Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Sunday after the Ascension (Exaudi) + May 13, 2018
Text: Ezekiel 36:22-28
Don’t be fooled by the title, “Old Testament.” It’s not old like your flip phone that sits forgotten in the junk drawer. It’s not old like an old clunker that rattles when it gets up to freeway speeds. It’s old in the way that it came before the current generation. It spans more time than what is new, and yet still remains true. It’s old because the new came—but unlike the old sinful nature and the new man—both Old and New Testaments are priceless. The Old points ahead to the New, and the New builds on the Old.
In fact, neither is complete without the other. The Old Testament is left longing for fulfillment, and the New Testament is no more than a story about quirky followers of Jesus without what came before it. The Old is therefore full of shadows, but the flesh of Christ which casts that shadow is in the New.
It’s with this in mind that we hear both the shadow and its fulfillment from the Prophet Ezekiel:
“24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:24–28)
For Ezekiel and the exiles of his day, this was a future promise, but for us it is a present reality. It’s Baptism. Pure water, a sacred cleansing, a new heart and spirit, the Holy Spirit within. We return to the Small Catechism and review:
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
It is our tendency to make Baptism a past action. In the most extreme example, a person will call the church after many years and say, “I was baptized there,” to which the pastor says, “And where have you been in the meantime?” But we also find ourselves putting our Baptism in the rearview mirror:
- In Baptism, God adopted us as His own children and became our Father, but how is our prayer life? Do we talk to him constantly or do we put him in the proverbial nursing home and only visit him on Sundays or when He nags us?
- In Baptism, God joined us to Christ in His innocent suffering and death, but how often we find ourselves weighed down with a guilty conscience, living things over again in our head.
- In Baptism, we were also made fellow heirs of Jesus’ resurrection, but we magnify the cares of this life so big that even God couldn’t help us when finances or health are at risk.
What God did for you in the water of Holy Baptism is not just in the rearview mirror. It’s right in front of you today and it still holds true for tomorrow. While in it you have the forgiveness of your sins (“clean water to cleanse you from all your uncleannesses”), Baptism is the foundation for our whole life as Christians.
Uncleanness in the heart spreads to the rest of the life. As Jesus said, “45The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) An unclean heart will give birth to many evils, even among church-going Christians—adulterous thoughts, jealousy, greed, pride, doubt, gossip, factions, rebellion. Left unchecked, it just keeps festering and even growing. The insidious thing is when we turn a blind eye. It’s much more comfortable to point these things out in others than to be naked before God, exposed by His holy Law.
That is precisely God’s purpose: to expose our uncleannesses and the ways we have profaned His Name among the people we live. It’s to bring us to our knees and empty us of excuses and pointing the finger.
But God brings glory to His Name by sprinkling you with clean water—“not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).
How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
Baptism has the power to bring forth a new creature, reborn according to God’s glorious plan. God is continually at work in the believer: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
But God is not done yet. Jesus ascended into heaven in order that He could send the promise of His Father (Luke 24:49)—the Holy Spirit. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” It’s God’s action which comes first, then the obedience. As Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good.” God’s Spirit keeps us in this faith, and causes us to live godly lives.
 Colossians 2:17