Last week we read about Apollos in Ephesus. We’re told that Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and he was able to speak with great fervour; and he was able to teach about the Lord Jesus accurately; and he was speaking boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus. But, Luke adds, he only knew about John the Baptiser’s baptism. And so, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside one day and explained to him the way of God more adequately. They could see that he was a great preacher and could be of great use in the work of spreading the gospel. So they wanted to encourage him and to guide him to a better understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. And so we were thinking about Apollos’s humility, in that he was prepared to be instructed by them. And we were thinking about the example Priscilla and Aquila have left us, in that though they perhaps couldn’t do what Apollos was able to do, and didn’t have his gifts for public preaching, nevertheless they were able to encourage Apollos to make better use of the gifts he’d been given by God.
In verse 27 we read that Apollos then went on to the region of Achaia. More specifically, we learn from verse 1 of chapter 19, he went to Corinth. And he was a great help there: look at the verse 28 where it tells us he was able to refute the Jews vigorously in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. He took them to their Bibles and showed them what the Bible said about the Lord Jesus. And there’s another example for us.
Verses 1 to 7
In verse 1 we read that while Apollos was at Corinth, the apostle Paul arrived at Ephesus. This, of course, was his second visit to this city. Back in verses 19 to 21 of chapter 18 we read how he arrived there and reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue. But though they wanted him to stay on, he felt he needed to get back to Antioch as soon as possible. But, before he left them, he promised that he would return, God willing. And now that time has arrived.
Luke tells us that he met some disciples in Ephesus. In fact, we read in verse 7 that there were 12 of them. Now this is quite a puzzling passage. You see, when we hear that these people were disciples, we tend to assume that they were disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we assume that they were believers. However, Paul clearly believes that there’s something not quite right about them. Something’s missing. And so he asked them:
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
And they answered:
No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.
Now, that’s puzzling. What sort of believers are they if they have never heard about the Holy Spirit? After all, no one can become a Christian without the help of the Holy Spirit who enables us to repent and to believe the good news. So Paul asked a follow-up question:
Then what baptism did you receive?
And they answered:
And then the penny drops for Paul and he begins to understand what’s wrong with this group of 12 men. You see, when it said in verse 1 that they were disciples, perhaps what Luke meant is that they were disciples of John the Baptiser. Either they had met John themselves whenever he was preaching around the River Jordan, or — and this is more likely — one of John’s disciples had reached them and passed on to them a version of the message that John had preached. And, of course, John’s message was that sinners needed to repent because the King was coming. They needed to repent and they needed to be baptised. And so, it seems that these 12 men had heard about John’s message, and they accepted that they needed to repent and they needed to be baptised in order to get ready for the coming King.
However, what they didn’t know is that the King had come and that the King had died to pay for our sins and had risen from the dead and now rules over all things from his throne in heaven. They didn’t see to know this, because they hadn’t been baptised into his name nor had they received his Spirit whom he sends to all his people.
One of the commentators says it’s as if were stuck in a time-warp because they didn’t know these things had happened. It reminds me of that old Laurel and Hardy film where Stan doesn’t realise that the war has been over for 20 years. And so he’s still sitting in a trench, with his uniform on, his rifle at his side, wondering why it’s been so quiet for so long. Somehow he missed the news that the war was over. And somehow these 12 men missed the news that Christ the King has come into the world, just as John the Baptiser said he would. And they missed the good news that whoever believes in him receives the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting joy.
The penny dropped for Paul. He now understands what’s wrong with this group of men. And in verse 4 he explained to them that they ought to believe in the Lord Jesus. Well, presumably Luke is only summarising all that happened when Paul met these men and all that Paul said to them. He’s only summarising what happened, because the next thing we read in verse 5 is that they’re ready to be baptised.
Now, this — I think — is the only occasion in the whole of the New Testament where we read about people being baptised twice. So, the fact that these men were baptised again suggests that the Apostle Paul must have believed that there was something irregular or unlawful about the baptism they had already received. Whatever the reason for it, Paul ensured that they were baptised now into the name of Jesus Christ.
Just a brief word about baptism. First of all, let me remind you that we believe that baptism is a sign and a seal of the good news of the gospel. As a sign, it points us to God’s promise to wash away the guilt of our sins by his Son who has died for us. Just as water washes away the dirt from our bodies, so the Lord Jesus Christ washes away our sins. And baptism points to that. Or just as we need water in order to live, so Jesus Christ gives eternal life to all who believe in him. So baptism is a sign.
It’s also a seal by which God guarantees and certifies his promises to us. So, we wonder from time to time: ‘Will God really forgive me?’ And then we remember our baptism, when God, if you like, signed his name across our head and said: ‘I promise to wash your sins away the moment you believe in my Son; and by this sacrament I swear it.’ So, baptism is a sign and a seal.
Notice, also that these 12 men were baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. And that’s important because baptism also signifies and seals our being grafted into Christ. You see, these men had come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all who believe in him are united to him through faith. That is, we’re grafted into him, the way a branch might be grafted into a vine so that the branch becomes part of the vine and the life of the vine flows into the branch. So, we’re grafted into Christ; we’re joined to him; we’re united to him through faith. And from him we receive one good thing after another, one spiritual blessing after another. And baptism into his name signifies how everyone who believes in him will be grafted into him. And so, in Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul writes that we have all been baptised into Christ and then he goes on to say that we are all one in Christ Jesus. We are all one in Christ because, through faith, we have all been joined to him.
The Holy Spirit
These 12 men have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’re now grafted into Christ through faith. The guilt of their sins has been washed away. They have new life in Christ. And so, the Apostle Paul placed his hands on them, just as Peter and John had placed their hands on the Samaritans who had believed in the Lord Jesus in Acts 8. And just as had happened before in the book of Acts, so the Holy Spirit came on these new believers in such a remarkable way that it couldn’t possibly be doubted by anyone. The Lord Jesus Christ, from his throne in heaven, was pouring his Spirit upon his people just as the prophet Joel had said he would. And even though the Holy Spirit does not manifest himself in the same way as he used to do in the days of the Apostles, still it’s true that the Holy Spirit is given to all of God’s people to enable us to repent and to believe the good news and then to sanctify us so that we’re able to love and serve the Lord more and more.
Verses 8 to 10
Let’s more on. In verse 8 we read how Paul did what he invariably did whenever he arrived at a city where there was a synagogue. He went into the synagogue and spoke to all those who had gathered there. We read here that he was able to continue his work in the synagogue for 3 months. And Luke describes his ministry in three ways, though the NIV combines two of them. So, first of all, he spoke boldly. The preacher needs courage because not everyone will believe his message and many will despise him because of his message. Secondly, he reasoned with them. The preacher addresses the head and uses arguments and reasons to convince the congregation of the truth of what he’s saying. And, thirdly, he sought to persuade them. The preacher doesn’t simply want the congregation to understand. He wants them to accept that what he’s saying about the Lord Jesus is true and he wants his audience to believe his message and to believe in the Saviour. And so, Paul spoke boldly, and he reasoned with them and he sought to persuade them.
But look now at verse 9. Some of them because obstinate. They became stubborn: We will not accept these things. We will not listen to you no matter what you say. They refused to believe and they began to malign, or to speak evil, about the Way — the Way was a way of referring to the Christian faith in those days. And they maligned Paul’s message publicly. In other words, they did it in front of everyone. They didn’t keep their feelings to themselves, but voiced them out loud in the congregation. And so, what else was Paul to do when people were perhaps heckling him and interrupting him in the synagogue? What else was he to do, but to leave?
But he didn’t go far, only next door to a place known as the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Tyrannus may have been a philosopher or teacher of some kind; and either he owned this hall or it’s where he used to teach himself. Anyway, Paul is now making use of it, using it everyday to teach the people about Jesus Christ. And he continued to do so for another 2 years. And all the people in the Roman province of Asia — both Jews and Gentiles — got to hear the word of the Lord.
Think of all those people who must have travelled to Ephesus and sat in that lecture hall in order to listen to Paul. Well, there’s something for our prayers this evening: That God will begin to draw people from around the district so that they will make their way into church on Sundays in order to hear the word of the Lord. We want to pray to God to make that happen. Or if not that, then we can pray that the Lord will open up for us another venue to which they’ll come and where we can teach them about the Saviour of the world.