Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Holy Spirit and the Early Church

Luke to Theophilus:   In my first book (Gospel of Luke) I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up to heaven after giving His chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after His crucifixion (death), He appeared to the apostles from time to time, and He proved to them in many ways that He was actually alive. And He talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when He was eating with them, He commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:1-5 (NLT)

Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection from complete death He spent time with His apostles. Then, Jesus returned to God the Father in heaven. However, Jesus promised His apostles that God would send the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), God sent the promised gift of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, God became present in the members of the early church causing the church to grow from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Jesus to Disciples:  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit personally directed each major advance of the early church. For instance, the Holy Spirit sent Philip into the desert to meet an Ethiopian (Acts 8:29), set apart missionaries in Antioch (Acts 13:2), guided the first big church council (Acts 15:1-28), and helped plan Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13:4; Acts 16:6). As the writer of the book of Acts, Luke carefully notes that every major decision of the early church was made under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The early church waited on the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem before beginning to preach (Acts 2:4). Moreover, the Holy Spirit fell on each new group of believers in Jesus Christ:  on Jews (Acts 4:31), then on the Samaritans (Acts 8:17), then the Gentiles (Acts 10:44), and finally John the Baptist’s disciples (Acts 19:6). God through His Holy Spirit used these ordinary men and women of the early church with their frailties and limitations to take the Good News “all over the world” (Acts 17:6). In essence, Luke presents the Holy Spirit as the “power source” of the early church and not the power of humans (see Zechariah 4:6). Even more, Luke revealed the Holy Spirit as a living Person who spoke, guided, and empowered the early church. Indeed, some biblical scholars have suggested that the book of Acts should be renamed “Acts of the Holy Spirit” because of the dominant role of the Holy Spirit in the early church. The early church lived dangerously, but never before has such handful of people changed the world forever through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Essentially, ordinary people were able to do extraordinary things because the Holy Spirit’s power working in their lives.

How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the Good News and believed it. You began your life in Christ by the Spirit. Now are you trying to make it complete by your own power? That is foolish. Were all your experiences (suffering) wasted? I hope not! Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, He does these things because you heard the Good News and believed it. Galatians 3:2-5 (NCV)

How do we receive the Holy Spirit? The Apostle Paul reminded the early church members that they received the Holy Spirit not by keeping the law but by simply believing (faith) in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:5-9). In effect, the Holy Spirit came into the lives of the early church not by works or human efforts. These people received the Holy Spirit because they trusted and accepted Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:2-5). As mentioned earlier, when Jesus returned to heaven, He promised that God would send the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-5). God kept that promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), God freely poured out the Holy Spirit to everyone who believed in Jesus Christ. In summary, we receive the Holy Spirit (are baptized with the Holy Spirit) when we believe and accept Jesus Christ.

God sent the Holy Spirit so that He would be with and within His people after Jesus returned to heaven. The Holy Spirit would comfort, guide, teach, and empower God’s people to continue God’s work began with Jesus’ coming to earth (see John 14 — 16; see also Luke 24:49). God’s people could not belong to Jesus Christ and continue God’s work without His Spirit (Romans 8:9). The Holy Spirit is God’s power that brings our new life. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost sinner and reveals Jesus Christ (John 16:7-11). When a person accepts and believes in Jesus Christ, that same person is then born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8) and receives new life. The Holy Spirit then changes that person from the inside out into the likeness of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 1:6). Even more, the Holy Spirit baptizes and seals us into the spiritual body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 1:13-14) to share in His glory.

To the High Council:  But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed Him by hanging Him on a cross (tree). Then God put Him in the place of honor at His right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey Him.”. . . The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” Acts 5: 29-32, 41-42 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

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