Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'
- Acts 2:38
This is a key verse in the New Testament because it includes in just a few words the essential elements of the process of salvation. Amazing, in the New Testament, how God is able to say so much with so few words. Last week I spoke of biblical repentance, we keyed in on this idea of repentance. And we said that repentance was a change of mind, a change of heart. We said that it was a complete change that was required, not a partial change. We also said that it was a Christ-centered change as well. We change and we begin to develop a relationship, not with a religion, not with a movement, but with a Person. We also said that in biblical repentance the change was continuous. Every single day, my repentance, my turning away from the old, my turning to the new, continued.
Today, I will continue with this particular passage and talk about biblical baptism. Then, to finish out the three-lesson series we're going to talk about the Holy spirit.
Baptism, as we begin to discuss it, is probably the most debated subject among those who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Everybody's got an opinion about it. Some say that it's only a ritual. That's all it is, is a ritual. Others say that it can be done in a variety of ways: you can sprinkle, you can pour, you can immerse, all kinds of things. My background, as many of you know, I was raised Roman Catholic, and there's even a baptism that you can do with saliva in an emergency situation. There's a doctrine that says you can even do it with saliva. So everybody's got an idea on this.
Many people see baptism only as a metaphor and eliminate it altogether. When they talk about baptism, they're not really talking about something you do, it's just the experience you have as you're transformed from lost to saved, that you're immersed into Christianity. And of course, many people say you can baptize anybody. You can baptize a baby, a child, an adult, anybody. Then of course, there are still others who say that only believers at the age of reason can be candidates. And so the argument goes on and on.
If you go to the library and you look up baptism, there are so many books written about baptism. Now, there is obviously a single accurate teaching in the Bible about baptism. Let's face it, there's got to be one teaching in the New Testament about baptism because God is not the Author of confusion.
In Ephesians 4:5, Paul tells us that, "there is just one faith." The word that he uses is a word that refers not to faith as something we trust. The faith he's talking about here is a body of doctrine. There is just one faith, only one body of doctrine. And we deduce from this that there is only one body of doctrine regarding each subject in the Bible. In other words, the Bible doesn't teach one thing in Matthew about baptism and then over in Ephesians teach something completely different. In the Bible all the teaching regarding baptism fits together to make a whole without contradiction, without confusion.
Of course, the objective in our Bible study is to put that whole together in a consistent way as we examine all the material. So in order to arrive at an accurate conclusion, when looking at all the material, we need to study in two areas, two approaches, to get a handle on this idea of baptism and what it really is: What did the people of that particular time understand as they were first taught about baptism by the Apostles at Pentecost, and how did they respond? And we need to look at what additional information about baptism have the Apostles provided us subsequent to that day of Pentecost, which we have access to now that we have all the scriptures completely revealed to us.
Jude tells us that we need to,
Contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints.
- Jude 3:3
We have all the information in the Bible. We don't have to look anywhere else. We have all the information. Perhaps on the day of Pentecost the gospel was being preached and some of the information would come subsequent to that day. The apostles would reveal it as time wore on.
We have to look at two things: What did they hear on that day of Pentecost; and what is all the information that the Apostles provided throughout the New Testament? I believe if we do this, we guarantee that we will know what the Apostles initially taught and thus have the direct teaching of Jesus. The Apostles did not teach what they thought, they taught what Jesus gave them. After all, Jesus said to the Apostles,
When He, the spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.
- John 16:13
The idea is that the apostles spent three years with Jesus. What did I preach on four weeks ago? How about just last week, what was the subject? So imagine three years of teaching night and day. Jesus promised the Apostles not only that He would give them the ability to remember everything but also that the Holy Spirit would guide them in accurately remembering, accurately documenting everything that Jesus taught and even those things Jesus taught concerning baptism. In this way, we will have the benefit of all the teachings of the apostles regarding this subject, and be able to come to a firm conclusion.
On the day of Pentecost when Peter preached baptism, what did those people understand by his teaching? If you are a Jew, if you were standing there listening to Peter, what would be going through your mind? That's the first thing we need to look at.
Well, first of all, these people understood that baptism was associated with change. That, they knew for sure, because Peter said, "to repent." And they understood what that meant. It meant to change, to change at the core of their being. Both John the Baptist and Jesus, as well as the apostles, had been preaching the message of change and renewal preceding the command to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 3:1-6, Matthew talks about how John the Baptist was preaching this idea of repentance. A change was required because the kingdom was coming. And in Matthew 4:17, Jesus Himself preached the very same message, "Repent, He says, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This call given by Peter on the day of Pentecost was the same message with a similar exhortation to demonstrate a change of heart and mind with baptism. It wasn't something they had never understood. They had heard this message for years, that a change was due, a change was necessary. And that change accompanied baptism.
Another thing that they understood was that baptism was associated with water. They understood that idea. Baptism was a process used in different religions at that time. We seem to think that only Christianity had baptism, but no. The rites with water was something that many religions used, including pagan religions. Mystery religions of the era, some of them, required a person to be immersed in water, but not just a pool of water, the person had to be immersed in a fast flowing stream. That was part of their studies. John was called the Baptist, not because of his powerful preaching, but because his preaching was always accompanied by a call to be baptized in water, Matthew 3:6. And so the Jews were familiar with the idea of water baptism, not only through what they saw around them, not only through the preaching of John and, of course, of Jesus at the time, but they understood it because they were culturally oriented towards the idea of purification rights involving water.
In Leviticus 14:9, we read about the necessity of someone purifying themselves with water because of a particular disease that made them ceremoniously unclean. And in Leviticus 8:5-6, we read about Aaron, who was the first priest, and his son, before they put on the priestly garments, had to wash, had to bathe, had to be baptized, in a sense, in order to signify their purification and preparation for the new task that they were about to take on. That a person would bathe or wash or be immersed in water in connection with spiritual purification was a well-established idea with both the Jews and the Gentiles during this period.
So what did they understand? Well, they understood a change was necessary. They also understood that this call to repentance was accompanied by baptism with water. They also understood the word that was being used grammatically. Never mind how they had been conditioned, they also understood the word that Peter was saying. You see, aside from cultural and religious significance and understanding, the very word that Peter used was a familiar word. It was a word that was used by John and by Jesus to convey the idea of immersion in water- the Greek word baptizo, that we Anglicized, we made it baptized. We don't actually translate that word into English. We Anglicized the Greek word. If we were to translate the word that was used by Peter at that time, we would have to say be immersed or be dipped. The original Greek word meant to dip.
I'll give you a picture, a lot of Greek words are picture words. If a person had a large jar of wine, let's say, and you had a cup and if you wanted to fill your cup, you would dip the cup in the jar to fill your glass. The word that would describe that particular action was baptizo. You would dip or immerse your glass to fill it. That word took on a special significance for religious purposes with the advent of a religious meaning towards it.
Now, the other thing that's interesting is that there were other words in the Greek language which signified other types of actions with water, for example, the word to convey the idea of pouring- let's say you took the jar of wine and you poured it out, you would use the word ballo, a completely different word, which signified to pour. If you wanted to do an aspersion, as the priests did in the Old Testament, they had to take the blood of the bull and with the hyssop, they had to dunk the hyssop in there, and they had to asper, to sprinkle, right? That was another Greek word that was used there, by the writers.
And so, when Peter called on them to be baptized, his hearers understood what he meant. They understood the word. They understood that what he was calling them to do was to be immersed in water. They also understood that it was an act to signify purification from sin, and he even explains it for them. He says, "for the forgiveness of your sins," just in case there was any doubt why he was calling them to be immersed. And these people on Pentecost also understood that this admonition was not like the Old Testament purification rights done repeatedly by the priests at the temple or merely a preparation for the kingdom to come, but rather a baptism in the name of Jesus. When he said, "In the name of Jesus," what he meant was, by the power of Jesus, by the authority of Jesus, by the command of Jesus, in response to Jesus Christ. It wasn't just a generic washing, like in the law in the Old Testament, it was a generic washing, one sin or another sin. This was a command by a person, by the authority of an individual who they knew, and that was Jesus Christ. Not only as a response to Him as a person, but as a response to Him as the Lord and the Christ.
In verse 36, before Peter makes the admonition, he says,
Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
- Acts 2:36
So the idea is that he's calling on them to be immersed in water, to wash away their sins, purify them for sins, and that they are to respond to this command because of Jesus Christ, who has been named the Lord and Christ. These people understood that this baptism was necessary for salvation and without it would be lost.
And with many other words, you solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.'
- Acts 2:40
How can we twist that out of shape? Peter is begging them, "be saved." If he's saying to them, "be saved," it means that they were lost. And in order to be saved, they had to respond to his exhortation to do what? To repent and to be baptized.
So if you were a Jew listening to Peter on that day, you would have understood that baptism was preceded by a change of heart, called repentance; that baptism was associated with water and could be described as an immersion in water. You would have understood that it was related to the purification of sin. You would have understood that it was authorized by Jesus, the divine Messiah. You would have understood that it was a response of faith in Jesus Christ. And you would have understood that it was urgent and necessary for your salvation. That's what they understood on the day of Pentecost. And we read that 3000, not all, but 3000 came forward and received the baptism at the hands of the apostles.
Now, there's another area of study that we have to look at to give us a full picture, and that's the idea of progressive revelation. You see, God did not reveal everything, all at once, in one single time, to His apostles. It took time for them to understand many of the things that Jesus was trying to explain to them. For example, there's almost 10 years between the time of Pentecost and Peter's conversion of Cornelius. It took them a long time to figure out that the gospel was not just for Jews in Jerusalem and maybe Jews that were living out among the Gentiles. Jesus had convinced them that the gospel was, yes, for the Jews first, but for the Gentiles as well. It took a long time for them to figure that one out.
At Pentecost, the people were, if you wish, preconditioned in there perception of baptism as something to do with water and a change of heart and forgiveness and renewal, the Jews understood that. And so when Peter called on them to be baptized, they knew exactly what he meant and what they needed to do. But Jesus, however, continued to add significance to baptism that it did not have at that particular moment. And we see this in other parts of the New Testament, for example, in Acts 2:38, Jesus reveals to Peter, and Peter declares to the people, that baptism is the point where they receive the Holy Spirit, in verse 38,
...And you shall receive the gift of the Holy spirit.
- Acts 2:38
As far as the Jews were concerned, before, only the prophets received the Holy spirit, only the leaders and the Kings and the judges, only they received the Holy Spirit. And now, through the lips of Peter, they find out that the Holy spirit is given at the point of baptism. That was something new. And we're going to elaborate that idea in the next lesson of this series. This was a new idea that hadn't been expressed before.
Another idea was that baptism was the means by which someone was added to the church or to the body of Christ. That was something new. Before, circumcision was the signal that a person was part of the nation. But now, baptism was the signal that someone had been added to the body, to the group of people who are called out.
Jesus was adding to their number, those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:47
For even as the body is one and yet has many members and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greek, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
- I Corinthians 12:12-13
It was at the point of baptism that we entered into the Holy nation. That was a new idea that Jesus revealed to them at that time.
And another idea that was firmed up, maybe not new, but was firmed up was by Paul:
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
- Ephesians 4:5
Because at that time there were a lot of baptisms. There was still John's baptism floating around out there. People were being baptized by John's baptism. And there was still the baptism of the priests, the purification rites of the priests. And there was the baptism of the mystery religions. And then there was Jesus' baptism. And so Paul, at that point in time declares to the church, "there is just one baptism, just one."
So with time, the disciples deepen their understanding of baptism to include the important ideas, such as: the relationship between baptism and the Holy spirit; baptism and the church; baptism and its exclusive nature within the religious world.
Now, the question that we ask and I'm trying to answer here is: Which one is the one? Paul says there is one baptism. Why, then, are there so much arguments today? What is the one baptism? There's a way to answer this question. We know that there is only one baptism and the way to find out which one is the right one is to look at the New Testament. We don't find information on baptism in the Sears catalog. We don't find information on baptism in romance novels, or adventure novels or movies. The Bible is the only source of information for baptisms. So when we review the New Testament as a whole and begin pulling out all the ideas that are there concerning baptism, we come up with the whole teaching of baptism.
If we review the New Testament, here's some basic things that it teaches about that: Number one, baptism is authorized and commanded by Jesus himself, as a requirement of all those who want to be His disciples, He tells the apostles,
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- Matthew 28:19
Baptism is something commanded by Jesus and necessary for anyone who wants to be His disciple.
Number two, baptism is entered into because of faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God, Savior of the world. Jesus says,
Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
Believe what? That they have to be baptized? Yes. But the faith that is required there is the belief that Jesus is the divine Messiah. If we read in Acts 8:37, the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip to be baptized. And Philip said, "you can be baptized if you believe." And what is the response that he makes? "Oh yes. I believe that I need to be baptized" or "Oh yes, I believe there is a God." No. His response is, "Yes, I believe that Jesus is the son of God." And based on that faith, he went forward to be baptized.
And so, baptism is an action that we enter into based, not on peer pressure, not to please our parents, not to do something nice, so we won't argue with our wives anymore. We enter into it because we firmly believe that Jesus is God.
Baptism is also something which is preceded by repentance: a change of mind, a change of heart, Acts 2:38.
Biblical baptism is accomplished by immersion in water. The one baptism of the New Testament that remains today is not baptism of fire, or baptism with the Holy spirit, or baptism of sufferings. It is a burial in water. Again, in Acts 8:36-38, the Bible says that Philip and the eunuch were riding along and the eunuch said, "Here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?" He didn't say, "Here is fire, or here is suffering." The one baptism of the New Testament is baptism with water. It is a burial in water.
According to the New Testament, it is a point in time. It is something historical, something that happens in the chronology of your life. Baptism is the point in time where forgiveness takes place, not before, but at baptism forgiveness takes place. Acts 22:16, Ananias says to Paul, "arise and be baptized." And Paul, it says, "was baptized and washed away his sins."
And so the point of baptism is the historical moment when sins are forgiven. It is the historical moment when the Holy spirit is given, Acts 2:38. And it is the point where one is added to the church by the Lord. Those things are historical. They don't happen two times or five times in your life. They only happen once. Your sins are forgiven one time. You receive the Holy spirit one time. You become a member of the Lord's body one time. And that historical moment is baptism.
I know exactly when my sins were forgiven. I know exactly when I became a member of the church. I know exactly when the Holy Spirit entered into me. It was November, 1977. I remember it. That was the moment. Why do you think God gives us a historical moment? Because we are historical people. We have a beginning, we have a middle, and we have an end. So He gives us something that we can point to with certainty, to know the difference between the moment that we were lost and the moment that we were saved. So that every Sunday, we can remember not only His death, burial and resurrection, we can remember our burial and resurrection.
Finally, baptism, according to the New Testament, is necessary and urgent because it is the dividing point between salvation and condemnation. It's what Peter says:
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- I Peter 3:21
He could have said, it's repentance that saves you. He could have said, it's believing that Jesus saves. He doesn't say that. He says, it's baptism that now saves you. Why do you think he said that? Because Peter understood the historical nature of this action, when things take place. There are many references to baptism in the New Testament that elaborate all the ideas that I have just said. But these are the major points regarding baptism, as it was taught by the apostles and their teachings were recorded in the New Testament.
Now, two questions and then the lesson is yours. We need to ask ourselves this question: Is this the baptism that we have personally experienced? I mean, if baptism is the dividing point between being saved for eternity or being lost for eternity, I think we should pay attention to what I'm saying this morning. We can't afford to fumble here.
Sermons are preached with a purpose, and the purpose is change, or enlightenment or encouragement. Hopefully you can draw something of all of these from this lesson. But we need to ask ourselves, is this the baptism that I experienced? We need to be sure that we have been baptized in the right way, that's by immersion; and then for the right reason, for salvation. If we've not been baptized for the right reason, we need to be re-baptized.
Paul, the apostle, re-baptized 12 people in Ephesus because they were baptized for the wrong reason. They were baptized the right way. They were baptized by immersion, I'm sure of it, because that's the way John baptized. They were sincere and they loved the Lord and they wanted to do the right thing and they accepted Paul, and they considered themselves disciples. When Paul questioned them about their baptism, he understood that they had been baptized the right way for the wrong reasons. He went ahead and re-baptized them.
If Paul can do it, we can do it. If they felt the desire to do it right, and do it over again to get it right, then there's no reason why we should not feel the same way. Why do you think, of all the examples of conversion, of all the conversions that took place in the first century, why do you think the Holy Spirit chose to leave that example in the book of Acts, where people were re-baptized? Because it would come up again and again. We have a marvelously crystal clear example to guide us in this area.
If you're out there and you have never been baptized, if you have never been immersed in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins could be forgiven, if you have never done that, you are not saved. Some people will say, "That's so harsh. We don't like to offend anybody." You know, that's right. Maybe not offend anybody when they're with their relatives or they're at work, but folks we're in church. This is what it's about. It's about saving souls. If I can't tell you, "You're lost because you haven't been baptized," here, I can't say it anywhere. Or perhaps you're one of those people who were baptized the right way for the wrong reason. Why go on doubting? Why not be sure that you have done the thing exactly as Jesus commanded? If you have not been baptized or if your baptism is questionable, you need to be re-baptized in order to obey Christ.
The second question we need to ask is, do we teach accurately this baptism? I encourage you- actually, I warn you not to become careless or foolish in neglecting to teach others this most important biblical teaching. Remember that there is no salvation without baptism. Being nice does not replace baptism. Being religious does not replace baptism. Being sincere does not replace baptism. Only faith in Jesus as God, with a repentant heart and baptism saves people from condemnation. Nothing else will do, nothing else.
So this morning, as we close out, I encourage you, if you see a need to be baptized, if you see a need to be re-baptized or perhaps you want to talk with someone about it, we have elders, we have shepherds here, who are ready to study with you. We have ministers, we have the saints here. Everyone here is ready to share with you, to teach you, to encourage you. If you have a need in this area to respond now in some way, prayer or study, or even to be baptized, we've chosen a song of encouragement. Let's think about what our response should be, as we stand and as we sing.