What does Noah’s flood have to do with baptism?
Scripture: I Peter 3
Reading: Lord’s Day 26
Sermon by Rev. Harry Bout
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, 1984
© Burlington United Reformed Church; Vol. 1, No. 2
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Lord’s Days 26 and 27 deal with baptism. Baptism is, as you know, a sacrament that signifies the washing away of our sins by God’s grace, a washing away through the blood of Jesus Christ. Though in our circles water is sprinkled and in others dipped, in both cases it signifies the same thing. It signifies the washing away of sins. “One who believes and is baptized will be saved,” says Mark 16:16, “And he who does not believe will be condemned.” What does this kind of language really mean in practical terms? What does the sacrament mean for adults as well as for infants? We must never separate the sign and the seal of the covenant in the sacraments from the Word of the Lord. The sign and the seal are really quite meaningless apart from the reality to which it points. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is what saves you, not baptism. For example, the death of Christ on the cross will save you without baptism, but baptism without the cross of Christ will not save you.
Yet the sign and the seal are not meaningless, but have been given to us by God to show His covenant children just how great His love is for His children. It is to that end that He has instituted the sacrament of baptism. As Paul says in Titus 3:4, “While we were yet slaves to passions and pleasures, foolish and passing our days in envy and malice, hating one another, the goodness and lovingkindness of our God appeared that He saved us, not because of deeds of righteousness done by us, but in virtue of His own mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewal in the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly through Christ Jesus our Savior.” What the “washing of regeneration” is referring to is the washing away of our sin, as the catechism points out in question 73. That is the very same thing John talks about in John 3 when he says that we must be born anew, or again. The washing away of our sins in every one of these instances points to the necessity for the forgiveness of sins, the cleansing in the blood of Jesus Christ. So in baptism, very clearly then, we have a washing away of our sins.
Our text, I Peter 3, gives a little insight of what baptism is in relationship to the flood of Noah. In fact, this is a remarkable comparison between the flood of Noah’s time and what baptism means today. You might ask how the flood of Noah can help us to understand baptism more clearly. That is what I want to bring before you. We want to see especially how the flood of Noah can help us understand what baptism means. Verse 20 tells us that eight persons were saved through water. Notice that — the persons were saved through water. This is not the usual thing that you would think of when you think of the flood waters, is it? You do not think this when you think of the deluge, the tremendous downpour from the windows of heaven and the foundations of the deep that opened as described in Genesis 7. They all burst open like a dam, and like a mighty tidal wave of destruction it came upon the earth. Yet the Scriptures say that the water saved them! If you think about it you see that it is the water that saved them because the ark was lifted up on top of the water and thus the ark was carried to safety. The water separated the ark from the sinful world that was being cleansed and being destroyed. It was not the water that killed the people who had been left on the earth. It was their sin that destroyed them and Noah is saved because the water separates Noah and those who were in the ark from the cleansing and the destruction that is coming on the earth.
It is precisely in that very same way that the water in baptism separates you from the destruction that is coming upon the earth, as it were, and carries you safely away. Baptism is an exact copy of how Noah was saved. The waters in the flood in the Old Testament are compared now in the New Testament to what baptism does. And both, of course, point to the cleansing that takes place through the cross of Christ.
In order to understand this a little better we have to first of all appreciate some of the other contrasts that Peter often makes throughout this epistle. For example, in II Peter 3:5, he contrasts the two world orders. The first world order, “which was made by the Word of the Lord, the heavens of old and the earth standing out of the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, and in the water, perished.” He is referring to Noah’s flood. Then a new world order came into being; “The heavens and earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” So we see that there was a first world order subject to sin and therefore God’s wrath came upon it and it was destroyed, but the second world order that came into being has also come under the wrath of God. It also will come to the point where it must be destroyed, only this time not by water but by fire.
There is a reference here to those who are in prison. They are caught behind bars, you might say. Satan is holding them in prison. They are locked up in jail until God’s destruction comes. The only way that they can get out of there is if they are delivered. How are they delivered? This is where Noah comes in again. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Who sent Noah? Jesus Christ did. Jesus Christ was already at work at that time. Through the preaching of the Word, Jesus was beginning to open prison doors. That is why he sent Noah.
The preaching of the Word is to set you free from your sin. In II Peter 2:5 we read, “God spared not the old world order (the first world), but He saved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven other persons, bringing the flood upon the ungodly.” Before He destroyed that world we read in I Peter 3:19 that Jesus went to preach to the spirits in prison through Noah. Jesus preached to them through Noah for 120 years. You might say he was not a very successful preacher because Noah preached for 120 years and out of all the millions of people on the face of the earth only eight were saved — Noah and seven other family members. Only eight came out of prison to be set free. Verse 20, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah 120 years, while the ark was being built, in which a few, that is eight persons, were saved.” It was not an easy time to be a preacher because nobody believed what Noah was saying.
What about today? Verse 21 says that now in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; now that Jesus Christ is at the right hand of His Father; now that He has been given the authority and power over angels and everything is subject to Him; now the Word that is preached is going to have a far greater effect. Jesus Christ is present. Now is going to happen what Psalm 22 already said, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the kindreds of the people shall worship before Him.” Not just eight, just a few from one family, but now scattered to all the corners of the earth from every land and nation there are those who will be saved. Even here there are many more than eight who are saved. That is already a fulfillment of this prophecy. Satan does not have the kind of power today as he did then because the prison doors are being opened. Jesus Christ has come. “There shall be a multitude which no man can number of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues,” says Revelations 7:9.
A tremendous change has taken place since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is a message of comfort and joy. There is a great increase of God’s grace. But, even as there is an increase of God’s grace, there is also an increase in the responsibility of what we do with God’s grace. It says: “If those who have despised the preaching of Noah died without mercy, receiving in the flood waters a just recompense, how much sorer punishment shall be to those who have trodden under foot the Son of God and despised the Holy Spirit.” If men perished in the flood because they refused to listen to Noah, then how much greater will be the punishment of those who today refuse to believe in the preaching of the gospel, because now Jesus Christ is reaching out to them through the Holy Spirit.
Now, you say, what does baptism have to do with all this? Well, baptism is a sign and a seal of God’s wonderful love for us in Jesus Christ. Baptism is proof that God is at work today along with the preaching of the Word. The sacraments are also a means of grace. This is one of the means by which God has chosen to make His love known to you. He is saying something to you in baptism. When you have been baptized, you are a different person than you were before. After you have received the Word of the Lord, after you have had the gospel preached to you, then you are a different person because God has spoken to you. After you have been baptized, even as an infant, you are a different person because God has done something to you. You have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When God speaks to you in His Word, He is speaking to you in order that you might be saved. It is the very same thing in baptism. His name is set on you in order that you might be saved. Noah preached, and every day everybody could see him working faithfully on that ark . It was a very clear testimony that he was not just making up a story or hallucinating, but he actually meant it when he said that God’s judgement was coming upon them and that they needed to be in that ark in order to be saved.
So it is with the sacrament of baptism. The sacrament of baptism is concrete proof to you, along with the preaching of the Word, that you need to be saved, that you need to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, that you need to be cleansed outside of yourself. Baptism is an undeniable proof that God’s judgment is coming upon all those who refuse to be washed in the blood of Christ. “This is the day of salvation,” says God’s Word, “which at the first began to be spoken to us by the Lord and was confirmed to us by them that heard Him, God also bearing witness with signs and wonders and diverse miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His will.” This is now a means that God concretely comes to you and says you must be washed, you must be cleansed. No doubt when the flood waters came there were many who were trying to climb up walls and trees and mountain cliffs, or ride on logs and boats, but no one made it except the eight souls in the ark. Many will try to escape the fiery destruction of this earth, calling upon the mountains and the hills to cover them, but there will be no escape except they are washed in the blood of Christ which is here as sign and seal in the sacrament of baptism. “There is no name under heaven among men whereby we can be saved but the name of Jesus,” and that is what baptism points to. He is the means by which you must be saved from the wrath to come. “There remains no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking to judgment to destroy them as the adversaries of God,” says the writer to the Hebrews. This is a very severe warning indeed, that only judgment remains for those who reject to be washed in the blood of Christ.
What does this all mean in practical terms, for us and especially for a child, because what does a child understand about baptism? Certainly an infant is not able to understand what it means to be washed in the blood of Christ? An infant does not understand what a great privilege it is to be baptized. But, you see, this is precisely the task of the parents of that child. It is their responsibility to point out and train that child as to what their baptism means. What should they say? What should a Christian mother and father say to a little child who has been baptized? You were baptized as an infant, so you are automatically saved? You can now go and live as you please, within certain limits, of course, but as long as you keep God happy most of the time you will make it and go to heaven. You are okay because you are baptized. Is that what you tell your children? Of course, you realize you cannot say that. You realize, don’t you, how wrong it would be. What should parents say then? Well, they should point out what being washed in the blood of Christ means, and that it is being washed in the blood of Christ which saves them. God promised to them on the day they were baptized that He would wash them, and has washed them, but now they must live out their baptism. Now they must live as those whose sins are washed away.
To be baptized means that your sins are washed away, not if, or maybe, but they are washed away. Therefore you must stay clean and you must flee every appearance of evil. God does not promise in baptism that He will continue to forgive sins of any baptized adult or infant members regardless of how they live. If a confessing member of the church purposely continues to live in sin without any sign of repentance, then they are, as it were, jumping off the ark and committing suicide. They are washed in the blood of Christ, and therefore to purposely continue in sin is, as it were, spiritual suicide. Or, looking at it in this way, what was Noah saying when he was preaching to the people as he was building the ark? He was saying, “Look people, God’s wrath is coming upon you because of your sin, but if you come into the ark, then you will be safe.” That is why the ark was being built, so that there would be a means by which men could escape God’s wrath and be lifted up on top of the waters of the flood. The ark was God’s provision so that they could flee from the wrath to come. Satan wanted to hold them in prison so that they would die in themselves, but the preaching came to deliver them so they could be released and come into the ark. But no one believed that the flood and the wrath of God was actually coming, so they stayed in their prison cells. They died there because they refused to believe that in the ark, and in the ark only, God’s means and provision of safety was granted to them.
You see, on a parallel basis, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ something wonderful has happened. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Now Jesus is like the ark, you might say. Jesus saves us from the wrath that is coming upon the earth and much more than 120 years have gone by — almost 2,000 years, and we are still waiting for the wrath of God to come. Today all God’s servants are sent throughout the earth to proclaim, “Get into the ark while you can. That is the only safe place there is. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” This is the same message, it is the same thing. Believe in the means of salvation that God has provided in the time period in which you live. For the time of Noah it was the ark, and for our time today it is still the ark, but now the ark is Jesus Christ.
But you ask, how is that visible today? What does it mean to get into the ark today? Well, you see, the ark today is the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has a visible body on earth, and that is what we must get into. We can’t stay outside of it but we must get into the visible ark that Jesus Christ is building through His servants today, and that is the church of Jesus Christ. That is why you hear again and again, “Believe and be baptized.” When you are baptized you become a member of the ark, of the local body wherever that happens to be on the face of the earth. There is not just one ark visible, but there is a body of Jesus Christ in all different localities, where those who believe can get into and become part of the body of Christ. That is where you are safe because that is where you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In order to get into the ark as an adult you must make a conscious decision. When you hear of the coming of God’s wrath and you believe that Jesus is the only means that God has appointed whereby you must be saved, and you believe and are baptized, then you become a member of the body of Christ, the visible ark today.
But what about little children? They can’t believe, so will they perish? Yes, every one who is born outside of the ark, outside of the body of Christ, we have no hope for unless God grants that they grow up so that they might believe. What about children of believing parents who are living in the ark and are members of the body of Christ? Must they carry their children outside the ark? Must they leave them outside the ark and deposit them there until they are old enough to believe and then they can become members? But what if God’s judgment would come before they are old enough? Then they would perish in the destruction that is coming upon the world. Do you see what a beautiful thing it is that God has provided in His covenant of grace also a place for the children, the small tiny infants, of believing parents who are inside the ark. They don’t have to run outside the ark and leave them there until they are old enough. God in His marvelous grace has provided a place of safety for them in the ark. It is not because of the parents and anything they have done, but God has provided that place of safety for them.
When that infant becomes a child and a young person, then, of course, those Christian parents must take every opportunity to explain to them the safety and security of that ark. They must explain to their children what it means that they are washed and cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ and they must, of course, teach them about the tremendous danger outside of the ark, outside the body of Christ and outside of that cleansing. They must warn them of how God looks upon sin that would defile them. Then if the child becomes rebellious and decides to leave the safety and the security of the body of Jesus Christ where the sacraments and preaching of the Word are heard so that they might be cleansed, if they decide to just chuck it overboard, it is tragic. Inside they were safe under the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb, but if they purposely defile themselves, if they don’t care if they go out into the world of sin, then they will perish unless they repent and come back.
Here is where the elders have a tremendous responsibility also, because they are placed at the entrance of the ark, as it were. They cannot allow a person who has left the ark purposely, who has gone out and defiled themselves and lived in the world and become stained, back into the ark unless they are repentant and seek forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Only if that person realizes how horrible the sin is and comes back and genuinely feels sorry for his sins and repents with a broken and a contrite heart and says, “Please let me back in because now I realize the difference between the body of Christ which is cleansed in the blood of Christ and the world that is perishing. Now I have seen it.” But if they don’t care and just go out and do as they please, then the elders may not let them back into the ark.
The elders must keep watch very carefully over the entrance. They have the keys to the kingdom. If even one member of a local body of Christ goes out and defiles himself or herself, it has an effect on the rest of the body as well. Then the rest of the body also becomes stained with their unconfessed sins, and if after a while the elders don’t deal with this and one member after another is allowed to go in and do as they please and live as they please, then do you know what will happen? Then Jesus will remove His presence and the candlestick is going to be taken away from them. That is what Jesus says to the church of Ephesus in Revelations 2:5, “Repent and do the things that you did at first, and if you do not repent then I will come to you and I will remove your lamp stand from you.” To the church of Sardis Jesus says — to His own church, His own body as it were — “I know your deeds. You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! I have not found your deeds complete. Obey and repent. If you do not wake up I will come to you like a thief and you will not know at what time I come to you.” Congregation, if that is true for Ephesus and Sardis, then it is also true for this congregation. If you allow adult or infant baptized members to live in open and unconfessed sin and are allowing them to remain members in good standing, then you will be held responsible by the Lord. Then Jesus Christ is going to deal with you as he dealt with Ephesus and Sardis. This is a special warning to the elders who are called to be watchmen at the entrance of the ark.
Baptism is a sign and a seal of the wonderful grace of God. It is a tremendous privilege, a membership in the ark, the body of Jesus Christ which God has designed to save you today from the wrath of God that is coming. Perhaps some think that it is a little too confined, too limited to live within that ark, and I suppose that was true especially of Noah’s ark. But it is within that confinement and limitation that you remain clean, because there the blood of Christ will cleanse you. It is not a space confinement: you can go anywhere; but it is a confinement in terms of how you live. Are you conscious that you have been called to live a life which has been cleansed in the blood of Christ? We cannot ignore that, congregation. If those who are members of the body of Christ go out and purposely live in a world that is defiled by sin, unrepentant, and if they die in that state, then we have no scriptural warrant to think that they are protected by the blood of Christ, and God’s wrath will come upon them. But an infant who dies while being baptized or an adult who dies being baptized are safe, not because of the baptism, but of what it symbolizes in the washing away of all their sins, and that is why they are safe from the wrath of God.
What a wonderful thing baptism is, because then we no longer have to fear the coming wrath of God. We can look forward to the world that is to come. After the water had carried Noah for a little longer than a year he stepped out onto a brand new world, a world that was cleansed and a whole new beginning all over again. That is the way it will be when Christ returns. When He finally comes back for His church — His body, His bride — then every one of its members can step out onto a new world, totally cleansed of all sin. That world will even be much better than Noah’s, because it will remain sinless and perfect forever and ever. That is something that a baptized member who understands his baptism can look forward to.
How about you today? If you are baptized, do you see how great a privilege it is and how gracious God is to you? Then live as one who has been washed in the blood of Christ. Live in obedience to every word that Jesus says to you and you will be saved. If there is one person here tonight who is not baptized, then I say to you: Believe and be baptized. Have your sins washed away in the precious blood of Jesus Christ and you too will be safe, safe from the wrath of God that is coming upon this world. For this world is perishing and only those who are in the ark, many many more than eight, but only those who are in the ark of today, the body of Jesus Christ, will be saved. Those are the ones for which God is coming back. Isn’t it a privilege to belong to the body of Jesus Christ? Amen.