Ever since Jesus had John the Baptist immerse him in the Jordan River, Christians have stressed the importance of baptism. Baptism was so important to President Dwight Eisenhower that he made his confession of faith and was baptized while still serving as president. He is the only president to have been baptized while in office. His baptism service was attended by representatives from one hundred nations and the event was covered by national television.
We may not have representatives from one hundred nations at next weeks baptismal service, but in Gods view next weeks service will be just as important. In order to better understand the purpose and meaning of baptism, I want to examine the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 and also take a look at a few comments by Paul in Romans 6.
Baptism is a public confession of something we have already done privately. Before we are ready to be baptized, we must accept Christ as our Savior. Baptism does not save us, but it is an important step of obedience. The thief on the cross was never baptized, but all other believers were. Jesus thought it was so important that even he was baptized as an example for us. I dont believe that baptism is essential for salvation, but on the other hand I do believe it is an important step in our obedience to Christ. It tells the world that we are serious in our commitment to Jesus.
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The Ethiopian eunuch was riding in his chariot reading a portion of scripture from Isaiah 53. Before we can accept Christ into our heart, we must learn about him. God sent Philip to introduce the man to Jesus. Before we accepted Christ, God sent people to us to minister the gospel message. Perhaps it was a pastors sermon, or a Sunday School teachers lesson. Maybe it was words from a friend or a message heard on the radio. Someone introduced us to Jesus. Perhaps we were like the Ethiopian man reading the Bible one day and not quite understanding it. God wants to introduce us to Christ. We must understand who he is and what he did for us.
And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch realized that he did not understand the scripture and needed someone to guide him. We may have our own opinions about God, but let us be like this man who was willing to listen and learn. God wants all to accept Christ and become part of the heavenly family, but we need to learn to do it Gods way. He has specific teachings for us we must accept Christ as our Savior. Let us be willing to receive guidance and instruction.
MacDonald comments, "The eunuch readily admits his need of someone to guide him.... How wonderful it was that the eunuch happened to be reading Isaiah 53 with its unsurpassed description of the suffering Messiah!"
The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth."
The Ethiopian man just happened to be reading a portion of scripture which speaks of the coming Messiah. God knew this and thats why he sent Philip there to help him. How much God must have cared for this man. He provided him with the scripture, led him to the appropriate passage and sent Philip across the country to minister to this one lone individual.
God loves you as much as he loved this Ethiopian man. He cares about you and wants you to hear his message of salvation. We dont know why God chose this Ethiopian, but we do know that ever since this event, Ethiopia has for the past 2000 years always had a strong Christian community in spite of wars, famine, and political upheaval. Was this Christian witness a result of this one mans influence? There is no way to know. But we do know that through this one person, God must have reached to others who became Christians.
So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?"
The man was reading the Bible. We will find God when we spend time in his word the Bible. The man was riding in a chariot so it could not have been easy to read while riding. But he was interested in Gods message and was willing to spend the time to discover divine truths. If we want to learn about God, we need to be willing to spend time reading the Bible. Disciples of Christ have always been known as "people of the Bible." Let us not neglect this important instruction book which God has left us.
The eunuch did not understand the Bible. Has this ever happened to you? You read a portion of scripture and youre not sure of its meaning. The Ethiopian asked for instruction. If we want to learn things about God, we must be willing to receive instruction. Lets never be afraid to admit there are things about God we dont understand. Let us always be willing to ask questions and receive answers.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
Philip used the opportunity that the Holy Spirit had given to teach this man about Jesus. God had used a variety of circumstances in the Ethiopians life to bring him to this point to receive Christ as his Savior.
Sometimes we think that events just happen in our life by coincidence. But God is the one who is weaving together our life and causing circumstances to occur that lead us into a confrontation with Jesus. This is what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch. He was reading about the Messiah and now would be confronted with Jesus. He would have to make a decision which would affect his entire life. He could listen to Philips words and accept Christ into his heart, or he could ignore Philips words and reject Christ.
He chose to believe and receive. There are four things that we are instructed to do in the Bible in order to become a follower of Christ:
1. Repent. Acts 3:19 tells us, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
2. Believe. In Acts 16:31 Paul told the jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
3. Confess. Romans 10:9 points out, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
4. Be Baptized. In Acts 2:38 Peter told the crowd, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
No doubt Philip covered all these points with the Ethiopian eunuch as we shall see by the next verse.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
The man wanted to be baptized. He had already accepted Christ into his heart and he was saved, but he wanted to take the next step in obedience. He wanted to publicly confess what he had already privately prayed.
The Believers Bible Commentary tells us, "Christian baptism was taught and practiced by the early church. It was not the same as Johns baptism, which was a baptism indicating repentance. Rather, it was a public confession of identification with Christ. It invariably followed conversion...."
Then 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."
Philip gives the eunuch a requirement for baptism. He said before being baptized, the man must believe in his heart. Baptism is not the same as a confession of faith. Before we make a public confession of faith, we must first make a private confession to God. We must repent of our sins, and we must believe in our heart. After we have done these things, then we are ready to be baptized. Notice that Philip gives the man the opportunity to state his beliefs before baptizing him. I will do the same next Sunday before baptizing each person. It is essential that we know we believe in Christ. We must make a personal commitment to him as our Savior.
The eunuch gives this wonderful confession to Philip "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Believing that Jesus was a good man is not enough. Believing that he was a prophet or an important messenger sent from God is not enough. Believing that Christ is a bit of divine essence that God places in our hearts is not enough. Believing in the "Spirit of Christ" is not enough. We must believe that Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah, and that he was indeed the Son of God. This may be difficult to comprehend how could Jesus be fully human and yet fully divine? Yet we must acknowledge this by faith. He was the coming deliverer of Israel and the world the promised human messiah and he was also the divine Son of God.
So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
This was a small baptism service. There was Philip, the Ethiopian, and his driver. Whether there were any more there, we dont know. It is possible that there were one or two more in the chariot with them, but probably not. It is also conceivable there were some people gathered around the water, but we dont know about that either. It probably was a very small baptism service. But we dont need a large crowd when we are baptized. As long as God is there, it is enough. A few others to be there to support us and witness our public confession adds to the occasion.
The man was baptized. In Romans 6 Paul explains to us the meaning of baptism and what it symbolizes. So lets take a look at verses 3-6.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christs death. We are acknowledging that the old person is dying. Our old way of doing things is now dead our old ways of thinking, of acting, and of looking at things. We are substituting godly values for our old values. We are changing our old natural desires to new spiritual desires. We are transforming our old priorities into Gods priorities. What was important in the past is no longer as important. God changes our heart of selfishness into a heart of compassion. He changes our materialism into spirituality. And he changes our worldliness into holiness. When we are baptized, let us be willing to let our old self die in Christ.
Adam Clarke remarks, "Every man who believes the Christian religion, and receives baptism as the proof that he believes it, and has taken up the profession of it, is bound thereby to a life of righteousness. To be baptized into Christ, is to receive the doctrine of Christ crucified, and to receive baptism as a proof of the genuineness of that faith, and the obligation to live according to its precepts."
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
When we dip beneath the surface of the water, this is symbolic of our being buried with Christ. Then as we come up out of the water, this is symbolic of us being raised from the deadness of our old ways and being resurrected to walk in newness of life. We enter the baptismal still clinging to our old ways of doing things. But we leave the baptismal freed from the past and now living a new life.
Clarke points out, "From this we learn, that as it required the glory of the Father, that is, his glorious energy, to raise up from the grave the dead body of Christ, so it requires the same glorious energy to quicken the dead soul of a sinner, and enable him to walk in newness of life."
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
Baptism is a time of being set free. By publicly confessing what Christ has already done in our heart, we are telling everyone that we are making a new commitment to follow Christ. We are set free and no longer the slave of sin. Now we acknowledge that when we are tempted to do whats wrong, we will look toward the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our new way of thinking and acting and living. We have been delivered from whatever bad habits or evil desires that have bound us in the past We are now a new creation, and God will help us live a joyful life in him.
This study on Baptism © 1999 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the New King James Version © 1984, Thomas Nelson Publishers
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 423 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 424 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Adam Clarkes Commentary, electronic version © 1996, Biblesoft