The Baptism of our Lord 2019
Joshua 3, 1 Cor 1:26-31, Matthew 3:13-17
January 13, 2019
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
In our Old Testament reading for this morning, we heard from Joshua 3 wherein Joshua leads the people of God into the promised land. The Exodus was now over after 40 years of wandering in the desert. They had reaching the border of the promised land, marked by the waters of the Jordan River. The people were soon to go through those waters, parted in a similar fashion as the Red Sea, and begin the conquest of the land.
The ark is the central focus of the whole miraculous events of this section of Joshua. In the Exodus God led His people Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, hovering over the ark itself. The ark is the visible location of the Lord’s invisible presence. The movement of the ark itself was the movement of the Lord. To follow the ark meant to follow the Lord where He led.
This section is also about what the Lord does for Joshua. There are three aspects of God’s miracles: Joshua will be publicly exalted, Israel will know that the living God is in their midst just as He was with Moses throughout the Exodus, Israel will know that the same God who has power to cut off the surging waters of the Jordan River will cut down His enemies. The central theme is the fulfillment of God’s promises to deliver His people to the promised land.
This morning we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. How does the OT lesson tie in? First of all, the ark of the covenant points toward the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as we heard on Christmas Day from John 1, “The Word became flesh and dwelt/tabernacled among us.” During His earthly ministry, the incarnate Christ was the visible presence of God among His people. Just as the Lord was pleased to use the ark as the physical and visible means of His presence in the Old Testament, so now in the New Testament times He is pleased to use His appointed means of grace as the vehicles of His continuing presence until Christ’s final return in glory.
So when we read in the Old Testament about the ark of the covenant, we relate it to the incarnate Christ and His coming in Word and Sacraments. As the ark brought both judgement and salvation, so too the means of grace can be abused, resulting in condemnation. The ark is not a magic box with powers that can be manipulated, just like the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion are not magical words and talismans. They are the work of God, for the benefit of believers in Christ, done according to His word, and delivering what God has promised to deliver.
Second, Jesus is the new and great Joshua, literally with the same name. In the Old Testament reading, the Lord intends to begin to exalt Joshua by means of this deliverance of God’s people, implying a promised reaching past the miracle of that day. As great as the miracle is, it is only the beginning of his exaltation. The Lord doesn’t want that generation nor those who come to forget this day and its significance, so that they may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty (4:24), and that the Lord is with Joshua.
This theme finds its fulfillment in Christ, the living God who has come to dwell with His people, Immanuel, God with us. The greater Joshua is exalted in His baptism. By means of His passing through the waters of the Jordan, the heavens opening, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him and the word spoken by God the Father, He is exalted and made known to all that He is the beloved Son, with whom God the Father is well pleased. The Baptism of Jesus is the first of the great miracles we hear about during the season of Epiphany, miracles that reveal Christ and our salvation through faith in Him to the world.
Herein we see that Jesus is Israel reduced to one man. The son of God stands in the place of the sons of God. Entering into the waters, into the Holy Land. The Gospel of John informs us that John the Baptist is baptizing people on the other side of the Jordan, outside the promised land, so that the people have to go out and then come back in again. Jesus reenacts the life of God’s children, but this time, He is doing it right, doing it with a perfect righteousness.
This is where it all connects to us. God works saving faith and incorporates people into His covenant through His Word and sacramental actions. As Joshua leads the people of God through the waters of the Jordan river and into the promised land, so too are we saved through the water of Holy Baptism. Christ enters he water before us, in our stead, sanctifying all waters to be blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. It was then, it is now by faith, that God the Father looks at you and declares the same, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Which brings us to our last point. Third, by virtue of His suffering, death, and resurrection, has defeated the enemies of God and of His people and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Our Lord goes in into the water in order to take your place; in order to take on your sins and defeat your enemies. And when He emerges from the water His ministry is directed towards one goal. It is directed towards the cross, for there by his death he will win forgiveness for all of your sins. Jesus goes into the water because you have anger and hate towards other people. He goes into the water because you put yourself first – before God, and before your spouse and children. He goes into the water because you don’t trust God to care for you, and because you complain that the ways which he provides aren’t good enough. Jesus steps into your place and takes these and every other way you sin against the holy God upon Himself. And then on the cross He received God’s judgment against your sin. And then on the third day He rose from the dead. He defeated the final wages of sin – death.
A child is baptized today. Declan, brought to the waters of Holy Baptism. He has nothing to bring to God, nothing to contribute. But He is loved, loved by God, by his parents, by his family. He has no reason to boast before God, no great accomplishments in life. But he is now a child of God, adopted into God’s family, a son of God with the perfect righteousness of the Son of God. Freely given. Freely received.
Like Declan, you are baptized into Christ. Through your baptism, you share in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. His suffering and death became yours. Your baptism is a guarantee that you will share in Christ’s resurrection.