I stood watching as she prepared to go under the water. The fingers on her right hand pressed her nostrils closed while her left hand wrapped tightly around the opposite wrist. She had a sober look on her face. She was ready. This wasn’t a new experience for me; I had seen it over one hundred times before. But this time was different.
The minister kneeling next to her placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “I now baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth for the remission of your sins.” He gently let her down into the water, until she was fully submerged, before slowly lifting her out. At the surface again, her arms shot up toward heaven as tears began to stream down her face. The joy in the room was so intense that it seemed almost tangible.
I’m not sure how many were thinking what I was thinking, but I knew I had just witnessed the dead being raised to life. I witnessed a woman exit the water without the sins she carried into it. I witnessed a true book of Acts experience.
The Acts of the Apostles should hold a special place in our hearts. In the book, we see the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the promise Jesus said He would send (Luke 24:29). While waiting in the upper room, the disciples hear a sound come from heaven “as of a rushing mighty wind” and “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2, 4). What a joyous occasion that must have been.
Imagine standing next to Peter as he lifted his voice to speak to the people who gathered to witness what was unfolding. He boldly declared the Gospel to all present. It wasn’t a prosperity Gospel. He never told anyone to live their best life now; no, Peter’s message cut to the heart. In fact, the Jews who heard him speak were “pricked in their heart” and said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter’s response to that question would set in motion a chain of events that would have a far-reaching impact, so far-reaching that it can still be felt today. In response to their inquiry, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Peter promised that those who submitted to water baptism would have their sins remitted (forgiven or pardoned), because baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was for the remission of sins, just as the shedding of Jesus’ blood was poured out for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). Sins weren’t actually remitted when the blood of Jesus was shed. If that were the case everyone would be without sin, even without faith. No, Jesus’ blood made a way for sins to be remitted. And we find that remittance in baptism. What a blessing!
Unfortunately, baptism has become a ritual to many. What was once a foundational act of faith has been relegated to the scrap heap of Christianity in many denominations. Why don’t pastors place more of an emphasis on baptism these days? It seems like more of an afterthought than a critical component of salvation. It seems to have developed into an act performed as somewhat of a ceremonial right of passage. Is this what Peter and the other apostles had in mind when they began preaching the Gospel to the world? No, I don’t believe it is.
Something I find fascinating about the book of Acts is the level of detail surrounding the conversations Peter, Paul, and some of the others had with converts. Luke wasn’t there for much of it, yet he was inspired to recount the stories as if he heard the words spoken. That’s important. What Peter, Paul, and the others said and did is important, especially when it involves baptism. If you’ll carefully study every instance where one of God’s people was recorded bearing witness to someone who received the Gospel, you’ll notice that one act, in particular, was also recorded over and over. I already mentioned Acts 2:38 where we see Peter tell the Jews to repent and receive the Spirit. But what we can miss in these instances is the necessity and immediacy of water baptism.
The Jews are Baptized
After Peter finished his sermon and gave instructions to the Jews, “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Peter didn’t wait for a more convenient time to baptize three thousand people, which would have been quite an undertaking. Instead, he and those with him undoubtedly baptized all those who gladly received the word. This set the precedent for the immediacy of the act of baptism after coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Samaritans are Baptized
The next recorded baptisms in Acts were performed by Philip. He was first called to the city of Samaria to preach the word of God. And when the Samaritans “believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Sometime after performing the Samaritan baptisms, the angel of the Lord called Philip into the desert. It was there that Philip crossed paths with a eunuch from Ethiopia. He was reading Isaiah as the Spirit of God prompted Philip to draw near to the man. It was through this encounter that Philip was able to preach Jesus, which clearly included the command to immediately be baptized because “as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Nothing was hindering his baptism, and Philip gladly went down into the water and carried out the act (Acts 8:38).
The Apostle Paul is one of the most revered persons of all time. His words have reached down through the ages to an incalculable number of people. Once a persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus was converted on his way to oppress the church. What Paul meant for good, God turned into a revelation of truth. Paul was a witness of the goodness, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. Although his conversion isn’t typical, it helps us to see the importance of baptism in every life. God called the blinded man into Damascus to a certain place where, three days later, Ananias, a disciple of Jesus, would come and baptize him. After Ananias laid his hands on the blinded Paul, “immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). Again, there was no wasted time. Paul was baptized immediately after he met someone who could baptize him.
Cornelius’ Household Baptized
The church exploded with growth through Jesus’ use of Paul. However, this can’t be attributed solely to Paul; it was Jesus’ plan to reach out beyond the Jews and Samaritans. The Gospel first came to the Gentiles through the Ethiopian eunuch and then to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Through a series of events Jesus leads Peter to Cornelius’ home, and it was there that Peter “opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). While Peter spoke to all the Gentiles gathered to listen, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). The Jewish disciples who accompanied Peter were astonished by this scene. They previously thought Jesus’ blood was shed exclusively for the Jews. That all changed in a moment. Yet, Peter wasn’t concerned with any of that; his immediate response to what unfolded was, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days (Acts 10:47-48).
As you can see, there are many baptisms recorded in the book of Acts. Because of these instances, the importance of baptism cannot be denied. But our focus here is on the immediacy of baptism after the word of God is preached. Consider the conversion of Lydia. Paul preached to Lydia, a woman “whose heart the Lord opened” to hear and understand the Good News. She and her household believed and were baptized. We know their baptisms occurred immediately after believing because Luke wrote, “she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there” (Acts 16:15). She and her household were baptized before Paul and those with him had the chance to decide where they would be staying for the night.
The Philippian Jailer’s Baptism
After calling on Jesus to cast the spirit of divination from a certain damsel, Paul and Silas were brought be her masters to the magistrates. Paul and Silas were beaten, arrested, and given over to the jailor for safe keeping. Instead of worrying about their circumstances, the two sang praises to God at midnight. As they sang an earthquake shook the foundations of the prison which caused every door to swing wide open, and miraculously, all the prisoners’ shackles were loosed. The jailer was jolted awake by the earthquake, and when he noticed the doors were opened, he figured all the prisoners had taken the opportunity to escape. Fearing the punishment more than death, the jailer drew out his sword. He would have killed himself if it wasn’t for Paul crying out loudly, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). Realizing that Paul and Silas had some involvement with the events that had just transpired, the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” they said, and they baptized him “the same hour of the night” (Acts 16:31-33). All these events occurred sometime between Paul and Silas singing praises to God at midnight and before Paul, Silas, and the jailer sat down to eat what would have been a very late dinner or early breakfast (Acts 16:25, 34).
John’s Disciples Baptized
While in Corinth, Paul baptized Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue. Nearly two years later he traveled to Ephesus where he encountered a group of John the Baptist’s former disciples. Paul asked if they had received the Holy Ghost since believing, to which they replied, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2). Paul explained that John’s ministry supported the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He baptized “with the baptism of repentance,” pointing people to one would come after: Christ Jesus (Acts 19:4). When John’s disciples heard what Paul said, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). There was no delay. All twelve men willingly submitted to baptism before Paul laid hands and the Holy Ghost filled them (Acts 19:6).
What does Baptism Accomplish?
Baptism isn’t simply a right of passage. It isn’t merely a public profession of faith. Who witnessed the Ethiopian eunuch’s baptism besides Philip, the one who baptized him? Who else was with Ananias when he baptized Paul? After one comes to Jesus, baptism shouldn’t be put off until a later date; it should be done as quickly as possible, regardless of who is present.
Why did the apostles and disciples feel it necessary to baptize people in bodies of water found in deserts and in the middle of the night after being beaten? If baptism was an outward expression of an inward change, what reason was there for the immediacy of the baptisms we’ve just explored? It is evident that baptism was performed immediately after professions of faith because, by faith, it accomplishes the remission of sins – and that is something we shouldn’t delay (Acts 2:38).
While recounting his own baptism Paul recalls Ananias saying, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul’s baptism, like all those before and after was for the washing away of sin. This does not, however, mean that our sins are washed away like dirt is washed from our bodies. Peter sheds light on this concept. Just as eight souls were saved by water when God sent the flood, “even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” (1 Peter 3:21). Noah and the others in the ark were saved by water because they sat in an ark which floated on the waters. Baptism, according to Peter, also saves us because, through it, we receive remission or forgiveness of sin in the water. The water alone doesn’t save us; it’s our faith in Jesus Christ which strips our sins from us and provides us with a clear conscience once we rise from the depths of a watery grave in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
The woman I watched being baptized had this same experience. She heard the word and gladly submitted to baptism, and her conscience is now free from the shame and guilt of sin. Her sins were washed away. Baptism isn’t just for a special group of people; baptism and the infilling of the Spirit are for “as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). If you hear the call. If you feel the conviction truth brings upon every soul. If your heart is pricked. Please respond in faith by submitting to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Don’t wait.
If you live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, I would be honored to baptize you. Please use the Contact Us link at the top of this page to get ahold of me. If you’re not in Texas I can still make arrangements for you. Please contact me.