Sermon for Sunday Evening, July 16th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 19:1-10 ESV] 1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And 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, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. 8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
There is connection between this text and the previous one we looked at last Sunday evening. We again are looking at a movement from the Baptism of John to the Baptism of Christ. In the previous section we saw that Apollos needed to be watered, to improve his knowledge of Christ and of Christians baptism, for he had only know the baptism of John. Now Paul arrives there in Ephesus, and finds “some disciples.” Apollos is said to be at Corinth when Paul passes through Ephesus, You see Paul is making good on a promise to “return to Ephesus if God wills.” God has indeed willed it to be. Now, when Paul arrives Apollos is not among the “some disciples” which are mentioned because Apollos is off in Corinth. (And this matches with the Epistle to the Corinthians where Paul later says that Apollos had watered them) But what we see is that these disciples are in the same boat Apollos was in. They need to be watered. They know only the Baptism of John. They even say they don’t know that there IS a Holy Spirit!
I. Saving Faith in the Old Testament and in the New Testament
What does that mean, that they didn’t know that there is a Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the Old Testament speak of the Holy Spirit? In the beginning the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of the deep. And in the Psalms David said to God “Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” The Holy Spirit IS present in the Old Testament. But, well, perhaps it wasn’t completely clear to these disciples that God is triune. They perhaps didn’t grasp that the Holy Spirit was a distinct person along with the Father and the Son.
So they don’t know that there is a Holy Spirit. What does this mean?
Of course they knew of the Holy Spirit as such was “an especial subject of John the Baptist’s teaching.” Rather, the literally words here are better translated “We have not even heard whether the Holy Ghost was given at the time of Baptism.”
Matthew Henry says that these disciples “professed faith in Christ as the true Messiah, but were as yet in the first and lowest form in the school of Christ, under his usher John the Baptist.“
You see, some commentators, like J. Vernon McGee says that these disciples were not saved yet because they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit. But McGee, if he follow his own logic, would, it seems, damn all of the Old Testament saints. The Old Testament saints also didn’t know of Christians Baptism.
But we believe Old Testament believers, along with those believers who were Baptized by John were indeed saved, looking forward to the coming of the messiah, believing in Him who had not yet been revealed but who had been promised.
Now it is said that these disciples hadn’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. But note, not only are they called “disciples” but they are asked “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you BELIEVED? They are believers! Believers in Christ, even if they needed to learn more of the faith.
They hadn’t heard that there is a Holy Spirit.
But they believed in Jesus Christ.
It is apparently that while they didn’t know that there was a Holy Spirit, yet even still the Holy Spirit had worked in them so that they could believe. You will recall that Jesus said to Nicodemus, “you must be born again of the Spirit.” Indeed these were believers, born again of the Spirit, but like Apollos they needed further instruction. They had the Baptism of John which called them to repentance and to believe in the one who was coming after him, but now there was the Baptism of Christ, calling them to trust in Him who is now revealed as the messiah.
Jesus Christ who was concealed in the Old Testament, is now revealed in the New Testament. Christ’s coming and the knowledge of him does not bring faith for the first time, but rather makes clear the object of faith that was previously known in types and shadows. And so the faith of the Old Testament saints was in the same Lord and messiah, but only “as through a mirror dimly.” Now they believe in the Christ who has come and is known to them.
So they are to be baptized in the Name of the Lord.
II. Baptized in the name of the Lord.
And 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, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Heretics like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals baptize not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but only “in Jesus.” And we must admit that frequently in the Scriptures, Christian baptism is “in the name of Jesus.”
Acts 2:38 has Peter saying “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…”
And in Acs 10:48 Peter again commanded the believing gentiles “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
But in the Great Commission of Matthew’s Gospel we are told to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The triune God. One name, three persons.
And so, the solution to understanding the Scriptures here, is I believe, that as Christ is the second person of the triune God, so “the baptism of Christ” is shorthand for baptism of the Triune God for as Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.”
From the earliest days of the Christian Church, baptism has been done in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is not only to keep in accord with Matthew 28:19, but also to combat the various heretics who twist the doctrine of Christ, taking away his divinity.
We are fortunate as well – and I did a study on this some years ago – that there are no variants to the text in Matthew 28:19. All known ancient copies of the Gospel say “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This was not a later addition or change, but is the very original wording of that Gospel.
So it is Trinitarian baptism that is accepted when one joins a Presbyterian church coming from another denomination. If a person has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (or, as Martin Luther argues, if they are baptized in the name of christ by a church that believes the Trinity) and by a lawfully ordained minister then they don’t need to be “re-baptized” but are to be directed to trust in the promise of God which was sealed in the baptism.
There are then two things that occur in the text following Pauls’ teaching of these disciples.
First, “when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” And second, Paul continues on preaching the synagogue persuading others that Jesus is the Christ, though some would not believe.
These themes we have taken up before. The tongues are foreign languages, the prophesying is generally the preaching of the Word of God, not of new revelations but of known truths. And the fact that Paul “wins some and looses some” in his preaching has been a theme throughout the book of Acts. God uses the preaching of his word to separate believers from unbelievers.
Is there something more for Christians? Some churches teach a “second blessing.” Looking at texts like this they’ll say “You believe in Christ, but have you received the Holy Spirit?”
They believe there are stages in the Christian life. There is the stage of belief, but then a second stage of “baptism of the Holy Spirit” whereupon greater gifts are given to a Christian.
But we know that you can only believe if you’ve been born again of the Spirit. There isn’t a YOU stage and then a HIM stage. It is all a HIM stage, all a Good stage. The Holy Spirit works faith in you, causing you to will and to work for the good pleasure of God.
It causes great trouble when Christians are divided into a hierarchy with those who have “achieved” a higher level looking down on those who “aren’t there yet.”
And then others think there are three stages, or more. And they look down on the two stage people.
You believe, and are baptized by water, and you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, but then they’ll say “do you have the baptism of fire?”
Fortunately, we know that there is one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. A Christian may very well be in a different place on the path of sanctification, but all Christians are equally Christians, simultaneous sinners and saints. Sinners by their own works, and saints by the work of God.
There is no “second blessing” for the simple reason that the first blessing is sufficient. We are complete in Christ. Yes indeed, we need to learn more, as did Apollos and as did these other disciples. There is ever more to learn from the Word of God. But even the “baby Christian” is still a Christian. And Christ even commends to us the faith of a child.
[Mat 18:3-4 ESV] 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Let us have that faith in Christ. The faith of a child, for that is saving faith, trusting in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for eternal life.
Let us pray.