Did You Receive The Holy Spirit
Key Verse: 19:5
“On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Look at 18:24-25. It’s describing Apollos. “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” In other words, although he had a good knowledge of the Bible, and had been acquainted with the way of the Lord Jesus, and taught about him accurately, and with a passion, there was something terribly wrong with his understanding of the way of life, and the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The core— the heartbeat— of the gospel was missing from his knowledge and understanding of the Lord. To be more specific, we’re told that “he knew only the baptism of John”. What that means is that his knowledge of the Lord Jesus was limited to John the Baptist’s teaching, which heralded the coming of the Christ and prepared the way for people to receive the Christ by calling them to repent of their sins. John had also testified that the Christ had come as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Therefore, Apollos’ understanding of the gospel of Christ couldn’t have gone any further than that, and neither could his teaching, that is, what he himself taught others. He only knew the repentance which John taught as a prerequisite to making the way for the Lord into one’s heart and life. But he knew nothing of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Christ. And certainly, he didn’t know what they meant— that they give hope and life to anyone who trusts Christ by faith. But look at him. He was going around from synagogue to synagogue teaching something about Jesus and with confidence and gusto!
But what was his teaching? He was teaching about Jesus the Messiah, probably calling people to make way for him in their hearts through sincere repentance. He wanted them to be ready to welcome Jesus, although he had no idea when or how it would happen. Actually, he had no idea what he was talking about. But if you’d look at 18:26, by God’s grace, a couple there, Priscilla and Aquila heard him speaking and realized that he was sincere and passionate about the Lord. They also realized how deficient he is in his understanding of the Lord and of his gospel. So they took him home with them, and mentored him in the gospel way until his eyes were opened and his heart was full of the truth of God. Now there’s something beautiful about this story. This couple seem to the pioneers of the house church, opening their home to study the Bible with God’s flock and raising them up to be the shepherds, and Bible teachers and, in Apollos’ case, even the missionaries of the world. If you’d look at 18:27, it seems Apollos desired to take the gospel to Achaia, and so he was sent out with a blessing, and as Luke puts it, “He was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” Now these words are very significant!
Before meeting Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos knew nothing of the Lord’s grace. He lived in the Old Covenant where John preached repentance for sins committed against God and his holy Law. He lived in a world where guilt and shame and a fear of God’s punishment were very much part of a holy man’s life. He lived in a world where sacrifices needed to be made alongside repentance for every sin a man or woman committed before God. It was a life lived in the strictness of the Law in a world empty of the joys of life. But after hearing the gospel of God’s grace; after hearing how the Lord Jesus— the long awaited Messiah— came to save Israel, not from the Romans but from their own sins; how he sacrificed his life on the cross for everyone, especially for Apollos’ sins, replacing all sacrifices once for all; and how he rose from the dead to bring him new life and to make him a new man in Christ, a man like Christ; and how he sends the Holy Spirit upon his declaration of faith; It was then that Apollos’ heart could fully understand the depth of this gift of grace and rejoice in it. Of course, Apollos still preached repentance, because repentance is a way of life for the children of God. But now “He was a great help to those who by grace had believed,” for he could more fully help them embrace appreciate the gift of God’s grace, rather than abuse it as so often so many do!
Apollos may have been very sincere and passionate in his early understanding and knowledge of the Lord and his gospel, which were clearly insufficient and faulty at the core. But that certainly doesn’t excuse the terrible influence a charismatic man like him would have on others! People like him have no idea how much damage they can do in the world. Look now our passage for today, particularly 19:1-7. Let’s read those verses. We are not sure how all this happened, but it was likely either the work of Apollos or the fruit of his labor. Before we get any further into the story, let’s get something straight. It looks like twelve men had become disciples! (7) We aren’t sure what sort of disciples they were, but clearly they had a Christian view, otherwise the author Luke wouldn’t have labeled them disciples. They were also believers. In some way, or on some level, they believed in the Lord Jesus, otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have acknowledged that they had actually believed. So how they had come to be believing disciples, and yet utterly ignorant of the Holy Spirit, and acquainted only with the baptism of John the Baptist, is a mystery. But it strongly points to the influence of Apollos who had been preaching in these parts before he was re-educated and went out as a missionary to Achaia, as we saw in the last chapter. It’s truly alarming that twelve men, who were believers, who were also disciples, were in such disarray and confusion when it came to the gospel of God’s grace. And they probably weren’t the only ones. They loved Jesus. They believed in him. They followed him. But they neither had life in them nor could they give life to anyone. Like Apollos, they too needed instruction to bring their deficient knowledge up to par with the truth of God. They needed someone to help them understand the gospel of God’s grace. They needed to channel their faith into Christ and the gospel of his death and his resurrection.
And once again, in his amazing grace, God opens a door for them to cross over from death to life. Look at verses 1-2. After Apollos’ departure Paul finds them in Ephesus and asks them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” What a question! Most people don’t know this truth— that genuine faith in Christ brings about the receiving of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart and upon one’s life. The Bible teaching is clear that when a person believes in Christ Jesus, he or she receives the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) But the truth is that this faith in Christ Jesus has a Biblical foundation, in other words, it is rooted and founded on certain truths regarding Christ Jesus. (Acts 2:16-40) It isn’t a vague sort of faith that can be claimed by anyone who decides to believe based on their own ideas, or their own understanding or in an emotional whim. Rather it’s a faith based on who the Biblical Christ is and what the Biblical Christ has done. He is the promised Messiah, and the Son of God, the King Triumphant who sits on his throne at the right hand of God. He came as the Lamb of God and our good Shepherd who’s given his life on the cross and shed his holy blood to forgive our sins and to save us from eternal condemnation. He has risen from the dead to give those who trust in him a new life and power to serve his glory. Certainly there’s a solid foundation to the kind of faith which brings about forgiveness and salvation and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. When Paul saw these believing disciples, he recognized their enthusiasm for the Christian ideal. He recognized a zeal for Christ, but a zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2). Yet Paul detected no Holy Spirit of God in them. He sensed no life of God there. He saw no evidence of genuine faith. They were like many who claim to be believers, believe in their own way and, and even go as far as claim to be disciples, while their lives show no evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” It wasn’t an inquiry, for he already knew. Actually, it was a leading question. How then did they answer?
“They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’” Apparently they had no clue about the Trinity, nor of the Lord Jesus’ teachings about the Holy Spirit. If they were Jews, they would have known that Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Holy God. They may not have known that the Holy Spirit is a Person apart from the Father and the Son, but as Jews they would have known the Holy Spirit whose presence in the Old Testament is evident and is ever active in God’s history. It was by the Holy Spirit that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus conceived him. When Mary asked the angel how a virgin like herself could possibly become pregnant having known no man, the angel said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of The Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Indeed the Jews knew well about the Holy Spirit who had served God’s purpose throughout history. But these twelve men were not Jews. And whoever instructed them regarding the Lord Jesus had not passed down to them the Lord’s own teaching regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t fail to mention the Holy Spirit, but on the night before his death, he thoroughly equipped his disciples with an extensive teaching about the Holy Spirit. (John 14-16) Then before his ascension, Jesus said to them: “Wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about” “John baptized with water…. But … you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,5,8) Jesus had taught about the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit was the gift to be given to every believer upon Jesus’ victory. This gift is not a mere chapter in a large book of theology. It is a life and death essential matter of faith. The Holy Spirit had been withheld from this world and its people ever since man was cast out of the Garden. No human beings— save for a handful of elect people— received the Holy Spirit into their hearts and lives. That presence of the Holy Spirit was the very presence of God in one’s heart and life. And God withheld this until the sin problem was solved. Not until Jesus defeated sin through his cross and ascended to heaven, would God once again gift people with his presence in their hearts and lives. So only those with faith in Christ, whose sins have been washed, whose lives have been surrendered to the Lord are thus gifted with the Holy Spirit— the presence of God— in their hearts. It takes faith in the Lord Jesus! And that faith is often steeped in repentance for sins which brings about his forgiveness and the coming of the Holy Spirit to live within our hearts and to oversee our lives. “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” filled Paul’s heart with the grace to lead them to genuine faith in Christ— to salvation faith and to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts.
Look at verses 3-4. “So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’” In other words, if they were somewhat disciples and somewhat beleivers, then they must have undergone some kind of baptism of sorts, for that might have well been the mark of discipleship back then. And so they quickly answered: “‘John’s baptism,’ they replied.” They’d been in the same place as Apollos then, only worse, for Apollos being a Jew knew about the Holy Spirit at least. They’d known only John’s baptism. And Paul immediately explains it. He says: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” Paul is right. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Yet it was a baptism of repentance nonetheless and nothing more! It was for the forgiveness of sins but it didn’t bring about any forgiveness. Why? Because it was symbolic and nothing more. It was done with water. It was simply a washing of outward dirt and symbolic of the washing of the inner dirt of sin that stains the soul. And while water can wash away the outward dirt of the body, neither John, nor anyone else could wash away the sin that stains the soul on the inside! John simply called people to repent of that inner stain of sin; he symbolically washed them with water as a sign of their genuine desire to be cleansed inwardly; and he told them to look to the one who was coming— the only one who could do what no other could ever do. John never failed to teach people to believe in Jesus and to put their faith in him. John was speaking through the Holy Spirit when he said of Jesus: “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.” “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 1:34; 3:35-36) John clearly taught people to believe in Jesus. Why? Because no matter how much a person genuinely repents, unless their faith in Christ Jesus is personal, no life is given and there is no new birth and no coming of the Holy Spirit.
Paul acknowledged that these men had undergone John’s baptism, that is a baptism of repentance. In other words, they had genuinely repented for their sins. Paul also acknowledged that they did believe in Jesus according to John’s instructions. But it seems that their faith in Jesus was not sufficient. They believed in Jesus but not in the crucified resurrected ascended Jesus whose kingdom is eternal. They may have known and believed in Jesus, but they needed personal faith in him. In other words, they needed to believe what Christ had done for each of them personally. That is what personal faith is. Believing the Lord’s sacrifice, the shedding of his blood for my sins, his death in my place of punishment, his resurrection as my deliverance from the grip of death, and his ascension as my inheritance as ruling prince and princess beside him in his kingdom. Personal faith begins when I realize that Christ died for me. Most Christians understand that Christ died for us, for the world, for sin. But many do not understand the personal aspect of Christ dying for me, that if he had not died for me, I would have never been able to escape God’s judgment nor enter in God’s glory. I’m not sure what these twelve men’s real situation was like, but surely they had no clear faith in Christ, the personal Christ. So they did not have the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit, they had no life within their soul. They were disciples and believers and may have remained so all their lives, and they still would have ended up tragically condemned because unless the sin in my heart and yours is atoned for, neither you nor I can ever hope to make it into the glory of God’s heaven.
Look at verse 5. “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” What happened here? They confessed faith in Christ, and were added to the family of believers— to the body of Christ. They were now united with Christ in his death and resurrection through their personal faith in him and baptism into his name to whom they had become devoted. (Romans 6:5; 10:9-10; Matthew 28:19) These twelve men were Gentiles, twelve eager men, and ready to hear and to embrace the gospel of God’s grace. Look at verses 6-7. “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.” This incident mimics earlier but unique incidents when the apostles laid hands on those who confessed faith in Christ and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:17). These twelve men most likely became the core of the Ephesian church eldership and Paul’s intimate coworkers. He trained them as disciples of the Lord, and perhaps some of them even went out as missionaries. Perhaps this is so because they were all gifted with tongues (or as the original text attests— the gift of “other languages”). What are foreign tongues or other languages gifted by the Lord for except for communicating the gospel to foreign peoples of other languages? May the Lord raise many shepherds and Bible teachers and missionaries among us with a gift for languages so that our ministry may be a world mission center for the raising and sending of missionaries into the world. (Acts 1:8)
The Lord in his mercy sent Paul to teach them the true gospel, so that they may not perish in their ignorance. All their believing in Jesus and being his disciples didn’t count for anything if they didn’t have the right faith and the personal relationship with him. All their good intentions and their zeal and passion, even their labor for him was useless, if they did not know Christ personally and serve him according to God’s will. But God is merciful, and he sent Paul to them at the right time to instruct them in the faith. Some people never appreciate those whom God sends them to serve them with the gospel of truth. Their pride blinds them to think they are invincible and the devil leads them astray into dark places where the ego feels secure in its own knowledge and wisdom. But for those who humble themselves before the Lord, who know the value of instruction, like these twelve men, they did not scorn godly instruction. Rather they listened with their hearts and humbly received the word of God. They then saw and met the Lord of their salvation and surrendered their lives to him. And the Holy Spirit came upon them as promised to bless and lead their lives. It’s what God wants to do with everyone, and not only with these twelve men. How do we know this? Listen to what Jesus once said: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
These two stories about the absence of the Holy Spirit in believing people’s hearts that we saw today are serious enough to make us take a closer look at them. God wants to give his people the Holy Spirit, but his people need believe the gospel of his Son Jesus, not any gospel, or some gospel, or a made up gospel, or self made gospel, or a nice sounding gospel, or a religious gospel, or any such gospel. He wants us to believe the gospel he himself has given us, beginning with the Scripture, and the birth of his Son, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection and ascension and unto his second coming. That too is part of the gospel of our salvation. It’s our hope, our only hope in a world like ours. The Holy Spirit comes on those whose personal faith is in the Christ of this gospel. And He blesses them with God’s presence. May God bless you.