Matthew 14:22-33 doesn’t seem like a “Baptism Passage”. But as it involves Jesus, water, and our relationship to them, it spoke to me recently. The disciples are out on the water, in the middle of the night, being tossed in some waves. I know there are many of us who love being out on the water. Many of these men were fishermen, who were very comfortable on the water – and they were used to being out there all hours of day and night.
Yet as comfortable as they were on the water, as we read of Peter’s fear in verse 30, we realize there is still a sense of fear involved in the uncontrollable forces of nature. Throughout scripture, there is something important that happens to water from Genesis to Revelation…and this moment is just one of those transformational moments.
In Genesis 1:2, we read “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
There wasn’t much yet, except what God had brought into being. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos and formless-ness. We see water being symbolic of mysteries, even death, and sources of fear and unknown. We see this in the stories of Noah and the floods, or as the parted waters return to vanquish the armies of Pharaoh in the story of Exodus.
But listen to what happens to our relationship with water by the time our story with God reaches Revelation 22, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Let that reality sink in for a moment. How wonderful and hope-filling does that sound? But here in today’s scripture, and here in today’s broken world of 2022, we are not there yet. We live as a community in a way that proclaims the incoming of that future reality. In moments of Baptism, we join with Peter and Jesus, transforming our relationship to the waters.
First – Jesus enters the scene as someone who is able to walk on the waters.
Think about the sources of chaos, fear, mystery, and all the things you can’t control. The things in your life that you wish you could overcome, and “walk over” in ways that they have no power over you. We look to Jesus, walking on the water, and we are filled with hope. We join Peter in calling out – “Let me join you.” Jesus extends a hand to us, and says “Come.”
But as we look at Jesus, we see not only His Lordship, but also His sacrificial Love. We realize that even though Jesus could have “walked on water” his entire life, he didn’t. He purposefully dove under the surface of our human experience, allowing the waters to overtake him with everything they could.
The Second thing I see – Jesus, who could walk on the waters – chose to enter into them. Literally, he was baptized by John. But also figuratively – in the compassion of God, he chose to “suffer with” us, as one who felt the pain and brokenness of living within a world impacted by sin. He experienced the worst of what this world offers, and was even put to death in one of the most shameful ways that existed…and then rose again, victorious over all of these forces.
The Third thing I want to point out – is that this Jesus who walked on water, yet chose to enter the waters – is the same Jesus who says “follow me”. He doesn’t say it to you individually – he says it to each of us together as a body also. “Church – follow me.”
There is so much symbolism in baptism, but it’s important for us to know these moments were always about community, and becoming part of the body of Jesus. It’s the path toward entering into the local community of the body of Christ in a tangible way. We enter through the waters of “dying to our self”, and “coming alive in Jesus”. We give up our identities, and the claims we had to becoming whatever it was we previously wanted for our own sake. We often do this for our children also, when we have them baptized at younger ages, saying “This is the identity of our family.”
We become literally “The people who have passed through the water.” We enter into that which used to symbolize mysterious forces of death, chaos, and formlessness…trusting that we will emerge as New Creations on the other side. The waters of death have become the waters of cleansing & New Life. We lay down our lives, relinquishing all things, for the sake of coming alive as God’s Flesh. When we take our first breath after coming up for air, we are like newborn babies gasping for breath for the first time. No longer our own, we are now part of this community of those who have died to self.
Some of this sounds so desirable, even those of us who were baptized long ago may think to ourselves, “Man, it’s been a while and I’ve sinned since then – I want to go through it again.” To those of us having these thoughts, I want to encourage you – there’s no need.
When you come alive as those “New Creations” who have entered the community of believers, we have joined with Jesus who has conquered and brought freedom from all sin. Just like welcoming someone to a “Surprise Party”, it’s fun to watch them enter and yell “Surprise!”, but the point is the banquet and celebration itself. We are now a community where forgiveness reigns. Where reconciliation and redemption are our native language. Where shame has no power, because we are all in need of God’s grace.
Here among us, the waters no longer represent death because death has no power.
(Let the Church be a living “Amen”.)