Baptism in Thick Darkness / Psalm 97 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 4th 2020 / Season Of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday March 4th 2020: Season of the Lent / Psalm 97 "Baptism in Thick Darkness"
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him
and burns up His adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness,
and all the peoples see His glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship Him, all you gods!
Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of Your judgments, O LORD.
For You, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of His saints;
He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to His holy name!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Most of the Psalms, like this one Psalm 97, often use language that points to other moments in Scripture. What we find then is a kind of collapsing of time, where as we read Scripture we suddenly discover that we actually stand together as Christians at the centre of events from the past and the future all woven together in Christ Jesus. This is why when you hear a potentially frightening phrase like “Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne,” a couple of different events in Scripture may come to mind. And when they are all put together you gain comfort even in the face of dread.
In Deuteronomy chapter 5 Moses says these words to the people after the giving of the 10 Commandments explaining what happened in Exodus chapter 20, “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live.” It was a shock to the people they were certain that Moses would die when he went up onto the mountain to speak with the Lord.
Near the end of the Old Testament the prophet Zephaniah speaks of the coming Day of Judgment when he says, “The Great Day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of The Day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is That Day, a Day of distress and anguish, a Day of ruin and devastation, a Day of darkness and gloom, a Day of clouds and thick darkness,” do these words sound familiar? The LORD described as being in the centre, enthroned in glory, surrounded by “clouds and thick darkness,” these words point also to the most important moment in all of history where we hear in the Gospel of Matthew how when Jesus hung upon the cross, “from the sixth hour [of the day] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” And in the think darkness of the crucifixion there was a voice, a loud voice from the mighty man hanging beaten and bloodied nailed to the wood of His cross, a voice that did not give the law again that day but rather said, “It is finished,” and after those words He added no more, He simply bowed His head and gave up His spirit. In that moment our righteousness Jesus, who while the panicle of justice in all He ever said and did unjustly died even though He was and is a man, the only man, who ever died, or ever would die as a man without sin of His own. This then is the foundation of His throne, His Holy Cross, an instrument of death that becomes a fountain of glory and from His riven side there flowed forth water and blood a washing of regeneration.
In the days leading up to His crucifixion during that first Holy Week Jesus spoke of His coming crucifixion when He said to those gathered around Him “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” And what does Psalm 97 say, “Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of Your judgments, O LORD … Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to His holy name!” That name which is glorified by God the Father.
Psalms like Psalm 97 and many parts of Scripture all point to Jesus upon the cross, enthroned in a kind of glory alien to a World obsessed with power and might a kind of power and might beyond the understanding of men demonstrated in humility and sacrifice, in service and love. Everything hangs on that cross, all of your sins, all of your hopes, all of your dreams for your future life in eternity with Christ. In fact your baptism hangs on that Cross too. As St. Paul explains, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The Small Catechism includes that verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans as an answer when the question is asked, “What does such baptizing with water indicate?” This promise of God given through St. Paul links you directly to the life, and the historic suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Your baptism into Jesus means “[y]our old self was crucified with [Jesus] in order that the body of sin [which rages within your members] might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For,” as St. Paul says, “one who has died has been set free from sin.” This means you are free in Christ to cast away every worthless idol, every false god that seeks to entrap you for they are nothing; this means you are free to “love the LORD, [and] hate evil!” As it says in Psalm 97 God the Father in Christ Jesus promises to “preserves the lives of His Saints, [your life as a baptised child of God]; [Yes, like the Psalm says] He [promises to deliver you] from the hand of the wicked [in The Day of Judgement].” This deliverance happened initially at the cross as Jesus was crucified there on that first Good Friday and has been applied to you in your baptism, the day you were baptised, not simply with the water alone but with the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. The holy Word given by the resurrected Jesus Christ when said to His disciples as He ascended into heaven 40 days after that first Easter, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So while it is true that your sin links you to the cross it is also true that at the cross Jesus took your sin on Himself, as Scripture says, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God,” and now in the righteousness of Christ which has been poured over you in Holy Baptism by that same baptism you are again linked to the cross of Jesus and to Jesus nailed there for you. Time flattened: each one of us like a thread sown into the heart of Jesus’ death and into the heart of His resurrection from the dead.
So when the mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth when He comes on The Last Day; when His lightnings light up the World, when the earth sees it all and trembles; when the fire of The Last Day goes before Him and burns up His adversaries all around … on That Day as one who is baptised and believes you need not be afraid, for you are sown into the heart of Christ by your baptism into Him. You can rejoice in the LORD, on That Day and every day because you have been made righteous in Him. And for today, if you feel the thick darkness surrounding you and you are tempted to dismay and feel alone remember you are not alone, in the midst of the thick darkness Jesus is there just as He was in His suffering so He is in yours. The Think darkness does not remove the promise of your baptism. Remember how in the book of Revelation, “one of the elders addressed [Saint John asking him], “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [And Saint John] said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to [John], “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” So like Psalm 97 teaches and like the hymn “Hark! A Thrilling voice is Sounding” says, “so when next He comes in glory and the world is wrapped in fear, He will shield us with His mercy and with words of love draw near.” Amen.
Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Deuteronomy 5:22–24
 Zephaniah 1:14–15
 Matthew 27:45
 John 19:30
 John 12:27–32
 Romans 6:3–4
 Romans 6:6–7
 Matthew 28:18–20
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Revelation 7:13–14
 “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding” Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Pg 345 vs 4.