Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

     To eleven apprehensive missionaries the Lord issued a colossal assignment – make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:16-20). If that wasn’t challenging enough, at least two major obstacles stood in their way. For one, most Jews had rejected Christ and even collaborated a few weeks earlier to demand his execution. If the Lord himself couldn’t convince them, how were these far less competent evangelists expected to succeed? Secondly, the Jews stubbornly refused to have any meaningful association with non-Jews (cf. Acts 10:28), and these unassuming apostles were supposed to bring all men together into one unified body! They didn’t even have the written New Testament to substantiate the divine origin and authority of their message. Help from above was desperately needed.
     Prior to his ascension, Jesus declared: “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). This was not a universal pronouncement for all people of all time but a specific address to “the apostles whom he had chosen” (v. 2) to be fulfilled not long after it was spoken. It was a reiteration of the promise he had given them multiple times before (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-13).
     On the day of Pentecost these divinely-appointed men were together in one place and received Holy Spirit baptism just as the Lord had said (Acts 1:26; 2:1-4). This powerful event attracted a multitude of unbelieving Jews and convinced them that the message preached was from God and that Jesus was indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:5-37). About 3,000 were converted that day, and the gospel began rapidly spreading throughout the Jewish community (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; et al.). Nevertheless, the task of reaching “all nations” was far from being accomplished.
     Although the first obstacle had been overcome, the wall of prejudice and division that firmly separated the Jews and Gentiles had solidified over a period of fifteen centuries. But all that changed with the events recorded in Acts chapter 10. When Peter was finally persuaded to go to the home of a Gentile family to introduce the message of Christ to them, how could he and his companions be sure and how were they going to convince their Jewish brethren that God accepted non-Jewish people? The Lord intervened once again, and these Gentiles received the same Holy Spirit baptism that the apostles had received, confirming God’s approval (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-17). The result was that this long-standing ethnic barrier received a crushing blow and the gospel freely spread to all nations (Acts 11:18; 13:49; et al.). Obstacle number two had been removed.
     It is important to note that the apostles in Acts 2 and Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 are the only two accounts recorded in the New Testament of anyone receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was a special promise for a specific purpose for particular individuals that’s been fulfilled. Holy Spirit baptism was not intended for everyone, nor was it promised to everyone, nor is it needed by everyone. The Bible teaches that there is now only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), and it is not a promise to be fulfilled but a command to be obeyed (Acts 10:33, 48); it is not for a select few but for all penitent believers (Acts 2:37-38; 8:12); it is not a divine outpouring from heaven but an immersion in water requiring human participation (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47; 1 Peter 3:20-21).

Revised from the original version appearing in The Exhorter (April–June 1998). 

Image credit: Pentecost by El Greco,

No comments:

Post a Comment