In the six weeks between the resurrection and his ascension, Jesus made a number of promises to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 24 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Acts 1 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.’
On the day of Pentecost those promises were fulfilled in a most dramatic way.
Acts 2:1 …. they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit began to do a new work in the lives of all the believers who were gathered there.
Let me start by saying two things about those events of Pentecost which may appear to be contradictory. The first thing is that the events on that day were totally unique in history and completely unrepeatable. But the second thing is that the writer of the book called The Acts of the Apostles, Luke, wants us to understand that those events were at the same time a pattern for the experience of all believers in the days and the centuries to follow.
Yes, of course these events were historically unique. On that day the Holy Spirit came upon Christ’s disciples in ways that had never happened to them before, or to anybody before in history. This was the fulfilment of God’s promise of power from on high, power to be witnesses for Jesus. This is the first time we read about any disciples being “filled with the Spirit” as a specific event. It was accompanied by some very dramatic phenomena – the mighty wind and tongues of fire. And a remarkable experience followed – they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Unique historical events to mark the birth of the church.
At the same time I want to say that the Luke, the writer, sees all this as a pattern for the experience of other Christians when they too will receive the Holy Spirit. The rest of the Book of Acts goes on to record how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of those first Christians. That story begins at Acts 2:42
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. … 47 And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The most obvious activity of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance. Starting with the man who had been lame since his birth who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Peter and John said to him, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ and the man was healed. He went walking and jumping and praising God!
The miracles continued in Acts 5 where 12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade… 15 .. … people brought those who were ill into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
Another paralysed man called Aeneas was miraculously healed through the ministry of the apostle Peter in Acts 9 and the whole town turned to God and were saved. News of that miracle soon spread to the whole region, including to Joppa which was a dozen miles further up on the Mediterranean coast. In Joppa a disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, had died. The church sent messengers to bring Peter to come to her before her body would have to be buried. Peter arrived and then the Holy Spirit worked an even greater miracle.
Acts 9 40 ….. Turning towards the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.
It was not only the apostles who were working miracles. Acts records miracles through Stephen and Philip and of course also the apostle Paul. Miracles of healing and driving out demons and even bringing other dead people back to life. The Early Church grew in numbers because the Holy Spirit was working miracles. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles should really be called the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Throughout Acts you find the same thing happening whichever chapter you turn to. The witness of the early church was very simple. Time after time God did something extraordinary in their midst, the people around asked “how did that happen?” and the first Christians simply replied, “God did that!” And people turned to the Lord and got saved. The ending of Mark’s Gospel sums up the life of the Early Church like this.
Mark 16 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
It is clear that these Gospel writers, Luke and Mark, were not just recording the historical events of the Early Church. Those experiences were written down for our benefit, as examples for us. Both Luke and Mark confidently expected Christians to continue to experience the signs and wonders which the Holy Spirit was working into the future. Whenever believers are filled with the Holy Spirit we can expect God to be at work in miracles of healing and deliverance.
But beyond signs and wonders, there is another even more important activity of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts and in other places in the New Testament. That also began on the day of Pentecost itself, and was the focus of Peter’s sermon. The first sign that the Holy Spirit had filled the first disciples was not the miracles. It began like this.
Acts 4 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
By the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples were all praising God in languages which they had never learned. People from many nations heard them declaring the wonders of God in their own languages. They wanted to know what this all meant. And that was the occasion for the first sermon in the Early Church.
Acts 2 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘ “In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. ….
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So Peter explains what God was doing in the lives of the disciples by quoting from the Old Testament. And the passage Peter chooses is particularly significant. He focuses on a relatively obscure promise from the prophet Joel. In the End Times, when God pours out his Holy Spirit, it will lead to prophecy – the gift of inspired speech – believers speaking God’s messages.
17 ‘ “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
The disciples were all declaring God’s wonders in languages they had not learned. The Jews in Jesus’s day would have recognised this as one form of prophecy. Just as the Holy Spirit had inspired the Old Testament prophets, God would give all his people messages to deliver, even if they don’t understand them. Messages in dreams and visions.
This arrival of the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of Joel 2 is Peter’s proof that Jesus is risen and exalted and is now giving the promised Holy Spirit to the church.
Acts 2 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Power to be witnesses for Jesus. “The Spirit who gives inspired speech.” Jesus had already promised that kind of power to his disciples.
Mark 13 9.. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. …. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will help the disciples to preach the gospel. And in John’s Gospel we read how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Helper, to his disciples.
John 14 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – … 26 … the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
16 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.
So Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come and help and comfort His disciples by revealing God’s messages to them and enabling them to preach the gospel with power. The same Holy Spirit who had inspired individual prophets through the Old Testament would be given to ALL disciples giving them power to be God’s messengers. Power to be witnesses for Jesus.
Throughout Acts we can see many examples of the Holy Spirit speaking to believers. In Acts 5 God gives Peter words of knowledge when a couple lied to the apostles. In Acts 7 Stephen saw a vision of Jesus. At the end of Acts 8 God spoke to the evangelist Philip through an angel. In Acts 9 God spoke both to Ananias and to Saul in visions.
Acts 9 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
In Acts 10 both Peter and Cornelius received visions from God. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit spoke to the whole church at Antioch to guide them to send Barnabas and Paul off on their missionary journeys. Prophets foretold a great famine and also the dangers that the apostle Paul would face and Paul himself was encouraged and guided by visions and dreams. All these were examples of the fulfilment of God’s promise in the book of Joel which Peter quoted in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost.
Signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance, and God speaking in dreams and visions. All the time people were becoming believers and being saved. Lives were being changed by the transforming power of God which can save from the guttermost to the uttermost. That was the witness of the Early Church – “God did that!”
But Luke was not only recording the particular events which happened in the early years of the church after the Holy Spirit filled the eleven apostles and their companions with such power on the Day of Pentecost. Luke also believes that this power is for ALL believers. Why do I think that Luke writing Acts sees these events as a pattern for all Christians? Because the apostle Peter says so!
Acts 2 36 ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
The gospel Peter preached is that Jesus is risen from the dead and this proves that Jesus is Lord. The proper response to that gospel, Peter says, is to repent and be baptized. And God promises to forgive the sins of everybody who does repent and is baptized. But more than that – God promises to give the same gift of the Holy Spirit to ALL who repent and believe, the same power from on high, the same power to be witnesses for Jesus. The Holy Spirit who works signs and wonders – miracles of healing and deliverance. And the Holy Spirit who can inspire prophecy, dreams and visions in the life of every believer.
Ephesians 5:18 commands us, “Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.” We all need God to fill us afresh every day with His Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, we welcome You.
Please accomplish in me today, Some new work of loving grace, I pray;
Unreservedly have Your way. Holy Spirit, we welcome You.
Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.
“It is a time to open up to the mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing power of God.
The power of God can invade the body, inflate the mind, swell the soul, lift the Spirit and make us more than we ever imagined. It’ll make you young when you’re old, and it’ll make you live even when you die. The power and presence of the Spirit will disturb, delight, deliver and lift.
When God sends forth the Spirit, “the whole face of the earth is renewed.”
When God sends forth the Spirit chaos is changed into creation, the Red Sea opens up to a highway of freedom.
When God sends forth the Spirit: A young woman says “Yes”. Jesus is born and life is never the same.
When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:
barriers are broken, communities are formed, opposites are reconciled, unity is established,
disease is cured, addiction is broken, cities are renewed, races are reconciled,
hope is established, people are blessed, and church happens.
Today the Spirit of God is present and church IS going to happen!
So be ready, get ready…God is up to something…