Today’s reading: Acts 19:1-20
Recall that yesterday we met Apollos, who as Jewish convert, a disciple, well versed in the scripture, eloquent and fervent in the Spirit. Despite all this there we are not told that he had any success in making converts. He meets Pricilla and Aquila, who we know have been instructed by Paul. They instruct Apollos more accurately in the Gospel and Apollos is then sent out and we are told has great success in defending the faith.
Combine this with what we see immediately following in Chapter 19. It’s apparent that the writer of Acts wants to drive the point home. The fullness of Christianity comes through the Apostolic line. Here is the passage:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all.
Paul finds out that these people don’t know the Holy Spirit and that clues him in that they have not been properly baptized. This is important because it infers that the proper form of baptism is to use the formula given us by Jesus when he told the Apostles to, “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Had these people been baptized properly they would have heard the term “Holy Spirit” at their baptism.
LOOK CAREFULLY, at what is happening here on a deeper level. These people are disciples, they have faith in Jesus, but that is not good enough for Paul. He finds out that they have not been properly baptized so he immediately baptizes and then lays hands on them. Why would Paul do that if “faith alone” was enough for salvation?
But even beyond that, immediately after baptizing them he lays hands on them. He is doing exactly what Peter did when he left Jerusalem and traveled to Samaria when he learned that Phillip had made converts there. Paul is confirming them in the faith. Faith alone was enough. Faith and Baptism wasn’t enough. Paul goes for faith, baptism and confirmation immediately after meeting these disciples. These are sacraments, physical things done to manifest the faith. Since we know that Jesus came in part to fulfill the old ineffective sacrifices we can infer that all the things he gave the Apostles to do are effective. Therefore it follows that baptism and confirmation (the laying on of hands) actually convey the Holy Spirit.
And this is EXACTLY what the text tells us. We are told that this causes the Holy Spirit to come upon the converts, who then manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit. This two part process of Christian initiation helps to protect the Christian message from corruption. Converts are made through evangelization leading to Baptism, then confirmed in their understanding by a Bishop in the line of succession and sealed in the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Instead of the gospel being taught like a game of telephone, each new convert has to come back to the source (as bishop) and reaffirm their understanding of the message. Once confirmed they are given the Holy Spirit to protect the integrity of the message and empower them to go out and share it.
Next we see some extraordinary stuff at the end of Chapter 19:
And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
We have seen events like this before in the scriptures. The woman with a hemorrhage is cured by touching Jesus’ cloak. Others are cured by having Peter’s shadow fall on them. Now we find that some are cured when things Paul has worn are brought to them. How? Why?
The first clue is apparent to us from the passage itself. Is says, “And God did extraordinary miracles…” Obviously, it is not Peter and Paul who are doing things on their own. God works through his servants, no surprise there.
But think a little deeper about it. God created a material world so it must be good. God became man, a material being, so again material – “matter” must be good. Could this good matter, if it came in direct contact with the living matter of the all-powerful God of the universe not be changed? It seems as if sometimes God allows or causes the material things of the world to be affected or changed by his contact with them. Like something becoming magnetic or radioactive. Like a fingerprint of God.
That is not to say that God still isn’t actively causing the miracles through these objects but it is to suggest that God has imparted some permanency of power to selected objects. Why then does Peter’s shadow and Paul’s apron cure the sick? Because Peter and Paul are so close to Jesus that when Peter walks by it is like Christ is walking by. When Paul uses and apron it is like Christ using that apron. Later, we will read Paul say, “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” This is more than a statement by Paul about his interior feelings. Things like his apron are meant to help show us that there is a material or literal aspect to Paul’s statement as well.
Tomorrow: Acts 19:21-40