A look at the pattern of chaotic Water as a metaphor throughout the Bible, and how it relates to baptism.
Today I’m talking about water.
What initially comes to mind when you think about water?
What if I said “Ocean?” What comes to mind?
What if I said Chaotic water? Does that conjure any specific images?
Water essential to life and a symbol of life, and yet it is also something to be feared and a terrible, destructive, decaying force. How many of you are afraid of water? Anyone here afraid of going UNDER water? In the ocean, lakes, etc?
Have you ever had an ocean wave overwhelm you and pull you under? Have you ever experienced the rapids of a fast moving river crashing over you and throwing you around as you flair down stream? How you ever witnessed the destructive power of a hurricane like the one that devastated the entire island of Puerto Rico last year?
If so, then you understand the power of chaotic waters. Chaotic water is the kind that is a threat to human life, that is uninhabitable or lethal for mankind. When faced with chaotic waters you very quickly realize that you and I have absolutely no control over it.
This is going to get a little nerdy, because to explain this we have to talk about the literary significance of other themes and narratives in the Bible. There are two literary devices we need to understand and preface before going further.
First, When reading the Bible, or any piece of literature really, it’s helpful to look for patterns. And we see all kinds of patterns throughout the BIble, woven into the narratives and poetry, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes really intricate and complex. Tracing these patterns can help us recognize and make sense of themes and specific details. A few months ago, pastor Mike preached a sermon that traced the pattern of light and its significance throughout the whole Bible.
Second, it is helpful to understand the importance of metaphors. You all know what metaphors are, even if you don’t. You think in metaphors, you talk in metaphors, language itself is a sort of metaphor. Metaphors use something as a way of explaining or describing something else. We use and think in metaphors all the time, without even realizing it.
For example, we think of life as a journey, and we speak in terms that stem from that: “we’re coming to a fork in the road” or “I have come a long way from where I once was.” That’s a basic metaphor that is ingrained in our minds in our culture. One used in the Bible frequently is people as plants. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and we are to bear fruit. That makes sense pretty easily to us because our culture is used to that basic metaphor of people as plants. We talk about people putting down roots, or sprouting, or blossoming. Other metaphors in the Bible are not so familiar to our culture, and take a little more work to understand. One of them is the usage of water, specifically chaotic water, and we’re going to look at the significance of that.
And going back to the idea of patterns, we actually see a pattern of this metaphor being used throughout scripture from the beginning. So there are these multiple layers of analysis and it’s a little nerdy, but let’s just go through a few stories and hopefully it will make sense. And I promise I’m leading up to something a little more practical, so just stay with me.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The image being painted here is of a wild waste, an ocean wilderness of chaotic water, completely inhospitable to human life. As we keep reading, we see God separating the water, and causing land to emerge, from which humans emerge and upon which they dwell. On that mound of land they are safe from the chaotic water, and the land provides them all the food they need. So the land is their God-provided refuge, their fortress, as well as their sustainer and provider. It gives them food.
Chaotic, deep water from page one is established as a symbol for something from which humans must be saved. This concept was familiar to Hebrew writers, and they used it frequently in poetry to refer to danger, enemies, destruction and death. And that metaphor is both leveraged and reinforced by several other narratives in the old testament. Literal events took place which both referred back to the creation story and built onto the metaphor to help interpret future events.
We may not be as familiar with that as such a specific metaphor, but many people can relate to the fear and danger of water.
In the story of Noah, God gives people over to their violent, chaotic ways, and destroys all creation, or “un-creates” everything, with...a flood of deep, chaotic water. The water comes from above and from below, undoing the “dividing” of the waters above and below in creation. However, Noah and his family are a “remnant” which God saved, redeemed by bringing them safely through the waters and back to dry land, which again emerges from the water as a safe mountain refuge, away from the danger of the deep.
When Moses is leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and they get to the Red Sea, the Egyptian army comes up from behind to take them back. They have enemies behind them, and deep, dangerous waters in front of them. But God divides the waters, brings them safely through on dry ground, and destroys the Egyptian army by consuming them with the water. Do you see the parallels here to the Noah story? Israel is even referred to as the “remnant” using the same phrase used for Noah’s family.
This event was so significant, God basically did the same thing again for the next generation, lead by Joshua, to cross the Jordan river. And He had them set up physical markers so their children would ask about them and they would explain how God brought them safely through the deep waters in a heroic act of salvation.
All these creation and salvation stories are foreshadowing, and in a way are like metaphors themselves, for the ultimate salvation story we see fulfilled through Jesus.
Just look at the key themes in these stories:
Creation: God’s sovereignty and control over chaos, and ability to create a dry land refuge for humans
Noah: God’s punishment of sin and “uncreation” But also God’s preservation of the righteous by bringing them safely through the waters and again to dry land.
Red Sea: deliverance from slavery and redemption
Jordan River: fulfilment of promise as they cross into the promised land
Bringing it back to water, when you start to see and understand the significance of the metaphor of chaotic waters and its role in stories of God’s rescue you are able to understand certain passages more deeply. Even looking at those narratives, seeing the pattern across all the stories makes each one a little more impactful.
Let’s fast forward to the New Testament, where we’ll find this pattern continuing in the earthly ministry of Jesus, which was primarily to the Jews who had a background and an understanding of chaotic waters and their importance in the Old Testament. We as American readers thousands of years later may not make the connections as readily as they probably would have.
“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.” (Matthew 14:24–33, NLT)
The disciples are far from land (safety) and in the middle of the storm (danger). They were “in trouble”. The disciples wouldn’t dream of taming the chaotic waters, but Jesus just walks on them! You might even say he tramples the danger under his feet. The water submits to Jesus at his feet.
In a similar passage, Jesus is asleep on a boat while the disciples fear for their lives.
“Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”” (Matthew 8:23–27, NLT)
Jesus is not even worried enough to wake up! Then, he speaks to the wind and the waves and the chaos is calmed. The waters obey His voice. Can you see the connection to the creation account we talked about earlier? From chaos to calm. The water obeys God’s voice and He brings order to the situation.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9–11, ESV)
The Jordan River: John the Baptist was baptizing people at the Jordan River. (!!!) This is too cool, you must see that! This is no mistake, that the setting for this is the Jordan, where God brought Israel through the waters on dry land, fulfilling his promise in a story of redemption
Jesus said he needed to be baptized. Why? He was setting an example for believers, and the response from heaven was a confirmation of Christ’s deity and His calling.
Jesus wanted to be baptized. And the location was the Jordan river, a place of chaotic waters.
But let's back up for a second, what is “Baptism” in the first place? We are a baptist church so we might as well know what baptism means, right?`
Baptism comes from the Greek noun βάπτισμα (baptisma), meaning “washingism” in relation to Jewish ritual purification washing. Specifically, it refers to the concept of “dipping” or “immersing” something in the process of washing it. The concept relates to purification, and was not a foreign concept in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament we first see the practice of dunking people in water.
1 Peter 3:21: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Colossians 2:12: or you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
Luke 3:16: John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John the baptist refers to the “real” baptism being in and through the Spirit and with Fire, which is a reference to what happened to the apostles at the day of Pentecost, and spiritual baptism is what happens to every believer since then.
When Jesus was baptized He was declaring His victory over the chaotic waters: death and destruction. By taking our sin upon himself and being totally immersed into death he was consumed by the chaotic waters. But, by rising from the dead he emerged out of the chaos and conquered the chaos. His earthly miracles proved he had the power to do it.
““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, ESV)
The baptism metaphor provided a way to explain to the Jews exactly what He, the redeemer/messiah had come to do.
Let’s just quickly review the stories we went through and look at the connections between them and the symbolism of baptism.
New creations (re-genesis)
In Genesis 1 we see the deep waters being parted in the act of creation. In the narrative of Noah we see the “un-creation” by the deep waters. Our baptism is symbolic of our re-creation through the chaotic waters:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)
Freedom from the bondage of sin
In Exodus we see how God redeems his people from slavery by calling them out of Egypt and not only rescuing them by parting the chaotic waters, but used those waters to destroy their enemies. Baptism is a symbol of our freedom, our exodus from sin.
“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:34–36, NLT)
Entering into the promises
Before the Israelites could enter the Promised Land they had to cross the Jordan river. God stopped the river upstream for them and made a way for them to enter into his promises.
Isaiah understood these connections when he prophesied about the coming Messiah:
“The Lord will make a dry path through the gulf of the Red Sea.
He will wave his hand over the Euphrates River,
sending a mighty wind to divide it into seven streams
so it can easily be crossed on foot.
16 He will make a highway for the remnant of his people,
the remnant coming from Assyria,
just as he did for Israel long ago
when they returned from Egypt.”
1 Corinthians 10:
Paul understood these connections in hindsight:
“Our fathers were under the cloud and passed through the sea, and all were baptized into moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
Paul was taking an old testament narrative and merging it with new testament concepts, showing the parallels and building a bridge between them.
Go with me to Romans chapter 6. Here Paul shows how the themes from all four of these chaotic water stories related to baptism, he captures all of them here:
“Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death [baptism, going under the water = death]? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives [re-creation]. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin [exodus / red sea]. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him [promised land of heaven]. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him [Christ conquered chaos].” (Romans 6:3–9, NLT)
Ready for one more connection to water and baptism? This time it refers to the spirit. When Jesus was baptized, the spirit descended upon him like a dove, and the Father was pleased with his Son.
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:38–39, ESV)
When we accept Christ, he not only conquers the chaotic waters, he gives us living water - the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is so closely associated with salvation, because it tells the story of salvation. When we associate with Christ, we, through salvation, become RECREATED and PRESERVED (Noah), taken out of BONDAGE to sin and into God’s Kingdom (Exodus), and the promises of God are fulfilled (Joshua) as we are adopted into His family. Baptism carries the symbolism of all of that. It was established to remind us how powerful JESUS is over the chaos of this world, how he defeats chaos, and brings His people through the waters into new life.
If you have been baptized, hopefully now you have a little more of a deeper appreciation for what that means. If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, but have not been baptized, you NEED TO! If you were baptized as a child and did not know what it meant to be a Christian, you should probably get baptized now that you DO know what it means.