This is the first of a four-part series on the Spirit of God in the book of Acts
The book of Acts is a thrilling account of gospel advance in the years following the ascension and session of Jesus.
After Jesus’ short, but powerful ministry on earth he departed to take up his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. While on earth, Jesus had declared and demonstrated his righteous reign as king and saviour of the world, yet there was still much work to do. The good news of the inbreaking kingdom of Jesus had to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The apostles of Jesus were chosen to spearhead this great commission and the book of Acts is the record of how they began to do this. It is immensely instructive to note how the apostles spread the good news message of Jesus.
In short, it is the Spirit of God who advances the gospel, opens eyes, transforms hearts and establishes the church of Christ. The apostles are utterly reliant on the Spirit and would accomplish nothing apart from him. We also discover in the book of Acts how the Spirit moves in the world. It is not in random bursts of supernatural power but in fairly predictable and often ordinary ways. There certainly times of extraordinary intervention by the Spirit (Pentecost!), but the day-to-day expectation of the Apostles and early Christians of Acts was that the Spirit would move in the ordinary means of prayer, the proclamation of the word of God, a humble heart, and suffering.
Consider first of all the words of Jesus from the very beginning of the book:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Jesus makes it clear that the apostles cannot carry out their great task until they have received the power of the Holy Spirit. This power comes at Pentecost when they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and enabled to speak in tongues. Peter interprets this event as the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had said:
And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
The generous, powerful gift of the Spirit of God is now going to be poured out on all people, even to the ends of the earth, starting in Jerusalem with the apostles of Jesus. How does one receive this gift? Peter instructs the Pentecost crowd to repent, be baptized, and “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The rest of the book recounts how people from all over do exactly this and are filled with the Spirit to live new, Christ-shaped lives.
Later, when Peter stands up to address the Jewish leaders who wanted to suppress the early Christ-followers and their message, he is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and speaks with uncommon boldness. Furthermore, after Peter’s speech, the fledgling church gathers together to pray and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly.” These early Christians are united in the Spirit and so when two among them, Ananias and Sapphira, test the Spirit by lying to him they are swiftly judged by God. The Spirit is not to be manipulated by man.
Stephen, a man full of the Spirit, preaches his historical sermon to his would-be-martyrs in the matchless power of the Spirit. His main point is that the Jewish onlookers are resisting the Holy Spirit just as their ancestors did countless times before. Stephen’s martyrdom results in severe persecution; which results in the spread of the gospel to Samaria; which results in them receiving the Holy Spirit. One Samaritan named Simon attempts to buy the power of the Spirit and he is sharply rebuked by Peter who reminds him that the Spirit only comes upon a repentant heart. A repentant and moldable heart is displayed in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch and the Spirit leads Phillip to tell him “the good news about Jesus”.
Next time we will continue our survey with the dramatic confrontation between the Lord Jesus and Saul the persecutor.