On Baptism

It seems nearly self evident that we would consider and treat the doctrine of holy baptism on the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord. And it seems that whenever baptism is mentioned, someone wonders aloud or to themselves whether or not this churchly and ancient ritual is necessary unto salvation. Must we be baptized to be saved? To understand rightly and to grasp the significance of baptism, we must go to the Old Testament. Specifically we must consider three accounts: the Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus. These three accounts tell us much about baptism and what it is.

In Creation we hear that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Two things are present before the creative words, “Let there be light”: darkness and waters. It’s not that these existed without God’s will, but that from these, out of darkness and from the waters, God created all things. The darkness is there as a void and the waters are there without form. From the darkness God said, “Let there be light,” and out of the waters God created an expanse called dry land.

So in baptism, in the new creation. The light shines in the darkness of sin and death; the light that is the life of all men full of grace and truth: Jesus. And out of the waters the Lord creates a new land, a land of immortality and life given to those whom He chooses, the true Promise Land, the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Creation is a foreshadow of the new creation, the better creation, created by the Word of the Lord from darkness and the waters. In baptism all waters have found their true purpose, to bring forth the new creation of God. So when you see the ocean or the lake, or the water in your drinking glass, it is not simply water, it is the means by which God creates and re-creates. All waters are blessed by being filled with the word of the Lord and by His Spirit. True holy water is not blessed by a priest or pastor, true holy water is water that is used for the true purposes of water: to give birth to the land that is called holy, the Church of God.

So now we move from Creation to the Flood. In the 600th year of Noah, God sent a flood upon the whole earth to destroy man. That was the purpose of the flood, to wipe man off the face of the earth. Man was corrupt and vile, so God said to Noah, “I will send a flood upon the earth to destroy man with the earth” (Gen. 6:9-13). Yet God did not completely destroy mankind. A remnant was saved: Noah and his family, eight souls in all. This was not to prove God a liar – that all men were not destroyed in the flood – but to foreshadow that by a man who survives death, mankind would be redeemed and saved. Noah prefigures Christ who came through death.

So Man was destroyed by the Flood, yet man survived the Flood. St. Peter teaches us that baptism corresponds to this Flood. As it cleansed the conscience of mankind, leaving only righteous Noah and his family, so baptism now cleanses the consciences of all, leaving only the Righteous One and His family. Once again water finds its true purpose in bringing forth the righteous family of God, which are His saints.

Finally we must visit the Exodus, when Israel came out of Egypt and passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, being set free from Pharaoh and his army. With each successive account baptism comes ever closer into focus. Creation tells us that God will form His land out of water, with His Spirit hovering over. The Flood tells us that though man be destroyed and killed because of his sins and wickedness, yet he will live in the Righteous One. And the Exodus teaches us that the people of God will come through the waters that kill the hard-hearted, freeing His people from the slavery of sin and unbelief. But even more, we know from St. Matthew that the Lord Jesus came out of Egypt with Mary and Joseph in order to fulfill what was written, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus is Israel. He comes from the land of slavery through the Red Sea. But He does not stop there. He goes on through the wilderness and to the Jordan where Israel went from being nomads and tempted in the desert, to a nation with it’s own land, the Promised Land. They went from being not a people to becoming the people of God with whom God dwelt and made His home.

So Jesus is baptized at Bethany beyond the Jordan. He is baptized on the wilderness side of the Jordan so that in Him Israel re-enters the land. Not the land of Judea, but the land of the eternal dwelling where God dwells and makes His home. Everyone who enters here through His waters dwells with God and God with Him. Through the waters the Lord makes those who were not a people into His people and makes His home with them.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all Scripture. This doesn’t mean He simply or merely satisfies prophesies. It means He fulfills Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus, and everything in between. He is baptized to fulfill all righteousness, meaning that He is the sinner who dies in the flood; He is the hard-hearted that is drowned; and He is the Righteous Man by whom mankind is saved. So when He comes up out of the water the Spirit of God that hovers over the face of the deep lights upon Him and remains on Him who is the Man anointed by God to do the works of God; witnessed to by Pontius Pilate, “Behold the Man!”

Baptism then, is not a dead ritual or some rite of passage. Neither is it our commitment to God, as neither Creation, the Flood, or the Exodus were dead rituals or rites of passage or man’s commitment to God. Rather in Creation, in the Flood, and in the Exodus, the living God is committed to man and brings him through from darkness to light and from death to life. In baptism you are joined to Christ’s baptism; to His death and resurrection which is the baptism with which He is baptized. You are made new, re-created in the image of the Man of heaven, the everlasting man, the Righteous One.

By being baptized as a sinner, our Lord Jesus took on your sins, joined Himself to you that you might also come through the waters safely, following the Ark of the Covenant, which is Christ Himself, through the waters and into the Promise Land. And just as before when righteous Noah came through the flood and was given wine to drink and make the heart glad, as Israel came through the Jordan and planted vineyards and drank from its vines, so the Righteous One who came through the flood of death gives you His wine to drink to make glad the hearts of men.

It is necessary that the Christ be baptized, in order to fulfill all righteousness. So then it is necessary that we be baptized into Christ who is our Righteous One. Yet it is not the water that makes the baptism, but the word of the Lord. It was He who created through water in the beginning, and who saved man from the Flood, and who led His people through the Jordan on dry ground. And it is He who saves and makes alive in the fonts of the Church. It is He who saves you by His baptism, which is yours.


One Response

  1. Outstanding excursus. Thank you.

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