Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pleasant Dale, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
December 9, 1997, was a wonderful day in my life, for that was the day my niece, Mikayla, was born. I recall that day as if it was yesterday. Our family was in my sister's hospital room, eagerly awaiting Mikayla's arrival in the room. We had seen this newborn girl in the nursery, and in moments we saw her up close and personal as my mother wheeled Mikayla's cradle and brought this little bundle of joy into the room. We all took our turns holding her. Then the moment came for the new mom to meet the life she brought into the world. My mom had the honor of handing over her granddaughter to her, my mom's, daughter. I recall vividly my sister's first words as she met her little girl for the very first time. She said, "Hello, Mikayla! This is your mommy!" With these words my sister established the relationship with her daughter. She called Mikayla by name. She declared Mikayla her own. Thus began this mother-daughter relationship, a bond that only a mother and her daughter can have.
A bond between a parent and a child can be quite close and personal. That said, that particular bond pales when compared to the bond our Lord has for His people. Our Lord desires a close, personal relationship with us, for He is our Creator, and we are His creation. He has made known His desire to be close to us and call us His own. What He said to the Israelites in our text He also says to us, His children: "But now thus says the LORD, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine'" (v. 1), and again He says: "I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My Name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made" (vv. 6-7). Our God dearly wants gather us to Himself, both here and in heaven; He wants us to be gathered into Him, for He has made us, called us by name, and declared us His own. He who made us in the sacred temples that are our mothers' wombs, where we were fed and nourished through the umbilical cord, has brought us to the temple that is His house, where He feeds us with His Word and with His Son's body and blood. He says to us in our text: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you" (v. 2a, b). While we were still in the womb, God was with us and protected us from all harm and danger by keeping us in that water of life known as the amniotic fluid; He preserved us in this "water," and He was with us, as He promised, and He brought us to the font to become baptized in and into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this life-giving water our Lord forgives us, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives us eternal salvation. When we were born, our parents named us and declared us theirs. Something greater happened when we became born again in Holy Baptism—God named us: "child of God"—He declared us His own, for He has placed His thrice-holy Name upon us, and we are baptized into His Name most holy: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When God places His Name upon us—when He gives us His Name—He gives us all the blessings that come with this most sacred Name. God is faithful to His promises.
The same cannot be said of us. We are not faithful to Him. God demands perfection, but we are not perfect. God commands us to be holy, but we are wholly unholy. God wants us to walk by faith and not by sight, but we are spiritually blind. God wants us to live in Christ, His Son, but we are spiritually dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. God loves us dearly, but we of ourselves remain enemies of God. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We just confessed a few moments ago that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. When our parents told us to do something and we didn't do it, we were in trouble. When they told us to not do something and we did it, we were in trouble then, too. We can't resist placing our hands on the hot stove, even though we've been told many times to stay away from it. What do we do? We touch it, and we get burned. We suffer the consequences of our actions. As children, we were stubborn and rebellious. As adults, we are stubborn, rebellious, and older…more set in our ways. We are unwilling to turn from our sinful ways and toward God and His will for us. It is much easier for us to continue in sin, mistakenly thinking that grace may abound. Our sinful nature wants to take God's free grace and cheapen it. We think we have license to sin because God will forgive us, anyway. NO! As Paul writes in our Epistle, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom. 6:2). God calls us to repent of our sins, not to revel in them. But, stubborn children that we are, we can't help but be disobedient, whether to our parents or to God. The Israelites thought they could turn from God and live, and they did live…in captivity. They were in bondage to sin and to their conquerors. They were children of God by birthright; it was in their bloodline. Even as a young child might ask, "Are you my mommy?", we seek other gods than the one true God; we go whoring after other gods, unfaithful to the One who made us to be in His image, the image mankind lost in the Fall. God had the prophet Hosea marry the prostitute Gomer to symbolize God's faithfulness to Israel and Israel's unfaithfulness to Him. We have not been faithful to God, but He has continued to remain faithful to us.
God says to us in our text: "Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life" (v. 4). When God first spoke these words to His people, the Israelites, through the prophet Isaiah, He promised to keep and preserve them at the expense of the ungodly and unrepentant, those who would seek their ruin. As God speaks these words in your hearing today, He has given one Man in return for you, one Man in exchange for your life. He has given His only-begotten Son for you, in exchange for your life. He sent His Son to die so that you would live eternally.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. We thank God that He sent His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, for the Lord became baptized into His own death—for our sake. There is a wonderful quality about water: it makes us clean. In Holy Baptism, we are brought before God dirty by our sins, and we are washed clean by water and the Word of God; our sins are washed away, for God makes us clean. Before our Lord became baptized, He was clean, for He is holy and sinless. But when He came up out of the water, He was dirty, for He had taken all our sins and the sins of the whole world upon Himself. Why did He do this? Paul writes: "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). This is what we call the Blessed Exchange! Christ became our sin so that we would appear sinless before our heavenly Father. Christ was forsaken by His own Father so that we would be called children of the heavenly Father. Christ died for us so that we would live. Christ cried from the cross on Good Friday, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" God said to Him at His baptism, "You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased" (Lk. 3:22b). It pleased God the Father to give His one and only Son over to death because He wants us to live…to live with Him in heaven into all eternity. As Paul announces to us in our Epistle: "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). That is why He made us. God did not create us first and foremost so that we would serve Him. He created us to love us, in spite of ourselves. He loves us and forgives us. Our service to Him, and to one another, is the fruit of the faith He has freely given us.
In our Lord's baptism at the Jordan River, His heavenly Father called Him His own. At our Baptism, He has done the same for us. He has called us by name. We are His. He has called us His own. Christian. Child of God. Sheep of the Good Shepherd. He has declared us His. Our Lord says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (Jn. 10:27-29). And Paul writes: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). This is why we get to sing one of the great baptismal hymns, "God's own child I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ…I'm a child of Paradise!" Our God will not let go of us who believe in Him. And to those who do not yet believe, He continues to send His Holy Spirit into their hearts (as He has ours), that they would believe in His Son and become children of God.
I love to watch a parents taking care of their babies. I have a baby niece now. Her name is Alexandra. I love to watch Lexi being cared for. For me, it is a wonderful example of how our heavenly Father takes care of us, His children. He bathes us in Holy Baptism and robes us in Christ's righteousness. He cleans us in Holy Absolution. He teaches us His Word, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, for His Word teaches us Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome, and what Christ has done for us. He feeds us on His Son's body and blood, given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins. As St. Peter encourages us, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (2 Pet. 2:2-3). Taste that bread and that wine, that body and blood of Christ, placed upon your lips, and know that He is good, for He has called you by His Name, created you for His glory, and formed and made you…to love you, to call you His child. Thanks be to God! Amen!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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