Baptisms of suffering: Going through life’s deep waters

Series on baptism

Today’s message is about applying things we’ve learned about baptism to our lives when things get really difficult. The title is “Baptisms of suffering: Going through life’s deep waters.”

I would like to begin with a Scripture reading from Psalm 69 (vs. 1-3; 13-17).

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.

In this Psalm we encounter “the waters” once again. In this case they refer to times of chaos, turmoil and evil in David’s personal life circumstances.

We all know, of course, that we will face deep waters throughout our lives. Even though we have passed through the waters of baptism, the waters will continue to confront us.

And they become personified in all kinds of ways in various people and circumstances in our lives. Here in Psalm 69 David’s enemies are the embodiment of the waters. We saw this supremely in Jesus where he calls his suffering and death a baptism or water experience in several places.

We will all continue to have times of suffering, grief, persecution and testing. And along with Jesus we can say that these are additional water baptisms, or baptisms of suffering – where we go through the deep waters of life; where we are inundated by the deep.

Now, my point today is that if our times of suffering are in fact water baptisms, then, I believe, we can learn something from our literal water baptism that can help us get through these additional baptisms of suffering. We can learn something that will help us navigate the deep waters we encounter, so that in David’s words, “the deep does not swallow (us) up.” But rather by God’s grace and power we can pass through to the other side.

So here are two things to remember when the floods come.

1. God is able to defeat the waters

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – pictured in our water baptism – so he can continue to do so, no matter how they come at us. And we need to remember this.

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes the deep.

  • Psalm 65:7 speaks of God as the one “who stills the roaring of the seas; the roaring of their waves . . .”
  • Psalm 89:9 says of God, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.”

In the same way, God is able to still the seas for us– the churning, destructive, chaotic, forces of evil in our lives

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes all the hosts of the waters.

  • Psalm 89:10 says, “You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm” – referring to the creation.
  • Psalm 74:13-14 says – “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” – referring to the parting of the Red Sea.

In the same way God is able to defeat Satan, for us – that ancient serpent, who tests us and seeks to destroy us. As Paul says to the Romans in 16:20, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

It is an essential defining quality of who our God is, to say that God can defeat the waters and all their hosts.

So, we need not fear the waters! Not because they are not fearful, they truly are, and without God, we are without hope.

No, we need not fear the waters because our God is the Lord even over the deep. As Psalm 93:4 says, “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” The waters are mighty, but God is mightier. And so we should look to him in faith and hope as we go through our difficult times.

2. God will bring us through to the other side

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – portrayed in water baptism – so he can continue to deliver us. We need to remember this as we go through trials in our lives.

  • He might do this by lifting us up over the deep, and then setting us on dry ground, as with Noah
  • Or he might do this by parting the sea so that we can walk though it to the other side, as with Israel

 However God does it, he will not allow us to be swallowed up, but will deliver us and bring us to the other side. Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . . For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” He will be with us and he will save us.

David testifies to this in Psalm 18:16-19, again from his personal life experiences. “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me . . .”

We don’t know when he will do it, but we have this promise in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” And this gives us hope, even in our difficult times. God will bring us through to the other side.

Finally . . .

The other side of the deep waters will sometimes be the other side, that is, our death and going to be with Jesus and then the life that is to come in the new creation. And with regard to this, we can have strong confidence and hope that even the deep waters of death must submit to our God. Just as they did for Jesus, so they will for us – because Jesus goes before us and we are following in the path he has made.

  • We look forward to the day when Satan will be fully defeated. As Isaiah 27:1 says, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
  • And on that day there will be no more deep. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
  • And on that other shore, as Revelation 21:4 says, there will be no more death and no more tears.

Spirit baptism

Series on baptism

We’re still looking at baptism today, however we are doing something a little different as we move to the topic of Spirit baptism.

Being “baptized in the Spirit” is talked about in several places, although the key text(s) is connected to John the Baptist, and is repeated in all four gospels.

In John 1:33 God said to John, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain (Jesus), this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (See also John 3:34)

 In the first three gospels it comes not just as an identity statement about Jesus, but in the form of a promise from John. In Matthew 3:11 John himself said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Also in – Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)

 This foundational promise is repeated in Acts. In Acts 1:5, just before his ascension, Jesus said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” In Acts 11:16 Peter, quoting Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So this promise is emphasized in the New Testament.

Finally, this language of Spirit baptism also shows up in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” So the idea of receiving the Spirit as a baptism experience is firmly rooted.

But how is it that we can talk of –

Spirit baptism as a water experience?

Well, we’ve already seen how there can be both literal and figurative baptisms. The creation, the flood, the Red Sea crossing and Christian baptism all involve actual water. However, Jesus’ suffering and death is a figurative baptism. The water is used to speak of the evil and suffering that Jesus went through.

In a similar way, Spirit Baptism is also a figurative baptism. This baptism language works because the Spirit is often likened to water in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. God “pours out” the Spirit. Isaiah 44:3 says, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land. . .; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants . . ..” Joel 2:28 says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . ..” And in Acts 2:33, after teaching that Jesus received the promise of the Spirit, Peter says “he has poured out this that you both see and hear”; talking about Pentecost. In all of these, “poured out” is a liquid or water metaphor. The Spirit is likened to water.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. In John 7:37-38 Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Spirit baptism is here a drinking in of the Spirit.

3. When we drink, we are filled with the Spirit. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Both of these references parallel being full of wine and being full of the Spirit. In Ephesians it’s obvious. But it’s also true in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost the crowds thought they “were filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Peter says, No! It’s too early in the morning to be drunk! This is the Spirit of God coming down (Acts 2:15). We are not to be filled with wine, which is drunkenness. But we are to be filled with a different drink – the Holy Spirit.

Now all of this, as I am sure you have noticed, points to –

The difference between water baptism and Spirit baptism

Even though Spirit baptism is a water experience, this is a different kind of water than the water that’s involved in water baptism:

  • The waters of water baptism are the deep waters that represent chaos, evil and turmoil. To have these waters is not a good thing. That’s why God must act in power to deliver us from these waters so that we can pass through them to the other side.
  • The water of Spirit baptism is good water; drinking water. It’s the water of the stream, the fountain or the spring. It’s the living water of God that nourishes life. We don’t need to be delivered from this water, rather we are to keep drinking of it.

Just a footnote here: Our Christian tradition allows for flexibility in terms of how people are baptized through immersion or pouring, although certainly pouring is the traditional method. Let me just say that our practice has represented Spirit baptism  well,  and not so much the idea of crossing through the waters or death and resurrection.

Alright, despite the difference in the kinds of water, there are still –

Clear connections between water baptism and Spirit baptism

First, both have the core concept of baptism. The root word (βαπτω) means to “dip in liquid” (BDAG). I don’t think it’s helpful to argue about exactly how this happens. But I do think there was a lot of water involved. I think the best word that covers the full range of baptism language (figurative and literal) is “inundation” which means to cover with a flood, to overflow, to overwhelm, to deluge, to engulf.

  • To be baptized in water is to be inundated with water
  • To be baptized in the Spirit is to be inundated with the Spirit

Second, they are connected in terms of timing. Remember? Just after Israel came up from their water baptism, they were filled with the Spirit so that they were moved to sing prophetic songs to the Lord (Exodus 15; Isaiah 63:11). And also, just after Jesus was water baptized the Spirit descended upon him and he had the prophetic experience of a vision (Matthew 3:16-17).

This close chronological connection is also seen in the book of Acts. For example:

  • In Acts 2 Peter links in his teaching water baptism and receiving the Spirit
  • In Acts 8 the Samaritans received the Spirit not long after their water baptism
  • In Acts 9 Paul is baptized and received the Spirit
  • In Acts 10 Cornelius and his family received the Spirit just before water baptism
  • In Acts 19 some disciples in Ephesus are baptized and received the Spirit

Although there is variation in these stories, water baptism and Spirit baptism are closely connected in time.

Why is this? It’s because the coming of the Spirit is what brings about the new life that is symbolized by water baptism. Romans 6:4 tells us that baptism has to do with walking in “newness of life.” But, as John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Now as a part of this we could talk about the fruit of the Spirit which causes us to live in a new way. And we could also talk about the gifts of the Spirit that empower us for ministry in our new life. But the point here is that it’s the Spirit that gives us the new life that baptism points to. So they are connected.

Finally, let me say a word about –

Spirit baptism and Spirit filling

In Acts 2 the disciples are Spirit baptized, but it doesn’t end there. Later, in Acts 4, in a time of need, they are once again filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

So it is to be in our lives. The idea is that we receive an initial outpouring (baptism) of the Spirit in our salvation experience. Spirit “baptism” language seems to focus on this initial experience. But we are also to continue to be filled with the Spirit throughout our lives. The “filling” language can refer to the initial filling (Spirit baptism) or to subsequent fillings of the Spirit. Spirit baptism is meant to be the beginning of a life of being full of the Holy Spirit.

Let me end by asking –

Do you want to receive the Spirit?

Whether you need that first experience of the Spirit that brings new life and power, or whether you need another filling of the Spirit for refreshment and empowerment. Perhaps you are beaten down, weary and need help this morning. Wherever you are at, the promise is there for us to claim.

We saw this in John the Baptist’s words at the beginning. Let’s also hear the promise again in a different form from Jesus: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” – Luke 11:13

God wants to give us of his Spirit. As Peter says of the gift of the Spirit, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” – Acts 2:39.

All you have to do is ask! As Jesus said, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him – Luke 11:13.

How should we ask? The verses just before this teach us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). We are to be persistent and ask, search and knock.

Take God at his word. He is true to his promise. And God will give you of his Spirit in your life.

The cruciform shape of baptism

Series on baptism

We spent time last week looking at baptism and how it symbolically portrays the story of how God saves us. We got help in understanding this by looking back to several Old Testament water-crossing events, which also tell stories of salvation through water. For instance, Noah and the flood – the story of the salvation of humanity. And especially the crossing of the Red Sea – the story of Israel’s salvation from Egypt.

But my point today is that all of these stories of salvation are figures, types and foreshadowings. As I said before they are background. They look forward beyond themselves to another story; to the water crossing of all water crossings; to the story of salvation. And it is this that I want us to focus on, because this gives us further understanding into the meaning of water baptism.

Turn with me to the story of –

Jesus’ water baptism

Matthew 3:13-17 – 13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

John is hesitant to baptize Jesus because his baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus has no sin. So, John is saying, why should I baptize you? I need your baptism of the Spirit! But Jesus insists, because this becomes an opportunity for John to fulfill his purpose to reveal Jesus as the Messiah and for Jesus to begin his ministry as the Messiah.

16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Here is the five-fold pattern of Jesus’ water baptism:

1. When Jesus comes to the waters, he portrays that he is leaving behind his normal life to take up his ministry and calling.

2. By going through the waters he portrays that he is (already) free from sin and the powers of evil. With us baptism pictures our being forgiven and set free. For Jesus it’s simply a testimony to his freedom and sinlessness. God confirms this when he says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” There is no sin here. He doesn’t have to be saved, he is the Savior.

3. When he comes up out of the waters the Spirit comes as a dove upon him (think Noah). This is to anoint him to fulfill his mission. And of course this is where we get the word Messiah, or Christ, both of which mean “the anointed one.”

4. When he comes up out of the waters he is revealed as the new Israel; the leader of the remnant of the people of God, that John has gathered. He is identified as God’s son, a phrase that can refer to Israel in the Old Testament (Hosea 11:1; 1 Chronicles 22:10 describes the king/Messiah in these terms). Finally, a faithful Israel has come to fulfill God’s purposes.

5. After he comes up out of the waters he goes on into the desert (like Israel) where he shows his commitment to obey God. Right? Just after this Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).

So this is an important water crossing, but this isn’t the story we’re looking for! This is a significant story, but it, like all the others, only points ahead to the real story; to Jesus’ real baptism. No, the story of salvation that we are looking for; the water crossing of all water crossings is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. So let’s look now at –

Jesus’ death and resurrection as a baptism

  • In Mark 10:38, speaking of his death Jesus says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He calls his death a baptism.
  • In Luke 12:50, again, speaking of his death, he says,  “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 9:31 – “exodus”)
  • In a similar vein, in Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus says his death will be like Jonah’s water crossing. The story of Jonah is a classic water crossing. And Jesus makes this connection.

That he would use this “waters,” “baptism” language should not surprise us, when we think of what the waters mean: distress, testing, judgment, death. This certainly fits his cross experience.

Let’s look briefly now at Jesus’ death and resurrection as a water crossing:

  • The waters – Satan, judgment & Death – overtook Jesus, killing him. He was dead.
  • But God acted. These powers had no right to touch Jesus, he was sinless. So God intervened on behalf of the innocent Jesus.

1. Jesus leaves behind this world, the old creation that is passing away.

2. Jesus is set free from the powers of judgment and death; he passes through the waters.

3. Jesus is resurrected to new life by the Spirit. He has a new resurrection body.

4. Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity. The first born from the dead and the first fruits of many more to come (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Colossians 1:18.)

5. Jesus rules in righteousness at the right hand of God. He works to subject the powers, until finally death is overcome. And then he will hand the kingdom over to God (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

Now let’s make the connection between –

Jesus’ cross baptism and water baptism

Again, my point in all of this is to show that Jesus’ cross baptism is not just another water crossing, it is the water crossing of all water crossings. And as such it affects how we think about Christian water baptism. Baptism now has a cruciform shape. It is cross shaped.

This shows up clearly in Paul. When Paul talks about Christian water baptism, it is always in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection (In fact, Jesus’ water baptism is nowhere referenced in relation to our Christian water baptism).

Romans 6:2-7 – “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that 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.”

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Let me show you two ways that water baptism is cruciform from this passage. Water baptism symbolically portrays our death and resurrection. Or in other words the five themes of water baptism can be summarized by the cruciform rubric of death and resurrection.

 Let’s look at this in our text. The theme of  1. leaving behind/repentance matches – “we who died to sin” – v. 2. The theme of 2. set free/forgiven lines up with – “For one who has died has been set free from sin” – v. 7. This is about our death to the old.

The next three themes have to with resurrection to new life. 3. New life, 4. part of a new people and 5. a new way of living in obedience to God is described by Paul in the phrase – “newness of life” – v. 4. As well as the various references to resurrection.

So the five themes are cruciform. To pass through the waters, put simply, is to die and then be raised to new life.

Second, water baptism symbolically portrays our dying and rising with Jesus. First, we go with him through his death:

  • “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” – v. 4
  • “We know that our old self was crucified with him” – v. 6

 Then we are raised to new life with him:

  • Just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too” are raised – v. 4
  • We are “united with him in a resurrection like his” – v. 5

With regard to the symbolic meaning of baptism, we are not just going through the waters; we are going through the waters of Jesus’ cross baptism. In our water baptism we reenact, as it were, Jesus’ cross baptism.

What does it all mean?

It means that baptism is a cruciform marker. Those who receive it are marked by the cross of Jesus. It’s as if it is branded on our forehead. And we are now to live cruciform lives.

This is a life that is characterized by our dying and being raised. We die to sin and to the world and are empowered to live new lives of righteousness by the Spirit. We deny ourselves; our comfort our self-centeredness and are empowered to love others by the Spirit. We lay down our lives for others and we find true life in God.

Jesus’ story is now our story, and we are to live this way every day, on his behalf and for those who don’t know him. And we do this until we literally die and then when Jesus returns we are literally resurrected.

This is what our baptism was about. And that is what our lives are to be about.