Baptism Based On The Name Of The Lord Jesus
1. In chapter nineteen the work of Paul at Ephesus is recorded. On his second missionary journey when he stopped over Ephesus he said, "If it be God's will I will come back again," (18:21) and later he left there. Paul did come to set foot again on the land of Ephesus according to the will of God. There he met several disciples. As we read verse seven, the number of them seemed to be as many as twelve persons. However, as we look at the place where the text says "met," it means they were not persons that Paul had led into faith. How in the world did they ever become "disciples?"
2. Before Paul came, Apollos was the one who was at Ephesus. From the flow of the story it seems that either these twelve persons were led directly by Apollos or were under his influence. What kind of person was he? Please recall chapter eighteen and verses twenty-four onward. The text says, "He received the way of the Lord, and spoke fervently on matters pertaining to Jesus and taught accurately," (verse twenty-five). But, Apollos only knew "the baptism of John." We believe what he was teaching was fundamentally to practice the way of doing things as John the Baptist* gave in his messages. In other words, he still had not touched on the true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Priscilla and Aquila had to "explain the way of God more accurately" to Apollos. Since there were persons who had been under the leadership of the circle connected with the likes of Apollos, they naturally had to have had the same problematic perspective as Apollos. So as we would expect, when Paul asked the twelve disciples "Which baptism did you receive?," they answered "The baptism of John." We should be able to understand this situation through their connection with Apollos.
The Baptism Of John
3. Well, Paul, who had seen essentially what these "disciples" were missing, asked them "When you entered the faith, did you receive the Holy Spirit?" Whereupon they gave the following answer. "No, we haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." In order to know what state the twelve disciples were in who gave such an answer, we need to look back on the message of John the Baptist which we touched on previously. In retrospect, let's try to look at how Luke was writing the record of John's message. Please open to the Gospel of Luke in chapter three. And keep it opened for a while.
4. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. The text says, "There John went to the all the area along the river Jordan and proclaimed the baptism of repentance in order to cause the acquiring of the forgiveness of sin," (Luke 3:3). Then, under verses seven and following the words of John are specifically recorded. "There John said to the crowd who came wanting to have him baptize them. 'O sons of vipers, who has taught you to escape the imminent wrath of God? Link appropriate fruit to repentance. Don't raise the thought saying, Our father is Abraham. Now I say to you, God is able to create children of Abraham even from up out of stones like these. The ax is already put to the root of the tree. All trees which are not linked to good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire.' There the crowd asked, 'Well, what should we do?' John answered, 'Let the person who has two coats share with the person who doesn't even have one coat. Let the person who has food do likewise.' As even tax collectors came to be baptized they said, 'Teacher, what should we do?' John said, 'Don't collect more than is set.' Even soldiers asked, 'What should we do?' John said, 'Don't be taking blackmail money from anyone nor cheating them. Be satisfied with your salary,' (verses seven through fourteen).
5. His words were very specific. Repentance and a revolutionary life change were being talked about. John's message was make preparations to meet the messiah who was sure to come. We believe during this time the persons who were baptized by John formed a flock from those disciples. Apollos had to be in that same stream of having been touched by John's messages because Apollos also repented and took the baptism of John. Also, the twelve persons who appear in the nineteenth chapter of Acts also repented and took this baptism of John.
6. But, the hard part to understand comes next. John was facing some persons and said the following. "I am conferring upon you a baptism with water, but One is coming more excellent than I. I am not worthy to unfasten the strings of that One's footwear. That One will confer upon you a baptism, [even] the Holy Spirit with fire," (Luke 3:16). Wasn't John speaking in this text regarding this matter of "the Holy Spirit?" Why did the twelve men who must have received the baptism of John say, "We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?" Hadn't these words of John been passed on down to them?
7. We need to read the words of John the Baptist with much attentiveness. We must first of all check to see if John is really speaking in reference to the Holy Spirit whom we confess as the third character of the Trinitarian God in the Apostles' Creed, etc. Therefore, what we notice right away is that John's message does not end in verse sixteen. There is a verse seventeen. "And, after cleaning up every nook and cranny of the threshing place with a winnowing fan in hand, piling the wheat and placing it in the storehouse, the chaff will be burnt up with unquenchable fire." The process of threshing is used as a metaphor here. With a winnowing fan a farmer releases the wheat into mid air and then the wind blows out the chaff. So the wheat is let into the storehouse and the [useless] chaff is burned up. In other words, this is the last judgment of God. Therefore, we understand "the fire" in "the baptism of fire with the Holy Spirit" that John is talking about is a symbol of judgment. So, what might the Holy Spirit be? Actually, "spirit" and "wind" are the same terms even in the Aramaic language which John probably used and even in the Greek language employed in the gospel account. Then, what is being spoken of here is this matter of "holy wind." Therefore, we understand when he uses this image of threshing that this is also a symbol of the judgment which blows out the chaff from the wheat. In short, John is talking persistently of the messiah as the one who gives the last judgment. Therefore, the question "Did you receive the Holy Spirit?" to those who had received both John's message and then John's baptism, should not have made any sense to them at all.
8. In our thinking in this area, we might imagine the kind of faith life they had when Paul met about twelve of these disciples. They must have exposed their sins, turned to God, and repented. And, I think they received the baptism of John and made a real effort to link specifically their appropriate fruits to repentance. I think this because the message of John was specific in this same direction. And in the way John was talking, I think he would have surely believed in the messiah. I'm not positive whether the one named Jesus of Nazareth was identified as messiah among those [disciples led by Apollos in Ephesus]. That is to say, I'm not positive because in verse four Paul tells them all over, "John revealed to the people they should believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus, and they received the baptism of repentance." At any rate, the focus of their awareness in their faith life must have been to flee from the wrath of God that was surely coming and his judgment. In other words, the goal of the faith life must have been placed on becoming a person with fruit going into the storehouse and not on the way of the chaff.
9. The presence of such a [gloom and doom] faith life is nothing unusual in modern times, too. Although preparation for the end times is one of the important elements in the faith life which we certainly cannot ignore, yet when the end time judgment is overemphasized, the faith life is apt to become unsound. Truthfully, I myself used to have [spiritually unhealthy] thoughts like that. I repented just to escape the wrath of God, I worked hard just to not be judged, I endeavored to connect fruits of repentance, and I had a faith life which sought only to complete this life without any depravity or apostasy. Church life was only a matter of keeping my duty as an exchange for entrance into the kingdom of God. Although I thought I had to have all this for diligent practice, in the final analysis I could say in my faith life I was missing a dynamic and full life. I think Paul saw a similar problem among those twelve disciples. Consequently, he could not avoid asking them, "When you entered into faith, did you receive the Holy Spirit?"
Baptism Based On The Name Of Jesus
10. So, [Paul] informs us of the meaning of the baptism of John which they had received. Paul says, "John revealed to the people they should believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus, and they received the baptism of repentance," (verse four). The faith life is not all about repenting and then escaping judgment. Repentance does have this priority, that is, "to believe in Jesus." We believe in Jesus as the messiah who has already come. We believe in Jesus as the messiah of suffering who hung on the cross and made redemption for our sins. We believe in Jesus who brought complete reconciliation for us between God and humanity. We believe in Jesus who has brought about a relationship of life with God and man (or woman). We believe in Jesus that he rose again and lives even now, and has become our Lord. And, we believe in Jesus who abundantly pours the Spirit in and fills us with the Spirit. We believe in Jesus who brings about the presence of God in us through the Spirit and is working even now by means of the Spirit. In truth, this was the One who was "to confer baptism in the Spirit" which John the Baptist spoke of in his arrangements [as forerunner]. Based on this, baptism according to the name of Jesus and receiving and believing in Jesus will grant the promise of the Spirit. Besides, on the day of Pentecost Peter said to the people, "Please repent and receive baptism according to the name of Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness of sins. If you do so, you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. This promise is given to you, your children, to all those who are far off, in other words, to anybody if the person has called on the Lord our God," (Acts 2:38-39). Of course, this promise has been given to us as well.
11. The disciples of Ephesus heard the message of Paul, believed on the Lord Jesus, and received baptism according to the name of the Lord Jesus. So, "When Paul placed his hand on them, the Holy Spirit fell, those persons were speaking in a different language and were prophesying," says the text. What is important here is not the supernatural manifestations of foreign languages or prophecies. Of course, there is no need to repudiate them. But, they are no more than details of the gifts of the Spirit of which there are a number. Because not all persons will necessarily experience them, there is no need to regard them as "a sign that the Spirit has fallen." What Luke is trying to express by boldly documenting these two manifestations is the fact that God has certainly visited among them and made an appearance. Luke is wanting to express in writing to those who had been living up to now in repentance, determination, and trying hard that the Holy Spirit has come down, the Lord visited in their midst, he is shaping them as true worshippers, and the events in which the Lord has begun to work through them.
12. This is the same situation when the Holy Spirit visits us. The important thing for us is not what kind of experience you had, It is not fundamentally significant whether we had some kind of emotional change or even some kind of supernatural manifestation. Experiences are different with each and every person. The priceless part is the fact among all other facts that the Lord has visited us and is working through us. He purifies and uses us who are nothing more than earthen vessels and shapes us as beings who worship God together, and again what is fundamentally significant is the fact itself that we are used for the salvation of human beings.
13. Well, don't you need "a sign" that you have been filled by the Holy Spirit? Don't we need confirmation that the Holy Spirit is being given to us? The seeking of "a sign" to be grasped by the senses is something we can understand in our human natures. Many people, even today, have to look for "a sign" of that sort. However, as far as this matter goes, we ought to carry on by faith. Because the Holy Spirit is the One who is God, he is not some thing we can [manipulate] freely with our natural hands like [we do] with a water cup. Freedom is on the side of the Holy Spirit. We are given baptism based on the name of the Lord Jesus who grants the promise of the Holy Spirit. That is enough. Moreover, even the Lord Jesus himself has said that we ought to just trust and seek, "Is there a father among you who will give a snake instead of a fish to his child who is wanting a fish? Again, is there a father who will give a scorpion although he asks for an egg? So in this manner, while you are evil persons you know how to give good things to your own child. How much the more will the father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to the one who seeks it from Him?," (Luke 11:11-13). In light of these verses just quoted from Luke eleven we would do best to just trust and seek [the Lord] in prayer.
14. About twelve of these disciples formed a church at Ephesus. We could say that what Paul did was also a work of placing "the era of the church" in which the Holy Spirit was working, into their faith which was only seeing the end time judgment. In the era of the church that is moving toward the end times, the work of the church, in particular the work of the church in Ephesus, is recorded later in verses eight on. We will be reading it in the times to come in detail; the important point says that Paul's work and our work are both the same in the sense that we belong to the era of the church. The era has been open for about two thousand years, but nonetheless it belongs to the same "time." In that time and space, God is working by the Holy Spirit through Paul, through the generations of the church, and through us, and he is accomplishing his miracle of salvation.
End Note: *It is more accurate to say John the Baptizer rather than John the Baptist, but I will stick with the traditional style.