In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” the psalmist says (46:4). It is the river that runs through time and space, winding its way through people and places, with its original source among the rivers of Eden. But by the time Jesus steps into those waters, the river has turned sluggish and polluted. And that’s exactly where Jesus goes, down into that river, corrupted with the sin of His formerly good creation.
He does not belong there, down in that river. That is the river where John is baptizing with a baptism of repentance, the people confessing their sins. Jesus, the sinless Son, does not belong there in that river, having that water poured over Him. But that’s where Jesus goes, to where the sinners are. And when He’s down there praying in the river next to John, the Father opens heaven to speak. As the Spirit anoints and marks Him, the Father says, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This is the One whom I have sent, the Father says. He is the One who will take up all your sins as His own.
And so this river runs straight to the cross. “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). His suffering and death are the crisis point, the dividing line between death and life, unbelief and faith, war and peace. At the cross, this river of sin and death is dammed up in the Son’s death. Damnation ends in His damnation. Sin ends in His sin-bearing. And then the river flows again, a small spring at first, blood and water from His holy side. But, as Ezekiel sees in the eternal temple, the depth grows, first ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep. This is the river that flows from the cross, become the tree of life in Jesus’ resurrection. And it has gathered and swept up the great and small, old and young, male and female, all together into this cleansing, purifying flood.
Buried with Him by baptism into His death, you are caught up in that river. It is a river that flows on into eternity, until the whole earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). He goes where the sinners are, even here and now. Those who are pulled down into the water under the weight of their sin and death, He pulls them down further into His own death, to bury their death once and for all. The river flows on, the river that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, flowing through the middle of the New Jerusalem that John saw, with the Tree of Life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
And for you, the baptized, now those words spoken to the only Son have been spoken to all those who are in the Son. You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased. I have made you, created you, redeemed you, and called you by name—even better than your name, I’ve called you by My Name. And so you are Mine. You are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you. Therefore, I am with you at all times, even and especially when you do not feel Me near. I am Yahweh, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
So when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you—especially that fire of judgment and condemnation which follow the Anointed One of God with His winnowing fork. He will gather His wheat into His barns, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. That fire cannot touch you, because you have Jesus for your Lord and His Father for your Father. You have the Holy Spirit of God. You cannot be destroyed by fire or water, life or death.
And when the river of time finally comes to its end in the fulfillment of God’s eternity, then we will see the promise given to Isaiah: God will gather His sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, from east, west, north, and south. He will gather all those who are called by His Name, baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, created anew for His glory, reformed and remade in the Image of Jesus, the beloved Son.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. It flows from the Garden to the City, where the Tree of Life will make us whole and undamaged by sin, sickness, disease, or death. Nothing accursed will be there, but only the throne of God and the Lamb and you, with all His servants. The river of nations will flow into that city, redeemed by the Lamb of God, and holy.
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, 1/11/19