My buddy Karen down in Gainesville, FL has an unequaled hatred for one of my t-shirts—-she completely despises my 2004 Grateful Dead Mardis Gras Jester Bear shirt. ( The Shirt ) Karen would not have chosen it, would not have tried it on, and that is most assuredly true.
And who can blame her? Right? I mean Stacy London might actually have someone show up wearing it to Love, Lust, or Run. And I suspect that were Jesus to stroll around Stacy’s neighborhood she’d probably offer him a chance to get a makeover on her show, too.
Think about it. How can any of us take him seriously?
I think we have to confess that this is true for us when it comes to Jesus Christ—there is no way any rational person can choose Jesus. Who would choose a poor child born to no account people in a town that wouldn’t on its best day boast a round-about or four-way stop? Who would choose a person so utterly poor in their adult life that they would say of themselves that, “foxes have their holes and birds have their nests but the Son has nowhere to lay his head?” Who wold choose such a person for anything—except maybe someone to avoid altogether as we pass by them under a highway interchange? We wouldn’t chose this person. We would not try this person. We would see no truth in this person.
So, thanks be to God, this person chooses us! This person chooses not us alone, but all people, even those who have been long dead.
18For 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. (text from NRSV)
The unrighteous living and dead, the righteous living and dead—BOTH sets—are included in the business of being brought to God. The suffering of Jesus becomes the mechanism to bring people to God. The Greek word used (v.18) in the text for this bringing business is προσαγάγῃ and it has the notion that someone or something is being gathered and led—-not necessarily of its own accord, but by the accord of another.
In v. 20 we see where a group experiences communal salvation from a flood through water, “saved through water.” The Greek word used in the text is διεσώθησαν, and is a compound word which renders “saved through” equally as “saved by way of.” Again, a mechanism apart from the group effects the salvation. This group was both chosen and saved by the activity of God.
And by the time we get to v. 21 the message is clear—–“Baptism now saves you” and, “just as Noah’s group was saved through water, so is your group.” In v. 21 Baptism is lifted up as the way the community experiences salvation—this isn’t myopically about any single person and their single splash in the individual bath.—nor is it about getting dirt rinsed away—but it is about a salvation looking to the One who sent Jesus to grant a συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς, a discerning good conscience, which comes through Jesus who is present with God amongst all God’s agencies—-agencies equally at the disposal of Jesus (v. 22).
In this text the agency to effect any salvation is God. The mechanism used by God to effect salvation is water. And in these cases it is the action of God bringing the community both salvation and a conscience that discerns good from bad through Jesus.
V. 18 begins with the work of Jesus, v. 22 ends with the work of Jesus
v. 18, 19, & 20 elaborates who the work of Jesus is for and names the method by which it happens—through water
v. 21 Makes it clear that through water God saved in the past, and God saves in the present. Salvation is through water—by Baptism—and the agency is all on God’s part.
So the movement in the text looks like this: 1) The Son gathers and proclaims salvation, 2) Souls receive salvation on account of the Son, 3) Water was the way God saved Noah’s group, 3) Baptism saves your group. 4) God does this through the Son.
Love the text?
Lust after the text?
Run after the text?
Whichever one we choose—–at the end of the day it is all about the power of God and the power of God at work through the Son. People gathered no one, proclaimed nothing, and saved no one. In the text–all the agency belongs to God. Our preaching should reflect this reality. At the end of the day Jesus is the one who did the choosing, suffered the trying, and is the Truth.
Consider these quotes of Martin Luther—-
“Suppose there were somewhere a physician who understood art of saving people from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all [people] alive.”
To this end,
“…when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
“…what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God’s own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new person, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.”
So we rejoice that—–
“This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in people, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”