If you haven't yet been baptized and would like for Christ to claim you in this way, I urge you to contact a local congregation close to you to set up a time to talk about the meaning of baptism and what faith in Jesus is all about. Here is a list of congregations in the denomination of which I'm a part; one may be close to me. (In sharing this list, I'm not insinuating that Lutherans are the only Christians around. It's just offered as a handy list for your convenience.)
Look: “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:21-22)
After the world-destroying flood, Noah and his family worshiped God. They offered a sacrifice which we can infer was no pro-forma performance, but an act of true worship and gratitude to God for His grace.
In the Old Testament we see that God has no regard for “going through the motions” worship.
For example, God says through the prophet in Amos 5:21-24: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
And in his great prayer of repentance, King David notes: “...you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
In the New Testament, John recounts Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman by a well near the village of Sychar. Perceiving that Jesus is a prophet, the woman tells Jesus that His people (the Jews) saw Jerusalem as the proper place to offer worship to God, whereas her people thought it was properly offered in Samaria. But Jesus told her: “...the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him…” (John 4:23)
What God wants when we worship Him, pray to Him, and interact with Him is authenticity: authentic repentance, authentic praise and honor. No going-through-the-motions. No trying to find the right feelings or the right words or the perfect gestures. No desire to get what we “need” (read, want) out of it, whether it’s goosebumps or material well-being.
Noah’s worship pleased God. And it wasn’t because Noah was perfect or “religious,” whatever that means. Nothing had changed about Noah or Noah’s family or the human race of which they were a part.
Before the flood began, Genesis 6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) It was human evil that caused God to regret making human beings and to cause the flood (Genesis 6:6). After the flood, Genesis says, “... the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 6:21). Nothing had changed about the human race.
But God hadn’t changed either. I see from the verses that so struck me today how much God loves us, in spite of our evil. He doesn’t want to see us destroyed. He loves us and wants to spare us the consequences of our sinfulness (“the wages of sin is death”: Romans 6:23). God wants to extend His grace to us. When we meet His grace with our trusting faith, as Noah and his family did, God saves. God acts on our behalf.
Listen: God entered our world in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-2, 14; Colossians 1:15-20) in order to immerse His sinless life fully in the chaos of our sin and death and, after dying, rising in order to open up the only pathway to a resurrected life with God.
Jesus referred to His submersion into death and His rising to life as His baptism: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)
And it is through baptism into Christ, the baptism of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) that we are today spared the consequences of sin and death. The old self dies and the new self, the Christ self, rises.
First Peter talks about how Jesus’ accomplishment is sacramentally imparted to us. Recalling Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter writes:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because] they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
After this amazing action of God, giving us a share in Christ’s victory over sin and death through our Baptism, our call is just this: to trust, to believe, just as Noah and his family did.
Authentic faith in God as revealed to all the world in Jesus.
Authentic repentance in Jesus’ name.
This is what God asks of us whose hearts and minds are still soaked in evil. His promise of new life with Him will hold, overcoming our sin and death; our part is to trust in Him and His promises.
Respond: Today, Lord, help me to trust in You and not lean on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]