The book of Acts is the book of baptisms.
Much of the “act”-ion in Acts is thousands and thousands of people being buried with Christ in baptism waters. A quick word study will point this out! The word “baptized” is found just 16 times combined in the four Gospels but 19 times in the book of Acts. One should also compare this number in Acts (19) with the book of Romans (1), or 1 Cor. (7), or Gal. (1).
Years ago the Lord directed me to read the book of Acts for some 2 years as we were headed into Tajikistan (2000) for church planting. It was during this time I saw significance of baptism and the importance of getting baptized immediately in the early church.
“Three thousand ‘baptized’ souls added in one day”
One of the clearest examples of the urgency and immediacy of being baptized in water must have happened on the day of Pentecost, on the birthday of the Church! After the preaching of Peter and seeing the obvious outpouring of the Spirit upon 120 individuals, men and women in the city of Jerusalem were cut to the quick and asked: “What must we do?”
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41)
Did you catch that? About 3,000 souls were baptized and added to the church ON THAT DAY! Can you imagine the great effort and time involved to baptize 3,000 souls in one day?
The next exciting example of the urgency and immediacy of being baptized in water is the Ethiopian eunuch. He had been in Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home to Africa, sitting in his chariot by himself reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip was supernaturally guided to join him in the chariot and asked him: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip took off from where he was reading in Isaiah 53 and “beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-28)
Evidently, for Philip, in preaching the gospel the subject of baptism came to the forefront. The eunuch saw water along the road and immediately his thoughts came to baptism! Maybe Philip was giving him an earlier version of what Paul later told the Colossians:
Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:12)
For Philip and the eunuch, baptism was not something for a “later date” after a “Baptism Class” but was immediate and fundamental!
“Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized”
The apostle Paul knew first hand the indispensable character of being baptized in water. After his dramatic conversion, in which a very bright light like lightening threw him to the ground and blinded him for three days, the Lord sent Ananias from Damascus to Paul for him to be healed and to be baptized in water.
‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth… Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Acts 22:13-16)
I want to underlined this so you won’t miss it! “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized!” In the church of the 21st Century we ask people to make a decision for Jesus. We ask that they “raise a hand” or stand up at a meeting or “repeat a prayer”. In the early days of the New Testament church they had people not stand up but be buried down deep into the waters of baptism to identify with Christ’s death and come up from the water clothed with Jesus!
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27)
The First Baptisms in in Europe
Lydia, the first convert in Europe, was listening to Paul preach the gospel and was immediately baptized, she and her household, whereupon she opened her home to the apostles. (Acts 16)
The Philippian jailer, who was guarding the prisoners Paul and Silas, was so impacted by the “Midnight Earthquake Rescue” of the Lord that he cried out to the apostles: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” At that point he had not even heard the gospel but saw it in action!
Wounded and bleeding from being beaten with rods earlier in the day Paul and Silas answered:
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.(Acts 16:31-33)
Please don’t read past this as being too familiar: the jailer was one moment going to kill himself with his own sword because he thought his prisoners had escaped. The next moment he is washing the apostles’ wounds and bandaging them up. While it is still dark, in the middle of the night, he wakes up his whole household and has them all baptized along with himself!
New Testament baptism in water was immediate and urgent
“Time will fail me if I tell of” the baptisms of Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian cohort, and his relatives and close friends (Acts 10); Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, with all his house (Acts 18); the twelve disciples of John who lived in Ephesus (Acts 19). In each and every case of conversion in the New Testament, baptism in water was immediate (that same day!) and urgent! I do not believe there is any exception to this!
We, in the western church in particular, have regrettably exchanged the early church practice of immediate and urgent baptism in water with a weak “public confession” and a raised hand. Many untold thousands may have given too quick an assent to the Gospel and have found themselves, days or months (and possibly years later!), like those three types of soil in Jesus’ parable:
1. the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.
2. the man has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
3. the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
May we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.