You are caught up in a river of sin and death, in rapids flowing down from Adam to all his sons and daughters, even to the bitter end. You are up to your neck in that raging river, deep and wide and flooding its banks, and well on its way to washing you out to the deep waters of eternal death.
And you’ll not escape from that deadly river. You’ll not be able to swim your way out of it. But neither will you survive at all without crossing through the waters of the Red Sea out of Egypt; nor will you find true peace and Sabbath Rest and the safety of eternal life with the Lord your God, until you have crossed through the waters of the Jordan into the Land that He has promised you.
But, again, you cannot accomplish any of this by your own power. And you will not survive either of those crossings — not the crossing of the Red Sea, nor the crossing of the Jordan — not apart from Christ Jesus, your new and greater Joshua. For He alone has fulfilled the Law of Moses for your salvation, and in doing so has surpassed even that faithful servant in all the House of God.
There you are, caught in the river, in way over your head, and the current is far too strong; it is washing you away, dragging you along with debris and dead bodies all around you in the water. You’re drowning and not going to make it. But into that current strides this Champion, Jesus, your great High Priest. He enters the water ahead of you, in fact, and He takes His stand there in the middle of that deadly raging river. He plants His feet firmly right there in the water, in order to be with you and to open the way for you. To bring you through that water of death into life.
He strides into the river to be baptized, and in this way He cuts off the raging rapids that are flowing down from Adam. He soaks up that river of sin and death into His own Body of flesh and blood. He bears in His Body the sins of the world and dies the death of all. By one man, Adam, all men sinned, and all men die. By this one Man, Jesus, who dies for all, the many shall now live.
He takes His stand there, in the middle of the river, and He will not be moved until everything has been completed. This is the Baptism that He undergoes, even unto death on the Cross. He does not flinch, and He will not budge until He accomplishes what He has come to do. For He has so established Himself in the midst of the river, and planted Himself so firmly, that He shall there remain until all the people of God have crossed the Jordan out of the desert into Canaan, into safety, peace, and Sabbath Rest. He stands there for you, until you have passed through death and the grave into the life everlasting with Him through your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.
By His own Baptism in the Jordan River, He has made of this Sacrament the foundation of His Church on earth, and so also the entry into His Church on earth. Holy Baptism is both the floor and the front door of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, here on earth as it is in heaven. For so has this new Joshua chosen His twelve men and sent them out to preach, to catechize, to baptize, and to forgive sins in His Name, in order to make disciples who follow Him into Life.
It is right there in the middle of the Jordan River — right there in the middle of sin and death — that the true Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat of the Lord your God have been established for you in the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, your merciful and great High Priest.
His God and Father has also testified to that fact. Indeed, He has left no doubt as to where His grace and favor remain. For there in the waters of the Jordan the Holy Spirit has come upon Christ Jesus in bodily form as a dove. And the same Spirit rests and remains on Him, so that all those who are baptized into Christ are likewise anointed with the Holy Spirit. And by the anointing of that Spirit, you are given life with God through the forgiveness of all your sins. That’s what the Holy Spirit does with the Gospel of Jesus. Everything that Jesus did for you is given to you by the Ministry of His Gospel, and so also right there in the waters of your Holy Baptism in His Name.
It’s also there in the Jordan River that the Voice from heaven, the blessing of God the Father, is spoken to Christ Jesus: “You are My beloved Son. With You I am well pleased.” That Voice of God, that blessing of the Father, is spoken to and for all those who follow this Joshua through the Jordan into the Land that God has promised; who lodge there with Joshua in His holy Church.
So, then, establish your body and life and make your dwelling here on earth, firmly set upon this solid foundation of your Baptism into Christ Jesus. There is no stronger foundation than that.
Which means what? Return daily to the significance of your Holy Baptism. Born like a little fish in the water, live your whole life in that same water. That is to say, as Dr. Luther has taught you in the Catechism, return daily to the dying and rising of your Baptism by way of contrition and repentance, by the confession of your sins, and by faith in the Holy Absolution of your sins in the Name of Jesus Christ. Baptized into Him, live as a disciple by the ongoing catechesis of His Word.
And take the stones from the middle of the Jordan into your own stations in life, wherever they may be, whether you are a husband or wife, a father or mother, a son or daughter; whether you’re a student still in school (grade school, high school, college, or graduate studies); whether you’re a worker in a factory or an office; whether you do your job on a computer or at a sink.
Wherever God has stationed you on earth, live there as a citizen of His Kingdom, as a member of His household and family, and establish your home and dwelling on those stones from the river of your Baptism. Go about your life as a child of God, bearing His Name, confessing His Name, in all that you say and do. Forgive your neighbor, as God has forgiven you. Cover your neighbor with the mercies of God in Christ, as you have been clothed with Christ in your Holy Baptism.
The place where those stones are to be found is the place of the font, the Church on earth. Live to and from there, that you may dwell with Joshua and the people of God all the days of your life.
Yes, that is what you ought to do. But most of you know what happened to Israel after they got into the Promised Land, after all of God’s good promises had been fulfilled. Their life was a seemingly endless cycle of falling away from the Lord; being called to repentance, brought back and rescued from their enemies; and falling away again. And how often isn’t your life like that?
How often do you go about your days of the week and your life in this world as though you had never been baptized? As though you were not a child of God, but dead and dying with old Adam? As though the Name and Spirit of Christ which you received from His God and Father, and the Word of the Gospel that the Father has spoken to you by His Son, were of no consequence at all?
Well, as often as you stumble and fall; as often as you run away, or fall away, or simply forget the salvation and significance of your Baptism — repent, and return to the Lord your God by returning to those stones from the river, and to that merciful and great High Priest who remains in the midst of the Jordan. He is the Rock who followed Israel through the wilderness, from which they drank the Spiritual water in the desert. And He has planted Himself in the midst of the River Jordan, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in order to bring His people into Canaan forever. So shall He remain for you and all, until your own Baptism has finally been completed in your death and resurrection.
What Jesus has accomplished once and for all — beginning with His Baptism when all the people were baptized, and culminating in His death upon the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead — that great salvation of God has been firmly established in the waters of Baptism forevermore. So those waters, though deadly to your old Adam, to all your sinful lusts and wicked desires, are also living and life giving for your body and soul in Christ Jesus, the new and better Adam, the new and greater Joshua. Instead of sweeping you away and washing you out to sea, they continue to cleanse you, and forgive you, and anoint you with the Holy Spirit. As often as you fail, Christ does not fail. He stands there with His forgiveness and His love, with life and salvation for you.
Therefore, enter through those waters of the Jordan into safety, into the peace of Christ. Enter daily through those waters of the Jordan into the Sabbath Rest that remains for the people of God in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament Joshua did not give that final rest, but this new Joshua does.
All of your enemies — all of those chasing at your heals, and all of those surrounding you on the right hand and on the left — all of them have been silenced; their mouths have been shut. All of their accusations against you, and all of their threats and violence have been stilled and stopped and shut down. For Christ the Lord has done it all to save you. So, then, fix your eyes on Him.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus, right there standing in the middle of the Jordan, right there in the waters of your Baptism. He’s there for you. His feet have been firmly planted, and He shall not move. He is your Savior, and He will bring you safely through those waters, even through death and the grave, into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting with Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.