The Mississippi River isn’t exactly what you would call “clean.” Its waters are murky, muddy, and filled with all kinds of things that are just better left to the imagination. It’s not the kind of river that invites swimming or eating its fish. This summer we really got to see these murky, muddy waters up close and personal as water levels rose far above normal flood stage. We also got our first taste of sand-bagging, as we desperately tried to keep the floodwater from overtaking our town’s water pump. Fortunately for us, we live upon a bluff, far out of the danger zone. But we know plenty of people whose homes and fields were destroyed. One thing is for sure, wherever the water went it left behind an appetizing(!) trail of silt, dead fish, and driftwood.
Contrast this with the crystal clear waters of Holy Baptism. Here is a flood of a completely different sort, one in which the filthy darkness of sin is engulfed and covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. It is a cleansing flood, one that takes away all the disgusting filth of sin, and leaves in its path a trail of faith and good works.
Like the flood of Genesis, and to some extent like the flood of 2008 on the Mississippi, Holy Baptism has both a destructive and a saving element to it. It both destroys and drowns the Old Adam with all of its sinful desires, and it brings forth a new creation, an entirely New Man within the sinner. New life springs forth where there was only death before. By this saving flood, sinners are made saints; children of the devil become children of God; hearts of stone are replaced with hearts of flesh.
There is nothing dirty or murky about the waters of Holy Baptism. The Prophet Ezekiel calls it “clean water” (Ezek 36:25 ESV). The writer to the Hebrews says that our hearts have been “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22 ESV). In Revelation 22, John refers to Holy Baptism as the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1 ESV.) What makes Holy Baptism “clean,” “pure,” and “bright as crystal”? What gives it the power to clean up the mess of sin, and to remove an evil and sin-stained conscience? What else but the blood of Christ Jesus, shed on the cross on behalf of sinners.
Have you ever tried to clean a window with dirty water? It doesn’t work very well, does it? It leaves even more smudges and stains than there were before. That’s what happens when we try to clean up our mess of sin by our own efforts. It just makes things worse. Even our best and most concerted efforts and intentions are stained with sin, as the Apostle Paul even complains: “When I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Rom 7:21 ESV).
God does not use dirty water to make us clean or to give us a clean conscience. He uses only the purest, cleanest, freshest water that there is: “the washing of water with the word.” (Eph 5:26 ESV)
by the Rev. Paul L. Beisel