by Matthew W. Bassford
The story of the first Passover is familiar to most of us. In Exodus 12, Moses instructs the Israelites to take an unblemished male lamb, slaughter it, eat it as part of a ritual meal, and apply its blood to the doorposts and lintels of their houses.
This strange ceremony had a vital purpose. God was going to send a destroying angel throughout the land of Egypt, and he would kill the firstborn of both men and animals in each house. The angel would pass over only the houses that were marked with blood.
There are several elements to this story that are worth noting. The first is that the coming catastrophe would be universal. God did not single out the firstborn of the Egyptians for doom. Instead, unless some action was taken, every house would be visited by the destroyer.
God did not intend for His people to face this destruction. However, He did not automatically spare them either. Instead, He gave them instructions that, if followed, would turn aside the destroyer. If the Israelites did not follow those instructions, their firstborn would perish along with those of the Egyptians.
Following those instructions had no intrinsic merit. The destroyer did not approach the houses of the Israelites and say, “Wow! I am so impressed with the artistic application of that blood! I could never destroy the firstborn of such gifted people!” The blood was effective for only one reason -- because God had decreed that it would be. Even though the Israelites had to act, they still were saved not by their actions, but by His mercy.
All of these things are true of baptism under the covenant of Christ. We too are faced with universal catastrophe. On the day of judgment, the condemnation of God will not be limited only to Hitler and the other really, really bad people. Instead, every sinner will face it, and all of us have sinned. Unless we act, all of us are headed to the fires of hell.
God desires not to destroy us but to save us. However, salvation does not come automatically. As He did for the Israelites, He has given us instructions that we must follow. The Scriptures teach that we are forgiven of our sins when we are immersed in water in the name of Jesus. Unless we are baptized, we will perish.
Like the blood on the doorposts, baptism has no intrinsic merit. It is not a good work that convinces God that we deserve eternal life. Rather, baptism saves only because God has said that it saves. As with belief, repentance, and confession, it is one of the conditions that we must fulfill before God will extend His mercy. We are rescued not by magic water, but by a gracious Creator.
We understand how foolish it would have been for the Israelites to refuse to apply the blood yet loudly proclaim their confidence that God would save them. Sadly, millions today make the same mistake with baptism, and if we follow their example, we will lose our souls.
However, if we act in faith as the Israelites did, we too will be rescued by the mercy of God. How marvelous it is that He has provided so great a salvation for us, and how tragic it would be for any of us to reject it!