Some passages in the Bible are harder to read and understand, whilst others are far easier. I have always maintained that Christians must read the Bible, but that in itself does not provide a perfect understanding of every text. It is true:
Jn 14:26 the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you
but what the Spirit does is use the Word of God. His teaching and reminding is always based upon the Word of God. The reason God gives pastor teachers is to equip God’s people … through him teaching the Word of God. Far too often people are under-taught or half-taught in vital Christian Doctrines, Beliefs and Practices to the point where their enthusiasm for the Gospel lacks accuracy and in the final analyses is not the True Gospel. In our text today we shall come across something like this … please read:
Ac 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
1) Paul’s return to Ephesus. After completing his pastoral visitation to the Churches, Paul returned to Ephesus along the inland route.
Ac 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.
This would mean his reentry was from the northern side of Mount Messogis. By this time Apollos had already departed.
2) Paul finds disciples there.
Ac 19:1 There he found some disciples.
This passage has created much debate and even controversy by scholars. What is key here is to observe that these people Paul came across were “disciples” … meaning they believed in the Lord Jesus. As the section deals with baptism, it is important to understand that these men were more than Christianized. They were not just Christianized or has a casual association with Christianity. They understood themselves to be Christian. If they were not disciples of Jesus, Luke would not have said they were disciples. We are not informed where they heard of Jesus, but they did and believed. All true Christians are disciples of Jesus. The word means a follower.
3) Paul’s probing question.
Ac 19:2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
Why would Paul ask disciples this question? In speaking with them about Jesus, Paul observed two things.
(1) Their knowledge of the Christian faith was defective.
(2) He pinpointed the problem.
Paul had the spiritual gifts of discernment and wisdom. Not all Christians have these as gifting, though all, groomed in Scripture have a working ability to exercise wisdom and discernment. Pastors ought to have a larger ability to discern whether people are saved and know key doctrines because in their interaction with people, they ought to discern people’s spiritual standing. We ought to be praying for God to grant such gifting within the Church, especially amongst spiritual workers. This ability helps people discern how to help people spiritually by asking important diagnostic questions. Put another way, such gifting is not given by God to catch people out or make them feel inferior, but to know how better to minister to their souls … either explaining the way of salvation better or assisting them towards spiritual maturity.
4) The disciples’ first response. They were extremely honest
Ac 19:2 They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
These disciples were Gentiles. They did not have prior teaching in the Old Testament. If they had been Jews they would have heard about “The Spirit of God” from the Jewish Scriptures. Honest people will respond to probing questions the way these men did. In our ministry, when people are honest we are able to assess where they are in their Christian walk. Never be afraid to ask diagnostic questions, but be careful you do not hurt, upset, anger or confuse people. You want to help them. The Christian aim is that all believers grow up in their faith and maturity for service and glory.
5) Paul’s second probing question.
Ac 19:3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
This follow up question was natural as it flowed from their answer. He had asked … “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They had answered … “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” They had believed in Jesus yet did not know whom the Holy Spirit was, so Paul asked them about the baptism they had “received”. They were Christian. They believed in Jesus … but what baptism did they received?
6) The disciples second answer.
Ac 19:3 “John’s baptism,” they replied.
We are not told whether they were baptized by John the Baptist himself some 25 years ago or by his disciples who might have continued his ministry after his execution. The only baptism they knew was that of John the Baptist.
7) Paul’s response. Paul understood, as did Peter, that at conversion the gift of the Holy Spirit would be received.
Ac 2:38 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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Look at what Paul tells these disciples:
Ac 19:4 “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
John’s baptism was anticipatory. The idea of repentance was getting ready for what was coming. John’s ministry pointed forward to the expectant Messiah who was to come. John has said:
Mt 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
He admitted in these words that his baptism would end once Jesus’ baptism commenced. John’s baptism was external. Jesus baptism is internal!
8) The disciples being baptized.
Ac 19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
One needs to understand this … this is the only time in the New Testament that we find an occasion where people were re-baptized. Take the first disciples who became apostles … they were baptized by John the Baptist … only! Not even Apollos was required to be baptized again. A careful study of the New Testament regarding this subject might raise questions about why some Churches require rebaptism.
9) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now we come to what makes one a true believer. These 12 Ephesian men were disciples. They believed in the Messiah, yet they were lacking seriously because although believing, they did not seem to qualify as believers. What was lacking? What needed to take place inside their hearts to grant them a real relationship with the Messiah they believed in?
Ac 19:6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Paul laid hands on them which would have included prayer and they received the Holy Spirit … that is they were born again. They were infused with spiritual and eternal life. As a demonstration of their new birth … as a confirmation to themselves and those around them … they were enabled to speak in earthly languages unknown to them, which was them prophesying … preaching the Gospel to others. God confirmed their faith to both themselves, the Church and unbelievers.
Father, how we long for people to be brought into Your Kingdom by the Holy Spirit giving new life. Incorporate many, please Lord. Amen.