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, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who 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.
21And 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, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
In Christ’s baptism we avoid udder destruction
Some years ago now, back when my family lived around Foremost AB., my brothers and I were invited out by one of our church friends to see their farm and dairy operation. We had lived in small town Minnesota before but were unacquainted with real rural living. The family was gracious and kind to a bunch of city kids goggling at farm life, and the farm was beautiful with those magnificent prairie skies. What stands out exceptionally in my memory though, is going to see the dairy operation that they ran; in particular, seeing how they cleaned the cows’ udders. What could possible interest a teenage boy in a dairy operation so much that the incident would be memorable even seven years later? Flamethrowers.
A common practice in the dairy industry is to clean udders by means of a short burst of fire. Short bursts singe tiny hairs off and do not harm the cow. Without such cleaning the cows may be in danger of developing mastitis. So, the fire, handled correctly, serves to purify the udder in a striking fashion so that good milk can be produced efficiently. This image calls to my mind the words of John the Baptist in the gospel of Luke, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
In the text for today, Peter compares Noah and his flood to baptism, writing that the flood “prefigured” baptism. In the same vein, when the prophet Isaiah is commissioned an angel touches a burning coal to his lips saying, “… Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” I’ve heard that passage also compared as a sort of prefiguring to baptism (at least in purpose), so I don’t think my comparison with the cows is entirely too far out there.
So, how does this all relate to today’s scripture and theme? From Noah to prison to the spirit descending on Jesus like a dove, the texts point towards baptism. How does this relate to the theme of Lent? Because of sacrifice.
The word Baptism comes from a greek word (baptizein, or baptismos) meaning immersion. What we saw earlier in the baptism of Lexi is the washing with water. What we didn’t “see” exactly is what makes baptism a sacrament. Colossians 2:12 says we are, “Buried with Him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.”, and in Romans 6, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” and in today’s text, “And baptism… 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.” so clearly baptism in Christ is more than just a washing in water.
Because of baptism we are one with Christ in his death. “The old man” is put to death; the sinful nature is drowned and left behind in baptism. But we who have been baptized are still alive, we even sin sometimes, how does this make sense? As well as his death, in baptism we are one with Christ in his resurrection. This is a resurrection we look forward to one day in completeness, but also a daily resurrection of the soul. The unbelieving heart will not be resurrected, but by Christ’s resurrection we believe, and we will one day be made completely new. But for this we must set aside the old sinful nature.
After Jesus was baptised (to show us that we too must be baptized to be one with him), he was led out into the wilderness to be tempted. Our observation of Lent is a parallel to this. Matthew and Luke expound further on his temptation and his fasting during this time. In Matthew 4 it says, “After fasting 40 days and nights he was hungry.” Understandable. The temptation (as well as the ability) to turn rocks into at least bread must have been pretty whelming. In doing this he showed that he was like us in every way, except that he never gave in. Afterwards he was ministered to by angels and presumably he got some bread.
As we observe the season of Lent, we choose to deny ourselves something that we normally enjoy. For many this is coffee, for some meat, and for some that I know the use of chairs. It is usually painful to some degree. In this time we choose to set something aside and focus our time in prayer, and then we take the thing back up again with a greater appreciation for the gifts of God. Now, I liken this to baptism to a degree:
In fasting we set aside something (as Jesus did) so that we may take it up again with greater love for God and his gift; In baptism we set aside our very lives (as Jesus did) that they may be raised up again with God, that we would know the extent of his love for us. Food is good, to live is good. All that we have are gifts from God, but in setting them aside, and praying that Jesus would make us new, we may find that these gifts become even greater!
So this Lenten season, as you fast and surrender certain blessings for a time, dwell on Christ. Not only on his sufferings and his glory; not only on what he set aside and what we set aside in turn, but on the new life that he gives us in baptism. Jesus set aside his life, and then rose to new life. When we surrender to him, he gives us the same opportunity that we may have new life, life eternal, with him.