If you remember our last post, Paul had met a dozen believers who were worshipping the Lord, but seemed to lack something . . . so Paul ask whether they had the Holy Spirit.
Paul went on to tell them about the death of Jesus, and what that accomplished with respect to the old life they had been living; and then about the resurrection which made available to them a risen life, a different kind of life, what I call the “Victorious-Resurrected Life” of each believer. Then he told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would make all this real in their experience continuously, moment by moment, day after day. After he shared that, they were re-baptized in the name of Jesus. That, by the way, is actually pretty significant, because it indicates that the baptism which they had received with an incomplete knowledge of Jesus wasn’t really Christian baptism. As they said themselves, they received the baptism of John—it was a baptism of repentance but doesn’t reflect the symbol of dying to sin—and raising to new life.
It’s important that believers understand what baptism really is. It isn’t the means of salvation. Salvation comes through faith, alone. Sometimes I have the opportunity to meet people who were baptized as babies. Well, they obviously didn’t have any opportunity to understand what the Christian message was all about, and they certainly didn’t have the opportunity to exercise faith in a risen Lord who could indwell them and strengthen them by his Spirit. They were babies, by golly. How could they understand what was happening? I realize it is still the tradition in many denominations, but that doesn’t make it right.
True baptism is the response of what God has done for you—the new birth. Baptism (contrary to some traditions) doesn’t save you. It is your public proclamation of what you now believe—infants, as lovely and sweet as they are, are incapable of understanding the Truth and making a personal decision to follow Jesus. Sometimes they ask me, “Do you think I should be re-baptized, now that I have really come to know a risen Lord?” On the basis of this text, I say to them, “Yes, you should, because your baptism didn’t represent your personal faith in a risen, abiding Lord.”
In Acts, when these people came to this place, they were re-baptized by the Apostle Paul. And, when they were baptized, Paul laid his hands on them. And what’s the next thing that happens? “. . . the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in tongues.” Hmm, interesting . . .
Let’s figure out what Paul was doing here. The phrase “laying on of hands” isn’t a brand-new thing. It was actually a well established tradition that dates way back to the time of the Patriarchs, known as giving “s’mikhah.”
S’mikhah (or laying on hands) is a Hebrew word which means “authority,” and it used when a person lays their hands on the head of someone else. The Bible is absolutely full of examples of giving of S’mikhah. We see it when Isaac blesses Jacob by putting his right hand on him (Genesis 27) and when Jacob in turn blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:18-20).
But there is more than meets the eye about this process of s’mikhah. It isn’t just passing on authority—there is a deep symbolism behind it. Not only would you transmit your authority to someone by laying your hands on them, but you were also required to do the same thing before killing an animal for sacrifice to God (Exodus 29:10, Leviticus 16:21, Numbers 8:12, etc). Before you slit the throat of the animal in sacrifice to God you were actually required to lay your hands on its head and confess your sins (which is the reason for the sacrifice in the first place).
This sacrifice symbolism embedded in s’mikhah is very rich and paints an interesting picture when you read about how the Apostles laid their hands on people to pass on s’mikhah.
Jesus had s’mikhah (Matthew 7:28-29) and he passed it on to his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Then you see it in Acts where the Apostles lay their hands on people and giving authority (Acts 6:6), the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17), or even gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6).
What I’m saying is that all s’mikhah came from Jesus, and it was passed down by his disciples. First the Apostles, then others, and on down the line it went – but it all linked back to the Messiah, just like the old s’mikhah had linked back to Moses.
Now you, the believer of today, have a link back to the Messiah, passed down through the generations. And it’s not just a mental link. When Jesus gave s’mikhah to his Apostles, he put into them a piece of himself as you would before slaughtering an animal for sacrifice at the temple. And the Apostles did the same thing when they passed it on. Now you, the believer of today, have a piece of the Messiah’s s’mikhah in you. I think that’s incredible!
So here we see Paul laying his hands on the believers in Ephesus. Paul was identifying these twelve people with the body of Christ. He is identifying them with that new body formed by the Holy Spirit when he came on the day of Pentecost and is drawing them into the family of the Lord Jesus by laying his hands on them. The moment he performed this act of identification, the Spirit came into their lives. They believed on Jesus and the Spirit came immediately.
The proof of his coming was the exercise of spiritual gifts. Many people read this passage and only notice that they spoke in tongues. The problem with that is that people immediately think that this is another Pentecost. I had someone tell be that if a mighty wind blew in and he suddenly began to speak in tongues—then he would believe . . . well, the silly bunny, the Holy Spirit blew in once already, and speaking in tongues was one obvious proof. He doesn’t have to blow in for anyone again. He is still here!
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts