Have You Been Baptized Today?
James C. Denison
We’re walking through Acts 1-4 and the earliest Christian faith, seeking keys to the power of God for our lives today. We began by observing the early church as they prayed for the power of the Spirit at the risk of their lives. They knew that they needed the Spirit’s empowering if they were to fulfill their purpose and find significance. They taught us that when we want God the least is when we need him the most.
Now we come to the results of that Pentecost empowering by the Spirit: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). They believed and were baptized. So it was then; so it is in our church today. But not without some challenges along the way.
You may not know that the pastor wears fishermen’s wading boots under his robe during baptisms. The first time I saw a pastor baptize and return to the service in five minutes I thought it was a miracle. But these boots can be problematic. One Sunday morning in Midland, I was kidding around in the service and told the people that if they ever got angry with the preacher they should go back and poke holes in his waders. That night, baptizing during the Sunday evening service, my waders leaked. I maintain it was a coincidence.
In Atlanta we had a retired pastor on our pastoral care staff. He told us about the time years earlier when a Methodist pastor friend asked to borrow his baptistery, as he had a family who insisted on baptism by immersion. Our staff member was happy to consent. The Methodist baptism was to be that Sunday afternoon; when our pastor got to church that night for the Sunday evening service he found water everywhere. It was all over the baptistery steps and down the hallway. The waders were soaked; everything was a mess.
The next morning his Methodist pastor friend called to complain: “I had no idea baptizing was so hard. We got the first candidate in the wading boots and robe, got them in the baptistery and under the water, and the boots filled up with water. We had to dump them out to get the second person in, but they filled up again.”
So it was with the entire family—the pastor didn’t wear the boots, putting them on the candidates instead. Our pastor concluded, “Methodists aren’t as smart as they think they are.”
I’ve had my boots fill up in the baptistery. I baptized one man who got under the water, then pulled me down with him. I once baptized a woman who was so frightened of the water she wouldn’t get her face wet, then worried that she wouldn’t have a nose in heaven. Baptizing is dangerous—more so, in fact, than you may know.
Today we will focus on this strange and significant act, for three reasons. One: some of you have not been baptized and wonder if you should be and why. Two: some of you have been baptized but don’t really know why and what it all meant. Three: all of us need to be baptized again today. Not physically, but spiritually.
Being baptized every day is the single most important key to the power of God in your life this morning. It is my privilege to explain why that is so.
The word “baptize” comes from a Greek word which means to “dip” or “immerse.” The word was often used in the ancient world to describe the act of dipping a cup in a stream or washing clothing at a laundry. To “baptize” something is, therefore, literally to immerse it in water. It was first done by the Church in the text before us today. This single verse seems straightforward, but there is much to know in its words.
“Accepted” translates a word which means to welcome or receive gladly.
“His message” was the gospel, the good news of God’s love in Christ.
They “were baptized”—the syntax indicates that this happened immediately after they “accepted his message.”
“About three thousand were added to their number” shows that their baptism was the step by which they entered into the fellowship of the church.
“That day” shows that this entire event, from acceptance to baptism to church membership, happened on the one day of Pentecost.
Skeptics wonder how the conversion of 3,000 was possible, much less their baptism on a single day. But the facts make the entire event completely understandable.
Jerusalem had a resident population of 55,000, swelling to 180,000 during festivals such as Pentecost. The Temple precincts could easily accommodate 200,000, and the acoustics were such that nearly all could easily hear Peter’s voice. All could understand enough Greek to make sense of his sermon, as the Spirit convicted them of their need for Christ.
The baptism of 3,000 in one day was very plausible as well. The Temple mount had numerous immersion pools used by worshipers for ritual purifications. There were numerous church leaders present to do the baptizing; if just the Twelve did this, each would need to baptize 250 new believers. If they said over each what I say in our baptistery, they could easily baptize five a minute, or the entire group in less than an hour.
But why did they do this? Publicly dipping someone in water seems a strange thing to do, but the fact is that the Jews had been doing this for centuries. When a Gentile became a Jew, he or she was baptized in public as an act of submission and repentance. The old person was symbolically washed away, the new raised up to life in Judaism.
John the Baptizer took this decision a step further, calling Jews to be baptized as an act of repentance. No one had ever challenged Jews to make this commitment. Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan for this baptism. Matthew reports: “John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:13-17).