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Thunder Over the Waters

Our text from Isaiah begins with one of the most common greetings that God ever has for His people: “Fear not!” Almost everything else in our lectionary readings, though, seem filled with reasons that we should be afraid! Isaiah goes on to talk about passing through raging rivers and overwhelming waters, followed by fire and flame. Psalm 29 describes the voice of the Lord in terms of floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Acts 8 recounts the moment when the Spirit of God fell on the people of Samaria, and finally, John the Baptist warns the people that water baptism is nothing compared to the coming baptism of Spirit and fire, and to Christ’s work of threshing and burning!

So how can God say, “Fear not!” Don’t fear the earth-shaking voice of God? Don’t fear the fire and flood of God’s judgment? Don’t fear becoming a dwelling place for God’s Spirit? How can God say, “Fear not?”

We can’t say that God isn’t fearsome – Psalm 29’s presentation of God’s thundering voice takes care of that. We can’t say that God’s people won’t ever go through fire and flood – Isaiah 43 indicates that God’s promise is not to keep you from the fire or the flood, but rather to be with you in it (Isa. 43:2). The reason why He says, “Fear not” is not because God isn’t fearsome or that fearful things won’t ever happen.

The right answer is found when heaven opens up and the Spirit descends and a voice thunders out this message about Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” That “thunder” over the waters speaks the unbelievable blessing that God is pleased with man; specifically, this man, Jesus. Fear not, because God is pleased with Jesus.

Why is God pleased with Jesus? From Isaiah, God is pleased with those He calls by His name, those He created for His glory, and those whom He formed and made. From Luke, because Jesus was washed clean, and so made a fitting vessel for God’s Spirit. Fear not, God says, for I made you, and I redeemed you, and I take great pleasure in what I have done. Speaking of Christ according to His human nature, which was created, and according to His role as mediator, in which He took our sins as His own, God looked down from heaven, saw that His eternal sinless Son had taken on a created human body and was willing to be sin for us, and God the Father was well pleased in Him for that.

But so far, all we have is good reason for Jesus not to be afraid. Still sounds like you and I should be afraid! Of course God is pleased with Jesus, but how can we become God’s people, so that God can be pleased with us, so that we don’t need to fear? This is where the waters come in.

The Genesis 1 pattern is that when God was forming the world, everything was formless and void, and the Spirit hovered over the waters. Then God’s voice “thundered” and the world emerged out of the waters, and God pronounced a blessing over it: “It’s good.” God’s powerful Word over the waters brings new life and blessing by His Spirit. In many ways, the Bible’s water stories follow this pattern: Noah’s flood, the Red Sea, the Jordan River, the Bronze Sea at the temple are all examples of water and the Word cleansing and recreating by the Spirit.

And so when we get to Luke and the baptism of Jesus, we have all the pieces in place: water, a voice from heaven, the presence of the Spirit, and a blessing. To use Isaiah’s language, Jesus, representing God’s people Israel, receives the sign of cleansing and new creation, is called by God’s name, and “created” for God’s glory through baptism.

So when Isaiah 43:5-7 also speaks of offspring gathered from all over, we aren’t surprised when Jesus also institutes baptism for His followers, and sends His Spirit to fall on them. That’s what we see in Acts 8:14-17, and that’s how we come to share in Jesus’ benediction: when by faith we pass through the waters and are baptized into Christ, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we put on Christ as new creations, sons and daughters of God in Christ, and therefore, God is pleased with us!

So since God has sent Christ to redeem you, and since He has washed Christ in baptism and sent His Spirit upon Christ, and given Christ His blessing, and since by faith you are in Christ, you do not need to fear this great and awesome and glorious God, or the power of His voice, or His flood or His fire, because you have been baptized into Christ! Fear not! God’s thunderous voice has called you by name, and you are His, and He is well pleased with you.

Posted on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 by CJ Bowen