Memorial Stones

“Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’ … When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.’” ~ Joshua 4:2-3, 6-7

As Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua commanded them to take twelve stones from the river bed and set them up as a memorial to remind them, their children, and their children’s children of the work of the Lord in providing them the Promised Land.

God also provides memorials in our lives as followers of Jesus to remind us of what he has done in saving us from our sins to take us into the Promised Land of eternity. Two, in particular, stand out: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper / Communion.

Baptism is a ritual we undertake at the start of our Christian life. In Matthew 28, Jesus says that all of his disciples are to be baptized and then taught to obey all that he has commanded. In Romans 6, Paul says that our baptism into water displays our death, burial, and hope of resurrection with Jesus and this display should help us to live God-honoring lives.

The Lord’s Supper, also called Communion, is where followers of Jesus share bread and a cup of juice or wine that represent the body of Jesus broken and the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In Luke 22, Jesus says that we partake of each in remembrance of him.

Baptism is our initiation into life as a disciple of Jesus, and an act we let remind us of our new life through faith in Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing ritual we partaken in often to keep our minds focused on the sacrifice of Jesus in forgiving our sins and bringing us new life. These two activities serve as our own “memorial stones” to keep us focused and remind us that God indeed keeps his promises to us.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Portrait Baptism Paints (a meditation)

We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. ~ Romans 6:4

The Bible is a book filled with words because the gospel of Jesus is a message given through words. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ,” Paul wrote in Romans 10:17. But Jesus left his church more than words to remember, celebrate, and picture the gospel. He commanded for us two sets of actions (what we sometimes call ordinances or sacraments) to perform as visual displays of the gospel.

One is the Lord’s Supper in which we break the bread and share the cup which represent Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood on the cross for our sin. The other is baptism.

Baptism is the initial mark of discipleship. Jesus commissioned his already-followers to go out and lead new people to follow him, first baptizing them and then teaching them to obey what he commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). Peter compared baptism to a prayer, saying that through it we appeal or cry out “to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21). And Paul compared it to circumcision in the Old Testament—an initiation ritual signifying that we belong to God’s covenant family (Colossians 2:11-12).

In Romans 6, Paul viewed baptism from a slightly different angle. It is a visual picture and a reminder that if we belong to Jesus, then just as he died and raised from the dead, so we have died to the old life and raised to the new.

So, baptism becomes more than a ritual. It is a visual story told by a new Christian’s interaction with water.

Paul’s greater point was to remind us that even through where more sin existed greater grace was given in salvation, we are not to have the attitude: If I keep sinning, then I’ll keep receiving more and more grace (5:20-6:2). Grace is not a free pass, but a life-altering gift (Titus 2:11-14).

A Christian is not one who looks lightly at sin and laughs off failures. Rather, a Christian is one who sees his or her old self hung on the cross with Jesus, and finds new life through his resurrection. We realize that the cross and the empty grave are more than safe passages away from God’s wrath. They are a means to true freedom and new life.

In Christ you are a new creature, not meant to give yourself over to sin and unrighteous passions, but to give yourself to God and that which honors him (Romans 6:5-14).

To encourage those Christians in Rome to live in this new reality, Paul pointed toward their past to that moment they came to Christ and submitted themselves for baptism, to that portrait of the gospel of which they took part. He reminded them that the act of baptism, of being immersed into the water and then pulled out from its flood, pictured the death and burial of their old selves, and the resurrection and birth to life of their new.

So baptism stands as a place for us to look, a past reminder of God’s continuing grace. You and I are no longer the same persons as before we came to Christ. Something new and amazingly wonderful has emerged through Christ: a forgiven sinner who now stands as a child of the Living God.

Baptism also serves as a reminder of what is to come, a forward-looking hope. The symbolic will one day manifest; the physical will catch up with the spiritual. The new life we have in Christ will be matched with the resurrection of our bodies from the dead as we step into eternal glory.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Remembering who you are… (a meditation)

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ Romans 6:1-4

In Romans 4-6, Paul keyed on the realities of salvation by grace through faith. Pointing back to both Abraham and David, Paul taught that no matter who you are, Jew or Gentile, Old Testament or New, salvation comes only by faith in Jesus and not by works or obedience to God’s Law (since we can’t perfectly obey). Works flow from salvation not to salvation. Our justification before God comes from the life, death, and works of Jesus alone. (The Old Testament saints looking forward to him as God slowly revealed through the prophets; us looking back to him as he came as the Savior-King.)

While Paul taught this there were some who tried to twist his message to give the idea that free justification in Jesus means we can do whatever we want, even if it’s sin.

At the end of chapter 5, Paul went so far to say that where more sin existed God’s grace came more abundantly. Then into chapter 6, Paul either confronted an argument some were making or anticipated one which might come from those twisting his message. He asked the question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”—so, if we have freedom, if we’re justified apart from the law, and if greater grace covers greater sin; then we can keep on sinning and be good, right?

Paul answered with an emphatic: No. No! NO!—May it never be!

And he points to the reality that our old sinful selves are crucified and buried in Jesus, and the lives we live now are new lives from Jesus. What he called in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “a new creation.”

As a new creation, then, you and I are to “walk in the newness of life.” As he fleshed this out and came to Romans 6:11-14, he said these realities should impact how we see ourselves (dead to sin, alive to God in Jesus) and how we live (presenting ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness). Yet within all of this, Paul pointed to something specific to remind us of these realities: our baptism.

He said that being baptized into Christ is to be baptized into his death. It’s to have the old self buried and the new self rise up in Christ (a spiritual reality now, looking forward to the physical reality at Jesus’ return).

At different points throughout the Bible, water represented the grave, death, and God’s judgment. You can think of the time of Noah and the flood (which Peter connects to baptism in 1 Peter 3). You can think of the exodus and the waters of the sea crashing down upon the Egyptian army after the Israelites crossed on dry land (which Paul called a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10). You can think of Jonah being tossed into the water. Swallowed by the fish, Jonah began to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God, recounting how the “waters closed in over me to take my life” but Jonah cried out “from the belly of Sheol” and God heard and rescued (Jonah 2:1-10; Sheol meaning the grave or the place of the dead).

So the waters of baptism, when we are plunged in, represent death and judgment. But we pass safely through because we are united to Christ by faith. Emerging from the water, then, we are raised to new life. The old, the sinful, the rebel against God has been left behind.

waterThere is depth of meaning to the rite we carry out physically in water which symbolize spiritual realities Jesus and the Holy Spirit work within us.

And so Paul essentially tells us when stare down the temptation to sin: remember who you are in Jesus. Later in his letter he speaks more about the Holy Spirit and we could add as well: remember Who is in you through Jesus.

Like partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Communion) reminds us of what Jesus did in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood to take and cover our sins; so thinking back upon our baptism reminds us that the old self is dead, buried, and gone in Jesus. In its place is a new, resurrected creation—a holy child of God.

Remembering who we are and remembering the symbols of our faith helps us to live in this reality, and to live as people who desire to reject sin for the newness of life in Jesus.

This post is a devotion as part of our journey through the Bible as a church.