Reflection – Acts 19.1-7 and Mark 1.4-11

by Alan Rudge

What’s in a name and why are names so important? What do names mean to us and what did they mean in the past? Parents-to-be sometimes spend a lot of time researching the meaning of names. If they were sports fanatics they might name a boy after a famous sportsman or in the case of one Liverpool supporter the whole of the team! Some people choose aspirational names for their children, such as Elijah or even Jesus! In the past names were very important because of what they revealed about your family and its history – we see the importance of family name and history throughout the Bible. When Elizabeth and Zechariah brought their son for baptism their friends were astonished when they said his name would be John as there had been no one in their family of that name! Today some names tell us immediately about the occupations of our forebears or their family – Cooper, Farmer, Johnson etc. More importantly, God himself has given a person a new name to reflect their new identity; Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob to Israel. Jesus renamed Simon to indicate who he would be, he renamed Saul as Paul. So it’s not surprising that, in the early church, naming became associated with the Baptism of new believers, often after a fairly long period of teaching, the adults frequently adopting new names for themselves. It was a public declaration of who they had become through their faith in Jesus. The Chinese Christians often have a western Christian name to identify themselves as Christians, a very obvious sign of their faith, and then their Chinese family name

When Jesus was baptised by John he was named by God

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

How many other people heard this we do not know but Jesus did; he was given the confirmation of who he was which was affirmed by his anointing by the Holy Spirit.  The Three Persons of the Trinity present together yet separate.

As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Jesus didn’t need to be baptised; he was and is the only sinless person who has ever existed.  So why did he insist that John baptise him? Firstly it was the acknowledgement of John as his God-ordained forerunner; secondly, he was identifying himself with humanity; Jesus fully God and fully human, the promised Messiah, became one with us. The ceremonial washing he received was the example for us to follow.  Right from the beginning, Jesus never commanded from behind, he led from the front. Ultimately, Jesus became ‘sin for us’ through his death on the cross, taking all our shame and sin upon himself so that through our belief and trust in him we could be released from its burden.

So, for Christians, Baptism isn’t just about naming; it’s also about being given an identity with Christ – he in us and us in him, as Paul describes it.  Our reading from Acts clearly shows that, just as when Jesus as baptised, there are two parts; water and Spirit.  The people had received John’s baptism, a baptism of repentance, when they took the step to be cleansed, symbolised by being immersed in water. Paul enquires:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So the people had been ‘washed’ through John’s baptism – their decision – but they hadn’t received the gift that God had for them. When Paul laid his hands on them God filled them with the Holy Spirit, evidenced by their speaking in tongues and prophesying!  God had made them his own. If you have time read the rest of Chapter 19 of Acts – it is very revealing. It’s not just the decision we make it’s also God’s response to our repentance and decision to allow him to deal with our shame and sin when we ask him into our lives. Of course, this isn’t just a one off request; we continually need to ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit to help us to keep our new identity and to have the help to become the people God wants us to be – to fulfil our potential.

       “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your   spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Romans 12:1-2)

Our ambition should be to seek an increasingly closer relationship with God; to allow him to lead us along the path he has laid out for us, so we can search and determine what his priorities are. Peter explains it like this:

           “As you come to him (Jesus) the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Meeting together to worship, pray and celebrate, strengthens us and encourages us to allow the Holy Spirit to unlock our potential to achieve great things for God, both individually and collectively as the Body of Christ; to achieve things we never imagined we could do    Our identity in Christ is shared by all Christians throughout the world, reaching down to us in our rural churches.  There are many examples of individuals or small groups of people who have done amazing things sometimes against all odds because they had the courage to follow the vision God gave them:  24/7 prayer, Jackie Pullinger and the walled city in Hong Kong, Samaritans (1 vicar), Water Aid, Open Doors(1 Brother Andrew), Release International (1 Richard Wurmbrandt), and Send a Cow; in fact a large proportion of today’s aid organisations.  What about what has been achieved here; The Drop in Centre, the Food Bank and the Sukkot house?  All three started with the vision of one or two people and their perseverance to see them to fulfilment.;.

We read in Proverbs 19:17:   Whoever is generous to the poor lends to God, and he will repay them for their deed.”

What does all of this mean for us in 2021 and beyond?  What is our response to the challenges we face – climate change, independence from Europe, the pandemic, inequality – in the future?  Do we sigh and say it isn’t possible to do all the things we want to?  Or do we put our trust in the living God, seek his will for us and for our churches pray together and have an expectation that he will give us what we need to continue his work here?  God will give us what we need in his good time and in response to the sacrifices we make to further his kingdom. 

God says, “I will build my church.”

God will build up his church using us as his living stones. We, for our part need to:

Be Active in worship

Continue to support the work of the church

Find Time to pray each day

Support those in need.

Just as the early church was identified through its acts so we too should be identifiable through our actions.

We have a significant part to play and the church here is still a focal part of the community.  Let us pray and work together to keep it as such for years and centuries to come.