“God’s Response In The Water”
Text – LUKE 3:15—17 & 21-22
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST – TRUE GOD FROM ETERNITY AND TRUE MAN BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY.
In most of the gravestones in the Holy Land carved into the stone of Christian, Jewish and Moslem graves is a dew catcher to retain that universal symbol of life.
It is a truly appropriate symbol for life as water is absolutely necessary for all forms of living things and covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. The human body requires from 55% to 78% of that
water to avoid fatal dehydration depending on body size. In some
developing countries a full 90% of the fresh water is required for agricultural irrigation. (We need 30% in the United States.) In a word, without water there would be no life on earth.
Most interesting about the use of those dew catchers as a symbol for life is what happens to that symbolic water. In the morning – at the dawning of the day – there is the dew – but as the day goes on it evaporates and disappears. God created all life and only God can resurrect it when it ends.
And that brings us to the second universal symbol water has become. Water is the major component in washing processes – most prominently in personal body hygiene
It is sin and guilt that tarnishes us and brings about our alienation from God and our death – it is our sin and guilt that must be washed away – a cleansing only God can accomplish. As God warns us through St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans “there is no distinction. For all have sinned – become unclean and therefore unworthy to live eternally with God.
I remember visiting the ruins of a synagogue that existed in the Holy Land before the birth of Christ. There in the midst of that Old Testament synagogue was a baptismal font – but it was not there for the Judeans who considered themselves worthy of relationship with God because they were descendants of Abraham. There were Gentiles in the land who wanted the relationship the Israelites had with God. The Israelites considered the Gentiles to be unworthy of that relationship and so before they entered the community of faith through circumcision, marriage or adoption, the Gentiles had to symbolically show how unworthy they were. They did this through an ancient Rite of Proselyte Baptism.
Then there came that voice crying in the wilderness between Bethany of Judea by Jerusalem and Bethany of Perea across the Jordan - “Prepare The Way of The Lord. John said God was coming as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to answer the Gentiles’ cry for divine help in their proselyte Baptism. And John said it was not only the Gentiles who needed such help. Being a descendant of Abraham or a member of any denomination was not enough. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. There is no path into eternal life with God other than the one God provides in Christ Jesus.
How appropriate that God spoke through John in that vast, barren, lifeless wilderness. Σρημοσ on the map offers such a powerful symbol of what temporal life is like when we ignore God. There was one short segment of the Jordan close by – but even it was too polluted to drink or use.
God called everyone – Judean and Gentile alike – to confess that belief and that cry for divine help in the Rite of Baptism of Repentance in that wilderness water where God lead the people – Judean and Gentile alike.
As we might expect, as the people were in expectation, all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he himself might be The Christ”. Was John the one coming in response to their universal cry for that cleansing and eternal life only God can provide.
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but He Who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
During our studies in Israel, one day we were enjoying a rest and some lemonade with a friend of Dr. Schein’s in Beit Jawa. One of our group was sitting with his right ankle on his knee – leaving the bottom of his shoe exposed to our host sitting opposite him. When our host went to get some more lemonade, Dr. Shine admonished Oscar, “My friend graduated from college in the United States so he understands our culture and is not offended – but here in the Middle East the most offensive thing one person can do to another is to sit with your foot exposed – whether barefoot or shod.
Actually, in Biblical times when slavery was practiced, the one thing a master could not have a slave do was anything regarding a human foot.
Before Jesus arrived for Baptism, when John the Baptist was asked if he was The Christ, John said The Christ was so much greater than John that he was not even worthy to serve The Christ by doing a task that everyone considered too offensive to do.
John answered, “I baptize with water.” It was a baptism of repentance every human being needed to enter as a symbolic confession of our sinfulness and unworthiness – our alienation from God.
John promised The Christ will not only baptize with water – but He “will baptize you with The Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Christ - true Son of God -was the only One Who could respond to our need with forgiveness and reconciliation. The Christ – True Man - was The Only One Who could respond as The Perfect High Priest offering Himself as The Perfect Human Sacrifice of Atonement. The Christ’s Baptism is with The Holy Spirit Who enlightens and empowers us with Faith and the ability to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and His gift of Holy Baptism. The Christ’s Baptism is with fire – the greatest of all cleansing agents burning away the sin and the guilt.
In Holy Baptism, The Christ offers us the freedom of religion to accept or reject the greatest of Divine Gifts. John said The Christ’s “winnowing fork is in His Hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
When the wheat is harvested in the Holy Land, the stalks are laid on the ground and run over by a threshing sled. The sled is a long board with holes bored in it – the holes are filled with volcanic rock and when the sled is pulled over the stalks, the stalks are crushed – separating the wheat from the chaff.
On a rise, the farmer uses a winnowing fork to throw the piles in the air. The wheat falls to the ground and is carried to the barn – the chaff floats on the breeze where it is picked up with no purpose but to be burned.
The Savior’s “winnowing fork is in His Hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” We are all free to continue to be like the chaff – or in Holy Baptism we can all be gathered by Christ into the temporal and eternal safety of His barn.
Now when all the people were baptized, God fulfilled His Promise and entered the waters – entered our struggle for redemption – redemption only God Himself could provide. But to fulfill that redemption there must not only be forgiveness and reconciliation but also sacrifice – and so True God from all eternity entered those waters and our struggles as True Man born of the virgin Mary – on His Father’s Side True God from all eternity – on His Mother’s side True Man born of the virgin Mary.
When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opening, and The Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a Voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS – TRUE GOD FROM ETERNITY – TRUE MAN BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY – OUR ONLY SAVIOR.
THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD - First Sunday of The Epiphany Season January 13, 2019
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio