Years ago in Guidepost magazine, Paul Harvey wrote about his baptism:
“The preacher had said there was nothing magic in the water. Yet as I descended into its depths and rose again, I knew something life-changing had happened, a cleansing inside out. No longer did there seem to be two uncertain, contradictory Paul Harveys; just one immensely happy one. I felt a fulfilling surge of the Holy Spirit and afterward I cried like a baby. The change this simple act has made in my life is so immense as to be indescribable.” As the old song says, ‘He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.’”
The Bible specifically speaks of such a man who underwent the same life changing experience. His conversion story is recorded in today’s Bible reading, Acts 22. He was an unbeliever who became a believer. A persecutor who became a preacher. An antagonist who became an apostle. He was Saul of Tarsus who became known as Paul, “a minister of Christ.”
What happened? When? And how?
The events surrounding Saul’s conversion are recorded in three chapters. Acts 9, 22, and 26.
From them we learn that he was bent on persecuting Christians and doing many “things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” While on the way to the city of Damascus, Saul saw Jesus in a “heavenly vision.” Many claim Saul was saved on the Damascus road. Yet, he was told to go into the city and there he would “be told what to do” (Ax 22:10).
Saul, who had been blinded, prayed and fasted for three days. Then God sent, Ananias, a devout man” to preach Jesus to one of his fiercest opponents. At the conclusion of the sermon, the preacher asked and challenged:
“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Ax 22:16).
For some reason, baptism is a controversial subject in the religious world. Yet, every detailed account of conversion in Acts includes baptism. Pentecost (Ax 2:38-42). The Samaritans (Ax. 8:12-13).The Ethiopian Treasurer (Ax 8:38). Cornelius (Ax 10:48). The Philippian Jailer (Ax 16:33). Lydia (Ax 16:15) And the most detailed, Saul of Tarsus (Ax 22:16).
It’s worth noting, that the often repeated sinner’s prayer is no where found in the Bible. Sinners were saved after hearing the gospel. Believing it. Repenting of their sins. Confessing Christ. And being baptized “for the remission of sins” (Ax. 2:38).
The expression in today’s text, “wash away your sins” relates specifically to the blood of Christ. In Revelation 1:5, John writes that Jesus “washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Sins are not cleansed by the water. But by the blood. However, it is in the act of baptism that God applies the blood of Jesus to wash away our sins.
Jesus’ shed blood on the cross is essential to our salvation. Consider what the Bible says about its power.
(1) The blood of Jesus justifies.
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom. 5:9).
The word “justify” means to “make righteous.” While all have sinned, those justified can appear before God as though they had not sinned. Why? Because they’ve been justified by the blood when their sins are washed away in baptism.
(2) The blood of Jesus redeems.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7).
The word “redeem” referred to purchasing the freedom of a slave. People in the first century were familiar with the buying and selling of slaves. They were bought with silver and gold. But slaves of sin are released from Satan’s bondage by Jesus’ blood when they’re baptized.
(3) The blood of Jesus reconciles.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross…”(Eph 2:13,16).
To “reconcile” means to “change one’s condition. W. E. Vine says, it is used to describe the bringing together of two parties who are estranged from one another. Sinful people who are separated, alienated and estranged from God can be reconciled by the blood of Jesus when they’re immersed in water.
Justified. Redeemed. Reconciled. Cleansed. That’s what Jesus’ blood does when we’re baptized.
An old hymn asks, “What can take away my sin?” The repeated answer? “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
Why are you waiting? Arise. Be baptized. And wash away your sins.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman