The Voice of the Lord Is over the Waters

“The Baptism of Christ” by Guido Reni

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“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:3-4).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

A common theme of our Psalm, Old Testament reading, and Gospel for today, the Baptism of Our Lord, is the mention of the voice of the Lord over the waters. The creation event begins with the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters. In addition to creation, the Psalm speaks of the Flood where the powerful voice of the Lord was over the many waters He used to cleanse and recreate His world. In the Baptism of Jesus, we see the waters of the Jordan and the presence of the Spirit in the form of a dove as the voice of the Lord speaks well of His beloved Son. Together, our readings provide a beautiful picture of what God has done in restoring His creation through His Son. Christ has come to make all things new (including you and me), and water and Word and the Spirit are used for His new creation just as it is was for the original.

Let’s look at this a little closer.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s interesting how the first two verses of Genesis read. God the Father is there, creating everything out of nothing. He’s not alone, either. The Spirit of God is present, too; and we know from John 1 that the Son of God is present, because all things are made through Him. So, the account of creation begins with the presence of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s worth also noting the first created thing that’s specifically mentioned. You’ve got an earth that is without form and void, and then you’ve got water. The Spirit of God is hovering over the face of the waters.

God goes on to create, and He creates by speaking. “Let there be light,” He says, and there’s light. He’ll soon call for dry land and seas, and there they’ll be. Likewise, sun and moon, plants and animals, birds and fish. He’ll take extra care in making man and woman, but He’ll speak all the same to create them. It’s a phenomenal miracle, this way of creating through the voice of the Lord. Our words, at best, are simply informative. They can give information, but they can’t cause anything to happen. But the voice of the Lord is different. When God speaks, His Word is effective or causative. He causes things to happen simply by speaking. He creates things simply by commanding them into existence.

And what He creates is good—and good means “holy” and “perfect.” When God declares something to be good, He means that it couldn’t be better—it is just as He designed it to be.

But then we all know what happened to this good creation. The voice of the serpent slyly asks: “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1). With a few words, the devil tried to undo everything God did. He tried to destroy Adam and Eve and all the birds and trees and fish and land. But the devil is not God. The Lord is able to call things that did not exist and bring them into creation with His voice. The devil cannot. As hard as the devil tries, he can’t just dissolve us away into nothingness. But the devil was able to mess up all of creation a bit. He was able to twist this perfect creation into something that looked a little more like him—a world wrenched with disobedience, people filled with thoughts of only themselves, men and women whose lives will ultimately end in death.

In Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, he says, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses” (Luther’s Small Catechism, p.15). This is true. Our loving Father has done all these wonderful things for us.

But as fallen creatures in this world, we could almost add a little something about what the devil does. “I believe that the devil has tried to destroy me and all creatures; that he has given me my cancer and my heart attack; he has given my eyes lust for pornography, my ears a love to hear gossip, and all my members he has plagued with wicked actions. My reason has been plagued by madness, and my senses slowly fail as this body of mine sinks closer and closer to death.”

Luther never wrote that creed. But as people who have been made by God, we must also admit that we have been twisted by the devil into things God never intended.

What has happened to God’s creation is so sad. How sad that His beautiful creation, His perfect people have been twisted into what we are. And God aches over this world and what has happened. He really does. God cries over what has happened in creation. God weeps every time we sin. The angels shudder every time we forget God; the saints cry when we forfeit life for death.

And so, Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan.

The Baptism of Jesus has a lot in common with the creation of the world. God is present there. The Son stands in the river, baptized. The Spirit of God hovers about the waters as He descends upon Jesus like a dove. The voice of the Lord thunders over the waters: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The presence of the triune God there is astounding. Creation is no longer good but corrupted by sin and dying. Rather than kick creation to the curb, though, God tears the heavens open and enters creation to save.

He saves by His own sacrifice, and that’s what the Baptism of Jesus is about. There’s no reason for Jesus to be baptized for Himself. Baptism is for sinners, and Jesus isn’t sinful. But He’s baptized with all those sinners because He’s taking their place. He’s going to bear their sins and their infirmities to the cross, and that journey begins in earnest at His Baptism.

He saves by speaking—speaking His powerful, effective Word that makes things happen. Usually when Jesus heals somebody, He does so merely by speaking. One might say that when Jesus heals, He is creating. He is creating health where sin has corrupted flesh, and He is creating life where death has put people into the grave. Why does Jesus do these miracles? There are a few reasons for the miracles He performs, but perhaps the most important is so that you may know He has the power to forgive sins. See, when Jesus says to someone, “I forgive you,” that’s His powerful, effective Gospel. By His Word, He takes sins away. He creates faith and makes life. The voice of the Lord makes sinners good—perfect, sinless, and holy in the eyes of God.

That is why you rejoice in your Baptism, no matter how long ago it took place. Like Jesus’ Baptism, your Baptism also has a lot in common with Genesis 1.

The triune God—who created the heavens and the earth—was present at your Baptism for you. You were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;” and the Lord Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The Lord was there. But rather than just zap you with His grace, He worked through means as usual—just like He uses the sun to channel light to you, He used water and His Word to baptize you.

The Spirit of God was present at your Baptism to wash away your sins, to give you forgiveness, faith, and life (Titus 3:5, 6). The Son of God was there, joining you to His death and resurrection, saying, “You don’t have to die for your sin because I’ve already died for your sin” (Romans 6:1-11). The Father was there, too; and for the sake of His Son who went to the cross in your place, the voice of the Lord goes out. He says, “You are My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” For the sake of Jesus, you are now a son of God and an heir of eternal life.

In your Baptism, you were born again. You are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16), because the same triune God who created all things in the beginning went to the cross to redeem His creation. Then He went to the font to create you anew. He drew that close to forgive you, specifically and personally. Nor has He left to watch from a distance. It is no coincidence that when Jesus instituted Baptism in Matthew 28, He promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Having created you anew, He sustains you with His Word and His Supper until He delivers you from this corrupted world to life everlasting.

So today, we celebrate not just Jesus’ Baptism, but we also celebrate that we have been united to Jesus through Baptism. Jesus has placed all of you in the water of Baptism, pulled you out, and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Your bodies are now remade. Your bodies won’t just be filled with cancer; they will be filled with My body, which promises you an Easter resurrection. Your souls do not have to lust anymore; now you can long for a life lived in Me. Your ears are now new; they will be used to hear My Word and to crave hearing the Good News of salvation. And your senses, even though they will slow and fail as death approaches, will tingle on the day of resurrection as all My children are raised from the dust of death to eternal life.”

Through water and the Word God created all things, and now through water and the Word you have been remade. God hasn’t abandoned you. He hasn’t forgotten the pains you have. He has called you to be new people in Him. And you are. You are new. You are forgiven. You are now alive, even though you were dead. In Christ, you will live even though you will die. The devil has tried so hard to destroy God’s creation, but he has failed. He has failed because God has not abandoned you. God has not left you. And God never will.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The sound of His voice brings forth creation, shakes the mountains and trees, and unleashes the great flood that destroyed the earth. Left to ourselves, we sinners might be destroyed by the power of the Lord’s holy, powerful voice. Yet “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to us in Jesus to speak His love and grace. In Baptism, the voice of the Lord is over the waters, flood and voice combine to cleanse us. Hearing the gracious voice of the Lord, we join heaven and earth in praise.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The Lord sits enthroned as King forever. May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace! Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins. How?

In the name of the triune God who created all things: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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