Sunday, January 8, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord - Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17


Baptism of Our Lord

                                                                           Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17



          I have said on more than one occasion that Good Shepherd is a wonderful place to be a pastor, and Marion is a great place to live.  My situation would be perfect … if it just wasn’t in the state of Illinois.  I’m not alone in feeling that way.  Illinois is the number three state in the nation that people are leaving. The reason most often given for leaving is the high taxes in this state, and I can’t disagree with that.

          Certainly, Illinois is a financial mess. The state currently has 107 billion dollars in debt. Every single citizen of the state would have to pay almost $15,000 dollars to get the state back in the black.  The cost of schooling is higher here. My brother in Indiana can send his children to Purdue University in engineering for $7,000 less a year of in state tuition than I can here in Illinois. And of course, as we move from financial matters to moral ones, we find that Illinois is seeking to be the death capital of the Midwest as it promotes abortion in every possible way.

          I was struck by this again during Christmas as I drove across the Wabash River into Indiana.  I like to joke that one crosses over that river into the “promised land” – a land of fiscal responsibility where taxes and tuition are lower, and where the state is seeking to ban abortion. Back home again in Indiana – its sounds great if I could just take Good Shepherd and Marion with me. 

          In our Old Testament lesson this morning we hear about how Israel passed through the Jordan River into the actual promised land – the land of Canaan.  The Ark of the Covenant led them into the water and allowed them to cross through.  On the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, this event causes us to think about what Jesus Christ did for us through his baptism and the baptism that he instituted for us.  Jesus entered the water of the Jordan in order to make it possible for the water our baptism to give us forgiveness and eternal life.

          In our text, Israel was just about to enter into the promised land after wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  Moses had died, and now Joshua was the leader God was using.  Yahweh said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”

          Joshua told the people to consecrate themselves, because the next day Yahweh would do wonders among them. They were to follow the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River.  Keeping God’s command, Joshua had told the priests carrying the ark that when they entered the Jordan they were to stand in it. Then he announced to the people, “And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

          When the priests entered into the Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, the waters of the Jordan were stopped north of the crossing and piled up in a heap. The people of Israel passed through the Jordan River on dry ground while those carrying in the Ark stood in the river.

          By this miracle God demonstrated to Israel that he was with Joshua, just as he had been with Moses.  Crossing through the Jordan River on dry ground recalled how God had used Moses as Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground in the Exodus. As Joshua declared to the people, this event also showed the that God would in fact drive out the Canaanites and give Israel the promised land.

          The event in our text this morning is a type – it is something in the Old Testament that points forward to the greater fulfillment found in Jesus Christ.  The Ark of the Covenant was Yahweh’s throne. It was the place were the glory of God dwelt.  His located presence among the people took place through the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle.

          In our Gospel lesson today we hear of how Jesus entered into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized.  The presence of God’s glory through the Ark of the Covenant pointed forward to how the glory of God was present in the incarnate Son of God. As we heard in the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  God’s glory was present through Jesus Christ, and once again it entered into the Jordan River.

          John the Baptist announced in his preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He called people to repent because the end time reign of God was about to arrive.  Matthew tells us that people were being were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

          Then, Jesus came to the Jordan.  John did not understand.  He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Yet Jesus responded, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Our Lord said that this was proper for God’s saving action to put all things right.

          Jesus was baptized by John, and then another miracle occurred that day at the Jordan that was even greater than the stopping of the river in our text.  We learn, “immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

          The Spirit descended upon Jesus and God the Father spoke of the words of Isaiah 42:1. Through this event, God designated Jesus as the Servant of the Lord.  Jesus had no sin. He didn’t fail to put God first like we do, or covet what others have, or hurt their reputation.  Yet he submitted to a baptism of repentance because he was identifying himself with sinners.  He was taking our place.  He was the Servant of the Lord who had come to be the Suffering Servant.

          From the moment of Christ’s baptism, his entire ministry was directed toward the cross.  Jesus was here in this world to fulfill these words: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

          On Good Friday Jesus accomplished this as he died crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But God had not forsaken his faithful Servant.  On the third day he raised Jesus from the dead. By his death Jesus won the forgiveness of sins, and through his resurrection he defeated death forever. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, you know that he will also raise your body from the dead on the Last Day.

          The risen Lord appeared to his disciples on the mountain in Galilee. There he told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Jesus took John’s baptism and transformed it into his own.  He instituted Holy Baptism.

          Through this baptism you have received forgiveness, for as Peter proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Through this baptism you have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Through this baptism you have shared in Jesus’ saving death.

          In our text, we hear about how the people Israel passed through the Jordan River as they entered into the promised land. You have passed through the water of baptism and this has become the means by which you have entered into the promised land of salvation and eternal life.

This is true for you already now, and your baptism is the guarantee that you will share in the consummation of salvation when Christ returns on the Last Day. Because you have been baptized, you know that your body will be raised. St. Paul told the Romans about baptism, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The Spirit who worked new life through water and the word is the One who raised up Jesus from the dead.  You have received the work of the Spirit through baptism. Because you have, the power of Christ’s resurrection is already at work in you.  St. Paul wrote, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

In the ongoing struggle against the old Adam we confess our sin. We repent.  And in faith we return to what God has done in our baptism, for there we have the source of the Spirit’s continuing work in our life. The Spirit enables the new man in us to walk in newness of life.

What does this life look like? Paul describes it later in Romans when he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We present ourselves as instruments of service to God.

Because we have been forgiven by God, we now speak this forgiveness to others – even to those who speak ill of us.  The apostle says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” We do not respond in anger. Instead, as Paul tells us, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

          Especially we seek to support those around us. Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We rejoice in the blessings that others receive.  We weep with those who experience hardship, for in this way we express our love for them, even as we lift them up in prayer.

          In our Old Testament lesson today the priests take the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River, and as a result the people of Israel pass through into the promised land.  In Jesus’ baptism, the fulfillment of the ark – the incarnate Son of God – entered into the water of the Jordan to be baptized by John. There he took on the role of the Suffering Servant who died for our sins.  By his death he won forgiveness for us, and death was defeated when God raised him from the dead. As the risen Lord he gave us the gift of Holy Baptism. You have passed through that water and entered into the promised land.  Already now you have forgiveness and eternal life as God’s child. And because of your baptism, you know that Christ will raise you up on the Last Day.



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