Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

John 18:28-40; Exodus 2:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Observing that the Israelites were multiplying in great numbers, and fearful that they might join up with Egypt’s enemies and overtake them, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all Hebrew newborn male children, but to let the female children live. However, the Hebrew midwives, being God-fearing women, did not do what Pharaoh commanded, but they spared the Hebrew boys. When Pharaoh discovered the disobedience of the Hebrew midwives, he commanded all his people, upon birth, to throw the Hebrew male infants into the Nile River and drown them. Thus, when Moses’ mother, Jochebed, bore him, she hid him for three months until she could hide him no longer. Then she made a basket of bulrushes and lathered it with bitumen and pitch, and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. Moses’ sister Miriam stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. In the LORD’s providence, Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the Nile and one of her young women discovered the baby and rescued him. Having pity on the child, Pharaoh’s daughter gave the child to Miriam, his sister, to have him nursed by a Hebrew mother, who, once again in the LORD’s providence, happened to be Moses’ mother. Indeed, the providence of God is seen throughout this story as Pharaoh’s wicked intentions are repeatedly worked for the good of the LORD’s people.
In an attempt to destroy the Hebrew male children, Pharaoh ended up receiving into his own family one who, ultimately, would lead the children of Israel out of captivity and into freedom in the LORD. The LORD used Pharaoh’s wicked and evil plot against him for the good of His people. Moses was placed into the water as the son of a slave; he was drawn out of the water the son of a free man, even royalty. Likewise, the children of Israel entered the waters of the Red Sea as slaves; they emerged from the waters a free people. As the waters of the flood killed and destroyed the wicked, cleansing the earth, Noah and his family floated safely upon the waters and were saved in the ark. Similarly, the Syrian commander Naaman went into the waters a leper; he emerged cleansed from his leprosy, his flesh restored like that of a newborn child. So too were you cleansed, restored, and saved through the waters of Holy Baptism into new life with Jesus as a child of God and a royal heir of His heavenly kingdom.
In his baptismal rite, Dr. Luther brought together a number of baptismal types in the Flood Prayer, saying: “Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” Luther then goes on to pray for the soon-to-be-baptized saying: “We pray that You would behold name according to Your boundless mercy and bless him with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in him which has been inherited from Adam and which he himself has committed since, would be drowned and die. Grant that he be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers so that, with all believers in Your promise, he would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
Luther compared the Christian Church to the ark in which Noah and his family were saved from the killing flood. Interestingly, the same Hebrew word for ark is used for the basket in which the infant Moses was laid and set adrift amongst the reeds of the Nile. Like Noah’s ark, Moses’ basket was covered with bitumen and pitch, once again the very same Hebrew words used in regard to the ark. St. Peter also connects the Flood and Holy Baptism saying, “God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism now saves you, not because it is a work that men perform, but because it is a work that the LORD performs by the power of His Word, which brings into being what it says.
The LORD did not create us to die, but to live with Him in Holy Communion forever. However, the sin of our First Parents, which is truly our sin, to which we contribute daily, brought death into the world and separation from God. Since the LORD, in His righteousness, could not simply excuse our sin, He did something altogether different, He sent His own Son to suffer and die in our place, as our substitute, having kept His Father’s Commandments perfectly and having fulfilled all that His Law demands. The LORD would use death to destroy death. The LORD would use the devil’s power against him and bring forth life out of death, life that can never die again. This the Preacher to the Hebrews explains saying: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Pilate himself ruled the judgment: “I find no guilt in Him.” Then, to show that Jesus was innocent, but would be offered as a sacrificial substitute, Pilate continued, “But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” The crowd cried out, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Whereas Moses, and you, and I went into the Baptismal waters as slaves to sin, death, and the devil, and emerged forgiven, restored to new and everlasting life, royal heirs with Jesus of the Father’s kingdom, so Jesus went into the Baptismal waters as the only-begotten Son of God and heir of His kingdom, holy, innocent, righteous, and sinless, and He emerged bearing your sin, and my sin, and all humanity’s sin, that He should lay down His life as a sacrificial substitute for us and bear the penalty for our sins in His body on the cross. The LORD did not merely turn away from our sin and wicked rebellion – in His righteousness He could not do that – but, He used it, and He worked it for good that, through death, He would restore life and salvation. Thus did St. Paul write: “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.” In Holy Baptism, your old sinful nature drowned and died and was buried with Jesus, and a new spiritual man was raised up with Jesus to new and everlasting life. This is the LORD’s work, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Glory be to Jesus! Glory be to God!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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