Monday, 26 September 2011
Chapter 3: Baptized with the Spirit
From her place of honor at the head of the Thanksgiving feast, my grandmother bowed her head. “Dear Lord,” she intoned in a thick Southern drawl, “bless this food to our use and us to Thy loving service. And give us gay and thankful hearts. Amen.” Looking up she caught us teenagers snickering and glancing from side to side. “I don’t care what that word means today, I’m still going to use it!”
You go, Grand-mama! Gay, in its old fashioned sense, is a good word for a Christian.
Why clarify? I’m glad this next chapter starts by asking us for examples of words that have changed in meaning over time. It’s embarrassing to pull out a perfectly good word and learn it has become not so polite slang. It’s also confusing to converse at length about something and find out later that you each meant something different.
This has been the case with the term, “baptized by the Spirit.” Christians often say these words and mean different things. How can we agree on the meaning? The approach in this chapter of our study is to let Scripture interpret itself. We will spend most of our time in Acts 2, understanding not just what happened but what it meant, according to Peter’s explanation. If you want to read our church’s doctrinal statement on this topic, you can find it here.
A flood, not a trickle. Further understanding comes from our Bible dictionary. “Baptism” isn’t actually an English word, it’s a Greek one, simply transliterated into English letter by letter. Scholars have written at length on why this Greek word was used by Jews and early Christians to talk about a spiritual reality. Basically it means to dip or plunge something into liquid. Like a piece of heated metal into a cooling bath. Or dirty hands into a basin of water. Or a piece of bread into a cup of wine.
Two pictures emerge from this definition. One is a picture of abundance. There’s plenty of the substance into which something is baptized. Enough to accomplish the purpose. A trickle of water won’t cool a hot iron, you need a vat of water big enough to absorb the heat. Baptism implies plenty.
See how the words used to describe the baptism of the Spirit signify abundance. Acts 2 says that the sound “filled the entire house,” the tongues of fire “rested on each one of them”, they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is no drip or trickle. It’s a flood. The scarcity of the Old Testament experience of God’s Spirit has been replaced by plenty.
The second picture is one of effectiveness. The medium–water, wine, the Spirit–accomplishes what it’s there for. The hot iron is cooled, the hands become clean, the bread becomes soaked with wine. What the Spirit came to do is accomplished. See what he accomplished on that first day: the conversion of those who crucified Jesus, the transformation of Peter from cowardly to bold.
That same Spirit is abundant and effective in your life this week. No one, not even __________ is outside his reach. No weakness of yours will defy his transforming power.
Verse for meditation. Acts 2:38-39
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”