WHY CAN’T I BE BAPTIZED?
“As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, ‘Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?’ He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. He had what he’d come for and went off down the road as happy as he could be.
“Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.” Acts 8:36-40 (The Message).
Mission accomplished! The seed of God’s word was sown in the heart of an African man who came to Jerusalem seeking the Lord. He was on his way home, with his feet firmly planted on “The Way” and the joy of the Lord spilling out of him.
Although Philip did not mention baptism, why did the eunuch seem to know what to do to seal his new-found faith in the Lord Jesus? If he was one of people the Book of Acts called “God-fearers”, he would have understood the ritual of baptism in the Jewish faith.
Baptism was a common practice in Judaism. It was a ritual washing (mikvah) in running or “living” water to initiate someone into a new office, e.g., into the priestly office, or into a new phase of his life or identity with a new leader, e.g., the baptism of John. Both John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples baptized people regularly, according to John 4:1. No doubt this man, being a Gentile, had been baptized into Judaism at some time in his life as a sign that he had embraced the Jewish faith.
Just as He had done with the Passover meal, i.e. revealed its fulfilment in Himself as the Passover Lamb, so Jesus had also infused baptism with a new meaning – His resurrection. When we eat the bread and drink the wine which symbolize His broken body and shed blood, we are expressing our faith in His sacrifice which redeemed us from slavery in “Egypt”.
Likewise, when we are “baptized”, we are immersed in a watery grave as a symbol of our identity with Him in His death and we “rise” to a new life with and in Him. This is a clear and visible statement that we have died to our old way and have risen to a new life of identity with Jesus.
“We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or 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.” Romans 6:2-4 (NIV)
The implication of baptism is much more than a ritual initiation into Christianity. It is a public confession of our identity with Jesus in His death and resurrection and a symbol of our cleansing from sin and embracing our new life in him.
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3 (NIV).
Perhaps at this stage the eunuch did not understand all the implications of his baptism, but at least he knew that his life had changed direction. He was now on course to follow Jesus and be identified with Him and with all those who had become a part of “The Way”.