Sermon for Wednesday after Invocavit - Exodus 15:22-27 - February 25, 2015
1) The sons of Israel had just witnessed the Lord’s great salvation at the Red Sea. With Pharaoh and his host drowned in Red Sea waters, Israel is finally free from their enemy. Pharaoh can no longer pursue them. Their taskmasters are in the past, never to torment them again. In this great freedom they set off into the wilderness of Shur under the guiding hand of their shepherd, Moses. But the Lord’s salvation worked at the Red Sea quickly becomes an event of the past with no meaning for the Israelites in the present. Three days into their journey they have no water. If I remember correctly, the old adage is that you can make it three days without water before you will die of dehydration. The Israelites, only three days after being miraculously saved by the Lord, are on the verge of death. To make matters all the more hopeless, when they do come upon a water source, the waters are bitter and undrinkable. So they call the place “Marah” for Marah in Hebrew means bitter. At death’s door, suffering dehydration, and staring at water they can’t drink, they complain against Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”
2) The Lord provides, as He had promised to do ages before. The Lord shows Moses a tree that Moses is to hew down and cast into the bitter waters. This tree, once cast into the waters, not only de-bitters the waters but makes the waters sweet. Thus the Lord demonstrates that He can take that which causes death and not only neutralize it, but make it into something sweet for His Israelites. The Lord then tests them, reminding them that if they abide in His Word He will continue to provide for them in the wilderness. Not only does the good and gracious favor of the Lord include provision but it includes protection from the plagues which He unleashed upon Egypt. The Lord demonstrates His special care for Israel in what He does with water. He strikes the Nile to turn it into undrinkable blood as judgment against the Egyptians. He casts a tree into the bitter waters and makes them drinkable and life-giving for Israel. Here He demonstrates what He says, “For I am the Lord who heals you.” Having tested Israel with this bitter water, the Lord leads them to Elim where there are twelves water wells and seventy date-palms. The Lord demonstrates His goodness and gracious provision to Israel in the desert but quenching their thirst at Marah and then by leading them to a perfect oasis in the desert before they begin their trek to Sinai.
3) St. Paul writes in Romans 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” What patience and comfort does this Scripture teach us? First, we see the faithfulness of the Lord to provide for His Israel. Not the modern-day nation state. The true Israel of God, which is the Church. The Lord will provide for all the needs of His people in the wilderness of this life. We trek toward the true Promised Land, paradise with Christ at our deaths and resurrected life on the Last Day. As we traverse through this sinful world we often lack. We often are allowed to suffer. But the Lord promises to graciously provide in our lack and suffering. Our Lord Jesus gives us many promises to this effect in the Gospels. But here in this text from ancient Israel we see an illustration of this provision. The Lord will provide when you seem to have nothing. He may let you suffer for a brief time, but this suffering is the Lord disciplining His sons. Didn’t God the Father allow His Only-Begotten Son to suffer hunger in the wilderness forty days? Didn’t God the Father allow His Only-Begotten Son to suffer the severest temptations of the Devil in the wilderness? And didn’t God the Father, after Christ’s faithfulness to God’s Word, provide the holy angels to minister to His Only-Begotten Son? The Lord told Moses, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22) Israel suffers but the Lord provides for His Israel in the midst of suffering. The Only-Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God begotten from all eternity who is of the same essence as the Father, is allowed to suffer, but His Father provides for all His needs as well. So the Lord will provide for all your needs of the body. That is what He does for His Israel in the wilderness.
4) He provides much more for you than food and water. Remember, “Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) He provides for our true need, our spiritual need. He does this through His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments. Today Moses shows you a beautiful picture of your baptism. Here is water, bitter water which would normally cause death. The Lord’s Word and command turn that bitter water into sweet life-giving waters. The Word and command of God show Moses a tree which He is cast into the water. This is what your Lord Jesus does in Holy Baptism. He takes plain water and casts the tree of His cross into baptismal waters so that instead of being something which would normally cause death, going down into baptism water brings life. For “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water contained in God’s command and combined with God’s Word,” as Dr. Luther teaches us from the Holy Scriptures. Casting the tree of the cross into that water, it becomes water that “Works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promise of God declare.” The de-bittered waters of Marah saved the Israelite’s physical life. The de-bittered waters of Holy Baptism save you, as St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21 and St. Paul says in Titus 3. In Holy Baptism Christ forgives all your sins, gives you life, and eternal salvation. These promises of God attached to baptism are what make it a sweet bath of everlasting life in the wilderness of our sinful world.
5) Having saved you in baptismal waters, those waters become something you can return to each day. Since it was the Lord God who baptized you and not yourself, your baptism is His doing and not your own. Since it is water combined with God’s Word, the promises given in baptism cannot fail in spite of your sin. The medieval church taught that sins committed after baptism were not covered by baptism, so the sacramental system slowly developed. But your baptism remains. Luther writes beautifully of baptism in the Large Catechism. He writes, “Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man; and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. For this reason let everyone esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practice the work whereby we are Christians. But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.”
6) Through Holy Baptism, the Lord brings us through the wilderness of this sinful world by forgiving our sins. He promises to save us from the wretched temptations of the Devil. He places us in that holy oasis of twelve water-wells and seventy date-palms, which is His Holy church because it is based upon the teaching of the twelve apostles. Here we find our rest and refreshment, enjoying the doctrine of the Gospel preached to us and given to us baptism and looking forward to our entry in the true Promised Land of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.