1It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7There were in all about twelve men.
- Acts 19:1-7
I am constantly amazed by religious radio and television programs that throw around the name of the Holy Spirit in their sermons and casual comments. For example, a minister is introduced as one who has a "powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit." Another preacher tells a crowd that the Holy Spirit is going to fill the building. Some evangelists claim that the Holy Spirit will be given out tonight.
When I hear this I wonder if they are reading out of the same Bible that I am. I wonder if they have ever read the book of Acts and if so have they not seen chapter 19 verses 1-7? Because if they did, they would learn some very important Bible facts about the Holy Spirit.
Now before I share these with you, I want to give you some background on this passage so we can keep our comments in biblical context. In the first century people were aware of several kinds of baptisms.
Types of Baptisms
1. Baptism of John the Baptist
Before and for a short time during Jesus' appearance and ministry, John prepared the people for the Lord's coming. He did this by preaching the coming of the kingdom and baptizing those who repented and were readying themselves for this event. Once Jesus appeared and began His ministry John the Baptist's work was done and the people followed the Lord. Later on John was martyred by Herod.
2. Baptism of Jesus preached by the Apostles.
After His resurrection and ascension the Apostles continue to preach about baptism but this time was with the understanding that:
- The kingdom was here, now.
- The Messiah had come.
- Forgiveness of sin was available now not something to hope for in the future.
- The Holy Spirit, promised long ago by the prophets at the coming of the Messiah was now given to everyone (not just men, or prophets, or kings, or judges) but to all.
- All of these things were received by the one who confessed Christ, repented and was baptized in His name.
So as we go through the book of Acts. We see scene after scene of Apostles and disciples preaching the gospel of Christ and people responding by being baptized (Acts 2:41 - 3,000; Acts 8:13 - Simon the Magician; Acts 8:38 - The Enoch etc.)
When we get to Acts 19 we meet a group of twelve men in Ephesus (Modern Turkey) who lived in a "time warp". It was at least 20 years after Pentecost Sunday. 20 years since Peter's first sermon announcing the resurrection of Christ, the offer of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit in His name. Paul arrives in Ephesus and finds these good, sincere and religious men and questions them about their religious experience. During their discussion he learns that they know nothing of the Holy Spirit.
Well this is short-hand for saying they did not know anything about the gospel, the church, or what had been preached for 20 years. What had happened was that another teacher (probably Apollo's - Acts 18:24-26) had taught them about the promises and the way to prepare foe Him by being baptized with John the Baptist's baptism. Being sincere men they did what they were told and received John's baptism.
This was all well and good but the teaching was 20 years out of date. Paul realized this when they answer that they have no knowledge of the "Holy Spirit." So Paul builds on their outdated information revealing that: the Messiah has come as Jesus Christ, He has resurrected, true forgiveness of sins is available now and God gives His Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer to guarantee his eternal life. Now they have the complete and up-to-date teaching.
In addition to this, Paul explains that God requires faith in Jesus Christ to receive these gifts and that faith is expressed in Baptism in Jesus' name. Not as a question of semantics. Not as a requirement of ritual. But as the true and Biblical way to respond to Christ's invitation to salvation. If you believe in Jesus, you are immersed calling on His name, not John's name.
Once again, these men want to please God and they want to do what God wants so they, like thousands before and millions after, receive the Baptism of Jesus for forgiveness of sins and consequently receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
When Paul, the Apostle, laid hands on them afterwards these same men also received the power from the Holy Spirit to speak in other languages and the ability to proclaim the word of God.
This was given to them to provide a witness that what they had done in responding accurately to the gospel caused a profound and dynamic change in them. Note that with John's baptism they had no power to do any of these things.
Not everyone who was baptized and received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit could speak in tongues and prophesy but these did (through the laying on of the Apostles hands) to make the point that it was the baptism in Christ's name that was now legitimate and the other was not.
Modern Lessons Taught in Acts 19:1-7
Now that we understand the passage in context, let's see how we can apply it to some modern situations concerning the teaching on the Holy Spirit. In other words, what does this teach us about the Holy Spirit and how we receive Him today?
1. The Holy Spirit is Received at Baptism
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Note that the first question asked linked together the Holy Spirit and baptism. Since they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit Paul immediately zeroed in on what he knew to be the problem, their baptism.
Note that he didn't ask them about mystical experiences or special anointing. He didn't question them about when they received the Spirit. His question went directly to the heart of the matter, what baptism did they receive? Even though there were several that existed at that time:
- The purification rights of Jews used water.
- The secret religious of the pagans in that region used a form of baptism to initiate new members.
- There was John the Baptist's baptism of repentance.
And then, of course, there was the Baptism authorized by Jesus and preached by the Apostles for the remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). It was the type of baptism they had that determined their condition as far as the Holy Spirit was concerned. This was made abundantly clean when Paul went to the trouble of re-baptizing twelve men with Jesus' baptism.
He could've said, "Well you've had the right ritual (immersion in water) and now you have the correct teaching about it (in Jesus' name for the forgiveness of sins and for the reception of the Holy Spirit)." But he didn't do this. He went to the trouble of re-baptizing them because they didn't have the Holy Spirit.
The proof is that only after he re-baptized them did he lay hands so they could received the power of the Spirit. It doesn't matter what people claim or what they say:
- They saw the Lord
- The Lord spoke to them
- They had a dream
- They were anointed at church
- They prayed to receive the Holy Spirit
- Someone laid hands on them so they could receive the Spirit
- The Spirit came to them, fell on them, filled them, slew them... whatever!
It doesn't matter what they say, what they felt, the Bible teaches in Acts 2:38 and demonstrates in Acts 19:1-7 that the Holy Spirit is only received to indwell the repentant believer at baptism, no where else.
2. There is Only One Effective Baptism
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
- Ephesians 4:5
At one time John's baptism was ordained by God and necessary for all believers to have. It was superseded however by the baptism commanded by Jesus which not only bestowed forgiveness (like John's) but also granted the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
- The mode was the same, immersion
- The response was the same, faith and obedience
- The purpose and authority however, was different:
- To signify burial and resurrection with Christ the Lord
- To infuse the believer with the Spirit of God
A parallel to this is when a foreigner has their picture taken for citizenship papers and when someone has their picture taken to receive their driver's license. The mode is the same (a photo is taken). The response is the same (go to government office in compliance with the law). But, the purpose and authority are different (one picture taking gives one the right to drive in this country; the other gives one the right to become a part of this country by changing ones status as a full citizen).
This is not a perfect analogy but it shows that similar procedures can yield vastly different results depending on the authority and purpose behind the action. Now if John's baptism can be voided and made of no value (even though at one time it was commanded by God for a specific time and purpose) image how useless the endless variety of man made religious practices can be!
My point is that if you don't receive the Holy Spirit through the once God-ordained baptism of John, then you certainly don't receive Him through:
- The sprinkling of a baby
- The sinner's prayer
- The altar call
- The laying on of hands by a Catholic bishop
- The tarrying all night long for the Spirit to come
The Bible teaches and demonstrates ever so clearly that the Holy Spirit is given when one receives the baptism of Christ. Not before and not anytime after.
A third lesson given to us by this passage:
3. Obedience Trumps Sincerity
A teaspoon full of obedience is more effective and desirable in God's eyes than an ocean of sincerity. From Adam to Saul to Esther to Mary to Paul to every Christian who has ever confessed the name of the Lord, this lesson has been hammered home time and time again.
But what about sincerity, one says? The role of sincerity is that it defines the kind of obedience. What kind? Sincere obedience? The kind that is honest, heartfelt, true, legitimate - sincere. Acts 19 is a case in point.
These men were sincere when they receive the baptism of John. They did it for God, thought sincerely that they had done what He wanted. Considered themselves disciples.
But Acts 19 shows us that they were wrong, sincere but wrong. The sincerity was commendable but obedience to the word was what brought them the Holy Spirit. Their sincerity led them to obey God's word when they understood their mistake. Some think this is a form of legalism or salvation by works. But the Bible clearly shows that God has always required that faith be expressed through obedience not sincerity or feelings. Ask Abraham, Saul, David or Jesus (He obeyed unto death!)
Summary / Invitation
This sermon has focused in large part on obedience. How obedience to God's word yields great rewards even the presence of God Himself within us through the Holy Spirit. The question as we close out the lesson as well as our day is "have you obeyed the truth?"
Never mind what you think you've done, or what others have told you, can you say in all sincerity that you have obeyed God's word when it comes to the forgiveness of sin and the reception of the Holy Spirit?
If you haven't, show the sincerity of your faith by obeying God's word today:
- To be baptized
- To be restored
- To be strengthened in faith, body or conduct