The Step of Baptism

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The journey begins with the healing transformation of baptism.


1 Peter 3:18-22

The New Revised Standard Version Suffering for Doing Right

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent. The Lenten journey has begun, the journey to the cross with Jesus, the journey through death to the hope of resurrection. The peace of our Lord, I pray be with.
We’ve seen how God is with us, throughout our lives. And it is God’s presence, the withness of God, that we now venture into as we take the steps of this journey through Lent. Lent always feels like a journey, to me. When you’ve practiced it a few times, you begin to recognize the hoped for destination of Easter a bit more clearly. We seek the hope of the resurrection when we enter this season. We anticipate it. And the journey is about that hope. Hope not in what is unseen, but hope in the promise of new life that is found in Christ’s resurrection power.
Setting out on a journey, it is important to have the destination in mind. And some clear markers along the way. When I took a road trip in college with my roommates to San Francisco, I felt more at ease because I knew where we would be stopping along the highway to get there and back. Clarity of those stops made each day more enjoyable. I don’t know about you, but one of the most important things for me when I travel is to know where I’m going to set my bags down for the night, what the roof over my head will look like. Even when on a journey, I need to also know that I have a home away from home.
This Lent, we’re going to study through the New Testament writings, the letters of the Apostles, as a journey through Christian discipleship. Now, when you hear the word discipleship, you might have a number of reactions or notions about what it is. Also in college, many students that I knew who were associated with Christian ministries at Western participated in what were called “discipleship classes.” These were intensive trainings and studies on biblical foundations, Christian practice, prayer, and peer-accountability. Perhaps that sounds interesting to you, too. Or perhaps it sounds like a little too much structure, thank you very much.
We might also think about discipleship as the maturation of the faith journey. I’d like to think about that form as we look through Lent. Today, we’ve heard readings about baptism — this is a first step of Christian discipleship. And it grows from there, it matures and strengthens as we learn other disciplines, like faith, wisdom, grace, submission, humility, and ultimately the sacrificial life that we see modeled in Christ in Good Friday. This is our journey, to begin with baptism and to move toward the Cross.
I love how Peter uses the word “prefigured” in the New Revised Standard Version of the text. The greek word here is antitypos, meaning a copy or a picture. He’s saying that the story of the flood and the ark, from the book of Genesis, is a foreshadowing of what baptism is to mean for us.
So, let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about the step of baptism as a part of the Journey for our hearts to be formed in the way of Jesus.
And, let’s pray together.

The Step of Baptism

Peter is making the argument here Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are a model of baptism and cleansing of sins for sinners. Do you catch this? There’s an immersive movement to Jesus’ life and sacrifice. He enters into life with humanity, a righteous one among the unrighteous. And then he enters the waters of death, the suffering of the cross. As verse 21 says, this move “into” death is, like baptism, not about a removal of dirt from the body, “but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Jesus’ entrance into death and baptism is not about his need for cleansing, but rather about him undoing the powers of death because of his purity and righteousness.
Peter looks back to the time of Noah and the ark to note that this is a theme in the journey with God, a theme of immersion and emergence — death to life — that is a the heart and the beginning of our walk with God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but the story of the flood and the ark is a story of baptism. It is a transforming of the world, from unrighteousness to righteousness. Now, it always must be noted, that the horrors of genocide and mass death that come from the flood are hard to hold in our modern minds. But if you can give some grace for the way ancient humanity understand these concepts, you can see that the overarching structure of the flood narrative is to “prefigure” a baptism. The entrance into water, the immersion, and the restoration upon the receding of the waters — this is a global baptism.
The same is true for us as we enter baptism. We die. Not literally, obviously…that would be…problematic....if people were just getting baptised and drowning. No, but when we are baptized, we are changed. We are invited into the waters to find transformation.
Another, perhaps more helpful image that is commonly associated with baptism is the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. In the chrysalis, transformation takes place. There is a death to the caterpillar, more or less, and an emergence of something new in the form of the butterfly. The biological process is fascinating, how the caterpillar breaks down into goo and becomes something other…reborn.
So, you see, this model of transformation is central to the journey of Christian discipleship.
I want us to hold this picture, this prefigured grace that is the flood and baptism, and then ask the question of how this matters to us now.
Many of you have been baptized. And many of you are like me and perhaps don’t even remember the actually moment — you were children. So how do we connect with this concept today and how does it inform our Christian discipleship now?
I want to go back to verse 21 once more to consider the “appeal to God for a good conscience.” Just as the flood foreshadowed the work of baptism in Christ, so Christ’s baptism, which we’ve heard of this morning, prefigures the grace offered us in our own baptism. It is the grace of Christ that is out ahead of us, even before we are baptized and the grace that is confirmed in our act of baptism and the grace that we remember as we hold that baptism in and for ourselves.
The invitation for us today is to remember our baptism and the transformation is offers us. To remember that this death gives birth to new life. To remember that Christ has walked the road with us, before us, and knows what the journey is like.
How do you experience that, that assurance of grace? How does that feel, to know that Christ is with you?
Finally, this morning, I want to offer a reframing of baptism and the whole journey of Christian discipleship.
We go on this journey to the cross, to the heart of it all, with Christ to become more like Christ and more whole. What if another way to think of this is that it is a journey to healing.
We are hurting, broken, the text says unrighteous. Perhaps simply, we can understand this as the need for us to be healed.
What if this lenten journey could be a journey toward healing for you? What if the act of baptism is about death to life and because it is, it’s about healing restoration through that new life? What if we sought out ways to heal during this season?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a lot more burdens of extra practices or prohibitions this Lent. What I need is is to heal.
Perhaps that’s a better way to understand the walk along the road of discipleship with Jesus. A time to heal and be restored.
Sit for a moment with that. What would it be like to heal? Do you have an imagination for what that could mean for you, for your world, for the ones you love?
We close with the last verse, vs. 22: Jesus Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. All things are held, under, by the great healer, Christ. The one who rose from the dead, the one who conquered death. All is under his authority.
Perhaps the step of baptism we take is to remember that through it, we are healed. This is a good place to start.
So, let’s begin the journey.
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