In recent weeks, we have been looking at the power of the gospel. That the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save from the penalty of sin, to deliver from the power of sin, is able to deliver from fear and anxiety, is able to overcome the wisdom and philosophies of man, and is able to defeat the schemes of the devil. And if you were not here for some of those messages, then I would encourage you to go on our website and read them when you get a chance.
So I will not review all of that today. However, I believe that our text continues that train of thought by elaborating on the nature of the power of the gospel. So what I believe this passage is presenting today, is that the power of the gospel is a person, and the person is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.
Now this text before us today is a very difficult text on several levels. It is very tempting to use this text as a trampoline to go bouncing off in a dozen different directions. And many preachers have done that to their own ruin. But for both clarity and the sake of time we are going to try to avoid tangents this morning. I want to show you from the scripture what I think is the primary message Luke is presenting here. Luke is not trying to teach the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit. He is not trying to teach any number of doctrinal issues that might be touched on here in this passage. What I believe that the author Luke, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is trying to impress on us, is that the power of the gospel is not some vague purplish blob, like the boy who supposedly went to heaven and wrote a best selling book reported, nor is the power of the Holy Spirit some inanimate force, such as “may the force be with you,” nor can the power of the Holy Spirit be divided up and parceled out. But what Luke is illustrating here is that the power of the gospel exists in the third person of the trinity who is the Holy Spirit; through whom we are born again in our spirit, through whom we are given new life, through whom we are led and taught, and through whom we are empowered to live a godly life for the glory of God.
That is the point of this passage, I believe. It is to remind us of the necessity of the person of the Holy Spirit, without whom we cannot be saved. Listen to how emphatically Paul declares that fact in Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Did you get that? If you do not have the Spirit of Christ, then you do not belong to Christ. Jesus said it another way in John 3:5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
So that is the point of this passage, that the power of the gospel is the person of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us, transforms us, indwells us, and empowers us. Now Luke presents two illustrations to emphasize this practical theology. The first example is that of Apollos. First of all, Luke points out that Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, so he was also a Greek citizen. Now Alexandria had the largest library in the world at that time, about a half a million books. And perhaps that is pertinent because Apollos is described as a man of great learning, an excellent orator, an eloquent man who also was learned in the scriptures.
Notice in vs. 25, it says he was instructed in the way of the Lord, he was fervent in scriptures, and he was teaching about Jesus. Now all that is quite impressive, is it not? An educated man, well spoken, an orator, who had studied the scriptures, and who was a teacher of the scriptures. That sounds like a description of many preachers today, doesn’t it? Surely then we could assume that this articulate, learned man who was teaching about Jesus was a Christian, couldn’t we? I would think that most people would just accept that someone with those kind of credentials was a Christian, a man who was truly saved if anyone was.
And yet, I believe Luke presents him here in this fashion because at this point in Apollos’ life, he was not born again. And the key to that is found in the phrase, he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” Now that is another way of saying he was acquainted only with the gospel of John the Baptist. At some point, Apollos had been in Israel and heard John the Baptist preaching the gospel of repentance. To get ready for the coming of the Lord. And Apollos believed and accepted that gospel. He would have been baptized in repentance. But then one way or another, he left Israel before Jesus began His ministry, and he found himself back in Europe. And so as a result, Apollos was still preaching the message of John the Baptist. He must have known something of Jesus, because vs. 25 says “he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus,” but he knew of Jesus only as far as John had presented Him which is that He was the One to come, the Messiah. That means he did not know about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Nor had he any knowledge of the coming of the Holy Spirit with power on the day of Pentecost.
So here is Apollos, probably 15 years or more since Pentecost, in a far away country, still teaching the gospel of John. That Jesus was the coming Messiah. But that was all that he knew. Now he is teaching that at the local synagogue in Ephesus and Priscilla and Aquila happen to be there that day. And when they heard him speaking, they realized that he did not know the full message of the gospel. So they took him aside after the service, maybe they took him home to have dinner or something. But they took him away privately and explained the gospel of Jesus Christ to him more completely.
Now I believe that was when Apollos was actually saved. Prior to that, he had knowledge, but not complete knowledge. He had zeal or fervency for the message he was teaching, but it was not the complete truth of the gospel. And so as a result, it didn’t produce salvation.
That is why I make such a point every week of quoting the words of Jesus who said, “God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” For salvation to be effective, for the gospel to be powerful enough to save your soul for eternity, then it must be the truth. And a half truth is not the truth. Jesus said in John 8:31-32 “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
The other day I hurt my ankle on a rock surfing. And though it wasn’t a terrible wound, it scraped away a fair amount of skin. Now I knew I should stay out of the water until it healed, but I kept going surfing every morning and getting it wet and so of course it got infected. So I went to the doctor’s office and they gave me some antibiotics. Now these antibiotics were like giant horse pills. I got choked up just looking at them. So I proceeded to chop them in half and took them that way. Now just imagine if I had only taken half and threw away the other half. And suppose I continued doing that until I had finished the medicine. Do you think that the medicine would have been effective if I had only taken half of it? No, of course not. It says right there on the label, be sure to finish all medications. If you want to be made well, you have to take the full prescription.
Well, that is exactly what the gospel is like. It is God’s prescription for mankind’s sickness. And our sickness is deadly. The consequences of our sin is death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” See, the penalty is death, but the antidote is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And just like with my antibiotics, half a dose won’t save us.
And neither did it save Apollos. Oh, he had some truth. He had the truth up to John’s baptism. But he didn’t have the full truth and so therefore he was unsaved. He had some knowledge. He had fervency. He had zeal. But he was unsaved. And consequently, he did not have the Spirit of God indwelling him.
Now I wonder how many people there are like that in the world today. I wonder how many might even be sitting right here today. They have some truth. They hold to a form of religion. They certainly believe in God. They even know that Jesus is the Messiah. But they have come short of the kingdom of God. They have not truly been set free. They may have a fervency of spirit for religion, but they are still laboring in the flesh to abstain from sin, to be a good person, to go to church on a regular basis. Some may even be a preacher or a priest, teaching the scriptures in ignorance. And yet they are unsaved.
See it was possible that Apollos could believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and yet not have saving faith in what Jesus had come to do. Because the Jews were looking for the Messiah to set up the kingdom of Israel again on the throne of David and kick the Romans out. So Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained all the truth of the gospel. They explained that Jesus lived a sinless life, so that He could be the spotless Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world by dying on the cross in our place, bearing our sins upon Himself. And then that those who believe in Him and repent of their sins, will receive the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to them, so that they may become the sons of God, and then having been made righteous, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us eternal life, who lives in us to guide us and teach us, and empower us so that we might live like sons of God.
Now we know that Luke only gives us a summary here in this passage. But we can be certain that Apollos received the truth of the gospel gladly, because it says in vs. 27, that when he went to Achaia he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. See, when Apollos understood the full gospel, then he understood that it was by grace you are saved through faith, it was the gift of God, not of works, and so everything clicked into place for him then. And as a result, the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus called the Spirit of Truth, He illuminated all those Old Testament scriptures that he knew so well and now he was able to powerfully refute the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. That Apollos was now saved was evident because his message evidenced the illumination of the Spirit of Truth, who is the Holy Spirit. That was the evidence of His salvation. And his salvation was made possible by the Spirit of Truth who manifested the truth to him through the scriptures. That is one of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit as Jesus Himself said in John 15:26,”When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” And also in John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” That is a characteristic of a true believer, he has an appetite for the truth, he understands the truth, and he is obedient to the truth as revealed in Scripture.
Now the other illustration follows immediately after this passage concerning Apollos, and it is directly related to it. It is unfortunate that some editors separated the chapters at this particular place, because really they should be considered together. Because what we have here in chapter 19 is a continuation. Apollos leaves and goes to Achaia, which is Corinth, and Paul now comes to Ephesus.
And as Paul comes to Ephesus, he meets some disciples. Now the text doesn’t clarify what exactly is meant by disciples. I would suggest that they were disciples of John the Baptist, or even disciples of Apollos who had been teaching the gospel of John the Baptist. Disciple simply means a learner or a student. And many rabbis were known to have disciples. So Paul meets these disciples of Apollos, and he is immediately has a question in regards to their salvation.
So Paul asks them in vs. 2, ““Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
So here we have a group of about 12 men in Ephesus, and Paul immediately discerns that something is amiss. So he asks them a strange question; “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Now that is a strange question, isn’t it? Notice he doesn’t ask them, “do you believe in God?” Or, “are you a believer?” But did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
And their answer reveals that they did not, but they had stopped at the same place that Apollos had stopped, which makes sense if they were his disciples. Now in their answer they reveal that they did not even know that the Holy Spirit had been given. I think the translation there is lacking. All Jews that were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures, as these men undoubtedly were, knew about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is mentioned numerous times in the scriptures, starting in Genesis 1 and in the Psalms and Isaiah and so forth. And John the Baptist taught concerning the Holy Spirit. So what they were actually saying was “we do not know whether the Holy Spirit has been given.”
So Paul asks, ““Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” See, they have the same problem that Apollos had. They did not understand the truth concerning the gospel. They had a partial truth which was still just a variation of Judaism. At the point which Apollos left Israel, he had only understood the baptism of repentance, so they were ignorant of the salvation which is by faith in Christ’s atonement. So Paul said, John only preached the gospel of repentance, telling people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is Jesus.
Now again, Luke is giving us the summary of what transpired and we have to fill in the blanks. Paul would have undoubtedly filled these men in on all that transpired since Jesus began His ministry. Namely, His atonement for sin by offering Himself as a sacrifice on the cross in their place, His death, burial and resurrection, and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And just as had happened with Apollos, these men believed, and it says they were baptized once again in the name of Jesus Christ. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but that baptism did not save them because they did not know and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now they were baptized again in the name of Jesus because they trusted in His atonement for the remission of their sins.
So once again, we see a group of people, who were dedicated to their faith, who had a form of religion, who believed in God and even believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but who were not saved. They were still believing in an old covenant theology, which was based on keeping the law and offering sacrifices for sin and basically the requirements of Judaism. They did not know the truth about the gospel of God that states God put the penalty for our sin upon Jesus, and transferred His righteousness to us by the gift of God to those who have faith in Christ for their salvation.
And Paul would have told them that is not the end of salvation. That is merely the new birth which is brought about through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who then indwells the believer, giving him the power to be transformed, and giving him the power to live the life that the Spirit instructs us to live. That is why Paul prefaced the conversation by asking, “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Because new birth is impossible without the agency of the Holy Spirit. Because the power of salvation is through the agency of the Holy Spirit. And the evidence of our new birth is manifested through the Holy Spirit.
See, the Spirit within the new believer writes the laws of God upon their hearts and minds. That is what Hebrews 10:15-17 says, “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.’” So the action of the Holy Spirit upon the believer will be manifested by a new heart, by a new mind, by a desire for the things of God, by a desire to do the will of God.
Listen, I want you to understand this much if you don’t understand anything else today. I want to suggest that there are a lot of people running around today in the “church” that sort of act like disciples. They have a knowledge about Jesus but it is an incomplete knowledge of the gospel. They have a belief in God. They may be fervent in their faith. But they do not have the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their life. They do not have the witness that they have received the Holy Spirit in their life. And consequently they are not saved.
They do not have the witness of the Holy Spirit because they have no interest in keeping the law of God. They show no evidence of becoming conformed to the image of Christ. And very importantly, they do not know the complete truth of the gospel. I’m afraid that for many people today they have been deceived. They have a partial gospel, which really is not the gospel at all. Listen, if the gospel has been watered down or emasculated of it’s full truth, then the sad fact is that it cannot save. A half truth amounts to just a whole lie. And the devil is very talented at presenting a lie as a partial truth.
There are a whole lot of lies out there today masquerading as the gospel, and much of it is being taught in our mainline churches. The half truths being taught today may be a little different than these twelve men were guilty of. But the end result is just as damning. I think the big lie today is a complete neglect of the doctrine of repentance and the doctrine of sanctification. One cannot exist without the other, but in most cases today neither is being taught. The other false doctrine is just as damning, and that is that all you have to do is believe. Believe what is up in the air. It is presented as if it’s a personal choice what you want to believe about God or Christianity. That you can somehow believe whatever you feel is right, whatever you want to believe, and as long as you’re sincere, God will accept you. But I am here to tell you today that if you harbor any of those half truths, then you cannot be saved. The truth will set you free, but a lie that robs the gospel of the truth will damn you to hell. And that has always been Satan’s strategy ever since the beginning. Jesus said in John 8:44, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Well, thankfully the 12 men recognize the truth of the gospel as taught by Paul, they believe it, are baptized in the name of Jesus, and they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are given public evidence of it. Vs. 6, “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”
Now I don’t want to take the time this morning to teach the doctrine of spiritual gifts, of which this text is often used as a jumping off point. I just want to emphasize a few things that I think are Germaine to the main point here. First of all, note that the Holy Spirit is given to them immediately upon salvation. There is not some extended time where they have to seek for the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he is not of Christ. So these men are saved by Christ, they are baptized in Christ’s name, and so there is an immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit who then gives evidence in a public manner of their salvation. Not only as a visible confirmation that they were saved, and that they were now part of the body of Christ, the church. But the Spirit also gives them gifts so that they might be a witness to the power of the gospel.
Wasn’t that the promise of Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit which is recorded in Acts 1:8? Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” So from the very beginning the power of the Holy Spirit was intended to make us powerful witnesses for the gospel to the whole world.
Now here is Paul and these 12 men, in the farthest reaches of the world, in Europe, in Ephesus, and the Holy Spirit is going to make them a powerful witness to the gospel. And so the Holy Spirit does that in two ways. Two distinct gifts. They are not the same gifts ladies and gentlemen. They are two gifts. The first is that of speaking in tongues. And for an explanation of that I would just point to 1Cor. 14:21-22 which says, “In the Law it is written, ‘BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.”
So what is that talking about? Well it is saying that tongues are not designed to be a secret prayer language to God which no one understands. But they are designed to be a sign to unbelievers. And that was what happened at Pentecost, if you will remember. There were Jews there from every nation in Asia and they all heard the gospel being spoken in their own language. And by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers they heard the gospel being taught in their own languages, and yet they would not accept the word of the Lord so that they were saved. So then the first witness is given to the Jews. These twelve men are Jews and they are probably in the Jewish synagogue when this happens. So the Holy Spirit replicates the speaking of tongues or foreign languages that happened at Pentecost to be a sign to the Jews there of the power of the gospel.
And then the second gift is that of prophesying. Prophesying means to stand before the people and declare the word of the Lord. It’s not necessarily future telling, it’s forth telling. It’s speaking the word of the Lord, or explaining the scriptures. Now we don’t know exactly what these men said, but we do know that Paul said in 1Cor. 14, that tongues were a sign for unbelievers and prophesy was a sign for believers. So in some way, this prophesying edified the believers in the church by either expounding the scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit, or by revelation of as of yet unwritten truth of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So the point being, that the salvation of these 12 men resulted in an immediate indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that empowered these men to be His witnesses of the gospel to unbelieving Jews and to edify or build up the believers in the church. That is the evidence of the Holy Spirit that we still have available to us today. He empowers us to be His witnesses. He enables us to be able to preach the word. He gives us understanding of the scriptures as illustrated by not only these men but by Apollos. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, our Helper, who empowers us as He leads us and guides us as we walk by the Spirit of God in this life of faith.
So in conclusion, I would reiterate the same question to you that Paul asked of the 12. Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed? Is there any evidence in your life that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you? Have you ever received new life, new desires, a new heart for the things of God? Have you the evidence of the Holy Spirit within you as you read the word of God? Does He reveal the truth of God to you through the scriptures? Or do you find the Bible dull and incomprehensible?
I would suggest that if you find yourself today with a knowledge of God, and a zeal for religion that prompts you to attend church and to try to live godly, but when you honestly consider it, you know that you don’t seem to have the power or even the desire to live the life of godliness, that there is no evidence in your life of the Spirit living in you, and you are not a witness for the gospel, then I would suggest you seriously consider this question. Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed? Because He is the power that works within us, for the Holy Spirit strengthens us with power in the inner man, that we might know the love of Christ, and be filled up to all the fullness of God. Listen, that same Holy Spirit is available today, for everyone who believes by faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord and repents and turns away from his sin. He is the power of God unto salvation. He is the power who works mightily in us. I would urge you to call on Jesus to forgive your sins and save you and fill you with His Spirit, to change you and make you a child of God, today. Today the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. Do not quench that calling of God. Today is the appointed day of salvation.