“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8
These verses are a summary of all that is to happen in the book of Acts. It is a proclamation that the gospel will be carried throughout the world by a group of empowered men and women who, fifty short days before had run and hid themselves from the Jews. The difference between those frightened men and women hold up in the Upper Room and the dynamic evangelists of the book of Acts is the coming of the Holy Spirit.
It is probably a misnomer to call the book of Acts the Acts of the Apostles since only two Apostles play prominent roles in the book. Peter dominates the first chapters and Paul the remainder while the majority of Apostles, who accompanied Jesus, don’t have their stories told.
The context for these verses revolves around the disciples asking Jesus if He is going to restore the Kingdom of Israel at the present time? Jesus answer should be a warning to all Christians who spend their time worried about the exact time of Jesus return. He basically tells them that the Father will bring about His will for the world at the time He chooses and we are to focus on proclaiming the gospel and not sitting around trying to figure out His will.
Instead, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to “receive power when the Holy has come upon you,” and the power of the Holy Spirit is for a specific purpose. How often have we heard people say something like this, “I can’t overcome sin but through the power of the Holy Spirit working in my life I am able to receive victory?” But, is that really the role of the coming of the Holy Spirit in power according to the book of Acts?
“To them He presented Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “ Acts 1:3-5 For the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension Jesus taught the disciples about three major aspects of their future mission. He grounded their faith in His death and resurrection so that there could be no doubt in their minds that He was alive. He taught them about, the Kingdom of God, which would become a central theme of their teachings and He taught them about receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.
These are the three great teachings of the New Testament that took the gospel out of a little room in Jerusalem to become the dominant religion of our modern world. Think about it for a moment. We live in an industrial, science mad world where skeptics and skepticism reign supreme in Universities and the work place and yet Christianity continues to dominate in North America. Our culture, our ethics, our government, our laws and our relationships are all highly influenced by the teachings of Jesus.
How was this all possible? Verse 14 of Acts 1 tells us, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
The disciples heard what Jesus had to say before the Ascension and they went back to the Upper Room and carried on a ten-day prayer session in which they sought wisdom and understanding into all that Jesus had told them. These were not men and women who were waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall on them to change their characters. Their characters were already transformed or they wouldn’t have spent ten days in prayer seeking the wonders of all God had promised.
And when the Holy Spirit fell on them with power (Acts 2) what was the result? Did the disciples sit around and go, “Wow, now I feel less sinful than yesterday? I think I can overcome my sins?” No, they rushed out into the streets to proclaim the Gospel of the transformation that had taken place within their hearts. They preached Jesus crucified (2:23) and Jesus resurrected (2:24). They preached that Jesus was now at the right hand of God (2: 25) and that God wishes to pour out His Spirit on all those who will listen (2: 33).
The result was people were cut to their hearts with the message they heard and they flocked to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, accept the grace of God and receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is not for introspective longings for the change of character, but for outreach and evangelism. Our hearts are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit when He leads us to repent and accept the Gospel. Our character growth is the work of God within us and becomes automatic when we are filled with the desire and longing to share our commitment of what God has done in us to all who will listen.
Too many Christians have little to no power because they seek the Holy Spirit in their lives for selfish reasons. They think the Holy Spirit is some magical force that will give them victory over every sin in their life. They believe they can become perfect in character through receiving enough power from the Holy Spirit. They miss the point that the Holy Spirit is for evangelism.
When you and I come to Christ we receive all the Holy Spirit we are ever going to receive because the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and not some power that we sprinkle on our lives like salt on a meal. Our problem is not receiving more of the Holy Spirit but allowing the Spirit to run free in our lives.
If we want the Pentecost experience it isn’t found in tongues, character development or perfection. It takes place when we become people of prayer who understand the great commission. We are to teach the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and live in the power of the Spirit proclaiming these truths to the world.
Pentecost took place because the disciples sought God’s will and allowed God to work His will through them. The result was transformed followers of Jesus who instead of hiding from the world confronted the world because they were filled with the joy of God.
God wants power in your life and He wants to fill you with His Spirit. Everything changes when that happens. Our focus becomes outward and we are transformed into Disciples of Christ. The disciples prayed for this outpouring and that is a good blueprint for us as well.
* The persecution continues even though it’s seldom reported in the media. Our prayers are needed for those we do not know but share the same belief – please remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/