God’s Power for God’s Purpose
Power from Heaven!
Dr. Jim Denison
Acts 2, Ephesians 5:18
Robert Louis Stevenson, then a child of six or seven years, was standing at his window one night watching a lamplighter at work. One by one, the man would light the streetlamps as he walked down the road. Young Stevenson watched with fascination. His nurse asked what he was doing. The little boy answered, “I am watching a man making holes in the darkness.”
We need holes in the darkness today, don’t we? Terrorist threats continue; airline flights are changed or cancelled as a result of homeland security issues; presidential campaigns always bring a certain level of uncertainty to the future. Many are still in need of employment; hurting hearts and homes are on every side. Where do you most need a touch from God today? Where do your class members most need to feel his grace?
The light we need is available to us. In fact, every believer already possesses all the power and help of God. What the Holy Spirit did for the first Christians, he is waiting to do for us. Let’s learn to make your class and each heart the Upper Room this week.
Receive God’s Spirit (vs. 1-4)
Here’s the situation. Jesus’ followers number around 120, in a hostile world of more than 25 million. The very people who executed Jesus are now the enemies of his followers. What they did to him, they stand ready to do to them. Yet Jesus has charged them with reaching that hostile world in its entirety—all 25 million. One third of our world claims to follow Jesus. .0006% of their world did.
If we were in their shoes, we’d be doing something. We’d organize strategies, start ministries, plan programs, do all we could. They knew better.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all in one place” (v. 1). Pentecost was the 50th day after the Passover Sabbath. Jews from around the world were crowded into Jerusalem for the religious holiday.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ church was crowded into a single room. Where and why? Earlier Jesus had assured them that when he left, his Father would send another Counselor to them, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Then he promised them, “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” (Luke 24:49). Before his ascension, their Master told them one last time to wait in Jerusalem for the “gift” of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).
And so they risked their lives to meet in an upper room of a Jerusalem house. First-century houses were often constructed with a large second-floor room which was used for meals and guests. It was cooler than the first floor, with windows open to the sky, and could accommodate a large number of people. Perhaps twenty were gathered in this setting (cf. Acts 1:13-15).
Here they prayed constantly for God’s protection and his Spirit’s power. For one long week, after Jesus’ ascension until the day of Pentecost came. Despite their differences, and the persecution which threatened their very lives, they prayed with one heart and spirit.
And God kept his word. “Suddenly” (immediately, without warning, unexpectedly) a sound like the blowing of a “violent” (turbulent, stormy, threatening) wind came from heaven (v. 2). It filled the entire house where they were meeting together. Jesus had earlier likened the Spirit to the wind (John 3:8). Both are more powerful than human strength, able to overwhelm us instantly. Both are unseen but very real. Neither can be produced or predicted. And both are essential to life.
Next “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came from heaven, then “separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). Fire is a consistent metaphor for the holiness and presence of God (“Our God is a consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24). John the Baptist had predicted that Jesus “would baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). The prophet Joel had earlier predicted such an event (2:28-29), a promise Peter would soon quote (Ac. 2:16ff).
These “tongues of fire” were emblematic of the anointing and empowering of God. And they came to rest “on each of them” (Ac. 2:3b), showing that each believer would be equally and similarly empowered. No clergy/laity distinction here!
Here was the result: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4). “Filled” means to be influenced by, to be controlled. It does not refer to quantifiable experience, but to a yielded and submitted life. We will meet this word again today.
Note that “all of them” had this experience. Again, each believer was empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Now each of them “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” This is not a reference to the “gift of tongues” or ecstatic prayer language described by Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 14:1-19). A comparison of the two experiences makes their differences clear:
At Pentecost, all experienced these “tongues”; at Corinth, not all did (Paul’s question is literally translated, “All do not speak in tongues, do they?” 1 Cor 12:30).
At Pentecost, no interpreters were necessary (“we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2:11); at Corinth, tongues were not to be used in public without an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
At Pentecost, the people recognized the “tongues” of the disciples as their own languages (Acts 2:11); at Corinth, the “tongues” used were not capable of human understanding (1 Corinthians 14:2).
In short, the Holy Spirit enabled the Pentecost believers to witness to their faith in the languages of those who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. It is no more true to say that we must speak in “unknown” tongues to have the Spirit than it is true to say that we must each witness immediately to our neighbors when the Spirit enters our lives.
The point of the passage is not the disciples’ witnessing in languages they had not previously learned, but the Spirit who enabled such ministry. The Pentecost gift was not their language, but the Holy Spirit. Previously, the Spirit would come “on” individuals for specific acts and times of service (cf. Samson’s experience, Judges 14:19). Now, after Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, the Spirit is able to dwell “in” us. He came into the lives of God’s people at Pentecost, and dwells in us eternally.
As a result, we are the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17); the Spirit enters us at salvation and never leaves (Romans 8:9). If you have made Christ your Lord, you have his Spirit. Does his Spirit have you?
Yield to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He can still do in our lives all that he did in his earthly ministry and his first church. If you and your class have not experienced his power recently in life-changing ways, perhaps the explanation is that you have not done what his word asks of us. Ephesians 5:18 is our key: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Before we continue exploring the Pentecost experience, let’s learn how to make it our own.
First, receive the Holy Spirit in salvation. Be sure that your class members have invited Christ to be their personal Savior and Lord. You will give them no greater gift than the assurance of their eternal salvation.
Second, admit that you need the Spirit’s power. Not just his salvation, but his power. A carpenter knows that his drill needs power. Do you know that your church and your life needs God’s power as well? The Lord’s word is clear: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). Paul adds, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). We cannot change lives without the power of the Spirit at work through us. We can do nothing eternal or significant unless he does it. And God will not do for us that which we try to do for ourselves. Self-reliance is the cardinal sin against spiritual power.
Third, be cleansed from all that hinders the Spirit. A carpenter can connect his drill to a socket and still have no power, if the plug is corroded. The plug must be clean for the power to flow.
In the same way, we are seeking the power of the Holy Spirit, and he cannot fill and control a dirty vessel. He cannot give his power with a dirty plug. We must be clean first. 2 Chronicles 7.14 is clear: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” If we confess, God will forgive. If we are clean, God will move in power.
Are you willing to be cleansed from everything which hinders the Holy Spirit in your life? Then take a moment for a moral inventory. Write on a sheet of paper anything which is hindering the Spirit in your life. If you’re not sure, ask him and he’ll show you. Confess these sins specifically to God, and claim his cleansing. Cleanse the “plug” and you will know the power.
Last, ask the Spirit to control and empower your life. A carpenter’s drill doesn’t have to do this, for it has no will. But we do. And we must ask the Spirit to control and empower us, before he will.
Will you do this, right now? In prayer, simply ask the Spirit to take control of your life, your mind, your time, your abilities. Surrender your will to him. Promise to obey him wherever he leads you.
And believe that he has. Nowhere does the Bible describe how it “feels” to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Some will feel something unusual; others will not. I seldom do. The proof is in the results, not the feeling. So step out in faith, believing that the Spirit has empowered you, for he has.
And do this daily. The literal Greek is, “Be continually being filled.” Whenever sin corrodes your relationship with him, confess it and claim cleansing. Then reconnect with the Spirit. Stay in communion with him all through the day—stay “plugged in.”
As you do, remember that God empowers us according to his purpose for us. The Holy Spirit never empowered a Christian in the Book of Acts except to make him or her a more effective witness. If we are not willing to share Christ, we will not have the power of the Spirit. If we are, we will. Make this your daily experience. No disciple is as crucial to spiritual success as this.
Dwight Moody preached to over one hundred million souls in his ministry. He founded what became Moody Bible College, and was widely considered one of the godliest men in America. His prayers have been recorded and published; his passion for the lost was legendary. And yet Moody often said of his own soul, “I am a leaky bucket, and I need to be refilled daily.” If he needed this, so do I. Do you?
Does God still move? Can we see “Book of Acts miracles” today? Can some of us be the next Paul, Barnabas, Peter, Lydia? Can we make holes in the darkness today? The answer is up to us, isn’t it?