Very well, we dealt with four SCENES of bigger story. Remember? Creation, Fall, Promise and Presence. We move on to two amazing scenes of the bigger picture and both are totally connected with each other. Let’s have a look.
SCENE 5 POWER
It was after His baptism and testing in the wilderness that Jesus started His public ministry and He did it with a public display of power. It was not showing off, but it was full of divine power, nonetheless. His teaching was with an authority unknown to mankind till then. His miracles were astounding! People were healed, set free, seen, appreciated and loved. God really loves people! Yet, the healings and miracles were part of a bigger plan. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, started making people after his own kind again, so that they would also be reconnected with the Father, as it was before Adam sinned. We also call this discipleship. It’s a process where the student or apprentice follows His master, becomes like Him and eventually is reproduced to be and do the same things as Him. Amazing!
Still, when you look at the 12 disciples that walked with Jesus for over 3 years, I can’t help but to come to a different conclusion. You see power struggles, competition, unbelief, fear and strife among these uneducated hillbillies. OK. Occasionally they were sent off on a short-term missions trip to proclaim the Good News and perform miracles that would validate the coming of the Kingdom of God, but there was also mixture with attitudes and perspectives that were all but godly.
This is not a surprise for Jesus! He knows what He is modelling and He is fully aware that it is not a short-term project.
Fast forward a bit in the gospel story. Jesus came, proclaimed the Kingdom by proclamation and demonstration, yet was crucified, because He surely threatened the power trips of the political and religious elite. He died as He said He would, but He died without ever having committed a sin. Never. Not once!
People were very much sin-conscious and self-conscious. When Moses received the law years after Abram, all of a sudden, the people of Israel now knew what God’s holy standard was. I wonder if I were part of that group of people hearing for the first time the requirements of the Law of God…what would be my reaction? Something like? Oh boy, how I am ever going to live up to that?
That’s what law does with us, right? It stirs something inside of us. Let’s suppose you are not aware that you cannot speed in traffic. You don’t know about that law. No road signs, nothing. You’d probably drive around with a very clear conscience. True?
Now, suddenly you get notice of the law. Speed Limit 60 km/h. Now, you have a choice. And for some this even a tempting one…
Now let’s suppose that you don’t have one little law but – let’s say – 613 Laws. That’s a lot of DO’s and Don’ts. Now, the dilemma is even bigger. You may want to tackle this one with a lot of care and diligence. Still here is the problem. You may get it right with 500 laws and think: “I did pretty good! I got 500 laws down!” But then, one day your wife makes a comment that you didn’t see coming and before you even realize it, you snapped at her with a very unkind remark. It’s not that you don’t love your wife, but still it happened. Wife hurt. Husband hurt. Where do we go from here?
Perhaps you got even 600 laws right, but still struggle with one. What is the reaction now? Perhaps we fall back on the fact that ‘we are only human’ and ‘everybody struggles’. Still, God’s Law is perfect. His standard requires perfection.
Some may even object and say that this is one of the worst legislations in the world. God is being unfair, perhaps even mean here. After all, many laws were still kept… why the big deal about one or two slips, errors or misjudgements?
Well, translate it again to a court room. Let’s say you are accused of tax evasion. Would it help you to refer to all the good things you did? The Law would still condemn you…
You see the big dilemma here? Nobody got that right. Nobody lives that way! No one, except one man. A rabbi from Nazareth. His name is Jesus. He lived in perfect harmony with God and He could do that because He had the Spirit that caused Him as a man to live exactly the way He was supposed to live. Jesus recreated the way that God intended human relationships with Him and each other. People could now see what it truly means to be human.
You see, our reference point is man in its fallen state. The emotions you got were not yours! Adam taught you those. We were schooled into Adam and guess what? We all need to be born again…
Our way of thinking – when not submitted to the authority of God – also lets us astray. The way that seems right to us – without taking God into the equation – leads to death! Thinking merely in the natural is not how God created us. We need to receive wisdom and guess what?
James 1:5 says this: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach’. That implies knowing God and having a relationship with God.
SCENE 6 POWER TRANSFER
When Jesus was done with His mission on earth, He did something very remarkable. This is after He had already resurrected from the dead. Jesus spoke to His disciples with these words:
‘SO Jesus said to them again, ”Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” John 20:21-22
WOW! Amazing verse…
But think with me for a moment. Jesus walked for three years with these men. He discipled them, showed them what it meant to live with God, how to pray, fast, deliver people and much more. Still, they didn’t even have the Holy Spirit?
If you would translate that to today’s Christian thought, these disciples weren’t even proper Christians. After all, isn’t a Christian who has the Holy Spirit as the Seal of a New Relationship with the Father? Or am I charging here a bit too much now? Let’s see…
The disciples received the Holy Spirit by Jesus. But here is the catch…
In Luke 24:49, just before Jesus took off (Ascension) to the Father, He said this too:
“Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry (meaning ‘wait’) in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
Acts 1:8, written by the same author, Luke, echoes the same thought. Now my question to you is: Do you see the obvious?
In John 20 Jesus breathes the Spirit upon the disciples, yet in Luke 24 Jesus also asks the same people to wait for the Spirit. What’s going on here?
Didn’t the disciples receive the Spirit already? Why do they now need to wait for the Spirit to come? Isn’t this strange? Maybe we need to look further and see how this plays out in the early church. So let’s look at the book of Acts again.
Remember the scene? Violent wind, huge event at Pentecost, the crowd etc. etc.?
The apostle Peter – once so zealous yet fearful when it really mattered – stands up and performs his first sermon ever. 3000 people got saved! WOW! Powerful sermon, I’d say.
When people were cut to the heart and so convicted by their sins, what did Peter tell them to do?
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
Do you see it again?
Repent (turn around, think again, stop trusting in your own goodness but trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ)
Be water baptized – this I will come to next week when we discuss Romans 6…
Receive the Holy Spirit
Sounds like a package deal to me.
Let’s go a few years into church history. We are now in Acts 8. The church in Jerusalem is being heavily persecuted and the Christians are now scattered. One follower of Jesus with the name of Philip came to the area of Samaria. These were not Jews and in fact they were very much despised by the Israelites as they saw these people as half-breeds. Impure. The Good News came to them and many came to Jesus and were water baptized in His name.
When this news came to the apostles in Jerusalem, something very interesting happened. They sent Peter and John to Samaria! Now remember. There were no cars. Transport was not comfortable and it was about 60 km from Jerusalem. Why did they send Peter and John? Simple. They wanted to make sure that they were enlisted as members of the church? No. That is not what the Bible says. Did they want to give their baptism certificates? Nope!
What was it then? They went to pray for these converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit!!!
Wait a minute…Don’t you receive the Spirit at conversion? Yes and no!
Yes, in the sense that your spirit is born-again. You can reconnect with The Father and that which was lost is truly restored.
But if the receiving of the Holy Spirit in full is automatic at conversion, why did John and Peter have to go to Samaria to pray for them to receive?
Let’s go to Acts 10. Different scenario this time. Again, Peter is preaching and while he is talking, the Holy Spirit fell upon a group of gentiles! The Jewish witnesses are amazed. The Spirit has now also come upon non-Jews? What is going on here? We know that the household of Cornelius were God-fearing people. Cornelius was a Roman that had knowledge of God. Yet his understanding of God was made clear by Peter’s preaching and they fully turned to God. The outcome was now different. The Holy Spirit fell upon them as they believed the word spoken.
That’s why Peter’s first reaction was understandable. As they had repented and received the Holy Spirit, the logical next step was water baptism.
Acts 10:47 ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’
Here the sequence is different from Acts 8 and Acts 2 (repent, be baptized, receive the Spirit). We are getting a fuller understanding here of what Jesus and the disciples mean with the Good News.
Let me summarize where we are till now.
I spoke of Creation and the first relationship between God and Adam and Eve which was totally spiritual in nature. Then I moved on to where things started falling apart when Adam and Eve sinned and were consequently cut off from the source of life and love and became needy people. Their spirits died and everyone after them are lined up in the same way and have the same tendency to get it wrong. It’s called sin and it keeps us away from the source of life and love. Then I showed that God didn’t leave us there but from the beginning promised that He’d make things right again through a Saviour we know as Jesus Christ who lived the life it was supposed to be lived. As He modelled this to His followers, He promised them the same power source that enabled Him to live as a Man on the earth living in an intimate relationship with God. Yet the ‘power transfer’ in the Person of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus returned to the Father only. When the Spirit came, life was different ever since. It is so clear that for example Peter was a very, very different person after this event, we call Pentecost.
That was Pentecost almost 2000 years ago. It was a major event that changed the course of history. The church was born and it didn’t go unnoticed at all. In less than three centuries this small movement of Jesus followers multiplied into numbers that even challenged the whole Roman Empire. The empowerment of the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit was really a big deal.
But we are now 2000 years further down the road…What’s Pentecost for us today? In my next blog I will deal with that.