The Season of Lent developed in connection with a period of intensive catechesis in preparation for Holy Baptism, which then took place at the Easter Vigil in that hinge between the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Along the same lines, Lent was also an opportunity for those who had departed from the faith and life of their Baptism to return to the Lord their God in heart, mind, body, and soul, by way of repentance and reconciliation.
By the Word and Spirit of God, this sacred Season of Lent remains to this day, also now for you, as a time of catechesis and repentance in which you follow the Lord Jesus up to Jerusalem.
Lent calls you to be baptized with the Baptism of Christ. Or, if you are already baptized into Him, it calls you to remember and return to the significance of your Holy Baptism. Either way, you are called to follow this Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, on His way of the Cross, which is to say that you are called to suffer and die with Him, that you might live with Him by faith in His Word.
What, then, is this Holy Baptism to which you are called? It is the working of the New Creation by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, the incarnate Son, whereby the first creation is fulfilled and comes to fruition in you, according to the good and gracious will of God.
You are a new creature, a new man or woman, by your Baptism into Christ, because it first of all puts you to death and buries you with Christ, and then also raises you up and gives you new birth in His Resurrection from the dead. Though hidden from your eyes, that is the labor and delivery that occurs in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, as it has been instituted by Christ Jesus, our Lord.
By the rites and ceremonies of His Word and work in Holy Baptism, in the waters administered in His Name at His divine command, you are crucified with Christ Jesus. For He has sanctified the waters of your Baptism with His own Baptism in the Jordan River, the Baptism He completed and perfected by His Cross and Passion in Jerusalem. He was baptized into His own death and burial, and that is why your Holy Baptism is a sharing or participation in His Crucifixion.
It is not that you atone for anyone’s sins, not even your own; neither are you given as a ransom for anyone’s life. But the Lord Jesus has opened the way for you — through death and the grave into the resurrection and the life everlasting — so that now you follow after Him by faith in His Word. You follow Him through the waters of Holy Baptism into the grace and glory of His Kingdom.
Thus are you cleansed and refreshed in body and soul, inside and out, with the spiritual water from the Rock who not only leads the way but also follows after as your rear guard, sword, and shield. For the water that fills the font of Holy Baptism is the water that flows with the precious Blood of Christ from His pierced side, from His crucified Body, from the innermost depths of His heart.
So it is that Holy Baptism brings about a new heavens and a new earth, a new home for you, where righteousness dwells. It ushers you into that home, that you may live and abide with the Father in Christ Jesus as a member of His household and family, and so rest in the peace of His Spirit.
Your Baptism in His Name justifies you with the righteousness of Christ, it reconciles you to His God and Father as your own dear God and Father, and it pours out His Spirit and His Life upon your body and soul through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins. So everything is made brand new. Your slate is wiped cleaned. For Baptism is not only a new creation, it is a new and better flood, which drowns and destroys the old Adam in you with all his mockery and worldly desires, and washes away your sins, while preserving you in safety aboard the Ark of the Church.
It is within His Church, as a member of His Body, united with Him in His Cross and Resurrection by your Baptism in His Name, that you belong to the Bride of Christ. For He has clothed you in the white wedding gown of His righteousness; He has adorned you in the beauty of His holiness.
Baptized into Christ Jesus, you share His Glory by His grace. So it is that your place is with Him in His Kingdom. Indeed, His Royal Majesty crowns you with His divine and everlasting Life, as He honors you with His Word of the Gospel and anoints you with the Holy Spirit; and so also as He shares His Cross and Passion with you in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.
Of course, that is all pretty different than what James and John were envisioning. But it is also far better than anything they (or you) could ever have imagined. And it is yours by the Baptism of Christ, that is, by and through the water included in His command and combined with His Word.
Water by itself is already God’s good creation and good gift, whereby He grants and brings forth life on earth. Water quenches thirst and cleanses the body. It refreshes human beings, animals, and grass and trees and plants of every kind. Together with sunshine, the rain which waters the earth is by the grace of God, by His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, also for all the wicked.
But water by itself does not forgive sins or rescue from death and the devil. Water by itself is providence for life on earth, but not a source or means of eternal life. By itself, it is only water and not Holy Baptism. But with the Word of God, simple water becomes something altogether more.
That is how the Holy Triune God has delighted to work from the beginning in His divine wisdom. When He first created the heavens and the earth, He started with the deep waters, over which His Spirit hovered, and out of which His Word brought forth the world and everything in it. So, too, with the waters of the flood He cleansed His creation and rescued faithful Noah and his family.
And after He brought His Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea — as He would later bring them through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan — He provided them with water from the Rock in the midst of the desert. And how did He do that? In each and every case, He did it by His Holy Word. “Speak to the Rock,” He said to Moses, and “thus bring forth water.”
It is by the Word of Christ Jesus, that is, by the Speaking of God the Father in His Son, that the waters of your Holy Baptism have been filled with the significance of His own Baptism.
And what is that significance? It is the Voice of the Father from a wide open heaven, declaring His Name and His Glory upon the waters which have cleansed and covered you. It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit, descending upon your body in the bodily form of this sacred bath, and resting and remaining upon your body and life as you rest and remain in the Body of Christ by faith.
The Lord thus reveals Himself as the Holy, Holy, Holy One, by sanctifying you with His Holiness in the waters of your Baptism. Which is utterly unlike the greatness and the glory of the Gentiles. It is divine grace and the gift of Life, accomplished and bestowed upon His own creation by the Lord’s Self-Sacrifice, by the pouring out of His Body and Life even unto death upon the Cross.
In the same way that the waters become such a Life-giving Baptism by the Word of Christ Jesus, so do His preaching and His catechesis continue, day by day throughout your life on earth, even to the close of the age. And by this ongoing Word of Christ, He reminds you of the significance of your Holy Baptism, He returns you to its repentance, and He restores you to its righteousness.
What does that mean for you? And what does that look like in practice? It means that your life is found in Christ Jesus, and that your greatness and your glory as a Christian are that of His grace and of His Sacrifice. Which is to say that, far from being ashamed of His Gospel and His Cross, these things of Christ are your greatest pride and joy, in which alone you boast and glory.
At the same time, it means that all your worldly ambitions, your sinful human ego, your envy and jealousy, and your competition and contention with others, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and with all of your neighbors — all of this is crucified and put to death in you. And instead of all that muckety-muck, you begin to love your neighbors, your friends and foes alike, in the way that Christ Jesus lives in love for you and lays down His Body and Life to serve and care for you.
As you are baptized in His Name, do not grumble or complain against the Lord your God, who has brought you out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand; nor grumble and complain against His servants and His people, but love them and forgive them in patience and in peace.
Your Baptism into Christ Jesus catechizes you to live in humility, repentance, and faith, relying not upon yourself, but upon the Lord who calls you to believe and trust His Word and promise. He is faithful, and He will do it. He alone is your Hope and your Help, and He is your Salvation.
Even Moses and Aaron, and James and John, and the other Apostles, all fell short in their faith and love, and too often stumbled off the road of discipleship into the ditch of ego and envy, ignorance, indignation, and incredulity. It is far too easy to fear man more than God, and to love the praises of men more than God. Be on guard against those dangers and temptations, and repent of those sins in your heart and life. But do not despair. Rather, in repentance look to Christ, and live.
Your Baptism, your discipleship, your life and your salvation, none of these rest on your shoulders, nor do they depend upon you and your faithfulness. Each and all of these are the gracious gift and good work of God in Christ. So do you rest upon His shoulders, and so do you depend upon Him, upon His Baptism and His Cup, and upon His faithful, loving Service for you and for all people.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has drained the Cup of God’s righteous wrath and anger against your sins, in order to atone for all of those sins — to atone for the sins of the whole world — to ransom and redeem you from death and the devil forever. He has accomplished and completed the significance of His Baptism by His Cross and Passion, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the outpouring of His holy and precious Blood. So it is that death is destroyed and the devil is defeated, for the Body and Life of the very Son of God have been given for you.
This is the greatness and the glory of God, that He has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ Jesus, who has not only died for you, but has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever. And He has done all of this by grace, for the forgiveness and salvation of sinners, including you, no more nor less than for James and John, for Simon Peter, for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul. No distinctions. No exceptions. The incarnate Son of God has become the Servant and the Slave of all people, and He has given Himself as the Sacrifice of propitiation for the sins of the world.
With the same loving service, by the same divine grace, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus also now cleanses and sanctifies you with His own righteousness and holiness. He has done so in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and those same waters remain, daily washing away all of your sins. For you stand, by faith, in the midst of the River of Life, constantly flowing from His pierced side, and constantly cleansing you of all unrighteousness. So, too, the ongoing catechesis of Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, and His Word of Holy Absolution, are always putting you back into that cleansing flood, into that holy bath, into that living and Life-giving water from the Rock of Ages.
He therefore gives to you, His beloved and beautiful Bride, to drink from His Chalice of Salvation. There is no poison in this Cup, nor the wrath of God against you, but the precious Blood of Jesus poured out for you in love and mercy and forgiveness. He has gone up to Jerusalem ahead of you, in order to prepare a place for you at His Table in His Kingdom. That is the place He has prepared, which He now gives by grace alone to all who believe and are baptized into Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.