Poured Out On All Flesh: The First Half of ‘Acts’
There’s a sense in which ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ might just as accurately be called ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’ – and I’m probably not the first to perceive it.
Just in time for Pentecost, let’s look at some of the references to Him in the opening chapters of the book – right up to the story of Philip. There are too many in the entire book for one post because of all the activities in which He was engaged! His activity in scripture just seems to increase exponentially.
Acts 1:1-2 | [Luke]: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
Luke catches up the reader of his gospel mentioning that Jesus gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles. He doesn’t say whether that was verbally or if it was word-for-word; just that the Holy Spirit was the agency through whom Jesus gave the instructions.
1:4-5 | On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The resurrected Lord evidently ate several meals with his friends, an on this occasion He confirms what John the Baptist prophesied.
1:7-8 | “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.”
Elaborating, Jesus uses the “comes on you” expression, promising power along with the Spirit’s presence. What kind of power? He doesn’t elaborate that much. Did He mean for the Holy Spirit to be something of a surprise package? Or did He think that the experiences of the 72 missionaries he had sent would make them sufficiently familiar with the power He had in mind to give?
1:15-16 | In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus …”
Peter leaves no doubt that the Holy Spirit spoke through King David – prophesying specifically about Judas. (Interesting that David begged God not to take His Holy Spirit from him after his sins with Bathsheba ….) The 120 feel that, with Judas’ suicide, there is a missing chair among the 12 which should be filled, according to prophecy. They put forward two candidates, though there is only one opening. They pray. They turn the decision over to God. They literally roll the dice; cast lots – in utter faith that God will speak His choice in the outcome. Do we have that level of faith today?
2: 1-4 | When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
The term is “filled with” again, and it occurs in conjunction with the “fire” prophesied by John the Baptist – though it is qualified by the term “seemed to be” and that the tongues of fire came to rest on them. That they spoke in other tongues that visitors to Jerusalem understood as their own language is clear from the verses which follow. Was this specific work of the Holy Spirit limited to this single event, to ease understanding and testify to the truth of Peter’s message?
2:17-18 |”In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people, Your sons and daughters will propesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
Peter leads the preaching by quoting the prophet Joel, and declaring his prophecy fulfilled. Were there women among those who received the Spirit and spoke other languages? Could the prophecy have been completely fulfilled if there weren’t?
2:37-39 | When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
When Peter connects his instruction for the people present to repent and be baptized, they knew what they were repenting of: being part of the crowd which had rejected Jesus and turned Him over to the authorities, calling for His death. Did he explain why they should be baptized? Was it the baptism of John, or of Jesus? It was for the forgiveness of sins, he says; and there is a promise that they will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He seems to be speaking generationally (rather than geographically) when he says that the promise is for “all who are far off.” Does that include believers down to our day; to us? What does he mean when he qualifies it by saying “for all whom the Lord our God will call”? Are there some He does not call? Are there some to whom He would not give the Spirit?
4:8 | Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rules and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”
Later – arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin – Peter preaches boldly again; “filled with” the Holy Spirit. These are people who could take him out and stone him if they wished, and he accuses them of crucifying Him. (Technically, the Romans did. He’s on thin ice legally, but is quite correct!) The text doesn’t speak of the Spirit in connection with the healing of the crippled man; but with Peter’s boldness! Is that boldness something the Spirit would lend us today?
4:31 |After they [the believers] prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Watch the order in which things happened here: they prayed; the place was shaken; they were filled with the spirit; they spoke boldly. What do you think they were praying for? What kind of power does their prayer manifest? Do we pray petitions that make God want to shake our buildings of meeting with a mighty and affirmative “Yes!”?
5:3 | Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?” | 5:9 | Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
I don’t mean to make a joke of what happened here, but this is a completely different kind of “slaying by the Spirit” than you see on television today. Ananias and Sapphira lied – not just to their fellow believers, but to the Holy Spirit who knew better. And something or someone ratted them out to Peter. They did not survive this slaying. Could this be the kind of sin Jesus spoke about as “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”? Denying – even to themselves – the Spirit’s power to know truth and to enact justice?
6:3 | [The Twelve:] “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them …”
Grecian widows are being neglected in the distribution of food, and the Twelve decide to have the believers choose seven from among them that they know to be full of the Spirit and wisdom to look after them. With uncanny wisdom, the believers choose (method not specified) seven men – who all happen to have Greek names. How did they know these seven were full of the Spirit? (They were certainly right about Stephen!) Why would that need to be a qualification for people to take care of widows? Were these seven deacons, or at least precursors of what would later be called deacons (servants, ministers)?
6:9-10 | Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
It was the custom to rise when you had something to say. Apparently these argumentative Jewish people could not come up with anything to say to confute Stephen’s combination – repeated again – of wisdom and the Spirit “by whom he spoke.” Is wisdom something that comes as a matched set with the gift of the Spirit?
7:51 | [Stephen]: “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”
Perhaps he spoke too boldly. Was it wise for him to call fellow Jews “uncircumcised” in their hearts and ears; insult their ancestors; accuse them of resisting the Holy Spirit? Apparently the wisdom of the Spirit differs from ours. Perhaps it maintains that unspoken truth is no truth at all.
7:54 | When they heard this, they were furious, and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
It begins. The persecution Jesus predicted begins with Stephen. He must know that it is coming. Before the first stone is hurled, he sees his immediate destiny – because he was full of the Holy Spirit. Does He still lend such glimpses to believers who long to peer into such glory?
8:15-20 | When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money.”
For a reason which remains unclear, Samaritans who believed and were baptized had not received the Holy Spirit. So Peter and John were sent to them, prayed that they would and laid their hands on them – and they did. Simon, a converted sorcerer, connected the laying on of hands to thes Spirit -and perhaps to the miracles he had seen Philip perform. What does Peter’s answer tell us about exchanging money in connection with gifts of the Spirit? Are there those today who claim to perform miracles and seem eager about exchanging money to perpetuate their “ministries”? Simon begged them to pray for him so that nothing bad would happen to him as a result of his request – because Peter saw that he was “full of bitterness and sin.”
Well, I’ll stop there – having accused and alienated all of the healing ministries that televangelism has to offer … and in one swell foop. I hope your Pentecost is blessed with a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit. Part IV to come later!