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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, January 13, 2021  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Acts 19:1–7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 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, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them. (NRSV)

Theologians have debated the implications of this account for centuries. Were the disciples Paul encountered “Christians” before he met them? Is this an example of re-baptism? What is the significance of Paul laying hands on the disciples? There isn’t enough space here to decipher the layers of complexity in this passage.

We aren’t told why Paul questioned the presence of the Holy Spirit in the disciples in this passage. Maybe it came up in conversation, or maybe their behavior prompted Paul’s inquiry somehow. All we know is that the apostle felt the need to expand these disciples’ understandings of what they had previously been taught through “baptism.”

I give John the benefit of the doubt, trusting that he didn’t say anything heretical when he baptized these people. But as Paul implies, John may have been cryptic with his baptism commentary, and it seems the disciples didn’t connect the dots to Jesus Christ when they were first immersed. If that is true, perhaps John’s baptism didn’t “take.” That would mean Paul was actually baptizing them for the true first time. His laying-on of hands may have simply been part of a prayer he offered in the process.

I might be wrong about all of this. Regardless, there’s a takeaway I’m more confident in. Paul wants everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that happens through belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without the connection to Jesus, rituals offer only placebo effects.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thank you also for your patience for our misunderstandings and gradual learning. Please help me extend that same grace to others while I do my best to reflect Christ today. Amen.

Written by Michael Mirza, Director of Worship

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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