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!