Gather at the River of Life and Death
The Jordan River is a place of life and death, of departure and arrival. Its waters are both knives and wombs, cutting away the old and giving birth to the new. Here Moses passes away in a desert land while Joshua passes over to the land flowing with milk and honey. Here Elijah departs in his fiery chariot while Elisha is filled with a double portion of his spirit. Here John, having baptized the Messiah, decreases while Jesus increases. And here you must decrease, must depart, must die, must become nothing, that out of the nothing you become, the Father might create you anew.
Our forefathers, the Israelites, had staggered around the circle of death in the wilderness for forty years. Then, with a whole generation of corpses buried behind them in the desert sand, they stood face-to-face with the Jordan River, ready to enter the promised land. The Jordan was the river of a new exodus, better than the one their fathers had experienced four decades ago at the Red Sea. Then, their enemies had snapped at their heels like mad dogs; now, their foes cowered in fear behind Jericho’s high walls. Then, they entered the lifeless desert; now, they step into God’s holy land.
The Ark of the Covenant, where the Word became present and dwelt among them—that Ark would open the door that led from the old to the new, from death in the wilderness to life in the land. Borne upon the shoulders of the priests, it was carried to the brink of the Jordan. When the feet of the ark-bearing priests touched the water, the river was rent in twain, like a veil in the temple, opening up the way to the Promised Land beyond. And so, as God stood upon His Ark in the middle of the Jordan, His people passed over on dry ground, into the land called holy. For forty years they had decreased, departed, and died, become nothing, that out of the nothing they had become, the Father might create them anew as His chosen people, holy and blameless before Him.
Therefore when Jesus is ready to be baptized, He epiphanies Himself at no other river than the Jordan. How could it be otherwise? On the bank of that river stands the church, watching as John the Priest baptizes Jesus, who is the New Ark of the Covenant and the New Priest and the New Joshua and Yahweh-become-flesh. Jesus was all this, and more. Here are no golden cherubic wings upon the old ark of the covenant but the wings of the Spirit’s dove landing of Jesus the new Ark. Here the waters do not split; rather, the heavens themselves are rent asunder, the doors are thrown open, the way is prepared.
It is prepared for you. And God knows you need it. For all you have prepared for yourself is destruction. For just like Israel of old, you prefer the comforts of slavery to the struggles of freedom, the pains of pilgrimage. The manna God provides is never tasty enough. God never lives up to your expectations. So silently or audibly you wish for an easier way. You hanker for a way unencumbered by stubborn children, troublesome spouses, meager incomes, failing health. You want an easy way with an easy God. But God has not called us to ease but to battle, to readiness for whatever cross He places upon us.
Get out of Egypt and, more importantly, get Egypt out of you. Leave the wilderness of sin and death. Cross the Jordan. For the way is prepared; it is prepared for you. The ark of Christ has been painted red with the blood of His atonement, shed for you on the altar of the cross. All the Jerichos of your sin and death have been conquered in His resurrection; the strongholds of Canaan have been vanquished in His empty tomb. There is nothing and no one to fear.
At the Jordan of your baptism you died, nothing you became, that the Father might create you anew. And so He has. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new you has come. You are the Father’s beloved son, in whom He is well-pleased. The water of the Jordan has cut away the old and given birth to the new. And now you live, you live with the Life that is not your own and will never be taken from you.
You live in the One who is one with the Father and has become one with you. Jesus placed Himself in the Jordan River, so that in Baptism He might place you inside Himself. You are baptized as a member of His body, as intimately connected to Jesus as a finger is to a hand, as skin to muscle, as muscle to bone. His life flows into you as freely as the water flows onto you in Baptism. You are permeated with God, filled with Him who fills all things, and fills you in particular with forgiveness, everlasting life, salvation, peace, all the riches of heaven.
So as did Israel of old, you too cross into Canaan. In Jesus, you walk into the Holy Land. Ascend to the New Jerusalem and kneel at the altar of a new and better temple. Open wide your mouth to drink the milk of Jesus’ blood and to eat the honey of His flesh. It is all yours for God has made you all His.
This meditation is included in my book, Christ Alone, which was announced this week as the winner of the 2014 KFUO Book of the Year. Click here if you’d like to purchase a copy from CreateSpace. It is also available on Amazon. You may also be interested in my book of hymns and poetry, The Infant Priest, which is available here, or my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!