In part 1 of this series we see Jesus teaching on the importance of baptism to salvation. In part 2 we see the apostles response to this teaching and how they implemented it on the day of Pentecost, in Samaria and in the house of Cornelius. In this part we’re going to look at other parts of Acts – because by seeing what the apostles did we can understand what they wrote much better. What did they DO? Later on we’ll read more of what they WROTE.
Following his ministry in Samaria and the coming of Peter and John to open the door of the church to that people, we find Philip sent on a mission by God’s Holy Spirit. In Acts 8 we find him walking down the road and encountering an Ethiopian official who had been to Jerusalem to worship. He hears the official reading, is prompted by the Spirit to join the car and asks, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” to which the official answers “How can I unless someone guides me?” So he invites Philip to ride. Here’s how Luke describes what follows in Acts chapter 8:
Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.
The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.
So, exactly WHAT did Philip explain to him? We don’t know ALL that he told him, but we can tell how much importance was placed on a very telling bit doctrine – by the immediate response to the message by the Ethiopian.
As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” Why this response? Why not “Please guide me in the Sinner’s Prayer”? (something not found in scripture, by the way). This question gives us a very clear picture of the message that Philip had been sharing with this man. The importance of becoming a disciple of Jesus and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins (just as Peter preached on the day of Pentecost). History tells us that the church started in Ethiopia by this man is still in existence to this day.
In chapter 9 we find Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus to persecute the church. He is confronted on the road by Jesus, finds out he’s blinded and goes to Damascus where God sends a man named Ananias to visit him. Luke tells us, “Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” Before eating, drinking or anything else – he was baptized.
Later on Saul himself tells us ““Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus. Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, who had a good reputation with all the Jews living there, came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
“be baptized and wash away your sins”… that doesn’t fit into popular Christianity’s denial of the importance of Baptism, but fits perfectly with the Bible’s assertion as to the purpose of baptism.
We’ve already looked at Cornelius and his household in Acts chapter 10. In Acts 11 Peter defends his actions in Cornelius’ house by explaining “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?” When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”
In chapter 16 of Acts we meet Lydia in the city of Philippi. She and her household are immediately baptized upon her response to Paul’s message. She urges them to stay with her if they believe that she is indeed a believer, so they do. They stay for a while until Paul becomes weary of hearing a demon possessed slave girl yelling “These men, who are proclaiming to you a way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God.” (it is my belief that what irked him is that Jesus is THE way, not A way of salvation). He cast out the demon, the slave girl’s proprietors were angered by this and had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison where they sing praises to God instead of cursing their luck, their captors and their accusers as might be expected.
There is an earthquake and the doors of the prison swing open. The jailer is about to kill himself because he believes the prisoners have escaped – and now we come to one of the classic passages where context is ignored by popular Christianity.
But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.
That’s right – in the same hour of the night that he heard the message of salvation, he and his whole household were baptized. Why, if baptism is not necessary to salvation?
In chapter 19 of Acts we find the final instance in which it is recorded that the Holy Spirit was sent upon a group of people prior to, upon, or following their baptism.
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Into what then were you baptized?” he asked them. “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.
Note that this is not a new group. That is, the Jews recognized Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans, with the Gentiles making up the largest group of people. So this has nothing to do with “the keys to the kingdom”. What we see here is a clarification between the “baptism of John” and “baptism into the name of Jesus”. John said “believe in the One Who comes after me”. Upon believing they were baptized and then received the Holy Spirit.
So as we follow the apostles around, what do we see? Baptism is an integral part of the message. We see it in the response of the Ethiopian, the Samaritans, Cornelius and his household, Lydia, the jailer and his household and the disciples of John the Baptist. This is what the actions of the apostles tell us – baptism is central to the Gospel message.
To be continued…