The Holy Spirit, January 10th 2021
Baptism of Christ, Epiphany Season
Paul is at the start of his third missionary journey. At the end of the previous one – about 12 months before – on his way back to his sending church of Antioch, he had visited the city of Ephesus. He debated in the synagogue. They asked him to stay: his reply ‘’I will come back if it is God’s will.’’ He left Priscilla and Aquila there and travelled back to Antioch. A year later, God’s will had been revealed, he returned to the city. Our sermon last week, and the next two weeks, remind us a little of the Christian history of that city. Peter preached on Paul’s letter to Ephesians. The next two Sundays, will focus on worship in Revelation – Ephesus is one of the 7 churches to whom the Letter of Revelation was originally sent. The roots of those communities in that city, we learn about in Acts 18 & 19.
However, the first situation Paul becomes involved in, seems to be rebaptising some believers – or is he? It says he has met some disciples. Now normally that word means they are followers of Jesus. There are some believers there when Paul arrives at the city – for Acts 18 had shared the story of a man called Apollos, who had been sent to Corinth with letters of commendation, by the brothers, the believers, in Ephesus.
Luke shares for us the dialogue with these twelve. Paul’s first question: ‘’Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? ‘’ Their answer: No we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. Paul’s second question”: Then what baptism did you receive?’’ Their answer – John’s baptism (meaning John the Baptist). Paul’s reply: John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’’
Then after they heard this – willingly we assume! – they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul laid his hands on them, praying for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit came upon them in a dramatic way – like in the times of Cornelius, Pentecost – with tongues and all of some of them prophesying.
These 12 had been evangelized. Perhaps by John the Baptist or his disciples, (we remember John had disciples, as Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother was one).
Maybe by Apollos. As we said, Apollos was in Ephesus, for several months where he preached powerfully about Jesus. But he only knew about John the Baptist’s baptism. Yet he knew much. Priscilla and Aquila, husband and wife team, shared and explained the way of God more ‘adequately’ with him. So maybe these 12 were evangelized by Apollos. But Apollos seems to have understood most of the message about Jesus. Compared to what these 12 know.
Are they Christians? From Paul’s questions. He discerns they are not. They talk about John’s Baptism. They still lived waiting for the new era to come, they did not know that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus. They are asked about the Spirit. They say they didn’t know. Perhaps they had left john the Baptist before he pointed out Jesus as the one to baptize with the Spirit. What they mean, probably, is they did not know, that the Spirit – the time for Him to be made available to all – had come. They didn’t know about Pentecost, or what had happened to the Samaritans or to Cornelius, or simply what Peter declared to thousands: ‘’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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…’’
They did not know all this. But ‘on hearing this’ they were baptized into the name of Jesus. The baptism of John wasn’t a problem – Apollos had been baptized under John’s baptism, so had most of the first apostles. They were not rebaptised. They knew who Jesus was, they had trusted in him as Lord and Saviour. Paul discerns – and the 12 realise – they may have called themselves Christians but in fact, they weren’t. They put their trust in Christ alone. They are baptized. Paul prays for them. They experience the Holy Spirit in a tangible way. An Ephesus Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit. It strikes me that the Holy Spirit remains a key theme in what Paul later writes from Prison to them 5-7 years later.
In those 6 chapters, he covers much ground. Let’s remind ourselves. A short dash!
He shares, in his early verses, how each believer is marked with the Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing their and our inheritance to come; he prays that they have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so the eyes of their hearts are enlighted, and so they will know God better, know the hope to which they are called and know the glorious inheritance ahead of them, he prays they will know, in the present, the incredible power of the Spirit – the One – who now lives within them.
He reminds them – Jew and Gentile – they have access to the Father by that one Spirit.
He prays again in the letter – Ephesians 3 – that the Spirit would be active within them strengthening them in their inner being. He reminds them in all their diversity, there is one Body and One Spirit.
He challenges them do not grieve the Holy Spirit by their thoughts, words or actions. He calls on them, as part of their daily discipleship – to be filled and to go on being filled by the Holy Spirit – something they are to ask God to do, and there will be signs / fruit of this filling in their worship, in their work relationships, in their marriages, in their relations with other believers, in their parenting.
Finally, when reminding them of the spiritual warfare all believers will face from time to time, that part of the armor of God is the Sword of the Spirit. And he says part of spiritual warfare, is praying in the Spirit on all occasions will all kinds of prayers and requests.
So this takes me back. Did you receive the Spirit when you believed? Now that is a tricky question when you think on it. What did Paul sense or discern?
I think that naturally makes me ask. At the start of 2021. What evidence, if I was asked, would people see in me, hear from me, that I have received the Spirit? What would I share?
In our email newsletter that went out this week, I shared something called the Examen. An ancient reflection. Lectio 365 team have developed into some easy words to remember:
Replay , Rejoice, Lament, Repent, Reboot.
Take Paul’s question as a serious one to you. It is easy to miss what God has been doing in you or through you in the past months. You’ve had plenty going on in your lives.
Set aside some time. Replay the past 6 months, or ideally the past year. Ask the Spirit to remind you, to show you. Think through it. What was God doing in you by his Spirit.
Rejoice. Give thanks. It is so easy to forget what the Lord has done. Yet remember to write it down how the Spirit was at work. He can be at work once again in 2021.
Lament. Notice the times of pain and suffering, difficulty. Bring that to the Lord. Yet we hold to the promise. That in times of pain, we remain sealed by the Spirit – a mark of ownership – the Lord knows who are his. In the pain we face, we continue to have always access to the Father by the One Spirit.
Repent. The times we have sinned and missed the mark. The times we gave into the sinful nature – we are walking civil wars as someone said – instead of following what the Spirit wanted. But in that repentance remember. He is present. He is working. That is why there is a struggle. Paul says in Galatians ‘the Spirit and the sinful nature are in conflict with each other.’
Finally Reboot. We commit to God the coming months. What is the Spirit saying to you – a phrase Jesus says to the Ephesians in Revelation. His Spirit is with us in this time ahead.
All those things I shared from Ephesians – those are for you to have or to grow in.
I don’t know if you are a mug collector. (show them my COSTA cup). Maybe you don’t collect them yourself, you keep being given them? We get a nice mug for Sinterklaas or Christmas. It is beautiful. Looks great. But you know it is no use empty. Only when it has something in it, does it fulfil its purpose.
Maybe you got a nice jacket or fleece for a gift. Maybe you have one – the all terrain, all weather, Arctic proof, waterproof, never needs washing fleece. It is beautiful. It is great to keep out the cold. Can you get it out? Tell it to lift up an arm! No better, tell it to sit up straight. Nothing eh? Drop it
Well I can share a secret how to get your fleece to do things for you. …
Get someone in your house to put it on and raise an arm.
The fleece is can’t do anything unless it is occupied.
To read these words from Paul – did you receive the Holy Spirit – is a striking question. It catches my eyes. It is important. The Spirit is important. He is meant to be there within us. He is meant to be active. He is such an incredible gift to us.
To be like a cup – a cup is meant to be full. That is the plan. Be filled with the Spirit keep on being filled.
The fleece. To be able to do anything. It needs to be filled. To be filled by the Spirit – to seek to become a person full of the Spirit like Stephen or Barnabas – like wind fills sails.
Luke 11 reminds us : If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’’ Jesus is not talking about how his Spirit comes to live in us when we become believers. We are asking him for more of his Spirit to work in us, through us.
Is the start of this year for you, about praying for a fresh filling of the Spirit? To make that a daily prayer through 2021?
Will it be like Acts 19? Well many times the work of the Spirit is quiet. It may be tangible the effects after you pray. Revd – now Bishop Sandy Millar – who was vicar of HTB. He recalls as a young minister when he heard some teaching on being filled with the Spirit. He kneeled in his office in his church and prayed asking God to fill him. He got up. Nothing was any different. He went home. Next day he said – as he walked to work – his heart was filled with joy and praise for the creator as he found himself singing ancient hymns as he went to work.
Gifts. What happened when Paul prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit? There were gifts of tongues and prophesy. I believe God gives charismata – gifts of grace – through his Spirit. He gives natural gifts and ones you could say are more supernatural. We see the gifts described in Romans, 1 Cor, 1 Peter, and also in Ephesians.
But Paul in one of his final letters writes to Timothy: ‘Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you, through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.’’
I wanted to simply say – to some of you. Have you been neglecting your gift or gifts through the Holy Spirit? Have you buried them down – like the servant who hid his talent. Were you hurt, it all went wrong, you were disappointed how it didn’t work out.
Maybe your prayer at the start of this year, is use the words of 2 Timothy by Paul. ‘To ask God to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands.’
For some that may be hard and
you would appreciate praying with someone.
Despite being in lockdown – our prayer ministry team are available to pray with you online. Please contact Ron Westerbeek directly. If you don’t have Ron’s number or email, let the wardens Andrew or Nienke know or myself and we will put you in contact.
Finally. Paul in Ephesus saw 12 people commit their lives to Christ.
It is possible, today, you may feel like those 12. You realize that you may be religious, you may be going to the right places or even doing the right things. But you know something is missing. I want to pray a prayer now that you might like to pray after me. If you pray it, please let someone know. You may however feel that a prayer now is not right but you need to make a step, perhaps Alpha – which we have shared about a lot here – would be a help, a way to explore faith in a safe group, listening to talks and sharing your ideas and thoughts and listening to others. Please contact me if you’d find Alpha a help – it begins tomorrow – Monday 11th – but if you can’t make it so soon, you can join the week after.
To finish with prayers.
The first prayer It’s a very simple prayer, just asking for forgiveness, turning from things that we know are wrong, thanking Jesus for dying for us, and asking his Spirit to come and live within us. The second prayer will be about the Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, he’s alive
and he’s with you right now. Shall we pray…
Lord Jesus Christ,
I’m sorry for the past. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong, thank you that you love me so much, that you came to die on the cross for me,
so that I could be forgiven, and set free.
And I give you now my life.
I ask you to come into my life by your Spirit,
to be my Saviour and my Lord. Thank you Lord Jesus.
For those desiring more of the Spirit…
Spirit of the Living God
Fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God
fall afresh on me.
Lord Jesus I thank you that you say:
‘Ask, and you will receive,’
and today I ask that you would come and fill me with your Holy Spirit.’ Amen…