Dear people called by the name of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Does it ever feel like it is all slipping through your fingers? In our Old Testament reading we heard Jeremiah ask the LORD, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”, water that slips through your fingers before you can get it to your mouth to slake your thirst. The Bible tells us that Jeremiah had a hard go of it as the LORD’s prophet. He is often called the weeping prophet, and in addition to the Old Testament book bearing his name, he is also the author of the next book in the Bible, Lamentations. Jeremiah had a lot to lament, and it is often the case that we do also.
Because he spoke the Word of the LORD when people didn’t want to hear it, Jeremiah was persecuted. He bore reproach for the LORD. That means that when the people didn’t like what God’s Word said, they took it out on Jeremiah. As one who publicly proclaimed God’s Word he was isolated from the society that did not go along with what God had to say. He suffered the indignities for speaking out. To him, it felt like an incurable wound causing unceasing pain.
This wasn’t the way he thought it would be. When the Word of the LORD first came to him he found it a delight. He ate it up. He delighted in the Gospel when he realized that he was called by the very name of God. He was the prophet of the LORD, Yahweh, God of Sabaoth. So when Jeremiah began to experience the persecution and suffering for bearing that precious name, he wondered if it was all a deception on God’s part. It seemed that the wonderful things in God’s Word were not happening for him. Would the LORD be like a deceitful brook, a stream in the desert for the thirsty traveler that turns out bitter, polluted, and undrinkable?
We can relate to Jeremiah because we have experienced the same kind of disappointment and frustration and been driven to our wit’s end. After reading all of the wonderful promises in the Bible that God makes to His people, our lives still seem to be full of a lot of turmoil. We have been baptized with water and the Word of the LORD. We have been called by His name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The promises of God were a delight and we ate them up.
But then came persecution in our circles, being ridiculed or silenced whenever we tried to speak the Word of the LORD at school or at work or even among our relatives and friends. That’s where it hurts the most. We have experienced isolation when we have been the only ones to stand for what God’s Word has to say and everyone around us turns their back. We have suffered indignities as those with opposing viewpoints strike back with violence and hatred.
Were the waters of our Baptism a deceitful brook, waters that fail? “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” (Small Catechism. IV.1). This is how we have been called by God’s name. “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).”
When we have a baptism, it is a joyful event. Whether baby or teenager or adult, it is a cause for celebration. It is a delight for the whole family of God. We eat it up. Why? Because there are such precious promises attached to Baptism. “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. ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved’ (Mark 16:16)” (SC. IV.2).
Our lives in this world do not always seem to reflect those promises. Should those who are forgiven of all their sins suffer persecution, indignation, and isolation? Should those who are rescued from death and the devil continue to be tormented by temptations? Should those who have eternal salvation be afflicted with incurable wounds and unceasing pain, either physical or mental?
Have the waters failed? It may seem so when the joy and delight of heavenly treasures is overshadowed by the pain and suffering that we experience in this world. It may seem so, but it is not so. For all of the precious promises God has given to us in Holy Baptism are promises in Jesus. The pain and suffering, the rejection and persecution, actually confirm that these promises in Jesus have become our very own.
This week’s Gospel reading continues right where we left off in last Sunday’s Gospel reading. Simon Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” (Matthew 16:17). What joy and delight, a reason to celebrate and expect nothing but times of exaltation and success. However, that is not the way that this week’s Gospel continues the account.
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). That is not what Simon Peter was expecting, or hoping, or even willing to allow to happen. If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, shouldn’t He be worshiped and adored and revered by all the world? And shouldn’t His followers and those baptized in His name have a blessed life of glory and peace here and now?
Peter rebuked Jesus, “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). And Jesus replied to Peter, far differently this time, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23). The old sinful man, not just Peter, but all of us, want nothing but glory and adoration and peace, and we want it now. Or at least the absence of pain and suffering and indignation. The new man, Christ Jesus, came to suffer and die and to give His life. He came not to be served but to serve. He came to bear all of our infirmities, to be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53).
Dr. Martin Luther contrasted these two viewpoints as the Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross. The old sinful man likes the theology of glory: that God does everything to receive glory and honour from the world for Himself and for His people. But Christ exudes a far differing theology. He reveals the glory of God in suffering and the cross. He does this not to receive glory, for He is the source of glory. He does it, rather, to serve us, to love us, to save us through His humiliation and suffering. God’s glory is revealed in that He does not have to seek it. He even lays it aside and is still glorious. It is not a thing for Him to grasp (Philippians 2). But we come to know it in the cross and to receive it in lowly things like the water of Baptism.
In Holy Baptism, when He calls you by His own name, He shares this glory with you. You are called Christian and you live under the name of Christ in the world. You are God’s child and you live as His only-begotten Son in this world. This world hated Him and persecuted Him and killed Him, and if given the chance it will do the same to you. Jesus warned us about that: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Simon Peter did that very thing. He learned to set aside the theology of glory and embraced the theology of the cross. He recognized that to be with Christ is to be in the world as Christ was in the world, and to be in the presence of God as Christ is in the presence of God. Peter took up his cross and was killed upon it outside of the city of Rome.
Yet, called by the name of the LORD, as you are in Holy Baptism, Peter has those things that are promised to him: he is forgiven for all his sins; he has been rescued from death and the devil; and he has eternal salvation as the words and promises of God declare. Jeremiah has those things too, despite everything that he suffered and lamented. Called by the name of the LORD, God of Sabaoth, Jeremiah bore the reproach and indignation that the world has for the LORD. But Jeremiah also has the everlasting promises that the LORD gave to him. The turmoil of Jeremiah’s life did not negate those promises, but confirmed them.
The promises that the LORD declared to Jeremiah are the promises that the LORD gave to you in Holy Baptism: forgiveness of sins, “If you return to Me, I will restore you, and you shall stand before Me” (Jeremiah 15:19); rescue from death and the devil, “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (v. 21); and eternal salvation, “I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD” (v. 20).
The LORD was not a deceitful brook to Jeremiah. The waters of your Baptism are not waters that fail. They are waters that endure everything that the world can throw at us. The promises of Baptism are the promises of Christ that do not fail, and all of the crosses that you bear in this life serve to confirm that you are united to Christ in both His death and resurrection, His humiliation and exaltation.
Whatever indignities the world heaps upon you, you are still called by the name of the LORD, God of Sabaoth. The LORD remembers you and visits you with His redemption. The LORD takes vengeance for you on your persecutors and delivers you out of the hand of the wicked. The LORD does not cast you off in anger, but He is with you to save you and deliver you through the forgiveness of sins. All of these promises are yours in Christ Jesus whose glory is in His suffering and death on the cross to save you from your sins of frustration and hopelessness and even sins of accusing God that His grace for you has failed.
The waters have not failed. Every time you return to the LORD, He restores you. Every time, even now. The wicked continue to insult you but the LORD will make you a fortified wall of bronze so they will not prevail over you. The Church is built on the rock that is Christ and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He has called you by His own name so that you can speak His Word at school, at work, at home, on social media, not for glory but in order to serve others with the divine truth that alone can save. You will bear His cross after Him and find your life in His.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.