Monday, January 08, 2018

Sermon on Joshua 3:1-17, for the Baptism of Our Lord, "Deliverance in the Waters"

            God speaks tenderly to His people in Isaiah 43:1b–2a,  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. God redeems His people and carries them safely through the waters. Redemption through waters is a running theme all throughout the Bible. Noah’s Flood, the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan River, Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, and Jesus’ command to Go and make disciples of all nations—baptizing them. Waters of judgment against sin and enemies, and waters of deliverance washing over His people—God is with them as they pass through the waters. And when Jesus stands in those same waters at His baptism, we know how true those words are: I will be with you. In the waters of baptism He calls us by name: ______, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. And called by name, you were also given God’s Name, placed on you in ownership: I have called you by name, you are mine.
            A good 1,400 years before Jesus waded into the waters of the Jordan with John the Baptist, He was with His people in the waters in a different way. Levite priests carrying the holy ark of the covenant, stepped down the river banks, till their feet touched the water. A multitude of Israelites watched from a great distance. The ark was “the visible location of God’s otherwise invisible presence” with them. Wherever the ark of the covenant moved, God had assured them that He was with them. Every time they picked up camp, or set down to camp throughout their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses even called out “Arise O Lord” and “Return O Lord”. The movement of the ark was the movement of the Lord with them. Later this would lead them to the mistaken idea that they could wield the ark like a good luck charm or magical vehicle, to guarantee success against enemies—but they were badly mistaken when they tried to “reverse the controls” of God’s chosen instrument of mercy and presence among them.
            But on this day, with eyes focused on the Lord’s presence in the ark, they awaited a miracle God was preparing for them. A miracle to show that He was truly with their new leader Joshua, and that He was also still with them. God had arranged the last three days for them to prepare for this. This was the day. The ending of 40 years of wandering in the desert. A punishment their parent’s generation had earned for grumbling and doubting God could bring them into the promised land. An entire generation of God’s people lived and died in the wilderness, instead of enjoying the fruits of the promised land, because they didn’t trust God. God’s promises had been postponed for 40 years, and now, they, the new generation, were ready to enter into the land at last. Even Moses, their old leader, would not enter with them. He had died, and now Joshua, already advanced in years, would lead them in. This miracle would confirm that God was with Joshua just as He had been with Moses.
            The name “Joshua” or “Yeshua” in Hebrew, means: “The Lord is salvation.” You may also know that Yeshua is the Hebrew version of the name Jesus, which the angel told He should be named, “because He will save His people from their sins. Joshua prefigured, or showed a picture in advance, of who Jesus, his namesake, would later be. Joshua lead his people through water into the Promised Land, as Jesus now leads His church through baptismal waters to the eternal Promised Land. The example of Israel in the wilderness is given to teach us not to fall into the same evil desires, sexual immorality, and grumbling that they did (1 Corinthians 10). We’re to learn by their negative example that we are not to follow in their mistakes. But after all their wanderings, God finally did deliver them through the waters, into the promised land, by the hand of Joshua.
            The crossing of the Jordan also unmistakably echoes the crossing of the Red Sea 40 years earlier. At least one major difference though, was that at the Red Sea, their enemies were behind them, in hot pursuit, and they were cornered and afraid that God couldn’t deliver them. Now, after 40 years, the children of Israel were preparing to cross another body of water—but this time the enemies lay in front of them, on the other side of the Jordan. This would require faith that God could deliver them—now they were marching to face their enemies. To give such faith, God would miraculously cut off the surging waters of the Jordan, which was at flood stage, to show that He also would cut off all their enemies before them. They would cross through the river on dry ground—it would not overwhelm them. Neither would their enemies, whom they would soon face, overwhelm them. The God who holds the raging waters at His command fought for them.
            We began by saying that Jesus entered the waters of baptism for and with us. First by His baptism in the Jordan, making all waters holy for us, to be a cleansing flood to wash away our sin. But also when you were baptized, Jesus enters the waters with you. It’s baptism into Him—into His death and resurrection. Luther used to say that when we baptized a child, we didn’t do them any favors, because it makes the devil our lifelong enemy. But better to have the devil as your enemy than have him as your friend and God as your enemy. The children of Israel crossed the Jordan to face the enemies that God promised to defeat for them. You baptized children of God, enter those waters facing a different set of enemies—not the Canaanites, but the devil, the sinful world, and your own sinful flesh. As 40 years in the wilderness taught them, and also teaches us—our enemies are persistent. If you want evidence, look only to our own grumbling and complaining and doubts—and be sure that the devil wants to rob us of the Promised Land just as them. But you march against those enemies with God fighting for you, and you only need to follow Him and His promise that He will defeat these enemies for you. With Jesus as our friend and companion in the waters, we fear not—because He has redeemed us, and called us by name. We are His!
            Joined to Jesus in baptism, we have this washing miracle, that we are now dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. He has created and given us a new, living identity in Him. He has made us heirs of His promises, and children who delight to receive His gifts. Like the Israelites, we simply have faith—we believe—and watch God deliver on His promises. We follow where He leads, eyes focused on His presence. God’s constant visible presence with His people was marked by the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle back in the days of Joshua. Now in our days, Jesus is God’s presence with His people. And Jesus promised His continuing presence with the words: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. In baptism, He is with us, in the waters. In worship, He calls us like He called Israel: “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” Your God. God invites you near, because He has redeemed you, you are His.
            In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is with us, feeding us with His body and blood, to show us that He is the Living God, who died and rose for us. God has never left His people, but is with them in all these means and ways that He has promised. And these are our strength and confidence to face our enemy the devil. This is our strength to abandon the ways of sin and unbelief—not by our own resolve, by God’s promised deliverance. We do not surrender or give up in the face of the enemies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—even when we are discouraged or face setbacks—because God is with us and it will be His victory, by His might.
            At this New Year, some people are in the habit of making resolutions. And we all know how that usually goes. But here, we see God making a resolution—Jesus, with resolve, promising to be with His people forever. When God resolves to protect, defend, and deliver His people, we need never fear that He will break His resolve. God will save, without fail. “The Lord is salvation.” Our sins which daily weigh us down, the temptations that linger around us—we turn these enemies over to God’s power, to cut them off before us. We face the promised land, trusting that He alone can grant us entrance, and drive away our enemies before us.
            When the day for that miracle finally arrived, God made the waters of the Jordan pile up in a great heap, and the waters were completely cut off, so that every last Israelite could cross over—firmly walking on dry ground. The whole community of Israel witnessed a miracle for all the senses, a miracle that would be a lasting memory for them and generations after, that God is mighty and that we would fear Him forever. Now today, that memory and witness of the miracle lives on in us, teaching us to also fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We too are baptized into His waters, and have our feet firmly set on dry ground, with God our constant companion and deliverer.
            As we observe the Baptism of our Lord today, may that be a living remembrance, year after year, of your baptism, and how God resolves to guide and lead you through life with His Word, His presence, and His deliverance. And we can answer His tender call with words of faith: I am not afraid, you have redeemed me, I am yours! You are with me in the waters, they shall not overwhelm me—in Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Isaiah 43:1-2. How do these verses echo the might of God with Israel at the Jordan, and the redemption we also have by water and the Word? Ephesians 5:26.
  2. Read Joshua 3:5, 7. Why was God going to do a miracle for the Israelites in the Jordan? What was it going to show about Joshua’s leadership? The name “Joshua” (Hebrew: Yeshua)  means: “The Lord (Yah) is salvation”, and is the Hebrew form of the name Jesus. How did Joshua “prefigure” Jesus, in what he did for his people? Hebrews 4:8ff.
  3. Read Joshua 3:9-10. Why could they have such “nearness” to this all-powerful God? What additional truth would He demonstrate to them? Compare the crossing of the river Jordan with the very similar crossing of the Red Sea. At the Red Sea, where were their enemies, before they crossed? At the Jordan, where were their enemies before they crossed? What would this knowledge test or require of them?
  4. The ark of the covenant was central to this miracle, and showed visibly where God’s presence was with them. Read Numbers 10:35-36. What words did Moses speak during the wilderness wanderings, to show that the movement of the ark was the movement of the Lord with them? John 1:14 echoes language of the tabernacle (tent of worship) that housed the ark of the covenant, in order to teach a new amazing truth about how God is “tabernacling”(dwelling) with His people. What is the new “tent” that houses God’s presence with His people?
  5. When Jesus entered the waters of baptism for us, Matthew 3:13-17, how does that add vividness to those words of Isaiah 43:1-2, for us? 

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