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.

What water baptism means

Series on baptism

We are continuing on in our series on baptism this morning.

We know that baptism is important:

  • It was crucial for John the Baptist. Matthew 3:6 says, “They were baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” This was the proper response to his prophetic ministry.
  • Jesus used the symbol of baptism. A little later in time, John 4:1-2 notes, “. . . Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).”
  • Jesus commissioned his disciples, including us, to baptize. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” – Matthew 28:18-20.

But where does water baptism come from? And what does it mean? The answer is found in the water crossings that we looked at last time, and especially the Red Sea crossing. This is where it comes from, and this is how to understand what this symbolic water experience means.

From last week:

Slide2

You have a handout from last week – Passing through the waters chart  that summarizes the meaning of “the waters,” various water crossings and the five themes of water crossings and how water baptism fits with these ideas.

Today, I want to show you three ways that the New Testament makes this connection clear. So let’s dive in!

1. In the New Testament baptism is linked to these water crossings

The Flood is called a type of water baptism. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says,  “. . . eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” The word corresponds refers to an event that points forward to something in the future which is its counterpart. Another way to say it is that the flood gives us background and context for understanding what Christian water baptism is about.

The Red Sea crossing is called a baptism. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 – “ . . . our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” So here we have baptism language describing the Red sea crossing. Not only is it called a baptism, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10 it is used as an analogy to Christian baptism. These two things are alike.

So from these examples we can see that there’s a connection between water baptism and passing through the waters. Indeed, water baptism is a passing through the waters.

2. In the New Testament there is a historical connection with the Red Sea crossing

Remember that after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea they went on to fail in their commitment to God in the wilderness. So, that generation of Israelites never went into the promised land. Thus when Joshua entered the promised land with the next generation they crossed through “the waters” again; through the Jordan river. The waters upstream were stopped and they walked through it on dry ground (Joshua 3).

This was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing. God was symbolically reconstituting Israel after their failure in the wilderness. And then, low and behold John the Baptist comes baptizing people in the Jordan river! The symbolism is there to be seen. Like Joshua, John is calling for Israel to be reconstituted, to be made new. What I’m saying is that John was reenacting Joshua’s reenactment of the Red Sea crossing.

All we need to do, then, is recognize that Jesus continued John’s baptismal practices and we have an unbroken chain back to the Red Sea crossing:

  • Moses and the Red Sea
  • Joshua and the Jordan river
  • John the Baptist and the Jordan river
  • Jesus and Christian baptism

 Finally –

3. In the New Testament the five themes line up

 That is to say, the symbolism of Christian water baptism in the New Testament matches the five themes of water crossings that we looked at in the Old Testament.

  • The waters represent Satan, judgment, slavery to Sin and Death. These powers keep us away from God and seek to destroy us.
  • But God has intervened. Through Jesus God delivers us from Satan, judgment, slavery to sin and death. Because of what God has done, we are able to cross through to the other side.

1. When we come to the waters of baptism, we symbolically portray that we are leaving behind our old life through repentance. Our sinful past in the world is behind us now. This is our commitment.

As Peter says on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” Acts 2:38. Repentance means that we have a change of heart and mind so that we practice God’s will now. And repentance and baptism go together.

Here’s another way of saying it. Baptism portrays our death to sin – Romans 6:2-3. “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?” This is another way of talking about “repentance” – our old life in sin has come to an end; it’s dead.

2. When we go through the waters of baptism we symbolically portray that we are set free and forgiven. All the powers of evil can’t touch us anymore because our sins are forgiven. They have no claim on us. That’s why we can go through the waters safely to the other side.

In a baptism context Paul talks about how we are set free from Sin & Death, which are personified as powers, who enslave us and seek to destroy us – Romans 6:7

Once again, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. There is a connection between baptism and forgiveness.

3. As we come up out of the water on “the other shore,” as it were, we symbolically portray that we receive new life through the Spirit.

Baptism is associated with receiving the Spirit. After Peter’s invitation to baptism he says, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. Also, water baptism is connected to our receiving “newness of life” in Romans 6:1-4. I’ll say more about this later when we look at Spirit baptism.

4. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we are now a part of God’s people. We have switched communities and allegiances. We have left the world and we are now a part of the church.

This is the communal component of baptism. This is usually just assumed in the New Testament, but it does come out in several places. Luke says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41. These were added to the fellowship of believers, not just a spiritual, invisible reality but the actual, visible church of Jerusalem. They became a part of that congregation.

Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. . .” –    1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism incorporates us into a new community – the church.

5. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we commit to follow Jesus. We commit to a new way of life; to doing God’s will from now on just as Jesus has taught us.

Jesus talks about, “ . . . 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” – Matthew 28:19-20. Baptism is connected here to obedience to everything that Jesus teaches.

Peter calls baptism a “pledge of a good conscience toward God” in 1 Peter 3:21. This is covenental language, speaking to a commitment to do God’s will from now on.

 Slide3

I hope you can see in all this that baptism is rich in symbolic meaning and that it has to do with every part of beginning the Christian life. And anyone who comes to be baptized needs to understand what this all means and what they are saying when they go through it.

Let me end with a challenge. If there are any here who are not baptized this is an invitation to you. Is this what’s in your heart? If it is, I encourage you to seek this out as a public witness to your faith in Jesus. And I would be glad to talk to you.

And for those of us who are baptized, I ask, “Are you living out what water baptism means?” Maybe you did when you were baptized, but are you now? Make sure your life now lines up with what your baptism proclaimed.

For all of us, the world calls us to accept its symbols, its story, its values. But Jesus calls us to accept his symbols, his story, his values and to live out the reality of this before an ever watching world. Will you heed Jesus’ call this morning?

Passing through the waters: The background of water baptism

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.

 Slide2

Water baptism

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.

Slide3

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!