47. Through the Water

Meditations in 1 Peter : 47: Through the Water

1 Pet 3:20-21 God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.

Baptism, I have observed over the years, is often a contentious thing in parts of the church. Some want to sprinkle as a symbolic gesture, others use deeper water. Some sprinkle children as a symbol; others wait until the adult is a believer. Peter says some interesting things about it.

He starts by referring to Noah as we have seen in the previous meditation. Note in passing, for the doubters among us, that in the apostle Peter’s eyes, Noah is an historical figure and the Flood a real event in history. Some of us are not so sure, but Peter is. In this he was following in the steps of his master. Jesus said, Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Lk 17:26,27) Clearly the all-knowing Son of God is referring to an historical event.

When John the Baptist baptised people in the Jordan he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance,” (Mt 3:11) indicating that baptism was a form of cleansing from the sin from which they turned away. The apostle Paul spoke of us “having been buried with him in baptism,” (Col 2:12 – also Rom 6:4) indicating the baptism is a picture of us dying to our old life and being buried, and then raised to new life.

Peter now comes with a bigger picture, an all-embracing picture. He refers to Noah building the ark, many dying in the flood with only Noah and his family being saved. Thus, he says, “this water symbolises baptism.” i.e. the Flood waters destroyed the world but the ark saved the faithful. The water symbolises the judgment of God which we all face but (implied) the ark symbolises Jesus who saves us from the judgment.

But then he says something that seems even more contentious:this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” Baptism, he says, saves us. How can that be? Didn’t the apostle Paul teach that salvation comes by faith alone? Yes certainly, but perhaps Peter has the ongoing work of salvation in his mind. Remember the illustration that we have used more than once in these meditations – saved from the sinking ship, saved as we go across the sea and saved once we land. We have been saved and we are being saved. It is also an ongoing thing – our living out our lives ‘in Christ’ until the day when we are called home and we die on this earth and go to heaven, our eternal destination. So why do I suggest that Peter is speaking of our salvation in an ongoing sense? Well, see what follows.

not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. The point of this picture – being saved through the Flood – is that it is not about cleansing or washing away dirt, but it about how we can now feel about ourselves and God. It is in fact about us being saved from our sins (being washed clean) and from the judgment of God, and it is all because we have an ark – Jesus, who died to save us from that judgment, as we have seen already a number of times in these meditations. Baptism is thus to be an outward act (and there aren’t many of them) that we do that contribute to our salvation, the onward walk with God.

How does it contribute to our salvation? It does it by being a continual reminder to us that we came to a crisis point in our life when we surrendered to God and jumped ship, from the ship of destruction, and are now being carried in Christ to our eternal destination. Christ is God’s provision for us and as we look back we are reminded that there was a time when we changed from a sinking ship to a saving lifeboat and it was all his work. All we had to do was jump into his provision and that was enough. Jesus, the ark, had done everything possible to be done and he qualifies as our ark, our means of salvation, our ongoing salvation.

We are what we are because we are being carried to shore by him and thus our conscience can be clear before God. No longer am I under fear of judgment. Now I am being carried to my eternal destiny by God’s provision, God’s ark, His own Son, Jesus Christ. My being baptized was a visual affirmation of all of this and it is something that I can look back on and know is a real expression of what has happened. It confirms and affirms my salvation and it strengthens my faith and reassures my conscience. There is nothing more I can do except let him take me through the choppy waters of the life in this world until we eventually reach the destination he has in store for me. Hallelujah!

6. Believing the Unseen

Meditations in 1 Peter : 6 :  Believing in the Unseen

1 Pet  1:8,9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Now I have to confess that these two verses have a very special place in my life. In the early months of my Christian life I was working with a youth evangelism team and one Saturday evening was having a good conversation with a non-believer, and prayed and prayed for him to respond positively to the Lord. He didn’t and, in my immaturity, I went home that night muttering to the Lord, how can I believe in you if you won’t turn up and answer simple prayers? The next morning I went to church and the preacher spoke on these two verses. I took note. In the afternoon I attended a young people’s organisation where I regularly taught Bible (yes, within my first year as a Christian) and it was their birthday and there was a visiting speaker – who spoke on these two verses. I sat up and took notice. Twice in one day! In the evening I went to a little mission hall where the youth evangelism team took Sunday evening services and the group leader spoke on these two verses. Three times in one day! I took serious note!

Verse 8 challenges the very core of faith. It is about believing in a God who you cannot see and often cannot hear, yet His word has come to us and convicted us and we now live in response to it and to what His Spirit says today. This is the hardest thing about the Christian faith – you cannot see God! Peter was writing to believers in Asia Minor who had come to the Lord after Jesus had ascended to heaven. They had never seen him. They had heard about him as the Gospel was preached and so now they were in the same position that we are: they believed in one who they had never seen. The writer to the Hebrews started out his famous chapter on faith with these words: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1).

This is the reality of the spiritual life; we believe in a spiritual dimension and a spiritual God and a spiritual heaven – all of which exist just as much as anything else exists – yet we cannot see them with our physical eyes; we only discern them in our spirit, and that is a faith issue. When Jesus had been on the earth, the apostle John had been able to write,That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.” (1 Jn 1:1).  That was true for those earliest believers and so today we believe in their testimony, today we live a life of love for the unseen One who died for us and who is now seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven ruling. But it is all faith because we do not actually see him. This is what I had to learn as a very young Christian and I am naïve enough to believe the Lord prompted three preachers on the same day to preach this message – purely for me (and no doubt for a number of others as well!!)

Now you may have known the Lord for a long time and so perhaps I need to remind you what it was like in those early moments, those early days, those early months. There was this inexpressible and glorious joy that you felt as a witness to something wonderful that had happened to you. In the passing of the years it tends to become a more deep-seated joy that is more there in the background but it is still there. It is the reminder and recognition of the wonderful thing that has taken place and continues to take place –  the establishing of a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords whereby He grants us forgiveness and cleansing and Sonship and eternal life with the presence of His own Holy Spirit.

This, says Peter, is us receiving the goal of our faith. It is both the reason why we have faith and it is also the outworking of our faith. As we’ve noted previously, it all comes from us believing God when He has shared the Gospel with us as He convicted us of our need by His Spirit. We believed he came to give us a new life and we grabbed it like a drowning man grabbing at a straw, and we found that it was real, it was true, and we were saved. This we came to realise was what salvation was all about, about Him saving us from our sins and from death so that we could live with Him for the remaining years on this earth and into eternity. Oh what a glorious thing it was! What joy!