So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:14)
Can water wash away guilt? Shakespeare didn’t seem to think so. In Act II of Macbeth, Macbeth and his wife murder King Duncan to gain his throne. When Macbeth, troubled by a guilty conscience, brings the bloody daggers back into his bedroom, his wife tells him to go wash his hands, get rid of the evidence and “Consider it not so deeply.” Lady Macbeth, however, cannot keep her own counsel. Her guilt drives her mad and the beginning of Act V finds her washing her hands incessantly. A doctor has been summoned to treat her madness.
Doctor: What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs her hands.
Gentlewoman : It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing her hands: I have known her continue in this a quarter of an hour.
Lady Macbeth: Yet here’s a spot.
Doctor : Hark! she speaks: I will set down what comes from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.
Lady Macbeth: Out, damned spot! out, I say! One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say! Water could not wash the guilt from Lady Macbeth’s conscience. How can water cleanse us from our sins? Only by faith in the promise of God.
2 Kings 5:1-14 tells the story of Naaman the Syrian’s visit to Elisha the prophet. Naaman was afflicted with leprosy and, desperate for a cure, took the advice of a captured Israelite slave girl: go see the prophet who lives in Samaria.
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”
But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.
But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:9-14)
Can the waters of the Jordan heal leprosy? Of course not. Unless, that is, God has said they can. God will accomplish whatever God promises to accomplish. The question is, will we believe him? Will we have faith enough to act on his promises?
In Acts 2, Peter told the crowd in Jerusalem that they are responsible for killing God’s messiah but that God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. The people were “cut to the heart” when they heard this and asked, “What should we do?”
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:38-40)
1 Peter 3:20-22 compares Noah’s ark to the act of baptism. Of the ark, Peter says,
In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge [or appeal] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Christian baptism cleanses us by uniting to Christ in faith. God promises that it does and we believe God. As Paul remembers about Abraham, “Abraham believed God and God credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:5). It is God’s grace in Christ working through faith that saves.
God promises and we believe. When we bring someone to the baptismal font, we act in faith in God’s promises in Christ. This is the very same faith that I sang about in church every Sunday growing up. Every Sunday we concluded the worship service with the same short hymn and waited for people to respond in faith to the word proclaimed.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
— Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871