Updated: Feb 3
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.
This is the Epistle selection for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, January 7, 2018. It is important because it clearly restates that baptism by the Holy Spirit (not water) is what makes one truly Christian.
The first Sunday after the day recognized as the Epiphany (January 6) always deals with Jesus being baptized by John the baptizer (Matthew 3:13-17 Year A; Mark 1:4-11 Year B; and Luke 3:15-22 Year C) and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus. Therefore, this reading from Acts 19 is selected to accompany the Gospel reading from Mark because it deals with Paul addressing this issue of baptism by the Holy Spirit.
This short reading should be printed out on business cards and made freely available for all church-goers, to take and hold in their wallets and purses, just so they will all know the difference between being a devoted believer and a committed servant of the LORD.
It is my estimation that the vast majority of those claiming to be Christians today are very much like those Paul encountered way back when in Ephesus. They admitted they were baptized by water, but those Ephesians had “not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” While people today have heard of the Holy Spirit, Christians nowadays are just as ignorant as were those Ephesians.
When I say “ignorant,” I mean they are “lacking education or knowledge” about what the Holy Spirit means. That learning experience can only come by knowing God.
It cannot be imitated physically: through song (uplifting feelings of joy due to the vibrations of vocal chords) or dance (near ecstatic loss of bodily control through wildly moving, so fast, for so long, that sweat pours out of bodily pores and the depletion of salt makes one’s head spin). One cannot make unintelligible sounds (clucking, clicking, or otherwise making noises with one’s tongue) and allow others to think one is speaking what the Holy Spirit tells one to speak. Neither can one pretend to interpret the nonsensical noises made by someone uttering wild guttural noises, as if the gift of interpretation has been allowed by the Holy Spirit.
That does happen. Unfortunately, all that proves is there are people who want badly to be filled with the Holy Spirit; but no one like Paul has ever wandered into their midst to pass it onto them. Jesus has not whispered to them, “Receive the Spirit.”
For the most part, Christians today are gross pretenders (never do anything beyond filling out a government form that asks them to check their religious affiliation) and those who do follow Christian tenets are like the tax collector Jews of old, who hid their guilt while deeply regretting the sins the world forced upon them. Modern day Christians tend to do “odd jobs” for their church and faith, such that they openly proclaim God and Christ, they regularly attend a church service, and they pray. All of that is a good step in the right direction; but it has not reached the ultimate goal.
Like the Christians in Ephesus, they lean heavily on their baptism by water as proof. In some way this event took place at a point in their lives (sprinkled as a baby or dunked in a baptismal pool as a youth or adult), and since they have spent some time listening to sermons, maybe attended a Bible study class a few times, and maybe have actually opened a Holy Bible and read a few passages from time to time (without being commanded to do so by a pastor, during a Bible-pounding sermon). Still, none of them have ever been touched by someone with the Holy Spirit within. None of them have become transformed to the point of touching others and passing on the Holy Spirit.
Christians gather in sects because they fear the rejection of others. Those who force their young to go door-to-door are actually welcoming persecution, in order to feel holy. Still, for the majority of Christians that display their righteousness openly, it is done within the safety of the group. Organizers might point evangelists to places to go for practicing their faith; but few open the eyes of their fellow church-goers with explanations of what Scripture means, while welcoming the opinions and questions of those they know and strangers.
Paul asked “certain disciples” of Ephesus – which implies someone had told them to believe in Jesus as the Christ – “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” That question is a translation paraphrase of the actual Greek, such that it is broken into two segments. The first poses a scenario statement, beginning with a capitalized “If.” Thus, Paul said, “If Holy Spirit did you receive” was a question relative to the truth of their claim to be Christian. The second segment implies “then” (without stating that word) before concluding simply with, “having believed?” That means the conditional requirement of belief is having received the Holy Spirit.
Belief without personal experience is simply saying what someone else told you to believe.
Try to project that faith into ordinary beliefs human beings have. There once was a time when scholarly people believed the earth was flat. Prior to that, ancient cultures seemed to have full faith that the earth was a globe suspended in space, with other spherical planets and stars; but for some reason scholars had a change of faith, which was probably based on fears and illogical conclusions based on observations. If one was to wander up to some 14th century peasants in Europe and ask, “Is the earth flat or round?” the answer probably would have been “Flat.”
“Did you float above the earth to see for yourselves to believe this?” would be a logical question to ask in return. Of course, their answer would be an honest one, “Well no. We were told that by scholars, so we believe what we are told to believe.”
The same can be said of the people Paul encountered. Someone had dunked them in a water source (probably a river), in the “name of Jesus Christ,” by someone who had enough charisma to believe he knew what he was saying and doing. As a Jew (splinter disciple of John the Baptist) washing other Jews and some Gentiles, it was probably the blind leading the blind, all with good intentions in mind. Thus, Paul informed them, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
That means the Christian Jews and Gentiles of Ephesus were sincerely repentant of their sins. As “certain disciples,” they were trying to do everything they could to not have to be baptized with water again (living separate from the unclean as much as possible). Probably, that meant they spent a lot of time discussing the Scriptures (the New Testament had not been written at that time), which included the oral stories of Jesus Christ. However, without the Holy Spirit to direct their understanding of holy words and stories, they were left to scratch their heads and make some stuff up … that made sense to them.
Still, that “Big Brain” approach did not fill them with the Holy Spirit, even though there were probably some events where the Holy Spirit manifested itself in a member every once in a while (like when Peter and Nathaniel spoke of things about Jesus that was beyond their normal mental capabilities). It is how God tests faith and gives gifts of reward for working towards understanding His needs. That was why they were “certain disciples” and not already full-bore Apostles.
You could say that their efforts had not gone unnoticed by God, which is why Paul “found some disciples” (“certain” was written, which means the ones Paul found were not just anyone’s followers, but those of Jesus as Christ). By Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit, he was led by God to go where he was needed, to advance the disciples from wantabe Christians to true Saints.
This is why “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” through Paul laying hands upon them. That does not mean Paul shouted, “In the name of the Lord Jesus,” as much as it means the baptism of those certain Ephesians gave them the right to become Jesus. They were reborn from ordinary Joes to Christ Jesus.
In that verse that is translated above to say, “Paul had laid his hands on them,” the literal Greek states, “And having placed upon them the [One] Paul the hands.” While that does translate to the physical act of touching, the physical touching by hands is not necessarily the mode of Spiritual transfer. There are some physical tricks that can be accomplished by transferring natural electrical energy from one person to another. Evangelists like Oral Roberts know how to “lay hands on people” and cause them to mimic miraculous changes. Unfortunately, those physical changes are only temporary.
The Greek word “cheiras” (as the plural for of “cheir”) does mean “hands,” but the “figurative” use means, “the instruments a person uses to accomplish their purpose (intention, plan).” Therefore, the same verse can say that the presence of the LORD within Paul was then “placed upon” the Ephesian Christians, which was “the [One]” same in “Paul.” Thus, the Christians of Ephesus became “the hands” of God, just as was Paul. A Spiritual transfer does not require physical touching, as it does not really require hands. God cannot be limited in that way.
Here is what makes “believers” that have simply been made aware of sins, washed clean by the waters (symbolic of emotions) of repentance, be different from “believers” who have had “the Holy Spirit come upon them.” One group does nothing towards passing the Holy Spirit onto others, because they cannot. They wish they could, but one cannot give to others what one does not have to give. The other group does so by “speaking in tongues and prophesying.” That means telling others the truth that has been missed. That is a “laying on of words” that can clearly be understood. This means no gibberish and no false understanding of Scripture.
In Acts 2, when the eleven were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in foreign tongues (aka languages), their newfound talent was utterances that were understandable by those who were fluent in known languages – those native to Jewish pilgrims who were present in Jerusalem and outside the upstairs room the Apostles exited. The topic of their divine utterances was the meaning of Scripture – meaning that all Jews sought, but none knew. Because Scripture is written prophecy, they spoke meaning to those words. This was astounding because the Hebrew text that had been memorized had been read in an Aramaic syntax, which missed the language (tongue) of God that was underlying it all. The meaning of prophecy was explained because they could then see (with their Christ Mind’s eye) what was always there, but never seen before.
The greatest value of this reading, during the season when individuals should seek a personal Christian Epiphany, where there is a sudden appearance of divine understanding of the Word, is to realize that there is so much more in the words of the Holy Bible than initially meets the eye. The “Big Brain” actually forbids one from seeing through to the underlying truth. If one has received the Holy Spirit, and then having believed” in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, then what is one doing to bring others to that same enlightenment?
The element of baptism by the Holy Spirit is the epiphany of seeing for oneself the truth that has always been there, but invisible to the physical eyes. It is the dawning of God’s love in one’s heart giving birth to the Mind of Christ that allows one to stand back and watch one’s body become the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. That is a huge “aha moment,” which cannot be kept to oneself.
Being a Saint is very rewarding work, but it is not rewarded by simply getting wet (taking a public bath) and saying, “I’m sorry for not knowing how to stop sinning forever.” Being a Saint means a 24/7/365 commitment to God, where one goes to where God sends His servants. It means finding certain disciples of faith and asking them, “What makes you think baptism by water means you are Christian?”
Apostles of Christ are looking for those who will hear that question and have a true Epiphany.