bible blog 155

Reading 1

Acts 19:1-8

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul travelled through the interior of the country and down to Ephesus where he found some disciples.

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

They answered him,

“We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

He said, “How were you baptized?”

They replied, “With the baptism of John.”

Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Altogether there were about twelve men.

He entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God.

The anxiety, which is everywhere evident in bible accounts of John the Baptist, is an indication that he didn’t always fit into the Christian story. He may have had not much to do with Jesus, and after his murder, his disciples may have remained as a separate Jewish sect throughout the diaspora. Luke sees John as only a precursor to Jesus and as living still in the “old world”. Jesus’ followers live by faith in the “new world”, which is characterised by the gift of the Holy Spirit. There may be a hint that the “twelve disciples” in Ephesus owe their imperfect faith to Apollos, whose teaching had to be corrected by Paul’s converts.

Those who remember the famous airbrushing techniques of the Soviet leadership with photographs of eliminated comrades, will want to ask why the biblical authors are so keen to put John firmly in his place, as a forerunner, but certainly not a rival, of Jesus.

There is a certain rigidity in Luke’s two volume work (Luke-Acts): the time divisions from the “time of the sacred births” to “the time of the Holy Spirit” are doctrinally important to the author. The story can only be correctly told this way. There is also a slight fussiness, as in this instance, about the right process of conversion.

Augustus the conqueror of the world

John 16:29-33

Gospel

The disciples said to Jesus,  “Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God.”

Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

John knows how correct doctrine may mean nothing. The disciples know that Jesus has come from God, but as Jesus knows, they will all desert him. In the irony of God’s love, however, their desertion will allow Jesus, alone but for the Father, to conquer the world. Alexander the Great and Augustus claimed to have conquered the world. John claims that a solitary Jewish prophet and son of God was able to face down the powers of the world, who were stripped of their authority by Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ power, which consists in “being alone with the Father” is also available to his followers.

Christ the conqueror of the world: Christ the King Sanctuary-Lisbon

Those of us who struggle in the name of Jesus, to say or to do unpopular things, should in the face of much discouragement, take heart from these words of Jesus, “take courage, I have conquered the world.”

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