I spoke for our gathering again today based on the Revised Common Lectionary readings Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11 This is an exciting set of texts with foundational key themes: the Holy Spirit, the Word, baptism with the Spirit, discipleship, obedience - Evelyn laughed when she saw my first draft notes - you're going to cover all that in 10 minutes!
The texts are worthy of Pentecost. It is notable that they come here in the church calendar. We have just been celebrating the birth of Jesus and then we have these texts on baptism and not only baptism in water but baptism in the Spirit.
This is why Jesus came – not only to bring forgiveness of our sins but to make us part of the process with Him and the Father and the Spirit.
The Spirit was there in the beginning in Genisis 1:2, part of the creation process, in the first step of separating the light from the darkness.
John the Baptist calls the people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:4. And all the people came and confessing their sins they were baptised by him the the water of the Jordan. But John makes it clear this is not enough, this is not the end of the process, there is more to come. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)
The Three Beginnings
During the holidays I had already begun to get my thoughts together on the themes of these readings when I started reading a new book by Eugene Peterson, "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology". (I am still only in the introduction, so this is not yet a recommendation for the book!) In the introduction, by way of laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, Peterson refers to three texts, very close to those we had today.
The three texts function like a tripod, grounding every aspect of life - creation, salvation, community - in the living (breathing) God. God alive who makes alive. God the Spirit who imparts spirit. (p. 26)
We need to understand that, when we look at the physical world, things are not what they seem. It is actually the (unseen) spiritual which is the driving force.
In Genesis the Spirit of God is moving and creating. He creates everything there is. And He breathes life into the newly created living. So creation was the first beginning.
The Spirit of God is there at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. God affirms Him as his Beloved Son and the Spirit descends on Him. A second beginning. The affirmation and empowerment of Jesus at the beginning of His mission.
A lot has happened between the first and second beginnings. The beautiful creation and the open relationship between man and God have been sorely battered and scarred. The OT is a story of rebellion, war, sin and death; rebellion and sin the denial of relationship between man and God, war and death the denial of life. Nevertheless, throughout this, the coming of Christ is foreshadowed and God continues to try to reach His people and bring them back to Himself
The second beginning brings to everyone the possibility of complete salvation from sin and reconciliation with the Father.
The third text Peterson refers to is from the opening of Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came on the gathering in the upper room at Pentecost.
God breathes on a company of 120 of followers of Jesus and creates the holy community, the church. (p. 24)
Jesus had promised this shortly before His ascension:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5 NIV)
They would then have the strength and energy to continue the God-breathed creation of heaven and earth and the God-breathed baptism of Jesus. They would be His "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
The followers believed the promise and waited. Nevertheless, everyone was astonished when it happened. The miracle of language was the first thing that caught their attention, the God-originated and God-witnessing speech in at least sixteen languages coming from ordinary provincial Galileans. (p. 25)
The continuing miracle that continues to astonish is that the same breath (life) of God that created heavens and earth, that validated and blessed Jesus, is now being breathed into ordinary men and women and formed into words that continue to give witness to God's Genesis-creation and Jesus'-salvation. (pp. 25-26)
So we see in these three passages that:
God's Spirit is not marginal to the main action, it is the main action. (p. 26)
Furthermore we see the organic connection between Spirit and Word. The Spirit moves on the face of the chaotic waters and God speaks the world into existence. Jesus is baptised in the Jordan, the Spirit descends on Him and God's voice speaks the affirmation of the Son. The Spirit descends with tongues of flame on the waiting disciples and they burst out in sixteen languages and Peter stands and with great authority expounds the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the crowd.
When the Spirit is present, 'sooner or later something is said, reality is spoken into being'. (p. 26)
So, what about our text from Acts 19:1-7 this morning. There we read of another baptism with the Spirit some time after the Pentecost events of Acts 2. It is apparent that news and teaching about Jesus spread in all sorts of chaotic and fragmentary ways, just as news does today – half truths, parts of the facts, misrepresentations. At the end of Acts 18 we read about a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, he came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.
This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (NASB)
So there were lots of teaching and communication processes going on, some spreading partial information about Jesus and others with the true complete story.
And so it was that Paul arrives at Ephesus on one of his journeys and finds a community of disciples there. What is a disciple?
Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary: A disciple of Christ is one who
1 believes his doctrine,
2 rests on his sacrifice,
3 imbibes his spirit, and
4 imitates his example
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828):
One who receives instruction from another; a scholar; a learner; especially, a follower who has learned to believe in the truth of the doctrine of his teacher; an adherent in doctrine; as, the disciples of Plato; the disciples of our Savior. The disciples, The twelve disciples, the twelve selected companions of Jesus; -- also called the apostles. -- Disciples of Christ.
So Paul recognised that these people at Ephesus were disciples of Jesus, but at the same time he discerned something was missing. They had been baptised in John's water baptism for repentance from sins but they had not received the Holy Spirit - and Paul could see that. When he explained to them the difference between John's baptism and the baptism in the Spirit which Jesus had promised, they were eager for this second baptism too. As soon as Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, followed by the Word - they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
So where are we in our little group? Are we disciples (like the people at Ephesus)? Do we believe His doctrine, rest on His sacrifice, imbibe His Spirit, and imitate His example? Do we receive our instruction from Jesus as learners and followers who believe in the truth of the doctrine of our teacher and want more until we excel. And are we ready to take on the mission he assigned to us:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19 NLT)
How are we doing on discipleship? Do we see our lives in terms of being disciples - our primary goal and activity being following our Lord and teacher and living according to His teachings? I have to admit I continue to struggle with this. There are so many demands on our time in the society and way of life we have adopted. There are so many distractions demanding our attention.
How are we doing on the Holy Spirit as part of our discipleship? Do we see the work and power of the Spirit in our daily lives. God has done an amazing thing - a thing of continuing amazement - not only did He send His Son to be the sacrificial Lamb atoning for our sins - but He also called and empowered us to be part of His ongoing work of creation and salvation. As the Holy Spirit is allowed to take His place in us and as we give ourselves to allowing Him to work through us - we become members of the Body of Christ continuing the creation process.
That is endlessly amazing. I think even the angels continue to look down in amazement at what God did here.
So I leave you with two questions:
Would Paul recognise us disciples?
Would Paul need to ask us "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"