“When You Pass through the Waters” (Isaiah 43:1-7)
With the recent floods of late December and early January, we certainly witnessed the destructive impact those waters can have. Highways were shut down. A stretch of I-55 was closed for days. Highway 141 at I-44 was underwater for a week. Homes were damaged. I think the most dramatic and memorable image I saw was video of a house literally floating down the Meramec River. And the people affected by the flooding went through and, in many cases, still are going through, a rough time.
Maybe you yourself were not affected by the flooding. But perhaps you’ve been going through a rough time in other ways. Your home may not be underwater literally, but maybe it is “underwater” figuratively, meaning you owe more on your mortgage than your home now is worth. That’s bad. Or suppose there are other rough situations you’re going through. Your pension has been cut, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it. Your marriage is falling apart, or your kids aren’t talking to you, and you don’t know why. Your heart is acting up, and you find yourself short of breath. These are tough experiences to be going through, and I could list other difficult, even overwhelming, situations that people here in our pews are facing.
So what do we say to people when they are going through such things? What comfort do we ourselves find when we face these situations? Well, today God has a word to say to you, a word of comfort and hope, for those times “When You Pass through the Waters.”
Ancient Israel had to pass through some very difficult waters. The nation was falling apart before their very eyes. First the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians, and later it would be the southern kingdom, Judah, falling to the Babylonians. Prospects were grim for the people of God. Nevertheless, the Lord had a word for his people, a word of comfort and hope. He delivered it through his prophet Isaiah: “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. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”
This was a word of hope and comfort for the Israelites who had been dispersed and scattered by the Assyrians. This was a word of hope and comfort for the people of Judah who would be taken captive to Babylon. Even though these bad things happened to them, the Lord was giving his word, giving his promise: “I will be with you. I will be with you when you pass through those waters. The raging flood will not overwhelm you. I will be with you to keep you from falling under.”
And this is a word of hope and comfort for you also: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” How so? How can you can be sure of this, especially at those times when it looks like the Lord has forgotten all about you? How can you know that his promise is still good? The Lord tells us how. He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
“I have redeemed you,” says the Lord. What does this mean, dear friends? It means the Lord has purchased your eternal salvation. The Lord has set you free from the enemies that would destroy you. The Lord has ransomed and rescued you and made you his own. This you can be sure of. This you can take to the bank. The promise is as good as gold.
Wait, it is even better than gold! For the Lord has redeemed you, not with gold or silver, but with something far more costly, namely, the holy precious blood of his own dear Son, Jesus Christ. His innocent suffering and death was the price paid to secure your release, your freedom. Now death, hell, and Satan have no claim on you. They cannot accuse you or drive you under. No, you have come out of their grip, by virtue of what Christ has done for you. He has conquered your enemies for you. And in his resurrection, he has shown that he is their master. And this risen Christ now says to you, “And lo, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” And the end of this age will just be the start of the age to come. This is how you can know that God is with you when you are passing through the rough waters: Jesus will be there with you, and he will bring you out safe and secure, when all is said and done.
Jesus embarked on his saving mission to redeem you when he stepped into the waters of the Jordan. There Christ was baptized, not for his own sins, but because he was setting out to redeem you from your sins. There in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus was inaugurated and approved for his messianic mission. The Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove: Jesus was being anointed with the Spirit as the Messiah, marked out as having God’s favor and blessing and power as his chosen one. The Father’s own voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Clearly, God’s choice and approval rested upon this one, Jesus, to carry out the mission on which he was sent. And that mission was to redeem you from your sins and to win for you everlasting life.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Friends, God has called you by name, and so you belong to him. He is not going to forget you. You are precious to him. Just like the Lord told Israel of old: “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.” Indeed, God gave his one and only Son for you, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. He gave Christ into death in exchange for your life. Jesus got your sins, and in exchange you get his righteousness. Jesus got your death, and in exchange you get his life. That’s a pretty sweet deal! A happy exchange! Ransomed and redeemed, now you know you will live because he lives.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” God called you by name in your baptism. “Michael, Sarah, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” God called you by name, and he put his own name on you, the name of the triune God. Now you belong to God. You bear his name. You are his own dear child. “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!” What greater comfort could there be? What greater hope could you have? Your life is now tied to Christ’s life forever! Wherever you go, he will go with you. And where he has gone, you will go also, to be with your Savior and with all of his people forever. Sweet!
We said earlier that floodwaters can have a destructive impact. And so it is with the waters of Holy Baptism. A destructive impact, but for a good end. For when you passed through the waters of your baptism, what happened? Your old man, the old Adam of your sinful nature, was drowned and put to death in that flood. As St. Paul says in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” But, friends, you were buried with Christ, and that is the key. For if you were buried with him, you likewise have been raised with him and will live with him forever. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, in order that”–“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.”
You see? Newness of life. A new life now for you to walk in. An eternal life ahead of you, for you to rejoice in. This new life now is life as a redeemed child of God. You have a new nature. You have the Holy Spirit. Now you are able to serve God in a life of righteousness, resisting sin, repenting of sin, and rising with Christ each new day. This new life is a life of love, love for God and love for neighbor, serving others because you know you are secure in Christ, secure enough to sacrifice and serve. Love is risky, but you have been rescued from the biggest dangers, and that frees you up to love.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And that most certainly includes the eternal life ahead of us. The grave will not hold you. Death has been defeated. Life is the victor, because Christ is the victor, and your life is tied to his. Baptism has this mighty power, to join you to Jesus and to give you a share in his resurrection. Holy Baptism is God’s work. It’s what he does to apply the promise of salvation to you personally: to make you his child, to call you by name, to wash away your sins, to join you to Jesus, to give you the gift of the Holy Spirit and the sure hope of the life to come. Man, what an inexhaustible treasure we have in our baptism!
Beloved, because Jesus our Lord passed through the waters of the Jordan at his baptism and went on from there to complete his saving mission by his death and resurrection . . . because God joined you to Jesus in your baptism and placed his name upon you and made you his beloved child . . . this is how God can say to you today, in whatever situation you are facing, he says: “Fear not, 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.”