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Baptism Of Our Lord C Sermon
Isaiah 43:1-7
January
13, 2019

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
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 shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

This may sound a bit odd, but before I talk about the importance of Jesus’ baptism for our lives of discipleship I feel like I need to do a little bit of teaching about our reading from Isaiah 43 this morning. It really does lay some groundwork not only for Jesus’ baptism, but for the importance of baptism in general. First of all, most Biblical scholars divide the book of the prophet Isaiah into three sections: Chapters 1-33 are attributed to Isaiah, son of Amoz who preached in Judah from about 742 to 700 BC. He is often called, “First Isaiah” or “Isaiah of Jerusalem.” This was during a time when there was much conflict going on between the northern kingdom of Israel (sometimes called Ephraim or Samaria), the southern kingdom of Judah (the capital of which is Jerusalem) and the countries of Syria and Assyria. After a long period of alliances, betrayals and defeats (which the prophet attributed to the people not trusting in God to protect them), Assyria finally defeated the northern kingdom while the southern kingdom was spared.

In the 100 years following Assyria’s rise to power, Babylon became the strongest world power and by 587 they had conquered both the lands of the northern and southern kingdoms and carted many of the citizens away in exile to live in Babylon and other areas of their empire. Some were slaves, but many had valuable abilities to offer the community and fashioned rather comfortable lives in their new environments. This went on for about 50 years until Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians in 538 and declared that all exiles were free to return to their own lands. While this may have sounded like a miracle and a blessing, consider: A. Many (especially the richer citizens) were not quick to want to leave their new lives, especially after 50 years of putting down roots in Babylon; B. The way from Babylon (modern day Iraq) to Judah went through desert wilderness. It was sure to be a long, treacherous road to travel; and C. Once they returned home they were going to have to rebuild their whole society – from the walls that were still in ruins to the systems of commerce, government and religion to name a few. It was going to be a long struggle.

Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55, from where our reading comes this morning, dates from the end of the Judeans’ exile in Babylon. While First Isaiah was filled with pronouncements of judgement for their unfaithfulness, Second Isaiah – or Isaiah of Babylon - writes words of hope that God will restore God’s people. And just to make things complete, Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66) dates from the time after the return from exile and is probably a collection from many different writers, further encouraging those who have returned to have faith in God to fully restore them in the promised land.
Ok, so there is your course on Isaiah 101. As a follow-up lesson, I want to share a little about a word that is important to Second Isaiah – it is the word, “redeem.” While it is not found at all in First Isaiah, variations like redeem, redeemer and redemption appear in Second and Third Isaiah some 13 times. While not an overwhelming number, it is obvious that this is an important concept between God and God’s people at this time in their history. What does it mean? Redeem comes from the legal realm of the ancient world, and it referred to the action of “buying back” something of importance to a person or family. Many times it referred to buying back a family member that was forced into slavery either because of indebtedness or military conquest. Sometimes it was buying back an important object or item that was sold or taken for similar reasons. Either way, the redeemer is the one who buys back something that has somehow and in someway been taken by someone else. It was an act of love and grace, based on an intimate relationship that the redeemer has with the redeemed. No stranger would do this for anyone.
When we hear God saying in the opening verse of this chapter that he has not only created and formed them, but that they need not be afraid because he has also redeemed them, it is truly a word of promise and hope. Through Second Isaiah, God goes on to talk about giving Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for them – other countries that had been allies with Babylon but were conquered by the Persians as God used them as agents of redemption. And then – because they are precious in God’s sight and honored – we read the words from God that are found only once in the Old Testament: I love you. It is out of pure grace-filled love that God has bought back these people. And not only that, they don’t need to fear because God will continue to love them; God promises to be with them always, and to gather all of these people from every direction to restore them to their glory once more.

So, now that you are caught up with Isaiah and redeeming and God’s love for God’s people, what does this have to do with Jesus’ baptism and our baptism? Much like God’s words in Isaiah telling the people that he loves them, so also God speaks at Jesus’ baptism: You are my son, the Beloved (in other words, I love you); with you I am well please. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for his own benefit, as we think of the benefits that we receive from baptism – cleansing from sinfulness, the promise of eternal life and the joining to the family of God. This account of Jesus’ baptism is for our benefit, so that we can witness once more the evidence of the intimate relationship that we have with God, our redeemer.

As we consider our practice in the Lutheran church or baptizing little babies, we need go no further to understand the reason for it than this passage in Isaiah. In spite of their sketchy history and downright turning away from God, God still reassures the people that he loves them intimately, and promises to be with them always – no matter if they must pass through waters or walk through fire. This is a promise that they will need, as the Persian Empire will give way to the Greeks under Alexander and his Generals Seleucid and Ptolemy, which will then give way to the Romans. It was into that foreign occupation that Jesus was born, and baptism was transformed from a ritual cleansing of sins into a fire-filled giving of the Holy Spirit and a promise from God to always love God’s sons and daughters no matter what may come. This is the intimate relationship we have with our redeemer, the one who continues to buy us back from the masters who want to run our lives. These may be outside powers that we have little or no influence over, and they may be deals and alliances that we ourselves have made in order to protect or make our lives better. Regardless, in our baptisms (and without our having anything to do with it) the God of grace tells us that he loves us … and that is a promise that nothing can change.

If we depicted Isaiah’s book as a model for our lives, where would we be? Needing a word of judgement from First Isaiah? A word of consolation and hope from Second Isaiah? A word of encouragement from Third Isaiah? The battle that is being waged in our government right now has sent our whole country into a tailspin and we frankly do not know who to believe. Meanwhile most of us sit in the middle, not wanting more gang members into our country, but wanting to be a place where folks find a new opportunity to live and raise their families. We want safety and security but are not sure a wall is the answer. We want our friends and family members who have government related jobs to continue to do their jobs well AND receive a paycheck for doing it. Moreover, we want to live in peace with each other and our neighbors … something that seems to be slipping away. Thanks be to God that we have the promise of the redeemer today. God is the one who created, forms and loves us, and will buy us back with his son’s precious blood so that we can experience the joy and peace promised to us in our baptisms. In the midst of threats from every side, of untimely deaths, the presence of cancer and other diseases we need a redeemer. And through water and the Holy Spirit, we have a redeemer that will never abandon us. Do not fear – God is with you! Amen.