Summary: A challenge to live lives in the power of the Holy Spirit
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 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.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Why did Paul ask the question that he did when he arrived in Ephesus?
Why did he say, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
What did he see in them, in their behaviour, attitude, or practice that led him to ask this very pointed question?
How did He NOT see the Holy Spirit in them?
Paul’s practice was to visit the synagogues in the towns he visited. He had been to Ephesus before, at the end of his second missionary journey on his way back to Caesarea. (Acts 18: 19ff). He had been to the synagogue and had reasoned with the Jews there. They were interested in what he had to say and wanted him to stay on with them. He couldn’t though because he had urgent business back home.
This was a return visit to people he had already met. However, before his return they had been visited by Apollos who had taught them the way of the Lord. We read in the previous chapter that 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 only knew the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:24-25)
Apollos could only teach them “so far” because that was all he knew. Some of the earliest Christian writers said that he was from Alexandria, a dynamic teacher, who had been in Israel during the ministry of John and had been converted to his teaching of repentance and the expectation of the Messiah. He had taught John’s baptism, a baptism of repentance, in Ephesus until Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul had left in the city, were able to explain to him “the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26)
These disciples knew “the stuff” but they were incomplete. There was an important ingredient missing in their life. Paul noticed that and so he asked the question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
What was missing?
According to 2 Cor 5:17, a great change takes place in the life of one who becomes a Christ follower – the text tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
But what is this change which Paul DIDN’T see in the lives of the disciples in Ephesus? He saw the old, but he didn’t see the new.
In Genesis, in the account of creation of the heavens and the earth - the formless, empty darkness was given form, fullness and light and it was the first day. So perhaps when Paul returned to Ephesus on his third missionary journey he realized that despite the outward appearance, these disciples were still not yet spiritually renewed – they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. There was no form, fullness and light for them. They had not yet entered the “new day”.