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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Baptism of the Lord: The Epistle & the Gospel Passages

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ “ (Acts 19:1-2)

We are fasting forwarding into Jesus’ adult life, and his being called into ministry. Of course. Jesus was always destined for ministry, as many other people are. For Jesus was not so much his being ready for ministry, but the time being right for him to announce more fully who he was and what he was called to. So Sunday January 11th is the Sunday which this movement is celebrated. But it is not just Jesus’ baptism (which we will read about further down the page) but our baptism. Baptism can be of several parts and stages. Paul, having been fully baptized in the Lord is inquiring of the people in front of him what sort of baptism they had. Let us rejoin the conversation.

Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 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, in Jesus.’ “ (Acts 19:3-4)

They had received what we would call an initial/outward baptism ushering them into believing in God and Christ, but not fully into communion with God in an intimate nature. Because John was baptizing in advance of Christ and with water, theirs was not as intense as baptism might be.

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.” (Acts 19:5-7)

Not everyone has this type of baptism, that is baptism that results in prophesy and speaking in tongues. Even those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord might not prophesy or speak in tongues. Coincidentally, I was thinking about this the other day, that when I was a younger Christian I have dared to speak prophesies out loud. But now I am more cautious. But the prophesying these people in Acts did might just be testifying to their new experience of the relationship to God. Sometimes the word “prophesy” means simply speaking about what one is experiencing as opposed to telling or foretelling of future events. But let us turn to Jesus’ baptism.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:4-6)

John was unusual to say the lest. But he had devoted his life to being what God called him to be. His birth also came about as a result of divine intervention. So he was touched by God from early on in his life. Other prophets had spoken of repentance and returning to God, how to live a sinless life, and what constituted sin. But John was a little bit different and more, because his ministry was to announce the coming of Christ.

He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 1:7-8)

Here we have an explanation of what the disciples that Paul encountered were missing and why. According to the passage in Acts, it was when Paul invoked the name of Jesus Christ that the blessing of the Holy Spirit came upon them.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:9-11)

Note, beloved reader, that the Spirit in the form of a dove did not baptism Jesus with the Spirit, but confirmed who Jesus was.

So let us sum up what we have here. While confessing and professing faith in God is good, and joining with other believers is good, it is not all that there is. There is the bestowing spiritual baptism that only comes the holy blessing of God and the Lord Jesus. Why is that important? Because, if and when we return to God to renew and recommit ourselves to faith, there is the potential of a deepening of our relationship and baptism in God.

May you beloved reader seek to know ever deeper and more intimately our Lord God. Selah!