There are a lot of special places in this world. Some places have a special connection to God. The Holy Lands tours are special because they help us to connect with the very real history recorded for us in Scripture. Some places and things are more special than others. Some things have been used by God in special ways to funnel blessings to his people. The space or thing isn’t responsible for the grace given. The thing isn’t magical. God used the space or thing to funnel his blessings to his people.
God’s Use of Special Things for His People in the Old Testament
God created all the universe as the theater of his glory where we can experience his blessings. Genesis 1 and 2 demonstrates God’s power over all the pagan idols of Moses’ day and then also shows how God created the universe to be a blessing to his people. From physics to food God’s people were given everything they needed for joy. God even blessed Adam with Eve to be his love. In the paradise Garden, God placed the tree of life which seems to have delivered immortality to the people.
We don’t know how much time had passed before Eve and then Adam chose sin over salvation. That time did come in Genesis 3 and sin grew in prevalence and power until Genesis 6 when God revealed that he would destroy the world except for Noah and his family. Still, there was a physical way God would bless his people. The blessing came unexpectedly in the flood. According to 1 Peter 3:20, the people were saved through water. Baptism that corresponds to that now saves you Peter said. The flood washed sin away so that Noah and his family could enjoy a new creation. It was like the Garden of Eden all over again. We see something similar as God washed the Egyptians away in the Red Sea.
Bread and Water from Heaven
Even as the Israelites rebelled with faithlessness, God continued to bless them. He gave them bread from heaven and water from the rock. He nurtured them as the wandered in their wilderness of sin. Paul gave a theological summary of the Exodus and the subsequent wanderings in 1 Corinthians 10:2-3 when he said, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
God’s Use of Special Things for His People in the Christian Age
The ultimate union of God with his creation is found in the incarnation. The eternal Word, who was God in every way (Jn. 1:1), took on flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). Without ceasing to be what he was, he became what he was not so that he could funnel the divine blessings through his human nature. Hebrews 2:17-18 explains the effects of the Word’s union with his human nature: “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” In a similar but much more glorious way, God chose once again to bless his people through a creature—the true human nature of Christ.
Just as God healed the leper through his touch, he heals the lost as they are brought into a special union with him. In the Old Testament, God blessed his people as they came into contact with or consumed the chosen things. Christ is not physically present on earth, but he is spiritually present and especially so in certain things.
Those who would be baptized are brought to a sacred act wherein Christ is present. Galatians 3:26-27 and Romans 6:3, therefore, teach that the lost are baptized into Christ and come out of that event having been clothed with Christ through the powerful working of God (Col. 2:12). God chose to use baptism as a physical thing to funnel blessings to his people. The Scriptures speak of baptism as a time at which God does something. Baptism is a precious work of God which provides the Christian with confidence in Christ. Calvin said:
But we are not to think that baptism was conferred upon us only for past time, so that for newly committed sins into which we fall after baptism we must seek new remedies of expiation in some other sacraments, as if the force of the former one were spent. aIn early times this error caused some to refuse the initiation by baptism unless in uttermost peril of life and at their last gasp, so that thus they might obtain pardon for their whole life. The ancient bishops frequently inveighed in their writings against this preposterous caution.5 But we must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins. For, though baptism, administered only once, seemed to have passed, it was still not destroyed by subsequent sins. For Christ’s purity has been offered us in it; his purity ever flourishes; it is defiled by no spots, but buries and cleanses away all our defilements. (Institutes IV, xv, 3).
Baptism, then, must be seen as more than a symbol. Baptism is a work of God in which a union is created, and grace is conferred as the individual is washed by Christ and added to the body of Christ by the Spirit (Titus 3:4-5). Calvin explained that “our faith receives from baptism the advantage of its sure testimony to us that we are not only engrafted into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ himself that we become sharers in all his blessings” (Calvin, Institutes IV, xv, 6). Being placed in water, by itself, brings about no great spiritual effect (1 Pet. 3:21). The spiritual effect is brought about by the presence of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).
In a similar way with the Lord’s Supper, we are brought again to meet God in the body and blood of Christ. Jesus said, “this is my body” and “this is my blood” (Matt.26:26-28). As we share in the Lord’s Supper, we remember and proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns. However, in the Supper there is also a sharing. It is fellowship with God first and then also fellowship with his people. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul described this union as a sharing or participation when he said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” We could translate this verse as “the common partaking of the body and blood of Christ?” (BDAG, 553).
Bavinck explained that “the Lord’s Supper was a meal in which bread and wine were used as food and drink for strengthening the body, and served above all as signs and seals for the exercise of communion with the crucified Christ. It is both an ordinary natural meal and an extraordinary spiritual meal, in which the host, Christ, offers his own crucified body and shed blood as nourishment for our souls. (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:575). Even Zwingli said, “Since “the true body of Christ is present by the contemplation of faith” (The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli 2:49), the believer comes “to the Lord’s Supper to feed spiritually upon Christ” (Exposition of Faith 24:259).” In the supper we remember, proclaim, and enjoy a sharing of Christ’s body and blood. God blesses his people again and again.
God has graciously invited us to share in his life. We can be present with him. We are still in the creation God made for us to enjoy him in. We don’t have to make journeys in any wilderness. We don’t eat manna or drink water from rocks. God doesn’t cover us in global or Red Sea floods. But God is still with us. We are not alone.
As we remember our baptism and enjoy the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of our commitment to God and his commitment to us. Christians, these special times of union are time to remember that we are saved. It is time to remember that we are Christ’s body. It is also time to remember that God is our God and that he has made us his children. These special times are times of renewal, commitment, nourishment, and life.
Perhaps we need to enjoy God’s presence a bit more. When we were baptized, we were added to the body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). When we, as God’s people, partake of the body and blood of our Savior, we are drawn again into his nurturing presence. In all these ways, we are reminded that God is with us. We can live with confidence and joy because God is with us. As Psalm 125:1-2 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.”