Philip Casmer

Baptism Saves

by Philip Casmer on February 21st, 2024
1 Peter 3:18-22

Nobody likes to suffer. It happens though: we get sick, people are rude, governments collapse, famine and natural disasters happen, houses burn down, people lose jobs. Suffering’s all around. What’s worse, though, is suffering that seems undeserved: like when you’re doing what’s right and you suffer for it. Which is something you encounter all the time. Christian people are generally concerned with living according to God’s truth, what he says is good and right, in a world that considers most of what God says to be truly wrong. 

Peter’s concerned with how it goes for believers. That’s chs.2-3 of his letter. He’s encouraging godly behavior – not giving in to sinful desires – being kind husbands, respectful wives, good workers, honest people – and he’s saying that, to do all that, you need to “set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts” – you know he’s the master – and you be ready to explain to others what your hope is in Christ – like, why you’d hold him in your hearts and over your lives… But Peter also notes the problem – in the sinful world, whether because of your own sinfulness or that of others, Christian living will sometimes bring suffering – even for doing what’s right. And, maybe you could ask, “Well, how do you deal with that?”

I think it’s interesting what Peter applies to that experience. It’s not surprising that he brings Jesus into the picture, of course. What might be surprising is that he doesn’t bring Jesus in as our example – Christ suffered and he obeyed and so should you – but as our substitute. Primarily he says – at the beginning of our section and its end: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”…[and now v.22] “he’s gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Paraphrase it this way: You’re suffering perhaps – and that’s terrible – remember Christ who suffered so that the sins that plague you – your own or the ones around you – might not get in between you and God – the whole point of his work was to bring you to God, into a relationship with him. And, even though there are trials and sufferings, that Jesus is in the seat of power, ruling over all things with you in mind.

That’s a mighty comfort. What I perhaps wouldn’t expect is Jesus’ descent into hell – that’s what’s in v.19 “[when Jesus] made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” The Bible doesn’t know of any imprisonment except hell – after death we face judgment – and then heavenly life or eternal death. Here he means that Jesus, after being made alive again after his death, went and proclaimed – preached victory – to those people in hell from the days of Noah.Why mention Noah’s day? Remember Genesis 6? “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark…’” God’s judgment came against sinful mankind – who plagued Noah, the then rare follower of God – brought him great suffering and mockery for following God’s will. But, in the ark “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.” That wooden box rode the deadly,drowning waves of the rising floodwaters and they were saved. But did you notice what Peter did? How he applied that – a bible story so distant and events so esoteric – to your own lives of suffering? “[T]his water [of the flood] symbolizes Baptism that now saves you also…”

How often do you think of baptism that way? As pastors, we get the honor of doing lots of baptisms – here they are mostly baby baptisms, as you bring your children up in the Lord. But, certainly, a temptation for us pastors is that your baptisms are always “things we have to do” and “things to get right” – make sure there’s water in the font, don’t forget what order these words go in, put a sticky on the worship folder so you say the right name… you know, for us it’s tempting to make it professional. But for you too. Not long ago it was little baby Petersen at the font, and before that little baby Jensen and before that little baby Gister. Those moments are beautiful and weighty, but also passing, aren’t they? They’re events that happened. Even for the parents, they might be sort of signposts on the highway of life – this happened, then that happened, etc. But Baptism isn’t just a sign – it’s not just a thing that happens, something we do. Peter uses the most epic verb you can use in Scripture: Baptism saves

That’s a God verb, friends. That’s God’s work – save – rescuing from sin, death, and hell. God does that. And Peter says that happens in Baptism “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Peter’s saying that Jesus’ work of suffering for sins to bring you into a relationship with God – suffering in his death at the cross, dying as the punishment for sins even though he was holy, then rising to life again victorious over death as the result of sins… In Baptism, God connects you by faith to all of that. It provides you with “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

To be specific about it, think of the last time you suffered. And for whatever reasons, some of them may have been your own sins that caused it. It might be too that, in the midst of whatever the difficulty, you gave into sin – doubt, fear, anger, hate. And that can weigh on your conscience – it should – sin is shameful, it separates from God. But a “good conscience”? That’s saying there’s nothing that worries you or causes you doubt or has you feeling guilty. Why not? Because in Baptism, God makes the pledge to you of a good conscience…in baptism he brings to you exactly what he brings to you in Jesus’ work – forgiveness of your sins, new life in a relationship with him, and the hope of everlasting life.

To be specific about it in your sufferings – those threaten to call you something other than you want to be, don’t they? People who are weak or failing… People hated by others… People slandered by others too. But in Baptism, the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And, whether you’re 36 or 6 weeks old, that’s God putting his name on you. Putting his name on you in a way to say that no one else can really call you anything different, nothing you experience here can change what he calls you to be. He’s called you his own. He’s forgiven your sins. He’s saved you…

And, in baptism, he provides a sign so you won’t forget his love. The sign in Baptism is water. Every time we wash our hands, we can remember that our very soul has been cleansed by God. Every time we see Lake Michigan, we know our sins are buried at the bottom of something much deeper. Every time we stand in the shower, warm water washing the grime and the day away… we remember what God has washed away and what comfort it brings. But water with God’s Word—Baptism—is much more than a sign. It is a Sacrament – something God commanded, connecting his Word with something touchable we can experience, and offering exactly what Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection brought – forgiveness, life, and peace with God.

In these midweek services, we’re going to focus on Baptism each week in different ways. Because we’re following Jesus to his cross and his death. And, as St. Paul said, “those who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” In his death, Jesus saved us. In Baptism, he does exactly the same. And the reminder of that holy work of God is exactly what I need in my daily life. Amen.

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