For the Hearts Together closing devotional thought, CUAA Pre-seminary Director Rev. Ted Hopkins, PhD, reflects on the paradoxical powers of water, both literally and spiritually.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” —Romans 6:3 ESV
Water can be death, but it can also be life. If you’ve ever been pulled beneath the waves of the ocean, you know the peril of water. Flipped upside down by the power of the tide, water feels like a frenzied force that can hardly be overcome. During flash floods, the tremendous power of water can rip through towns, bringing destruction and dismay. At the same time, though, water grants life. Wildflowers blossom and flourish with each summer storm. A big gulp of water tastes so sweet after mowing the lawn or taking a long hike. A dip in the pool on a summer day brings remarkable refreshment. It’s an odd combination if you think about it: deadly water also brings life.
What is true about water’s effects on us physically is also true spiritually but in a different sense. God uses water to be both deadly and life-giving for us in Holy Baptism. In Romans chapter 6, Paul describes how the water of Baptism is first death to us: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” In the water and by the Word, our sinful nature must die, drown under the deadly power that is Holy Baptism. Although our bodies do not die physically, this is a real death—in fact far more real than when we stop breathing. Because of our sinful nature, all of us are rebels against the Creator. We want to find pleasure according to our wills, create our own meaning and purpose, and simply live by our own rules. Instead of living by faith in God, we live by control. The problem is not only that we commit sins against God but also that we are dead already in the way that matters most because of our rebellion. We were made to depend on the Creator and have life in him, but we have rejected him and have tried to establish life on our own terms—which is actually death. Hence, to have life, real life, with God, we need to drown.
Baptism does just this through word of God. We die to our sinful nature by being baptized into Christ Jesus, brought down into his grave. Deadly water demolishes our desire for control and our rebellious determination as God’s word makes the water a destructive force that yet brings eternal life. For the great news of baptism is not just that our sinful nature is destroyed but that we ourselves are made new by faith in being connected to the Lord Jesus. In dying with Jesus in his grave, we are also given the resurrected life of Jesus, the eternal life of the Son of God. In the water of Baptism, we have this great divine treasure of Jesus’ own life for us, which is not just refreshing but renewing, granting us true life with and in God by faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Because of these great promises of God in the water of baptism, we die to sin with Jesus and are brought to new, eternal life by the Spirit. Deadly water and word give us life.
Prayer: Almighty and eternal God, according to your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.
We pray that You would behold us according to Your boundless mercy shown to us in Holy Baptism, and continue to bless us with true faith by the Holy Spirit which was granted to us through this saving flood in which our sinful nature was drowned and died. Grant that we be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(Slightly adapted from Luther’s flood prayer, found in the service of Holy Baptism, Lutheran Service Book, 268–69.)
—Ted Hopkins, MDiv, PhD, is head of CUAA’s pre-seminary program. He began his tenure at CUAA in 2015. He is a husband and father, Lutheran pastor and professor, who is particularly interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the fall 2022 issue of Hearts Together, a Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor special magazine edition. The fall issue hit mailboxes in September. View a PDF version of the magazine here.
— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Ann Arbor and Wisconsin. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-243-2149.
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