by Barry Newton
Luke’s quill scurried across the surface of some parchment leaving a trail of black markings. Do we take his message for granted because we have become so accustomed to it? The message that unfolds recounts an incredible and timeless message for all peoples that is capable of transforming lives.
God was at work through Jesus to release all peoples from the power of the devil. Repentance and forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name should be preached to all nations.
As Luke recounted some selected stories illustrating how God began to build his community, we discover sometimes large groups of people were added by God. At other times the church grew by a household or an individual. But what is consistent, whether the conversion story is told in a summary fashion such as “many … believed” (Acts 4:4) or whether outlined with details, is how these people responded to Jesus.
Although Luke recounts one conversion story, Saul of Tarsus’, three times, it illustrates what Peter had taught on Pentecost. Peter had told the crowd how to respond to Jesus being Lord and Messiah. They were to change their lives and be immersed in water resulting in their sins being forgiven and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
In one retelling of Saul’s conversion Luke chose to include the detail that Saul had been commanded to be baptized in order that his sins would be forgiven (Acts 22:16). On another occasion, Luke informs us that Ananias told Saul that he had been sent to him so that Saul could be filled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). Christ claimed Paul as his own in Damascus, not on the road to Damascus.
While certainly there are symbolic elements to baptism, from the beginning it has been more than just symbolic. God and Christ are at work.
Saul, who became the apostle Paul, later would write a letter to the Christians in Colossae where he described Christ as performing a surgery to cut off the defilement from those who would express faith by being baptized (Colossians 2:12,13). God is also at work adding people to his community when they are baptized (Acts 2:41). In Paul’s words, people become children of God by relying upon Jesus when they are immersed, thus making them a part of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:26,27).
Luke’s description is correct. Baptism is more than just symbolic. With baptism, people begin to rely upon Jesus for salvation. God is still at work today in our world claiming people as his own as they respond in faith to his Son.