One of the many incredible elements and nuances of that mighty Shavu’ot, that Day of Pentecost, was the immediate fruit produced after Peter stood tall and made sense of the years of ministry that the nation had received through the life of Yeshua and his disciples.
Consider the first question following the apostle’s closing remarks:
When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “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.” (Acts 2:37-38)
Those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
Less than two months after Messiah had been scourged and slaughtered outside the city gates, the Holy Spirit empowered the apostolic witness—and immediately there was revival. Three thousand people were added to the body that day. That’s incredible. And messy, to be sure. But step one for every single one of the new disciples was to repent, and the second step (just as immediate) was to be baptized. Baptism has been a pillar of public discipleship ever since.
Perhaps we’re desensitized to baptism—like semantic satiation, the phenomenon that occurs when you say the same word too many times. Maybe we’re a little too familiar with the idea of going underwater for a moment in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Maybe, for many of us, baptism is simply a rite of passage on a strictly joyous day.
For many others, however, going under the water to leave the old self behind (Colossians 3:9) is like signing your own death warrant in your own blood.
Both experiences and perspectives are holy and valid to the LORD, and both are represented in the authorship of this article. Stephanie Quick was born and raised in the United States, and Pastor X is a leader of the underground church in the Islamic Republic of Iran. From there he trains a network of rapidly reproducing disciple makers throughout Iran, Afghanistan, and many other closed countries.
When Stephanie was baptized, it was in a large, publicly identifiable church building packed with hundreds of people. The crowd applauded her and prayed for her; then she went home and got a good night’s sleep safe in her home. For Pastor X and his network, the experience is very different. While baptism is an eternally significant act regardless of who you are or where you live, baptism under persecution is a uniquely costly and terrifying experience. It is never casual. There are no crowds around you, no casserole buffets afterward. There is discretion, there is allegiance, and there is cost.
But these are benefits.
Counting the Cost
Where Pastor X lives, baptism is the point of no return. Once someone abandons Islam, which they’re all bound to from birth, they’re entering a lifelong risk of martyrdom. First, a baptized convert is arrested without evidence. Then they’re tortured in prison for an indiscriminate length of time. Finally, they’re murdered. As in most Muslim countries, there are no judges for baptized former-Muslim disciples. There are no juries, only merciless executions. The upside is that no one there gets baptized accidentally.
For Pastor X’s network of disciple-making leaders, this is their method of determining how many disciples are in their midst and fellowship—because baptism literally changes their identities locally, culturally, and politically. These consequences, however, are petty losses worth the gain of changing their spiritual identities. Baptism is our announcement to Satan: “We’re not your children anymore” (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2).
Jesus’ life and baptism illuminate a critical path for us to follow. First he was baptized in the water, and his sonship was declared over him (Matthew 3:13-17). Then he was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Matthew 4:1) to be tested. Similar trials in our lives—as some might say, “baptism by fire”—purge us of our flesh. Finally, he was brought from the wilderness to the nation and served through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:12-14). Sonship. Death. Power.
As our brother Dalton Thomas has put it, “We are ‘soldiers’ because we are sons,” borrowing from Paul’s words to Timothy: only civilians get entangled in civilian affairs. But we are not civilians. Our intent, and our ambition, is to “please the one who enlisted” us (2 Timothy 2:4). We salute. We serve. We bow the knee. We confess. We endeavor to be good soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3). The first step in doing so is simply putting on the uniform— getting baptized. While those of us in contexts like Stephanie’s have the luxury of doing so easily, publicly, and safely, disciples in Pastor X’s context have their own luxury: persecution.
Such fires fortify disciples. While the “cares of the world” (Matthew 13:22) or the fatigue of persecution can sometimes draw down the baptized in the Muslim world, backsliding is an exceptionally rare phenomenon. Where do you go after you’ve burned all your bridges? Only Jesus has the words of life (John 6:68).
The Lord will return to a bride made ready (Revelation 19:7). We are meant to be equally yoked to him, and we will be before we cross the threshold of this age and the next (Ephesians 4:11-16). This requires all of us, in the East and West alike, not to turn from the cup ordained for us—even if it will kill us—and whisper to our Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-44). Because when we emerge from the water, with the cross before and the world behind, there are but three words that will guide our hearts into the “greatest commandment” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 22:35-37) through all our numbered days: death before disobedience.