New Covenant Baptism
NEW COVENANT BAPTISM (Acts 18:24-19:10)
The particular truth our text highlights is the truth about baptism. It gives us important insight into a very significant transition which was happening in the first century and it gives us an important corrective to many wrong views of the baptism in the Holy Spirit which are still prevalent today.
OLD TESTAMENT TRUTH (18:24-28)
NEW COVENANT BAPTISM (19:1-10)
Read Acts 18:18-19:10.
We are tracing the end of Paul’s second missionary journey and the beginning of his third missionary journey.
· Athens (Acts 17) – intellectual centre in Achaia
· Corinth (Acts 18) – commercial centre (18 months)
· Ephesus (Acts 19) – religious centre in Asia (2 years)
· Thessalonica/ Athens – ministry cut short
· Corinth – ministry 18 months (Acts 18:11)
· Ephesus – ministry 2 years (Acts 19:10)
· 18:21-22 Paul went to Jerusalem, reported back to Antioch, then started 3rd missionary journey going back and strengthening the churches in Galatia until came again to Ephesus. Took a year, Luke describes it in 2 verses. Clearly wants to stick with what was happening at Ephesus.
· Yes, tracing the ministry of Paul but only as much as it relates to the advance of the gospel to the Western world.
· From here the narrative will continue Westward toward Rome.
· What is becoming more and more evident is that the gospel has gone ahead of Paul, when he comes to a place, he is now finding believers, but believers who need discipleship, who need to be taught and grounded in the truth.
· The ministry of Paul is transitioning from evangelizing in the synagogues to teaching and discipling in the churches and the time he is spending in each place is becoming longer and longer.
· The list of recognized gospel ministers is expanding from Peter and the 12 to Peter and Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Priscilla and Aquilla and Apollos and by Acts 20 there is a long list of gospel ministers from churches throughout the Roman empire.
So Luke is giving us an inspired account of how the gospel was taking root in the church throughout the known world. That required the gospel to not only go out widely to all places, but to penetrate deeply in all those places. Believers not only needed to hear the gospel, but be established in that gospel. That is the theme that dominates our text this morning. How believers had to be grounded more fully in gospel truth. The particular truth our text highlights is the truth about baptism. Apollos and the disciples at Ephesus knew only the baptism of John, but they had to come to know of a more significant baptism – that of Jesus in the Holy Spirit.
So I’ve entitled this message, New Covenant Baptism. It gives us important insight into a very significant transition which was happening in the first century and it gives us an important corrective to many wrong views of the baptism in the Holy Spirit which are still prevalent today.
1: Old Testament Truth and New Covenant Baptism
1: Old Testament Truth (18:24-28)
When Paul described the factions that were developing at Corinth (in 1 Cor 1,3), it seems some were saying “I follow Paul” others “I follow Peter” others “I follow Apollos” and Paul says – what are these men, but simply servants of Christ through whom you believed. We all follow Christ, Christ is the one we are to be focussing on. That description tells us the kind of impact that Apollos had on Corinth. His name was being put up there in lights along with Peter and Paul. So this was a very gifted man, a very powerful preacher.
· He was a Jew, had Jewish background.
· He was from Alexandria. I told you a few weeks back that there were three major centres of learning in the ancient world – Athens, Alexandria, and Tarsus. Some of the greatest leaders in the early church came from Alexandria.
· So here was a gifted man, most likely a learned man. Vs 24 says he was competent in the Scriptures – he had been trained to accurately handle the Word of God.
· 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. So he knew something about Jesus being the way, the truth and the life. His knowledge went beyond what you could merely gain from studying the O.T. He had also been instructed in the way of the Lord, he had been given some Christian teaching.
· But he knew only the baptism of John.
What was John’s baptism? (Jn 1:19-34)
So to understand what is going on here, we have to know something about John. He is known as John the Baptist, not because his surname is Baptist or because he was a Baptist minister but because baptism was such a significant aspect of his ministry.
· 19-20 Who are you? I am not the Christ = the messiah, the anointed one whom God said He would send.
· 23 He is described as the forerunner, the one who would go before Jesus and help prepare the way, prepare people for the ministry of the messiah.
· John Baptized with water as an outward sign of repentance. If Gentiles wanted to convert to Judaism, they would be baptized as a public sign of their turning away from their false religion and idolatry and their turning to the true God in faith. Which is why it was called a baptism of repentance because it was the same kind of baptism the Gentiles would undergo when they turned from idolatry to worship the true God.
· So when John was asking the Jews to be baptized, he was really asking them to publicly declare that they were so sinful and so far from God and so in need of a saviour, that they were essentially like Gentiles who worshipped idols.
· The way people had to prepare their hearts for the messiah was by realizing how lost they actually were and how desperately they needed God’s grace and mercy.
· This was a major insult to the self-righteous Pharisees, which is why they didn’t want to submit to the baptism of John.
So John’s baptism indicated repentance, a humble acknowledge of one’s sin and need of salvation. And as vs 26 indicates, John’s baptism foreshadowed a much greater baptism which the Messiah himself would administer.
Then in vs 29 he began to point people to Jesus, the historical man of Nazareth as the long awaited Messiah, as the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world and the one who would baptize people in the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was external and physical, in water – the messiah’s baptism would be supernatural and internal and in the Holy Spirit.
So John was the last of the Old Testament prophets the first of the N.T prophets. He prepared people for the promised messiah who was to come and he pointed people to Jesus as that messiah. Jesus is confirmed to be God’s messiah by a voice from heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him as he is being baptized by John – showing the close link between these two.
· As John said from that point on – I must become less and He must become greater
· John’s baptism in water had to give way to the messiah’s baptism in the Spirit.
· The symbol had to give way to the reality.
· The sign of cleansing from sin had to give way to the reality of being cleansed by Jesus blood.
· Law had to give way to gospel.
· Hope in the coming messiah, had to give way to faith in the crucified messiah.
· Israel, as one nation under God, had to give way to church as every nation under God.
· The Passover lamb had to give way to the lamb of God.
· Old Covenant had to give way to New Covenant
This is the earth shattering transition that John and the first century disciples had to live through. Luke helps us see that this transition took time and during this transition period, some were caught up in a time warp as such. Luke introduces us to one of the early church’s leading preachers and teachers who was caught up in that time warp. Here was a man who was a believer under the Old Covenant and had to become a believer under the New Covenant.
Let’s have a look at Acts 18 again with this background in mind.
What Apollos didn’t know
What is it that Apollos did and didn’t know?
· He knew the Scriptures (24)
· He knew the way of the Lord (25)
· He understood and could teach others accurately concerning Jesus (25).Presumably that Jesus was the long awaited messiah. That is certainly what he was teaching in vs 28.
· But he doesn’t know about Jesus’ baptism, only John’s baptism.
· After Jesus was crucified and raised and just before He ascended into heaven he commanded his followers to make disciples of all nations by baptising them in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit and by teaching them to obey all that He had commanded.
· Clearly Apollos had not heard the end of the story…. Some scholars maintain that because he was from Alexandria which was in North Africa and a bit removed from Jerusalem, he had not heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus – but could anyone in the Roman empire not have heard about this? And could he really have been said to be accurately teaching about Jesus if that teaching didn’t include his death and resurrection?
· It’s more likely that Apollos hadn’t heard about Pentecost. About the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church to indwell all true believers.
· Christian baptism was a symbol of something totally new. No longer was it merely a sign of repentance, but of renewal and regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
· Christian baptism was into the name of the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
· The baptism of John is here being contrasted with the baptism of Jesus – one was merely into water, the other was an immersion into the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
If the point isn’t clear from the account of Apollos, it is certainly clarified by the account of the men at Ephesus.
2: NEW COVENANT BAPTISM (19:1-10)
Apollos goes off to minister at Corinth. If any church knew about the supernatural ministry of the Spirit it was Corinth. While he is there, Paul comes to Ephesus.
Bear in mind that Priscilla and Aquilla had came to Ephesus with Paul almost a year earlier and he had left them there and Apollos had ministered there alongside them before going to Corinth, so there is surely already the beginnings of a church at Ephesus. But Paul comes across some specific disciples who have also been caught up in this time warp.
There is something not quite right about the faith of these men. Notice what Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” For Paul, this was the mark of every true believer. This was the undeniable sign of genuine faith as we saw back in Acts 15. This is what lead the Jerusalem counsel to conclude that God had indeed saved the Gentiles just as He had the Jews because they had received the Spirit just as the Jews.
They clearly had not received the end of the story either because they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. They could not have been baptized as believers because every believer is baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They too had heard about Jesus through the ministry of John and had been baptized under John’s baptism. They too had an Old Covenant faith, an incomplete faith, a forward looking faith which had to give way to faith in the historical Jesus, the crucified, resurrected, ascended Jesus.
Notice vs 4 – John taught people to believe in the one who was to come after him. That one is Jesus. What John was pointing forward to, we are proclaiming to you and His name is Jesus. Now, having heard the complete gospel, they believe in Jesus and are baptized with a Christian baptism into the name of Jesus. And at the same time they receive the Holy Spirit who is the sign and seal of New Covenant faith and they give evidence of it by speaking in tongues and prophesying – very much as the Jews had on the day of Pentecost and the Samaritans had when they first received the gospel (Acts 8), and Cornelius and his household when they heard the gospel (Acts 10).
Not a second blessing
Pentecostals use this passage to support their doctrine of a second blessing, a second reception of the Holy Spirit after salvation. By their doctrine you get two classes of Christians, one class have believed in Christ and been baptized as a public testimony to their faith – but they have not received the fullness of the Spirit or the baptism of the Spirit. The second class have believed in Christ and been baptized in water and the Spirit and give evidence of this by their ability to speak in tongues and practice other supernatural gifts.
But when you understand this passage in context, you can see that it doesn’t support that doctrine at all.
· These men are called disciples, but upon closer examination it is evident that they are disciples of John and still looking forward to the messiah to come, not the crucified, resurrected Jesus.
· They hadn’t been baptized with a Christian baptism into the name of Christ
· Paul’s litmus test as to whether they were true believers or not, was simple , “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed.”
· Rather than supporting a doctrine which creates two classes of Christians, it affirms that the Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of every true believer. The New Covenant ministry of Jesus is to baptize believers into the Spirit, who transforms and renews them from within.
· The ministry of the Holy Spirit produces inner renewal and regeneration of the heart – but this renewal is visible on the outside.
· In this context it is visible by the gifts He produces, but in Galatians Paul says His ministry is visible by the fruit He produces.
Why this account?
Why does Luke include this specific account? Because he is eager to show that God was at work through the ministry of Paul as He was at work through the ministry of Peter and both these men were preaching Christ’s gospel, as Christ’s representatives. Paul is demonstrating the same kind of Apostolic authority to bestow the Spirit as Peter and the other Apostles in Acts 8 and Acts 10. He is giving us more explicit evidence that all nations are being drawn into one body by being immersed in the one Spirit. This would become the core doctrine underpinning the unity of the church
Eph 4:4 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to oe hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Is the ministry of the Spirit always accompanied by supernatural gifts and speaking in tongues? We don’t see that as a consistent pattern in the book of Acts and we don’t hear that being taught by the rest of the N.T.
Paul ask the Corinthians in 1 Cor 12, “Do all prophesy, do all speak in tongues?” Clearly expecting the answer “No.” We have different gifts, but we all enjoy the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit in order to produce the character of Christ and to be able to minister to His body.
Now we are back to the key verse in Acts – Acts 1:8. It contains Jesus promise that the power of God will come upon His church and thrust them out in ever expanding gospel witness to the ends of the world. The book of Acts is as much about the spread of the gospel, as it about the supernatural, New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Luke wants us to have confidence in the gospel by seeing that it is indeed God’s message for the salvation of everyone who believes. We see that by seeing its vast expansive impact in every place, we see it also by seeing its deep penetrative impact on every person. The gospel is transforming the world wherever it goes and transforming indvidiual hearts by the ministry of the Spirit.
What should we take home from this passage?
Again, we have to see what is illustrated here taught in the N.T.
· Rom 5:1-5 this is the evidence of God’s great love – He has poured His own love into us by the Holy Spirit.
· Rom 8:1-14 – the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit – who renews us from within into the likeness of Christ.
· 1Cor 12:12-15 – we are united in one body and given the Spirit in order to build the body up.
How do you know who a Christian is? By the ministry of the Spirit – to produce assurance of God’s love, likeness to Christ’s character and unity and service in Christ’s church.
Faith, character and community.
What does the ministry of the Spirit do? Points us to Christ and His finished work on the cross.
There are not 2 kinds of Christians, only one kind – the kind who has the supernatural power of God at work in his or her life in order to transform us within and empower us for ministry to others.
The Christian life is not about what I can do for God, but it’s all about what God has done for me in Christ.
I close with the words of Spurgeon:
The greatest, strongest, mightiest plea for the church of God in the world is the existence of the Spirit of God in its midst, and the works of the Spirit of God are the true evidences of Christianity. They say miracles are withdrawn, but the Holy Spirit is the standing miracle of the church of God to-day.