dramatic as God parting the Sea, but Baptism is God’s saving hand once again reaching down to save…you. Baptism provides what it says it will provide: the forgiveness of our sins, rescue from death and the devil, and the gift of eternal salvation. These things are of great confidence to us in this life as it reassures us that ultimately things are going to be okay.
Maybe it’s not a lack of running water for you today. But maybe it’s a lack of money, maybe it’s a lack of companionship, maybe a lack of good health, maybe it’s a lack of trust, maybe it’s a lack of confidence or forgiveness or courage or hope or love that makes life hard for us. But when sin and despair and anxiety wrap their icy grip around you, you can remind yourself “I am baptized, and nothing can change that.”
Whether in ancient Israel or in Sarasota or outer space or in your home, without water, there’s no hope of life. We thank God, therefore, that he has done an entirely new thing, better than giving water in the wilderness. Today, give thanks and proclaim his praise (v. 21) that by water – the “holy water” of your Baptism – God has delivered you from death and given you life to its fullest in his Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.