November 8, 2015 - Come Holy Spirit
Our guest speaker last week spoke about Paul’s conversation in Athens with philosophers regarding the “unknown god” statue of the Romans. He thought it curious that among all the statues of the Greeks and Romans, there was this one created for the unknown God.
So Paul told them about the one true God, who was the answer to their longings and their searching. Today we are continuing in the book of Acts and looking at Paul and his experience in Ephesus in chapter 19 of the Book of Acts.
The first thing a good preacher does when looking at the text they are about to preach on is to consider what God's intent was in the text.
One of the worst ways to approach the Bible is to have something you want to say, and then try to make the Scripture say something it perhaps doesn’t say. The goal is always: what is God saying, both to the original hearers of the Word, and then to us, and why does it matter.
It's clear that God wanted the experiences of the earliest Christians recorded for all posterity. It's clear that their experiences are intended to shape our understanding of the gospel, of what it means to live as a Christ-follower.
What we have in the Book of Acts, that we have been looking at in some depth for many months now, is a limited record of the life of the early church. It was written by Luke, the physician, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke.
Luke expressed, in his opening of his gospel, that his primary interest and focus is to convey an accurate history of the life of Jesus. That principle, of course, extends to his writing of the Book of Acts.
So, what this means is that not every single thing that the early church did was recorded.
Interestingly, at the end of the Gospel of John, the author points out that in that gospel, he did not come close to including all the things that Jesus said.
So what we can understand, from the fact of the writing of the history of the early church, is that what was recorded was very, very important.
In order to qualify for inclusion in this book, The history, the stories had to have relevance that would reach forward into the future.
Since we understand that God, through his Holy Spirit, authored the text of the Bible through human agency, we can appreciate that what has been written is intended by God for us to hear and read.
So let's begin to look through this passage. I'd like us to look in some detail at the particular stories and events within the passage.
Today’s passage picks up from the previous chapter and builds on it, so I’ll just mention that near the end of chapter 18, a new Biblical character is introduced.
His name was Apollos, who was from Alexandria. He came to Ephesus where Paul was staying and preaching. Luke says at the end of chapter 18 that Apollos was a smart guy, a learned man who had a deep knowledge of the Scriptures.
He had been discipled, most likely back in Alexandria and he spoke well and accurately, with great energy and passion about Jesus. But he had missed something in his early discipleship. He knew about John the Baptist, who had a ministry of baptising Gentile converts to Judaism.
He also knew that John had baptised Jesus and that this had been the start of Jesus’ public ministry.
So Apollos started to speak boldly about Jesus in the synagogue in Ephesus.
A couple who were very important in the early church, Priscilla and Aquila, heard him speak and then invited him home and explained the gospel even more completely. This equiped Apollos to be an even greater influence in the early church. Apollos was a good debater as well, and he was able to prove from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Our passage today picks up with Paul entering the picture at Ephesus.
Acts chapter 19 is mostly concerned with Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus. Paul stayed there longer than anywhere else - nearly 3 years. His letter to the Ephesians was his pastoral letter, summarizing his teachings when he had been among them.
Ephesus was the market of Asia Minor. The book of Revelation describes Ephesus as “The Treasure House of Asia.
In Ephesus, Paul met some people who had received the baptism of John, John the Baptist, but they were not aware that the Holy Spirit exists, in the Christian sense of the term.
What was the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism in the name of Jesus? When we read of the accounts of John’s preaching, we see a radical difference between it and the preaching of Jesus:
Matthew 3:7 But when (John) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Pretty heavy stuff. Different from Jesus. The preaching of John was a threat. The preaching of Jesus was good news. John’s preaching was a step on the way.
And he had no illusions. He knew that he only pointed to the one still to come. He pointed to Jesus.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John’s preaching was necessary. It was necessary because there are 2 stages in our walk with God. First, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the lights go on for us and we awaken to our need for God, Part of that is a growing awareness of own inadequacy.
We come to understand that we are sinful. WE not only do things that are wrong, but we are inclined toward selfishness, toward sin, inclined even toward self-sabotage. It can take some time for this awareness to develop in a person.
Our fallen nature would have us assert ourselves as the master of our own lives. We like to live as though we call the shots. We are the ultimate authority in our lives.
We are in our own minds, essentially, our own god. It takes a lot of humbling, a lot of soul searching; and more than that, it takes a great deal of the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to a place of surrendering our self-sufficiency. Of acknowledging our, as I said, inadequacy, our sinfulness.
This stage is closely aligned with our attempt to do better, but which inevitably fails because we try to do it on our own strength.
This is not a pleasant process, where we are brought to the end of ourselves. But it is necessary. It’s a necessary step toward genuine repentance, just as John’s preaching was necessary and John’s baptism, at that time in history, was necessary.
You see, it’s NOT just that we humble ourselves from here to here [hand high, hand low]. That’s just the start. It runs deeper than that.
You might know the worship hymn, “In Christ Alone.
“Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied - For every sin on Him was laid; Here in the death of Christ I live”.
That’s based on Romans chapter 2: 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”
We actually come to recognize that our sinfulness makes us deserving of God’s judgment. It makes us deserving of condemnation. We come to see ourselves as wretched.
As deserving of condemnation from the hand of God. Part of this is we learn about God’s holiness. His perfection and beauty.
We come to see, if through a glass darkly, that God is SO VERY different from us. So different, so much more, so utterly magnificent.
And by comparison, I see myself for what I am. Unable to rise in His presence of my own accord.
Unable to defend myself. Entirely at the mercy of God.
That would all be very alarming, and not a little depressing, if that was all there is. And John’s preaching, by itself, left a huge gap, it exposed a huge chasm between me and God, between us and God.
But John knew that he wasn’t the final word. John knew that one was coming among men whose sandals he was unworthy to stoop and carry. John knew that a better message was coming.
So the people in Ephesus that Paul met, who knew only the baptism of John and not the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they knew the sense of condemnation and the moral duty to be better, but the grace of Jesus Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit was unknown to them.
Their religion must have been a thing of struggle and had not yet reached the stage of being a thing of peace. This shows us at least one important thing - one great truth. Without the Holy Spirit there can be no such thing as a complete Christianity.
Now when We look at this, some of us will nod our heads. In terms of our own experience, we understand the notion of the Holy Spirit coming upon us.
Most of us here will see this as history, as we should, and we will appreciate this having happened.
We will say: “It’s good that these guys heard about the Holy Spirit and that they were baptised in the name of Jesus.
After all, Jesus said in Matthew 28, that the disciples were to go into all the world and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Some of us, myself included have had something of the experience of this. You may have heard me talk about coming from an atheist background.
I came into the Christian faith with fresh eyes, after having been raised in an environment where God was not discussed, except in the negative, and where it was assumed that God did not exist.
So although I came to believe in Jesus and trust in Him, I had the extra burden of the weight of this skeptical background. And I had a family that was not at all pleased that I now followed Jesus.
So I struggled a bit on and off with my faith. Is it real? Is it not? My brother was the spokesperson from my family who took it upon himself to raise every objection imaginable to the gospel being true.
Suffice it to say it was a struggle. About 2 years into to being a follower of Jesus, I was at an event where some people talked about being ‘filled with the Spirit’.
I hadn’t sorted through the theology of this, but I knew that there was something lacking in my walk. So I went forward and prayed to receive the Holy Spirit.
The result was that I had a pretty overwhelming experience of God’s presence, in which I also spoke in tongues for the first time. This is me relaying my experience. I’m not trying to describe how it happens for anyone else.
That was an important night for me, because after that experience, I had no more doubts at all about God, about the Bible, about Jesus, about my being a genuine follower of Jesus.
And it lasted. Now, speaking in tongues has not been a huge part of my life. It’s only on occasion. It’s usually only when I’m worshipping God and I’ve run out of ways to praise Him in English.
But I got to say, that something happened that night. Some of you will have had similar experiences.
There’s likely at least one person here who is not pleased that I just conveyed my experience to the congregation.
But please hear that I’m not talking about a particular theology of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about my experience, which was, I’ve got to say, transformative for me. I was still very young in the faith. But God did something that night 33 years ago that has never gone away. And I’m very happy He did.
So Paul is with these disciples in Ephesus.
The Message paraphrase puts their conversation like this:
The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?” “We’ve never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?” 3 “How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul. “In John’s baptism.”
4 “That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.” 5-7 And they were. As soon as they heard of it, they were baptized in the name of the Master Jesus. Paul put his hands on their heads and the Holy Spirit entered them. From that moment on, they were praising God in tongues and talking about God’s actions. Altogether there were about twelve people there that day.
How is life different when the Holy Spirit fills us? What else does Scripture say? It says a great deal. But for today, let’s just briefly consider two passages that shed some light on the Holy Spirit in you as a follower of Jesus.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies”. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Turn to the person to your right/left and say: “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”. Well, with everything in God’s word, there’s a heart, soul, mind and strength perspective to it.
The heart perspective is this: When you turned from your sins, God not only forgave you through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, God not only cast your sins away as far as the east is from the west.
God actually inhabited you. God entered into your being, and He dwells there. You are the dwelling place of God. You are that loved. That cherished. That much blessed.
The soul perspective is this: everything that relates to your humanity is infused with the presence of the Holy Spirit in you.
The context of this Scripture passage is that the Corinthian church was still behaving sexually as though they belonged to themselves and were not connected to God, were not submitted to God as relates to that aspect of themselves.
But actually, there is no part of our existence that God is not interested in, not a part of. And so if we believe the gospel, we need to live out the gospel in our lives. It’s that simple.
The strength perspective is this: God empowers us to live for Him through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God.
That’s why in Ephesians 6 it speak so plainly of the need for us to be strong IN THE POWER OF GOD, to put on the full armour of God, to not be naive about the attacks of the enemy that would compromise our faith or compromise our witness.
If the enemy can’t get at our faith - that which we believe to be true of God in Jesus Christ, the enemy will get at our behaviour - revelling in the ways we compromise the holiness of God in the ways we don’t honour God with our bodies.
And the final thing is this. “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory”. Ephesians 1:13-14
The Holy Spirit in you marked you when you believed. The Holy Spirit in you is a deposit, a reminder, a portion of the amazing inheritance that you have as a child of God, a son of God, a daughter of the Most High.
When we repent and turn from ways that do not please God, when we believe in Jesus, that He is the living Son of God who died for our sins, we are filled with the very presence of God Himself.
Isn’t that mind-blowing. The problem with good news, really, really good news, is that it takes time to makes it’s way into us.
It has to get past all the negativity, all the downer messages we are burdened with, it has to get past and ultimately DESTROY every dark and hopeless thought in every hidden corner of our hearts and minds.
But when God by His grace breaks through and achieves the miracle, the absolute miracle of our salvation, of one soul turning to Him, He DEPOSITS (action-deposit) Himself into us.
Romans 5 says: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from of the wrath of God”.
So, I don’t know about you, but I want to let Him in. I want His power to fill my life. I want His Lordship to be manifest, evident, abundantly obvious in every last little tiny or big area of my life. I want His joy. Do you know His love today?
Do you know the joy that can only come through understanding yourself to be a redeemed child of the Most High God - beloved by Him, set apart for His service; filled with purpose - the purpose of worshipping and loving Him all of your days?
Perhaps there is one here today who doesn’t know this joy. Perhaps we could take a minute to make space for that one who is ready to cross into the Kingdom, ready to say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Ready to have their sins FORGIVEN, utterly. Ready to be embraced by Jesus.
If that is you, we’re going to bow our heads now. We’re going to pray. We’re going to ask Jesus Christ into our lives. We’re going to repent of our sins. We’re going to confess that Jesus Christ died for our sins; that He did in our place.
If this is you, then why don’t we pray together:
“Lord Jesus, thank you that you love me. Thank you that you gave your life for me, that you laid down your life and took my sins upon you. For this great sacrifice on my behalf, I thank you and I praise you.
I acknowledge my sinfulness before you. I confess that I have sinned and done those things that I ought not to have done. I now turn from my sins, from my ways that do not please you.
I receive you, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Saviour. I accept you into my life as the God of my life.
By Your power and grace I will seek to serve you all of my days. Thank you for the gift of my salvation. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit who now fills me as I confess Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. In His perfect name I pray. Amen.
We’re going to spend some more time singing songs of praise and adoration to God. If you have just prayed that prayer along with me, I encourage you to tell someone this week what you have done.
I am happy to meet with you as soon as possible to support you in your new walk of faith. God bless you and God fill you with His abundant joy. Amen.