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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Reading – Genesis 6; 1 Peter 3:18 - 4:6
Sermon – Lord’s Day 26
Beloved in Christ, whenever there’s a baptism we all turn to the back of the Book of Praise, and to the “Form.” There we read a summary of what the Bible teaches about infant baptism. And then just before the parents present their child to receive the sacrament, we pray, a prayer that begins with words that are well-known to us, “Almighty God, in your righteous judgment you punished the unbelieving and unrepentant world with the flood…”
They’re familiar words. But—if you think about it—they’re also pretty strange. Because why are we suddenly talking about the flood? And then why does that prayer also say how “God drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, but led his people Israel through the midst of the sea on dry ground”? The flood, the crossing of the Red Sea—these events, while important, seem far-removed from a baptism. How are they at all relevant?
We can begin to answer that with a history lesson. The prayer in our Form is based on a prayer that was first written by the reformer, Martin Luther. He wrote it to be used in the baptismal service of the churches in Germany. From this longer “Flood Prayer,” our Form includes only a little portion. For a bit later Luther returns to the image of the Flood when he prays: “May through this saving flood all sin in him… be drowned and die.” Notice how Luther calls the water of baptism a “saving flood:” baptism is like a flood that drowns the sin within us!
Then Luther offers another petition for the child, “Grant that he be kept safe and secure in the holy Ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving your name at all times.” If baptism is like that “saving flood,” Luther thought, then surely the church is like the “holy ark.” It’s a place of security and refuge for God’s people.
You’ll agree that Luther has given us an interesting prayer. As we said, our Form includes a portion of it. Because it’s also a Scriptural image—indeed, in the New Testament both the Flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are spoken of as foreshadowings of baptism. Both those miraculous events, which both involve water and the deliverance of God’s people, look ahead to the Christian sacrament.
If you have some time later today, you should read 1 Corinthians 10, how Paul compares the crossing of the Red Sea to baptism. But today we focus on the words of Peter, when he links the great flood to holy baptism. For in this are valuable lessons as we consider with the Catechism what baptism means. I preach God’s Word to you:
We are saved through water!
- God’s past judgment on wickedness
- Christ’s rescue of his people from destruction
- our ongoing commitment to holiness
1) God’s past judgment on wickedness: When children begin learning the stories of the Bible, one of the first and most memorable is the story of the Flood. There’s all the animals coming, two-by-two. There’s the massive wooden boat. There’s the endless torrent of rain. But before all that, there’s the reason: Why would God send all this water to destroy the world He created? And the children know this too. It was because of the great evil on earth! In the words Genesis 6, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great… and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (v 5).
That was then. And how about now? If we skip from Genesis 6 all the way to 1 Peter 4, we see that fundamentally, not much has changed. The apostle Peter sees a strong connection between Noah’s time, and his own time—and a strong connection to our time too, for that matter. For now, like then, there’s a great wickedness on earth. Peter speaks of the unbelieving lifestyle, things like “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (4:3). Follow the news a bit these days, and you will see that the more things change, the more they stay the same!
And now, like back then, believers are ridiculed for serving the Lord. Think of how Noah stood alone in his time: building a huge ship far from any river or ocean, while his unbelieving neighbours surely laughed at him. Why was Noah concerning himself with a watery judgment that might never come? Weren’t there better things to do?
Christians still face mockery, and there’s a pressure to conform. Our views on a lot of things are not acceptable these days, and a holy lifestyle is considered weird. Peter writes about unbelievers, “They think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (4:4).
Elsewhere in his first letter Peter refers to the church as “strangers in the world.” That’s a description, of course, but it’s also a duty. That is, amidst all the pressing wickedness, the church must be different. Between us and the people around us, there needs to be a clear separation—a marked distinction in our style of life, in what we hold dear, and in how we conduct ourselves.
Even so, in such a time, in such a world, the Christian message can seem pretty weak. For now, like back in the days of Noah, the people of God might appear hopelessly small—just a few righteous people, encircled by so many wicked. Today, evil-doers seem to have the momentum, for we see sin running wild. Surrounded by her enemies, outnumbered and almost overpowered, the church could feel like she’s going under!
Yet Peter also reminds us of what happened, so long ago. What was the outcome for those unbelievers of Noah’s time? They had the gospel preached to them, but they rejected it. They were warned by Noah’s example, yet they continued in disobedience. So finally they were judged by the LORD, and wiped off the face of the earth.
And we know that God will judge wickedness again, at the end of time. This is what Peter says of today’s unbelievers, “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (4:5). There’s another day of wrath approaching, when all unbelievers will kneel before the Lord, guilty and condemned.
That’s not something we should feel good about. It was only by God’s grace that Noah and his family were not destroyed. And it’s only by God’s grace that we are not condemned! For here is the good news of both Holy Supper and Holy baptism: In his great mercy God has already judged our wickedness. God has already given the punishment for sin!
Peter explains, “Christ… suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (3:18). Jesus came to this earth, and endured the perfect wrath of God. This is what He did by hanging on the cross, so “that He might bring us to God.” Instead of being banished from God’s holy presence forever, we are welcomed back. Today we can freely approach the throne of God, knowing that all our debt has been paid in full.
The suffering of Christ, the blood of Christ—this is what saves us! And this is what makes baptism so much more than a passing sprinkle of lukewarm water. No, this sacrament teaches us, it reminds us, it impresses upon us, that “our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross” (Q&A 67). Through Jesus our Lord, our wickedness has been judged, and we are saved from destruction.
2) Christ’s rescue of his people from destruction: Getting back to Genesis 6 for a moment, we read that the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth. So He resolved to destroy mankind. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (v 8). For Noah and his family the LORD had a purpose, so God delivered them.
Peter speaks about this in his third chapter. He says that God was longsuffering “while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (v 20). That’s the story we all recognize. But now notice carefully what Peter says: those eight people were saved “through water.” Wait a moment: Weren’t they saved through the ark? Wasn’t the ark the rescue vehicle for Noah and his family? But Peter wants us to look at this event from another angle, to see that it was actually the waters of the flood that saved them.
How so? It was the water that destroyed all the hostile people around them. It was the water which wiped their offending sin off the face of the earth. It was through the flood that Noah and his family were delivered from all that evil, and it was through the flood that they were given a new start on the earth.
This prepares us for what Peter says next. He says that those floodwaters are “an antitype” of baptism (v 21). That’s a fancy word—antitype—one we don’t use in ordinary conversation. It basically means that those ancient waters were a sign, pointing forward to a different reality. The slain Passover Lamb or the scapegoat sent the wilderness were “antitypes” of Christ, so also those floodwaters were an early imprint of something else. And what did they point ahead to? To baptism! Like the NIV puts it, “This [floodwater] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.”
For the same water that destroyed everything was also how Noah survived. By the water, Noah was rescued from that onrushing tide of wickedness. God had set him apart, and he was brought safely through the disaster. Noah, already so long ago, received a kind of baptism!
And in the same way that Noah and his family escaped from condemnation, so we escape. Through baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, God uses water to remove our transgression from us! He drowns the sin within us and kills it. He wipes us clean, He flushes away all our sin. And by the waters of baptism, we’ve been set apart for something far better. For it means that old world of sin is dead to us, and God has made possible a new life, a fresh start.
This is how Peter can talk about being “saved through water.” He’s not saying that the water of baptism has some magic power, or that the ritual works automatically. We should never think that because we’re baptized, we’ve already got in hand our ticket to heaven, and that we can live whatever way we please.
It’s not automatic, but it reminds us what baptism so clearly points to. It testifies to those marvelous, saving, steadfast promises that God has sealed to us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the mark of a relationship with the Lord—a living, loving, lasting relationship. God has promised to cleanse and purify our conscience. in Christ Jesus God has pledged a heart that enjoys lasting peace with Him.
This is exactly what baptism signifies to us, “that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly [Christ’s] blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins” (Q&A 69). Much more than an outward ceremony from the distant past, baptism is something to cherish. For by it, the Triune God promises his steadfast mercy. By baptism, He promises a complete washing in the blood and Spirit of Christ—it’s a deluge of his mercy, a downpour of his grace!
But there’s for us something to do, beloved. In order to find refuge in Christ, we have to run to him! We have to dwell with him! Many people in Noah’s day thought they were fine. They looked at the long range forecast, and they doubted that God’s judgment would ever come. Yet when it did come, they weren’t ready, and they were left outside. They pleaded to be let in, while the door of the ark stayed shut. “In God’s righteous judgment He punished the unbelieving and unrepentant world with the flood, but saved and protected the believer Noah and his family.”
Brothers and sisters, don’t be left outside! Once we’ve received the sure pledge of baptism, we have to work with it. We have to find refuge in Christ. We must answer our baptism daily with an “I do,” and an “Amen.” We have to answer it with a “Here I am, Lord, ready to do your will.” If we have received this holy sign, then we must live like who we’ve become, the holy people of God.
3) our ongoing commitment to holiness: One of the most important ideas in Scripture is the idea of “holiness.” It means being set apart, separated for a special purpose. God is holy. And we his people are holy. That’s what we see happening through the flood: God is separating for Himself a holy people. He’s drawing a line around Noah and his family, marking them off from the world. God saved them alone, because for them He had a special intention and plan
In the same way, God says that we are holy. We’ve been set apart as righteous. Understand that rightly: it doesn’t mean that we give up on the world we live in, withdraw from society, or think of all our neighbours as hopeless and condemned. God is patient with this world, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). We have a calling, even as Noah did, to warn people about the coming wrath.
But all the same, remember how Peter refers to the church as “strangers in the world.” Between us and this wicked world, there needs to be a clear separation—a discernable difference, a marked distinction. This is what Lord’s Day 27 speaks of, continuing the lesson on baptism, when it says that “by baptism… the children of believers are distinguished from the children of unbelievers.”
And what does that “distinguishing” look like? Beloved, how does anyone know that you’ve been baptized? You don’t carry around a copy of your baptismal certificate. You can’t point to your forehead and the lingering mark of the water. How does anyone know that you’re baptized? You are to be distinguished in life. Being delivered from sin needs to have an unmistakable result, in holiness and godliness!
This is the consequence that Peter also draws out. Notice how he begins in chapter 4, with a therefore. He’s tying everything back to what he’s just explained. “You’ve been saved in Christ,” he’s told us. “You’ve been delivered from wickedness and condemnation. You have the mark of this on you through water…” And then it comes: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (4:1-2).
I want to focus on that last line. Here it is again: Because Christ suffered for us, we no longer live for the lusts of the flesh, but we live “for the will of God.” Those saving waters of baptism have changed us. Redemption in Christ has transformed us. You’re different now. “You’ve wasted enough of your life sinning,” Peter says. And you know where that kind of behaviour ends up. So why would you ever return to it?
Think of it this way. It’d be like Noah standing on the deck of the ark while the rain fell, sadly watching those people down below: writhing around in their torment, fighting each other to stay afloat, struggling for one more gasping breath of air. But then imagine Noah starts to envy them, and he wants to join them. Imagine he climbs over the railing, and jumps off the ark into the misery he’s just been saved from. Of course he wouldn’t do that! He’d just been lifted from that despair. He’s been removed from all that wickedness. For him God has a different purpose! Saved by water…
So for us. If we’ve been baptized in Christ, then we should no longer live in the lusts of our flesh, where we get carried away with drunkenness, or with sexual desire, or greed, or anything else. But we should live for the will of God. Like the Form for Baptism explains, “We must not love the world but put off our old nature and lead a God-fearing life.” If you’ve been baptized, marked with God’s mark, then life should be different for you. Just as Martin Luther prayed, “May through this saving flood all the sin in us be drowned and die!”
You’ve been pulled out of the muck, so stay out of it. Don’t go to the kind of places where sin can easily make you dirty. Don’t speak the kind of words that foul the air, or fill your text messages with filthy language and crude jokes. Don’t dwell on the kind of angry or lustful or greedy thoughts that reek with sin. Don’t jump back into the misery of a life without God.
Sometimes that world of sin is still so captivating, and we do want to plunge back in. We get into habits and ways of thinking that are so hard to break. There are sins you commit, even though you don’t want to.
But then remember your baptism, beloved. The Catechism explains that we’ve been baptized not only with the blood of Christ, but also the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the powerful ally on your side, and in your hearts. Through his Spirit, Christ will give the strength to fight the lure of evil. He’ll give the courage to stand against our impure desires. He’ll give the ability to do what we couldn’t do before: to do good, to do what is right. He’ll help us more and more to become dead to sin, and to lead “a holy and blameless life” (Q&A 70).
There is a cleansing power that we can access. There is a sanctifying Spirit whom we can receive. But we’ve got to actively seek this Spirit, and walk in this Spirit. Humbly we need to submit our lives to his leading through the Word.
A life of holiness begins with cherishing your baptism. If you have received the “saving waters,” then learn to trust in the grace and power of our covenant God. For when you’ve been baptized, you can plead on the promises God gave you. Ask him to keep his Word: the Father who’s promised to protect you, the Son who’s promised to cleanse you, the Spirit who’s promised to dwell within you! Ask God to keep his Word to you, and for Jesus’s sake, He surely will. Amen.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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