A Dozen in the Dark
“We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost…and all the men were about twelve”—Acts 19:2, 7
Twelve men—all in one place and on one occasion—were puzzled when the Holy Spirit was mentioned. They had never heard of Him. Their kind today is legion.
But they were religious men. They had been baptized. They knew John but did not know Jesus. One only knows the Saviour who has come into contact with the Spirit. These men were in the dark on the matter. When they met Paul, they met one who knew the Spirit. Knowing the Spirit, he was able to introduce them to One greater than John, and a dozen men walked out of the darkness into light.
It all happened on this wise. Paul was an itinerant preacher. He was constantly on the move. Wherever he went, he made it a habit of engaging men in conversation. Whatever the introductory topic, the trend invariably was toward the facts of Christianity—not always a welcome subject, but ever worthwhile. Some listened; others laughed. Some showed respect; others displayed wrath. At Ephesus, he discovered twelve men. Referred to as disciples in the text, they may have been teaching on a street corner. One never knows who may be in one’s audience when giving a public address. The greatest Apostle of the Christian church was an attentive listener. At once he detected a missing essential in both the men and their message. This gave rise to his question and to their confession. “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” he inquired. “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost,” they replied.
We are impressed with the alertness of Paul. Twelve men proved themselves to be in the dark on the most profound of all matters. They needed help whether or not they were aware of it. What would you do if you found folk in need and you had the answer to their case? A throat specialist once came to the writer following a Sunday morning sermon, saying, “My dear man, you need some attention. I can help you. I would be glad to have you call at my office.” He handed me his card which was accepted with gratitude. The Apostle, however, had neither office nor identification card, but he had the answers. He knew the solution to the spiritual plagues which have been haunting men since time immemorial.
We witness also the directness of the Apostle. Lack of directness is a tragic deficiency in present-day Christian endeavor. We may be so indirect and so indefinite in laying the message of God’s redeeming love at the heart’s door of an individual as to leave him utterly confused about the whole important matter. There was the eager, young suitor who was bidding for the heart and hand of his fiancee. In his approach, he nervously pledged his devotion, promising to be true and faithful however strong the winds of adversity or how ever fierce may prove the storms of life. The poor girl, it is said, did not know whether it was a proposal or a weather report. Let us not talk in circles. We may lose our contact. Men may resent the blunt information that they are going to hell, but no one should object to a clear statement of fact about the way that leads to heaven.
People in the long ago, as today, were divided into two general classes with regard to the Christian faith. People were either believers or unbelievers, for some believed and some did not believe. The twelve disciples at Ephesus, in the course of their teaching, must have labored the fact that they were believers. This proves that the term “believer” can suffer sadly from too wide an application. Here was Paul’s opportunity. He grasped it at once. “Received ye the Holy Spirit when ye believed (revised version)?” he asked. Whether they were startled or disconcerted by this sudden inquiry is left to the imagination of the reader. It was more than a rhetorical question. It called for an answer, and their answer only confirmed Paul’s assumption. They knew neither the truth nor the Teacher of the message of life.
In this whole experience, we note the interest of the Apostle. He found no glory in disputation, but if an argument were forced upon him, he never cowered before his dissenters. Nor did he delight in disturbance; but when it came, he did not quail before his assailants. His motto was, “Whether by life or by death.” He did not make it a policy of intruding himself upon others, but it was his divinely-ordained business to contact men. When he spoke to the twelve it was with a distinct interest in their spiritual well-being. Silence would have been unpardonable. Duty demanded a display of concern. Genuine interest must be expressed. This was his expression.
That Paul was impartial is crystal clear in the record. He said, “We persuade men.” He never limited his persuasion to men of one nationality or of one particular color. All men need Christ. All men should know of Him. But the dozen whom he found to be in the dark were, we believe, fellow-countrymen. They were the disciples of John the Baptist. They were adherents to the Law of which Jesus was the end for righteousness to all who believe. The Apostle revealed in his Roman epistle how deeply his heart ached for his brethren according to the flesh who were still under the veil of darkness. What a challenge these twelve constituted. Nor did it require long for them to realize the genuineness of his interest in them.
The men whom the Apostle had accosted were honest men. Without argument or apology, they simply said they had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit. They might have explained that they had not taken such a course at the seminary. They might have stated that their “church” did not accept the “theory.” They might have related how they had had a bright-light vision one day and that they based their hope on this phenomenon. No, they were truthful in their answer and humble in their admission. They had never heard about the Holy Spirit.
Such honesty today might be a very hopeful sign. Instead, people in this now-age think so, guess so and hope so. With no assurance of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and with little or no knowledge of His person and work, so many cling to the fragments of a hopeless tradition as they drift over life’s sea. Give us people who, instead of claiming they are Christians because they are not Jews, will humbly confess that they do not know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Give us people who, instead of hoping for a better “hereafter” because of good conduct, will acknowledge that they have not God. Give us people who, instead of making excuses for lack of spiritual fruit, will say that they know not the Holy Spirit. Immediately upon such a confession from the twelve, the Apostle was in a position to help them.
These men were not only honest, but willing. This is convincingly evident. The poet ventured the thought that we would make some amazing discoveries “if we could draw the curtains which surround each other’s life, see the naked heart and spirit, know what spur the action gives.” Perhaps a lot of men on the street corners would be willing to hear about the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps many in offices, in factories, in stores, on trains, planes and trolleys would welcome a sound, sane and solemn presentation of eternal life. Fear and a feeling of insecurity are filling many a troubled breast.
The twelve men at Ephesus registered no objection when Paul intruded himself upon them. It was sudden but not disturbing. It was different but not resented. It was revealing and welcomed. They admitted that they had not gotten beyond John’s baptism. Apparently they had not learned that John was but the fading voice of a dying dispensation. Perhaps they did not understand that John himself knew that he must decrease and that One greater than he must increase. They had not followed the finger of John which pointed to One who was the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. They were not advised of the fact that One was to come who would apply the merits of Christ’s crosswork to the lives of believing men. They did not know that this divine Administrator was the Holy Spirit. But they were willing both to hear and learn.
Not only were they willing, but they were ready as well. Like the Ethiopian on the way to Gaza, these men needed only a helping hand from somebody who knew the way. Thus, it did not require much preparatory work on the part of Paul. This is one of the wonderful features about the work of the Holy Spirit. He works at both ends. He can get a sinner ready for the message if He can get a messenger ready for the service. And, again like the Ethiopian, these men wanted to be baptized unto Jesus as soon as they heard the glorious good news of salvation.
“We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” the men unitedly confessed. How utterly unaware they were of the presence of this blessed member of the Godhead is revealed in the words “not so much as.” They had not even picked up a rumor to this effect. Yet almost a score of years had passed into history since the great day of Pentecost on which the Holy Spirit made His debut for His present ministry. It is conjectured that these men lived a distance from Jerusalem; that poor communications of that ancient day prevented them from hearing; that their associations were outside the Christian realm. Whatever the true reason, these men simply had not so much as heard that there be any Holy Ghost.
Not having heard of the person of the Holy Spirit, how could they be aware of His presence? Without an awareness of His presence, how could they know about His power? Yes, they were in the dark. Anyone is in the dark who has not heard of the Holy Spirit. Since they had not so much as heard of Him, they did not know that He had come. They did not know when He came. They did not know how He came. They did not know why He came. There were not born again, because to be born again is to be born of the Spirit. They had no witness that they belonged to God because the Holy Spirit is the witness. They could not have been of Christ, for “if any men have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
But whatever neglect there had been is now being quickly corrected. Paul, not so much in an exceptional display of knowledge, but in a careful and practical procedure, led these disciples of John back to the wild Baptizer’s own authenticated message. “The same,” said the last prophet of the Law, “is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” He was speaking, of course, of Jesus, but in making the identification, he also referred to the blessed third person of the Godhead.
A whole new area of Truth was being opened to their respective minds and longing hearts. When they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, they came into a new position. As Paul laid his hands upon them and the Holy Spirit came upon them, there was left no room whatsoever for doubt in their minds. Had it not developed in this manner, these disciples of John might have been as inquisitive and as dubious as the converted Jews who witnessed the Gentile Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit at the time of their conversion when Peter brought the Gospel their way.
The whole moral of this lesson can be summed up tersely: Do not remain in the dark concerning the Holy Spirit. When the light comes, accept it. When He guides, follow.