What, would you say, is water worth?
There’s no question that, as an element necessary for life, it is of great value. And yet, its prevalence on earth makes it relatively inexpensive. On a rainy day it’s even free.
There are, however, versions which do fetch a higher price. The bottled variety, for example. A liter can sell for around a dollar. And, according to the bottlers, with good reason. Labels often identify it as water that has been “purified.”
So what about the value of water which is even more special? If a dollar is a fair price for water that is purified, what is the value of water that is purifying? Purification, after all, is something desperately needed by everyone, since every person is born impure and has sinned.
God created a perfect Adam to live in His holy presence. But when he broke God’s command, the human soul became soiled, “And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6b) Adam and Eve doomed their descendants to destruction through their defiling deed, for the holy God cannot tolerate in His presence that which is less than perfect and pure.
He who is holy, however, is also merciful, and He provided a purifying agent powerful enough to remove all condemning guilt. He provided the blood of a spotless Lamb.
The apostle John stated, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7b) When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, the world was cleansed of its guilt. “It is finished!” He declared. Nothing else was or is needed to restore our standing with God.
There is, however, another liquid of which Scripture speaks, and to which it attaches the function of cleansing. Water. Water, that is, which has a very special additive. Water which is connected to God’s Word, the water of Baptism.
“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25b-27)
Paul, who powerfully proclaimed that man is justified by the blood of Christ (Romans 5) also spoke of being cleansed by the water of baptism. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism does not atone for sin. The blood of Christ did that. But water attached to God’s Word has saving power. Since Baptism is pure Gospel, which the Holy Spirit uses to create and sustain faith, it “now saves.” (I Peter 3:21)
So much more than a symbol. So much more than a sign. So much more valuable than any other water on earth. Baptism is the regenerative, purifying flood of assurance that our sin has been forgiven and our guilt is gone—an assurance articulated in a number of hymn texts, such as those by the Danish clergyman Thomas Kingo, as translated by the American Lutheran pastor and teacher, George Rygh.
All who believe and are baptized
Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
They are a new creation. (LSB 601:1)
Thomas Kingo (1634-1703) was a prolific poet who compiled a hymnal which became the standard for many years in numerous Danish and Norwegian congregations. George Rygh (1860-1942) later made several of Kingo’s hymns intelligible to worshipers in America by way of his well-crafted translations.
For the joy your advent gave me,
For your gospel’s great reward,
For your baptism which has saved me,
For your supper and your Word,
For your death, the bitter scorn,
For your resurrection morn:
Lord, I thank you and extol you,
And in heav’n I shall behold you. (CW 147; 5)
The purifying water of the sacrament of Baptism.
How gracious of God!
John Reim is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.