Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Readings: Mark 1:4-11; Acts 19:1-7; Genesis 1:1-5
In all three readings this morning there is one common element: the Holy Spirit.
- The ruach (the breath or Spirit) of God hovers over the waters in
creation bringing order where there is chaos.
- Paul arrives in Ephesus and says, Did you receive the Holy Spirit when
you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that
there is a Holy Spirit.’ And then they tell him they were baptised with
John’s baptism. ‘Oh that’, says Paul. ‘That was John talking about
repentance , telling the people to believe in the one who was to come
after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the
name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the
Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and
- When Jesus comes to be baptised we read, 10 And just as he was coming
up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit
descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You
are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
What is it that associates water with the Holy Spirit?
Probably more pertinently what does it mean when John says to his disciples of
Jesus, 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy
What does this Greek word baptizo mean?
The New American Standard New Testament Greek Lexicon:
1. To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
2. To cleanse by submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash
3. To overwhelm
Not to be confused with the word, bapto. The clearest example that shows the
meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician, Nicander who
live in about 200BC. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it
uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable
should first be dipped (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo)
in the vinegar solution.
Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is
temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a
permanent change. (reading that again … ) The second, the act of baptising the
vegetable, produces a permanent change.
When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union
and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. He
that believes and is baptised shall be saved. Christ is saying that mere
intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real
change, like the vegetable to the pickle! (Bible Study Magazine, James
Montgomery Boice, May 1989)
So we have an understanding that baptizo means to be immersed to the extent
that you are permanently changed by that immersion and that the affect of
that is to intensify our union and identification with Christ
So what does it mean to be baptised in the Holy Spirit?
Well, we have any number of examples in the Scriptures of the behaviour of
people overcome by the Spirit of God:
- Samson did extraordinary military exploits. His behaviour at times was
similar to that of a modern super-hero.
- Saul, the first king of Israel, was overcome by the Spirit. We read in 1
Samuel 19: 24 He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in
Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is
why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”; His behaviour was
- At Pentecost, in Caesarea in the house of Cornelius the Centurion, and in
Ephesus believers evidence speaking in tongues when filled with the
Clearly, being filled with the Holy Spirit, is identified with different and
sometimes distinctly out-of- the-ordinary behaviour.
John the Baptist himself was an odd bod from the beginning. The angel that
appears to his Father Zechariah says “For he shall be great in the sight of the
Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with
the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
It seems that the gift of the Spirit (Peter tells his amazed onlookers in
Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost) is for us all. 38 Peter said to them, ‘Repent,
and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins
may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the
promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone
whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ (Acts 2: 38 – 39).
If being baptised means to be immersed to the extent that you are
permanently changed by that immersion, what does being immersed in the
Holy Spirit (by Jesus) to the extent that you are permanently changed by that
immersion mean to each one of us? Something to pray about.
Sometimes people have a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit and the
unusual behaviour that accompanies it, and then think they can generate the
experience again by mimicking the unusual behaviour. Not so. That’s like
saying the last time I walked in the rain I sneezed so perhaps if I sneeze it will
One mistake we cannot make is to think that all the Spirit is, is about action,
that somehow God’s Spirit arrives when we need to execute something in
God’s Name and then (having fulfilled an executive function) quietens down
into the recesses of the Godhead.
No! Paul certainly describes the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which appear to be all
about doing, but the Spirit has an ontological function too: that is, about being.
In other words the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (also described by Paul) is about
character. So when Jesus was baptised, he was setting an example for us to
follow, an example that involves the permanent influence of God’s character
upon our own.
- As in our reading from the creation account in Genesis, the Spirit orders
our lives from the chaos that is always a temptation. In other words the
Spirit gives us coherence. Our lives evidence godliness.
- As in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Spirit enables
us to pronounce the influence of God upon us, to boldly articulate that
which God is doing, especially as a declaration of faith. This is what gives
people the confidence to share Christ with others. It doesn’t come
naturally to do so. And if we resist the work of the Spirit in our own lives
we will resent it in the lives of others.
We don’t want to be those about whom Paul warns Timothy – those having a
form of godliness but denting its power. (2 Timothy 3:5)
- And as in the case of our Lord’s baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon us
in order to endorse our discipleship – our following in God’s footsteps
such that God says, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well
In other words The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the
inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own
people. That’s a quote from (Ephesians 1: 14)
Or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 1: 22 he has identified us as his own
by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first instalment that
guarantees everything he has promised us.
As we look to the year ahead, we are not alone in our discipleship. We have
the example of Jesus and the companionship of Jesus – in the form of the Holy
Spirit. Let us embrace God’s Spirit.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is simply receiving God. It’s a bit like putting the
headache powder directly under your tongue where it is absorbed easily rather
than taking a pill with water. The Holy Spirit is that person in the Trinity who
engages most easily with us and who changes us.
Sometimes people are fearful of receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus was mindful of
this and that is why in Luke 11 he says 11 Is there anyone among you who, if
your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child
asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to
give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
On Christmas Day I mentioned the following:
There is an amusing and true story from the very early colonial days in the
province of Natal, in South Africa. In those days there were no roads as we
know them, only rough wagon tracks, certainly no railway line, so having a port
was, even if it was very small, an economic lifeline.
In a small coastal town there was a regular character, who was a large man and
who served as the local civil engineer. He was also known to love using
dynamite. He had constructed a new harbour wall and a dignitary was arriving
to formally open it. A mischievous fellow said to our dynamite-loving friend
that the dignitary was very deaf, so he would need to get close to him and yell
into his ear when he spoke to him.
The dignitary was warned by the same scallywag that there was a large wild
man in this new town who carried dynamite in his pockets; hence it would be
best to try and avoid him if possible.
Well you can imagine what happened. The ceremony turned into a farce as the
dignitary keep running away from the man who had built the project and who
was meant to show him round. Fortunately, after the laughter had died down,
someone realised what was going on and was able to calm the dignitary down
so he could formally open the harbour wall!
Like the dignitary, we sometimes are not so willing to receive anything from
God because we think it might harm us! Of course God won’t! We need to
Jesus encouraged us to receive the Holy Spirit because he is our Helper, our
Comforter, our Advocate, our Guide.
So pray to the Holy Spirit. He’s there to make God real. It is so much easier
than wandering around in the chaos on our own imaginings and attempting to
overcome the forces of life on our own.
Let us pray:
Lord you didn’t need to be baptised and yet you conformed in order to set us an
example. Help us to receive the Holy Spirit with the same attitude – to do so
because you want us to do so.
We open our lives to you now Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ name