Dodge: Baptism is Both Life and Death

By Kevin Dodge (email)

Have you ever noticed how often water appears in the Bible, some 782 times by my counting. Water emerges in the creation narrative when “The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1.2). Here, water is a kind of primordial substance that makes life possible. Just six chapters later, however, water becomes an agent of death when God sends a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 7.6).

That same pattern repeats itself in Exodus when Israel is saved at the parting of the Red Sea. Yet God employs the same waters to drown the Egyptian army (Ex 14.28). Thus, water, essential for life, can also be an agent of death.

We need to keep this pattern in mind when we encounter the miracle of Jesus’ walking on water. Some find this story embarrassing, the stuff of naïve Sunday school lessons. How could anyone in a scientific age actually believe that someone, even Jesus, walked on water?

It might surprise you to learn this miracle is one of the better-attested stories in the NT. Since the miracle appears in both Mark and John’s gospels with remarkable coherence, it suggests a very primitive source.

The point the text is trying to make is that Jesus’ decision to endow the disciples with power over demons (Mk 6.13) sets up a test to see whether they will exercise that power. Will the disciples realize they have authority over the demonic forces on the sea?

When Jesus forced the disciples to get into a boat by themselves, they quickly found themselves harassed by rough seas. The Greek word for “harass” is the same word Mark used in the previous chapter to describe the demon-possessed man at Genesaret (Mk 5.7). Hence, the same demonic forces which were harassing men were now battling the disciples at sea.

Unfortunately, the disciples fail their test. Jesus has to rescue them and they end up back at Genesaret, a none-too-subtle allusion to the previous story. Water, which threatens death, becomes an avenue of salvation for the disciples when Jesus stills the winds with his presence.

Christians have usually read these texts in light of the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, we enter the Church, receive forgiveness of sins, become indwelt by the Spirit and begin the process toward salvation. We identify with Christ’s death and look forward to the new life promised in resurrection (Rom 6.3-4).

Thus, the same Spirit which rested on Jesus at his baptism indwells you today. Far too often we fail to appreciate the power God has already given us because we lack faith, just like the disciples did. As G.K. Chesterton famously put it, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

If you’re struggling with your spiritual life, just keep going. The same disciples who failed time and again eventually succeeded because they didn’t give up. What God commands, he readily supplies by the Spirit which indwells us.

Categories: Between Sundays