Acts 2:37-47 The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Now we come to one of the clearest parallels between Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles. Both books have baptism scenes just a few pages in. In the Gospel, it’s John who baptizes, and his baptism is one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Acts, it’s the apostles who baptize, and their baptism is for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Both John and the apostles baptize panicked crowds who are fretting about the direction of their current world and looking for a solution. Both John and the apostles follow-up on baptism with instructions for behavior and the formation of communities. For John, in Luke’s third chapter, the instructions are about loving generosity and the ability to hold things loosely (give away one of your shirts, don’t collect more money than you’re supposed to if you’re a tax collector, don’t extort money from people if you’re a soldier). The instructions from the Apostles (not said, but described by the way they play out in community) are more radical, just like Jesus’ were – hold everything in common, sell all you own, rely entirely upon God and the Beloved Community.

These two pieces of scripture echo and speak to each other in myriad ways. These two baptisms have different focuses and different results. The presence of the Holy Spirit might be the result of repentance and forgiveness, but its also much more than the simple release of being shrived. It’s active, a filling of the empty places after an exorcism of guilt and shame. In a strange way, I feel that Jesus speaks to this baptism in Ch. 11, v. 24-26 of Luke’s Gospel, when he says:

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.

The high of forgiveness and repentance is not enough, if all it does is leave an empty space inside us that all our bad old behaviors can return to when the high is past. Instead, we need to be filled by the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians, Paul (who we’ll meet soon), gives a sense of what this looks like: “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to God. Always give thanks to God for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ.” For him, a community that is full of the spirit is one that sings and speaks poetry, that reflects on holy things, and, above all, is thankful – so thankful that it always actively looks for things to give thanks for. In terms of the spirituality that we talked about in Luke’s Gospel, it’s a community that is full of joy and free of fear, and because of this it brims over with generosity. This was the Beloved Community of those early Christians who gathered around the apostles in the temple, and we must continually ask ourselves if this can be our community as well.

Karl Stevens
Karl Stevens is an Episcopal priest, a spiritual director, and a writer and artist. As a priest he has served as a college chaplain, a parish priest, a diocesan missioner, and a director of children and youth formation. As a spiritual director he has worked privately with directees and led groups of other directors in organizing retreats and special events. As an artist, he co-curated the EASE Gallery, created a series of paintings on the Stations of the Cross that have been used by area churches, and displays work and writings on kpbstevens.com. In addition to all of this, he is the co-host of the Lost in the Wilderness podcast, along with Rabbi Daniel Bogard. He is married with one child and lives in Grandview Heights.