Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts.
Once again, “religion” has made the news. Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you by now know the name of Barack Obama’s former pastor, know the controversial things he said, know the reaction that those words have received. “Religion” makes the news all the time, whether it involves Islamic jihad and the terror that it brings to the lives of innocent people, or whether it’s the latest political pronouncement from James Dobson or Pat Robertson, or whether it’s a former preacher running for president, or whether it’s controversies over churches ordaining or “marrying” homosexuals. At least three editorials in the AJC over the past several weeks have addressed the fact that some Southern Baptists have issued a paper on climate change and environmental concerns, and readers this time of year, when the Georgia legislature is in session, get up in arms regarding whether we ought to allow alcohol sales on Sunday or not. I have an opinion there, and some of you probably wouldn’t agree with it, so I’ll forego sharing it here…but the point is that “faith” is a regular topic of discussion in our society.
And that’s as it should be, don’t you think? For evangelical followers of Jesus Christ, we place our faith squarely at the center of our lives. We prioritize our budgets around spending our money in ways that honor God, including giving away a reasonably large proportion of that money to the work of the ministry. We prioritize our time in such a way as to attend church and Bible studies. We prioritize our talents in such a way as to serve others with them. Jesus, for the Christian, isn’t a spare tire we pull out and run for awhile when life gives us a flat. He isn’t merely a passenger in the car, and He isn’t “co-pilot” if we are serious about Him. No, hop over, Jesus wants to drive! And if we are obedient to the Bible, we let Him! Faith is an important topic, and rightly so.
But just as “everybody talkin’ ‘bout Heaven ain’t a-goin’ there”, and just as everybody talking about the Lord doesn’t know Him, so it’s true that just because someone says, “I have faith”, that doesn’t make it so. The fact is, as today’s text will show, without adequate truth, we cannot have adequate faith. Let’s read the text!
3 weeks is a long time to remember, but if you can think back that far, remember that we met a man named Apollos, who is mentioned again here in passing. Apollos, if you remember, was a great guy, a terrific orator with a sincere heart and a lot of learning. But the problem that Apollos had was that he had an incomplete grasp on the gospel; he was zealous to proclaim what he knew, but he didn’t know enough! Chances are that, when a wonderful couple named Aquila and Priscilla met him, he didn’t even understand enough of the gospel message to himself be considered a Christian. They, of course, took him aside and explained more fully the message of salvation in Christ, and this talented young man became a tremendous witness of the gospel.
What he knew was the “baptism of John”. This is the link with today’s passage, for we come across some other people who are in this same predicament.
This is an unusual passage, one that has been the subject of much debate, because it presents a pretty unusual scenario to us. The controversies surrounding this passage include the question of whether the twelve men of which we read were truly born again followers of Christ, or were instead deficient enough in their understanding of the gospel that their belief, like that of Apollos earlier, could not be considered saving faith. I will take that latter position in this message.
This is a good point to remember something I said a lot early on in this study, and that’s this: history (as is the book of Acts) needs to be read as being descriptive, rather than being necessarily prescriptive. History describes what happened, rather than necessarily prescribing the way things ought to work in the future. Acts must be read descriptively, because we’ll get into a mess if we attempt to take all of the unusual ways that the Spirit works in Acts, smuggle them into the 21st century, and say, “since God acted this way then, He will act the same way now.” He may, or He may not, but we should not make the mistake of reading Acts through the wrong lens; today’s text calls for that warning. First,
I. Paul comes to Ephesus
Paul is on his third and final missions trip, and this passage finds him in Ephesus, visiting a city that he’d previously been in briefly, one which had responded quite well to the gospel message. He ended up spending about 3 years in this city (ca. AD 53-56), and yet Luke chooses to record little of his ministry there.