Monday, June 25, 2007

Elijah Imagery in Baptism?

One more thought.

We receive the Holy Spirit in baptism. So it is sort of funny, isn't it, that baptism is administered by water, and that fire is a theophany of the Holy Spirit. Since, after all, water puts out fire.

But there is precedence for this irony. In his contest with the prophets of Baal, Elijah has the people drench the sacrifice and the altar in water. Three times. "The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water" (1 Kings 18.33-35).

Despite the fact that the sacrifice is drenched with water, fire comes out of heaven and consumes the sacrifice, the altar, and all the water in the trenches (v. 38). It is a sign that God accepts the sacrifice (compare v. 39 with Lev 9.24).

So, in baptism, the pastor drenches us with water (three times as well), but fire comes out of heaven and still lights us afire with the Spirit.

Unlike Elijah's sacrifice, however, but like the burning bush that Moses saw, we are not consumed by this fire, but we become a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Like the area around the burning bush, we become holy ground.

Just like Elijah subverts the way of the world, by wetting the sacrifice only to have it burned up entirely by a heavenly fire, using water for baptism similarly subverts worldly expectations. The pastor wets us down with water, but God still lights us with his fire.


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