The Refining Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Acts 1:1-11
1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. 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.” 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?” 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.” 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

The Book of Acts starts out with an introduction from the author and then an introduction from Jesus.  Jesus introduces to His disciples what the rest of their lives will entail.  Depending on what you believe about who Jesus was addressing here, we could argue that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was just for the original 12, but that wouldn’t explain all the other accounts of the Holy Spirit empowering others as well.  If the story ended here, it could be a plausible argument, but the disciples were just the beginning.  They were purposed to introduce the Spirit of God to the world and so are we.

The quote from Jesus about John’s baptism of water and Jesus’ baptism of fire comes as a repetition of what John said just before he baptized Jesus in Matthew 3:

11 "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

I don’t think we fully understand or appreciate what this means.  Baptism is an outward gesture of renewal and transformation.  In John the Baptist’s time, it was a sign of dedication or rededication to God.  This is why John called people to repent and then offered them to seal it in baptism.  The fact that Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire is a huge deal!  The fire represents refining.  In water baptism, the water represents dying and being resurrected but also a cleansing of the soul.  Jesus’s baptism however does more than just cleanse us; it refines us in the fire.  This is a principle He used a couple times in His teaching.  If you wash something with water, it can become dirty again but if you refine a metal with fire, it cannot become unrefined again.  It explains the permanence of what Jesus does for us with His Spirit.

Saying that He baptizes us in the Holy Spirit indicates what happens after the baptism/ refining.  In religious circles of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have an outfit to change into after baptism.  They put on their religious adornments to show who they are and what they have done.  From that point on, they were dressed in this very official and important looking clothing.  Jesus dresses us with the Holy Spirit.  While the religious elite displayed their supposed power and position with their clothing, being clothed in the Holy Spirit empowers us to live out God’s purpose for our lives.  As we continue to read Luke’s account of the Holy Spirit’s activities in those days through the disciples, we will see what that empowerment does.  This purpose, as Jesus reveals in verse 8, is to be a witness of God’s glory and power.

The last thing we need to acknowledge is where we are to focus our lives.  I might have mentioned before that there is a man I know who is disenchanted about church because “everyone talks about living in heaven and they ignore the issues at hand here on earth.”  I’d be upset too!  Especially since Jesus specifically says here in this passage that our purpose as His disciples aren’t to worry about when we go to heaven or even when He will return (because this is just a waste of time), but to focus our lives into fulfilling what He has called us to here and now.  The times that Jesus talks about what will happen in heaven, He is always trying to get His followers to stop worrying about it.  When He talks about our treasure up in heaven, it isn’t about striving for it, but to realize that we are taken care of by our Heavenly Father and we shouldn’t let such things distract us from our mission here on earth.  The two angels assisting Jesus up into heaven confirmed this by saying, “why are you looking up here?  He will be back and you won’t miss it.  Get to work.”

It is important for us to grasp these things because it affects how we live as followers of Christ.  By understanding that our salvation refines and redefines us, we can understand what happens at our conversion: the moment we believe.  By realizing the purpose of the Holy Spirit and how he relates to our godly purpose, we can understand how we are to do what God wants us to do.  By realizing that we are to live here and now instead of always looking up and ignoring the world around us, we can actually be the witnesses God wants us to be.

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