Reformation 2: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 9-14; Romans 6:1-4; John 3:1-6, 16: Baptism

Infant BaptismA Syrian commander, a well-respected military leader, who won the respect of his King.  Still, something can come along in your life and undo much of what you built up over the years.  Such is Naaman.  For a fearsome affliction—leprosy—now overshadows his imposing warfighting skills and combat prowess.

To protect others from the infectious contagion, Naaman will need to isolate himself from everyone, including his family and friends.  No more will he be a leading officer of Syria but an untouchable and outcast, abandoned by all.  In desperation, he will try almost anything.

A slave in his household reports to him of someone named “Elisha.”  “Why do those Jews use such bizarre names,” he grumbles.  This enslaved girl informs him of a man in her homeland, who can heal him of his skin disorder.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Unusual circumstances make strange alliances.  What else can he do?

So, he journeys to this man to find healing—he hopes!  How humbling to come before a conquered people and ask, perhaps plead, for help.  Oh, he hates this ailment, which is robbing him of everything he values.  How much pride must he swallow?

In the threatening gloom, he curses under his breath and makes the trip, arriving at Elisha’s door.  The man, called a prophet, doesn’t bother to show his face and greet this superior—his servant does.  Such gall!  Can’t he grasp I can stride into his house and cut him down with one swift swing my sword?  With a reddening face, blushing in anger, he stomachs more humiliation from this defeated people.

The servant relays a message: “Wash seven times in the Jordan River.”  Now, if sending out your lackey didn’t humiliate me enough, now you tell me to scrub myself in some muddy waterway?  Give me lightning and thunder, something impressive, with arm-waving and arm-cutting antics, like the priests of Baal.  The prognosis is grim, and washing in some filthy, second-rate tributary doesn’t do the deed.

No one is so stupid not to understand you need clean water, not dirty.  Now, if leprosy is something I can wash off, such a cesspool of a stream isn’t the place to go.  More inspiring and cleaner rivers flow in Syria!  Enraged, Naaman is ready to ride off.  By not slaying Elisha for insulting me, I’m showing him more mercy than he deserves.

“Wait!  Didn’t you come all this way?  At least try.  For if what Elisha tells you is nonsense, you are no worse off.”  The slave’s outcry gives the proud commander some perspective.  Off he goes, to do his seven washings within Jordan’s waters.

Well, washing is a stretch.  For he’s getting mud on himself and takes pleasure in his appearance, with spit and polish and gleaming armor.  The first washing and he’s still diseased.  So also the second and third.  Still, he presses on, four, five, and six.  Shouldn’t he be getting better?  Nothing is changed.  All right, one more time!

Out from the murky water, he steps, stunned.  The prophet isn’t some nutty old man.  Those waters cleansed him!  Now, his skin is soft and supple as a baby’s bottom.

Gaze deep, and you will find a little of Naaman, or a lot, inside yourself.  Can we not use some spectacular, jaw-dropping miracles?  Those will show to the world the God I believe in is real.  “Oh, and while I’m asking, rescue me from my financial problems and family troubles.  O God, how about giving me heaven on earth?”

For Naaman, God worked a miracle, through the quiet and ordinary, devoid of glitz and spectacle.  Still, he expected something else.  Not so hasty, Naaman.  For God shows He works in hidden ways, often through His creation.  Consider the river’s water, which God used to achieve His purposes.  The point is so obvious because Naaman didn’t proceed from faith or trust.  No, he went to the water in case the washings might happen to work.  So, why not go to the Jordan?

Think of Jesus’ incarnation.  The eternal God took our human blood and bone from His virgin mother.  Again, an understated act from God, unobserved by many, though not missed by those involved!  An older man, betrothed but not yet married, travels with his bride to the two-horse town of Bethlehem.  Unnoticed is the Savior’s birth—until announced and celebrated by countless angels and shared by astonished shepherds.

The greatest miracle of all took place on a hill outside Jerusalem and at a nearby tomb.  The Son of God carried our sins up a stony slope to Calvary’s cross, enduring the death penalty we earned for ourselves.  The ashen body goes into the grave, with His followers expecting Jesus to stay dead.  For the morning after the Sabbath, the women go to anoint His cold and stiff corpse.

A couple of years before His execution, Jesus spoke to a man, Nicodemus.  In the discussion, Jesus pointed to what lay ahead and what He will institute.  How can we say this?  In John 3, Jesus taught Nicodemus to be on the lookout, for soon He will agonize for the misdeeds of all.

Still breathing and moving, Jesus talks, like He earlier died His atoning death for the entire world.  “For this is how God loved the world, he gave his only Son so all who believe in him will not perish but receive eternal life” (John 3:16).  The God from eternity points this puzzled man to something still to come—but does so as past event.

Still, believing in Jesus isn’t something we can self-generate.  So, with His death sentence yet to occur, Jesus will tell Nicodemus what He will also put in place.  Somehow, what He will do on the crossbeam of death needs to come to someone so he can believe and live, not suffer everlasting death.

So, Jesus instructs this teacher of Israel of what will soon take place in His New Covenant, which He will establish.  Gone with the Old, superseded and fulfilled by the New.  Soon, the circumcision of infant boys will be a practice of the past.  For something else will come, for both boys and girls, which will connect His forgiveness from the cross to the person, bringing someone under the Father’s rule and reign (Colossians 2:11-12).

The Messiah reveals to Nicodemus, “Unless someone is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Poor Nicodemus—he is clueless.  For the Greek word Jesus uses can mean “born from above,” meaning a spiritual birth, originating from God, but also, “born twice” or “again.”  In confusion, unsure of where Jesus is going, he thinks the birth from God’s Spirit is a repeated, second, physical birth.

The question Nicodemus asks exposes how misguided he is.  “How can anyone be born when he is old?  Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”  So, the Rabbi from Nazareth must be clearer, “Unless someone is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Whatever is born of the flesh, is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit, is spirit.”

The killing wood is yet to come, and yet our Lord speaks like He earlier died to give us life.  What God will do by water and Spirit is not yet commanded, but Jesus, likewise, refers to this heavenly birth as now in place.  So, what is this being born of water and Spirit?  Where does the enlivening Spirit use water, birthing us with spiritual life where only spiritual death once existed—baptism.

Like God using water to heal Naaman of his skin infection, Jesus will also take water, curing us of our disease of death never-ending.  Soon, He will direct His Apostles to disciple others by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).  Why?

Well, if Jesus leaves us scratching our heads, the Apostle Paul doesn’t.  To the congregation at Rome, he asks a rhetorical question.  “Don’t you realize those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death?”  Well, yeah, every Christian believes this!  So, they are reminded, once again, through baptism, about God the Holy Spirit connecting them to Christ’s death.

Ah, so when Jesus mentions the “water and Spirit” in the same conversation as His crucifixion, He’s joining them together.  For baptism unites you to Jesus’ death—but also more.  “Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death.  So, as Christ rose from death by the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.”  Yes, because baptism not only links us to our Lord’s death but also to His resurrection.  No wonder Scripture makes much of baptism!

More than 500 years ago, a baby boy, the son of Hans and Margaret Luther, became a child of God.  On November 11, 1483, the baptismal water with the sanctifying Spirit came to grace young Martin.  Later, as a man, he came to treasure the gift of salvation, which came to him in his baptism.  Whenever sin and Satan tempted him, he grew defiant, “I am baptized!”  Why such a response?  Here’s why.  For if you die with Jesus, you also will rise with Him.

The water and Spirit also attached you to Christ, which means Jesus now lives in you.  Not “lived” but “lives,” a reality taking place now, making “you were baptized” to now become “you are baptized.”  For you can only ascend to this new life, as Jesus did, if you are, not were, tethered to Him.

So, remain and live in your baptism, for your future is certain.  The redeeming Son will pull you with Him from death, to walk in risen life.  This came to you in the cleansing water where the life-breathing Spirit gave you birth from above.  Believe this for such is true, since “you are baptized!”

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!  When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!  Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine (LSB 594, st. 4).  Amen.