by C.W. Powell
“Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:38,39
I want to bring several things to your attention today on the occasion of the baptism of ___________. This is a great event in the life of the church and ought to be a time of great rejoicing and joy on the part of the people of God.
It is proper that we look at the Second Chapter of Acts to draw some instruction from the first instance of water baptism after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are several things that I want to note about this second chapter.
The Occasion. The Day of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit had been given, and the harvest of the nations had begun. Pentecost was the feast of firstfruits for Israel, a time when the first of the harvest was offered up to God. In the second chapter of Acts the firstfruits of the world are offered to God, for Christ had fully paid for sin, and the promise given to Abraham is now read to be fulfilled, that all nations would be blessed.
The 120 disciples had tarried in Jerusalem, according to the words of Christ, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. On the day of Pentecost, there was a great rushing sound and tongues of fire rested upon the whole group, and they began to speak with tongues, languages that the people could understand. There were people there from all over the world who had come to the feast, and they understood in the language of their childhood, for the 120 were speaking in these languages the great praises of the Lord.
Some said they were drunk. Others protested that it was too early in the day for that. Finally Peter stood up and, explained to them under the power of the Holy Spirit, what had happened. You must remember that Peter was not speaking to theological ignoramuses. The Jews were a highly literate people who knew well the law and the prophets. It was not necessary for Peter to explain every reference that he made in his sermon, for they would understand.
Peter’s first point is that what had occurred had been predicted by the prophets, especially the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:18-21). When Messiah comes there would be a pouring out of the Spirit on all the nations. There would be great changes made in the way God governed the world, but the result would be an extension of salvation to the whole world, for “whosoever would call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” the same phrase that Paul uses to describe the gospel in Romans. The time of Joel’s prophecy had come. Salvation would go to the whole world, not just to the Jews.
Peter then claims that this prophecy concerning the pouring out of the Spirit is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 22-36). Remember, he is speaking to religious sophisticates, who would understand the intricate arguments that he makes. Jesus of Nazarus was approved of God by the miracles, signs and wonders that he did. He was delivered according to the plan of God to their wicked designs, and was crucified and slain. God, however, had raised him from the dead.
Peter affirms that the death and resurrection of Christ was also predicted by the prophets (vs. 25ff.) He quotes several Psalms (Ps. 16; Ps. 132; Ps. 110) in support. I will give you a summary of his argument.
David prophesied that Christ would suffer and be resurrected to the right hand of God. The right hand of God is the place of power and authority and this is revealed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (vs. 33). This is the essence of the promise concerning Messiah: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all nations. Peter gives several reasons why this could not refer to David himself, but to Messiah.
Turning now to Ps. 110, Peter drives home his point: the Messiah has come. He has suffered and risen from the dead as was prophesied, and has ascended to the right hand of God. This resurrected Jesus is the appointed Messiah, whom God has made both Lord and Christ.
Summary of Peter’s argument
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the culmination of the hope of Israel, and is the fulfilling of the Promise of God made to the world, from the Promise to Eve in the Garden of Eden to Abraham and the prophets of Israel. An abundance of the Gentiles would be brought in and a New World Order would result from the coming of Messiah and from His death and resurrection. What they had seen at Pentecost is the firstfruit of what would be a great harvest throughout the world, even until the end of the world. There would be men coming to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. Lives would be changed and made new. Being delivered from their sin and misery, men would be transformed into productive and useful plants in the kingdom of God.
The blessings of the covenant that God had made with Abraham would now be poured out upon the Gentiles, the blessings of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This is the occasion of the first baptisms after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God the Father.
What is the reason for the baptisms?
After Peter had finished preaching, they were pricked in their hearts: “Men and Brethren, what shall we do?” This was not a dry academic question, but the cry of souls in trouble. “If these things are true, if Jesus is the Messiah that we have been looking for, if our people have crucified and slain him, then we have big problems. What are we to do?
Peter’s answer is very clear.
First, they were to repent. They were to turn around. They were to be sorry for their sins against God. The Jew knew what repentance meant. Circumcision pointed to the necessity of putting away their hardness of heart, and putting on a right and contrite heart and spirit. God had promised that in the last days He would circumcise their hearts and they would no longer be stiff-necked and hard. The prophets had spoken to this. The preaching of John the Baptist had called them to repentance. John himself had baptized because of the One who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
But Peter is not calling them to an empty rite, a meaningless ceremony. “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” In their baptism they were to assent to the new, Christian order. They were to take upon themselves the name of Christ. Their fathers had been baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (I Cor. 10); now they were to be baptized into Jesus Christ. It would no longer be sufficient to be a Jew. That time was passing away, for Messiah has come, and the ends of the world are here. Baptism into Christ is for remission of sins, which the law could never accomplish. On the day the law was given at Sinai, 3000 men died under the swords of Levi for the sin of worshipping the golden calf. On the day the Holy Spirit is given, 3000 souls are baptized for the remission of their sins through the preaching of the Apostle Peter.
It is not that the water could wash away their sins, but that for which the water stood could wash away their sins: the application of the blood of Christ by the word and Spirit of God.
Their sins being forgiven, they would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost Himself is the gift that Messiah brings to the world. Peter’s point is not some benefit given to them by the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost Himself is the benefit. This means that they would not be left out of the promise of the Messiah, the Anointed One. To receive the Holy Ghost is to be saved, for the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ (Eph. 4), making us one with Christ and with one another.
This is one of the great differences between circumcision and baptism: circumcision emphasized the cutting off of sin; baptism emphasizes forgiveness of sins and union with Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, we receive the results of His obedience, in death to sin, to newness of life, to power and glory.
This brings us, then, to the reason for the baptisms. They were to be baptized “because” of the promise (vs. 19). This points out the unity that there is between circumcision and baptism: both take place because of the same promise.
When Abraham received the sign of circumcision it was as a sign and seal of the faith that he had in the promise that God had given him that the world would be blessed through his seed (Romans 4:10,11). Whatever else circumcision came to mean under Moses and the prophets–and it is rich with meaning, as I pointed out when I preached through Colossians–its basic meaning was in terms of faith and justification by faith. Those who believed were to submit to the order that God had established, for the promise was to Abraham and to his seed forever.
Notice the unity between God’s call to Abraham, the beginning of the order that God established with Israel; and the call to Israel when the new order of Christ is established.
When God called Abraham (Gen. 17:7) “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant”.
To Abraham’s descendants on the day of Pentecost: “The promise is to you and to your seed, and to those afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The promise is to the whole world, but it does not exclude Israel and their seed. God’s promise to Abraham is not rejected and annulled by God, but is incorporated into the new order, with a new spirit and a new mandate: Go and preach this to the whole world. The promise that God had made to Abraham is now fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Ghost and the harvest of the world. That harvest began at Pentecost.
The subjects: who are to be baptized
This brings us the final thing that needs to be said. Those baptized were those to whom the promise was made: those who receive and believe the promise, together with their children (vs. 39). All who are called of God with their children are to be baptized. Hence, we come to little Spencer Scott Thomas. The promise is to him also, because he is the child of believers. Does it mean that he is automatically saved; no, of course not, for he must come to faith and the obedience of the Gospel, just as the children of Abraham did. But the promise is to him no less than it was to them. We place this sign and seal of the promise of the Gospel upon him, so that he will be constantly reminded all the days of his life that Jesus Christ is given as a savior for the whole world, so that anyone who believes on Him might be saved.
We do this in obedience of the Great Commission: “All Power is given me in heaven and in earth. Go, and teach (make disciples) of all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you, and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” Matt. 28:19, 20.
In fact, the Great Commission of Matthew 28 might be seen as an outline to the sermon that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. Christ has been crucified, been raised from the dead, and is risen to the place of power and authority in Heaven. All power is given to him. Therefore, the harvest of the world has begun, and the apostles were to go and preached the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. You can do this because the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. Hallelujah!
Those who are disciples are to be baptized for remission of sins, and then taught to obey Christ. That the children of believers are disciples is indicated many times in Scripture, for they are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
One more thing. You remember that God’s promise to Abraham was to him and to his seed after him forever. God always included the children in the promises He made to the chosen people. The children came out of Egypt with their parents; they were baptized in the sea and in the cloud; they wandered in the wilderness with their parents; they were blessed with their parents, and they were chastised with their parents. They entered the land of Canaan together with their parents. They were always included.
Do you think it conceivable that Peter would say to Israel something like this? “Yes, you have believed the promise God gave Abraham; you brought your children out of Egypt. You have brought your children with you all this way; but now the ends of the world have come, and your Messiah has appeared. Be baptized in His Name for the remission of your sins, but your children are not included now. The harvest of the world has begun, but your children are not included.” It is unthinkable, and in fact, Peter says just the opposite. Your children are included in the promise, just as you are, just as the elect Gentiles are.