Today Peter makes a statement that must seem strange to some. He writes:
… because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ …
So “baptism now saves you”.
He compares this directly to Noah, the ark and the flood. In the flood, Noah and his family were saved physically from the water by the Ark. They were also saved spiritually by the water washing away all the evil in the world. Thus, so it is with baptism.
Peter says that baptism is not a symbol. It is not the washing off of dirt from the body but “an appeal to God for a good conscience”. It can also be translated as “a pledge of a good conscience”. Peter is saying that like the water actually saved Noah from evil so does baptism actually save your soul (your conscience) from the sin that was there. This is, of course, done through the power of Jesus Christ who told his apostles “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
This passage help establish the concept of “sacraments”. When physical things have actual spiritual effects. We see it here when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you”. He does not say that baptism is a symbol of your salvation. He doesn’t say that baptism is an outward reflection of a past event. He says it does what it is intended to do. When you think about it that makes perfect sense. Jesus came and fulfilled the old law. In the old law there were many things that were done but were ineffective. Remember the book of Hebrews says that it was impossible for the sacrifices of bulls and goats to actually take away sins. Jesus ends that old ineffectual system but He does tell us to do new things. It does not make sense that Jesus would replace one system of ineffectual signs with a new system of ineffectual signs. Thus, the signs instituted by Christ must be effectual signs or sacraments.
We see this elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts 8, we see the Apostles travel from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on the some new converts. We are told those converts have been baptized by the deacon Phillip yet Peter himself (with James) goes to Samaria and lays hands on the converts and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them “because they had not yet received it”. Why would he do this? This was very shortly after the resurrection of Jesus (as Peter was still in Jerusalem). It is fair to infer that the Apostles were told to do this by Jesus. We see in today’s reading the Peter considered Baptism to be effective yet he still goes again to lay hands on the converts. From this we get the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation, when the Bishop (the successor of the Apostles) confirms the work done by his assistants. It completes the converts unification with the Church by connecting them directly to the Bishop and filling them with the Holy Spirit in a new and different way.
We also see the sacrament of the “anointing of the sick” very clearly in the book of James:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Notice what it says here. The sick person is anointed with oil and the others pray over them. The sick person does NOTHING yet, “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up”. That’s a sacrament; the physical workings of others have an actual effect on salvation.
In total there are seven (7) sacraments. Here we have seen scriptural evidence for Baptism, Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick. The other four are: Confession, Eucharist, Matrimony and Holy Orders. It is a great tragedy, of infinite proportions, that the sacraments are lost to most Christians. In fact, some Christians even have hostility toward the idea of sacraments. Enamored with the doctrine of faith alone they jettison the touchstones that Jesus gave us. We are material beings and Jesus provided for our material well being. For some, sadly the very things the Christ established to connect our material bodies with the spiritual world become not the doors of access to the spiritual they were intended to be but burdens seen as to cumbersome to carry. Let us together reconsider the promise of the sacraments, not as meaningless signs but as spiritual tools to aid us on the road to salvation.