This is part two of a four-part series on the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts
Zealous and pious Paul did not stand a chance against the Holy Spirit. The brilliant reality of Jesus struck Paul blind and upon receiving his sight back in Damascus he is filled with the Spirit. The effect of Paul’s dramatic conversion brings peace to the church and as it increased in number the believers were “encouraged by the Holy Spirit.”
The Spirit’s next move is to break down the ancient boundary line between Jew and Gentile and so make way for an unprecedented outpouring of grace on the Gentile nations. After revealing the repealing of the purity laws concerning food, the Spirit directs Peter to the house of a God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius. As Peter witnesses about Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes upon all present, “even on the Gentiles.”
At first, there is resistance among the Jewish believers to this expansion of God’s grace to the Gentile. Yet, this new work of the Spirit in Cornelius’ household convinces them the gospel is really and truly going to go out to the ends of the earth. Some Jewish believers in Antioch begin to act on this new revelation and start to share the good news with the Greeks in their city.
In these early days of gospel advance, the Spirit even directs some to prophesy of imminent famine, thus preparing the church for hard times ahead. Other difficulties the church encounters is persecution and prison: James, the brother of John, is beheaded and Peter is jailed. Despite these setbacks the church continues to flourish and, to the contrary, we see Satan’s plots being thwarted: prison chains cannot contain Peter and James’ beheader, King Herod, is struck down by God and eaten by worms
The gospel is now reaching those beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and the Spirit is being poured out accordingly. Against the power of God’s Spirit, earthly powers and authorities are found to be impotent and speechless. The Spirit is on the move and he cannot be contained or manipulated.
The stage is set for further gospel advance and so the Holy Spirit lays hold of his chosen instruments: Paul and Barnabas. Both men are “full of the Spirit” and are now sent out by the Spirit, through the church at Antioch, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. They began their journey on the island of Cyprus and by the power of the Spirit, they unmask sorcery and falsehood. Continuing on to the mainland, they preach in the synagogues using the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. God’s gospel spreads through the whole region and the followers of Christ are “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Churches are planted in the region and elders appointed to shepherd the young flocks. Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch to tell of all that God has done through his Spirit.
Some Jews begin to teach that salvation cannot be separated from circumcision and the ensuing controversy threatens the legitimate advance of the gospel among the Gentile nations. Paul, Barnabas, and others meet in Jerusalem where the Spirit’s movement among the Gentiles, apart from circumcision, is affirmed. The Spirit of God is moving among both Jew and Gentile alike, making “no distinction.” The Spirit also guides the Jerusalem council in coming to an agreeable proposal to the Jewish Christians without compromising the gospel and consequently, unity and joy prevailed within the burgeoning church.
With this important matter dealt with, Paul and Barnabas are eager to set out for the mission field once again. A disagreement over the suitability of John Mark causes both Paul and Barnabas to go their separate ways, with Paul taking Silas and traveling back to the newly established churches and strengthening them. The extent of God’s grace has already been stretched beyond the Jewish mind and it will continue to do so as the Spirit of God pushes Paul and his team farther into the Roman Empire.