I continue my discussion on Acts 1. 1-11 I began yesterday.
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. NIV
The question I have is what the disciples understood by Jesus’ comment regarding the Holy Spirit they should anticipate receiving soon. It is an important question as it sets the stage for Pentecost which shall be celebrated this Sunday, June 9 for it was on the Jewish celebration of this ancient holy day that God fulfilled Jesus’ promise to them. By understanding what they understood or what they should have understood we will get a better grasp on what receiving the Holy Spirit would mean for us.
While I particularly enjoy the account of the coming of the Spirit as recorded by Luke in Acts, chapter 2, its dramatic portrayal can also lead to some mistaken perceptions. Such perceptions have divided the church in the past concerning the gift of “tongues” and its use as a criteria for determining who should be considered a “true” Christian. The purpose of chapter 1 is to set the stage for the events of chapter 2.
While I do not doubt the disciples heard the rush of a mighty wind or saw what appeared to be flames of fire descending upon one another this was not a typical of other “baptisms” recorded in the Book of Acts. And the fact that some later descriptions included the speaking in an unknown heavenly language does not jive with the experience in chapter 2 where the disciples were able to speak in the languages other people who heard them speak could understand. The debate whether it is essential that “born again” Christians must possess the gift of “tongues” is arbitrary. It served God’s purpose as did the speaking in recognizable languages the day at Pentecost served God’s purpose of assuring every person in the locality heard the gospel clearly and were convicted to place their faith in Christ.
What was most important to which the Apostle Paul addressed in his letters to the Corinthian believers was the bearing the fruit of the Spirit which is the outcome of the Spirit’s filling. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to make the believer holy, but the other outcomes include assurance of faith, intimate companionship with Christ, encouragement, consolation, guidance and empowerment. As we read in chapter 1 no mention of any gift of tongues is suggested, though such a gift certainly empowered the witness of the disciples on Pentecost and had tremendous results.
The power referred to by Jesus is broader than the ability to speak in other languages or even a heavenly language. The filling recorded in chapter 2 emboldened the small band of disciples to step up and step out, something the church desperately needs today. They lost their timidity and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus. They were filled with confidence and conviction they could have mustered on their own power.
I propose that the eleven and other disciples who might have been with them did not have any idea of what the promise of the Holy Spirit would look like. Even though John provide us the most complete description of the Spirit’s work in chapters 15-17 of his gospel his letter was not composed until the later years of his ministry and well after the events of Acts 1 or 2. The description of the Spirit’s work should be more definitive in assessing what we should expect for ourselves today, those I mentioned earlier and defined by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22, 23 of the embodiment within the Follower of Christ of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The promise of the Spirit in Chapter 1 of Acts is connected to the purpose or the commission Jesus gave them. They would become witnesses to the truth of Christ where they were and in an ever expanding territory that would eventually encompass the world. As we know that promise has in most part has been fulfilled and is still being completed as the faith is proclaimed and lived in the parts where it is still absent.
What does it take to spread the message and values of Christ? The word for “power” used by Jesus is dunamis which translates into “dynamite.” Therefore the promise is “You shall receive explosive, dynamic power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” That power is to live a dynamic distinctive life which will be out of the ordinary and draw the attention of those who do not know Christ. The question I must ask myself is whether I am living such a dynamic life, or am I dull, unimpassioned in my faith in Jesus. Do I exude confidence in Christ and exuberant with regards to following him as the Lord of my life? How about you?
My response to what should be expected from the Holy Spirit is three things. The first is CONVICTION. In order to effectively witness for Christ we must be possessed by a conviction we must give verbal and tangible witness to Christ if we are to be faithful and fruitful. The second gift is CERTAINTY. We have to be certain that Jesus is the answer for our human need and that he is truly “the way, the truth, and the life” we are to emulate in our living. Without this certainty we have nothing valuable to share. This does not mean we have all the answers to everyone doubts and questions, let alone our own, but there has to be a certain confidence in what we do know is true in order to positively impact the lives of others.
Last, (there always has to be three points to a sermon and God is triune) we must have COURAGE. You can be certain and have conviction but without courage we will never take the risk to boldly proclaim Christ to others. The disciples were hiding in the Upper Room in prayer and reflection upon what Jesus meant to them when suddenly they had conviction and certainty which gave them an unprecedented courage to boldly hit the street with the gospel. We need the Holy Spirit today!