This chapter gives us some scriptural evidence for the first re-baptisms within the Christian church. Some believers actually went down into the waters of baptism and were immersed. We might say, however, that they “only got wet.”
They weren’t baptized in the name of Jesus. No, they were immersed according to the baptism of John the Baptist. Something was missing.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
“No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
Something was missing.
It seems likely these were Jewish converts to Christianity who were evangelized by Apollos. We know Apollos taught boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus. We also know Apollos originally knew only the baptism of John the Baptist. He apparently didn’t know about baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, Apollos was corrected in his teaching by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26).
But in some of his early teaching in Ephesus, something was missing. And these believers whom Paul encountered likely showed the remnants of these missing pieces.
“Into what then were you baptized?”
“Into John’s baptism.”
Something was missing.
I was at the store the other day with one of my daughters and one of her friends. We were going in to buy some snacks for a sleepover they were having that night. We started walking in when I remembered – we needed masks.
Fortunately, I am now in the habit of carrying a dirty, worn-out mask in my pocket. So I put it on. The girls had nothing. So, they did what enterprising teenagers do. They pulled their shirts over their faces and plunged into the store. Nothing was going to keep them from their gummy bears and frozen cheese pizzas!
Of course, the clerk took notice as they moved through the self-checkout lane. He didn’t turn a blind eye to their unorthodox face-coverings – that is, to their t-shirts pulled up over their noses. He turned to me – “They should be wearing masks. It’s the city’s rules.”
All I could do was shrug. “Kids will be kids,” I said.
It was as obvious to the apostle Paul as it was to that clerk that something was missing. Something was out of place. These particular “disciples” in Ephesus were different than the disciples elsewhere. Something was missing from their lives.
There is plenty to be said about John’s baptism. It was hugely significant in the path of salvation history but the story didn’t stop with John’s baptism.
Jesus’ own baptism by John marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 3:21-23; Acts 1:21-22). John’s baptism was a baptism for the repentance of sins, specifically for people of the Jewish nation but not necessarily for the Gentiles (Acts 13:24). The baptism of John also marked the end of the season of the Law and the Prophets, and it marked the beginning of the era of the New Covenant (Luke 16:16). And the baptism of John foreshadowed the Spirit baptism that came through Jesus Christ (Acts 1:5).
And to be baptized into John’s baptism – only – left something out.
In our walk of faith with God, we sometimes leave things out. Sometimes, indeed, we leave out the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we leave out our unreserved trust in God. Sometimes, we leave out portions of God’s Holy Word that we just can’t get on board with. Sometimes, we leave out the concept of obedience and submission to Christ. And sometimes – like these believers in Ephesus – it is Jesus himself who we leave out.
They were then baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
As I read this text, I was struck by the re-affirmation of the centrality of Jesus. It is ALL about him.
Apollos had come and likely told them to believe in Jesus – “And be sure to get John’s baptism of repentance. That’s important, too.” But it’s all about Jesus. His baptism is the one we seek. His baptism is for Jews and Gentiles – anyone who would come (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38-39). His baptism is not only by water but by the power of the Holy Spirit. His baptism has transformative power.
And I think about things that go missing in my life from time to time. And I think about the things I lack sometimes. I think about the peace that surpasses all understanding that sometimes you just are not going to see sometimes in me. And I think about the total surrender – the giving up of all efforts to save myself – that sometimes slips through my grasp as I unconsciously try to earn my way into God’s good graces. And I think about the times that I simply don’t listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, preferring the sound of my own voice instead.
In my own life – and perhaps in yours, too – things sometimes go missing.
This is why we gather. We gather to hear again the Word of God. We gather to see again the body of Christ in the flesh. We gather to take the bread and the cup again and to witness again the devotion of the church to its collective memory of the cross and resurrection.
We gather to see whether someone will ask us, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” We gather to affirm and to assess and to seek the will of God.
A question for your day: What might be missing from your life of faith today – or from the life of the church? Pray about these things.