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The Enabling Power of the Spirit (E)

Acts 2:1-13

Jim Davis

As we enter this chapter, we find the disciples anticipating a new beginning. Earlier the disciples are joined together in constant prayer as they work to follow God's plan for their new beginning. They are struggling to follow God's plan according to his timetable. They had spent three struggling years on the peripheral of God's will as they sought an understanding of what it was all about. Now we find them in Jerusalem immediately after appointing Matthias to take Judas' place. Little do they know they are about to help bring about the birth of the church of our Lord.

On Pentecost, or Feast of Firstfruits, devout Jews from all over the world gathered for this annual Jewish celebration. It was a day when they celebrated the agriculture harvest. Pentecost occurred 50 days after the Passover, which would be on Sunday. Luke mentions seventeen different geographical locations from which the Jews came. They all spoke different languages. No one understood anybody. As they meet together on Pentecost, a strange thing happens. God's Spirit descends upon those twelve Galileans. As the Spirit fills them, they begin to speak in other languages. Amazingly, the Spirit descended upon the apostles, miraculously enabling them to speak the native languages of those gathered. Everyone miraculously heard the wonders of God simply proclaimed in each person's native tongue.

No interpreters are needed. When President Carter was president, one of his interpreters was fired. He said something that was to be interpreted to a foreigner. The interpreter mistranslated what was said. He was fired. There was none of this on Pentecost. Everyone heard very plainly the wonderful message of God. Those speaking miraculously understand what they themselves are saying. Those listening plainly hear the message in their own familiar language. They are perplexed, utterly amazed and they marvel at what is taking place. There is some confusion about what is taking place. Initially, some believe the apostles are drunk. Yet, each understands in their native language. No drunk could pull this off .

The twelve apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ. Jesus said, "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." (John 16:7-11)

As the Spirit came, the disciples praised God in different languages. He empowered Peter to preach and then the Spirit convicted the listeners so that 3,000 of them were saved as they surrendered to Christ in water baptism. God took these ignorant and unlearned men who had emptied themselves at the foot of the cross and filled them with his fullness through his Holy Spirit. The excitement is astounding as the fullness of God's Spirit enables them to share the message with others. With that kind of excitement, it is little wonder they appear to some to be drunk.

Filled With God's Fullness

How do you rise from the dust of shattered dreams, hurt and failure? The apostles had followed Jesus for three years before they collapsed at the foot of the cross. Now they are seeking a new beginning. They didn't run from their failure by going to another town. They only walked 3/4 of a mile back to Jerusalem. The garden from which they fled on that awful night was in sight. Calvary was still visible. The religious hierarchy that crucified Christ was still in place. That's where they decided to take their stand. They sought a new beginning among those who had crucified their Lord.

What chance would they have had on Pentecost without the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What chance do we have in finding God today without the Spirit's leading through the words initially given through the apostles? What chance does the cause of Christ have without the influence of the Spirit through our lives?

Initially on Pentecost, when God's Spirit broke through in a spectacular way, Luke gives no indication of what the apostles were saying. He only speaks of their reactions resulting from the Spirit's influence. They were amazed and perplexed about the wonders of God, which they heard in their own language. Some made fun, while others thought they were drunk. But in the final analysis, the Spirit's influence was all-important. The Spirit was cultivating their minds to ask, "What does this mean?" Peter reminds them that only God's Spirit could make this spectacular event possible.

Acts 2:15-21
These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, 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. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

The Spirit came to manifest God's power and approval. Even Jesus needed God's approval to accomplish his purpose. Peter said, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know . . . " (Acts 2:22 NIV)

What chance do we have today without the enabling power of God's Spirit? Paul wrote, "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs-- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:13-17)

Understanding the Distinctiveness of the Spirit's Work

We recognize two distinct ways the Holy Spirit was working on Pentecost. Initially, the Spirit endeavored to cultivate their hearts through the miraculous speaking of different languages. Secondly, the Spirit endeavored to plant the word of God in their hearts through Peter's message. Initially the Spirit overwhelmed the apostles as they spoke in different languages. The disciples were overwhelmed, as the Spirit descended to guide their speech through his enabling power. As far as we know, this only happened to the apostles.

The purpose of the Spirit-guided message on Pentecost was to convict them of their guilt in regard to sin and to teach them about God's righteousness and judgment. The Spirit sought to lead everyone through the message of Peter. It was not an overwhelming force to the 3,000 who responded. The final response to allow the Spirit to lead was the decision of each individual. The Spirit sought to convict the listeners of their guilt and sin through the Spirit guided message Peter spoke. Hearts had been cultivated and the seed had been sown. Now they must receive it.

Although there was a miraculous powerful manifestation of God's presence, it was the message that Peter spoke that led the 3,000 to salvation. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." (1Thessalonians 1:4-6) The power of the Spirit made the apostles credible. But it was obedience to the message that saved.

It is the knowledge that the Spirit brings that leads us to salvation. Peter said, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:2-4)

It was the reception of Peter's message that would allow the Spirit to dwell in them. When the people heard Peter's message, " . . . 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.' With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." (Acts 2:37-40)

It was upon their conviction of their guilt of sin and God's righteous judgment that they came to a realization of their need of the Spirit's filling and leading. A correct response to their failure and spiritual need was the only thing that would bring the Spirit's enabling power. It was the only way God's Spirit could enable a new beginning.

Many long for another Pentecost Spirit-filled moment. But the miraculous filling of the Spirit only happened twice. It happens here in Acts 2, as God shows his approval upon the disciple's work to the Jews. It happens again in Acts chapter 10, as God's Spirit descends upon the first Gentile converts to the gospel. There is no record of this happening each time a believer is baptized. Yet we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit.

To be sure, there is a difference in baptism of the Holy Spirit and the command to be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:17-20)

If it is not possible to be filled with God's Spirit today, why would Paul command it? In commanding us to be filled with the Spirit, Paul also indicates that today we have a choice in the matter. We can refuse to live sober lives, or we can choose for our lives to be led by the sobriety of God's Spirit. The enabling power of the Spirit is our choice.

Listen to Paul's prayer, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Although the Spirit's filling was overwhelming, it was due to their willingness to follow God. The first century disciples were overwhelmed as the Spirit of God descended upon them. The Spirit took control of their mental faculties as He empowered them to speak. It was evidence that they were speaking for God. However, experiencing the fullness of God through his Spirit was largely voluntary. They had emptied themselves at the feet of Jesus. They had voluntarily followed his plan and it put them in the right place at the right time. This made the Spirit's work possible. Although the Spirit does not overwhelm us, it is our choice that makes his work possible.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, "Do not quench the Spirit." Another version says, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire." The enabling power of the Spirit is only available to those who are enabling the Spirit to dwell in their hearts through faith. If we put out the Spirit's fire, we are doomed in our inadequacies. There is no way we can praise God and sing his praises without being filled with his enabling Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Some hill people in India, called the Kurkue, have a strange religion which demands that they should be filled with demons! When this supreme desire has been satisfied, they believe their lives will be immune to outward attacks from the devil. While they recognize that a "good spirit" has created the world and brought them into existence, they disregard him because they feel he is too benevolent to harm them. A missionary who visited this tribe of approximately 100,000 declared, "If the same number of God's people had as their ultimate aim in life the desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I believe such a blessed surrender would cause a tremendous awakening. The evangelistic results would reach to all corners of the globe!"

"Whosoever Calls Upon the Lord Shall Be Saved"

If we were looking for individuals to do what these men did, we would look for individuals who possessed certain strengths. We would only choose those that emanate self-confidence and power in an aggressive manner. We would choose those who have a proven track record.

The apostles had used all their human strength to follow Jesus and had arrived at Pentecost empty. The beauty of it all is now that they have emptied themselves; God is able to fill them with the fullness of his power through his Spirit. God has brought them face to face with their greatest failures. Now God is preparing them to face their greatest fears. God is filling their emptiness with his message of salvation.

When the disciples emptied themselves at the foot of the cross, it was a personal invitation for the Spirit to fill them with God's fullness. Their emptiness made room for the Spirit to dwell in their hearts.

The apostle's inadequacy was a special gift. It enabled them to see their need. Amazingly, in God's scheme of things, those who have the greatest failures have the greatest potential for greatness. This is always true in God's order of things. If you have spent all your life in failure, only God's grace can extend you hope and consolation under God's rule.  Our inadequacies usually have a profound negative impact. However, the most positive step in solving any problem is to realize your own needs.

As you look at these men who had deserted Jesus at the foot of the cross, you began to realize that now they are at a great advantage. At least they understand their needs. The emptier you are, the more of God's fullness you experience. Grace demands that it be so, for grace is designed to fill our emptiness. The emptier the vessel, the greater the filling.

How many of us have come up against our failures, inadequacies and fears? We see them everyday as we wrestle with work and family. We try to be good providers, parents and role models --- good wives and husbands. Oftentimes we fail, but we can rest assured that God is more than willing to help us face our inadequacies. He desires to replace our inadequacies with his fullness.

To have a new beginning we must make a voluntary response to God's Word in repentance. It is that commitment we make at baptism, to die to ourselves and come alive to God (Romans 6:3-4), which makes the Spirit's leading possible. We turn to God in a willingness to change our minds about the way we live. It is then the Spirit takes control, He begins to fill us with the fullness of God's revelation as we respond to the Word of God.

Galatians 2:20-21
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Conclusion:

If you're looking for a new start in life, it begins with the leading of God's Spirit. That is where it begins with each of us. There must be a willingness to obey his message. It is up to us to choose to be filled with God's presence through the working of his Holy Spirit. We won't experience the same overwhelming power, but we will experience the same enabling powering that comes through the Spirit's leading.
 
 

 

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