The Rest of the Story

(Acts 19: 1-7)


I know what I’m about to say dates me, but it’s still relevant.  Some of us are old enough to remember listening to Paul Harvey’s radio broadcasts.  Harvey was doing a podcast before podcasts were a thing.  Yes kids, before the internet there was radio and there were folks like Paul Harvey who would dispense wisdom and commentary.  Harvey’s hook was that he would start telling a story, a parable if you will, and then take a station break.  He would return and say: “And now, the rest of the story.”  That was his hook, what piqued your interest and kept you from changing the channel so you could hear what the sponsor was selling, and then return to find out where this story was going, the rest of the story.


And it’s the rest of the story that Luke is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  He’s relating a story that took place during Paul’s Third Missionary Journey to the city of Ephesus where he stayed for approximately three years as it was a hub for sea and land transportation, the perfect crossroads for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  According to Luke, Paul met a group of about twelve men who, by all appearances, were disciples.  Luke writes: While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.  He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?”  They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  Paul then asked: “What baptism did you receive, then?”  To which they replied: “John’s baptism.”   It was at that point that Paul realized that these men, these disciples, needed to hear the rest of the story.


Paul is very patient here and realizes that their ignorance is not of their making or doing.  He understands that they had only experienced the baptism introduced by John the Baptist, a baptism that was a sign of repentance from sin only, not a sign of new life in Christ.  They had no inkling the Holy Spirit had been poured out after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  They believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but they did not understand the significance of his death and resurrection or the work of the Holy Spirit in his earthly absence.  All they knew was that one mightier than John was to come.  They were unaware that Jesus, the Messiah, the one mightier than John had already come.  They needed to hear the rest of the gospel story and as soon as this happened, they could place their faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.


And that’s what Paul did.  He told them that the one coming after John the Baptist was Jesus, the Christ, and he is the one in whom they are to believe in.  So, after receiving this message from Paul they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul placed his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying.  In this way Luke shows how this group of about twelve people received the Spirit like the original twelve did at Pentecost.


Now I’ll admit that this concept of being baptized and being overcome by the Spirit to the point you roll around on the ground and speak in tongues is difficult for us twenty-first century Christians to get our heads around.  I’m certainly not saying that it didn’t happen and can’t still occur.  It was well documented at Pentecost, and Paul and the other disciples experienced it as did others who baptized in Jesus’ name.  When John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, took to the streets and back roads of Great Britian he too experienced the overpowering presence of the Spirit as it fell upon the people who most needed to hear the gospel not being given them by the Church of England.  And when Wesley sent Francis Asbury to America to plant Methodist churches, he too witnessed mass meetings where the Holy Spirit was present resulting in people being so overcome, they fell to the ground moaning and often speaking in tongues.  It had to have been quite a sight.


So, why don’t we hear about these mass baptisms, Holy Spirit spectacles, people falling out and speaking in tongues today?  I’m sure they still occur but not as frequently as they did in years past.  Perhaps we’ve become skeptical due to the many false prophets and phony evangelizers we’ve witnessed during our lifetimes such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and other fake healers.  For me, I think it’s more subtle, like how John Wesley described it in his journal where he wrote: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  I can identify with that.


You see, earlier this week as I was writing this sermon, I had a drop-in, and we actually discussed the concept of the Holy Spirit.  In words not nearly as eloquent as Wesley, I recounted how, like Wesley, I was born into the church with a Methodist minister grandfather, attended church faithfully whether I wanted to or not, attended Methodist Youth Fellowship every Wednesday evening, and went to summer church camps.  In my adult life I went as a family to several different churches, led Bible studies, attended Bible Study Fellowship, filled in for my vacationing pastor, and even became a Certified Lay Minister.   But not once during any of these experiences did I feel as if I was being led by the Spirit.  Like Wesley, it was when I went to a church where the Spirit was present that I felt my heart strangely warmed by a congregation that longed to continue in their service to God that I felt a trust in Christ, Christ alone, that not only had I been saved, that my sins were forgiven saving me from the law of sin and death, that I had a bigger purpose and that we, as a congregation, were going to moved and led by the Spirit in service to God, and play a significant part in the rest of the story.


And that’s the whole point of Luke’s recounting of Paul’s experience in Ephesus.  Becoming a Christian involves not just turning from sin and repenting.  It also involves turning to Christ in our faith that He is the one in whom we believe.  And as a faith community, the mark of a true church is not merely following right doctrine, but also being engaged in right action, which is the true evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work here on earth.  In doing this we must seek to share our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave it up to God to give us whatever experiences he thinks we need so we can tell the rest of the story.



Let us Pray.


Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.  Yes, gracious and loving Father, breathe upon us your Holy Spirit so that we may be one with you in bringing the light and love of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, where it is needed the most.  Warm our hearts, instill in us that trust in Christ, Christ alone, for our salvation, giving us the assurance that Christ has taken away our sins and saved us from the law of sin and death.  Breathe on us oh breath of God until our hearts are pure, until with thee we will be of one will, to do your will and to endure.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.