Some years ago the missionary statesman, George Verwer, stated with prophetic insight:
“Many.. are rejecting the missionary call because they believe it’s a call to the strong, the special, the unusual .. the educated, the gifted. It is my conviction that the world will be evangelised by ordinary weak people who love Jesus Christ, and have decided that despite their weakness, their feelings of insecurity or inferiority or whatever, they are going to lay hold of the God of the impossible and invade the world... for Jesus Christ.”
I wonder what prevents us from obeying Jesus’ command to “go to all peoples everywhere” and share the great good news of the gospel? How will we lay hold of the God of the impossible?
Well Jesus was clear: none of his disciples should even attempt obeying him until they knew something had happened to them. He said clearly, “you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down on you.” (Luke 24:49) And he added later, “But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be my witnesses...” (Acts 1:8) It is clear, then, that in Jesus’ mind there is something (Someone) that needs to happen to the disciples before they were ready to take on the world for Christ’s sake. In Acts 3:6 Peter said to the beggar at the temple gate: “I give you what I have”. And he was healed,
“walking and jumping and praising God.” Just six words - “I give you what I have” - but they convey the very real difference between what we read of the Church in the book of Acts, and what we know of the Church today. As one bishop said to another, ‘ why is it when the early Church shared the gospel the sick were healed and demons cast out and when we share the gospel all that happens is we get a cup of tea?!”
Notice first, then, about the disciples before the Day of Pentecost, there was A GREAT EXPECTANCY.
Jesus had been carefully preparing his disciples. In his teaching at the Last Supper he said these words; “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [one like me, literally, who comes alongside to aid and carry your burdens], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18) They were not going to be left all alone. Jesus was going to be with them still in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he said their position would be better (John 16:7).
And so they devote themselves to being together as a group and to prayer. We read, “They gathered frequently to pray as a group” (Acts 1:14). In other words, they weren’t just idly sitting round, hoping for the best. They were laying habits of a lifetime - whilst at Antioch they waited on the Lord in worship and fasting seeking guidance before the Holy Spirit told them too set apart Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for mission. (Acts 13:1-2)
In other words, they were expectant. They expected God to do something - they didn’t quite know what - but they waited as Jesus had instructed them, but they didn’t waste this time. They put themselves deliberately before the Lord, seeking his face, making sure they were in good order before him, even choosing a replacement for Judas.
Many of us in the Church today don’t expect God to answer prayer or do anything - and we are not disappointed!
Secondly, notice there was a GREAT ENCOUNTER (Acts 2:1ff):
Pentecost was so called because it it was celebrated on the fiftieth (Greek, ‘pentekostos’) day after the presentation of the harvest of barley - that is, the 50th day from the first Sunday after Passover (Leviticus 23:15). Called also the ‘feast of weeks’ and ‘the day of the first fruits’ it became associated with celebrating the giving of the Law.
“And suddenly...” It can be very frightening to be outside when a hurricane blows - roofs can be torn off houses, all kinds of detritus is taken up into the air, dustbins seem to ‘fly’ off down the street... Ah, but this wind, this gale was
INSIDE the upper room. INSIDE! This “mighty rushing wind filled the entire house”- so even more than the room they were sitting in. The wind is a sign of God’s presence: think of what David says, “at the blast of the breath of [God’s] nostrils ...the foundations of the world were laid bare.” (2 Samuel 22:16). And when Ezekiel prophesied to the wind, under instruction from God, and called it to blow upon the dead bodies, the dead bones, in the valley of his vision, it was the breath of God that came and brought life and renewal and the bones became a living army. (Ezekiel 37:9-14) As Jesus said, “the wind blows wherever it wishes.” (John 3:8)
If that wasn’t enough, there was FIRE! Remember Exodus 19? “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire.” (18) John prophesied that Jesus would baptise (immerse) in fire, purging, purifying and judging. Fire burns, fire spreads, fire gives light, fire empowers and fire purifies. That’s a great list of what happens to us when the Spirit gets hold of us.
Get this: it was a terrifying experience. You can’t domesticate the Holy Spirit of God. But what followed next is key: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (2:4) In other words, they all heard and saw that each of them was filled with the Holy Spirit.
This ‘filling’ is also called elsewhere ‘a baptising’ (1:5; 11:16); ‘a pouring out’ (2:17ff, 10:45); and ‘a receiving’ (10:47).
You see, whatever term you use, it is plain that there is an experience.
And in Acts there are 5 accounts of the Spirit being given: 1. Acts 2, The Day of Pentecost itself
2. Acts 8, those in Samaria receiving the Spirit
3. Acts 9, the conversion of Saul
4. Acts 10, the conversion of Cornelius
5. Acts 19, the disciples at Ephesus.
Acts 2 describes something happening to the 120 who were already believers; Acts 8 describes something that Simon Magus sees when people receive the Spirit; Acts 9:17 describes how subsequent to his conversion Saul receives the Spirit; Acts 10 tells us that while Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell on his audience; and Acts 19 describes in 2 stages a group of John’s disciples who become Christians in verse 5 and who later receive the Spirit in verse 6. To the question, ‘do we receive everything at conversion?’ the Bible’s record is that Cornelius did, but Paul, the Samaritans and those at Ephesus didn’t.
Get this: from the Biblical account, I have to say that people KNEW when they had received the Spirit. They were left in no doubt. They weren’t encouraged to ‘take it by faith’ and they weren’t vaguely aware of something mystically glowing - no, they KNEW the Spirit had come. There is no greater clincher for this view than this thunderous quotation from the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
“Got it all? Well, if you have got it all, I simply ask in the name of God, why are you as you are? If you have got it all, why are you so unlike New Testament Christianity? Got it all! Got it at your conversion! Well, where is it I ask?”
This coming of the Spirit, this soaking and drenching in power is always associated with testimony, witness, and service. The Spirit is not poured out so we can have rave parties of spiritual bless-ups! The Spirit is given that we may do the works of Jesus in our witness and service of him.
So the book of Acts describes what happened when the Early Church ACTED in the power of the Holy Spirit. The book describes 30 years in the life of the church - 30 years in which hearings and miracles occur, in which own occasion whole villages turn to Christ, in which there are conflicts with the demonic and the occult, in which there is freshness and liberty in worship, in which there is boldness in preaching and witness, in which prayer meetings are exciting, in which folk are set free to be all that God desires them to be, in which on one occasion a building is shaken by the power of God, in which there was tangible love and unity - and it was to this church that the Lord was pleased to add daily those he was saving.
Honestly now ... when in your life, or your church’s life, did you ever come close to that?
And finally notice THE GREAT EXCITEMENT (Acts 2: 7, “they were amazed and astonished..”)
Outside the Church, there is often more hunger than you think. Often there is a hunger for God in the culture which is not often recognised. We shouldn’t find this odd, since God has placed eternity in our hearts; and as Paul says in Athens, “God is actually not far from any one of us.” (17:27)
What is needed is a new Church empowered by God’s Spirit so that outsiders can exclaim, ‘what’s going on with you lot?’ Doesn’t Paul say one of the side-effects, so to speak, of the Spirit filled Church, where the fruit and then gifts of the Spirit are plainly visible and at work, is that when unbelievers come in “they will bow down and worship God, confessing, ‘Truly God is here among you!’” (1 Corinthians 14:25)
Of course, there are cynics and sceptics who seek to explain away what God is doing. Their presence was felt on the first Day of Pentecost too: “But others made fun of the believers, saying, ‘these people are drunk!’” (13)
Briefly, then, how may we know more of the Spirit’s fullness in our lives?
•REPENT. “Repent and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) We must mean business with God before God can do business with us. There needs to be a clear ruthless break with all known sin, and a clear determination to put right with the help of Jesus all that has been wrong - in terms of attitudes, relationships, priorities, time, money and ambitions. Most of all, we need to stop thinking the way we do - and learn to think according to God’s wisdom.
•OBEY. Acts 5:32 reads, “We are witnesses to these things and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” We must be willing for God to do with us what he likes, to send us where he likes, and to make us what he planned us to be. Being filled with the Spirit is to come more and more under God’s direct control.
•THIRST. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (satisfied)” (Matthew 5:6) We are to come before God, aware of our own spiritual poverty, and have a profound sorrow about the state of our walk with the Lord. Cultivate humility.
•ASK.In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us 6 times that if we ask something from God we WILL receive. (Luke 11;9,10) Notice also that God wants to deal with your fear - you will never get from your Father what you didn’t ask for (a boiled scorpion rather than a boiled egg!) And then see, that when you have to the end of your resources, God, who is your how much more heavenly Father, will come to your aid, speedily. That’s his mercy and grace. He loves to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
•EXERCISE FAITH. Taking God at his word, start praising him. Expect your heart to be filled with both a sense of the nearness and the dearness of God. And out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth may well find new expressions of praise and worship in new languages you have never learned, or in prophecy. And remember the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a gift of emotion - he wants to equip you practically to serve Jesus more effectively.
Acts 6 provide us with a neat picture of the Spirit-filled person - in this case Stephen.
•Verse 3, “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”, equipped, in
other words, to do what God had called him to do, with
•Verse 5, “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”, expectant that
God would supply all that was needed, and that he would anoint for what he had called Stephen to, and that he would inevitably be blessed by God - even beyond all he could imagine
•Verse 8, “Full of grace [or, ‘richly blessed’] and full of power” - that is he had the fruit of the Spirit and was operating in the gifts of the Spirit, bearing fruit in every good work.
God wants this for us as individuals and as a church that we may all once again say, “I GIVE YOU WHAT I HAVE” to a lost and weary world that it may be healed and saved.