In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“All Christians who have been baptized, who know the God of heaven; and in whose daily life is prized the name of Christ once given; consider now what God has done, the gifts God gives to everyone baptized into Christ Jesus” (596:1). Consider now, from Isaiah 43, what God has done. It’s all laid out for us, from beginning to end. The whole creed is right here in Isaiah 43: the Father, who created us; the Son, who redeemed us; the Holy Spirit, who calls and gathers us. From beginning to end: I created you, O Jacob; I formed you, O Israel. Like He formed Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from the side of Adam. I called you by your name, you are Mine. I redeemed you, bought you back, from slavery in Egypt. I led you through the Sea on dry ground, and the water did not flow over you; I gave Egypt in exchange for you. You walked through the Sea, but as soon as Egypt entered, the water came back over them. I gave your enemies into death, in exchange for you. I led you through the Jordan River, dividing it so you could cross on dry land into the Land of Promise. I was with you, in a pillar of fire and cloud, by day and by night; I am with you in the tabernacle, and in the temple. Whatever suffering, whatever affliction, whatever discipline: it did not consume you. You are precious in My eyes, honored, because I love you. I didn’t choose you because you were more numerous than any other people, or more powerful, but simply because I love you. A free choice of God. And because you are Mine. And because you’re My people, I will gather you again, from wherever you have been scattered: from Assyria, or Babylon, or even from under the earth. All those who are called by My name, on whom I put My name; I created you for My glory, I formed and made you.
This is what God has done, and what God does. This is the picture of God’s action on behalf of His people; all the verbs are His: I created you, I formed you, I called you, I redeemed you, in My eyes you are precious, I love you, I will gather you. But if Isaiah 43:1-7 is a picture of what God does, the end of Isaiah 42 is a picture of what Israel does, and what we do. The verbs are ours, and they’re not good ones. Isaiah cries out: Who gave Jacob to the looters, and Israel to the plunderers? Who turned them over to Babylon? Was it not Yahweh, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they have not walked, whose Law they did not keep? Therefore God poured out the heat of His wrath on Israel, and the might of battle, in the form of Babylon’s armies. He set fire all around him, but he did not understand; He burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. “You were before your day of birth, indeed from your conception, condemned and lost with all the earth, none good, without exception. For like your parents flesh and blood, turned inward, [away] from [God,] the highest good, you constantly denied Him” (596:2). The evidence of God’s wrath against sin, and its consequence death, were everywhere, yet we denied it and Him. We did not know it, did not take it to heart. This is what Israel does, left to itself; this is what we do, and we’re so far gone we deny that we deny Him.
But now, without any basis in us; without any turning, without any repentance, without any faith, Yahweh speaks. But now, thus says Yahweh: I created you. I called you, before you were My child. I redeemed you, while you were still sinners, still My enemies. And now, “all of that was washed away—immersed and drowned forever. The water of your Baptism day restored again whatever old Adam and his sin destroyed and all our sinful selves employed according to our nature” (596:3). How can it be? Because this is what God has done: given your enemies in exchange for you, put your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—to death and gives you life, instead. Put them to death in the flesh of His Son, whom He gives in your place: in your place, and in your flesh; down into the water of repentance—where only sinners belong—to be baptized in the Jordan by John. There, anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Father speaks: this is My Son, My beloved, with whom I am well pleased. The only beloved Son, given into death for your sake. And on Him, God poured out, once and for all, all the heat of His wrath, setting the Sacrifice on fire. The only one who did not and understand; the only one who took it all to heart. He was put to death, baptized in the fire of death. But God would not let His Holy One see decay. He brought Him through the water and the fire of suffering and death, and He raised Him from the dead. He is the beloved Son, with whom the Father is well-pleased, in whom His good will resides. And if the Son who was dead has been raised from the dead, He cannot die again, because death can never be His lord again.
And then He starts gathering, starts putting His Name on people, joining them to His Son. “In Baptism we now put on Christ—our shame [our sin, our denial, our death] is fully covered with all that He once sacrificed and freely for us suffered. For here the flood of His own blood now makes us holy, right, and good before our heavenly Father” (569:4). In My eyes, you are precious. This is how I love you. And the Son says, Just as the Father loves Me, so I love you. If you’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus, then you’ve been buried with Him, by baptism, into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. “O Christian, firmly hold this gift and give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your Baptism stands [because it is a promise of God] and makes you whole and then in death completes you” (569:5), because if you are clothed with Christ, who is risen from the dead, then you cannot die, even if you die. If Jesus is not in His grave, then there’s no chance that those who are in Him are left in their graves. If we have been joined to Him in a death like His, then we will certainly, without a doubt, be joined to Him in a resurrection like His. What happens to Christ, happens to you. “So use it well! You are made new—in Christ a new creation! As faithful Christians, live and do within your own vocation, until that day when you possess His glorious robe of righteousness bestowed on you forever!” (569:6). Until that day, He says what He says to all His baptized believers, “I am with you. I am with you all the days until the completion of this age.” And then: I will gather all of My sons and all My daughters from wherever they’ve been scattered around the world. I will gather them, the living and the dead. Jesus says, they will come from the north and the south and the east and the west, to sit at the feasting table in God’s own Kingdom. I will gather all those who are called by My Name, on whom I have put My Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
From beginning to end, this is what God has done, for the whole creation, and for you. He created all things, redeemed all things, and is making all things new; He created you, redeemed you, is making you new. All Christians who have been baptized, who know the God of heaven—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and in whose daily life is prized the name of Christ once given. Consider now, consider tomorrow, consider this week, this year, forever: consider what God has done, what great gifts God gives to everyone baptized into Christ Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/9/16