Archive for the category “Baptism”

The Door No One Can Walk Through

arch-2764_1920If the Lord were not a gracious God, the Bible would have been a mere six chapters long. For in Genesis 6, God stands ready to take the world he had so perfectly created, and which had so imperfectly imploded in sin, and pour it down the drain. “The end of all flesh has come before me,” he said, “for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and look, I am about to destroy humanity with the earth,” (6:13).

Yet Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Because of grace, the Lord made this man the first ship-builder, the first sailor, and a sort of Adam #2 to begin creation anew. Buried in a watery grave was a world of sinners who chose death over life. Down they sank beneath the waves of woe that engulfed the world they had flooded with corruption. And above those same waves floated the ark of salvation that Noah had constructed for him and his family of seven. Nothing stood between them and certain death but the wood of the ark buoyed up by the promise of a good and gracious God.

Noah and his family entered the ark through a door in the side. And in so doing, they gave us a preview of the way in which we enter a greater ark, to be saved in a greater flood. We find grace not only in the eyes, but in the wounds, of the Lord. The portal in our ark of salvation was not made with a saw and hammer but a soldier’s spear. It pierced the side of our Lord as he hung upon the cross. Out flooded blood and water. Through that door in the side of Christ we enter the ark of saving grace.
But we don’t walk through this door.
No one can.
We are carried by waves through this door.
The water and blood that streamed forth from Christ, streams us back into him as we are buoyed up by the waves of baptism, through the wound, and into the body of God incarnate.

“Baptism now saves you,” Peters says (2 Pet 3:21), because baptism is the flood reenacted, but with a wondrous twist. We are sundered from the number of the unbelieving, pass through the pierced-portal in the side of Jesus, and are preserved dry and secure in Christ, the ark of life. “He ferries us across death’s raging flood.” He preserves us dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

As Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we find that same grace in the wounds of our Lord. Of him the water, the blood, and the Spirit cry, “He is our ark; he is our life; he is one who is drowned in our sins that we might float safely to the heavenly harbor of the Father.”

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It quotes from and alludes to the language of Martin Luther’s Baptism Liturgy and the “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” by Stephen Starke (Lutheran Service Book, #597).

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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The Missing Verse in the Creation Account

Sometimes the Scriptures trip us up. We’re walking along the biblical road, as it were, and our foot catches in a pothole. There’s a gap in the narrative. So we pause, we look, we ponder. We note what’s missing and wonder what it might mean. What the Bible does not say becomes just as fascinating as what it does say.

torahscrollThere’s such a gap in the creation account. Six times we read that “there was evening and there was morning, the _______ day.” The first day, the second day, and so forth. Genesis 1 has a predictable pattern; it’s a smooth road to walk. Until we get to the end. There our foot catches in a pothole. We read that God finished all his work on the seventh day, that he rested on this Sabbath day. But never does it say “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” It’s like there’s a missing verse in the creation account. Why? It’s as if this day never ended. It’s waiting for something—or someone—to bring it to a close.

In many ways, the story of Christ is mysteriously hidden in the opening chapters of the Bible. He is the word by whom the heavens and earth were made; the light of the world; the true image of the invisible God; and so forth. He is also the one who finally can say, “there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” Jesus brings this first Sabbath to a close when he rests within the tomb on the Sabbath day. He has done the work of recreation, the work of saving us. Having worked himself to death, he rests from his labors on the Sabbath. When Jesus rises again, that old seventh day is over. Indeed, the old creation has come to an end. When the Creator emerges from the tomb after his Sabbath rest, he ushers in the eighth day. It is the first day of the new creation in Christ. And it is a day with no evening, for this day shall never end. The sun never sets on the new creation in Christ, for there is no darkness, only light in the Lord. In his Genesis Lectures, Luther remarks on this,

“In an allegorical sense the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the sepulcher on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day without the alternations of night. (AE 3:141)

The Old Testament had already foreshadowed this eighth day salvation we have in Christ. On the ark, there were only eight people. After the flood, these eight disembark into a kind of new creation. God had rewound the world, as it were, to Genesis 1 again, where waters covered the surface of the earth. When the earth is dry again, Noah and seven others step into this purged creation as the human nucleus of a new world. St. Peter tells us that the flood was an image of baptism (1 Peter 3:20), whereby we are saved. In baptism we enter the ark of Christ’s body through the door in his side, hollowed out by a Roman spear. In Christ, we become part of the group of eight on the ark. The eight does not increase to nine or ten but swells to contain us all. God recreates us in this saving flood of baptism. We enter the new creation in Christ.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, infant boys were circumcised on the eighth day of the lives. This was a preview of the true and full circumcision that was to come in Christ. In Jesus, all of us are “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Col 2:11-12). We were circumcised with Christ in baptism. Not just a tiny bit of flesh—the foreskin—was cut away, but the entire person has been circumcised away by those cutting waters. In baptism we are buried and resurrected with Christ. We rest with him on the seventh day. And we rise with him on the eighth day as new creatures who enter an eternal day. Yes, we await the resurrection of our bodies, but by baptismal participation in the resurrected body of Jesus, we already have the down payment of our own resurrection. And, as Luther says, on the day our bodies are raised, we shall be “perfectly circumcised, in order that we may be free of every sin of the world,” (AE 3:141).

On Easter, Jesus finally finished writing Genesis 1-2. He stepped out of the tomb, took pen in hand, and wrote on the Torah scroll, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” He began the eighth day, after which there is no other. It is the everlasting day of an everlasting kingdom which we enter on the ark of baptism, circumcised into Jesus, made new and whole in him who accomplished a re-genesis of the world for us.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Gather at the River of Life and Death

arkcrossingjordanThe Jordan River is a place of life and death, of departure and arrival. Its waters are both knives and wombs, cutting away the old and giving birth to the new. Here Moses passes away in a desert land while Joshua passes over to the land flowing with milk and honey. Here Elijah departs in his fiery chariot while Elisha is filled with a double portion of his spirit.  Here John, having baptized the Messiah, decreases while Jesus increases. And here you must decrease, must depart, must die, must become nothing, that out of the nothing you become, the Father might create you anew.

Our forefathers, the Israelites, had staggered around the circle of death in the wilderness for forty years. Then, with a whole generation of corpses buried behind them in the desert sand, they stood face-to-face with the Jordan River, ready to enter the promised land. The Jordan was the river of a new exodus, better than the one their fathers had experienced four decades ago at the Red Sea. Then, their enemies had snapped at their heels like mad dogs; now, their foes cowered in fear behind Jericho’s high walls. Then, they entered the lifeless desert; now, they step into God’s holy land.

The Ark of the Covenant, where the Word became present and dwelt among them—that Ark would open the door that led from the old to the new, from death in the wilderness to life in the land. Borne upon the shoulders of the priests, it was carried to the brink of the Jordan. When the feet of the ark-bearing priests touched the water, the river was rent in twain, like a veil in the temple, opening up the way to the Promised Land beyond. And so, as God stood upon His Ark in the middle of the Jordan, His people passed over on dry ground, into the land called holy. For forty years they had decreased, departed, and died, become nothing, that out of the nothing they had become, the Father might create them anew as His chosen people, holy and blameless before Him.

Therefore when Jesus is ready to be baptized, He epiphanies Himself at no other river than the Jordan. How could it be otherwise? On the bank of that river stands the church, watching as John the Priest baptizes Jesus, who is the New Ark of the Covenant and the New Priest and the New Joshua and Yahweh-become-flesh. Jesus was all this, and more. Here are no golden cherubic wings upon the old ark of the covenant but the wings of the Spirit’s dove landing of Jesus the new Ark. Here the waters do not split; rather, the heavens themselves are rent asunder, the doors are thrown open, the way is prepared.

It is prepared for you. And God knows you need it. For all you have prepared for yourself is destruction. For just like Israel of old, you prefer the comforts of slavery to the struggles of freedom, the pains of pilgrimage. The manna God provides is never tasty enough. God never lives up to your expectations. So silently or audibly you wish for an easier way. You hanker for a way unencumbered by stubborn children, troublesome spouses, meager incomes, failing health. You want an easy way with an easy God. But God has not called us to ease but to battle, to readiness for whatever cross He places upon us.

Get out of Egypt and, more importantly, get Egypt out of you. Leave the wilderness of sin and death. Cross the Jordan.  For the way is prepared; it is prepared for you. The ark of Christ has been painted red with the blood of His atonement, shed for you on the altar of the cross. All the Jerichos of your sin and death have been conquered in His resurrection; the strongholds of Canaan have been vanquished in His empty tomb. There is nothing and no one to fear.

At the Jordan of your baptism you died, nothing you became, that the Father might create you anew. And so He has. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and the new you has come. You are the Father’s beloved son, in whom He is well-pleased. The water of the Jordan has cut away the old and given birth to the new. And now you live, you live with the Life that is not your own and will never be taken from you.

You live in the One who is one with the Father and has become one with you. Jesus placed Himself in the Jordan River, so that in Baptism He might place you inside Himself. You are baptized as a member of His body, as intimately connected to Jesus as a finger is to a hand, as skin to muscle, as muscle to bone. His life flows into you as freely as the water flows onto you in Baptism. You are permeated with God, filled with Him who fills all things, and fills you in particular with forgiveness, everlasting life, salvation, peace, all the riches of heaven.

So as did Israel of old, you too cross into Canaan. In Jesus, you walk into the Holy Land. Ascend to the New Jerusalem and kneel at the altar of a new and better temple. Open wide your mouth to drink the milk of Jesus’ blood and to eat the honey of His flesh. It is all yours for God has made you all His.

This meditation is included in my book, Christ Alone, which was announced this week as the winner of the 2014 KFUO Book of the Year. Click here if you’d like to purchase a copy from CreateSpace. It is also available on Amazon. You may also be interested in my book of hymns and poetry, The Infant Priest, which is available here, or my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!

Honky-Tonk Baptism: Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water”

Listening to country music these days can feel an awful lot like you’re sitting on a tailgate, drinking a longneck, talking with rednecks about guns and girls and baptism. Yes, you read that right; I said baptism. Carrie Underwood’s newest hit single, “Something in the Water,” is a splash of musical liquid on the sawdust floor of Nashville.

There Must Be Something, or Nothing, in the Water?

bloodwaterThe lyrics lead us into the life of one who, late one night, is “all out of hope and all out of fight.” At the end of her rope, she recalls what someone had recently told her. He said that earlier in his life, he’d been where she’s at now, where “down every hallway’s a slamming door,” where there’s “no way out, no one to come and save me.” Then a friend told him what he’s telling her, “Just a little faith, it’ll all get better, so I followed that preacher man down to the river.” There, on her knees, in tears, she prays the only prayer she knows, “God, if you’re there, come and rescue me.” And He does. She’s “washed in the water, washed in the blood.” And now she’s changed, she’s stronger, because “there must be something in the water.”

Underwood is not trying to transform the jukebox into a pulpit; she’s not a theologian. She’s merely singing about a spiritual journey, as country music often does. But what I find refreshing and ironic about the song is that she ends up saying more about baptism than some preachers do.

One of the reasons this song resonates so strongly with me is because, like many Protestant churchgoers, I grew up hearing from the pulpit, and believing wholeheartedly, that there must be nothing in the water. Nothing but me and the preacher. The preacher did the dunking and I submitted to the act of watery obedience required by Jesus to show Him that I’m really serious about being His follower. In fact, because my baptism was a pledge of allegiance to Christ as Lord, when I failed miserably to keep that allegiance, I hit the repeat button and walked into the fountain a second time (read about that here). Still, even then, I believed there was really nothing in the water but a teenage boy recommitting his life to Christ. And had God not eventually revealed the truth to me—the sweetest, most beautiful truth imaginable—then I fear I’d have been baptized a million more times as I tried, and failed, to be the person God would be proud to call His disciple.

Mishearing the Bible’s Lyrics of Baptism

Have you ever thought you knew the lyrics to a well-known song, only to discover that you were mishearing them all along? Like hearing “‘scuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky,” in Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze.” Or, “reverend blue jeans” instead of “forever in blue jeans” in Neil Diamond’s song by the same title (for a laugh, watch this scene from King of Queens). Once you learn the right lyrics, you go back and listen to the song again, with a fresh set of ears, and you wonder how you ever misunderstood them!

That was basically me when I first listened to the biblical lyrics about baptism. The Scriptures say, “Baptism now saves you,” (1 Peter 3:21) but I misheard those words as, “Baptism now represents that you’re an obedient child of God.” Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them,” (Matthew 28:18) but I heard “after you’ve made them disciples, then you baptize them to show their commitment to the faith.” Peter preaches, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children…,” (Acts 2:38-39), but all I heard were the first four words, “repent and be baptized.” I didn’t hear that we’re baptized for forgiveness, that baptism gives the Holy Spirit, that all—including children—are welcomed to the font. Paul writes, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:25-26), but I heard “washing of water to symbolize me giving myself up for Christ.” When God was singing about baptism, He didn’t slur His words. He didn’t mumble. Each syllable was clear and crisp. The problem was not in His mouth but in my ears.

When the Holy Spirit finally gave me a fresh set of ears, I heard—really heard—what He’d been saying all along. Baptism really does save. It really gives the forgiveness of sins, life, the Holy Spirit, the whole salvation-shebang. Why? The last phrase from the Ephesians verse says it all: because it’s the “washing of water with the word.” Baptism is God’s word-washing. As Carrie sings, “there must be something in the water.” And she’s right. There indeed is: the word is in the water.

Do you mean the word by which God made the heavens and the earth?
Yes, the same word.
Do you mean the word by which He still upholds all things?
Yes, that very word.
Do you mean the word by which Jesus spoke healing to the lame, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the Lazaruses of this world?
Yes, that healing, vivifying word is in the water.
And do you also mean the word which was in the beginning, the word that was with God, the word that was God, the word which became flesh and dwelt among us?
Yes, the incarnate word, Jesus Christ, is in the water, too.

Jesus Puts Himself into the Water

baptismThere must be something in the water of baptism—and someone. And both are truly the same. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was baptized to put Himself into the water, in order that when you’re baptized He might put you into Himself. He Himself was baptized in that river, but you might also say that He christened the water, too. All rivers and streams and oceans and little pools of font water everywhere became fit meeting places between Him and you. At every baptism, the Lord of all is in the water to give all of Himself to you. He who made the heavens and the earth remakes you into a new creature. He who uphold all things holds you up like a newborn naked baby to the excited chatter of angels. He who spoke healing to the lame, blind, deaf, and dead, heals and enlivens you in this holy word-washing. And He who is the word made flesh, makes your flesh part of His through His word. You become of Him, as He became of you.

There must be something in the water that does such great things. And there is. You’re there, the Father’s there, the Son’s there, the Spirit’s there. You’re washed in the water, washed in the blood, the water and blood that streamed from Jesus’ side on the day He died for you.

And there’s no better place to be.

P.S. I borrowed the idea for the title of this post from the book, Honky-Tonk Gospel: The Story of Sin and Salvation in Country Music, by Gene Veith and Thomas Wilmeth.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (or here on Kindle). Thank you!

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