Preface: Acts is the sequel to Luke's written account of Jesus' life and ministry. The closing of Luke's gospel gives a brief reference to Jesus' ascension, which is where Acts begins, but with more detail. While it's called Acts as a shortened version of "The Acts of the Apostles," it could probably be more accurately titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
You will be tempted to read through this with western lenses that filter out much of activity attritubed to the Holy Spirit and categorized as supernatural. We live in a naturalistic society that loves the supernatural in our entertainment but scoffs at the supernatural in reality. The American church has some growing to do in our understnding of and dependency upon the Holy Spirit. We tend toward two extremes:
The overemphasis on signs and wonders and the sensational, which can lead to fraudulent expressions and run away emotionalism in the name of the Holy Spirit.
The underemphasis of the Spirit's necessity for all of life and ministry for the Christian, and the discounting of the Spirit's power to bring the coming realities of Christ's Kingdom into the present reality of earth.
I have one friend who characterizes these extremes in the context of ministry as always expecting the Spirit to do everything and never expecting the Spirit to do anything. Instead, he says, I think rightly, that we should always expect the Spirit to do something and expect that sometimes the Spirit will do everything. In other words, when we are ministering to people, witnessing to the resurrected Jesus, praying for healing, etc., the book of Acts teaches us that the Holy Spirit is altogether able and interested in joining his power to our obedience in order to glorify Jesus. So we should long for that, expect that, ask for that, believe for it, acknolwedge it when it happens, and trust the grace and wisdom of God when it doesn't seem to.
For God is often doing things behind the scenes, in secret places, that we're unaware of. So we trust him. My request, as we walk through Acts, is that you would keep eyes wide open to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts and my hope is that He would begin to awaken belief and expectation in your heart that might lead to an energized and confident obedience.
Jesus' parting instructions to the disciples was to wait for something that they did not understand and had no point of reference. in v. 4-5 Jesus says the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father, which he delivered to them. So Jesus' promise of the Spirit came directly from the Father. And v. 8 tells us that only on the fulfilling of this promise; only at the empowering of the Holy Spirit are the disciples
to leave Jerusalem. But once the Spirit is poured out, then they are to go forth in the Spirit's power for the very distinct purpose of bearing witness to the ultimate reality of Jesus, as the resurrected Lord, God and King. And they are commanded and empowered to go and do this, not just in Jerusalem, but also in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit does many things for us to be sure, but all that he does is to the chief end of accomplishing God's mission... that is, to embolden and empower the Church to make Christ and His Kingdom visible through word and deed, for the salvation of guilty sinners.
Could it be that we have a watered down experience of the Spirit's presence and power because we aren't sold on or surrendered to Christ's mission? Could it be that we experience a dearth of the Holy Spirit because we want him for our agenda and aren't interested in His agenda? We are called and commissioned to make disciples; to be ambassadors of Christ. That Spirit is sent by the Father to accomplish that task, not to make us feel better about not giving ourselves to that task.
When it comes to Spirit-empowerment, there are 3 things I'll point out:
1) Waiting on the Spirit precedes moving in the Spirit.
We must resist the urge in our busy society to always be active and always be doing something. Productivity can be a distraction from and barrier to experiencing the presence and power of the Spirit. We have to be willing to sit in prayerful stillness and silence, and wait upon the Lord.
2) The Spirit catalyzes movement
The Spirit has no part in stagnation. When the Spirit lands on us, he generates spiritual movement, both in terms of personal progress and gospel advancement.
3) The Spirit responds to and reinforces preoccupation with Jesus
The resurrection of Christ fixated the disciples on Jesus. They were obsessed with Jesus. Waiting for and responding to what Jesus promised is far less difficult when your whole life is oriented around him. The more deeply we are consumed by the reality of Christ, and him crucified and raised from the dead, the more likely we will be experience the reality of the Holy Spirit.
Based on what Jesus told them to do, and the description of what they did, it's plain to see that waiting isn't not a passive thing of isolating oneself and doing nothing. Waiting involves at least three things here:
1) Being together - followers of Jesus draw strength from one another, and discern God's will and direction together. It is right and good to surround yourself with like-minded community who are pursuing the same thing as you.
2) Prayer - one of the best things we can when waiting is maintain a prayerful posture. Here, they were devoted to prayer. For the record, opening and closing meetings with prayer probably doesn't classify as devotion to prayer.
3) Scripture - Peter gets up during their time of prayer, and he brings Scripture into their waiting. Even here, we see him starting to understand Scripture in light of it's primary theme... the person and work of Jesus. Studying and wrestling with what God has revealed in His Word to us, is a worthy pursuit in waiting. Scripture can help enhance our preoccupation with Jesus and delight in Jesus, and fill our hearts with greater love for Jesus, which the Spirit loves to honor and deepen.
One of the most important things to hold on to with all of Acts 2 is these things actually happened. We are not reading some fanciful fairy tale or feel good stories. Luke is telling us what really took place among real people in a real place and at a real time in history. Again, this is where we have to dispense with some of naturalistic worldviews that have been nurtured by the American education system and American culture. Part of you and part of me doesn't want to take this seriously. We are inclined to read over it, maybe gloss over, maybe think, "that's cool", but not internalize the reality and significance of what's unfolding here. Just read through it a second time. Slowly. Let it land.
The Holy Spirit is showing up and being poured out in a totally different way than ever before. We are seeing the power and presence of God fall on man and change the game for all humanity. The newness of life and the living waters promised by Jesus was now being sent to refresh and nourish parched, dehydrated souls. Heaven was coming down to earth.
Specifically, it's hard to know what to make of the visual which Luke's presents here. It's mysterious. It's strange. I think we can be honest about that. But let's also be honest that God has permission to operate in the mysterious and strange. He is able to do things that we don't understand fully. We can tend to fixate on the sensational and mysterious aspects here, trying visualize the scene described. There certainly is nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to focus on the clear impact of the Spirit, rather than uncertain appearance of things.
Here's what is obvious... when the Spirit fell and filled the disciples they were speaking in different tongues. People from every ethnic group represented in Jerusalem, and whatever they were saying or sounding like, each person listening was hearing the gospel proclaimed, and the works of God declared in their own native tongue… their heart language. This is utterly miraculous and altogether spectacular. But not just because of the Spirit’s translation to each person, but because of the nature of what he was translating.
The Spirit doesn’t show up and show off to draw attention and wow people and get ooh’s and aah’s. The Holy Spirit is not an entertainer or performer. He doesn’t need applause or fanfare or hype. He’s not an insecure pubescent child craving attention and desperate for acknowledgment. The Holy Spirit is God. And when the Spirit powerfully enters into the affairs of man it is very specifically to magnify, glorify and exalt Jesus. He doesn’t translate the weather report or the evening news. The Spirit is bearing witness to the glories of God and the work of Jesus Christ to redeem humanity. The wonder and awe and amazement that the Spirit awakens in people is specifically because He is revealing something about the nature of God, the Kingdom of God or the work of God. Any authentic ministry of the Spirit confronts people with the reality of God. As we in the remainder of Acts 2, many people respond to the Spirit with openness, receptivity, repentance and faith. Others, as v. 13 says, will mock the word of God, the work of God and the people of God. In either case, they respond to God.
To be where the Holy Spirit is presently working is to encounter God. Nothing less than that. And to encounter God always compels a response. Either we will welcome and surrender and yield in His presence, or we will stiffen our necks and harden our hearts. Every time we encounter God through the presence of the Spirit, we will either grow more pliable and moldable or we will grow more stubborn and resistant to the Lord.
I wonder by that measure, if you are growing more or less responsive to the Spirit? More or less dependent upon the Lord? More or less enthralled with Jesus? More or less dead to sin? More or less aligned with the world and the spirit of the age? More or less aware of Christ’s Kingdom and the Spirit of God?
We’ll see tomorrow a little more about how we might discern if the Spirit is present and working among us.
Okay, the Holy Spirit has fallen at Pentacost, and it's creating enough of a stir among the believers that others in Jerusalem are gathering to see what's going on. They're hearing of the gospel and "the mighty works of God" in their own tongues even though their languages aren't being spoken. Some of them are believing in Jesus and others are mocking them, suggesting they're drunk.
Peter is the one to start preaching and communicating to the large crowd while filled with the Spirit and I want to draw out some observations of that.
1. The Spirit Gives Clarity - Notice that people are confused about what's going on and they are asking questions or making speculations. But as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, when talking about the gifts of the Spirit (specifically about tongues and prophecy), he says that God is a God of order. One thing that authenticates a genuine move of the Spirit is clarity in general, and theological clarity in particular. The Spirit doesn't perpetuate confusion, or blur lines, or create chaos. Nobody's drunk, Peter tells them... and rather than thinking what they want, he tells them what is actually going on.
2. The Spirit Teaches the Bible - Right away, Peter explains what is happening by teaching the Bible. He goes to Joel 2, and Psalms twice. He doesn't preach his own wisdom, or come up with some clever ideas, he goes straight to God's Word, and connets their experience to Scripture.
3. The Spirit Exalts Christ - Peter then connects Scripture, specifically the OT, to Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Spirit, he testifies to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Spirit does not glorify itself or the people that he ministers to or through. The Spirit glorifies Jesus.
4. The Spirit Convicts Men - Many of those listening were "cut to the heart." The Holy Spirit uses God's People proclaiming God's Word the finished work of God's Son to accomplish God's Mission. As clear as the Spirit is about the truth of God, the Spirit is equally clear about the condition of man. He reveals God's grace and mercy, but also reveals our guild and need for grace.
5. The Spirit Converts Sinners - Peter tells them to repent, be forgiven, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Spirit, all by faith. The Spirit gives new life to dead souls.
Two other things I'll point out here for good measure. The third hour referred to in v. 15, is 9 a.m. The Spirit also seems to clarify that God's people have no business being drunk before 9 a.m. Make a not of that (of course I'm being playful here). Lastly, and more seriously, Peter characterizes the time in whch they lived as a "crooked generation." But we live in our own crooked generation, our own twisted culture that distorts truth, resists God's authority, and does what is right in their own eyes. We all need to be saved from the crooked generation in which we live.
This is everybody's favorite passage on community that shapes our ideal picture of what life together can be like within the local church. But we can't lose sight of what Peter preaches earlier in the chapter. The wonderful portrait of an interdependent community, acring for one another and sharing life together at a deep and intimate level, is birthed by a shared devotion to the gospel preach in v. 22-41. We cannot create this kind of community by our own efforts and willpower. This kind of community is created by God's power through the gospel.
The attractiveness of this community in v. 44-47 grows out of the shared devotions we see in v. 42-43. That is that biblical community is a bi-product of shared faith and shared pursuits, which include as a priority...
DEVOTION TO THE GOSPEL
The teaching of the Apostle's had an overwhelming emphasis on the Gospel and on repentance of sin and faith in Jesus and his finished worked. So we are devoted to learning and applying the gospel specifically to our hearts and lives, but also to the Scriptures more generally, because that is what the Apostle's were deriving their teaching from and it's the place where their teaching is preserved. And this is all what happens among people who have received, been filled with and are walking in the Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not come to move us on from the Word of God, or beyond the Word of God but more deeply into the Word of God.
DEVOTION TO FELLOWSHIP
The greek word for fellowship is Koinonia… it means participation or sharing. What Luke is describing is a group of people whose lives were intertwined. That doesn’t happen incidentally, they devoted themselves to it. They decided to rearrange and reorient their lives so as to more deeply involve and impact one another. Christian Community is supposed to be like that. Sunday Attendance and a midweek bible study is not what the early church was devoted to. You can do both those things and never enter into life giving community. Because attending even two things a week, you can still pretend, and be guarded and put your best foot forward. You don’t have to let anybody in really. You can still live a compartmentalized life.
Acts 2 community is about lives that are bound to one another. When one is hurting, the others feel that and carry that. When one is rejoicing the others are entering into that. My struggle becomes your struggle. My progress is tied to your progress. And that’s uncomfortable for a lot of us. We don’t want to carry that load with others, and we don’t want to feel needy ourselves. But devoting ourselves to this sort of interconnectedness and interdependence is essential to experience the realities described in v. 44-47.
DEVOTION TO THE PRAYERS
This has the connotation not just of praying for one another, but more getting together for the purpose of praying with one another. Praying for our needs and health and finances and those things is totally legitimate, but what dominated the prayers of the early church, were prayers for the Kingdom of God to advance. They had experienced the outpouring of the Spirit and they were longing for his presence to come again in power. We need more prayers that get beyond our needs, to the need of our neighborhoods, and our city and our nation and our world, and that is a fresh outpouring of the Spirit… for him to move in power.
I could go on all day about this passage but I'll stop there. I know you want the benefits of community as I do. The benefits are easy to enjoy and see as beautiful. What's difficult is devoting ourselves to the process. I wonder wher eyou are on that.
Are you devoting yourself to learning through the Apostolic witness and teaching (the gospel and Scripture)?
Are you devoted to a radical reorienting and rearranging of your life to be connected to Christ's body, the church?
Are you devoted prayers, personally and together, that go beyond personal felt need to a urgent plea for heaven to invade earth and for the Spirit to move again today as in the Apostle's day?