Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Heavens Coming in Water

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! This is the preaching from John the Baptizer. When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he may not have been crystal clear concerning his knowledge of what great things were transpiring at that very moment. Though he does utter a call in the southern reaches of the Jordan valley, which echoes throughout all eternity, ‘the kingdom of heaven is near!’ Heaven is indeed God himself who is embodied in the man Jesus from Nazareth. The Kingdom of Heaven for St. Mathew would be a widely used reverential substitute for the divine name. Heaven as the divine name is also King of creation, Lord of all history, who spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and the prophets. Yet, most importantly the prophets had foretold that this king of all creation, this hidden reign of God, would one day become manifest and universal, to take human form, open his arms and reconcile all people eternally back to him.

He is not attractive or handsome physically that we should highly esteem Him but a man of flesh and blood, who hungers, thirsts, cries, laughs, and suffers as we do. This man comes to the Jordan under the hot Judean sun to be baptized by John. There are many others also being baptized by John, indeed large masses, people were coming to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan, confessing their sins and being baptized. Yet Jesus comes as heaven itself, the kingdom of heaven is near. He comes at the spotless Lamb of God, without sin. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

Jesus’ baptism must be seen in light of the journey which this beloved Son has now begun. His descent into the Jordan was a baptism in which He begins to take on the sins of the world. His baptism is a muddy one where the one without blemish or mark takes on the ugliest sores, diseases, infirmities, and sins of the world. This beautiful Christ, out of love and mercy does this willingly for you, and carries this immeasurable ugliness, this curse of sin all the way to the cross. It is murder, fornication, adultery, lust, greed, envy, sloth, and every egregious sin imaginable. It is disease and sickness, and every physical ailment which results from the curse of sin and the death that comes with it. Every sin that you have committed and ever will commit was taken into the body of this Jesus. Even that wretched and ungodly sin that plagues your conscience day and night was not too wretched and ungodly for this most perfect and godly one who came to be baptized.

When Jesus comes up out of the water, in this wilderness surrounded by sinners, the heavens are opened up to him. His ascension is foreshadowed here on that third day, which brings to mind images of glory and a miracle of life breaking through the bonds of death. Yet, we must not fail to see our own participation in these glorious scenes. You are a REAL sinner and Christ is a real Messiah. You, you have been grafted into the vine of Christ who was baptized, the one without out sin who became sin, this one who was crucified, died, and rose is your own victory. See, His baptism is your own where a great substitution has taken place. All that was broken in you was taken by Him in baptism and all that was His, His robe of righteousness, His perfect adherence to the law, His purity and loveliness is given to you.

Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Oh yes, Heaven is very near – He, Jesus Christ, is very near. Our Lord was present at your baptism. He whetted your forehead with water from the font, giving you his very name, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This water both destroys and cleanses, this Spirit which is given to you both burns with fire and purifies. This simple water coupled with the unbreakable promise of God does all that He says: rescuing you from the curse of sin, death, and the devil. The Lord has long cared for and delivered his people through his mighty saving works and promises through water which both puts to death that which harms us and renews the new man who daily arises to stand blameless before God. Dr. Luther in his "flood prayer" in our baptismal liturgy writes:

Almighty eternal God, who…in thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and is family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy baptism, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, has consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all baptismal water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins: We pray that thou wilt graciously behold this child and bless him with true faith in the spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

By a gracious invitation the heavens have been opened to you and the Father says to you, "You are mine, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." As the heavens are gloriously opened the temple curtain has been torn that you might without blame enter the Holy of Holies. By this mighty flood, you may approach the altar, heaven is near, and is for you. The curse of sin has been broken and the bonds of death have been forever defeated.

The very body and blood of Jesus is given for you for the remission of sins, the strengthening of your faith, for the Lord wishes you to depart in peace – being confident in all that he promises. In this baptism Jesus calms our fears. Sin and hell in conflict have fallen. When their bitter storms assail us, Jesus will not fail us. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in and of ourselves. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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