God's Word, water, and the Spirit. Always when God creates and recreates, God's Word, water, and the Spirit are in play. Whether at the beginning of it all, or in the days of Noah, in the wilderness during the Exodus, or at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, and at the font today, God's Word, water, and the Spirit are at work, doing something to speak new life into existence.
Take for example, the Levite priests. Before they could enter the temple they had to wash themselves in a font of water, or a "laver of brass" as it's often translated. That is:
Make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. Put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and fill it with water. Aaron and his sons will use it for washing their hands and feet. Before they go into the tent of meeting, they must wash so that they will not die. Before they come near the altar to serve as priests and burn an offering by fire to the Lord, they will wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This will be a permanent law for him and his descendants for generations to come (Exodus 30:18-21).
If they did not wash themselves the priests were not clean and could not enter the presence of most holy God. In the same, on account of Jesus' New Testament work, we cannot enter the presence of God without dying unless we have been washed clean by Baptism.
And to go further in Exodus on this topic, Aaron and his sons, after washing themselves, then brought the water to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation and washed the people with the water. And after that, the blood sacrifice - offered for the sins of the people - had to be washed before it was an acceptable sacrifice to God.
Now it's easy to understand why Jesus - the one time, for all time sacrificial Lamb of God - had to be baptized by John the Baptizer, "to fulfill all righteousness."
So, in Exodus we see the roots of Jesus' New Testament Baptism. A blood sacrifice washed and burned in fire - the Holy Spirit in the fire, bringing new birth from death. A sacrificial washing of the Holy Spirit and fire! (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 1:9)
More of this imagery occurs in 1 Kings 18:33-35:
And [Elijah] put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
God's Word, a blood sacrifice, water, and fire (the Spirit). God again bringing new life from death, delivering righteousness out of unrighteousness, creating true faith where there was false belief, atoning judgment and forgiveness, regeneration and renewal.
Then again, in 2 Kings 5:10-1, Elisha commands Naaman to wash in the Jordan River. At that time, not only was Naaman's physical illness healed through God's Word, water, and the Spirit's work, he was given faith in the God of Israel too. Naaman went down into the water a dead man, but came up out of the water a new man, in body and soul. All this points forward to Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. But, he didn't die and rise just for those who were born into Israel and a few special non-Israelites. Jesus' washing and rebirth was done "to fulfill all righteousness." It was to open a new Way, a new "Exodus" for all people.
Now, Israel is not a people according to a family tree. Instead, it's all those who are baptized into Christ Jesus - who is true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).
The Old Testament roots of Baptism point out to us that when we are washed in water, by God's Word, through the work of His Spirit, all our sin is covered and forgotten by God.
God's Word, water, and the Spirit create and recreate. They regenerate and renew. All on account of Jesus: the true tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-12, 24), the permanent temple of God (John 2:19), the new Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), the only Word of God (John 1:1ff) who speaks from Genesis through Revelation, the one time for all time salvific blood sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-25), the only Name by which we may be saved from sin and death (Acts 4:12).
Jesus came that we may receive forgiveness, life, and salvation through Him, through the water and the blood that flowed from His pierced side, and we receive all the benefits of Jesus' death when we are washed clean by God's Word, in the water, through the work of His Spirit... which is all made clear to us ahead of time, in the affirmative, when we dig up the Old Testament roots of Baptism.
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.