Baptismal Devotion: Acts 21:37-22:31
Today is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. What a privilege to hear from these students. God is at work! Were you blessed hearing from them? I was.
Thank you, students.
In my devotions this week, I read another testimony and baptism. It was in Acts chapter 21 and 22 if you want to see it for yourself. In these chapters, the Apostle Paul was on trial. He shared how he came to faith. It was remarkable. God physically blinded Paul and audibly spoke to him. He turned Paul from a path of taking people and imprisoning them for their Christian faith and overseeing the killing of one to being imprisoned and killed for his faith himself.
What has God saved you from? What is your testimony? What is your story? Sometimes, we can be thinking we know what is right—living the best life now. Doing our thing, convinced about our way and our idea, but then God interrupts.
Before God saved Paul, he was sincere, committed, faithful, and religious. He was bright, fastidious, and ethical. He had a lot going for him. Yet, no effort of his own would wash clean his moral improprieties, his errant thoughts, and straying words. He could not erase his track record. He had blood on his hands. That was true until God interrupted.
In Acts chapter 21 and 22, Paul was in Jerusalem and brought before the Roman Tribune. He has the opportunity to share how God worked in his life and changed him. Paul now knew he had sinned. He now knew his guilt. He now knew Jesus was the answer, but Paul needed help putting the next pieces together. He mentions a man by the name of Ananias, who did just that.
In the same way, parents, Sunday School teachers, Joe, our Youth Pastor, and you, the church, have been a significant part of those who have helped these students take the next step of faith. Thank you.
In chapter 22, verse 12 it says that Ananias was devout. That means godly, or as one scholar paraphrased it, he had a “Sterling reputation” (Eugene Peterson). I have seen that in our church too. Frequently, your life admonishes mine. As I see your devotion to Jesus, and his ways, and I am encouraged and challenged. Thank you for being here and being a part of our community. The church is not only about what we get out of it but also about what we put in. We need each other. Each follower of Jesus has unique gifts. Whatever Ananias’s gifts were, he obeyed God. He courageously moved towards someone who, hours earlier, was bent on attacking him.
Notice verse 13, of chapter 22, if you have your Bibles open. How does Ananias speak of Paul? Acts 22 verse 13. Ananias calls him “brother.” That is gracious and charitable. Paul was on the way to Damascus in his testimony to arrest people like Ananias. Ananias knew it. He wasn’t biologically a brother, they were both children of Abraham I gather but not only that. A change had happened to Paul. He had turned from his sins and trusted in Jesus as the Messiah.
Ananias went on to say, in verse 14 and following,
“The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and hear. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:14–16)
Presumably, Paul was baptized after this statement. He gave his testimony and Ananias helped him take the next step of faith: obedience. In the same way, after hearing these students’ testimonies, we will watch these students get baptized at Warren Dunes, tonight.
Baptism began with Jesus. One of the last things he said to do was for his followers to go make disciples and baptize them teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded. Ananias took Jesus’s command seriously. We do too.
I want to clarify something about verse 16. Ananias said, “Be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” What did he mean? How are sins washed away? What will happen tonight at Warren Dunes? Verse 16 can be confusing. I think we have to understand them in the context of Acts and the rest of the Bible.
The short answer is that baptismal water does not wash away, erase, or forgive sin. We could spend a lot of time here, but let’s find out what does.
Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, that “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Followers of Jesus are washed by the Holy Spirit and in Jesus’s name. God is the one who does it through Jesus. Ultimately, though Paul is going to be baptized, it is God who is going to do the washing away of sin. So forgiveness and washing are related, but it is by the Holy Spirit not man.
Elsewhere, Paul teaches that this washing is spiritual, not physical. If you have your Bibles, open to Titus, chapter 3. Look at verse 4. Titus chapter 3.
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, who he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope fo eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7)
So, Baptism demonstrates what God has done by the Holy Spirit. It is a symbol pointing to reality. Washing is a word picture of God pouring on the believer the Holy Spirit through Jesus. He was washed by grace alone through faith alone. It is a gift, not an entrance fee to heaven. When we trust Christ as the only Savior for our sin, we are washed clean by the blood he shed two thousand years ago supernaturally. So, in a sense, these students have already been washed.
How is that? First John 1:9 tells us how, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Being cleansed is through admission of our wrongdoing and seeking God. That was where Paul was at. Ananias was telling Paul to embrace what he already had in his possession. Paul’s eyes had already been opened. He knew his sin. He knew his Savior. This interpretation makes sense with the rest of Scripture’s teaching and the context.
So what is happening tonight? I think it is like the Olympics, which just ended. When a champion stands on the stage to receive their medal, he or she is already the champion. They are the winner. They won the gold and are a medalist, even without the medal hanging around their neck. The medal represents a reality. Baptism represents a reality that Jesus has won for us and we enjoy through confessing our sinfulness and need for God’s great forgiveness flowing from the cross. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace.
Thank you, students, for following Jesus and making this known. Before I pray and the worship team comes back up here, you may be wondering about baptism yourself. You may have been baptized as a child and had no say over it. You may never have been baptized. We want people to own their decision. If you would like to learn more about baptism, let’s talk. I would love to do more baptism services this year.
Thanks again, friends and family, for being here. Come back at 7:00 PM tonight.
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