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Baptized for Mission
The Church as Christ-Ordained and Spirit-Filled People
Although we’re a ways away from Pentecost Sunday, according to the Christian calendar, I preached on Acts 2 last Sunday for the Newark Church of Christ. The second chapter of Acts has become one of my favorite texts to preach on because it is such a theologically rich passage for reflection on the mission of God, salvation, and what it means to live as the church.
Recently I received a notice asking for prayers on behalf of a church. This church has committed the entire year of 2023 to prayer and discernment about the vision and future direction of the church. Besides promising to pray for this church, I responded with the following words: “May the Lord reveal what the church needs to see and hear so that she will continue living in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit.”
To speak of the church as living in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit is not just arbitrary language. It’s a language formed from my conviction about what’s said here in Acts 2, the picture that Luke portrays as he recounts the events of this Pentecost day and what follows.
The occasion for Peter’s sermon is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which enables the apostles to speak in the languages of everyone present. Whatever that looked and sounded like, it appeared to some that the apostles had too much alcohol to drink. So Peter begins to explain what is happening.
As Peter explains what is taking place, Peter makes two proclamations that signify an essential paradigm shift within history. First, Peter proclaims God is pouring the Holy Spirit upon all people. Peter cites the prophet Joel to explain that God is fulfilling his promise, which has to do with the restoration of God’s kingdom. The outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women, as well as enslaved people, is the sign that God’s promise of salvation—the restoration of God’s kingdom—is finally at hand. Second, Peter proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is now the exalted Lord and Messiah (Christ). Although the Jews conspired with Roman power to crucify Jesus, God raised Jesus from death and made him the King.
Repenting and receiving Christ in baptism means God has ordained us to live a new life in the name of Jesus filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the exaltation of Jesus occurs within the “last days,” the final epoch in history has begun.The only way to participate in the future of God’s kingdom is by submission to King Jesus. This raises the question of how such participation is possible, especially considering the Jewish people had already rejected Jesus. Nevertheless, Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." ”
This invitation to repentance and baptism is the same invitation that John the Baptist called people to as he was preparing people for the coming of God’s kingdom through his preaching. John called people to both repent, to “change [their] hearts and minds” (CEB), and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, which was an act of submission to God. Now Peter is extending this same invitation again. This invitation is an offer of grace because it says that despite our sins, we can still participate in the kingdom of God.
However, there is something different about Peter extending this invitation to repent and be baptized here because Peter’s invitation is to be baptized in the name of Jesus, and he mentions the promise of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.That is, the same Holy Spirit God has poured out is now offered as a gift to those baptized in the name of Jesus.
Do you see the connection between Peter's sermon's two proclamations and the invitation to repent and be baptized? Just as Peter has proclaimed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, now the people who have repented and been baptized will live a new life that’s lived in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what God wants for us as a church, and it’s what happens when we surrender ourselves to King Jesus. Repenting and receiving Christ in baptism means God has ordained us to live a new life in the name of Jesus filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
It all comes down to living as God has ordained us, to be local churches living in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Luke provides further descriptions of what it looks like when the church lives in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We read in v. 42, “They devoted themselves to the apostolic teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Some further description follows this verse, and to be clear, I read vs. 42-47 as a descriptive text rather than a prescriptive text. I don’t believe this text is meant to legislate a monolithic approach to living as a church that requires every local church to reduplicate the form. What is important here is the function, that we see what happens when churches live in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When churches live in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, they remain devoted to the apostolic teaching and fellowship as well as the breaking of bread and prayer. As this happens, churches will be the church God them to be regardless of what forms those functions might take. In other words, churches will live a life that serves as a praise to God as well as a blessing to each other, and therefore a blessing to the many others who have yet to follow Jesus but will. It all comes down to living as God has ordained us, to be local churches living in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So if your church is wondering about its future, where God might be leading, and what that vision might be, here’s a suggestion. Get some people together, read the entire chapter of Acts 2, and ask each other what you are hearing. As you do this, start discerning (listening and obeying) what it might mean to take the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all men and women seriously and what it means to submit to the authority of Jesus. Ask what it might look like in your local context to be people devoted to apostolic teaching and fellowship as well as the breaking of bread and prayer. Write down what you’re hearing (listening), and then start asking how you will respond (obeying). Then do and trust that God will be at work among you as you do.
K. Rex Butts, D.Min, serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE, and is the author of Gospel Portraits: Reading Scripture as Participants in the Mission of God. Rex holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL, and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura, and together they have three children.
I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 5 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980; reprint, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 83 (page citations are to the reprint edition), points out that the resurrection of Jesus is “not simply a revivification but an ascension to be with God.”
Justo L. González, Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001, 41; Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, 112.
All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, 154; see also John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor, Down to the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transformative Work, Siloam Springs, AR: Leadwood Publishers, 2004, 48-59., for a more extensive discussion on this matter and why the primary purpose of repentance and baptism is not simply to receive the forgiveness of sins.