Those Who Received His Word Were Baptized
Let’s turn to Acts 2, if you would. Acts chapter 2, page 910 if you’re using a seat Bible … page 910.
Last July on Connect Sunday, July 28, we focused in on Acts 2:42 to try to understand the common life of the early church. We wrestled with the question: How do thousands of people who have very little in common suddenly have everything in common that matters? How did the most diverse, multiracial, multicultural movement in history begin? How did skeptical, fearful, lonely people become bonded into a family of unstoppable, contagious affection? And we explored the end of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and imagined what it would be like for the Jewish people to suddenly realize they just shot the police officer that came to rescue them — worse than that. Look at Acts 2:36.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart [Their inner response was deep conviction, an explosion of shards of glass within themselves — cut to the heart], and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized [Stop heading in the direction you’re going. Turn and be baptized.] every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Don’t miss that word, “added.” To add something implies that there is something to add it to. Yes, this is a spiritual miracle, but this is also a visible miracle. They are being added to the Christian community, which had about 120 and now swells to thousands. It’s a visible Christian community. We call them churches — gatherings of believers. They were added to. And verses 42-47 describe life in this new community. We talked about that last July. But for today, I want us to spend a few minutes focusing in on verse 41, wrestling with the question: What was that internal and external path into this new thing that they’re added to, this new family community? And you’ll see a a tweetable version in verse 41.
“Those who received his word were baptized.”
In sound bite form, very compressed, is a summary of what is happening here. They received his word, and they were baptized. There’s an internal –“received his word,” and there’s an external — baptism. Let’s look at the internal. They received, they accepted, they welcomed his word. That’s internal because you could have thousands of people there who heard the word but didn’t receive it. To receive the word is a different way of saying, to repent of your own word — the story in your own head, the story in your own culture — to repent of that and to receive, believe the word from God.
Look at John 1:11.
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, [to receive him is the same as to believe in his name] he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, [How did this miracle occur?] who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
This internal reception, this believing, is based on grace, not race. Faith, not flesh. His blood, not your blood. It’s not about your pedigree. It’s about his pedigree. It’s not about your family tree, your bloodline. It’s his family tree. It’s not about your performance. It’s his performance. It’s all about Jesus, not who your parents were. Can you imagine how deeply offensive this would have been to a Jewish audience? No, I’m Jewish, therefore, I’m a child of God. Yes, you pagan people need to be baptized, but we don’t need to be baptized. We’re already children of God based on our lineage. And Peter is saying, “No!” He gets even stronger in verse 40. He says, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” You are part of a messed up generation. You were born into a corrupt, perverse, rebellious generation. You are genetically and spiritually fallen. And it doesn’t matter what your physical lineage is, you need to repent, believe, and be baptized. Internal miracle, external expression of that internal miracle.
Baptism here is the outward expression of a spiritual relocation. You’re moving from this crooked generation with all of its comforts, securities, identifications, and then ultimately judgment, and you’re being transported. You’re migrating miraculously, into this new generation — a new family, a new community, a new kingdom, a new life. You’re being reidentified. You’re becoming a refugee, a spiritual immigrant who is repenting of who you were and embracing who you are. Do you see how deeply offensive that is to all of us if we really capture what he’s saying?
My brother lives overseas (one of them) and has a really good friend who grew up in East Germany. They called themselves a socialist country at the time, a communist country. And he tried to escape many times, kept getting caught. The East German government came after him, and one day they threw him in a car, and they were taking him out to the woods, and he just assumed he was done. He knows how that story ends. But there was another car there, and they moved him from one car to the other car, and he soon realized that the East German government had become so sick of him that rather than kill him (which wouldn’t make any money) they sold him to the West German government, and he was free. The West German government bought him from the East German government and set him free. That is a micro-glimpse at what Jesus has done.
Yes, he’s cleansed us personally from our sins. But what this is putting the accent on, it’s bigger than that. Yes, you’re clean. But you have actually been transported to an entirely new kingdom with an entirely new governance. You’re under a different authority. It’s not about your race. It’s not about your performance. You are now in this realm of grace, ruled over by King Jesus who has paid for the sin of everyone in his kingdom. The King did that. Amen!
Baptism is (I know this isn’t a perfect analogy), but it’s like the car that transported this friend from one government to the other. It didn’t produce it. It didn’t pay for it. It’s this outward expression, this vehicle, that says, “I’m not who I was. I am now reidentified. I’m a new citizen, a member of a new kingdom.”
“Those who received his word were baptized.”
Therefore, baptism is a big deal.
Let me illustrate from another time. Adoniram and Ann Judson are known as the pioneers of the American missionary movement. Adoniram was born in 1788 in Malden, Massachusetts, August 9. He enrolled at Brown University in 1804, graduated valedictorian in 1807. He’s 19, as a deist. He rejected Christianity. Over the next few years he ran a school, wrote grammar, wrote a math textbook, joined a group of traveling actors, was all over the place. But one night when he was staying in an inn (the walls were thin), he could hear this man groaning all night, the death groan, and it kept him up most of the night. The next morning, when he was checking out, he asked the innkeeper, “What happened to the man?” The man said he died near morning. And then the innkeeper just kind of casually said it was so sad because he was a young man who recently graduated from Brown University. Judson asked him, “Who is this?” And he told him the name, and when he said Jacob Ames, Judson was frozen. Jacob was one of his good friends. He was actually the man who convinced him to reject Christianity. He was a skeptic. And Judson’s head was spinning because he just could picture his friend Jacob, who loved to debate, had all the answers, had his life planned, and now in his 20s he’s gone. What just happened?
A few months later Judson enrolled in Andover Seminary. He was still not a believer. Within three months the Lord saved him. His heart changed. In 1808 he became a believer. In 1809 he joined the Congregational church. And during the next few years he would gather with a group of students there at the seminary, most of whom had graduated from Williams College. If you know anything about Williams College, that’s where the famous Haystack Prayer Meeting occurred. And many of these young men felt called to the mission field, and so did Judson. Soon they helped form a mission board, and during one of these meetings Judson’s eyes fell on a young woman named Ann Hasseltine. He was smitten. She was a teacher, well-educated, beautiful, loved Jesus, and quite the linguist. But Judson was torn because he was very realistic about what he was going to face on the other side of the world. When he proposed, and some of you have, I’m sure, read his proposal. It’s not to be replicated. Don’t try this at home. He basically told Ann’s parents and Ann as well that, “If you give permission for me to marry your daughter, she will most likely die early and a violent death, and you will never see her again.” And they said okay. No, it really is a remarkable step of faith. Parents can get this, where it is way easier for us to suffer than to imagine our kids suffering. But they had actually (a different story) been led to the Lord by Ann and had a relationship with Jesus. And they gave permission, and soon after they were preparing to go overseas.
But this was 1812. Think, War of 1812 is about to start, about to cut off all shipping lanes. Look at this timeline. February 5, Adoniram and Ann are married. February 6, Adoniram is ordained. February 19, they set sail for Calcutta (not quite the same as the Bahama, Bahaman, Bahamian? … a fancy honeymoon). But during the four months at sea, they tried to stay busy. They had a little exercise program. The ship was tiny, could hardly even stand up in the cabin. But Judson did a lot of translating from Greek, the New Testament, to English to prepare to translate when they arrived. But he also was wrestling with, they both were wrestling with, their view of baptism. He got stuck on the word “baptizo,” which is the Greek verb for where we get our word baptism. And the more he studied it, the more he began to question his Congregationalist interpretation of what baptism meant. Congregationalists, by the way, baptize households. If the head of the household believed, then everybody got baptized whether they were Christians or not.
And listen to what Adoniram wrote during that time.
“I was going forth to proclaim the glad news of salvation through Jesus Christ. I hoped that my ministrations [my ministry] would be blessed to the conversion of souls. In that case, I felt I should have no hesitation concerning my duty to the converts, it being plainly commanded in the scripture, that such are to be baptized, and received into church fellowship. [That’s Acts 2.] But how, thought I, am I to treat the unconverted children and domestics of the converts? Are they to be considered members of the church of Christ, by virtue of the conversion of the head of the family? Or not? If they are, ought I not to treat them as such? … If they are not to be considered members of the church, can I consistently administer to them the initiating ordinance of the church?”
Now do you see what he’s wrestling with there? If baptism is the external, visible expression that I am entering the family of God, then when someone gets baptized, they need to be viewed as a member of the church. But if people can be baptized who have not believed in Jesus, then you have lost members of the church, which contradicts the point of baptism. It’s supposed to be the visible expression of moving into a new family, a new kingdom by faith, not flesh. Because of faith in Jesus, not because who your parents or the head of your household is.
Adoniram and Ann continued to wrestle with this, and they came to the conclusion that baptism must follow faith rather than precede it. When they arrived in India, one of the first things they did — imagine, one of the first American missionaries — one of the first things they did when they got to the field was to be baptized. They asked one of William Carey’s associates, William Ward, to baptize them. And obviously that had huge repercussions.
Listen to this letter written by Ann to her parents near this time:
“We knew it would wound and grieve our dear Christian friends in America — that we should lose their approbation [their approval] and esteem. We thought it probable that the commissioners would refuse to support us. [In other words, we would lose our mission support.] And, what was more distressing than anything, we knew we must be separated from our missionary associates…. These things were very trying to us and caused our hearts to bleed with anguish. We felt we had no home in this world and no friend but each other.”
By the way, this is a great plan for helping newly married couples bond. You’re either going to make it or die really quickly. You’re either going to have to learn how to love or not, because they basically only had each other and God. They did end up resigning from their mission board, but God’s faithfulness was evident. Some of their associates joined them in being baptized. God provided a new supporting board. And not long after that the British East India Company forced them out of India. They didn’t want missionaries there. As they travelled on a ship to Burma, Ann went into labor, lost her first child, but they pressed on. Ann and Adoniram arrived in Burma in 1813, learned the Burmese language. Now imagine learning a language where you’re writing the grammar while you learn it. They began translating the Bible. And in 1819, June, their first convert was baptized. Maung Nau received God’s Word and was baptized. When Adoniram and Ann Judson arrived in Burma, they imagined the possibility of translating the Bible into Burmese, starting a church, and maybe having 100 members, miraculously. But when Judson died, almost 40 years later, not only had he translated the entire Bible into Burmese, but he left one hundred churches with over 8000 believers. Today that number has grown to the millions, and the country is now known as Myanmar. And all of this, at least back when Judson was alive, and to some extent today, it was a capital offense to convert from Buddhism to Christianity. It was the death penalty if you became a Christian. But they received God’s Word and were baptized.
In summary, baptism pictures three realities. This is what we teach in our baptism booklet, pages 14 and 15. One, you are no longer guilty — you’ve been washed through the sacrifice of Jesus. Number 2, you are no longer dead in your sin — you’ve been made alive in Christ. Number 3, (and this is the part we’ve been focusing on today) you’re no longer identified with the world (“this crooked generation,” Revelation 16 language, the beast and his kingdom) — you’ve been given a new identity in Christ. You have been reidentified.
Let’s pray. Father, the step of baptism was radical for the Jewish believers in Acts 2. It pictured a break from all that was familiar and comfortable in their broken, crooked generation. They were no longer trusting in fleshly self-confidence, but in Christ alone their hope was found. The step of baptism was radical for Adoniram and Ann Judson, turning from all that was familiar and comfortable. The step of baptism was radical for Maung Nau and millions of other Burmese believers.
And Father, the step of baptism is radical for us today. And if we don’t believe that, then either we don’t understand what baptism means, or we don’t understand what our culture stands for. But when we repent and believe in Jesus, we are turning from the lies in our own hearts and heads and the lies in our culture that seek to identify us, from the pressures of this generation to get in line and fit in, and we are following Jesus Christ. And even though there isn’t the death penalty in our country, it will cost us if we truly follow you. Today, Father, as we rejoice with these brothers and sisters as they take this huge step of baptism, fill our hearts with gratefulness and joy. Draw people to yourself who may not know you. Move people off the fence who are waiting and wondering, and may they become followers of Jesus Christ who receive your Word and are baptized. In Jesus’ name, Amen.