Legend has it that when William Travis learned that no support was coming to help the Texians under siege in the Alamo mission, he drew a line in the sand and challenged all who would stay and buy time for the assembling of more Texian troops — at the cost of their lives — to step across the line. All stepped across except two: Jim Bowie who was ill and had his cot carried across the line and a mercenary who chose to leave and escaped to tell the tale.
Whether Travis really drew a line in the sand with his sword or not, he did somehow convince his band of renegade outlaws, adventurers, land owners, and lawyers to stay and give their lives for a cause they deemed greater than themselves. They had their "line in the sand" moment.
As followers of Jesus, each of must also have our own "line in the sand" moment. This was true from the beginning. The first "line in the sand moment" came on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Jesus was crucified. Peter challenges his fellow Jews to do something life-changing and future-defining. He calls on them to recognize Jesus, whom they crucified, as both Lord and Messiah and to be baptized. He is not calling them to a rite of passage. This is a call to last rites on an old way of living, and a call to a new life empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit:
"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call."
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:36-41 NIV).
Let's hear this message of Peter in all of its raw power and emotional challenge that those original hearers would understood it:
- repent — I must change my thinking and my life if I am going to live for God.
- be baptized — I realize I am an outsider to God's will and grace and I choose to be baptized and identified as a Jesus follower.
- every one of you — I am not an exception to this call, I must hear and obey this personally.
- in the name of Jesus Christ — I voluntarily submit to the reign of Jesus and his will over my life and recognize this event has power because of his authority.
- for the forgiveness of your sins — I am a sinner in need of God's forgiveness and grace which Jesus purchased on the cross.
- you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit — I receive the promised power of the Holy Spirit in my life when I surrender my life to Jesus as Lord.
Peter was saying to them, and to us, that our lives need to be radically re-ordered. I am called to step across the line to be reborn to a new life (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:3-7). In stepping across this line, I die to my past self-willed life, and I am raised to live a new life for God (Romans 6:3-9; Colossians 2:12). Yes, this is not a rite of passage, but it is last rites to an old life that needs to be left behind and a deliberate embrace of a new life directed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
How important is this "line in the sand" moment? As the book of Acts unfolds, we catch a glimpse:
- All who received Peter's message at Pentecost were baptized (Acts 2:41).
- When the Ethiopian nobleman heard the message of Jesus and was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:37-39).
- When the Philippian jailer and his household heard the message of Jesus, he and his whole household were baptized that same hour of the night (Acts 16:33).
But maybe our best basis on seeing the importance of this "line in the sand" moment for us should be the Lord's own words about what we, as his followers, should do after he goes back to the Father:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
These are Jesus' last words and our first priority!
Previous messages in the series "Last Words and First Priority":