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A Few Stories About Water: My Water Story

December 13, 2011 6 comments

The story takes place in June 2003 at the Eau Claire River. A bunch of people are gathered together on the riverbank waiting for God to do something miraculous. And He does. I was baptized by Matt Ness (multi-year winner of J-Bear’s Top Ten All-Around Best People Award) in that river. I knew the moment was loaded with meaning. But much more was going on than I realized.*

Here’s what I did know: Jesus was baptized and I wanted to follow Jesus and be like Him. The main action of Jesus’ story happened after His baptism, and I wanted the main action of my life in Christ to begin. I knew that believers in Jesus throughout history had been getting baptized as a sign of their belief and pledge to a faithful life. I knew that the baptism of believers was a symbolic representation of being buried with Christ and raised to new life. These are wonderful things, but I think there is more.

Some of our epistle writers in the New Testament hint at these connections.

1 Peter 3:20-21

…when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

These guys were good interpreters. As we’ve been learning, baptism corresponds to the Re-Creation story of Noah and the Flood. Baptism represents the evil in us, that part of us that would distort the image of God in us and destroy it in others, being wiped out by the floodwaters. We were ruining the world and ruining ourselves and Jesus saved us. We were saved from the judgment of evil in the destruction of the flood, and the righteousness in us arose from the waters that we might purely put on display the image of our God. Baptism is a representation of this world-rectification. As the Flood was an act of God to fix the world through ReCreation , baptism represents how God is fixing the world through Jesus – personal Re-Creation. The old is buried with Jesus in the floodwaters, and the new arises from the water with Him.

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…

This passage is teaching the New Covenant people of God about their connections with the people of the Old Covenant. One of these connections is baptism and the Red Sea crossing. Paul doesn’t extrapolate the relationship, but he does affirm the same connection that we’ve been moving toward. Baptism is symbolic of our seminal moment of salvation. We were stuck in our transgressions, enslaved by our sin, and oppressed by our iniquity, but our God made a way to freedom where there were was none. Israel passed through the water and their enslavers and oppressors were killed. Our journey into the water represents the death of our slavery to sin. Israel came out of the water redeemed and freed to be God’s covenant people, being given by God reign over themselves that they might be completely His. We come out of the baptismal waters with the shackles of sin broken, and we are given reign over ourselves that as His covenant people, we might let God be our everything.

God affirmed Joshua at the crossing of the Jordan, Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, and we are affirmed and confirmed, in the sight of God’s family, that we are members of God’s covenant people. When Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were making the first step in entering the land of God’s promise to set up a kingdom to represent YHWH. Baptism is our first step in becoming citizens of heaven, a part of God’s family, a people who function not as members of a club or a world government, but as people who exist to live in, build, and grow the kingdom of God on earth.

My baptism is an act of solidarity with God’s covenant people from the time of Noah, to the people of Israel, to Jesus, and to every Christian since. What God has done and is doing in me through His son Jesus Messiah, God has been doing throughout the history of His interactions with humanity. And for me all of these water stories that changed the world culminated at one moment in a humble river. Now, the power behind all these stories is working in me to save, redeem, free, and recreate me so that through me this power might bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
*If you want this to make more sense, then you should probably be familiar with the rest of the water stories. If you are already familiar, then my hope is you know what I’m going to say anyway.

A Few Stories About Water: Fulfilling All Righteousness

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Jesus’ baptism in Matthew and how it is linked to the crossing of the Red Sea makes me think of a lot more I want to explain. It’ll be longer than I want it to be, but I think the explanation will be worthwhile and probably shed some light on other aspects of the first portion of Matthew’s gospel narrative. Jesus lives out the story of Israel in the first few chapters of Matthew and his baptism comes at the point of the crossing of the Red Sea.

In Genesis, Sarah is much too old to have a child (90). Abraham and his wife know that there is no way she can conceive at their age. God made it happen anyway. He visited Sarah and she conceived and bore a son through whom the descendants of the promise of God would be reckoned.

In Matthew, Mary is much too virginal to have a child. Conception is an absolute impossibility. But the virgin was with child through the Holy Spirit without having ever been with a man. Mary gave birth to a son through whom the descendants of the promise of God would be reckoned. Genesis in Matthew 1.

In Exodus, the Pharaoh was afraid that Israel was reproducing too fast and would become too strong and wrest from the hands of Pharaoh the power he had over them. So, Pharaoh declared that every male child born to the Hebrew women living in Egypt was to be killed. Moses’ family hid him away and he eventually found safety in the palace of Egypt. Moses’ found safety in the heart of Egypt. And then Israel was brought out of its slavery in Egypt to enter the land of the promise.

In Matthew, Herod heard that there was one who was born to be king of the Jews and was afraid that this future king would rise up and wrest from the hands of Herod the power he had over the Jews. So, Herod declared that all male children 2 years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area were to be killed. God told Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father, to find safety from Herod in the land of Egypt.* And then, filling full the prophecy of Hosea, as God’s son Israel was called out of Egypt, so God’s son Jesus was called out of Egypt. Exodus in Matthew 2.

When Israel leaves Egypt, their next scene is the crossing of the Red Sea. When Jesus leaves Egypt, his next scene also involves water. Yeahp, the baptism.

Crossing of the Red Sea was a seminal moment of salvation for Israel. The crossing of the sea not only marked their departure from Egypt, but eliminated those who were trying to re-enslave them. It was their ultimate moment of salvation from their bondage. When they crossed the Red Sea, Israel was free to be a sovereign nation that is no longer under the power and reign of another ruler. Israel’s salvation freed them to be a people who were set apart, able to display the power, goodness, faithfulness, love , and superiority of YHWH to the nations around them.

It was after Jesus was baptized that he becomes not just the main character, but the main acter in the story. The baptism begins Jesus’ battle with the devil, preaching, healing… a lot of bibles give it the header “Jesus Begins His Public Ministry.” We’ll go with that, it’s quicker. Anyway, the baptism began Jesus’ public ministry which was about bringing salvation to his people. Jesus’ ministry was to free the covenant people of God from their bondage to sin. Jesus is the first in and the initiator of the New Exodus. Once free from their slavery to sin, his people are liberated to be set apart from the world, putting on display the power, goodness, faithfulness, and love of their God to the nations.

I think that Jesus statement, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” is linked to Jesus living out the story of Israel. ** Jesus lives out the story of Israel the story of Israel perfectly. Jesus fills full Israel’s righteousness by honoring YHWH where they failed to. The righteousness of the Messiah makes up for the sin of Israel. The best example of this comes in the next passage about the temptation of Jesus.

In the book of Numbers Israel refuses to go up into the promised land, instead spending 40 years in the desert. Their time in the desert was replete with rebellion, grumbling, and sin. Israel was discontent with God’s provision. They repeatedly tested God. They engaged in idolatry.

In Matthew 4 Jesus spends 40 days in the desert without food. Hungry, Jesus faces the temptation of being discontent with what God has provided, but God’s words are enough for him. Jesus refused to put God to the test. With the reward of having all the kingdoms of the world and their glory on the line, Jesus still will not bow down to a false god. Israel was unrighteous, but Jesus fills full all righteousness.

The book Jesus quotes three times when he is being tempted by Satan is Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a long sermon that gives a brief run through of Israel’s history with commentary, reiterates some of God’s instructions, and constantly exhorts obedience to YHWH and Him alone. Deuteronomy describes the individual who loves God , fears Him, obeys Him, and who teaches others to do the same and describes those who rebel against God and live according to the ways of themselves, other nations, and other gods. The one who loves God is blessed and the one who doesn’t is cursed. During his temptation, Jesus was being the idealistic archetype described in Deuteronomy. Jesus was fulfilling all righteousness.

After Israel spent 40 years in the desert, in the book of Joshua they enter into the promised land and their wandering nation is given a kingdom. Centuries later, Israel is in that same land, but under the power of another government. They are again a nation that exists as a part of the kingdom of another nation. Jesus, after his 40 days in the desert, comes preaching that the kingdom of heaven is at an arms reach. Jesus is bringing his people into a kingdom where regardless of what government authority is in power, God always reigns.
*This parallel of Jesus’ safety in Egypt is not just similar to Moses being protected by Egypt from the ruler, but is also similar (probably more similar) to Jacob (Israel) and his descendants being protected in Egypt. Joseph brought his brothers and his father Israel into Egypt in order to protect them from the famine they were experiencing. Egypt was first not a place of slavery, but of protection.

** If you have a more fitting explanation of this statement than I do, please share! This verse is always one that has left me wondering. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a firm grasp on it.

A Few Stories About Water: Playing With Birds in the Jordan

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Millennia after Israel crossed the river, another man came walking up to the Jordan. Guess what that man’s name is? Iesous in the Greek. Guess what word is also translated Iesous from Hebrew? Joshua. We call this man Jesus, but he very nearly shares a name with Joshua (it’s not quite as simple as saying Jesus = Joshua, but it’s very similar). So again, sort of, Joshua (Jesus), approaches the Jordan.

Jesus enters the Jordan River and asks John the Baptist to baptize him, and though, as John said, Jesus should be baptizing him, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus went into the water, came up out of the water, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Some of the same basic things that are happening at the crossing of the Jordan river are also happening at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river. Jesus’ baptism as the Messiah begins His public ministry and marks a transition point, a new stage for God’s covenant people. The Jordan river crossing is essentially YHWH’s fulfillment of His promise of land, Jesus’ baptism marks God’s fulfillment of his promise of a Messiah. The crossing of the Jordan was Israel’s entering into the promised land where the kingdom of God’s covenant people would be established. The baptism of the Messiah was the baptism of the one who would bring God’s kingdom for His covenant people. YHWH tells Joshua that the crossing of the Jordan was going to be an affirmation of God’s presence with Joshua, just as He was present with Moses. God affirms Jesus at the baptism in the Jordan by calling Jesus his son and affirms His presence when the Spirit of God came down from the heavens and rested on Jesus. It’s not the same, but I believe we are intended to see the similarities and to see Jesus as a Joshua-like character who is a major participant in bringing God’s promise to Abraham to fulfillment.

I guess we’ll move chronologically, starting with the story of the flood. The same imagery parallels the parting of the Sea and stopping of the Jordan had with the flood aren’t present in this story, but there is one very peculiar element this narrative shares with the Flood narrative. The dove. In all of Scripture, we only see the dove used in narrative on two occasions: in the Flood story and in Jesus’ baptism.* I’m disinclined to think its coincidental. The dove in the Re-Creation stories is a sign that the world has become new and alive for humanity so YHWH’s image bearers can thrive after God saved them from their own destruction. Jesus is doing something similar.

Thematically, Jesus’ baptism has a lot of similarities to the Flood. The Flood was an act of Re-Creation, Jesus has come to Re-Create humanity in His image. The Flood rid the world of the destroyers and perverters of God’s image. Jesus has come to transform the destroyers of the image of God in humanity into its cultivators. The Flood was designed to undo what went wrong with Creation and fix it. In the same way Jesus purposes to redeem the effects of the Fall and set everything right that is wrong with the world. God’s use of Jesus to purify, save, and redeem humanity is not something completely novel, but something God has been doing since the Flood.

*There are other uses of the word “dove,” but they are not used in a narrative, unless you count the cost of its poop in Kings. Primarily the word “dove” is used for imagery purposes in Psalms, Songs of Solomon, and the poetic prose of prophets.

A Few Stories About Water: Out With The Old

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

After the crossing of the Red Sea, Israel spent 40 years in the desert. Despite God’s provision and salvation, Israel often would not trust YHWH and they rebelled against Him. When the people were too scared of the people living in the land of the promise to go and take the land promised to their forefathers, God said that those who refused to go up into the land would die before they ever had the chance to enter it. The Jews did not trust God to defeat their enemies, so God would not trust those people to take care of the land He promised. Therefore, Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until the rebellious generation died off.

Israel came to the waters of the Jordan river while it was overflowing. They were in another predicament in which God wanted them to cross a large body of water where there wasn’t exactly an easy way across. The Levites stepped into the water holding the ark of the covenant, and God stopped the flow of the river so that the water moving downstream was stopped and it rose in a heap. There was a giant wall of water on one side and an empty riverbed on the other. YHWH intervened on behalf of his people, uncovering land where there was once only water, and Israel walked across the river on dry ground.

If we think about this story in light of some of our other water stories, it’s easy to see similarities. The water of the Jordan functions as a tool for cleansing the covenant people of God. In the story of Re-Creation, the floodwaters swallow up the rebellious and destructive evil in Noah’s world and when the water subsided, the evil had been cleansed from the earth. In the Red Sea crossing, the evil that was keeping God’s people enslaved, from worshipping their God rightly, and from living fully was destroyed and the people of Israel were cleansed and freed from Egypt, leaving it in and on the other side of the Red Sea. Israel had to wait to cross the Jordan river until all of the people who refused to go into the promised land the first time had died. Symbolically, the water of the river represents Israel being cleansed of those who rebelled. The generation of disobedience had passed away and they were left on the other side of the Jordan. Israel arrived at the other side of the river purified of those who opposed God.

Israel’s arrival on the other side of the Jordan marked a significant transition for the covenant people of God. When the waters of Creation were brought together to one place, the land that appeared was home to the first of God’s people. Life had begun. After the floodwaters subsided, humanity started anew, free to honor God because the powerful image destroyers were eliminated. The old way of life was gone and a new way had begun. When Israel arrived on the other side of the Red Sea, Egypt completely lost its grasp on them and they were free to be a sovereign nation belonging to YHWH. The old way of life was gone and a new way had begun. If you read the book of Deuteronomy, perhaps even if you did a word search for “Jordan,” it is very clear that crossing the Jordan river is the equivalent of entering the promised land. There’s a lot more for Israel to do upon entering, but the act of crossing is the first step in that process. Israel’s arrival on the other side of the Jordan marks their transition from being nomadic wanderers to a people with a permanent home. The old way of life was gone and a new way had begun.

The crossing of the Red Sea affirmed the YHWH was with Moses as leader over Israel. Crossing the Jordan river affirmed that YHWH was with Joshua, the new leader of Israel. God showed that just like He had been with Moses over the last 40+ years as he led Israel, so God would be with Joshua. By miraculously holding up the waters of the Jordan, just as God did with the Red Sea, it would become clear to the people of Israel that Joshua was trustworthy and chosen by God to be their leader as they entered the promised land to take what God gave them. Joshua would be the one to take the new generation of Israel into their new way of life.

Categories: Stories About Water

A Few Stories About Water: Salvation

November 1, 2011 1 comment

God’s covenant people, the people who were the promised descendants of Abraham, are stuck in Egypt. Enslaved in Egypt. Through a series of acts of warning, YHWH convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. So, taking everything they could get their hands on, Israel left. But Pharaoh had seller’s remorse, so he took his army and went after Israel. When he and his army caught up with the Hebrew men, women, and children, they were by the side of the Red Sea. Israel had two options, die or go back to Egypt as slaves.

There was no hope. There was no way humanly possible for Israel to cross the massive body of water. God we would have to intervene. Moses spread his arms over the sea and YHWH divided the waters. Land appeared. The water that would have brought them death was now their way into a new life. The overwhelming and deadly sea was rendered impotent because God did something he had done before. He gathered the waters together so there was dry land for humanity. By the hand of the Creator, through these divided waters Israel walked. From the deadness of a life in slavery, they walked to new life.

I don’t think we’re supposed to read the Red Sea story and think “hey, this is just like creation!” It’s not. But we are supposed to see the parallels. Israel surely did. There aren’t that many points in Scripture where we have this same imagery of the water dividing. The imagery of God’s manner of salvation is the same in the story of the Red Sea as it is in the story of Noah. Dry land appears where once there was only a world of water. The entire world isn’t being remade when Israel walks across dry land, but Israel is walking from slavery into a new life in a new world. It is a magnificent act of God that preserves his image in His creation. As we saw in the Noah story, a part of this preservation of God’s image is eliminating those things on earth that are distorting his image and destroying his image.

After Israel had crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, they still had a serious problem. Pharaoh and his armies were still pursuing them. Pharaoh was still set on taking them back to Egypt into slavery. While the Egyptians were between the waters, Moses spread his arms again and YHWH closed the waters over the Egyptian armies and they died in the water. God was saving His image from the distorters and enslavers of His image. And He used water to do it.

Flood anyone? It’s not the same. God isn’t flooding the whole world. He isn’t getting rid of everyone. But it’s very similar. In both stories God uses water to destroy those people who were ruining Creation. He got rid of those people who were messing up the world in order to make the world better. He eliminated those who were destroying the innocent. In both stories the people of God come out of the same water that God used to destroy others. In both stories, God’s image in humanity is being repressed, controlled, ruled over, ruined, and distorted and through Creator acts, God preserves what makes humanity human.

The tale of the Red Sea is about more than just its parallels with the previous stories. This story is about God’s final magnificent act of saving the Hebrew people and judging Pharaoh. The crossing of the Red Sea is about God keeping His covenant with Abraham, preserving the children of the promise and continuing the process of bringing them into the land YHWH promised to Abraham’s descendants a long time previous. The crossing of the Red Sea is an entering into freedom. Israel was now free from the evil that oppressed them so that now they are free to live as the covenant people of God. Israel’s freedom gives them the ability to reflect the image of God as a nation, proclaim His power through their story, and live in right relationship to YHWH, that they would be blessed and would be a blessing to all nations.

A Few Stories About Water: Creation and New Creation

October 24, 2011 3 comments

In the beginning God brought the Universe into existence. One location in this massive expanse, the earth, was formless and void. There were waters above the earth and waters on the earth. The earth was completely covered with water. The earth was lifeless. The world was dark and barren and unlivable. Then God shapes it. He brought the waters together and dry land appeared where once there was only water. He made the earth livable. Plants and vegetation sprouted. Animals of all kinds were brought into existence on the land and in the seas. And then YHWH spirited into man and he was.

Fast forward a few generations. YHWH looked upon his image bearers, people who were containers of God’s very breath, and saw that they used the breath of God that brought them life to do evil. Indeed, all the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually. In God’s good creation, men were forcefully taking multiple wives and existing in a violent selfishness that marred God’s creation. It was a gross distortion of His image and a violation of the image of others. Something needed to be done. And YHWH had not abandoned His creation. He was going to make things right. He was going to re-create.

The author of Genesis fills the Flood narrative with many textual indicators that make it very clear something very much like Creation is happening here. First though, there is a reversal of part of creation. In the creation story, God creates an expanse between the waters on the earth and the waters above the earth. It is between these two waters that humanity lives. In the flood narrative, the windows of the waters above open up and waters pour down. That expanse, Heaven (ESV), the one that humanity lived in, was closed. Waters rose up from beneath and waters came down from above. The expanse closed. And the earth was covered with water.

We have then the same image that we had at the beginning of Creation. The earth is lifeless. Everything is completely covered with water. There might be some sea creature and underwater vegetation, but there is no land for life to exist on. No visible life is present. Creation has been undone. But not completely. YHWH used water to get rid of the major corrupting forces that were ruining the earth. However, God hasn’t abandoned Creation; He hasn’t given up on humanity. Somewhere on a massive boat a man, his family, and a zoo still live, awaiting re-creation.

God begins the process. The waters on the earth recede and the mountaintops become visible. Land appears! The image of dividing the waters to reveal the land is a little bit different than the receding waters, but the effect is the same. Land is where once it was not. Re-creation. But, like Creation, the land isn’t livable for humanity until there is life on it. Noah sends out a dove and it comes back with a fresh olive leaf. With land available and vegetation grown, like creation, man can exist on Earth. Noah gets out of the boat. Creation has started over.

Out of both the Creation and the Flood (Re-Creation) narratives come the people who are to carry out God’s work. Noah is charged with many of the same tasks as Adam and Eve were after YHWH first created. Although Noah can now eat the animals, he is still in charge of them and taking care of them and the plant life. Indeed, the covenant God makes with Noah is not just with Noah, it is also with all of the animals God saved in the Ark. Just like the first man, Noah is to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth, filling it up with people. Why is it good for the earth to be full of people? They carry God’s image. Noah is to bear God’s image, live displaying  that image, and fill the earth with more of God’s image.*

These water stories are fantastic. The waters of the Creation and of the Flood are seminal moments in Scripture that set the stage for future H20 events. Many of the situations, descriptions, and images change, but the water stories connect to each other and the meaning of one story is expanded and clarified by the meaning of the previous one. These stories about water keep popping up at important points in the history of God’s covenant people. Believe it or not, these powerful stories, dating back to the beginning of time, culminate at one moment in my life.

*YHWH is such a narcissist. And He should be.

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