January 9, 2022……….Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 43: 1-7……….Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
Anyone here who knows how to swim, would you raise your hands? Wow. It might have been easier to ask who doesn’t know how to swim! Swimming is a big deal in our lives: we swim for exercise and fun, we swim to cool off in the summer. Back in the days when I was doing youth ministry in hotter climes, our youth groups would have pool parties planned throughout the summer. It really is as normal as anything to swim.
But, because of our familiarity with swimming and water in general, we miss out on the intensity found in some of the powerful images we have in the Bible. Many of these have to do with water, and the danger associated with water. Let me explain.
One huge difference between our culture and the culture of the Bible is this: WE SWIM, and Biblical people did not. There may have been rare exceptions—people who would have been considered extremely odd because they chose to go into the water that was over their heads in depth. (And there is some confusion over people wading who were said to be swimming.) People in those days didn’t know how to swim, not even fishermen who went out in boats and made a living gathering fish in from the deeps!
[This really gives me a renewed respect for them, and it intensifies the drama of the story of Peter climbing out of the boat when Jesus invited him to walk on the water—WOW!]
Both of our texts today have references to water. At first glance, they appear to be unrelated. Isaiah records God saying, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” And our passage in Luke includes the baptism offered by John as a symbol of being washed clean through repentance. Over the centuries, these two ideas (1. Passing safely through the danger of water and 2. Being baptized) have become closely associated in our faith. Let’s find out some of what God is telling us in these two passages!
Do Not Fear, for I Am With You
In our Isaiah passage, God says, “When you pass through the waters…” This is a reminder of when the Hebrews walked through the Red Sea to escape the chariots of Egypt. That would have been a frightful journey! And we have other difficult, frightful journeys today. When we pass through them, God says, “I will be with you.” God says, “Everyone whom I have created.” God’s glory is revealed in saving us!
These words are very similar to the ones God said to Joshua as he was assuming command of Israel. (Any of us would be terrified if we had to step into the shoes of Moses!) As I told the children last week, God said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!”
In the Psalms written by David, we see his response to God’s promise: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God I trust; I will not be afraid…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Friends, we can tell God, “I have no idea where I am going.” And God will reply, “No worries. I’ll be with you.”
I Am FOR You
Through the ages, there has been a tremendous misunderstanding of God. People have believed that God is the one who is angry with us; that God is ready to “bring down the hammer” on us; that God needs to be appeased, or God will punish us!
But read the history of our faith. Even a superficial skimming of the Bible will reveal God’s repeated efforts to guide and to SAVE God’s people! Sure, there are warnings of natural consequences for our actions. But God is always working to rescue us from evil—including rescuing us from ourselves. The clear message is that God LOVES us and has always acted in our best interest.
John and Jesus
Our text from Luke has some preaching from John the Baptizer. My preaching professor would characterize it as “Prophetic Preaching” because John didn’t cut anyone any slack. His words are full of dire warnings. He proclaims the coming of “One who will baptize you with the Holy spirit and with FIRE! He will save the grain and burn the chaff!”
It’s a very tender moment when Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John protests, “You should baptize me,” but Jesus says, “Let’s just do it this way.” And, when Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, while a voice was heard from heaven, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.”
Throughout his ministry, the message of Jesus was this:
- The Father wants nothing more than to gather you in, bless you, protect you, save you;
- God is helping us to pass through the waters;
- God calls us to repentance and baptism and new life.
Through the centuries, the symbol for the church has been a BOAT. This ties in with God’s words, “I will be with you when you pass through the waters.” Friends, we are in the boat, and we can choose to raise the sails! The Holy Spirit is the wind, the breath of God that powers the boat. Together, we can sail through our fears, accomplish our mission. It’s true that a ship in harbor is safe—but that is not what ships are for.
I will finish today with a story written by a diesel mechanic. One day, he got trapped under the axel of a big rig, and he was in tremendous pain. He blacked out, and then he saw the whole scene from above—and he felt no pain. He looked dead, but he saw two powerful angels kneeling beside him. They were messengers from God, and he felt God’s presence. He sensed God telling him, “You can choose to die. Or you can choose to live, but it will require every effort you can make to stay alive.” He pictured his wife and his kids—and he knew that he wanted to live for them. Suddenly, he found himself back in his body—with its extreme pain—and a paramedic was urging him to stay awake and stay with them.
He went to the hospital. He endured surgeries. He gradually recovered. And now he travels to speak with groups about the amazing presence of God, ready to take us through all the tough things in life.
Friends, the promise we hear in our Scriptures gives us the same message: “We can choose life, and God promises to be with us as we pass through the waters!”