Do you know how those two concepts might be connected?
What might they have to do with one another? Water, right? Anything else come to mind?
All week long we have been studying what some scholars believe is the most confusing passage in the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:18-22. Please see the previous posts here, here and here. Today we are looking at verse 20, and there Peter makes a connection between Noah’s flood and baptism. Why is he bringing this up? What does it have to do with his larger flow of thought?
If you look at the previous posts this week, you’ll see that Peter has just told us that after his death, Jesus was made alive in spirit-form (perhaps before Easter Sunday when he was raised in body?), and he traveled to a prison that held disobedient spirits (fallen angels?) from the days when Noah was building the ark!
It seems that as Peter is writing this, he does a little word association of his own. While he had been on a stream of thought that was all about Jesus declaring victory over sin, death and the devil, including proclaiming that victory to spirits from Noah’s day, Peter now sees a connection with Noah’s flood. He says that in the ark eight people were saved through water.
If you think about the ark story, it seems like Peter should actually be saying that the ark saved the people, and the water was the major source of destruction and death. Flooding then and now can be devastating. But Peter is following a theme here, and that theme is victory in Jesus, so he continues by saying that the flood symbolizes baptism!
How could the flood, which was so destructive, be related to baptism which is a symbol of spiritual cleansing, as Peter says in verse 21? Baptism is not about removing dirt from the body. That’s what baths or showers are for. Baptism is a pledge or promise made to God of a good conscience, Peter says. In other words, Peter is teaching us what baptism is. It doesn’t save us. Instead, baptism is a time when we declare that we are committing our lives to be disciples of Jesus. Again, though, how is that like Noah’s flood?
Well, just as the flood was a cleansing of sin from the earth, baptism is a symbol in which we declare that sin has been cleansed from our lives, through Jesus’ victory over sin in his death and resurrection. Notice what Peter says is the miracle that actually does the saving? Baptism? No. At the end of verse 21, he says that we are saved by the resurrection! The resurrection is where the power lies.
Baptism is a symbol, and it cannot save. Only resurrection power can save. As one author I read pointed out, for Peter and other New Testament writers, the symbol of salvation (baptism) and the real power of salvation (resurrection) are so closely linked, they are often used interchangeably. We do this too, for example, when we talk about church. I might say, “I am going to church,” and by that you most likely understand me to mean that I am going to attend a worship service or that I am going to drive to my church’s building. But I do not actually believe that a building is the church. I believe that the church is comprised exclusively of people. So why do I say, “I am going to church” when I actually mean “I am going to a worship service at my church’s building”? Because it is more concise and most everyone knows what I mean. I think something like that is happening when the New Testament writers almost interchangeably use “baptism” and “salvation”.
I recently had a wonderful experience with someone who had the correct understanding of baptism and was ready to be baptized because he wanted to send a message to his family and friends.
This summer my son’s friends often hung out at our house. Usually a couple nights each week. About a month ago, we were sitting in our living room watching the kids play video games. One of the guys turned to me and said, “I’m actually here tonight to talk with you, Mr. Kime.” That was a surprise! We’ve known this young man ever since we moved here 7 years ago, and he and our son played soccer together and have been buddies the whole time. In the living room that night, he divulged to me in front of all his friends that he wanted to get baptized, that he wanted to start living differently. It was incredible. So we talked about baptism, what it meant, and he was ready. He had even picked out a spot on a river nearby. A few days later on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, his whole family, girlfriend, my son, and about 3-4 of their other friends all went to the river. His dad and I got in the water with him. I had the young man share the story that brought him to this decision, and then I said a few words about baptism, and then we baptized him. It was really great. I want to do all baptisms that way!
Baptism is a great starting point for you declare to your family and friends that you have embraced the victory of Jesus in your life, and show your desire to live for him.
And for those of you who are already baptized, remember your baptismal vow, and live it out, just as Peter teaches in verse 21: the pledge of a good conscience toward God. In Jesus, you have victory, and you can live out that victory.
Tomorrow, as we conclude this passage, Peter’s thoughts about victory in Jesus continue with a vision of heaven.