At the end of Luke’s gospel we read the words Jesus spoke to His disciples just before his Ascension to glory.
46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 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.”
“Power from on high”. A strange phrase. What would the disciples have been expecting when Jesus promised they would be “clothed with power from on high”? How was that promise fulfilled in the life of the early church.
The word translated “power” in the New Testament has a rather different meaning to the Hebrew word translated power in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we find the word “power” more than a hundred times, and there it refers to the strength of individual men and women. In that sense our human power can come from training or experience or human wisdom or hard work. I wrote in my magazine article for this month that God calls us not to rely on our own human power – but instead to rely on the power of His Holy Spirit.
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)
The New Testament again speaks around 100 times of power – but the word we translate as power there refers not to the strength of men and women, but to the almighty power of the almighty God. And when Jesus promised to his disciples “power from on high” THAT is the kind of power He was talking about. The Greek word in question is dunamis and from that root we get two significant English words. The first is dynamo – which generates electrical power. The second is dynamite – the explosive. Jesus promises to give his disciples the power of the Holy Spirit, dunamis, the dynamo and the dynamite of the Christian life!
And we see that power from on high expressed in at least three different ways in the life of the early church.
1 Power in miracles of healing and deliverance
In Luke’s gospel especially we see this aspect of the power of God at work in the ministry of Jesus
Luke 4:14 [Luke 4:14]
Luke 14:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread
Luke 4:36 [Luke 4:36]
What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him
Luke 5:17 [Luke 5:17] . And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal
people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all
Luke 8:46 [Luke 8:46]
Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Even during His earthly ministry Jesus then passed that power on to his disciples, first to the 12 and then to the 72.
Luke 9:1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
In our Home Group studies we are following through into the book of Acts how these miracles of healing and deliverance continued in the Early Church.
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles…. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Then in Acts 3 Peter and John were enabled to heal the lame man sitting at the beautiful gate of the temple.
Acts 3:12 [Acts 3:12]
Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?
Acts 4:7 [Acts 4:7]
them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” 8 Then
Miracles were a characteristic of the early church, and a mark of many of those first Christians.
Acts 68 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Acts 14: 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Acts 19:11-12 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Power from on high – power for miracles and healing and deliverance.
But then secondly in the early church we find
2 Power in proclaiming the gospel
Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes
1 Corinthians 2: 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Thess 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
This is the power Jesus promised to his disciples just before He ascended. Power to be witnesses for Jesus.
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.”
You may have followed the Bible Society evangelism training programme, Person to Person. In it Michael Green, at that time Rector of St Aldates Church in Oxford, memorably reminds us,
“Who is it who convicts people of sin? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who enables people to say Jesus is Lord? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who baptises people into Christ? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who brings new birth? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who assures us that we belong to Jesus? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who produces the fruit of changed characters? it is the Holy Spirit!
Who gives us gifts so that we can serve God more effectively? It is the Holy Spirit!”
All these things are the working of God the Holy Spirit bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ. Our part as believers is simply to make sure we are available to God and ready to obey Him when He wants to use us, and that we don’t get in God’s way by trying to do His work for Him! The Holy Spirit is already at work in the lives of “not yet Christians.” And the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives too. It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the words to say when we share the gospel.
We may feel we could never tell other people about Jesus. But it’s not about skillful speaking and persuasive words. It’s about the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, and working in the people we are talking to! And that power isn’t just for ministers and evangelists, but for EVERY Christian. That is what Jesus promised in Luke 24:49 – we will be clothed in power from on high!
Power in proclaiming the gospel, and THIRDLY
3 Power to live the victorious Christian life
This aspect of the power of God comes more obviously from the only Old Testament appearance of the phrase “Power from on high” in ISAIAH 32:14-18
14 The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland for ever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,
15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace;the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence for ever.18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling-places,in secure homes,in undisturbed places of rest.
Work of “Spirit from on high” / “power from on high” in ISAIAH is the renewal of Israel, rebuilding and restoring God’s chosen people. This renewal, rebuilding, iorrestoration would have TWO aspects :
(1) bringing blessings of peace and prosperity, justice and righteousness and
(2) bringing Israel to repentance – refining and purifying God’s chosen people
The work of the Spirit from on high is both to bring the blessings of salvation and to purify God’s people.
And that is the work of the Spirit in Christians, to give us the power to live the Christian life and to live changed lives!
2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Eph 1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,
Col 1:10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
THIS WON’T ALWAYS BE EASY
2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
GOD’S POWER CAN DO SO MUCH MORE THAN OUR HUMAN EFFORTS CAN
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
This is the power given to every Christian – the power which raised Christ from the dead!
2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
So here is the power from on high which Jesus promises to His people –
Power in miracles of healing and deliverance
Power in proclaiming the gospel
Power to live the victorious Christian life
TWO OBVIOUS THINGS TO SAY
If that is what being clothed with power from on high is about – we aren’t! AND
If that is what being clothed with power from on high is about – we need to be!
A Christian girl was visiting from Eastern Europe and her hosts asked her what impressions she had formed about the Churches she had visited in Britain. She said, “The church in England is like a great big factory – but the power is switched off!” The power is switched off – how different to the life of the Early Church.
Samuel Chadwick (1832–1917)
“To the church, Pentecost brought light, power, joy. There came to each illumination of mind, assurance of heart, intensity of love, fullness of power, exuberance of joy. No one needed to ask if they had received the Holy Ghost. Fire is self-evident. So is power!”
I want to know more of this power from on high. More of the dynamo and the dynamite of the Spirit in my life. But do I really?
TOZER: Do you want to be filled with a Spirit who, though he is like Jesus in his gentleness and love, will nevertheless demand to be Lord of your life? Are you willing to let your personality be taken over by another, even if that other be the Spirit of God himself? If the Spirit takes charge of your life he will expect unquestioning obedience in everything. He will not tolerate in you the self-sins even though they are permitted and excused by most Christians.… You will find the Spirit to be in sharp opposition to the easy ways of the world and of the mixed multitude within the precincts of religion. He will be jealous over you for good. He will not allow you to boast or swagger or show off. He will take the direction of your life away from you. He will reserve the right to test you, to discipline you, to chasten you for your soul’s sake. He may strip you of many of those borderline pleasures which other Christians enjoy but which are to you a source of refined evil. Through it all he will enfold you in a love so vast, so mighty, so all-embracing, so wondrous that your very losses will seem like gains and your small pains like pleasure. A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
Clothed with power from on high:-
Power in miracles of healing and deliverance
Power in proclaiming the gospel
Power to live the victorious Christian life
Do you want to be clothed with power from on high?
Before we can be filled with the Spirit, the desire to be filled must be all-consuming. It must be for the time the biggest thing in the life, so acute, so intrusive as to crowd out everything else. The degree of fullness in any life accords perfectly with the intensity of true desire. We have as much of God as we actually want. A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)