Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 17:05 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isn’t it interesting how the significance of water depends entirely on the context, the source, or the situation? Water covers 71% of the earth’s surface, but of that water, only 3.5% of it is water we can drink, and most of that water is in glaciers. A person is, on average, 60% water, but it is easy to get dehydrated. Water is both life-giving and destructive. When we are thirsty, we can barely get the thought of water out of our heads. We know that we will not live long at all without some water, but if you are stranded in the middle of an ocean, to drink the water around you will be deadly. Water is life, for all of the living creatures of God.

But five short chapters later we see the destructive force of water. “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was altogether evil every day” (6:5). So God is going to “blot out” man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry I made them—I repent of making them (6:7). “Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood” (LSB 268). But Noah found grace, or favor, in the eyes of Yahweh (6:8), and with Noah is the salvation also of the other creatures: seven of every clean animal and two of every unclean, a male and female, as God created them. Water means the destruction of corruption in God’s creation, but it becomes the salvation of Noah and his family. “[A]ccording to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all” (LSB 268).

That is how it is. People both need water and fear it; need it for life, but fear that it will destroy life, either by melting glaciers and rising sea waters, or floods and earthquakes. Water is both destruction and renewed creation. Sin is destroyed and God saves His chosen ones. And there is a renewed creation, with the creatures—the birds, the livestock, every beast of the earth; everything that creeps upon the earth and the fish of the sea—and the blessing upon those creatures, as well as upon Noah and his family: Be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it (9:7). And God makes a covenant with the whole earth and makes the rainbow the sign of it; “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (9:16).

That covenant continues by means of the water sanctified by Jesus in the Jordan River: here in the water of baptism, God does His destroying, cleansing, recreating work. Here it is not the evil others whom God destroys, while saving us, the righteous. Here He destroys the evil, but it is the evil in us, our evil thoughts, what is in us altogether evil every day. From our old, dying hearts, Jesus says, flow all kinds of evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matthew 15:19-20). This is what needs to be destroyed and killed. And at the same time, God does His renewing, recreating work, giving us new, holy hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stony unbelief. Here we find favor and grace with God, not because we are more holy than anyone else—Noah certainly wasn’t; just read on a bit after the story of the flood—but because He has chosen us in Christ. Just as He chose Mary, and said by the mouth of the angel, “You have found grace with God,” so the messenger says to each of us as we are baptized. As Noah and his family were saved within the ark, by means of the water, so baptism now saves you. It is not like washing dirt off your body, or sinners from the earth, but the Name of God that is put on you in baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus (1 Peter 3:20-22).

Jesus is the new and greater Noah, the one through whom God saves His creatures, and renews His entire creation. In Jesus’ flesh and blood, given and shed for you, God makes a new covenant by which He will destroy all evil and keep you until that destructive and renewing work is done. Notice that sin does not disappear from the earth after the flood. The flood, while destroying sinners, does not destroy the sin in human hearts. Now that Jesus has appeared, we still see sin and death all around us; the evil that clings to us, and the evil in every human heart bears abundant witness to sin’s destructive power. And after baptism, like the renewed earth and the humans who came out of the ark, we still find sin in ourselves. Like Noah, we have to wait for the Day to which both the day after the flood and the resurrection of Jesus point: the day of the final destruction of evil in us by death, and the raising of our bodies, sinless, cleansed, and holy. The dove that Noah sent out bore witness that God’s wrath had subsided with the water; so does the dove of the Spirit testify that in Jesus, the anointed one, His wrath will have its complete end on the cross. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ. All who believe and are baptized will be saved.

As we come to the Easter festival, and especially as we are reminded at the Vigil of Easter of our baptism into Christ, we are daily being separated from ourselves by water. Daily, by contrition and repentance, the old Adam in us is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires. Behold us, O God, according to Your boundless mercy, and bless us with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in us which has been inherited from Adam and which we have committed since, would be drowned and die. Daily, by the word of forgiveness, a new man in Christ emerges and rises from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Grant, O God, that we be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers, and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope.

Because Jesus is risen from the dead, the blood and water and Spirit testify that God’s love has covered you like a flood, raised you up, gathered you into the ark of Christ’s Church, and given you a good conscience. Together we wait for the day when the water of judgment will recede completely, and the new heavens and the new earth will be revealed, in which righteousness dwells. Christ’s cross, the rock to which you are bound in the midst of the raging flood, is the sign of the covenant that God has made between Him and you and all living creatures, from now until the day after the flood.

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, 3/1/23

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