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  • Writer's pictureDan Mueller

The church baptises

Updated: Jun 2

(This is part 3 in the series Antioch in Acts — see part 1 and part 2).

A recap of the story so far. We’re currently in a series exploring how the good news of Jesus made its way to the city of Antioch Syria and beyond. God plants a church in Antioch. But what does this mean for us as church today?

We began with the pivotal moment of Pentecost (Acts 2). The church is at the crossroads, but God pivots them in a new direction. The church was hidden and quiet, in one location, and at this early stage only for the Jews. But at Pentecost the power of God — the Spirit — is freely given in abundance to all the disciples. The Spirit sends the early church in a new direction: the disciples now publicly and boldly confess the good news of Jesus, the message begins going out to all nations, and the message is expanded to include Gentiles (non-Jews).

But the persecuted church is scattered. Jesus was persecuted, and his followers are likewise persecuted — what happens to the Master happens to the disciples. To illustrate this, Luke tells the story of Stephen being stoned, carefully and intentionally using literary devices to connect Stephen with the life and death of Jesus (Acts 6–8). Yet through this persecution, God spreads the good news, like a farmer scattering seed on the face of the earth, including to the city of Antioch Syria.

Luke now tells a story about the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch to illustrate the radical nature of this good news (Acts 8:26–40). The church is a church who baptises. But why? Why do we baptise? Here’s three reasons from our story.

(1) Baptism connects you with Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’re told this Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He’s now travelling home in his horse drawn carriage to Ethiopia (the region south of the Nile). As the Ethiopian travels, he reads, much like we read a book on a train or watch a movie on an aeroplane. He’s not reading some trashy airport book, but the Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament). And, as was the custom for the day, he reads aloud. At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Philip draws alongside the carriage and overhears him reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53.

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Acts 8:32 | Isaiah 53:7)

The Ethiopian asks to whom Isaiah is referring. This is one of those gift-wrapped evangelism moments! Philip jumps into telling this man the gospel. ‘Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35).

But now something seemingly strange happens: ‘As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”’ (Acts 8:36). There’s a disconnect: one moment they’re talking about Jesus’ sacrificial death, and the next about baptism. What’s going on?

Let me illustrate with a story. When I was growing up, my favourite TV show was a cartoon called “Pinky and the Brain.” It was about the antics of two white mice — one called Pinky and the other called the Brain. The Brain is constantly dreaming up hare-brained schemes to take over the world. There’s a repeated trope in each episode where the Brain turns to Pinky and says, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering Pinky?” Pinky then says something ludicrous and totally disconnected from what’s been happening, and the Brain responds, “No, you idiot. It’s time to take over the world!” Whenever Brain asks, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering Pinky?” Pinky responds with something seemingly disconnected like, “I think so, Brain, but where are we going to find a duck and a hose at this hour?” or “I think so, Brain, but if we covered the world in salad dressing wouldn’t the asparagus feel left out?” One classic episode is told from the perspective of Pinky, and the audience gets to hear his thought process, and his ludicrous response that seemed utterly disconnected is actually intimately connected with what’s going on.

It’s the same with Philip and our Ethiopian friend. Philip is talking about Jesus being a sacrificial lamb led to the slaughter for our sin, and the next moment the Ethiopian is jumping out of the carriage, cupping his hand in some water by the side of the road saying, “Look, here’s water, what’s stopping me being baptised?” In recounting the story, Luke has missed out what Philip said, like Pinky’s disconnected ponderings. But obviously Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection is connected with baptism, Luke just doesn’t make the connection for us.

Thankfully, St Paul fills in the gap: ‘Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ (Romans 6:3–5).

When we’re baptised, we are joined with Jesus’ death and resurrection. We participate with him, we’re united with him, what happens to him — our Master — happens to us — his disciple and follower. So telling someone the good news of Jesus will inevitably lead to baptism. The good news of Jesus is enacted in baptism. That’s why St Peter can also write: ‘Baptism now saves’ (1 Peter 3:21).

(2) Baptism is for everyone, for you. The Ethiopian eunuch is very eager to be baptised. Why is he so eager? Philip and the Ethiopian are sitting comfortably in the carriage, chatting away, but then the eunuch calls out for the horse and carriage to stop. He climbs down and points at the water. “Look, here’s water, what’s stopping me being baptised?”

It’s almost like he’s an excited puppy dog. Most dogs I’ve had were really excited to go for a walk. One in particular you had to be careful even saying the word “walk.” You’d be talking, accidentally include the word “walk” in your sentence, and suddenly the dog’s ears would prick up, and its tail would wag furiously. Eventually we couldn’t even say the word “walk” at all around the dog, and had to spell it out “w-a-l-k,” but eventually the dog even learnt this set of sounds!

This Ethiopian seems like an excited puppy dog, wagging his tail. “Baptism, did you say baptism? Look here’s water! Can we, can we, can we?” Or like a child walking past an ice-cream shop, “Please, can we have some, please, pleeeease?!” Why is he so eager?!

Because baptism is God’s act that includes him! As a eunuch, who has his male genitalia castrated, he was excluded from worship at the temple. Eunuchs, as well as the blind or lame, disfigured or deformed, where considered “defective,” and as such “unholy,” by the culture of the day. The Law described in Deuteronomy bars them from entering the temple: ‘No one who has been castrated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.’ (Deuteronomy 23:1, see also Leviticus 21:16–20). So in his time, because of his bodily “defect,” he was excluded from entering God’s presence in the typical way. But now a good news message reaches his ears: baptism is for everyone! God wants to be present with him through baptism. He’s not excluded, but invited to be with God through baptism. Even him, especially him.

The question this man asks is, “What is stopping me being baptised?” The answer? Nothing! There are no barriers preventing baptism. Your body is not a barrier. Any supposed “defect” is no barrier. Age is no barrier — that’s why we baptise 9 day olds and 90 year olds. Race or gender is not a barrier. What you’ve done or haven’t done is no barrier.

Is there anyone you would exclude from baptism? What conditions are you tempted to add? Who would you stop from coming to be baptised?

I recently heard a sad story about a homosexual couple who had adopted a child. They contacted their local Lutheran church and asked for their child to be baptised. But, unfortunately, the pastor declined. Thankfully they contacted another Lutheran church and were accepted, and the free gift of salvation through baptism was given to their child. No one should ever be prevented from baptism, for any reason. Any condition attached to baptism means it is no longer God’s grace, which by definition means without condition. God does not attach any conditions to baptism!

Baptism is for everyone, no one is excluded. As St Paul writes: ‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ (Galatians 3:26–29). There can be no condition attached to baptism, there is no barrier, nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39). And that’s why, like a puppy dog wagging its tail, this Ethiopian eunuch is so eager and excited to receive baptism — because in baptism he is included by God, he’s made part of God’s family by grace alone.

Baptism is for you too. If you’re not baptised yet, we’d love to talk with you about this. What’s stopping you from being baptised? Nothing!

(3) Baptism changes you. What happens after the baptism? We’re not sure what happens long term (we never hear of this man again), but we do know what happens in the short term. ‘When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.’ (Acts 8:39). ‘He went on his way rejoicing.’ Being connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection, experiencing God’s no holds barred grace, leads to joy!

Here at Immanuel we like to say: “Grace changes people.” When you freely receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in Christ through baptism, there’s nothing else that can happen except a smile break out on your face! Baptism brings many blessings including joy, peace, hope, and more!

And God’s grace does even more things in your life. You now want to be gracious to others. As you have freely received, so now you want to freely give (Matthew 10:8). How will you freely give this coming week? Will you forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it? Will you serve the poor without condition? Will you spend time with someone forgotten by the world? Will you welcome someone others have excluded?

May the grace of God the Father, given freely to you through the Son, grow in you the joy of the Spirit, now and always. Amen!



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