Meditations on “God of Transformation: 23: When He comes
Acts 1:8 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.”
I suspect most of us underplay the Day of Pentecost, and yet what happened on it brought about the greatest people transformation that has ever occurred. Consider the events. Jesus has returned to heaven and, I suspect, left an even greater hole in the lives of the followers than after his death. He has been with them for about five weeks or so, and had shown them that he was truly back there with them as the risen Christ. He had no doubt laughed with them, talked with them and, of course, he taught them. And then he returns to heaven. In his closing words he has told them to wait for the promise of the Father from heaven, the coming Holy Spirit, and so they continued to meet together and pray. They appoint another to replace Judas but beyond that they do little other than pray. I mean what else can they do, their head who was the one who did ‘the stuff’ or specifically appointed them to do specific things, has gone. Until God comes and speaks with them or does something, they are somewhat helpless.
Jesus has said they will receive power when the Spirit comes but they don’t know how that will be, but they certainly feel powerless in the face of the Jewish and Roman authorities. The authorities have the power, not them. Jesus had spoken about them being his witnesses there in Jerusalem and then up through Judea and Samaria and then – can you believe it? – to the ends of the earth, whatever that means! But all they can do for the moment is sit around and pray – and no doubt talk and speculate.
And then the Spirit comes. He comes first with manifestations, sounds like a violent wind filling the house and then what looks like tongues of fire over each one of them, and yet they are not being burned. And then it happens to them: suddenly they are all “filled with the Spirit” to overflowing and the overflowing is heard as they all start speaking in languages they don’t know, languages recognised by other visiting Jews as from all different countries. But the languages are praise and worshipping God, declaring His wonders. There was nothing pre-thought out about this, it just happened. He came and they did what came naturally and in so doing immediately the first part of Jesus’ last command was being fulfilled, they were being witnesses to God and as the days went on they would be witnesses to Jesus as the Spirit enabled them. The sound came from heaven, the sight came from heaven, the Spirit came from heaven and the praise came from heaven; this was a 100% God event!
I am aware of the various schools of thought that you find around the church about being filled with the Spirit. Some say it happens when you are born again, some say it happens as a distinct event at a later date, some say it happens again and again. Rather than get bogged down in defending any one of those (and if you want to know what I personally believe is that it should happen at rebirth but frequently happens as a later event and certainly happens again and again) I would much prefer us to focus on the effect of being filled with the Spirit – whenever that happens – and ask the question, do you know personally these outworkings?
On this particular day we have already noted the noise, the sight, the effects in the believers of being able to worship in other languages and then – which we haven’t mentioned yet – Peter being enabled to preach a great sermon and see wonderful fruit, thousands being saved. In Acts 4:8 we read, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said….” In other words the Holy Spirit – refilling him? – enabled him to have great boldness to testify to the religious leaders. A little later we read of the believers praying together and then, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) which was clearly an answer to their prayers. Now I can’t help but note that one minute they weren’t filled and the next minute they were, which suggests a more than once experience (although of course there has to be a first time), but the big thing to note is the effect – boldness and enabling to speak God’s word.
For persecutor Saul, when Ananias was sent to him (Acts 9:17,18) he was filled with the Spirit and was enabled to see again, his blindness was healed, sight or vision was given. We also note that very soon he was out preaching (v.20) a possible effect of what had happened to him; now he was testifying to Jesus in his preaching.
When Peter preached to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius we read, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44-46) Although the word ‘filled’ was not used that clearly was what was happening with identical effects as on the Day of Pentecost. Message? It’s for Gentiles as well as Jews.
Bizarrely after persecution, on one of Paul’s journeys, we read, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52) The Holy Spirit clearly filled them and they knew joy which overtook any fears they might have had. Power in another form. A while later after some believers had been baptized in water, we read, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6) Again, clearly a filling and similar fruits – gifts of the Spirit. More power.
So here is the central message of the Holy Spirit: when He comes He transforms the weak and helpless into power-filled, witnessing, emboldened believers. If these characteristics are absent from the Church or any individual local church, i.e. the believers, then the church needs to be praying and seeking the Lord because what we have been reading is clearly God’s intention for His people. Any view less than this has surely got to be unbelief.