Lenten Midweek 2011 – Baptism as Flood
Lenten Theme - Life by Drowning: Baptismal Life in the Season of Lent
Text: Genesis 8:1-21; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Matthew 3:13-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.
For every blessing water pours forth it also surges with destruction. The same peaceful waters – disturbed only by the ripples of fish jumping – can just as quickly turn into a storm threatening to swamp the whole fishing trip; just ask the disciples. The same ocean that curls perfectly for surfers can just as tragically form ruthless tsunamis. So it is with the flood: cataclysmic blessing and harrowing devastation all at once. Water kills and makes alive; it brings down to Sheol and it raises up.
Despite the popular nursery pictures, the flood is not some cute fairy tale – they never show the unbelievers drowning in the torrent or the blotting out of all flesh– just cute giraffes with wee beady eyes and otters splashing playfully around the ark as Noah waves bon voyage with a smile. Instead of the reality: Calamity. Destruction. Death. Creation undone.
The flood is not a cute fairy tale because Noah did not live in a cute fairy tale world. He lived in the world of the fall. The curse. No wonder Lamech named his newborn son, Noah, meaning “rest.” For he hoped that, “out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech makes what Luther calls a pious mistake – thinking his son is the Promised Seed born to undo the work of Adam. But piously mistaken though he was, Lamech deserves an A+ in biblical interpretation. For his son points to the true Messiah who is our Sabbath Rest.
Creation was certainly in need of rest. It had become chaotic long before the waters started to rise. Reading Genesis 3-6 is like a tragic novel – things get darker and darker each page you turn. Everything that God had said seven times was “good” and “very good” was now very bad, spoiled, corrupted by the devil and his fellow comrades in mutiny, Adam and Eve. Noah grew up in this world – where “the wickedness of man was great on the earth and every intention of his heart was only evil continually,” a “corrupt and violent earth.”
And yet, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man –not because he was not bad or at least the lesser of all evils - but because he believed in the One who would be born of woman. The One his father had mistaken him for – the Promised Seed. And so, by faith in the promise, Noah was firmly anchored in the Father’s only Begotten Son.
So, Noah was appointed the captain of the Salvation Navy, eight souls in all. Saved in their foolish little boat. But the ark wasn’t just a life-boat. For 120 years Noah was a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) – and no doubt repentance - from his divinely ordained gopher wood pulpit. Those neighbors who scoffed while they did whatever they pleased thought Noah was nothing but a wet towel were the same neighbors clinging like barnacles to the outside of the ark.
Outside the ark – the waters that the Spirit once hovered over in creation were now the same waters used for judgment. Outside the ark, creation shifted in reverse: trees and dry land vanished; sun, moon and stars were hidden behind gloomy sheets of rain for 40 days; a cosmic font drowning man and beast in a watery burial shroud. Back to Genesis 1:8, Day 2 of creation, when the waters above were separated from the waters below – water, water everywhere, was all there was to see.
But water wasn’t all there was to see. There was the ark, floating across the face of the waters, a divine life-raft. There were animals. There was Noah and his family. And finally, after about a year, there was a freshly picked olive branch in the beak of Noah’s dove. Though Noah was not the New Adam, God gives him a similar Eden-like vocation: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” He may not have lived up to his father’s expectations, but this man of rest who built an ark for the salvation of his family foreshadows a perfect Son, who would fulfill all His Father’s expectations – a true Man of Rest, the New and Greater Noah – who builds an ark for the salvation of his household, a household where you are called sons of God.
For the new creation would come, not in a moisten flood plain, but in the parched wilderness of Judea, in the waters of the Jordan River where the Dove descended on the the New and Greater Noah. This time when the heavens were opened it was not water that was sent, but a Dove and a Voice. The feathered Spirit rested on Jesus, having found a perfect fleshly olive branch. Peace with God in the flesh and blood of this True Man of Rest. Jesus comes to fulfilling all of Lamech’s hopes, for He comes to be baptized to suffer and to die – to fulfill all righteousness, for Lamech, Noah and you.
There in the Jordan, the tides have turned. Jesus’ Baptism is a great reversal. A super exchange, a sacred swap – the Holy for the unholy, the Sinless for the sinner, the Living for the dead, the Son of David for the all sons of Adam. Christ goes down into the water without guilt. Without sin. Innocent. And He comes up out of the water guilty, impure, unclean – the greatest sinner of all. A reverse Baptism. Like a sponge, He soaks up all the sin and death and carries it with Him to Jerusalem.
Because the water that trickled off His back at Jordan foreshadowed a greater baptism with which He was to be baptized – a billowing flood of fire and divine wrath. The wicked, always doing-only-evil person you are, Christ became. Your corrupt, do-whatever-I-please-sinful-nature – all your violent rebellious badness engulfed the good Son of God. There, His body came to rest, not upon the Mountains of Ararat, but suspended in the firmament between heaven and earth on a mountain called Golgotha – a place of cataclysmic blessing and harrowing devastation - where Christ is pierced, sending forth a destroying and saving flood. Saved in the foolishness of the cross.
Now, Christ’s body is the ark of the Church. Jesus builds this Ark, not of wood and pitch, but of flesh and water and blood. He is the vessel of salvation whose door – pried open by a Roman spear – still stands open within His side, so that you can enter into life, saved from the unbelieving world around you. It’s no accident that most Baptismal fonts have 8 sides. For just as 8 souls were saved through the ancient flood, so too on the 8th day, Christ rose again from His 3 day plunge into death. He came to undo the work of the first Adam by means of a greater flood; a forgiving deluge come to re-genesis not just 8 souls in all, but the whole world, even you. Once again the waters kill and make alive.
You are no longer at war with God – no, you are sons…over your head He pours forth a new and saving flood that drowns all sin in you which you have inherited from Adam and which you have committed since. It may only look like plain water, but Jesus is there. Jesus and Baptism always go together. No one who goes into the font after Jesus comes out the same. Down with the old and up with the new. Christ-ed in Baptism, the Spirit descends and rests upon you. Jesus is now your death, your life, your resurrection, your eternal Sabbath Rest – * not only in Lent but every day as you are kept safe and secure in the Holy Ark of the Christian Church, the body of this New and Greater Noah. And this too is no fairy tale.