“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 45

“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”

Acts 18:24-28

You can find the answers to most of your religious questions online. You can probably find the answers to all of your questions, online. You might even find a few new questions you hadn’t considered, and then you’ll find answers to them, online. You have – at your fingertips – knowledge about Scripture; the history of the church; the meaning of theological terms; and more, that generations before us only dreamed of.

You also might be the kind of person who enjoys presenting ideas you’ve learned, forcefully: “This is what that means… This is what we should believe… That does not mean that!” And you can find more than enough places online to have those conversations; to make your case fervently and accurately.

You can have all of that, but – like Apollos – not have baptism. Apollos had the “baptism of John”, but not of Jesus. Apollos had learned from a prophet and a teacher, who Jesus described this way: “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist….” (Matthew 11:11) John’s authority, in other words, was greater than the greatest prophets and teachers of Israel and the world. And yet, Jesus also says this about him and those who followed him: “…yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11) When you are baptized in the name of Jesus, you are made one with He who is greater than John, and you become part of His Kingdom.

“Great, sign me up! Then I’ll have everything I need and more.” Baptism is not a box to check; a blue check mark; something that outfits you with what you ‘need’, so that you can do better, what you’re already doing well. Baptism is about what Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos – they taught him. Baptism is about what the brothers and sisters in Achaia did for Apollos – they encouraged him. Together, they were more than they were apart. Together, they were members of a Kingdom.

You can have all the answers. You can argue for them forcefully, accurately, and still be utterly alone. The baptism of John – or of any other teacher – might grant you a kind of authority, but will never provide what you really need: A fellowship of people who love and encourage one another, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death does them translate into a community just like the one they knew on earth.

We call it “the church”, and baptism is the door.

Prayer: Father, I’ve studied about you. I think I know a lot about you, and love to talk with other people about you. But I’m also alone, and I know I need more. Help me to find a community of your people, and then to know and love them, and to be known and loved in return. Amen.

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