Making My Appeal
It must have surely come as a surprise. Though it happened nearly 2,000 years ago, the modern reader can feel the tension building as the apostle Peter laid the formal charges on the Jews who were present for their crime. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter built his case firmly on the foundation of Old Testament history as he quoted the prophets of old to show that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah. It was then he assigned blame and guilt for the death of God’s own Son: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36 ESV). With an ironclad case, there was no way the condemned crowd could plead ignorance or innocence; they were guilty as charged! In desperation, they cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (37) It was then the surprise came. Surely the magnitude of the crime would demand punishment of equal magnitude or greater and the reader can almost feel the fear rising in anticipation of the answer; yet, the apostle simply stated, “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” (38). The criminals did not debate the answer; they did not argue about necessity or anything of the like. Instead, the word was received and about three thousand guilty souls were plunged into the water and raised in purity. The Christ-killers were now His followers and members of His body.
The answer given to these Jews was not for them alone. Since Jesus died for the sins of mankind, all who sin have a part in His death, and “since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all stand condemned with the listeners on Pentecost. Fortunately, the surprising and gracious invitation for salvation comes to all who seek to remove the condemnation and guilt of sin. Long after the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter wrote a letter letting all know that this invitation still stands. He wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). In this writing, Peter employs a “not this, but this” strategy; baptism is not the removal of dirt, but is an appeal for a good conscience. When modern readers come across the word appeal, its connotation is steeped in centuries of judicial theory. In a legal setting, an appeal is typically made to a higher power when one who has been declared guilty believes himself innocent, or at least misunderstood. The criminal desires for a higher court to reconsider the circumstance; and, if all else fails, he seeks intervention by a governor or president. While the concept of appeal as used by Peter certainly holds the same idea, there is one very distinct difference; the criminal is guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. His appeal is not for justice, but rather for mercy. How is this appeal made? Consider again Peter’s words without the “not this” portion: “Baptism now saves you as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” In clear terms, Peter demonstrates the importance of baptism; yet, one may ask: What happens in baptism that serves as an appeal to God?
The significance of baptism was also discussed by the apostle Paul as he wrote to the Roman Christians. He wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. […] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (Romans 6:3-4,8). Since the sinner has no standing to plead innocence, he can only appeal for guilt to be taken away; thus, he pleads for mercy from a gracious God. Paul explains that it is in baptism that the sinner comes into contact with Jesus Christ and the appeal is made. The appeal is for His death to take the sinner’s place; thus, in baptism the sinner joins Him on the cross and gains access to His saving blood. Paul explained this idea to the Ephesians when he wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). By this grace, the appeal is answered in love; with the guilt of sin removed, the former sinner is raised in the likeness of His Savior Jesus Christ.
It is with the same zeal as shown by those on that Day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago that every man and woman should seek the gracious forgiveness offered by a merciful God. Everyone who has sinned played a part in driving the nails into the body of Jesus Christ, and every sinner stands condemned as a result. Once convicted of this fact, the appeal for a good conscience must follow by trusting God to be true to His promise of grace by washing away sin and guilt through the blood of His own Son. May every person who has made this appeal maintain the same zeal in sharing the message of salvation with others. This great love is not reserved for only a few; Christ died so that all could share in His forgiveness. In so doing, others are given the opportunity to share in the same sentiment as expressed by hymnist Philip P. Bliss over one one hundred years ago:
Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!