Summary: Exploring the anomaly of the Ephesian disciples in Acts, who 'knew not' Jesus' Baptism, imagining being left with the baptiser's legalistic, Spiritless message today compared to the superiority of knowing Jesus and becoming his Spirit filled disciples.
What if we still only had the baptism of John: A series of anomalies. Rev'd Wendy Gravolin Jan 12th 2015.
I came across a most fascinating anomaly this week. Did you know that according to the last census there are approximately 370 "adherents" to the Anglican faith living in Winchelsea?
If you don't remember this from school an anomaly is something that is incongruent or inconsistent, a difference, variance or a glitch and this week I seem to have found several anomalies. I don't know about you but I haven't met 370 Anglicans in Winchelsea. And if you take a quick look around you they certainly don't seem to be actually adhering to anything around here. But apparently we are the largest Christian denomination in Winchelsea, which does seem to me to be a bit of an anomaly.
It also makes me wonder just what it is that these people are "adhering to" and just who are these mysterious people who call themselves Anglicans? Perhaps the adhesive with which they "adhere” has become a bit weak!
Or just exactly what is it that these cultural Anglicans adhered themselves onto? Because it seems, that they really weren't adhering themselves to Christ as one of his disciples. Surely, Jesus' true obedient disciples would commit themselves to remaining as part of his body on earth; which is the church. Now I do know a few faithful Anglicans over in the nursing home that are just too frail to be with us each week. But what a strange group these mysterious "adhering Anglicans" represent, I would love to meet and welcome them back.
It seems that Paul came across another strange group of people when he made his visit to Ephesus that we heard about in our reading from Acts 19. Paul came across a mysterious group of 12 people who called themselves disciples. But there must have been some kind of an anomaly.
Perhaps it was something in their behavior like our own non-fellowshipping 'Anglican Adherents'. There must have been something
that had alerted Paul to discern that these so called "disciples" were not really disciples of Jesus at all. And so he slips them a couple of revealing questions, we see them in verses 2 and 3. First “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered no, but not just no, they honestly tell Paul. "We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” This answer they give reveals another anomaly about this group
as their answer is totally inconsistent with belief in Christ. When Christians come to faith in Christ and are baptised. God promises to give them the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit is the mark of true faith.
And the Holy Spirit gives us our assurance of our salvation. He is what takes the words of scripture off the page and writes them in our hearts, bringing faith to life. So what has gone wrong here? You can almost hear Paul's astonishment. I imagine he might have had a quick internal conversation going something like this. ("Spirit less Disciples? It makes no sense it is nonsense! How is it possible that this group of disciples weren't given the Holy Spirit? Believers with no knowledge of Pentecost?
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church. How is that possible that they haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?")
So Paul asked the second telling question, (v3) “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Now the anomaly makes sense.
These are not Jesus' Disciples at all!
How John the Baptist's disciples ended up in Ephesus (in Turkey) we don't know. Perhaps some were forcibly moved while John was still alive
or were scattered after John was beheaded! We really don't know and probably shouldn't speculate! We know some of John's disciples, like Simon and Andrew became Jesus disciples very early in Jesus ministry (John 1:35-42). So one possibility is that these 12 devout God-fearing men are apparently genuine pre-Christian disciples of John the Baptist. Or and probably more likely their incomplete understanding might just be a consequence of Apollos' earlier misinformed teaching, that is before Priscilla and Aquila corrected him (Acts 18:24-28). What is painfully evident is that this group has a poor understanding of the gospel. So Paul goes onto teach them what they needed to know about Jesus.
Thinking about this, made me consider what we would have to offer if we still only had the message and baptism of John? See John the Baptist had a good and important ministry but his mission was to point people to Christ and prepare for his coming. John called people to repent, to change their ways, to rediscover God's values and get Israel ready for Jesus the Messiah. But even John acknowledged that he must decrease and Christ must increase. John's message was that, "The kingdom of God is near." He told people to get ready, repent & be baptised in water for the forgiveness of sins. John was the last Old Testament prophet. We know that God sent him, but his message had a definite use by date. It didn't have the power of the gospel like Jesus' ministry or even like Paul's ministry. John still preached a legalistic message you could summarize as, "Get your act together, clean yourself up, symbolically wash in this water then follow God's law and change your own life".