The lesson today will come from Acts 2:38, with the focus on the subject of baptism. It is necessary to be reminded of several things as we try and filter through the problem areas concerning this biblical teaching. A few weeks ago, you may remember that I talked about the Jewish audience that were present on that special day of Pentecost. These Jews were not theologians with access to commentaries and other literature, but ordinary Jews. After Peter’s sermon which caused them to see Jesus, the man they crucified, as both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and asked a simple question. The question was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter gives them a simple answer, but before we consider it once again, it would be helpful to understand more background of these Jewish believers.
For instance, do you know what a mikveh is? It was a Jewish tradition of immersion in water to purify themselves for various reasons. Jerusalem would have had multiple locations where one could participate in this ritual. So, in their mind, to associate purification with the act of water baptism was simple. These same Jews would have been familiar on some level with the teaching of John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:11, we read, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” What I am getting at is this, the Jews who heard the response of Peter to their question, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” would undoubtedly understand it as water baptism.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)
Okay, then what about the latter part of Matthew 3:11? Is that not providing evidence that the baptism of the Holy Spirit will replace water baptism? Okay, remember, I am an ordinary man, and so I look for a simple answer. Consider what I said in that previous lesson: that Peter (along with the other apostles) had received the Holy Spirit, which would guide them into all truth (Acts 2:3; John 14:26; 16:13). So, Peter’s response that they needed to baptism was the truth, right? Some may argue that it does not say that it is water baptism, which is true. So how can I be sure that it is?
I go to the story of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8. First, who is Philip? Back in chapter 6, we see him as one of a handful of men chosen to serve the church who were “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 8:3, 5). We know that “an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip” (Acts 8:26, guiding him to the Ethiopian eunuch chariot.) With permission given, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). What did he teach? Of course, he spoke of what Isaiah prophesied about (Isaiah 53:7-8); that is, the sacrifice of Christ. Nothing could be more important! But is that all? No! He must have talked about water baptism as well. What did he teach?
Now, as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said,
“See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
This eunuch was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem (Acts 8:27). Although no info is available as to whether he was a proselyte, it is clear he had committed himself to the Jewish faith on some level. It is reasonable that he knew of, if not himself, partook in, the Jewish ritual of purification. So, Philip is asked a question by an eager disciple who has just come to understand the hope that is in Christ, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Guided by the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, now is the time to bring clarity. He answers, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). The eunuch responds, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 2:37). What happened next, you already know. The eunuch stopped the chariot, and he and Philip went down into the water, and the eunuch submitted to water baptism.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit and entrusted with the gospel, Philip preaches the truth about Christ and God’s redemption through His sacrifice. What was included was the need for water baptism. One final observation concerning the story of the eunuch. After he was baptized in water “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Something happened at the moment, during that event called baptism, that resulted in him rejoicing. It all points to Christ and the salvation that is found in Him.