The Baptism of our Lord – Epistle

by Crossings

Acts 8:14-17
The Baptism of our Lord
Analysis by Robin Morgan
(with help from Fred Danker and Ed Schroeder)

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

[Writer’s notes to the Reader: This is a tough one. Putting time between baptism in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit isn’t the way we usually think about the beginning of a person’s Christian life. The commentators I read seem to be influenced by their own confessional backgrounds (without consensus) and so I will confess to my own influence for this crossing, namely, Augsburg Confession, Article V: “The Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel.”

What the Samaritans got in their baptismal washing was not yet faith. They got wet in the name of Jesus, but apparently not much more. To trust that name is something else. Whether or not Simon the Magician was typical of all the Samaritans, in his attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter and John (8:18-19), he signals a head/heart discrepancy between the water ritual and trusting Christ with your life. But Luke/Acts makes it clear that the Holy Spirit (“the Sign of Gods New Age,” Danker) is not a power to be manipulated, but a gift received through trust in Christ that makes us whole as we put ourselves at the Spirit’s disposal].


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Christianity as Incantation
Philip preached the Good News of Jesus the Messiah to the Samaritan crowds who eagerly listened (8:6). Unclean spirits were cast out, the paralyzed and lame were cured (8:7) and there was great joy in the city. Even Simon the Magician was baptized in the name of Jesus, yet no one received the Holy Spirit.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Power to Manipulate
Hearts and minds that have been steeped in magic continue to yearn for power that can be manipulated. The reasoning may have gone: “If a water ritual and a few ‘Jesus-words’ can work better than the magic we’ve used before, why not go for it?” We have been calling on the Trinity (using the name of the Father/the Son/the Holy Spirit) to get what we want for a long time. Luther called this a theology of glory.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Power to Perish
When Simon’s makes his consumer request (“Give me also this power,” 8:19), Peter’s response makes God’s judgment clear: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God” (8:20-21).


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – The Suffering Servant who Heals
As Philip made clear in his sermon on Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch (“like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth,” Acts 8:32-33), the best kind of power can’t simply be acquired. Instead, as Isaiah intimates, and Philip preaches to the Samaritans, the power of the Gospel is the upside-down power of a suffering servant who gave his life for the sake of the whole world. The healing that is preached to the Samaritans is available because Jesus himself — the Messiah for Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth — gives wholeness (the Holy Spirit’s healing power) to humanity through his cross.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – The Gift of Trust
But such power is useless until it is trusted (vv. 15-16; compare 8:36-37). The gift that the Holy Spirit provides is the faith to trust in the upside-down power of Christ and to live by such powerful powerlessness; this is the power God gives to us in baptism (and in the other means of grace).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Living Joyfully without Magic
Because of Christ’s power the Samaritans of this world, along with Philip, Peter, and John, are free to proclaim Jesus as Messiah to the world. They are free to direct whoever crosses their paths to baptism-in the name of Jesus and the healing power of the Holy Spirit (the Sign of the New Age). They are free to live together under the power of that baptism, because the cruciform Healing Power pierces all those old life patterns to bind Christians together in joy. (“And Philip baptized [the Ethiopian eunuch], … and [the eunuch] went on his way rejoicing,” 8:38-39.)


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