Series on Baptism
I want us to begin a study today on the meaning of water baptism. For those of us who have been baptized I hope this will help us to understand what we have done. And for those who haven’t yet been baptized, this becomes an opportunity for you to consider this important step for yourself.
Some of this might be new to you or even sound strange, especially today as we look at this background material, but I think you will see how it all fits together as we go along.
We’re talking about passing through the waters, so let’s start by looking at –
“The Waters” in Scripture
In the Scriptures “the waters,” “the deep” and “the sea” represent chaos, turmoil and evil. We’re not talking about spring water that can give life, but deep waters, which can threaten us. I remember as a child, once when I was swimming I ventured out into the deep waters of the pool and was quickly overwhelmed and would have drowned if someone hadn’t stepped in to save me. This is the kind of water that we’re talking about.
Here are some examples:
1. The waters speak of distress and testing in our lives. In Psalm 69:14 David prays, deliver me from “my enemies and the deep waters . . ..” Deep waters here are the hard times and persecutions he is going through. Still today we talk about going through deep waters, from this imagery from the Psalms and other Scriptures.
2. The waters are connected to death. In Psalm 69:15 “the deep” is the same as “the Pit,” or Sheol, the realm of the dead. In Psalm 18:16 “the waters” are the same as death and Sheol (vs. 4-5). (In Psalm 124 the waters represent death. In Jonah 2 the deep is the same as Sheol)
3. The waters are the abode of powerful, demonic sea serpents. Stay with me here . . .. In Hebrew the word “sea” is the name of a Canaanite sea monster – “Yamm” (Psalm 74:13; Habakkuk 3). This dragon, as we will see, is also called “Rahab” or “Leviathan.” Revelation 12:9 identifies Satan as “that ancient serpent.”
4. The waters are associated with empires that seek to destroy God’s people. Isaiah 17:12-13 says, “The nations roar like the roaring of many waters, but God will rebuke them, and they will flee far away.” Revelation 17:15 says, “the waters . . . are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.”
Often these nations incarnate the dragon or they are described as various other kinds of sinister beasts. In Isaiah 30:7 Egypt is Rahab. In Habakkuk 3:13-15 Egypt is Yamm. (Also Ezekiel 29:3-4 and 32:2-7 speaks of Egypt as the great dragon.) The four world empires of Daniel 7 are pictured as different beasts that come “up out of the sea” (v. 3). (Also Revelation 13:1)
5. The waters are connected to judgment. God harnessed the destructive powers of the waters to destroy the world with the flood and then put them back in their place – Genesis 6-8. Also, God used Babylon, pictured as a serpent and the waters, to judge Judah – Jeremiah 51:34. (Also Jonah 2)
6. The removal of the waters is a sign of the end of evil and a new creation. Isaiah 27:1 speaking of the last day 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.” Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . and the sea was no more.” In the new creation these waters will be gone.
So we see in all this that “the waters” have to do with distress, judgment, evil, Satan, destruction and death.
Passing through the waters
If this is what the waters mean, now we must ask, “What does it mean to pass through these waters?” What patterns are there that help us to understand what this means? There are a number of water crossings in the Scriptures. We will look at three major ones and especially the Red Sea crossing.
We start with passing through the primordial waters of creation. When we begin the story in Genesis 1:1-2 the chaotic waters, “the deep” covered the lifeless earth. But then God acted to defeat the deep. He divided the waters into the waters in the sky and the waters on the earth, and he put boundaries on the waters of the earth so that they couldn’t cover the whole earth.
Now although it’s not prominent in Genesis chapter one, there is a battle going on. When God divided the deep and then bounded the waters of the sea, he was fighting with and defeating “the deep.” We see this in several texts. Psalm 89:9-10 describes God creating in this way, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass.” Job 26:12-13 speaks of God creating in this way, “By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” [Other texts on the creation where the waters are personified: Proverbs 8:28-29; Psalm 104:5-9; Job 38:10-11.]
So the creation involves a display of God’s power that overcomes the deep and bounds the sea, which is likened to the slaying of a great sea monster. And because of this, five things happen, which reveal the five themes of most, if not all water crossings in Scripture:
1. The chaos and darkness of the waters are left behind.
2. The earth was set free from the waters. God brought the dry land up out of the waters. The land, as it were, passes through the waters of the deep to come up and out of them to form dry land (2 Peter 3:5.)
3. God formed life (animals, plants, humans) and breathed Spirit into Adam. There is a new life/Spirit theme. [A parenthetical note: If we look at #2 and #3 together we have a birth scene: A baby is unformed in the waters of the womb – a place that is dark. The earth is formless and void, in water and darkness. But then the baby passes through the waters of birth and comes out formed and alive and it receives spirit or breath. The earth comes out of the waters and becomes a place of life. So, the creation is, among other things, a birth scene.]
4. Adam and Eve began the human family/community. So there’s a communal theme.
5. Adam and Eve received God’s instructions. God gave them charge over the animals and plants and told them what they could and could not do. So there is an obedience to God theme.
Let’s look at another example, passing through the waters of the flood. We see the same pattern here. God released the waters that he had bound at creation to judge and destroy all of humanity. Yet God provided an ark for Noah and then sent the destructive waters away showing his continuing power over them.
Again we have five things that happen which reveal the five themes of water crossings:
1. Noah left behind the old corrupt world of sin – Genesis 7:1.
2. Noah was set free from judgment and destruction. He passed over the waters unharmed.
3. Noah received the sign of new life (a leaf) from a dove – Genesis 8:8-12. (Also God sent a wind/spirit to dry the land – Genesis 8:1). The dove is a symbol of the Spirit in Jesus’ baptism. This was a renewal of creation. [And also a rebirth.]
4. Noah began a new humanity/community. It was a new start.
5. Noah committed to do God’s will, the Noahic covenant found in Genesis 8-9. This was to guide this community in righteousness.
Finally, we look at the most important water crossing in the Old Testament in terms of the background to water baptism, passing through the waters of the Red Sea. Again we see the same pattern. As the Israelites tried to escape Egypt, the waters – Pharaoh (seen as a serpent, as we saw before) and the Red Sea (literal water) – sought to judge and destroy them. The sea blocked them as Pharaoh’s army came to kill them. God acted, however. He defeated the waters. He divided the sea, making a path for Israel, and then destroyed Pharaoh.
Here again we see God battling the sea and its hosts. Isaiah 51:9-10 says, “. . . Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?” Psalm 74:13-14 says, “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons of the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” [Other texts on the Red Sea crossing where the waters are personified: Psalm 77:15-20; Psalm 106:9-11.]
God displays his power in this battle. He made a way for his people to pass through the waters. And again, five things happen which reveal the five themes of water crossings:
1. Israel left behind their old lives of slavery and misery in Egypt. They had already begun this process in coming to the Red Sea, but they completed it because of what God did.
2. Israel was set free from judgment and destruction. They went through the waters safely to the other side.
3. All Israel had a Spirit experience and rejoiced at new life. The Spirit came down upon them after they came up out of the water (Isaiah 63:11) and they all prophesied (Exodus 15:1-21).
4. Israel became a new people, the people of God. As a community they took on a new identity.
5. They committed to obey God by following the Mosaic Law. After they came out of the waters, they traveled to Mt Sinai to receive God’s Law. This gave order to their new life as a people.
As you can see, the themes of these water crossings line up with the themes of water baptism. The waters of judgment and death control us and seek to destroy us. But through Jesus God delivers us from judgment and death.
1. We leave behind our old life in the world through repentance.
2. We are set free from the evil powers. They cannot harm us anymore because our sins are forgiven.
3. We receive new life through the Spirit (new birth).
4. We become part of God’s new people, the church.
5. We commit to follow Jesus.
Next week we will make the scriptural connections between these five themes and water baptism in the New Testament.
I would like us to end today with an affirmation of faith and thanks to God. God is indeed more powerful than the waters! God is more powerful than evil! God is able to deliver us and help us in our time of trouble! This should lead us to praise God. What a powerful God! And his love for us is just as strong!
The words of Psalm 93:1-4 are true:
L: The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty.
P: The Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
L: Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
P: Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
L: The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice.
P: The floods lift up their roaring.
All: Mightier than the thunders of many waters. Mightier than the waves of the sea. The Lord on high is mighty!