Baptism in Acts
This coming Sunday we will be reading three of the lectionary passages. The one that we won’t be reading, however, is the short reading from Acts8:14-17. In this passage Peter and John head up to Samaria to explore the work that Philip has been doing.
Earlier in Acts Philip heads to Samaria where he preaches the gospel. As a result of his preaching on the Kingdom of God many of them came to be believe and be baptized.
Baptism is the standard response to accepting the Gospel. Throughout Acts whenever someone comes to faith, they are baptized. Occasionally entire households are baptized at once (this is scriptural evidence for baptizing young children and infants as households in the ancient near east were inter generational and usually included children).
The hated Samaritans have come to faith in Christ, and though Jews did not exactly regard Samaritans as Gentiles, this was still a revolutionary moment for the Church. We are beginning to see Jesus’ words come true. In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). Philip was a witness and people came to faith.
When Peter and John arrive in Samaria they realize that the people had faith, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. This leads Peter and John to pray for the Samaritans, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Prompted by the Spirit, they lay hands on the Samaritans and the Samaritans do receive the Holy Spirit- this is ground breaking work.
This short passage reveals many things about God, not least of which is that God seeks out people who we might not otherwise believe God wants. God wants all people. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not something which we can control. This becomes incredibly evident as we read the next few verses.
Within this passage there is also this underlying push for faithfulness. Philip was attentive to the Spirit, he went and began a work even though he didn’t finish it. When we read the Scriptures we find that often God would call one person to start a work, another to build on it, and yet another to finish it.
We like seeing our work through the end, perhaps because we want to take credit for the work. In actuality, conversion and sanctification are all God’s work. My college Jeff Basset wrote an essay about this for A Plain Account. In this essay he says,
“I know that I am often too shy to begin the work of evangelism because I know that I will not be there to complete it and I frankly don’t trust most Christians to teach the Gospel well. So I let an opportunity to talk to a stranger pass by. I live my life, many days, as a functional agnostic who needs to control the outcome of my discipleship more than I need to follow the Spirit. When we minister this way, have we really understood the deep dependence that the Gospel calls us to?”
That is a good challenge for us. Has God called you to be his Witness somewhere surprising? Have you been able to put words to the Hope you have in Christ? Or have you grown shy in your evangelism?
This Sunday we will be reflecting on our baptism and what it means to live out our baptism. Let us, as those who believe the gospel, be attuned to the Spirit’s call. May we be willing witnesses to the gospel.