Friday morning I was standing on my front porch just after sending Noah off to the bus stop to go to school that day. And as I was just watching the kids at the bus stop and looking around outside. And I noticed everything seemed to look clearer than it normally does when I don’t have my glasses or contacts in. (I may not have been thinking too clearly or may not have been too awake that morning.) I noticed, “Wow, I can make out the details on that kids shirt way over there! Wow, I can read the street signs! Weird. Is it possible for your eye sight to improve? I wonder if wearing contacts for a week has somehow helped my vision improve. I wonder if it’s because I finally got a good night sleep last night and I’ve been drinking a little more water recently.” Then after the bus came and picked up the kids, I went inside to finish getting ready for the day, and went to the bathroom to put my contacts in, thinking, “Though I don’t really need them, but I’ll put them in anyways to make my vision just that much better.” I took my contact case and opened it up and… it was empty. Oh man! I was feeling like my eyesight was getting better. No, I’m just forgot to take them out the night before.
Then I got to thinking because we’ve been studying the work of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives as disciples of Jesus and because of what I’ve been learning, that that’s similar to our experience with Holy Spirit. You may not feel that you have the Holy Spirit, like I didn’t feel like I had my contacts in. And you might think that you’re seeing rather clearly spiritually and living a rather pure, righteous and godly life on your own, like I thought I was seeing clearly without any corrective lenses. But I was only seeing clearly because I had may contacts in even though I didn’t know it. And I think, from what I’ve been seeing in Scripture, that if we’re seeing clearly spiritually and if we’re living holy and righteous lives, that’s not something that we just do on our own, but it’s because of the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts and lives. God should be given the glory for the goodness that’s in us and our lives.
I’d like us to study another Holy Spirit concept this morning. This one is one that’s rather mysterious to a lot of Christians, and kind of controversial. There’s lots of disagreement about it. There are some Christian groups who feel very strongly and passionately about their particular view on this. I’d like us this morning to talk about the Bible concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Has anybody ever asked you if you’ve been baptized with the Spirit? Well, probably not here. We don’t talk much about it here. But if you’ve associated with a Pentecostal Christians much you’ve probably been asked. And what would you say? Have you been baptized with Holy Spirit? Could you be if you haven’t? Do you want to be? What is that?
It’s an expression that occurs maybe half a dozen times in the NT. And there are number of different views held by Christians about it.
Different Views on the Baptism of the Spirit
In Pentecostal traditions, from what I understand, baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that happens to a Christian after conversion, sometime after they’re saved. And it’s a dramatic overwhelming empowering experience that both assures you of your salvation and also better equips you or empowers you from there on for ministry. And an initial sign that it has happened to you always is that you speak in tongues. If you’ve never spoken in tongues, then you’ve never been baptized with the Holy Spirit, in traditional Pentecostal understanding. And they believe this is a work of the Spirit that is available to all Christians and it’s something that Christians should pray for. This idea comes from the fact that 3 times in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 19:6) when people are said to either be baptized with the Spirit or that the Spirit came upon them, it says they spoke in tongues. But I can’t totally embrace the Pentecostal understanding for a number of reasons. There are some Christians in the book of Acts whom it says the Holy Spirit came upon or filled them and yet it says nothing about them speaking in tongues. And I don’t see any indication in Scripture that every genuine Christian who prays to be baptized with the Spirit will speak in tongues. Yes, it happened to some in the book of Acts, but that doesn’t mean it will happen to every real Christian who prays for it. I think they’re making some assumptions that don’t have support.
Others say that the baptism of the Spirit refers not to something that happens after conversion, but to something that happens at conversion or maybe even pre-conversion, that it refers to the Spirit coming upon a lost soul perhaps when that person is hearing the gospel and instills in that person faith and repentance and brings that person into Christ. So when somebody is converted to Christ, it’s believed that that person was baptized with the Spirit and that’s what caused them to convert to Christ. This idea is taken from I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” So it’s believed that what Paul was saying there is that what brought us all into the body of Christ is we were all baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came upon us, we were immersed with the Holy Spirit and that’s what brought us into Christ. But that’s certainly not the only way to understand Paul’s words there. Well, you can see how the language of the verse could be taken that way. But that’s certainly not the only way to understand Paul’s words there. Paul doesn’t actually say “baptized with Spirit.” He says, “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The way I understand Paul there is that he’s not talking about being baptized with the Holy Spirit. He’s talking about how the Spirit of God worked in the lives of all of us who are in Christ through the gospel and through whatever other ways to change us, to bring us to faith and repentance and has led us to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus as Jesus as commanded. And that work of the Spirit and us being baptized in water in obedience to Christ is what initiated us into the body of Christ. I think it’s the same idea in John 3:5, where Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And the same thing as Titus 3:5, which says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” So the Spirit of God has worked on us to renew us, to change us (with our cooperation of course), to give us new hearts and new spirits that love God and will obey Him and we’ve exercise our faith and commitment in being baptized in the name of the Lord, and through that we’ve been saved and incorporated into the body of Christ. I think that’s what I Corinthians 12:13 is talking about.
Now, in Churches of Christ traditionally, and what I used to believe and teach, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a phenomenon that occurred only two times in the NT. It happened once to the apostles in Acts 2. And then it happened one other time to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. Those are the two occasions where the exact wording baptized with the Spirit is used to describe what happened to them (Acts 1:5; 11:16). But I’m going submit to you that the same sort of thing happened to many others, it’s just different words are used in the text to describe it. Being baptized or immersed with the Spirit can be referred to in many different ways.
I’d like us this morning to try to take a fresh look at the Scriptures related to this, and try to approach these Scriptures with an open mind, without reading into them any assumptions we may already have about what they mean. That’s a hard thing to do, to look at Scripture open mindedly and not read what we already think it’s saying into it. But I want us to try to do that this morning. And if we do, maybe we’ll learn something and maybe we’ll see that this baptism of the Holy Spirit stuff is actually very relevant to us as Christians.
We’re going to start with a passage in the book of Mark and then spend the rest of our time in the book of Acts.
Mark 1, “4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, sounds to me like, he was preaching to people that they ought to express that they were truly repenting toward God by being baptized and God will forgive all of their sins if they do so. “5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.” I would need a lot of honey on those locusts, I don’t know about you. “7 And he was preaching, and saying…” In the Greek text those words “preaching” and “saying” are in a tense that suggests an ongoing thing. This isn’t something that John just preached one time. This is something that John was repeatedly preaching and saying. And what he was saying was, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.‘” So John was repeatedly preaching to people, “Like I immerse you with water, the mighty one coming after me will immerse you with the Holy Spirit.” Now, we need to ask the question, to whom was John saying this? Notice v5 again, “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Then it describes John’s clothing and diet, and then it says this is what he was preaching. It appears he was preaching this to all the people who were coming out to Him repenting and confessing their sins and being baptized. John didn’t just say this to the 12 apostles. Some of them may have been in the crowd at times when John said this. But in this text it appears John was saying this to all those who were coming to him, repenting and being baptized. It seems here that this baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus would administer has relevance to everybody who will obey God.
Acts 1:4, this is after Jesus’ death and resurrection and He’s speaking here to His apostles just before He ascended to heaven, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So definitely this applies at least to the apostles. And Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem for it to happen to them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is only going to happen to them. It just means that it is going happen to them and they need to wait in Jerusalem for it. “6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’” They’re still confused about the what all Jesus is up to and what’s on the schedule. “7 He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 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.’” Now, something that I think is helpful to do here is to take note of the different ways that Luke, the writer of Acts, refers to the event of people being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Here in v8 we find one of the other ways Luke may refer to it, and that is “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” That’s the same I think as v5’s, “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So the language of “the Holy Spirit coming upon ” can be used interchangeably with “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then we read in 1:9-11 about Jesus’ ascension to heaven. And then in v12-13 the apostles do as Jesus told them and they go hang out in Jerusalem. And then we read that over 100 other followers of Jesus joined them in Jerusalem. 1:14-15, “These [the apostles] all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. 15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together)” And then in the rest of the chapter they decide they should pick a man to be a replacement for Judas Iscariot in the ministry of the apostles. They select two possible candidates from their group and decide to draw lots to see which one will be Judas’ replacement. So 1:26 says, “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthaias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
2:1 says, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Now, how should we understand, “they were all together” there? Who is “they all”? I used to say that “they” refers just to the apostles mentioned in 1:26. Maybe. But the picture in the second half of ch1 is a gathering 120 followers of Jesus. So I think it’s likely that when Luke says, “they were all together” he means the 120.
“2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” Can you imagine that? Out of nowhere, all the sudden, the roar of a hurricane inside the house, but it seems nobody feels any wind; there’s just this noise of a violent rushing wind. And then fiery tongues appear in the air and rest on the heads of each one of them. A spirit was present apparently.
“4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Certainly this is what Jesus was telling them to wait in Jerusalem for. They’re baptized with the Holy Spirit here. But notice the text here doesn’t use the words “they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Here Luke uses different words to describe it. He says here, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” So here we have another way to refer to someone being baptized with the Holy Spirit. The same thing can be referred to as “the Holy Spirit came upon them” (1:8) or “they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Now, the immediate result of this baptism of the Spirit is these 120 (or maybe just apostles) begin to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. And this speaking in tongues is not what many today think of when they think of speaking in tongues. This is not an ecstatic gibberish kind of thing that nobody could understand. Rather they were speaking coherent words in other human languages that they had never learned before. The following verses bring that out. “5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs — we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” So clearly they’re speaking in all the native languages of all these different nationalities.
Let’s keep reading here. “And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’ 14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men [the word “men” is not in the Greek text] are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ [which I think means “in the last age of time, in the age of the Messiah”] God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND [or it’s literally “on all flesh,” and I think the idea is on all kinds of people, on all races and age groups and both genders and every social status. It’s further explained in the words that follow.]; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; 18 EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy.” So Peter says that what’s just happened to him and the others speaking in other languages is one of the sort of things the prophet Joel foretold would happen in the age of the Messiah. And notice here we have another possible way of referring to people being baptized with the Holy Spirit, and that is, “the Spirit was poured forth on them.”
Then as Peter continues his sermon he establishes with lots of evidence that Jesus is the promised Lord and king. And notice this statement in his sermon, 2:33, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” If you write in your Bible, you might want to underline that phrase, “the promise of the Holy Spirit” and you can connect that with v17-18 where Peter quotes the passage where the pouring forth of the Spirit was promised in Joel. And you can also make a connection with 1:4, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.‘” What we should notice is this language of “the promise of the Holy Spirit” refers to the promise by God through Joel and repeated through John the Baptist and Jesus concerning the pouring forth of the Spirit on people/people being baptized with the Spirit.
Now, when the people that Peter is preaching to are convicted that Jesus whom they crucified is the risen Lord and they ask, “What shall we do?”, 2:38, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Think about the context. It sure sounds to me like Peter is saying the promise of the Holy Spirit that came through the prophet Joel (the promise of the pouring forth of the Spirit on people) and what the 120 of us followers of Jesus have received (the baptism of the Spirit promised by John), is not just for us; it is not just for a select few of the Lord’s people. The promise of the pouring forth of God’s Spirit, of Jesus baptizing people with the Spirit, is also for you and your children and for all that the Lord calls to Himself.
Now, I was taught, “No, this gift of the Holy Spirit is something different than what the apostles received and different from what the Joel prophecy was talking about.” But where in the text is there any indication that the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to these people is something different? If you were a Jew standing in that crowd listening to Peter, and you know that Peter and these others have just received the Spirit of God who is working, and you just heard Peter quote the prophecy from Joel about God pouring forth of His Spirit on all sorts of people in the last days, and then Peter says to you, “Now, you repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise for you and your children and all the Lord calls to Himself,” how would you have understood him? I think you would have understood him to be saying that you will receive the same gift they just received, the same thing Joel was talking about. Now, that doesn’t mean that the Spirit will do exactly all the same things in them as He did in the others. It doesn’t mean they will all speak in tongues. But it just means the same Spirit will also come upon them and empower them in whatever ways the Spirit sees fit. So I think we can add to our list another way of referring to someone being baptized with the Spirit, and that is, “received the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That will be confirmed when we look at the account of Cornelius and his household, because what happens to them is not only called “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (11:16), but also “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them” (10:45).
Now, here’s where I get in trouble. Notice that Peter does not say when they would receive the Holy Spirit. We say they received this when they were baptized. But Peter doesn’t say here they would receive this when they are baptized. He just says you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit because the promise applies to all that the Lord our God will call to Himself. But he doesn’t say when. I think, because I’m trying not to read any of my assumptions into this, I’m trying to base my conclusions just on the text, I think that these people to whom Peter was talking, who would become Christians that day, received the gift of the Holy Spirit a few days after they were baptized into Christ. It happened to them, seems to me in the text, in Acts 4.
In Acts 4 the apostles are arrested for their preaching and warned by the authorities to stop it. And then, after they were released, they met with the church and reported all that the authorities had said to them (4:23). Then the church went to God in prayer about it. And let’s pick up toward the end of their prayer. Acts 4:29, “‘And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ [Now, watch this.] 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Does that sound familiar? Where did you read about something like that happening before? That sounds a lot like the beginning of Acts 2, doesn’t it? Remember the 120 (or just the apostles) were all gathered together and there suddenly came this a noise like a violent rushing wind and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The same sort of thing happens here to the church, just as Peter told them, “You also will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Now, there’s no indication here that they all spoke in other languages. Some of them maybe spoke in tongues and maybe Luke just didn’t mention that. But definitely they are empowered in ways other than just tongue speaking. They are empowered and helped from here on to speak the word of God to their neighbors with boldness. They may not be empowered in all the same ways the apostles were, but they’re baptized with the same Spirit.
Acts 5:32 has a little summary statement about what we’ve seen so far. The apostles say to the Jewish authorities, “And we are witnesses of these things [things we’ve been saying about Jesus]; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” God gave the Holy Spirit to those 120 in Acts 2 and He gave the Spirit to those who obeyed the gospel that Peter preached to them in Acts 4. God has given the Spirit to those who obey Him. And I think we see here another way of referring to people being baptized with the Holy Spirit. That can also be referred to as, “the Holy Spirit has been given to them.”
In Acts 6 you read about some men from the church who are appointed to be in charge of the daily distribution of food to the poor in the church, and one of the qualifications is they must be full of the Spirit, men in who it’s obvious that the Spirit of God has been working in and empowering in some way. And you also read in particular about a man named Stephen who, it says, was full of the Spirit. And the Spirit empower Stephen in different ways. You see in v8 he could perform miracles. And in v9-10 you see the Spirit gives him great wisdom for dealing with arguments raised against the Christian faith. There are some men who rise up and argue with Stephen and try to discredit Christianity, but it says “they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” And toward the end of ch7, when Stephen is being stoned to death, the Spirit gives him a vision of the glory of God and Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. So the Spirit works in Him in a number of different ways.
Acts 8 is interesting. There’s a disciple named Philip whom the Spirit empowers to perform miracles. And Philip goes into Samaria just north of the land of Judea. And if you know some of the history of Jews and Samaritans, you know they didn’t get along with each other, and they didn’t associate with each other. The Jews typically hated Samaritans about like they hated Gentiles. But Philip goes into Samaria and preaches the gospel to the Samaritans and confirms the message by performing miracles, and many of the Samaritans believe and are baptized. Then 8:14ff says, “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He [the Holy Spirit] had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.”
Now, we don’t like v16, because we like to say that a person receives the Holy Spirit right when they’re baptized. But that verse says that though these people were baptized they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. So we say, or I used say, “Well, actually they did receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, but what they were lacking was like a special miraculous kind of empowering of the Holy Spirit.” But where in text do we get that idea from? We don’t get it from the book of Acts. Seems to me in the book of Acts people have either received the Holy Spirit or they haven’t. And Luke just says here they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, they’d simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And it wasn’t until the apostles, Peter and John, came to them and prayed for them and laid their hands on them that they received the Holy Spirit.
Now, does this mean that in order for any Christian or us to receive the Holy Spirit we need apostles to pray for us and lay their hands on us? No, I don’t think so. The new Christians in Acts 4 were filled with the Spirit without any laying on of hands by the apostles. I think there were probably some specific reasons why the Holy Spirit did not just come upon these new Christians in Samaria right when or right after they were baptized, but delayed in coming upon them til some apostles came to them and prayed for them and laid hands on them. I suspect this was, at least partially, for reconciling and unity purposes. Remember normally Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. But by the Spirit waiting to come upon these Samaritans until the apostles came and did this for them, would do a couple really important things. It would, for one, enable the apostles to witness for themselves that God accepts Samaritans who trust and obey Jesus just like He accepts Jews who do that. And it would also instill in the Samaritans a sense of belonging and oneness with the Jewish Christians and also an understanding that the Jewish apostles are Christ’s representatives and leaders of His church and they’re ones to listen and learn from about their new Lord and how to live as a Christian. So I can see some good reasons why the Spirit delayed coming upon these new Samaritan Christians until the apostles came and did this for them.
And I think we find in this text a couple more phrases that we can add to our list other ways of saying “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and these will be confirmed when we look at the account of Cornelius (10:44,47; 11:15). “Baptized with the Spirit” can also be referred to as, “they received the Holy Spirit” (8:15,17), or “the Holy Spirit has fallen upon them”(8:16).
God sends an angel to the God-fearing Gentile centurion named Cornelius and the angel tells him to dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Peter, who’s staying with a tanner named Simon whose house is by the sea, and this Peter will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household (10:1-6; 11:13-14). So Cornelius sends two of his servants to go get Peter. Peter was up the housetop of Simon the tanner’s house. And God gave him the vision of the great sheet coming down filled with all kinds of animals that the Jews regarded as unclean. Then a voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” And Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” And the voice said, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” And this happened 3 times. And Peter was scratching his head wondering what it meant. Then the men sent by Cornelius showed up at the house, and the Spirit said to Peter, “There are 3 men downstairs looking for you. I want you to go with them without misgivings. I’ve sent them myself.” So Peter goes downstairs and meets these Gentiles and they say they’ve come to bring him to the house of Cornelius. And he’s really uncomfortable with the whole situation because he’s never associated with Gentiles in his whole life, but he knows God wants him to go. He takes six of his Jewish Christian brothers with him and goes to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius has gathered together all of his relatives and close friends and they’ve all been waiting for Peter’s arrival. Peter arrives and explains why he came though he normally wouldn’t ever do this. Cornelius explains why he sent for him.
And Peter was starting to get it. So v34, “Opening his mouth, Peter said; ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” And then Peter preached to them about Jesus. Then v44 says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. [Notice a few of the expressions in our list.] 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” So this pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household happened before they were baptized and apparently the reason was to further convince Peter and the other Jewish Christians that God wants to save and accept these people and it’s okay to go ahead and baptize them and accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ. God was showing the Jews that He was willing to accept Gentiles just as He accepted them.
Now, in ch11 Peter goes back Jerusalem and the Jewish Christians there take issue with him. They say, “Peter, we heard you were associating with Gentiles and even eating with them. How could you call yourself a man of God and be associating with Gentiles? What’s wrong with you, Peter?” And so Peter then recounts the whole story for them. If you look at v15 we get to the part where Peter telling them about the Holy Spirit coming upon them. “15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” So Peter sees what happened to Cornelius and his household as a baptism with the Holy Spirit, and he says in v17 it’s the same gift that God gave to us. Now, who is ‘us’? Peter is not just talking to the apostles. He’s talking to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were asking him what in the world he was doing with Gentiles. So I think what we see in the book of Acts is that Jesus baptizes the Jewish Christians with the Spirit and then when Samaritans become Christians they are given the same gift and now we see Gentiles who become Christians also receive the same gift.
Now, there’s not much talk in the rest of the book of Acts about Christians receiving the Holy Spirit, aside from one other occasion in ch19. But we find in the NT letters that all the converts that we read about in the book of Acts, all the Christians in towns and cities all over the Roman Empire received the same gift of the Spirit.
All the New Testament Christians received the same gift of the Spirit.
The Christians in Rome received the same gift. Romans 5:5, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
The Christians in Corinth received the same gift. I Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
The Christians in Galatia received the same gift. Galatians 3:2, Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
The Christians in Ephesus… Ephesians 1:14, “The Holy Spirit is given as a down payment of our inheritance…”
The Christians on the island of Crete… That’s where Titus was, when Paul wrote the letter to him, on the island of Crete. Titus 3:6, “God poured out the Holy Spirit upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
(See also – Col 1:8; I Thess 4:8; II Tim 1:14; Heb 6:4; I Pt 4:14; I Jn 2:20; Jud 20)
All the NT Christians received the gift of God’s Spirit, were baptized with the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, the Spirit was poured out upon them. It doesn’t mean they all spoke in tongues. It doesn’t mean they all prophesied, or that they all performed miracles. I Corinthians 12:4, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. [And he could have gone on and on with all the different gifts, all the different ways the Spirit empowers Christians to serve for the good of the body. You find more gifts than these listed elsewhere in the NT.] 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
The NT Christians all received the Spirit and were empowered in at least one way, some more than one way, to help build up the body of Christ, and the Spirit also helped them to live righteous and holy lives. By the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the flesh, says Romans 8:13.
“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
If we’ve come to trust in the risen Lord Jesus and repent and been baptized in His name, this gift is for us, this gift to equip us for ministry and to live Christlike lives. I’m not sure we receive this right at baptism. Maybe we do. I just can’t find a Scripture that says we receive this right at baptism and I see exceptions to that in the book of Acts. It may happen in response to our prayers after we become Christians, our prayers for God’s help and power. Luke 11:13, to His disciples Jesus said, “If you… being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
– James Williams