“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.” Acts 19:1–7 (NIV84)
It must have been strange in the early days of the church to come across people who were in between proper beliefs about God and their salvation. People journeyed to Jerusalem continuously. It was the center for Jewish worship. Undoubtedly there were people who heard John the Baptist’s message and were baptized by him in the Jordan River, only to leave Jerusalem before Jesus fully came on the scene. Time didn’t stand still. People kept moving about in their normal lives.
Paul went to Ephesus and came across some believers who were touched by God in their journeys back and forth to Jerusalem. They were baptized into John’s baptism of repentance. Paul asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they came to believe. The question, although strange at first, makes sense if you measure it from the time of Pentecost. If they had known the Holy Spirit, Paul could have been certain that their faith was post Jesus’ death and resurrection. They certainly had the Holy Spirit touch their lives, but they had not received the full touch of the Spirit or knew of His existence. John’s message is incomplete if it is left alone. He came to point us to Jesus, the Savior of the world. To believe in John’s message of repentance was good but lacked the fulfillment of all the Holy Spirit has to offer, which is salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These men needed to get the rest of the story. God cared enough for them to make sure that their paths would cross Paul’s as he traveled to Ephesus. Please note how intimate and personal a God we have. He even cared to make sure that anyone caught between the message of John and its fulfillment in Jesus would be reached.
So what does that have to do with us today? Well, today I want to make sure that we don’t stereotype the world around us. There are people in our lives whom God wants to reach with His message of salvation. These people come from different walks of life and even different cultures. We have to be willing to ask the “strange question” that might provoke their heart and mind and cause them to engage in a conversation. To be a witness to Jesus today is a challenging task. We all come from differing worldviews. Strange and thought-provoking questions might help lead someone into the kingdom of God.
Go ahead … Don’t be afraid! Ask the question!