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God’s Word for You

Acts 2:40-41 about three thousand people baptized

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, September 5, 2019

40 With many other words he preached emphatically and invited them, saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.”

“Preached emphatically” is diamartyromai (διαμαρτύρoμαι). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word usually means to solemnly protest or testify about (“I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you,” Deuteronomy 4:26). Peter is protesting against false doctrine, any false teaching that opposes the divinity of Jesus Christ. Peter’s goal is not to build up a following for himself, but as a true disciple of Jesus, he simply wants people to attach their hearts to Christ and be saved. A Christian pastor has done his task well when his congregation remembers what he teaches but not necessarily who it was that taught them.

The “perverse generation” was going to fall under more severe judgment even than Sodom and Gomorrah. Why? Because the Jews of Judea and Galilee had listened to Jesus and yet many rejected him. That’s why Jesus said: “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24).

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

Baptism takes some of the symbolism of Old Testament ceremonial washings and, with the addition of the command of God and a specific gospel promise and word of God, baptism now simultaneously offers and gives the forgiveness of sins. The Old Testament washings could be done either by immersion (Numbers 19:7) or by sprinkling (Numbers 19:13, 19:18-19). There is no set procedure for applying the water; we only have the command to use water and the word of God given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19). A shorter form, “In the name of Jesus,” is also used in the New Testament (Acts 10:48), but one can hardly reject the Trinity while invoking the name of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:22-23).

What does baptism do? Baptism offers and gives the forgiveness of sins, new life here on earth (the ability to resist the temptations of the devil and the flesh and to live obediently according to God’s will), and eternal salvation. It is useless to say that someone without faith should not be baptized, as some do, because baptism creates faith. My wife and I are painting our house this summer. If I were to withhold the brush from a grey plank because it is not yet blue, my wife would call me a fool, since the brush is what makes the plank blue, no matter what color it was to begin with. Baptism gives each sinner faith just as my brush paints each board blue. A sinner, an unbeliever, a baby wallowing in the guilt of original sin it inherited from its parents—they all need baptism. These men listening to Peter and the other apostles all needed baptism. Our Augsburg Confession is at its simplest when it says: “Our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized, for being offered through baptism they are received into his grace. Our churches condemn [those] who reject the baptism of children and declare that children are saved without baptism” (AC IX,1-3).

Luke reports that about three thousand were baptized that day. It takes about ten minutes with our liturgy to baptize a baby. I know of a baptism done by immersion that took a little longer than that. Since the church at Pentecost did not yet have the Apostles’ Creed (written about 70 years later) or other liturgical forms, it’s likely that each apostle could have baptized many people; perhaps hundreds, in a couple of hours. If only the twelve apostles baptized, then each man would have baptized about 250 people. If all 120 (Acts 1:15) baptized, then each man would have baptized about two dozen. However it was handled, it is unlikely that all three thousand would have been baptized at the same place. All that was necessary, of course, was a pitcher (amphora or ewer) with water, or access to one of the springs or fountains of the city. I think it’s likely that one or two of the apostles did use pitchers of water, with some of the women going to fetch more as the ceremony progressed. But the apostles were emboldened by the Holy Spirit, and many of them would have turned to their group (those who understood the language of each man’s sermon) and beckoned them to follow him to one of Jerusalem’s many fountains. These are some of the possible locations. Perhaps some or several of these were used on this day:

1, “The Virgin’s Fountain” (‘Ain Sitti Maryam or Spring of the Lady Mary), the Christian name of a spring near the southwest corner of the modern city wall. This spring is intermittent, and there are some superstitions surrounding the appearance and disappearance of the water supply. This is probably the Gihon of the Old Testament, where Solomon was anointed king (1 Kings 1:45) and which fed the water system for Hezekiah’s tunnel in the days of the Assyrian Crisis (2 Chronicles 32:30). Since Gihon means “Gusher,” the name seems to be consistent with the intermittent nature of the spring.

2, “Job’s Well” (Bir-Eiyub), below the Virgin’s Fountain, is a spring that often floods in the rainy season. This is probably the En-Rogel of the Old Testament (Joshua 15:7, 18:16; 2 Samuel 17:17). Since Pentecost happened in the late spring after the rainy season, this one might not have been a candidate for the Pentecost baptism.

3, The Pool of Siloam (Silwan) is a man-made channel of rock and masonry, bringing water from the Virgin’s Fountain closer to the city. The Old Testament word for Silwan is “Siloam” (Isaiah 8:6; Nehemiah 3:15; Luke 13:4; John 9:7,11).

4, The Red Pool is an extension of the Siloam (Silwan) channel, and is sometimes disconnected. Both the Pool of Siloam and the Red Pool form part of the line of waterways in sequence with Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and all of these details point to the Virgin’s Fountain being correctly identified with the Gihon Spring.

5 and 6, Two large pools which were formed by dams across the wadis or gulches in the Hinnom Valley. The lower one is known as the Sultan’s Pool, and the upper is called the Serpent’s Pool or Pool of Mammilla. These are fed only by rainwater but could certainly have been running at Pentecost.

7, The Pool of the Patriarch’s Bath is also rain-fed and lies within the city, east of the Jaffa Gate near the corner of (modern) David Street and Christian Street. It is sometimes identified with the Pool of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 36:2) or the Pool of Amygdalon.

8, The Pool of Bethesda in the western Kidron Valley on the northeast quarter of the city, not far from the Temple mount, is famous as the location of one of Jesus’ healing miracles (John 5:1-10). This is perhaps one of the more likely places for a mass-baptism, since several apostles could have used the same pool with people lining up from various directions.

Modern Reformed churches limit baptism to a mere seal or symbol and deny Peter’s words that baptism gives life, forgiveness and salvation. The modern Roman Catholic Church limits baptism to forgiving only original sin. But baptism connects us to Jesus Christ. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Also, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). As Augustine correctly put it: “Sin is remitted in baptism, not in such a manner that it no longer exists, but so that it is not imputed.” This is precisely what forgiveness means. The sins I commit are forgiven, and while I remain a sinner, I also remain a forgiven child of God. Therefore Peter was forgiven the sins he committed after baptism (Matthew 26:74; Galatians 2:11-14; John 21:15), and so are we.

Baptism works forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. (Small Catechism IV,6; Baptism, secondly).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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