What Prevents Me from Being Baptized?
The doctrine and practice of baptism has fallen on hard times in our generation.
The whys behind it may be many, but among them is surely the fact that baptism is more often practiced as an archaic and disconnected ritual. It isn’t seen as central to Christianity any more.
Old things and especially symbolic things need explanation.
People today – and I lay the fault of this at the feet of Church leadership – fail to see baptism as profoundly central to being a Christian as the 1st century believers did. As the Bible does.
The early Church knew nothing of someone claiming to be a Believer, a follower of Jesus Christ apart from obeying Him in being baptized.
Additionally, we have the peculiar tendency of our culture to atomize virtually all thought – a recipe for baptism losing any real psychological impact.
Let me explain what I mean by atomizing thought.
Webster defines atomizing as:
1: to treat as made up of many discrete units
2: to reduce to minute particles or to a fine spray
3: DIVIDE, FRAGMENT (an atomized society) also: to deprive of meaningful ties to others (atomized individuals)
Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
In religion this can manifest itself in what used to be termed: Cafeteria Christians or Buffet Believers.
Approaching Christianity as though it lays out a smorgasbord of truths, and you just pick and choose what you like and leave what you don’t.
Try doing that with something as basic as water.
Water is H2O. And if someone were to say: “I don’t like being forced into having to always have hydrogen and oxygen mixed this way in order to be hydrated – I prefer to have a glass of hydrogen here and there, and then just a sip of oxygen when I like” – you’d call them a couple of fries short of a Happy meal.
But it’s no more crazy than trying to separate anything else that needs to be constitutionally bound together in order to be of use in the way God intended it.
Sexuality w/o marriage
Christianity w/o Church
Or gathered worship
Or the preaching of the cross and the substitutionary atonement of Christ
Or Bible reading
Or holiness of life – and abandoning sin.
It is why so many professed Christians can’t seem to sort out ethics or sexuality in our day. We approach them as though we can hold views on such matters without reference to the teaching of the whole of Scripture as authoritative for our lives.
We pick and choose what we want from the Bible, like its comfort or hope, and leave behind its demands and responsibilities. And imagine that is Christianity, and that it somehow too, is salvation.
It is not.
And it is why we can’t have Biblical Christianity without baptism as a necessary part – especially in the face of commands like that of Jesus in Matthew 28:18–20 “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and 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 that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Church MUST go – preaching the Gospel in calling men and women to become disciples of Jesus; baptizing them with reference to the triune God; and teaching them to obey Christ!
These things cannot be atomized – separated from each other. They go hand in hand in Biblical Christianity and form an integral whole.
Now that takes us back to the narrative we had read for us in Acts 8.
As we saw when it was read for us, Philip, was one of the 7 who were set apart to take care of the ministry of the Church in Jerusalem. They were to see to dispensing the Church’s resources to the needy in a compassionate and equitable way. This Philip was prompted by an angel to head south out of Jerusalem.
As he went, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch – a court official of Candace, the Queen of the Ethiopians.
This man was probably a “God fearer”. This was a designation for those who had adopted the Jewish God and who wanted to worship Him with them. He had been to Jerusalem to worship at the time of Passover to Pentecost. But as a eunuch – emasculated – he would not be permitted to be a full proselyte and considered “A Jew”.
As Philip nears the man’s chariot, he hears the man reading aloud out of Isaiah 53.
Philip approaches him, and asks him if he really understands what it is he is reading – to which the eunuch humbly replies, no. I need someone to interpret it for me.
He was reading vs. 7-8 of Isaiah in particular: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Then he asks Philip – was the writer saying this about himself, or someone else? He is practicing a good Bible study method – asking the who, what, why, when and where questions.
And the text says: Acts 8:35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”
Which then leads to what we might think is a surprising turn of events: Acts 8:36 “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
The question we ought to be asking ourselves in reading this is: How did the Eunuch make the leap in logic from Isa. 53 – and how it applies to Jesus – to asking to be baptized as the next step?
Was this simply the outcome of a part of Philip’s instruction not recorded for us here?
Or is there something in the Isaiah passage that lends itself to getting the Eunuch to think that way?
I am going to argue that the Isaiah passage brings up the principle that led the Eunuch to that conclusion – especially when coupled with what the Eunuch most probably observed on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. And certainly – what he was forbidden to experience as a full proselyte – even though he wanted to serve the True God.
We need then to go back to Isaiah 53 and take a quick look at what was written there to make the connection for ourselves.
Isaiah 53 is one of 4 portions in Isaiah labeled “The Servant Songs.” Places where Isaiah’s prophecies are specifically messianic and portray the Messiah not as a reigning King – as all the Jews wanted and expected, but also as a suffering servant.
This particular song is startling in its explicitness and content. And it is here the Eunuch was confronted with ideas he desperately needed to be unpacked.
So the text begins:
1 “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”
We have a most amazing report to give – and we wonder who has actually believed it?
To whom has God seen fit to open their eyes – to see the arm of the Lord in action in what we have reported? To see God’s power on display in the things we are about to discuss.
The Arm of the Lord is used elsewhere in Scripture to identify God Himself – God acting in power. And here, it will be used in a most interesting way.
Who has believed our report? is a good question, for Isaiah will lay out 12 astounding things to be considered. All of them vital to understanding the person and work of the Messiah.
1: 2 “For he grew up before him like a young plant,”
Though “HE” is the arm of the Lord – the One who IS God’s power, nevertheless, HE grew up before God. He was incarnate. GOD, BUT SEPARATE FROM GOD IN SOME WAY. The “Arm of the Lord” grew up – before or in the sight of The Lord.
2: “and like a root out of dry ground;”
HE is The Arm of The Lord incarnate, but in a dry, unfruitful and unproductive place. A place where fruitful life was not going on. Israel was in horrible spiritual condition when HE came.
Jesus didn’t come the first time because the Jews were all cleaned up and in a good place – He came into darkness, spiritual decline and faithlessness.
3: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
He did not come like unfallen Adam – in all the glory he had before the Fall, nor as a King or Nobleman nor as strikingly handsome. He didn’t stand out in attractiveness to the natural man.
In fact, this says so much about us too!
We would not be attracted to the eternal, glorious, divine beauty manifested in the radiance of God’s being, the very image of the invisible God.
What an indictment!
What a disclosure of our fallen state.
How blind must we be that God in human flesh would not be the most sweet, attractive, desirable of all.
How this exposes us.
Would you know your fallenness and the depth of it? Then note how much more attractive almost everything and everyone else is compared to Him – especially in our moments of temptation.
No, we would not see Him in His incarnation as naturally desirable.
4: 3 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Not only would He not be attractive to us, He would be despised – thought little of, and rejected.
Far from being the toast of the town, the Bon Vivant – most would cross to the other side of the street when they saw Him coming.
5: 4 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;”
All this – and yet it is HE who was weighed down with weight of how sin had ravaged us. It was He who would stretch out His hand time and time again to heal and to relieve the suffering our own sin brought into the world. He would weep and grieve over us, at the very same time we would be rejecting Him.
6: “yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
And while He was healing and blessing and feeding and preparing to die – we would take the opinion that His low estate and suffering were because of HIS sin! That in His death – God was judging HIM rightly.
7: 5 “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
BUT NO! THAT IS NOT THE CASE. HE WASN’T JUDGED BY GOD FOR HIS SIN – BUT FOR OURS!
OUR SIN? WE HAD ALL STRAYED FROM GOD, EACH OF US LIVING LIFE AS UNTO OURSELVES – FOR OUR PLEASURES AND PURPOSES WITHOUT REGARD TO THE ONE WHO MADE US FOR HIMSELF.
HE SUFFERED ALL IN OUR PLACE. HE TOOK OUR GUILT. WILLINGLY AND SILENTLY. WITHOUT DEFENDING HIMSELF IN ANY WAY.
8: 10 “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;”
AND NOTE THIS – IT WAS THE LORD’S WILL – OUT OF HIS LOVE FOR US THAT HE AFFLICTS HIS OWN SON ON OUR BEHALF. UNBELIEVABLE LOVE AND GRACE!
9: “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;”
YET IN HIS DEATH – THAT WILL NOT BE THE END. HE SHALL RISE TO SEE HIS OFFSPRING. THOUGH IN THE CROSS IT WILL ALL APPEAR TO BE LOSS, THE WILL OF HIS FATHER WILL PROPSER – AND THE FATHER WILL BE SATIFIED ON OUR BEHALF IN THE ANGUISH OF HIS SON’S SOUL.
10: “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
AND BY BELIEVING THIS REPORT OF HIS SUBSTITUTIONARY DEATH – MANY WILL BE ACCOUNTED AS RIGHTEOUS WITH HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, EVEN AS HE WAS ACCOUNTED GUILTY WITH OUR GUILT.
11: 12 “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death”
AND IN HIS OBEDIENCE EVEN UNTO DEATH – SO HE WILL INHERIT ALL THE FATHER HAS TO GIVE – AND SHARE IT WITH THOSE WHO BELIEVE!
12: “and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
AND THIS THEN – IS THE FINAL WORD AND THE KEY TO THE EUNUCH’S RESPONSE: HE – JESUS, WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS. THE SUFFERING SERVANT, THE ARM OF THE LORD, IDENTIFIED WITH THOSE IN WHOSE PLACE HE SUFFERED.
It is this identification with us in our sin, that calls us then – if we believe – to be identified with Him – to be marked out as His.
And the way He has asked us to do that – is to be baptized in His name.
So natural is this impulse to be identified with the One who died for us, that the Eunuch immediately says to Philip: Acts 8:36 “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
No doubt he connected this with what he was not allowed to do previously. For when a Gentile became a proselyte – a full convert to Judaism, he would go through a ritual washing – a baptism as part of being identified with the Jewish community.
This Eunuch evidently wanted to be a part of that, but due to his physical defect, would never be allowed. But how different this would be in Christ. All obstacles are removed in Jesus. He now asks if he can be fully identified with Christ in a way he could not be part of the Jewish community. And Philip says – YES!
When we add all to this Jesus’ command as we saw in Matthew 28 – we might well ask any who profess that Jesus has died for their sins – if you have believed the report – if you have received the revelation from God that this Jesus is the Arm of The Lord, crucified for your sins: “What prevents YOU from being baptized?”
From God’s side – NOTHING. Every sin and short coming has been met in Christ. EVERY ONE!
No, baptism does not save you. And some for various reasons have been prevented from being baptized by circumstances beyond their control.
Such are just as saved as any others who believe.
But it is the natural and Biblical response both of having believed the revelation of Jesus Christ; God incarnate, dying a substitutionary death under the wrath of God for YOUR sins and risen for your justification – AND of wanting to wear the name of the One who died for you – to be numbered with those who are His even as He was numbered with the transgressors.
What a high gift and privilege this is. And what a command for all those who profess saving faith in Him – and claim to be His disciples.
He, this Lord Jesus identified with you in your transgression – so completely, that He died in your place on the cross, taking the wrath of God due to you – upon Himself.
And now, He calls you, if you believe in Him, to enter the waters of Baptism and to be identified with Him – marked out as His. In this most simple and profound act of obedience to Him as your Lord.
If you believe, what prevents you – from being baptized?