Acts 2: 38 “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Now we all agree that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit when he preached to the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. He told them that the Jesus whom they’d crucified was the Messiah that God had promised and the Son of God. He was risen from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand, and that he was the one who had poured out the Spirit of God on the 100 or so Christians present so that they found they were able miraculously to speak in languages that they were unfamiliar with. Many foreigners in the crowd could hear the gospel in their own local languages. Peter preached to convict them of their sin and to cut them to their hearts. They became deeply disturbed about what they’d done. When Peter finished speaking then hundreds of them hurried, uninvited by Peter, to the apostles and the 120 Christians bursting with questions. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
It is Peter’s reply that again we are interested in today. He replied to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.” The first thing he spoke of was their need to repent, to change their minds radically about Jesus Christ the Son of God and to alter their lives in accordance with all our Lord had done and taught, to confess their sins to him and turn from their old ways with a determination to serve him. That was the first essential information he gave them, and the second one was that they must be baptized. This baptism was for all of them, not for the specially enthusiastic and the more zealous of the thousands who had come to faith. It was not an option. Peter says, “Every one of you” who has repented and believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God must be baptized. Baptism is for those who accept the message (v.41); it is for disciples, for believers, for repenters, for every single one of them, however young or old. If they could make a credible profession of repentance they had to be baptized. The important question was this, how was it in their hearts? We are given a description of these people in verse 46 and we are told that they had “glad and sincere hearts.” It is not that they were a certain age, or that they had learned a formula that they could repeat, that they knew the doctrine and what they were expected to say. What was happening in their hearts? Were they glad to have heard the good news of Jesus Christ? Were they sincere in their desire to confess him before men? Did they believe in their hearts and then confess by their baptism that Jesus Christ was Lord? He was indeed Jehovah Jesus.
- WHY DID PETER ASK THEM TO BE BAPTIZED?
Jesus Christ himself had been baptized by John the Baptist and he approved of all that John said and did. Those who repented and believed on him and became his disciples were all baptized by his apostles. The 500 people the risen Christ met with before he ascended into heaven were all baptized. His last words to his apostles were, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Peter had done what his Saviour had exemplified in his baptism and had also commanded him to do. He had made disciples out of rebel blasphemers and killers of Christ in Jerusalem and the next requirement was that there (with the knowledge spreading among their families and neighbours) they be baptized, and without hesitation they were. We are told that in verse 41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized.” And so the whole pattern that we are to meet throughout the book of Acts begins, and all the Samaritans who repented, all the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household, the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul of Tarsus, Lydia, the Philippian jailer were all baptized when they repented of their sins and professed to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. There is not a convert in the book of Acts who is not baptized. Not one. And so it has been in the history of the church. Let me just choose one example of the baptism of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. This is what he wrote:
“To me, there seemed to be a great concourse on that week-day. Dressed, I believe, in a jacket, with a boy’s turn-down collar, I attended the service previous to the ordinance, but all remembrance of it has gone from me: my thoughts were in the water, sometimes with my Lord in joy, and sometimes with myself in trembling awe at making so public a confession. There were first to be baptized two women – Diana Wilkinson and Eunice Fuller – and I was asked to conduct them through the water to the minister in the river Lark, but this I most timidly declined. It was a new experience to me, never having seen a baptism before, and I was afraid of making some mistake. The wind blew down the river with a cutting blast, as my turn came to wade into the flood, but after I had walked a few steps, and noted the people on the ferry-boat, and in boats, and on either shore, I felt as if Heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me, for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb. My timidity was washed away; it floated down the river into the sea, and must have been devoured by the fishes, for I have never felt anything of the kind since. Baptism also loosed my tongue, and from that day it has never been quiet. I lost a thousand fears in that River Lark, and found that “in keeping his commandments there is great reward.”
So Peter told the repenting disciples in Jerusalem that the next step was to be baptized, and he told them this as Christ’s servant because the Lord Jesus had told him to make disciples and baptize them.
- WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN BAPTISM?
i] Peter didn’t present being baptized as an option. Peter didn’t tell them that if they were embarrassed about being baptized surrounded by people then they could organize private baptisms in secret places at midnight. No. They were to burn their bridges when they got baptized. They were to publicly identify with Jesus Christ. Peter said they were to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Were they ashamed of him who had been crucified because he loved them? Was our Lord baptized in public? Yes. Then our baptisms are not to be secret from the church. You are saying, “Look world! Henceforth I belong to Jesus. He is God and he died in my place then no sacrifice I make can be too great for him.”
What if your fiancée told you that she would agree to marrying you but with only two witnesses present, and in a distant town at 9a.m., and no guests, no reception, and no ring and she wouldn’t be changing her last name? You could use the front door into the house, but she would always enter by the back door. She was obviously rather ashamed of marrying you. Surely it would make you think twice about going ahead with a wedding. Jesus Christ has required so mighty a change in your status. Your entry into the glorious body of Christ is such a grand privilege that it is inaugurated not by signing a form and sending it to a box number but by public baptism.
ii] Peter didn’t tell them to baptize themselves. They knew what baptism was. New converts to Judaism were baptized. John the forerunner of Jesus baptized and all the people went out to hear him. It was not because John baptized in the Jordan everyone who had repented that he was arrested and murdered. It was because he called on every person in the country without exception to repent, even the wretched king Herod who had taken his own brother’s wife. A summons to royal repentance was too much for the king to take. John paid for that sermon with his life. So the people listening to Peter understood the meaning of the word ‘baptize.’ But you see that Peter did not tell them to go off and baptize themselves in the Jordan as if they could carry on living the remainder of their lives just as they had always lived. No, no. “Be baptized,” he said, in other words they were to approach him and the 120 other Christians who were there full of the Spirit of Christ. These repenting men and women were to go to these Christians and humbly confess to them their faith in Jesus Christ and tell of their repentance. Then they were humbly to ask those in leadership – not the novices who had only been converted in the past months but the leaders – to baptize them. These new converts were being introduced to something totally new in their lives, that from that moment on they were going to be helped by a new pattern to their weeks and to their evenings, and how they spent their money and their friendships. They could not ignore any of those things. They were to be confronted by a new structure of authority and leadership and instruction that they were to be involved in and submit to. From now on they could not be loners but they were to live their lives henceforth as living members of an assembly, a congregation, a body and in particular a church. Peter and the others knew about the church because Jesus had famously taught them in Matthew 16 that that his intention during the rest of their lives was to build his church, and the gates of hell would not prevent him doing this.
Then do you remember what Jesus Christ said next? He told Peter that he was giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven and what Peter bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and what Peter loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. In other words, imagine that someone had come to Peter on the Day of Pentecost and had asked Peter to baptize him. Peter asked him a number of simple questions about the way of salvation and who was Jesus of Nazareth. The man was quite confused. He really hadn’t grasped the Christian faith. He didn’t know that Jesus was the Son of God, or why the Son of God became the Lamb of God and died on the cross. It turned out that this man wanted to be baptized because he was shocked at the chief priests crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, and “something must be done!” Peter did not show scorn to him and mock him. Peter wanted him to be baptized and join the church, but the man wasn’t ready yet. “Wait!” he said, “and continue being instructed in the faith. There will be other baptismal services soon” And in heaven God seeing and hearing how Peter dealt with this confused man approved of Peter’s action. But later Peter baptized him as he had developed a grasp of the simplicity of the gospel – “We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus Christ, because he loved us, died for us,” and God again approved of his baptism on that occasion. Peter had the keys and when Peter opened the doors of the church on earth then God smiled and noticed that the name of the man was already written down in the book of life in glory. So when thousands came to the 120 and said to them, “Please would you baptize me, because I repent of my sins and I bow to Jesus the risen and exalted Son of God as my Lord and Saviour,” then generally the answer was “Yes now,” but sometimes it was, “Yes, wait!” because the person was muddled. Peter and the other Christian leaders then, as well as today, had the authority from God to say that.
Let me tell you how the Puritan commentator Matthew Poole explained this verse about Peter having the keys. I was very persuaded that this was right, and it is lucid. I am going to read to you a few sentences written 375 years ago. I never want to say anything that has not been said hundreds of times in the last 2000 years. This is what Matthew Poole wrote; “The sense is, Peter, I will betrust you, and the rest of my apostles, with the whole administration of my gospel; you shall lay the foundation of the Christian church, and administer all the affairs of it, opening the truths of the gospel to the world, and governing those who shall receive the faith of the gospel. . . . Our Saviour by this promise declared his will, that his apostles should settle the affairs of the gospel church, determining what should be lawful and unlawful, and setting rules, according to which all succeeding ministers and officers in his church should act, which our Lord would confirm in heaven . . . I cannot think that the sense of binding and loosing here is excommunicating and absolving, but a doctrinal or judicial determination of things lawful and unlawful granted to the apostles.”
iii] Baptism will cause division in your life. You understand that once Peter had preached like that to them and told them not only they had to repent but be baptized, there was a bifurcation of that Jerusalem audience. There were those who shook their heads and frowned at him and made big eyes at one another. They rejected Peter and his message, and complained and they weren’t baptized. But then there were the brand new disciples and they seem to have been in the majority on this occasion; we are told of a living, spiritual movement springing up that affected so many, motivating thousands of them to go from non-repentance to repentance, from unbelief in Christ to acknowledging him as Lord. We are told in verse 41; “Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” So get some simple sums right. The number of disciples of Jesus Christ at breakfast time was 120 (we are told that in chapter 1 and verse 15). But by suppertime the number had increased to 3,120. The 3000 were ‘added’ (that’s the phrase) to the 120 believers. Someone did the arithmetic and counted them. This grand growing number then began to meet together every day (v.46). What could Caiaphas and Annas the Jewish chief priests do? Crucify the lot of them? There would have been very important and significant people among them. And these Christians broke bread together in their homes. They sang the praises of God together (v. 47) and it was hard to keep track of them all because they sprang up like mushrooms in numbers every day everywhere. We are told in the last sentence in this chapter, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (v.47). So when you were saved from unbelief by repenting and being baptized for you there was no choice in this question, “Shall I submit to the apostles and their teaching?” There was no possibility of deciding that as you were a rather private person and you didn’t really like mixing with other Christians you could say, “I’d rather not.” You mortified those feelings and you asked God to help you to love your new family. You got baptized and you joined these Christians on the first day of the week. It was no option; you sat where they sat; you sang what they sang; you were taught what they were taught; you broke bread with them.
iv] Baptism is the end of a self-centred lifestyle. It is a great challenge to the mindset of people in our Post-modern age. Some of today’s post-modern believers hardly ever view the Christian life through congregational eyes, as those who are so conscious that they are members of the body of Christ. Those people don’t make membership of a church a priority. When they come to think about Sundays and whether they will go to a church, then the place they choose is influenced by the peculiar flavour of a gathering, how best it fits into their personalities and tastes and a particular set of desires. The ‘young and restless’ look for a church that’s on the cutting edge. Old Age Pensioners are looking for traditional worship. Parents are looking for a creche. The youth are looking for cool activities. Singles are looking for ‘love.’ Confident people are looking for a church where they can teach and speak and lead and make a contribution. In other words people are looking at a congregation through the lens of ‘self’ – “My vision of a church is this . . .” don’t they like to talk of their ‘vision’? So they judge a church based upon how well it meets their personal expectations.
Many churches cater to this type of individualism. They seek to create an atmosphere where people can enjoy their own individual ‘experience’. They will create activities for them to do, and those things are more important for the existence of that church than upholding and promoting the 39 Articles or the 1689 Confession of Faith, or other doctrinal standards. ‘Church’ has become a place for people to get a ‘spiritual experience,’ rather than a place for mutual accountability and biblical instruction and a growing life of service. Church has become like a fast-food restaurant; you get a polystyrene box in a few minutes, enjoy the meal and leave with no commitments attached.
No wonder the church and its membership has been undermined. Post modern people are saying, “I do not feel accountable to anyone else for what I believe and how I live.” So church membership is optional; a good thing maybe, but not a biblical necessity. Many people are content to church-hop their whole lives, or simply stay at home. They might walk on the coastal path and worship God in their own way, or they might attend a church occasionally but never join it.
v] Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong commitment. Even when some people join a church, they don’t remain committed to it or faithful to it. We don’t find many people leaving a church today because of some doctrinal error or worldly worship or ethical compromise or other biblical concerns. No, they hear the buzz that’s coming from the church across the town, and rather than remaining faithful to their own church, they go down the street. Or again people will jump ship if they get their feelings hurt. Post-moderns are quick to change membership for the slightest reason. Gone are the days when Christians remained faithful to a church and sought to work out their differences with love and humility. Paul’s advice for Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi – “be of the same mind” (Phil 4:2) – is no longer repeated. Now we hear “well, you’ve got to find a church that’s right for you.” How different it was in Jerusalem in this command to repent and be baptized. Paul tells a congregation, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephs, 4:4-6). In Jerusalem there was just one congregation and all the 3,000 without exception had to live with that church, not start up another if they did not like the apostles’ doctrines and the fellowship it created.
- BAPTISM & JOINING A CHURCH ARE YOUR FIRST BLESSED DUTIES.
I want you to see this quite clearly and interestingly in a couple of places in the New Testament.
i] In Acts chapter 5 we have a reference to people being afraid to join the church. The church was a unique organization that you have no choice but to join. You are baptized by the Spirit at your regeneration into this body. You are in fact a member of the body of Christ before you actually, officially join it. You submit to what you are, to what God has done in you. You remember the background to Romans 5. God’s judgment has come upon Ananias and Sapphira for the greed and lying in the congregation with Christ and his angels gathered with them. We are told in verse 12 that the church had its regular meetings, but that many people of Jerusalem (who had shown some interest in becoming Christians) were gradually becoming aware of what was required of them if they were to be baptized and named the name of Christ. Certainly they would have to live a credible godly life. There could be no lying, no falsehood, no pride or ambition. If they were Christians they would have to eschew all those evil attitudes. So they counted the cost, but then after the deaths of the deceivers, Ananias and Sapphira, the growth of the church came to a temporary halt. We are told in verse 13, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” You see? Normally the way you showed that you had become a Christian was that physically you identified with them. You walked to where they were meeting and sat in the congregation and listened to the apostles’ doctrine and were persuaded of its truth. Then you spoke to the leaders about joining, asking them what you should do, and agreeing to be baptized in a repentant spirit trusting in the finished work and glorious person of the Lord Jesus. If you thought the cost too high you hesitated. And so there was a mighty hesitation at the time of Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths when this covetous, deceiving, blaspheming couple (who lied to the whole church with the risen Jesus in the midst) were smitten down, but then things changed as the truth prevailed. God vindicated his judgment. God honoured the church for their trust in him. God added many more to the church. The privileges of being saved by Jesus Christ proved utterly irresistible; the truth conquered and so we are told “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their numbers” (Acts 5:14). Luke cannot write about the spread of the gospel without referring to the numbers of the church increasing. So a Christian is someone who joins the church and is added to the numbers of believers in a place.
ii] Have you noticed how the converted Saul of Tarsus initially failed in his attempt to join the church in Jerusalem? I am referring now to what happened to Saul after the Lord met with him on the road toDamascus and he became a disciple. Very soon he was baptized and it was not long before he was preaching in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus was the Son of God. Then a group of the Jews plotted and planned to kill him. They kept watch at the gates of Damascus where he might try to escape from the city. Paul eventually got away – you remember – by being lowered in a basket down the city wall. Then what happened next? Paul left Syria and traveled straight back to Jerusalem where he had lived as a leader of the Pharisees and behaved abominably. Luke tells us what happened when he arrived in Jerusalem and went along to this church whose origins we are studying in Acts 2. It is a year later. We are told in Acts 9 and verse 26, “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” You see him returning to his home town a new man, a true Christian, and what does he want to do? What is his first wish now, a wish he’d never have entertained just a month or so earlier? “Now I must join the local church.” Of course he could turn up and sit and listen as hundreds did, but he wanted actually to join this group and be added to their numbers, to be welcomed into the membership. What for? For many reasons. Because Saul loved being with Christian people full of the Spirit of God. And Saul wanted to hear gospel preaching. Saul longed to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Saul was conscious of his accountability to them and they to him – to submit to one another, to edify one another, to exhort one another, and to admonish one another. Saul longed for their fellowship, to benefit from the influences we have over one another, to help one another, and to care for one another, and obey one another, and to give to the support of the ministry and evangelism and spread of the gospel, and be active in praying. There were preachers and officers in the Jerusalem church and Paul wanted to join the church in order to honour them, and submit to them, and support them and pray for them.
That is how Paul thought, and that is how a true Christian thinks. In the 21st century a Christian knows he is going to spend three or four years at university and he wants to know if in one college town there is Christ crucified being preached. Or he has the possibility of a new job somewhere. Is there a congregation of Jesus Christ there where his children will hear the gospel? It is even important on vacation to find a gospel church. How useful is the list of summer churches in Evangelical Times. My friend Dr. Palmer Robertson is married to an English girl and so they return to the U.K. from the mission field each year and they visit her parents and her family in different places. He writes to me (as he did two weeks ago) and he asks me to tell him where there’s the nearest fellowship of the faithful with whom he and his family may bond on the Lord’s Day as fellow believers, accepted by them. “Welcome our dear brother!” That is a Christian concern. When you move to an area to live you register in a new bank, and to get your names on the files in a doctors’ practice and you join a gospel church.
iii] But when you become a Christian, although, on the one hand, you have to join yourself to a church, however, then also the church joins itself to you. You remember how James in his letter expresses his disgust when a rich person turns up at a service dressed to kill with his servant outside guarding his horse and chariot. The deacons make a great fuss of this rich ruler at the entrance and give him the best seat in the place. Then an illiterate old Christian comes into the same building and she is ignored! “Find yourself a place, or sit on the floor!” Immediately, within 20 years of Pentecost, sub-Christian attitudes were creeping into the assemblies. So Paul writes to the church in Rome and he says to them, “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you” (Roms. 15:7). Accept the handicapped, and the illiterate, and the unattractive, and the slave, and the beggar and the blind man. Think of how unattractive you once were to Jesus Christ, but he took you and all your sin to himself. He loved you and he gave himself for you, and so it is incumbent upon you to accept one another in their weakness in that spirit of the one who made himself nothing for us. I have been saddened a few times when I have witnessed the reluctance of a bright smart intelligent Christian to bend and to ask God for help and begin a conversation with an ungifted visitor. I can introduce them, but the old church member makes no effort to give himself to the visitor, in showing interest in him and asking questions and learning from him. Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.
So you see the point I am making, that becoming a Christian from the beginning was not some individualistic activity, a private decision which you need not tell anyone about so that you could carry on undisturbed in the daily routines of your life. It’s not at all like that, like people who tend to vote for a political party every five years in a General Election, but they never join the party nor go to any of their meetings. Becoming a Christian means you go to regular meetings; you identify with other Christians; you join a congregation taught by the apostles; your presence swells the numbers; you were baptized into this body by the leaders of the church. Formally, at the very beginning of the Christian life you submitted to a very personal and demanding ordinance. You put yourself in the hands of a mature Christian to be baptized by him. You were not given exemption. That was required of you and you did it. You had a new relationship with those pastor/preachers and also the congregation they led. That is how it was on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and that is still how it is today.
22nd February 2015 GEOFF THOMAS