“When your son asks you in a time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (Dt. 6:20-21)
“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ So He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.’ (Mt. 20:22-23)
This passage in Deuteronomy is really very striking. We know that nearly 40 years have elapsed since the Exodus and a new generation has arisen, and yet Moses says that this new generation must own the events of the exodus as their own. They must tell their children, ‘we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us up and commanded us to keep these statutes and commandments.’ Moses says that they are all responsible to live as though they have lived through it all. And the first person plural includes their children. The parents must teach their sons and daughters that they were slaves in Egypt, even though were only born a couple of years ago. And the implication is that this is an ongoing requirement of all subsequent generations. A significant part of the faithfulness of every generation is this act claiming the story of the Exodus as their own and then teaching their children that it belongs to them too. The covenant means that God identifies his people together. And of course this is precisely what God first promised Abraham. Wound through the covenant that God made with Abraham were promises to Abraham’s children, promises of land, of inheritance, of blessing, of rule in the earth. And this is why the covenant is made not only with Abraham but also with his descendents even before there were any (Gen. 17:10).
And so we see covenant identification going in both ways. God can make covenants with people and their descendents who are not yet alive, and God likewise instructs parents to teach their children that their story, their own lives in important ways stretch back before they were born. In other words, God instructs his people to teach their children that they have a past and a future that does not necessarily correspond to the appearances of reality. The righteousness that is credited to Abraham is for faith. He believed God. He didn’t know how it was all going to work, and all the indicators were actually quite the opposite of the promises of God. He was old and his wife was barren, and he was far from home and family. But he believed the promises of God. He trusted and obeyed, despite all the appearances.
But this is what grace always does. God’s grace interrupts our lives; God’s grace changes our stories. God comes to families, to individuals and gives them a new history, a new future. And this is why we baptize our covenant children. We baptize them because God has given them a new past. Most Christians affirm that the past for all people is that they are descended from Adam. We have common ancestry, and that ancestry is fallen. Our common history is one of sin and death. But when claims families, he changes that past. He changes their history, and gives them new stories. They were once slaves in Egypt, but God brought them out with a mighty hand. They were once in darkness, but they have been brought into the light. They were once dead in trespasses and sins, but God has made them alive. The story of salvation is their story, and Moses instructs us to tell them that.
When Jesus asks James and John if they are able to be baptized with the baptism that he will be baptized with, he is of course speaking of his impending death. And that is why Paul associates baptism with death in his letters. “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) “[B]uried with him in baptism, in which you were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:2) Jesus tells James and John that they will be baptized with his baptism, and he appears to be speaking about how they will literally die, but the point remains true for the baptism of all Christians. Baptism signifies the death of Christ. Baptism makes present for us an event that took place two thousand years ago. In other words, when our children ask us what does baptism mean, Dad? Why was I baptized? You ought to say to them, we were slaves in Egypt, son, and God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. We were all dead, son, we were crucified and buried with the Lord Jesus because of our sins, but God brought us up out of the grave and made us alive. The story of Israel is our story; the story of Christ is also our story.
And then we see a little baby, a child who is descended from Adam. And we don’t see much evidence of faith. He can’t articulate very clearly his thoughts on the matter, and he may even give us a squawk of disapproval before it’s all said and done. But the bottom line is always the word of God, the promises of God, and what will we do with them. The Lord comes to us, and he says you are mine, and I want all of you. I claim your past, I claim your future, I claim your family, I claim your job, I claim your children. I claim everything. And I am going to tell a new story. Patrick is no longer descended from Adam, he is now a child and heir of the Lord Jesus. And because this is true, I promise to make Patrick an heir of the world. I promise Patrick life and forgiveness; I promise him an inheritance that is too good to be true. I promise joy and gladness that will never fade. And the only question remaining for us is: how will we respond. Will we believe? Will we trust?
Daniel and Amy, you have already made a significant step of faith coming to this point. But the exhortation to you is this: believe the promises of God. Believe the Word of God. God comes to you today and declares that he has brought Patrick out of Egypt with a mighty hand. He has delivered him from slavery and bondage and brought him into the land of promise. God renews his covenant with you in Christ and says that this covenant is not only with you but with your descendents. And the charge is to keep believing this, and to teach your son with this faith. Teach your son that God brought him out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Teach Patrick that he was once a slave in Egypt, but he has been delivered. He was once dead, and God has made him alive. He once had a different story, but God is retelling it for good.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Excellent meditation, Toby. I Cor 10:2-4 came to mind as I read it. We are currently attending a local community church, and recently had a baby “dedication” – I was thinking along the lines of this meditation the whole time it was going on – strongly desiring such clarity to pour out in this congregation.