Text: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38
Main Point: Baptism is commanded, practiced, and meaningful.
Today we have the great honor of baptizing a believer. But before we baptize, we are going to take some time to consider what God says about baptism so that we follow His commands and obey His voice. So, more than an accurate understanding of baptism, we want to faithfully baptize. Here’s the big picture: baptism is commanded, baptism is practiced, and baptism is meaningful. We are going to cover a lot of ground today, so I have listed the passages in the notes and given supporting references. In the Church there are a great deal of disagreements concerning baptism. Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, and Baptists have separate denominations for a few big reasons. One of those big reasons is baptism. I am an elder of a Baptist church for several big reasons and baptism is one of them. So, I want to make my case from Scripture and then lead us to celebrate baptism with faith and joy. Let’s begin with the command; Matthew 28:16-20
I. Baptism is commanded
- Jesus commands us to be baptized
With your Bible open in front of you, I want to make some observations from Matthew 28:18-20. The command to baptize is tied directly to the authority of the risen Lord. Verse 18, Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth. In light of his all-encompassing authority, his disciples are told to go and make disciples. The King of all creation commands his disciples to go into all nations and make Christ-followers; make learners of Christ and his life and his ways. And what do we do with these disciples? We baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a testimony to the work of the Trinity. Baptism is a testimony that the one being baptized is owned by God. Alongside the command to baptize is the command to teach the one being baptized to obey all of Jesus’ words. This makes baptism the beginning of a life of discipleship. It looks like this- become a disciple, then be baptized as a disciple, then keep growing as a disciple. I could say a lot here but for our purposes today I want you to see that baptism is commanded by Jesus. Make disciples and baptize them.
Jesus’ command to baptize is also given in Mark 16:15-16, “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
So, after his resurrection and before his return to the Father, Jesus appeared to his disciples and commanded them to go to the nations, preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize those disciples, and then teach those disciples how to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t have to explain baptism to his disciples because, according to John 3:22-24, they had already been baptizing a lot of people.
Okay, now turn over to Acts 2:37. Peter has just preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He made clear that the people who had just been yelling for Pilate to crucify Jesus were in big trouble. That Jesus, you killed, has been raised from the grave and installed as king. Let’s pick up with Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So, Jesus commands baptism and the apostles commanded baptism.
- The apostles commanded people to be baptized
The people were convicted of their sins and Peter commanded them to repent and be baptized. So that’s what they did. Verse 41, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The disciples did what Jesus commanded. They preached, made disciples, and baptized them.
We see this repeated with Ananias and Paul. We read it yesterday in our daily Bible reading. Acts 22:16, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” The command to baptize or be baptized is clear. Now, that’s the command, let’s look at the practice.
II. Baptism is practiced
- The book of Acts illustrates the practice of baptism
We have already seen Acts 2:41 how Peter preached and commanded baptism. Nearly 3000 responded that day. The next place we see baptism practiced is in Acts 8 as the gospel spreads further out from Jerusalem. In Acts 8 it is Philip who is preaching Christ. Look at Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” What is interesting here is that these disciples believe the good news and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but do not receive the Holy Spirit. This requires Peter to come, and when Peter lays his hands on them, they receive the Holy Spirit. The order here is preaching, belief, baptism, then receiving the Holy Spirit.
Our next reference to baptism is again in connection with Philip, later in chapter 8, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip starts in Isaiah 53 and tells the man the good news about Jesus. Apparently, Philip included Jesus’ command to be baptized because when they passed some water, the Ethiopian says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Obviously, Philip judged him ready for baptism because, verse 38, he commanded the chariot to stop and Philip baptized him. They went into the water together and came up out of the water together. Baptism.
Next comes Paul’s baptism by Ananias in chapter 9 (9:18). We’ve already seen that one. Let’s go to Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter is sent by God to preach the gospel. The climax of Peter’s message is in 10:43, “To Jesus all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The Holy Spirit falls on everyone who heard the word and they start speaking in tongues. What happened in Acts 3 is repeated here. So, Peter asks, verse 47, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” There are no objections, verse 48, “Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Cornelius and his household hear the word, receive the Spirit, and are baptized. Baptism is what you do.
Next comes Lydia in Acts 16:14. Paul is preaching, God opened her heart to pay attention, then she and her household are baptized. Immediately afterwards comes the baptism of the Philippian jailor, also in chapter 16. Verse 31, the Jailor takes Paul and Silas to his house, Paul preaches the gospel to all in the house, they go get baptized, and then they go back to the house and celebrate.
Two more- Acts 18 and 19. In Acts 18 Crispus is the leader of the Jewish synagogue in Corinth. Acts 18:8, “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” Last one, Acts 19, some disciples of John in Ephesus. Acts 19:4, “Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Viewed collectively, it’s right to understand five elements showing up when someone responds to the gospel. There is repentance to God, there is faith or belief in Jesus, there is a confession of Jesus as Lord, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and there is baptism. Now, when you sit down and read through the book of Acts this question is likely to come up
- Was baptism practiced or reported occasionally?
There are multiple instances where the gospel is preached, and people believe, but there is no mention of baptism (Acts 2:47; 5:14; 6:7; 11:24; 13:48; 14:21; 17:34). Should we then assume that the early church baptized some disciples but not other disciples? Or, should we assume that the church baptized all disciples but did not mention their baptism on every occasion? In light of Christ’s command, the practice of baptism, and the terminology of adding people to the Lord, we should understand baptism was practiced consistently but reported occasionally. Additionally, the reported baptisms follow Jesus’ instruction that the disciples serve as his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). More than simply recording baptisms, the sequence of the report verifies the advance of Jesus’ mission. Since its beginning and up to today the Church has baptized God’s people. Baptism is the biblical and common practice. Now, let’s look at the meaning of baptism.
III. Baptism is meaningful
- Baptism is union with Christ
Romans 6:1-6 (Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12)
Romans 6:3 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Baptism needs to be understood as the desire for and the display of union with Christ. By faith, the one being baptized is looking to Christ to take away sin, free from sin’s captivity, and give life. With Christ’s crucifixion sin is atoned. With Christ’s resurrection sin’s power is broken. With Christ the believer has life and that is precisely life with God. The church should baptize those who long for life giving union with Christ because baptism puts this desire front and center. Baptism displays unity with Christ for the whole world to see. This one is united to Christ and will walk in newness of life. This one is united to Christ and will begin to look more and more like Christ. Baptism is union and…
- Baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience
1 Peter 3:21-22 says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this [to Noah’s ark] 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.”
It’s not the outward working of water that makes the person clean. Baptism is not as simple as taking a bath. What is essential in baptism is the appeal to God for a clear conscience through the work of Jesus Christ. But how does this relate to Noah’s ark? I’m glad you asked.
The waters in Noah’s day were the waters of God’s wrath because of sin. The wages of sin is death and death came upon the whole world because of sin. The entire world was judged and put to death because of sin. In a moment, we will put this new believer under the waters of God’s wrath because of her sin. She will join Christ in a death like his, in a death because of sin. The waters of God’s wrath are similar in Noah’s day and in baptism. The ways of escape are also similar. In Noah’s day, all those who believed God and got on the ark were saved from his wrath. Because of the ark they went safely through God’s wrath. Now, Jesus is a better ark! All those who trust in him. All those united to him, all those who get into Jesus, will be carried safely through the waters of God’s wrath.
In a moment, we will bury this young lady under the waters of God’s wrath because of her sin. In baptism, she will be making public her personal faith in Jesus Christ. She will submit to the waters of God’s wrath and appeal to God for the forgiveness of those sins through the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus will save her.
The baptism prayer is simple: God I deserve your wrath because of my sin but give me life because of Jesus Christ.
To put it another way, baptism must not be separated from repentance. It is the one who feels her sin and wants to be saved through Christ who is baptized. The reality of sin, the connection with Noah’s ark, and the promise of life in Jesus’ name lead us to the baptistery.
In a pointed way baptism puts the faith of the person being baptized on display.
- Baptism is the demonstration of a person’s faith
Through baptism, the person being baptized goes public with her faith. She declares, “I’m with Jesus. He is my life and my Lord.” I think it’s helpful to think about baptism like putting on the jersey. Dak Prescott used to be a Mississippi Bulldog. He was lost in darkness wearing maroon and white. Then, he was drafted by the cowboys. The cowboys picked Dak as their own and there was a transfer of ownership. With the transfer of ownership came a new jersey. At the end of the draft Dak held up a blue and white jersey. Dak went public and declared that he now belongs to the cowboys.
In a way, baptism is like that. In a few moments this new believer will put on Jesus’ jersey. She will put on death, burial, and resurrection. She will go public by declaring her union with Christ and demonstrating her faith. This is what Christians do. We live like Christ because of Christ. We look like Christ because we are joined to him. Union and faith should be obvious in baptism. Baptism is the demonstration of a person’s faith and
- Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are inseparable
In the book of Acts there is a minor plot line that deals with the differences between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist’s baptism and new covenant baptism are not the same things. The difference between the two baptisms is the gift of the Holy Spirit. You can start with Acts 1:5 and trace it out. Jesus says, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit now many days from now.” Wait, go back to John 3:22, Jesus baptized with water. That’s right, Jesus baptized with water and the Holy Spirit while John only baptized with water.
The reality of the Spirit is what makes Acts 8 and the Samaritans being baptized so important. The Samaritans heard the gospel and were baptized in Jesus’ name (that’s water) but they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit. Peter’s coming and laying on hands so that they received the Holy Spirit completed their conversion. Until the Holy Spirit was given, their conversion was incomplete. Concerning this fact Robert Stein writes, “The litmus test that determines if a person is truly a Christian in Acts is the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 10:47; 11:17-18; 19:2; Rom 8:9-10; Gal 3:2)” (Stein, 38). This truth is why the Apostle Paul asks John’s disciples in Acts 19:2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
In Acts 2, Peter quotes from Joel to clarify that the mark of membership in God’s new covenant people is possession of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18). God’s people are convicted of their sin by the Spirit and therefore they repent to God. God’s people are convicted by the Spirit that Christ is their righteousness and therefore they put their faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit teaches God’s people that the resurrected Jesus is King and therefore they confess Jesus as Lord. The Holy Spirit speaks to God’s people and convinces them that they are children of God. The Holy Spirit works in the believer and makes her more like Jesus. Is this you? Do you have the Holy Spirit? Then be baptized. If this is not you then I urge you to pray the prayer Jesus taught, “Father, give me the Spirit.” The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13).
Several weeks ago you heard this new believer’s confession. You’ve had time to talk with her and get to know her. Now it’s time to baptize her. Baptism is something we do because, finally,
- Baptism and the church are inseparable
In the book of Acts we see people joining the church and we see the church’s numbers increasing. And how did people join the church? In the New Testament, we see no other means of joining a church but through baptism. Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are not identical, but they are inseparable. Baptism and church membership are not identical, but they are inseparable.
In response to God’s work through Christ and in this new disciple it is time for us to make good confessions. It is time for her to confess that she belongs to Jesus and it is time for us to confess that she belongs to us. Now that we know, let’s celebrate union with Christ in baptism.