The Mystery of Baptism (Acts 8:26-40)

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

(Acts 8:26-40)

Today, I will preach a sermon titled ‘The mystery of Baptism.’ Have you heard about baptism? It seems there might be some among you who have not. Baptism is something you can experience when you come to our church. Before, I enter into that topic, let me share a story with you.

It is written in Acts chapter 8 that there was a deacon named Philip in the early church. As Philip was on his way, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch. This eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship the great God and was returning to Ethiopia. Being Ethiopian, it is likely he was black. On his journey home, he met Philip. At that time, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading from the books of Isaiah, which is part of the Old Testament. Isaiah contains prophecies about future works. The prophecy is that the Messiah, the Savior would come to earth. It is written that He would take on the sins of humanity and die in their stead. This was written around 700BC.

However, the Ethiopian eunuch, after reading the book, asked Philip, “Who is the prophet referring to?” This question helps us understand that all the scriptures in the Old Testament were written with a specific person. That means God said to the prophets about the future work He planned to accomplish and had these words recorded. This demonstrates that God knew His future works and proclaimed them in advance. From a human standpoint, this means that whatever God has predicted will inevitably come to be fulfilled. The word written in the bible is surely fulfilled. This is why you should believe in Jesus and live your faith lives. Everything written in the Bible is surely accomplished.

In fact, I wasn’t born a believer. It was only after I had fully grown that I came to believe in Jesus. It was during my junior year of college, a time when many find it difficult to have faith, that I began to believe in Jesus. Until then, I had actually looked down on those who believed in Him. However, what truly amazed me after I started believing was the fact that the prophecies written in the Bible come to be fulfilled. For example, what was written 3,000 years ago happened 2,000 years ago, and those foretold 2,700 years ago also came to pass 2,000 years ago. Up to this point, one might consider such fulfillments available. Yet, the most remarkable thing is witnessing the word written 2,000 years ago being fulfilled in the present day. And to whom are these words being fulfilled? It is being fulfilled in me. The scriptures written 2,000 years ago are coming true to me.

However, the words that have been fulfilled are not merely just one or two. According to some scholars, the Old Testament contains over 20,000 prophecies about the coming Savior. Now that time has passed, we can investigate and see that all these prophecies have indeed been fulfilled. This, in itself, is quite astonishing. there has been prophesized about the Savior who would come over 20,000. Often, people do not feel the impact of prophecies until they see them fulfilled in their own lives. Yet, there were many words spoken by Jesus 2,000 years ago, and these promises have been fulfilled in my life. Not just one or two, nor even hundreds, but after coming to believe in Jesus, the experiences I have had could number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. Moreover, we might accept as possible those things we have previously experience. However, even the events that seemed extraordinary, which we have never experienced before, have been realized in accordance with the works written in the Bible.

For example, there is the word in the Bible that says, ‘You will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ Surprising, isn’t it? Of course, there is a precondition: ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,’ meaning if you believe in and obey the words of Jesus, such miracles can occur. ‘They will recover upon laying hands.’

I had never experienced such things before. Whenever someone in my family became ill, we would first worry and then go to the hospital. However, after I started believing in Jesus, I began to witness the fulfillment of His words in my life. This wasn’t long after starting my faith life; in fact, it happened within the same week that I began to believe. I laid my hands on the sick person. I hadn’t prayed fervently, yet the promise was fulfilled.

Uniquely, just three months after I started believing in Jesus, I was enlisted in the military. In the military, it is not easy to visit a hospital or take medicine immediately. There were quite a few sick people around me. ‘I have a headache, I have a leg pain, or I have a backache…’ Each time, I laid my hands on them. It had only been three months since I had come to believe in Jesus. I laid my hands on the sick. Then, hearing responses like, “Oh? I feel better! I’m healed!” It allowed me to see the promises of the Bible come to life. ‘What is written in the Bible is true!’

Additionally, the word ‘you will drive out demons’ is written in the Bible. It states, ‘If you believe in Me, in the name of Jesus, you will cast out demons.’ In fact, after I came to faith in Jesus, I did not initially discover this by reading the Bible myself; instead, our Sungrak church did not treat it lightly but highlighted that it is a promise given to all who believe in Jesus.

Before I truly began my faith life, I followed a friend to a church. There, as in many other churches, it was taught that ‘driving out demons is merely a metaphor!’ They would say, ‘Healing sickness is also a metaphor. It’s about curing the diseases of the mind.’ However, my experience at Sungrak Church was distinctly different. I learned that all believers have the power to lay hands on the sick and heal them. Furthermore, when you drive out demons, they actually leave and are fearful of us. I had always been afraid of demons, never imagining that they could be afraid of me.

After coming to believe in Jesus, as a new believer, I lacked much experience. Then, I entered the military. It was there, for the first time, that I attempted to drive out demons. Because of my passionate faith life, I was given an opportunity. Around 200 people were sitting in my unit when I was given time to speak. I was asked to share whatever I wanted about faith. So, I stepped forward, trembling as a newcomer, and began to speak about demons while shaking.

Being inexperienced, I was unsure what to speak about, but I wanted to demonstrate them that demons truly exist and kneel down before the name of Jesus. So, after discussing demons for some time, I invited, “If anyone feels nervous, strange, or anxious, please raise your hand! Come forward, and I will drive out demons.’ However, no one raised their hand. I continued to wait. Though I only waited for about 2minutes, it felt like 20minutes had passed.

Thankfully, a senior eventually raised his hand and came forward. Therefore, to drive out demons, I fixed my gaze on his eyes and commanded, “Demons, go out!” Repeating what I had seen, I placed my hand on my waist and again said, “Demons, go out!” That person just stood there, later yawning as time passed. Sweat began to pour from me, even down my back, as I thought, ‘Is this how it ends?’ Did I finish as it is? Yes, it finished as it is. “Ah, okay! We do not have time!” and it ended.  I felt deeply embarrassed, my face burning with shame. Without deep knowledge of the scripture or understanding of how to make good use of that time, I was at a loss.

Thankfully, the next morning, someone sought me out, saying, ‘I was deeply touched by what you did yesterday! I also attend church and believe in what you said. However, during praise yesterday, I worried about straining my voice from singing too loudly. This morning, I woke up to find my throat was indeed hoarse, and I couldn’t speak properly.’ He shared this with me in a raspy voice, spending a while explaining, ‘You know, last night I…’ Then, he asked me to drive out demons from him. It went well.

So, I took him to find a suitable place for driving out demons within the military confines. We ended up at an outdoor toilet, a relatively quiet spot. Once inside, I closed the door behind us. He was my senior. However, I removed his glasses and hat, then laid my hands on his shoulders and pointed at him, shouting, “You, demons!” After several shouts, the door suddenly burst open with a loud bang, and someone from outside called out, “What are you doing now?” To them, it seemed they were witnessing a scene of violence.

Therefore, both the senior and I were taken away. It had become a much serious issue since it looked as though I was assaulting my senior. At the office, in a nearly grave atmosphere, I was writing a report and explaining, ‘This act is a normal behavior of Christian faith,’ but they could not understand it because it was uncommon. So, I opened the Bible to show them, saying, ‘Look! What we are doing is according to what’s written in the Bible.’ However, they did not trust that. After all, the Bible was written 2,000 years ago; how could they know if it was relevant now? ‘So, it’s a scripture from your religion, but how does that apply to you now?’ They found it absurd. Thus, they couldn’t believe it based solely on that my explanation.

Therefore, I requested they call the military chaplain. The chaplain was aware of the situation. However, the problem was that the chaplain held prejudices against the Berea Movement that our Sungrak Church was making progress. This person particularly disliked us, especially criticizing driving out demons and speaking in tongues. Despite this, I had no other choice but to ask for him. So, he was summoned, and a cross-examination followed.

So, just as I mentioned, the officer asked, ‘Do those who believe in Jesus really drive out demons? He claims to have cast out demons in the name of Jesus and insists that what is written in the Bible truly comes to be realized. Is that true or false?’

Now, a moment of great tension arrived. Normally, this person had denied it. However, the unbeliever asked, ‘Does this actually appear in the Bible, or not?’ What was his response? Given it’s an objective fact, he reluctantly replied, ‘It does!’ Then, he was asked, ‘Is this promise still being fulfilled today, or not?’ After a moment of silence and with his head bowed, he admitted, ‘Yes, it is true!’

I found that situation incredibly interesting. Normally, this person spoke poorly of me and even claimed that it was wrong. Yet, he admitted that such things are indeed mentioned in the Bible and continue to be fulfilled even today. So, I thought, ‘Wow! This truly is the marvelous work of God.’ Consequently, we were released with just a warning.

However, we didn’t stop there. ‘Now that we’ve been released, we should find a safer place to drive out demons.’ In truth, I was ready to leave, but the senior, eager for driving out demons, insisted we continue. ‘Hey, follow me!’ he said, pulling me into the basement boiler room. ‘Drive them out quickly!’ So, there, I declared, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you, unclean demon, go out!’ It didn’t take long. The senior screamed ‘Ah!’ and fell backward. That was my first time driving out a demon, and it happened in a military boiler room of all places. When he got up, I suggested we offer a prayer of thanks, saying, ‘Let’s give thanks to God!’ He misunderstood, thinking I wanted him to pray. As he started praying, his voice, which had been hoarse from shouting ‘Hey, drive out demons fast!’ just moments before, completely returned to normal. It was utterly amazing.

After the demon was driven out, it was amazing to see the symptoms that had been tormenting the person disappear. But what was even more remarkable was where all this is recorded: in the Bible. Back when I was an unbeliever, the Bible was just a book on a friend’s shelf. But after beginning my journey of faith, I came to believe that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. That the commands and promises of Jesus Christ, written in the Bible, would be fulfilled in my life 2,000 years later was truly surprising. Not long after I started believing in Jesus, I gained a boldness in faith, fervently praying for the realization in my life of what is written in the Scriptures. Consequently, I witnessed many interesting and amazing events.

I am truly grateful that I went into the military right after beginning my journey of faith. This is because I couldn’t rely on anyone else; there was no one whose influence I could follow. My only reliance was on the Bible. So, I believed that ‘If it’s written in the Bible, then it must all come to be realized in my life. If these are the words promised by Jesus, then they must be fulfilled in me!’ With such obedience, I followed the teachings. By doing this, your faith will also grow.

However, what I want to emphasize today is about baptism. The Ethiopian eunuch listened intently to Philip as he preached the Gospel, sharing the news of Jesus’ resurrection. As they traveled in the chariot, the eunuch observed, ‘Look, there’s water! What prevents me from being baptized right now?’ Philip responded, ‘There is no problem. If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized.’ Upon hearing this, both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

The water mentioned isn’t merely a small puddle fit for drinking; it’s deep enough for a person’s entire body to be submerged. Baptism traditionally involves full immersion in water. This act resembles the burial of a person. Just as the dead are buried underground or sometimes lost at sea, through baptism, we acknowledge, ‘I am already dead because of sin!’ and enter the water fully. Upon emerging, God no longer views us as sinners but as beings fully cleansed and forgiven of sin. More importantly, we are recognized as united with Jesus Christ, whom God loves most.

Therefore, baptism is done in the name of Jesus. However, in many conventional churches, there’s a practice known as baptism by sprinkling. This involves sprinkling water on the person’s head, a ritual commonly performed in the Catholic Church. But why did the Catholic Church adopt this method? Originally, Jesus commanded, ‘Be baptized! Go into the water and come out!’ but this was somewhat misinterpreted with a mindset of, ‘Why go through such complexity? Let’s keep it simple!’ leading to the formal act of sprinkling water on the head as a substitute. Hence, although Jesus’ command had a clear purpose, it was superficially interpreted, resulting in the practice of sprinkling water on the head as an alternative.

A more serious issue arose during the Middle Ages in Europe, where people received baptism by sprinkling as infants, without ever declaring, ‘I believe in Jesus!’ Everyone was baptized shortly after birth, without any regard to their personal will. As they grew and became aware, they realized they had already been baptized. This led to moments of confusion, ‘What? I don’t even believe; I have no faith?’ Eventually, some individuals, upon truly accepting Jesus as their Savior, expressed a desire to be baptized properly, in accordance with the Lord’s command. Thus, they sought baptism as believers. Strictly speaking, this was not a second baptism but their first genuine one. However, in the medieval era, seeking believer’s baptism after having been baptized as an infant was controversial, and those who did so were sometimes executed. It was a terrifying time.

Despite that, many people, a vast number of people, with some documents stating up to 70 million, historically over 1,200 years, chose to be baptized in accordance with Jesus’ command, even at the cost of their lives. That’s how important baptism is.

So, why is baptism so important? Why would people risk their lives to receive it? Jesus made this promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Some might wonder, ‘Isn’t it enough just to believe? Why do I also need to be baptized?’ This thought might seem bothersome. However, baptism represents an immense blessing for us. When questioning, ‘Why is it necessary to be baptized if belief is sufficient?’ how will you express your faith? Consider this: ‘I have faith in my heart, and since God is almighty, can’t He just see the faith in my heart and save me?’ Reflect on that.

So, let’s say there is faith in my heart. I possess a believing heart. Ideally, God would save me upon seeing this faith. But is my heart filled with faith alone? Aren’t there also moments of disbelief and doubt? And does believing in Jesus instantly purify our thoughts? Does the decision to believe in Jesus immediately sanctify our thoughts, even though impure thoughts still linger? Inside us, our hearts are brimming with all sorts of impurities. If we were to ask, ‘God, is there faith in me? Please see it for yourself and save me!’ God might see not just faith but an abundance of impurities as well. What then? If He were to judge us as we are, we would be destined for hell.

However, thankfully, God doesn’t just judge us based on what’s inside us. Instead, what matters is what we choose to draw out from within. He judges us based on that choice. So, ‘even though there are doubts, anxieties, and various worries within me, I choose not to embrace them. Out of all these, I choose to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for me, and I choose to unite with Jesus!’ How then do we express this choice? The expression of this decision is through baptism.

Expressing it with words allows for doubt, as one might later question, “When did I ever say that?” or change their stance, saying, “No, that’s not what I meant!” However, we express through action and our body. When we do this, we are caught between a rock and a hard place. It becomes an undeniable declaration, witnessed by heaven and earth, by angels, and by all those present, affirming, ‘This person has been baptized!’ God acknowledges this as well. Despite our hearts being filled with disbelief, He chooses to see the faith we have expressed through baptism, not just the doubts within us. This is indeed a cause for gratitude.

Therefore, I remain deeply thankful even now. This is because my mind is filled with impure thoughts. Yet, I don’t dwell on thoughts like, ‘Oh no, why am I like this? Why would a pastor think this way?’ To me, the flesh is only natural. I don’t pay much mind to these things; they’re a natural part of life. But what I choose isn’t aligned with those thoughts. I choose faith. Thus, the very first choice I made in obedience before God was baptism.

In this way, baptism holds an amazing mystery. To the eyes of unbelievers, it may seem merely like someone entering and going out form water. However, through God’s eyes, the individual undergoes a complete transformation. It’s an event akin to the creation of the world.

Everyone, you’re familiar with passwords, right? Each of you likely has one. These passwords are often a combination of four digits. With these numbers, you can either gain entry or be denied. When these digits are just scattered—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9—they mean nothing. They hold no significance. Yet, these four numbers can allow me access to my home or prevent me from entering. They can protect me from a thief or leave me completely vulnerable. There’s a secret in these numbers. To someone unaware of the password, they’re just simple digits. Even if you write down 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on a wall, to the eye that doesn’t know, they’re meaningless. But to me, these numbers carry an enormous secret.

Similarly, baptism follows the same principle. To those unfamiliar with its significance, it might seem like nothing more than entering into water and going out from it. However, this act was commanded by Jesus Himself. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” ensuring that one’s soul is saved from hell and spared from eternal curse. This command is recorded in the Bible. Just as the promises written in the Bible were fulfilled in my life, so too will the promise that those who are baptized in the name of Jesus will be saved surely come to be realized.

Therefore, the promise made by Jesus that He will return to take us to where He resides, so we may dwell with Him eternally, will indeed be fulfilled. To achieve this, the first step is to believe and be baptized.

So, for anyone among you who has not yet been baptized, I earnestly encourage you to do so. And for those who have been baptized, understand that you are now ‘united with the Son of God, transplanted into the Son of God.’ As such, you are treated as the Son of God and are poured with His love. This is important to recognize.

Therefore, instead of praying, ‘God, please forgive me!’ if you have been baptized, you should pray, ‘God, thank you for accepting someone like me, for connecting me to Jesus, for transplanting me into Jesus.’ This should be your constant prayer. Be thankful. In doing so, God will work on your behalf.

Now, I will pray for all of you.

God Father, we thank You for uniting all the souls here with Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, allowing us to receive the love that Your Son is bestowed with. If there are those among us who have not yet been baptized, we pray that You grant them the faith to be baptized in the name of Jesus, to be united with Christ, and thereby become heirs to all the wonderful things You have prepared for Your Son, to enjoy them in this life and for eternity. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen!

Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center