Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.
Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (ESV)
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Dissolution of Sin
Wednesday of the Last Week of the Church Year
25 November 2015
While in India some years ago, I was amazed by the labor-intensive agricultural methods that were being employed in the countryside. During my time there, it was the season to plant rice fields. As we drove along highways in the countryside, we saw hundreds of people; men, women, and children all standing in knee-deep water in flooded fields, bent over in the sun, hand planting rice plants for hours at a time. How difficult the process of planting the fields is.
Failure of the rice crop would be disastrous for the population of India. Of course, rice is a staple food in India; a daily part of the Indian diet. The countryside I saw in India was extremely fertile and intensively farmed. Magnificent crops are taken from it. So it is when our Lord sets us in the water of baptism. Through it he is planting us in the most fertile field, where crops of magnificent proportions are taken (Mt 13:23
). It is because He sees to the life and fertility of His people through the life-giving waters of baptism. The world is His field and baptism floods it. We should not flee such a flood. But run toward it, embrace it, and make use of it as a source of great blessing, not just for ourselves, but for a world in need.
Baptism calls for repentance. Like all easy things there is a hard edge to it. Baptism is easy. It is a gift received. Not a work done. But for all its ease, it demands repentance. It is the solution to sin, literally. It is a washing away of sin, that is, a solution or dissolution of sin. Baptism is a water-based washing away of moral filth. But moral filth must be recognized, before it can be washed away. Who puts into the wash water that which he considers clean? Only those who understand their own moral filthiness will approach the wash water of holy baptism. On one level this implies a profoundly embarrassing fact; the fact of our sinfulness. This is what makes baptism "hard." Baptism "outs" our sinfulness in public. This "outing" of sin was done explicitly in the early church. When candidates for baptism approached the font, they not only confessed the creed, but they also made public confession of their sins and underwent a lengthy rite of exorcism. The break from the old life and being brought into the new with Christ was decisive. It could not be trivialized.
The ease of baptism from our side leads us to trivialize it today. It is fundamentally water connected with God's Word. Nothing more. God's Word makes the water a washing away of sin. However, the gift is not trivial from God's perspective. The gift given in baptism is inseparably connected with the death and resurrection of Christ. As the Apostle Paul says, "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, 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. 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" (Rm 6:3-5
). What God has placed in the waters of baptism cost Him His only begotten Son. So from God's side the cost is incalculable. This is the definition of grace. Even our confession of sin at the font is a bringing of nothing or worse than nothing. What is the value of our sins to God? What is the benefit of our moral filth? It is a sign only of the burden which Jesus bore on the cross of Calvary. All this has been taken away by Him at Calvary and now that freedom from sin is given in the waters of baptism. At the font there is dissolution of sin.
"Do not disdain to be baptized with the poor, if you are rich, or if you are noble, with one who is of humble birth, or if you are a master, with one who is up to the present time your slave. By doing so you will not be humbling yourself as much as Christ, who for your sake took upon Himself even the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7
) and unto whom you are being baptized today. From the day of your new birth all the old marks are effaced. Christ is put upon all of you in the same way. Do not disdain to confess your sins, knowing how John baptized (Mt 3:7
), that by present shame you may escape from future shame (for this too is a part of the future punishment); and prove that you really hate sin by making a show of it openly, and triumphing over it as worthy of contempt. Do not reject the medicine of exorcism, nor refuse it because of its length. This too is a touchstone of your right outlook upon grace. What labor have you to do compared with that of the Queen of Ethiopia (1Ki 10:1
), who arose and came from the utmost part of the earth to see the wisdom of Solomon? And behold one greater than Solomon is here (Mt 12:42
) in the judgment of those who reason maturely.
"Do not hesitate either at length of journey, or distance by sea; or fire, if this too lies before you; or of any other, small or great, of the hindrances that you may attain the gift. But if without any labor and trouble at all you may obtain that which you desire, what folly it is to put off the gift. 'Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price'(Is 55:1), as Isaiah invites you. O the swiftness of His mercy. O the acceptance of the covenant. This blessing may be bought by you merely for willing it. God accepts the very desire as a great price. He thirsts to be thirsted for. He gives to drink to all who desire to drink. He takes it as a kindness to be asked for the kindness. He is ready and graciously generous. He gives with more pleasure than others receive (Acts 20:35). Only let us not be condemned for frivolity by asking for little, and for what is unworthy of the giver. Blessed is he from whom Jesus asks drink, as He did from that Samaritan woman, and gives a well of water springing up unto eternal life (Jn 4:7). Blessed is he who sows beside all waters, and upon every person, tomorrow to be ploughed and watered, which today the ox and donkey tread (Is 32:20), while it is dry and without water, and oppressed with ignorance. Blessed is he who, though he is in the 'Valley of Shittim' (Joel 3:18), is watered out of the house of the Lord; for he is made fruitful instead of being clogged with weeds, and produces that which is for the food of man, not that which is rough and indigestible. And for the sake of this we must be very careful not to miss the grace."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.27
Lord Jesus Christ, You have joined Yourself with us in the sacrament of holy baptism. Through the water connected with Your Word, cause the life of faith and good works to well up from within us. Keep us from trivializing the waters of baptism, because baptism appears weak to us. Rather help us trust the promise that you have placed in it by your Word. Keep us buried there that we might die with You and that we might rise to the newness of life that You have given us in Your resurrection from the dead. Amen.
In Thanksgiving to God for the gifts which He has showered upon our land
For the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, that they would judge our laws and keep government from imposing on the people
For pastors, that their Lord would enable them to take up their cross and follow Him
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015