Daily Readings & Thought for October 30th. “WHEN THEY BELIEVED … THEY WERE BAPTISED”
The enemies of the gospel thought they had had a great victory when they stoned Stephen to death; but when we assess what happened as a result, it was a great victory for the spread of the Gospel. We can see this as we take an overview of today’s 8th chapter of Acts.
We recall the 1st chapter , the words of Jesus to his disciples just before he ascended to heaven, he told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem …” [v.8] But he said much more than that “… and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
They had not done this, the community in Jerusalem had grown larger and larger – it’s very size creating difficulties that needed to be solved as we read in ch. 6 v.1-4. When we take an overview of the events we read of today we cannot help but see God at work. In one sense the stoning of Stephen was a tragedy, in another, it provoked a flood of activity in starting to carry out the final words of Jesus, for Saul (soon to become Paul), emboldened by the death of Stephen, became the leader of “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” [v.1]
Saul “was ravaging the church, entering house after house, he dragged off men and women …”[v.3] But “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” [v.4]
The first area to benefit was Samaria. Philip played a leading role in this, “… when they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ they were baptised…” [v.12]
Later, under the guidance of the Spirit, Philip was caused to join an Ethiopian who was returning from worshipping at Jerusalem (v.27) and teach him how to understand Isaiah’s prophecy (in ch. 53) about the Messiah. When they eventually “came to some water” [v.36] he asked to be baptised, and after confessing his belief “they both went down into the water” [v.38] and Philip baptised him.
It is clear baptism involved going down into water – and being plunged under the water as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul stresses this in Romans 6 v.3-5. The concept of ‘christening’ was invented centuries later by the R C church, God’s word knows nothing of this, it is a human invention. The final chapter in the Bible is a warning against “anyone (who) adds to the words of … this book” [v.22] Let us faithfully follow God’s word – recognizing that a central feature is the teaching of “the kingdom of God.”