Day 24: Salvation and Baptism

4 Mar Salvation and Baptism

Illustration: Juliana Crownover

What is it that obscures the light in me? My failures. Knowing what I should do, the love I should have for people, I just can’t rise to it…But I hate evil. I am against repression, the restrictions that destroy people’s lives. I renounce the powers of darkness. I stand looking at the dark, but turn away to face the light…I stand with others, all those who have had this same faith and vision, all those who are here with me now. Alone, my voice is small and weak: with ten, twenty, a hundred, thousands more added, it is strong. Together we will shout down the walls that imprison us and all people. Now I am washed clean. I have stepped out of the bath. I smell with the perfume of fragrant oil. White clothes, clean and fresh, cover me…Nothing can terrify me now, neither death nor prison, neither earthquake nor sin. I am Christ’s and Christ is mine. Nothing can separate me from his life and love. His spirit is with us, refreshing, comforting, insistently urging us to live.[i]

John Gaden (d. 1990), Anglican Theologian

 

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, who by our Baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, turns us from the old life of sin: Grant that we, being reborn to new life in him, may live in righteousness and holiness all our days; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.[ii]

Old Testament Lesson

The people have lost hope. They’re wandering around in the desert without a secure source of water. They’re tired and grumpy. The great Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, is nowhere to be seen. We might ask, “Are these not reasonable requests on the people’s part?” It would seem that water, at least, is necessary for life. And what do Moses and Aaron get so wrong that they will be barred from entering the Promised Land? The people’s need for water is reasonable, but their incessant whining is not. They need to learn to trust God for their needs. They don’t. They’re rebellious. It seems that this is Moses’ issue as well. He’s had it with the people and isn’t so sure about God’s provision himself. Thus he does not manifest God’s glory to the people, which is his primary responsibility as a spiritual leader. Moses, too, has become angry and impatient and tries to claim credit for bringing water out of the rock.[iii] This simply won’t do. We should see this story as a metaphor for the spiritual life. We hit our dry seasons and we turn away from God. However, He is the only one who can truly nourish us. Thus we turn away at our peril since turning away keeps us from the Promised Land.

Numbers 20.5-13

5Why did you bring us up from Egypt only to bring us to this appalling place? This is no place for planting figs or vines or pomegranates. There’s not even any water here to drink! 6So Moses and Aaron went out from the congregation to the opening of the tent of meeting and they fell on their faces. Then they saw the glory of the LORD, their God.

7And the word of the LORD came to Moses, saying, 8”Take a staff and gather the congregation – you and Aaron, your brother – and speak to the rock in their sight and it will bring forth its water and you will bring water out of the rock for them, thus giving drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9So Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, do we have to bring out water for you from this rock?” 11Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice and water gushed out, and the congregation and their cattle drank.

12Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Since you did not trust me to present me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land which I have given to you.” 13These are the waters of Meribah because the sons of Israel resisted the LORD as He was set apart as holy among them.

New Testament Lesson

The Samaritans were the untouchables in Jesus’ day. They had intermarried with foreign nations after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom and thus were deemed unclean.[iv] The Samaritans also refused to worship in Jerusalem which meant they were cut off from the Temple and its sacrificial system. This sets up a misunderstanding between Jesus and the woman. When she hears “living water,” this means flowing water to her (which would have been more pure than water coming from a still well). Jesus means the “water that gives life.” This water that gives life is not Jesus himself but is something spiritual he offers through the coming of the Spirit. Early readers of this text would notice the word “springing up” because it is the same word used to describe the powerful rushing of the Spirit onto Samson, David and Saul.[v] Thus, as early as the second century, this text comes to be seen in light of Baptism, at which the Spirit comes to reside in the hearts of believers. Just as the Spirit came at Jesus’ Baptism and rested on him, so too the Spirit comes at our Baptisms and resides within us. Notice that the first instance in John’s Gospel of Jesus revealing himself plainly as God (I AM) is to an untouchable, immoral woman, well outside the Jewish community of Israel. Thus true worship is not about nationality or internal feeling, but is about being objectively touched by the Spirit.[vi]

John 4.5-42

5Now Jesus had to pass through Samaria. 5So He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, close to the area that Jacob had given to Joseph his son. 6Now Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from is travels, sat down at the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me something to drink.” 8(His disciples had gone into town to buy supplies.) 9So the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is that you, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, do they?” 10Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me something to drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” 11The woman answered Him, “Sir, you have nothing with which to draw and the well is deep. Where, then, can one get living water? 12You aren’t greater than our forefather Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it, along with both his sons and his cattle, are you?” 13Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks from this water will thirst again. 14Whoever drinks from the water that I will give, that one will not thirst ever again, but the water I will give will become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” 15The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t be thirsty or have to come here to draw water anymore.” 16He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come back here.” 17The woman answered and said to Him, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have spoken well that you have no husband, 18for you have had five husbands and now the one you have is likewise not your husband. You have spoken truly.” 19The woman said to Him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our forefathers worshiped on this mountain. And you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21Jesus said, to her, “Woman, believe me, that the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 23But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24God is spirit and whoever worships Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called ‘Christ.’ When that one comes, He will disclose all this to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “The one speaking to you is, ‘I AM.’”

27Now, at this, His disciples returned and they were astounded that He was speaking with a woman. But no one dared to say, “What are you seeking?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Therefore the woman left her jug of water and returned to town and said to the men, 29”Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. This one couldn’t be the Christ, could He?” 30They went out from the city and started coming to Him.

31In the meantime, His disciples were encouraging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32And He said to them, “I have food to eat about which you don’t know.” 33So His disciples were saying to one another, “Did anyone bring Him anything to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. 35Don’t you say that there are still three months until the harvest comes? Look, I say to you, lift up your eyes and see the fields that they are ripe for harvest. 36The reaper receives pay and bears fruit unto eternal life so that he who sows and he who reaps rejoice together. 37For by this, the word is true that one sows and another reaps. 38I have sent you to harvest that for which you have not labored. Others have labored and you enter into their labor.”

39Now out of that city, many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I did.” 40Therefore, as the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them. And He stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of His word. 42They were saying to the woman, “We don’t believe because of your words, but we ourselves have heard and know that this truly is the Savior of the world.”

Questions for Reflection?

  1. In what ways do you get angry at God because of what you lack? Perhaps it’s love, money, resources, security. What is God trying to teach you with parts of your life that frustrate you?
  2. Why does God get so angry with Moses for not representing his holiness appropriately? Is this a big enough offense to make Moses not enter the Promised Land? Is this fair?
  3. How do you sense the Spirit at work in your life? Are you different than you were a year ago, six months ago? Are you still mired in the same issues? What would change this?
  4. The testimony of the woman to what she observed was instrumental in the town’s coming to know Jesus. What stops you from telling others about the work the Spirit has done in your life?

Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)

In previous lessons, we have discussed the importance of Baptism and its association with the promises of the New Covenant. Baptism is not just a nice ritual that we perform periodically in a local church. It is the essential one-time entrance rite into the covenant community and thus is the outward visible sign of the New Covenant. To be a “born again” Christian is to be a baptized believer who has made a public profession of faith (John 3.5). We make this public profession of faith at our Baptisms. Thus Baptism and belief go together.

Unfortunately, some have emptied Baptism of its enduring significance. All the major reformers –Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer and Cranmer — believed that Baptism was essential. Yet some considered Baptism to be nothing more than an ordinance the Bible commanded. But, to these so-called radical reformers, Baptism conveyed nothing essential for salvation. Rebaptism was necessary simply to fulfill the ordinance originally performed by a corrupted Church.

The entire history of Christian thought stands against this position. From the earliest writings we have, Baptism was the seminal event in a Christian’s spiritual life. It was when the believer received the Spirit. Baptism carried great promises but also great obligations. In the early church, Baptism was so important that the entire congregation would fast alongside those preparing to be baptized. This is actually where Lent comes from – it was a forty-day period of preparation for Baptism, which usually occurred during the Easter vigil.

In both our passages today, we observe water as the common denominator. Moses and the Israelites are saved physically through water. When water gushes out of the rock, God is meeting their physical needs. St. Paul often sees water in the OT as a picture of Baptism. For example, he writes, “And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10.2-4). The problem is that they’re so intent on getting their physical needs met, they can’t see the spiritual significance of what was happening to them.

Similarly, the Samaritan woman is stuck gratifying the needs of her flesh so she can’t see what Jesus is saying about water. She thinks Jesus is just trying to save her some time with this “living water.” But Jesus, of course, is making a spiritual point. He’s trying to convey to her the Spirit so she can have a relationship with God.

It’s the point Peter makes too: “Baptism, which is the antitype to this [to Noah and the flood, another key OT water event] now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the flesh but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3.21). Baptism doesn’t physically wipe off filth. It purifies from within. It forgives sin and is the outward sign of the indwelling Spirit in one’s life. Thus Baptism and salvation are inseparable.

Baptism may be how we begin the spiritual life. But we move on to greater maturity by learning how to participate with God in His work. Thus Baptism is not a magical charm. Baptism merely gives us the grace to start a relationship. We maintain and deepen that relationship by living out our vocations to do the work that God has given us to do. Thus, once again, we see that salvation does not happen at a point in time, but is rather lived out through one’s life. We are only finally “saved” after death, a salvation that comes through the grace of God.

Our task this Lent is get beyond the physical and start living the sacramental. All created things are good, but only because they participate in the goodness of God which makes them good. Similarly, we, who are sinners, become righteous and holy by participation with our Creator. If we will deny ourselves for a time in Lent, He will change us from within. This is what it really is to experience the salvation that Jesus is offering to his followers.

Potential Applications

  • Confession

Baptism always goes together with repentance for sins. Peter couldn’t be clearer: ‘Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins’ (Acts 2.38). It is important to confess your sins to a Priest at least once during the Lenten season. The burden of carrying around sin really is “intolerable” so receive the forgiveness Christ is offering you.

  • Fast

Traditionally, Christians fast from meat and heavy foods on Wednesdays and Fridays during lent. Consider following this practice.

  • Study

Look up the passages in the OT that describe the Spirit coming on Saul, David and Samson. All these passages employ the same root of the verb “springing up” which Jesus employs to describe the “well of water” that leads to eternal life, thus creating a textual link between the OT and NT. Consider 1 Samuel 10.6, 11.6, 16.13 and Judges 14.6 and 14.19. Is the coming of the Spirit the same or different between the OT and NT? Compare these OT texts with what Jesus promises in John 3, a famous passage that Christians have usually read in light of Baptism, which conveys the life-giving Spirit.

 

[i] John Gaden, Vision of Wholeness (Alexandria, NSW: E J Dwyer Ltd, 1995).

[ii] The Book of Common Prayer, 203.

[iii] David L. Stubbs, Numbers (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 160.

[iv] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 170.

[v] Ibid., 171.

[vi] Ibid., 180.

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