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Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Way Explained


This Sunday I have been asked to preach on The Way Explained, Acts 18:23-28 and in two weeks’ time on Receiving the Spirit, Acts 19:1-10. As I’ve read through the two readings I find, unsurprisingly, some common themes which I’ve highlighted in different colours. It's my intention to focus on the two readings each week, but focus on three different themes this week and one next time.



After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and travelled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. 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 fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.


While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’
They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’
So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’
John’s baptism,’ they replied.
Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 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.
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. 

In these two readings there are people, places and sacraments/rituals. The people are Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, all of whom we’ve met before, and Apollos, a new character, an African, who will play a huge role in the missionary effort to Europe. The places are ones we’ve visited previously with Paul, but there is one new one, Alexandria in Egypt. The ritual or sacrament common to both stories is that of Baptism; baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Today we will look briefly at the new person Apollos and the new city, Alexandria; then we will focus on the sacrament of baptism in water. Next time we will look at baptism in the Holy Spirit.


 Apollos and Alexandria:

During Priscilla and Aquila's ministry in Ephesus while Paul is in Syria, a Jewish man from Egypt named Apollos (short for Apollonius) comes and speaks in the synagogue. He is an incredibly capable speaker, but more importantly, he believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Oddly, however, he has not heard the full extent of Jesus’ teaching, and probably has not heard about Jesus’ resurrection, nor has he experienced the empowering of the Holy Spirit in his life. He most likely comes to Ephesus from Alexandria as a businessman, like many other Egyptians did at the time.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 b.c. and subsequently became the capital of Egypt and eventually eclipsed Athens as the cultural and educational center of the Greek world. Alexandria was the second largest city of the Roman empire with a population of over a half million people. Located in lower Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria’s port was the connection point for shipping between India and Rome. The enormous lighthouse (328 feet high) at the opening of Alexandria’s two artificial harbors was acclaimed by early writers as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

There was a large Jewish community in Alexandria—possibly numbering in excess of a hundred thousand—and many synagogues. It was at Alexandria where the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek forming what is called the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. This was also home for the famous Jewish writer Philo, whose writings combined Old Testament ideas with Greek philosophy and whose concept of the Logos as God's creative principle influenced early Christian thinking, particularly in John's Gospel. There is no written record recounting the story of how Christianity began in Egypt and in Alexandria. Undoubtedly it started early, perhaps shortly after Pentecost. The earliest papyrus fragments of our New Testament were discovered in Egypt.

Paul’s friends, Aquila and Priscilla, realized that Apollos’s message was incomplete, so they invited him home for further instruction. The "incompleteness" of his message is connected to his ignorance regarding baptism: 
He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
A few verses later, when Paul arrives in Ephesus, we find this recorded:
There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’
They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.


As I have said a number of times in this series already, baptism was extremely important in the early church and in these readings we can see that emphasised once again and so I have to ask again: Have you been baptised in water?; If not, why?; and secondly: Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?

This week: Water baptism, and next time, Spirit baptism.

In Romans 6:3-11 we have the clearest description of what baptism is and means:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Once again, a brief Greek lesson is essential. The word bapto from which our English word baptism is derived means: to cover completely with, or immerse in, a fluid. When you tan leather, you baptise the leather in the tanning solution. When you dye your hair, you baptise your hair in the dye solution. In Jesus time baptise and baptism were not religious words. When you baptise something, it becomes like the medium into which it is immersed, baptised. So, hair that was once brown becomes red when it is immersed/baptised in red dye. 

So, when Paul says: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus ... he is saying that our Christian baptism is into Christ ... we are saying that we want to become like Christ ... we want to be immersed into Christ. So, when we baptise in water, the water becomes the emblem (just like bread and grape juice are emblems), the water becomes the emblem of Christ. We are not baptised into water, we are baptised into Christ, and the water is symbolically for us Christ. Now hopefully the rest of what Paul says makes sense:
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Paul highlighting that going under the water signifies our death and burial with Christ and thus reminding us of our death to sin; our rising from the baptismal waters signifies our resurrection with and in Christ, which shows itself in a new life of personal holiness to the glory of God. 

Hear this good news, this gospel: Are you in Christ (born again, a Christian, saved)? If you are You are dead to sin! That is the truth ... don't let Satan tell you otherwise.

Paul puts it like this when he writes to the Ephesians: 
 put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires ... and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Here he uses the metaphor of taking off old clothes and putting on new clothes ... as we put on the new self from above, we slip out of the old self. That is what is happening in your life and mine as born again believers ... we are with varying degrees of success, which depend entirely on our walking in the Spirit (the next teaching), with varying degrees of success we are putting off the old and putting on the new. Back to our baptism in water (but into Christ), when the old self rears its ugly head ... we say to ourselves: "Hang on a moment, that is the old me, the dead me, that is buried with Christ in His tomb, which is what the waters of baptism symbolised, being buried. That's the old me ... get back into the tomb, back into the grave where you belong!"

If we remembered the meaning of our baptism ... we would sin less and become more like Jesus into whom we are baptised. Satan has very successfully turned baptism into a meaningless ritual in the life of many churches, or even worse, into a "good work", something you must do. It is neither.

Back to Apollos: He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

 The way of God is His invitation to immerse ourselves into His Son ... this might come as a surprise to you, but nowhere in Scripture are we told to invite Jesus into ourselves ... No! Jesus invites us into Himself, into His death, into His resurrection, into His life. In Him we live and move and have our being ... in Him!

Our baptism reminds us of that truth. Have you been baptised? If not, why not? Perhaps because you haven't yet been saved. If that is the case, before you leave this place, breathe an earnest prayer to God, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, I need to be saved. Save me. I call upon your name." Join with me in prayer right now, I beg you. Join with me while I put words into your mouth, and speak them on your behalf—"Lord, I am guilty. I deserve your rejection. Lord, I cannot save myself … I throw myself completely upon you and into, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of Jesus; I trust your mercy, and your love, and your power, as they are revealed in Him. I take hold of this word of yours, that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Lord, save me tonight, for Jesus' sake. Amen."
(This last prayer is adapted from the words with which Charles Spurgeon
 concluded every sermon, accessed here)

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