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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.

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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.

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