“The like figure whereunto even baptism cloth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
After Jesus was raised from the dead, He went by the Spirit to hell, and having arrived in hell, He preached to a special audience there.
A special, a peculiar audience Christ preached to. And He did not preach to them the Gospel of deliverance, but He heralded to them His wondrous victory over death, the grave, and hell. He told them that after all Noah had the victory: he was saved with his eight souls.
At no other time in the history of God’s church on earth did their cause seem as hopeless as in the days of Noah. Imagine: the cause of Jesus Christ in the world had dwindled down to the occupants of one home: Noah’s.
But he was saved, and he was saved by the waters of the flood.
That was the preaching of Jesus on this occasion.
And His audience in hell were the spirits of those men, women and children who were disobedient to the 120 years of preaching by Noah.
Noah was saved by the waters of the flood.
That salvation was a figure.
There is a better salvation. And by a better flood.
I have in mind the flood of the blood of Jesus.
And a figure, a like figure we have with us today. It is the figure of baptism. And Peter tells us that we are saved again by water, namely, the water of baptism.
In passing I may say that once more the Church of Jesus Christ was saved by water. I have reference to the salvation which was wrought by Moses when he led Israel through the Red Sea. And again the enemy is drowned.
And the whole New Testament Church is saved by the water of baptism.
However, when I say that you are saved by baptism I have no reference to the natural bath of the natural water.
All that a water bath can do for you is to cleanse you from the filth of the flesh. There is no spiritual worth to that outward bath at all. And I am persuaded that Paul had this in mind when he said: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God,” I Cor. 7:19. And also: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love,”Gal. 5:6. Baptism as such availeth nothing either. What could a few drops of water on your forehead do to you?
So also Peter in our verse also. Baptism saves you! Oh yes. But not the outward baptism of water. Water, natural water is very good for the cleansing of the filth of the flesh, but that is all.
Shall we then not baptize our children? Oh yes. But only if we understand that the rite of baptism is a sign and a seal of something else.
And that something else Peter will teach us.
What is that “something else”?
Here it is: “the answer of a good conscience toward God”!
It sounds strange, but the Holland translation of the word “answer” is the very opposite, namely, “question.” In the Holland Bible you read: “a question of a good conscience toward God.”
And, in passing, let me tell you that all the translators have had difficulty with this word. In the Revised version we read: “interrogation,” and they add in a side-note: “inquiry,” “appeal.” In the German we read: “der Bund eines guten Gewissens mit Gott.” And “Bund” means “band, tie, covenant.” In the French we read: “L’engagement,” which means to induce, to persuade, to be bound (this is somewhat like the German “Bund”).
Baptism saves us. But not the outward sign by water. That is the sign and seal.
The Greek language in which Peter’s letter is written has a word which primarily means: a craving, an intensive desire, an earnest seeking, to long for something.
So the Greek seems to favor the Holland translation. And yet, we should not discard the other translations. The question and the answer are one work, one great work of God in those that are saved.
Let us see.
Baptism is the bath of regeneration. It signifies that we are risen from the dead. And as soon as we become conscious of this new life from God, we hear His inquiry, engagement, interrogation: “What do you think of Me? What do you think of My Christ, My Bible, My cause in the world? What do you think of yourself, of your sins and guilt, your future?” There are a thousand questions which assail the converted child of God.
And the good conscience answers God.
The conscience is literally what the word says: knowledge with. The conscience shares knowledge with Someone, and that Someone is God.
The good conscience gives the right answer, since it is operated upon by the pure Word of God as applied by the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Through baptism a “Bund” is operating between God and His child. God engages His child every day and night, and never leaves him to himself anymore, to answer the thousands of questions that assail him.
And the answer of that good conscience is forthcoming.
That answer is a thousand fold.
Here is one: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God! My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”
Here is another: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
And you yourself can supply a thousand more “answers” of your good conscience.
And it is all a fruit of God’s “Bund” with you, of His “engagement” with you. It is the answer to God’s constant “interrogation.”
And this all came about because you were baptized in the flood of the blood of Christ.
It came about because you were baptized into the death of Christ, and rose with Him to a new life, the life of God’s Covenant.
Noah and his eight souls began to rise when the 120 years were spent. He came closer and closer to heaven. And behind him, under him was the water of the Deluge.
That Deluge was two things: 1) it was the death of the world; and 2) it was the death of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s death liberated Noah and his eight souls from their enemies, and saved them with a figurative salvation.
Christ’s death, and the flood of His blood saves the whole Church of God from all their sins and guilt and damnation and eternal death.
Christ’s death was the death eternal of the church, suffered by Him in their stead.
And they arose with Him when He was raised from the dead.
Note that Peter says: Baptism now saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the means is baptism as to its spiritual essence.
You may put it this way: Regeneration now saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The answer (or the question) of a good conscience.
O, beloved reader, listen to Christ’s question and answer.
You may find it (among other places) in Matthew 27:46: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Shudder, tremble when you read these words.
If anyone had a good conscience, it was Jesus of Nazareth. If ever there was a “Bundes-Drang,” it was in that pure Heart of our Savior when God interrogated Him. Oh yes, God had an “engagement” with Him.
Standing on the bottomless bottom of hell, Jesus called, cried and roared to His Father: O why hast Thou forsaken Me, My God, My God!
Listen to His cry already in the Old Testament where prophets suffered Christ’s suffering before: “Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? cast Me not off forever! Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face, and forgettest My affliction and My oppression?”
O, how Jesus gave the answers to God’s continuous (eternal) interrogation! In the days of His flesh He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death! Heb. 5:7a.
And here is the everlasting Gospel: He was heard in that He feared! Heb. 5:7b.
God heard Jesus: He had always heard Him, even though it was very dark on Good Friday. God had placed His Hand before the Sun: Jesus might not have any light while He drank the cup of the wrath of God to the very bottom.
Oh yes, He heard.
For Jesus rose from the dead.
The resurrection is God’s answer to all questions, even as Jesus’ death was the answer to God’s interrogation.
And the flood of life and glory and joy is the fruit of all this “engagement.”
Jesus gave the perfect answer to God’s perfect question.
And you give the answer to God’s question out of a good conscience, and why?
It is because Jesus dwells in you.
Jesus works a most wonderful work in you.
Here it is: I will let the fathers speak.
“It is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares, so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.”
That is the meaning of “Easter.”