Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 14, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Turning Point)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Romans 6:1-11
"When Israel was in Egypt's land, let My people go. Oppressed so hard they could not stand. Let My people go. And the Lord said, 'Go down Moses, way down in Egypt's land and tell old pharaoh, let My people go.'"
It is one of the most memorable and dramatic turning points ever recorded in human history. It happened when Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, heard that the children of Israel had gone out of the land. Pharaoh and his servants said to each other, "What have we done? We've let the children of Israel go, out and we lost their services."
So Pharaoh had his chariot made ready, and he took his whole army with him. He took 600 of the best chariots in Egypt, and all the other chariots of Egypt as well with officers over each of them. The Lord, the God of Israel, made the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, stubborn so that he went after the children of Israel. And the children of Israel were going out with an uplifted hand, and the Egyptians, all the horses and chariots, all the troops and horsemen of Pharaoh, went after the children of Israel and overtook them when they were encamped by the sea.
As Pharaoh approached, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes and look, Egyptians coming after them. They were terrified and they cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say this to you when we were in Egypt? Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians because it would be better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."
Moses answered the people, "Fear not. Stand firm, and you will see the salvation that the Lord will accomplish for you this day. The Egyptians that you see today, you will never see them again. The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still." And the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Have the children of Israel move forward. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the waters so that the children of Israel can go through the sea on dry land, and look, I Myself will make the hearts of the Egyptians stubborn so that they will go in after them. And let Me glorify Myself over Pharaoh and all his strength, all his chariots and his horsemen. And then the Egyptians will know by experience that I am who I am when I glorify Myself over Pharaoh and his chariots and his horsemen."
Then the angel of God that was traveling with the army of Israel withdrew and stood behind them, and the pillar of cloud also went from in front and stood behind them, coming in between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. The pillar of cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other so that no one from either side went near each other all that night. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. And all that night the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind.
He made the sea become dry land and the waters were divided, and the children of Israel went through the sea with a wall of water on their right hand and a wall of water on their left. The Egyptians, they went after the children of Israel into the sea. During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire at the army of the Egyptians, and He threw them into confusion. And the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand and the waters will return and cover the chariots and the horsemen of Egypt." So Moses stretched out his hand and at daybreak the sea returned to its place.
The Egyptians were fleeing toward the sea, and it swept over them into the sea, and the water flowed back and covered the chariots and the horsemen, the entire army of Pharaoh, that had followed the children of Israel into the sea. Not one of them remained, but the children of Israel went through the sea on dry land with a wall of water on their right hand and a wall of water on their left. That day, the Lord saved Israel from the hands of Egypt, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. When the children of Israel saw the great power that the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, they feared the Lord and they put their trust in Him.
They trusted the Lord and Moses, His servant. It was their turning point. What have been the turning points in your life? I think about my life. I think about when my family moved from one side of the country to the other, and I had to leave all my old friends and make new ones. I think about the day I got married. I think about the birth of my first child and the second and the third and the fourth. What are the turning points in your life? What are the turning points of world history? What would you say—signing of the Magna Carta, invention of the light bulb, the D-day invasion of Normandy Beach, the day Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, the day the Blues won the Stanley Cup? Maybe, if you're from St. Louis.
There was a man from the ancient city of Tarsus. It's near the Mediterranean Sea in modern-day Turkey. His name was Saul, but later he went by Paul, and he wrote a letter. In that letter he described what he thought was the turning point, the point at which the universe got turned in the right direction. It was the crucifixion and the resurrection of this Man Jesus that Paul has come to believe is the Messiah, the Christ. See, Paul is Jewish, and he was raised with that story I just shared with you about the exodus from Egypt. That event was the turning point for his people, Israel, but Paul has come to see that that event was pointing to, was a pattern for, was foreshadowing another central turning point, the turning point, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.
Even more, Paul believes that there is a way for them, the people receiving this letter, and there's a way for you and I still speaking about Jesus 2,000 years later. There's a way for each one of us to be part of this turning point. Baptism—Baptism by water and the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Listen to how he says it in Romans 6: "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into the Messiah, into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him through Baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too would walk in a new life. For we know that if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection."
You see, we know that our old self, our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin would be done away with so that we would no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now, if we died with the Messiah, with Christ, we believe, we trust that we will also live with Him. For since we know that Christ was raised from the dead and He cannot die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. Death is no longer His master. The death He died, He died to sin, once for all. The life He lives He lives to God. In the same way, you count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in the Messiah, Christ Jesus.
See, Paul, he knows that the exodus got the children of Israel out of Egypt, but not out of slavery. They were still slaves because they still died, and they still died because they turned away, habitually turned away, from the God who gives life, just like you and I turn away from the God who gives life. So, Paul says that the only way out of this slavery is to die with Jesus, to be baptized.
Baptism is a portal that puts the baptized person on the cross with Jesus. You've probably heard people say that "Jesus took my sins to the cross," but how often do you hear people say, "Jesus took me to the cross. I died with Him there"? That's what Paul said. Your old self, my old self, has been crucified with Christ. If you've been baptized, that's what happened to you, and if you are going to be baptized, that's what's going to happen to you. You get transported through time and space into the world's most important turning point.
How can plain water do that? It's not the water on its own. It's the promise of God with the water. Think about how a promise works, especially a formal promise that's made in public, an adoption, for example. An adoption is built on a promise. It's not just a private promise that the adopting parents make to the child. It's a public promise made before the community, before a judge, and accountable to the community. It's legally binding and it's recorded on a document, a piece of paper.
Baptism is like that. When you get baptized, the God and Father of Jesus makes a promise to regard you as His own child to treat you as His own beloved son. So that means if Jesus got crucified, you are crucified. If Jesus is risen from the dead, you are risen from the dead. If Jesus is ruling over all things and is heir of the universe, so also with you. The water doesn't have the power to do this, but the water is a sign. It's sort of like how the paper of the adoption decree is a sign. The paper is the sign of the decree just as the water is the sign of God's promise, and this promise stands even when the person falls.
For example, if the child who is adopted decides that she wants to run away from her parents, it doesn't mean she's no longer adopted. She still belongs to them, but she won't receive the benefits of her adoption without a relationship with her parents. So also, if a baptized person drifts away from the Father of Jesus, they won't get the benefits of Baptism without a relationship with the Father. This is a relationship of faith. It's created and nurtured by hearing from God in His Word and talking to Him in prayer. "Without faith," Martin Luther once wrote, "Baptism benefits nothing, but even without faith, God's promise still stands."
I heard a story about a Baptism. I got it from a pastor in Southern California named Barney Wiggett. (Thanks Pastor Barney for letting me share your story.) So, Pastor Barney recommends on personal experience that if you want to do an ocean Baptism, you really ought to have a veteran surfer present. He learned this by personal experience. So, the Baptism spot that they chose that day was the 26th Street Beach in Santa Cruz, California.
Pastor Barney led the congregation out to the water, and they went through most of the baptismal liturgy on the shoreline. And as they walked into the water, Pastor Barney looked and noticed that there wasn't anybody else playing in the water that day on the 26th Street Beach. Reflecting on this later, he thought to himself, "Come to think of it, I never see anybody in the water in the shallows on the 26th Street Beach." So Pastor Barney and one of the deacons led the baptismal candidate out into the shallows, and together they turn, and they face the congregation.
Everyone's smiling at them, and Pastor Barney begins, "Based on your confession of faith in the Lord Jesus," and halfway through this sentence, he notices that all the looks on the congregation's faces change—like the children of Israel seeing the army of Egypt bearing down on them. The next thing Pastor Barney remembers is that he is lifted off his feet. Now, a veteran surfer would have been able to tell him that the reason nobody plays in the shallows on the 26th Street Beach is because on other beaches the waves, the big waves, you can see them coming from a long way off, but here they just sort of come up out of nowhere.
So Pastor Barney and the deacon and the baptismal candidate are lifted up to the heavens, and there is a moment of silence and then an earsplitting crash. They are raked over in the waves and washed up in the soup at the feet of the congregation. And the baptismal candidate, he stands up stoked and said, "Wow, was that it!?" Pastor Barney says, "No, I didn't say 'the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit' part yet." So they went back out, this time not so deep.
See, it's not a Baptism without the Word. It's not the drama of the event. It's not the heartfelt emotion wrapped up in the event. It's not even the water that makes the event what it is. It's the Word, it's the Name, it's the promise of the living God. By the Word of the Creator, water has great power. Water crushed the armies of Egypt. Water saved the people of Israel. By the sign of water in Baptism, God regards you as His own dear child. If you have not yet been adopted into God's family, give us a call. Let us connect you to a Christ-centered baptizing community to welcome you into the family.
If you've drifted from your Baptism, you're running away from your Father. You need to know that even when you get lost in the waves, God's promise still stands. Return to Him. Take hold of the benefits of your Baptism. Because you died with Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God. Whether it happened in a river or in the ocean, whether it was in a tepid pool or a gnarly barrel roll, whether you were an infant or a child or an adult, whether you've wandered, or you've stayed close, you can always return to God's promise in your Baptism. That was your turning point.
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me. Father, You welcome all Your children into Your family, through Your Son, Jesus. Always bring us back to the promise of Baptism. Remind us that we have been set free from slavery to sin and death. Turn us to life in You through Jesus, Your Son, because He lives and He reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
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Reflections for July 14, 2019
Title: Turning Point
Mike Zeigler: Once more, I have joining with me Deaconess Dorothy Glenn from St. Louis, and Pastor Paul Schult from the San Francisco Bay area. Today we are talking about getting to know Jesus, growing deeper in a relationship with Him through an understanding of the gift of Baptism. The concept of a visible sign of a personal commitment, I think, is a helpful way to get at what Baptism is. So what does that mean, a visible sign of a personal commitment? I think of a wedding ring; that would be a visible sign of my wife's commitment to me, and she has one that is a sign of my commitment to her. Can you, Dorothy or Paul, give other examples of a visible sign of a personal commitment?
Dorothy Glenn: I actually have my wedding ring tattooed on my finger. The story behind that is that my husband, Micah, travels a lot and he also has an autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it very difficult when he's traveling, and in general now for his wedding ring to fit. He knows and I know that we've committed to each other, but he wanted to show that visible sign of that commitment still, even though he can't really wear his ring. And so, he had it physically tattooed on, and then I had it, too, since he did his; I thought, "Why not?"
Mike Zeigler: That's good. So there's no backing out on this. It's tattooed.
Dorothy Glenn: Yep.
Mike Zeigler: That's exactly what I think we want to be talking about, especially as it relates to God's commitment to us. Isn't there a verse in the prophets that talks about, "I have etched you on the palms of My hands," or something like that?
Paul Schult: God knows this about us. He understands us, and His gifts are very fitting for our human condition. He knows exactly what we need, and He knows we need physical things that we can see, touch, and taste. When you talk about Baptism and the Lord's supper, He gives us things that we can hold on to that assure of us this reality of His faith. Relationships are intangible things; they deal with a lot of intangible things that we can't control, which is very unnerving for us as human beings. So God gives us some things we can hold on to, to help us with that.
Mike Zeigler: Dorothy, you're a mother of three younger children, and they've all been baptized as I understand. What do you teach them about their Baptism? Even though they probably don't remember it, how do you help them understand what they've been given?
Dorothy Glenn: The way that I teach my children about their faith has to do with what God has done for them. And so I think it's important to lay that foundation of who Jesus is and how He relates to them. And as they grow, helping them recognize that they are His child. So I don't necessarily focus on just saying you are a baptized child of God, but pushing that further to helping them understand the relationship that that means for them.
Mike Zeigler: It's not meant to be a one-time thing that's left in the past. It's meant to continue on with them.
Dorothy Glenn: It was the beginning of their relationship.
Mike Zeigler: Like an adoption.
Dorothy Glenn: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: Right, you would never adopt a child and just leave them at the courthouse, and not relate to them anymore. And so also with Baptism; it's the beginning of a lifelong maturing relationship. What about you? What are some things, Pastor Schult, how do you teach your children about their Baptism?
Paul Schult: One of the things you just do is you kind of celebrate it. My mom was really good. She still sends me a note on my baptismal birthday just to remind of me of that, of my identity. And so that's one of the things, is just reminding them that they were baptized. And that, like you said, for my kids that they were baptized as they don't remember their Baptisms, and so that's one way that it's real to them is that they have godparents that also send them a note on their baptismal birthdays, that were there, that were witnesses, that pray for them and care about them, and encourage their identity as a child of God. So all of those kinds of things just reinforce. And then our kids see, too, that we're godparents to other children, to other people, and that is another reinforcement that there's always conversations around these relationships that are all kind of connected to Baptism.
Dorothy Glenn: One aspect of the book that Pastor Schult wrote in addressing Baptism I loved was kind of flipping the idea of looking inward and having this commitment that varies, to focusing instead on the commitment that God has given to us. And you see that commitment in Romans: 6:3-7 in that, of course, the death of Jesus and His resurrection, and not only that but how it relates to us in that special and unique relationship then that we have with the Father. We're connected in that in our Baptism. He never leaves us nor forsakes us, and He continues to be the Shepherd for us.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Where Charity and Love Prevail" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)