4/19 Devotion

The Way of God

Beloved, we enter this post-Easter period together having just completed a trying Lenten journey and celebration of Easter Sunday. As we talked about last Sunday Easter means “dawn”. The start of something new, Christ’s resurrection ushers in new creation and a new life. This new life has come to be known as Christianity over the years but for the early followers it was known as “The Way”. A new path to be journeyed, guided by God the Spirit (my preferred language for The Holy Spirit), the followers of The Way lived a life under the Lordship of Jesus. With this in mind Beloved, we are going to study together what life under the Lordship of Jesus looks like for us today. The goal is to prayerfully and communally discern how we might live into what Jesus as Lord is already doing. Rather than seeking to apply His teachings to our lives, how we best see fit (effectively making us the “Lord” or one in charge.)

Small Group Question: How do you see the interaction between yourself, your biblical studies, your church, God the Spirit, Jesus, and the world around you? What role does each part play?

                Our main biblical tool in this endeavor will be the book of Ephesians, which we will start an in-depth study of starting in May. For the next two weeks, we will look at Acts 18 & 19 for the background story of the Apostle Paul and the church in Ephesus. This is where our new study begins at the tail end of chapter 18 Paul relocates his ministry to Ephesus after spending a long while in Corinth. Our passage for today is the interaction between Paul’s ministry and travel companions Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos of Alexandria. We will also look at Paul’s arrival in Ephesus. Please read Acts 18:24-9:10 in your bible.

                In this passage, we are introduced to a man named Apollos. We are told he is from Alexandria, is educated, knows scripture well and speaks with fervor. Though he only knows the baptism of John, this is important. Often, we find Paul entering a new city by means of their Synagogue and in many cases founding the local church. However, here as Paul’s associates go ahead of him to Ephesus there is already someone proclaiming Christ in the Synagogue and a community that believes Jesus to be the Messiah. This is because Apollos, the articulate ethnically Jewish Egyptian leader is there proclaiming a message of repentance for Jesus the Messiah has come. Apollos is said to only know the baptism of John because he is a student of the forerunner movement to Christ’s earthly ministry led by John the Baptist.

                The influence of John the Baptist is misunderstood by many Christians because the New Testament is not about him, his story is not the focus. But we know from other texts that John’s message spread far and wide. In fact, many theologians believe that Andrew, Peter, James, and John were disciples of John the Baptist before becoming disciples of Jesus (John 1:35-41). John’s message was particularly popular with the Egyptian Jewish community. At this time in human history, Alexandria was an epicenter for learning, trade, and industry. Known for its famous library, Alexandria produced many great thinkers and philosophers. This is the environment that Apollos comes out of, likely from a wealthy family because of his level of education, the smooth-talking Apollos lands in Ephesus and teaches with passion and charisma.

                But he needs correction and Paul’s associate Priscilla was there to instruct him. Verse 26 tells us that Priscilla and Aquilla (Priscilla listed first likely because she was the main teacher) explained to Apollos “The Way of God” more adequately. Apollos had been teaching and baptizing in the tradition of John, meaning that the baptism was a purifying ritual and the message was one of repentance in preparation. He taught Jesus as messiah but there was no new life, there was no new reality he and his community were still in a hold patterning. Preparing themselves for Jesus. William Willimon compares the two as follows “John the Baptist invited us to come, be washed, sign on with the kingdom. Jesus’ invitation was even more radical. Come, wade into the sea, die, be drowned, and re-created, be those who break bread in the middle of the storm.”

Small Group Questions: Have you been baptized? If so when and why did you? At the time of your baptism was your understanding of baptism closer to Willimon’s definition of John’s or Jesus’?

                Scripture implies Apollos took the correction well. He goes on to be of great use to The Way in various cities, using his education and public speaking skills to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. As Apollos is in Corinth, where Paul, Priscilla, and Aquilla had previously been, Paul finally arrives in Ephesus. His first order of business was baptism, likely after discussing John the Baptist/Apollos' influence on the community with Priscilla and Aquilla. He asks the believers there if they received The Holy Spirit (God the Spirit) when they believed? There answer is not only no, but we have no idea what you’re talking about? Paul explains that John was a forerunner, one who was meant to come before and make a way for the messiah. The messiah who followed is Jesus and upon hearing this the believers who were waiting in preparation for Jesus, received baptism in His name and importantly they received the Holy Spirit (God the Spirit). This is the fourth instance in the book of Acts of baptism in Jesus’ name being connected with an indwelling of God the Spirit. (Peter’s speech, Acts 2:38, The Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:14-16 and Cornelius, Acts 10:48)

                Beloved this is important to our understanding of Salvation and New Life. Many of the things we do are acts of preparation. We study our bible, we attend small groups and Sunday school, listen to sermons, we take in information. These things are all good and right things to do. However, if they are just an endless loop of preparation and information gathering then they do not lead to new life. If our practices like Lent are merely repentance rituals like the baptism in John the Baptist and they don’t lead to following where God is already at work then they are not in line with The Way of God. We are not a people cleansed and now waiting. We are a people who have died and been given new life. Redeemed to right standing with God, but also made fit to serve where God leads. Empowered by God the Spirit and under the leadership and Lordship of Jesus.

                 Paul asks the followers in Ephesus what did you receive when you were baptized? Or in other words what’s the point of your baptism? Bill Shiell, the President of Northern Seminary answers this question and this passage as follows: “The point of your baptism is to give you a very visual, tangible picture that you hold the rest of your life. It is like the uniform you wear that says. ‘I am totally and completely submerged under the story of Christ’s work in this world.’ It’s confirmed because the Holy Spirit has taken my brokenness and given me something that is to be shared with the church and the world. We ask ourselves, “Where is God’s work and where can I share this gift?” It is simple, but it’s also radical.”

Small Group Questions: Where is God at work around you? How can you participate in what He’s already doing? (I don’t know right now is a valid answer) How did you come to your answer?

                So Beloved today I ask you, what’s the point of your baptism? Is it in line with The Way of God? Or in other words, are you living into new life and the lordship of Jesus? It is easy for us to default into a mindset of Apollos. We have repented, we have been cleansed and now we’re just waiting for something to happen. Until it does, some of us might fire up and argue with others that they need the cleansing we have and quickly because time is of the essence. But most of us will just keep preparing like our call is to be pious doom day preppers. But we have been given a beautiful gift, God is with us, and He is also Lord over everything. He is actively at work redeeming and rescuing the world. We are not called into a holding pattern, stuck between the first and second comings of Jesus, called only to stay clean and wait. We are beckoned into a new life, to go where God is actively at work and participate. Confused by what that means or how to do it? That’s fine we’re on this journey together and we’ll be spending this next season of life unpacking what living under the Lordship of Jesus really means.

 

Small Group Questions: Have you ever felt “stuck”? What factors contributed to that “stuck-ness”?

Closing Prayer: God, use this season of life to make us more discerning people. Use this pandemic to kill our pride and desire to be right. Beckon us to take a step back and come to you in prayer. Beckon on us to take a step back and recognize you as Lord. Beckon us to take a step back and see where you are leading. God use this unchartered season of life to show us life differently. Show us what you are at work doing and how we might best participate in that. Not for the growth of a church or for personal validation but for your kingdom and your glory Lord we ask for your guidance. Amen.

Reflection Song - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioIH1Wx3MkE – Hymn of the Holy Spirit