First Sunday After Epiphany 2019 – Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle Passage – Naming gifts and blessings that are bestowed by the Lord God the Divine

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

It seems like a straightforward passage. The people who were preached to in Samaria believed and professed faith in Jesus the Messiah. In order to assure them of full faith that would not be shaken, Peter and John when down (Samaria being south of Jerusalem) to pray with them and lay hands on them. But what does it mean to “receive the Holy Spirit” as opposed to being baptized in “the name of Lord Jesus.” All Christian believers at some point are baptized as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (as opposed to the apostle/disciple John). My favorite biblical commentator Albert Barnes says it was not conversion because this happened upon profession of belief. It was not sanctification because (he says) this is progressive work. It was not then salvation, redemption, or forgiveness of sin. Or a changing in the way one lives their life. Barnes says it was “those “extraordinary” influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel – the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc.” In other words, it was something outside of what most of us experience in our Christian faith. Or is it?

In the New Testament people saw evidence of the Holy Spirit by “signs and wonders” that were tangible – speaking in a language that was not known by others, someone getting better/healthier/healed when traditional understanding said they should still be sick, or other anomalies to ordinary life. As Christian faith progressed (or became the experience of a larger part of the population) this understanding changed. It came to be more inner signs than outer manifestations. Think Desert Fathers/Mothers who lived different lives apart from settled areas; people who exhibited extraordinary faith and compassion; people who gave up comfort and wealth for service to others. We all can probably think of believers in our faith circle who just seem to live an authentic Christian life, and whose faith seems to never be shaken. This too is the baptism of the Holy Spirit – biblical commentator Barnes notwithstanding.

You, beloved reader, may have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. It is an inner realization. And if you do not think you have, pray that you might be. And then see what new blessings arise in your life! Selah!

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