For the last couple of months I have been preaching about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, focusing on John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, but specifically on 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. We have asked the Lord to show us what these gifts mean, are they all still operating in the church and, if so, what does that look like today? That’s right, we’ve dealt with all the controversial topics that tend to divide the body of Christ: second filling, baptism of the Spirit, Cessationism vs. Continuationism, the five-fold ministry, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, the role of apostles and prophets, if any, today, what is a word of knowledge and word of wisdom, and all the other crazy, scary stuff. It’s been quite an eye opening experience to see, not what I was taught in Seminary or grew up believing in a Southern Baptist church, but what the Scriptures actually teach regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in His church back then, as well as today.
Naturally, in the course of this study on the Holy Spirit, we moved to the Acts to see how this was played out in the early church in real time. Last Sunday we preached about Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-39) and the amazing results of a 297 word message, excluding Scriptures, that was empowered by the very Spirit they received a few verses earlier (Acts 2:1-4). The Promise of the Father was given (Acts 1:4), and 3,000 people joined the 120 in faith in the risen Lord Jesus.
What an amazing day that must have been.
But now what? How do these 3,000 new believers, many from areas outside of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11), grow in their new faith? What are they to do? Where do they go? How do they learn? There would be so many questions each of them had. Where would they go to find the answers?
If they returned back home to Egypt or Rome, for example (Acts 2:10), who would disciple them? Who would teach them truth from error? They would be the only ones in their country that had received salvation as evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). No one carried the light of Christ to their families and friends but them. No one was to speak into the darkness but them. They were alone. Uncertain. Literally babes in the midst of Jewish wolves. By returning home they were, in effect, being sent out as missionaries to tell others about the new life found in Christ— the Christ whom they knew nothing about other than what Peter had preached, and what they were just now discovering for themselves.
It was a recipe for colossal failure. Much like sending an eight year old to convince an atheist University professor of the validity of the New Testament text. They were vastly outgunned and woefully inexperienced in the things of Christ. They needed a time to grow, to mature, to understand what just happened to them. They needed time to come to grips with their faith in the Lord Jesus, and what that faith meant from that moment forward.
A New Home
So, most likely, many of them stayed. Where else were they to go to hear about the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Once, after Jesus proclaimed His unpopular, politically incorrect truth about the kingdom of God that offended the half-committed, many of His followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:65). Jesus had been telling them about the all-consuming relationship they were to have with Him. This new life they had experienced, this born-again reality was not like going to the synagogue once a week to dance around their Jewish maypole, feel good for a moment or two, faithfully perform their religious duty, and then go back to life as usual.
This was different.
Religion tries to make us feel good about ourselves by following some man-made ritual that, at least on the outside, makes us look better than we were before— especially when we compare ourselves with ourselves or with others who are struggling like us.
But this was different. Completely different.
What Jesus came to bring was a totally new life. The old man, our old life, is not rehabilitated or made better, or less offensive, by Christ’s sacrifice. He is put to death. Dead and buried. Just like Christ. Jesus sees nothing in us worth bringing into the new life He’s purchased for us (Isa. 64:4). Nothing. So all of the old man, the pride, fear, lusts, wants, desires, religion, rights, needs, literally everything— dies. Everything gets buried. Everything rots. And the new man, what Paul later called the “new creation” in Christ, is born again (2 Cor. 5:17). Born anew. Born from above. Resurrected to a new life (Rom. 6:4), created in the image, or likeness of God (Eph. 4:24), and secured by the indwelling presence of God Himself— in the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
This was a message the religious crowd in Jesus’ day, and in our day, finds offensive. So they left Him to find another guru that was willing to teach what they wanted to hear, about how to have Your Best Life Now!
Look at the question of Jesus and the answer of Peter.
John 6:66-69 – From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Exactly. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
This was the same sentiment those who came to faith at Peter’s sermon most likely had. Why go back home? Back to what? People who don’t know what I now know, which is next to nothing. Everything has now changed. I’m a new man. I see things differently. And I now have needs I didn’t even know existed before.
“Lord, I need to grow in my faith. I need to understand more of You who re-created me into something new. I need to know what Your will for me is now. Where am I to go? What am I to do? I need to learn how to hear Your voice and recognize when You speak. I need to be taught how to pray? I want my faith to grow. I want to understand the gifts the Spirit has given me to exercise for You. Lord, I need to spend time in Your presence and at Your feet. There’s so much I don’t know. So much that seems confusing to me. Lord, if I may, these other believers are now my family. And this, Your church, is now my home.”
And so they stayed.
They Continued Steadfast
Notice what happened next.
Acts 2:42 – And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
But there is so much more here than we read on the surface.
Do you want to know how these new believers spent the rest of their lives? Do you want to find out what made them the kind of people that turned the world upside down in the span of a few years (Acts 17:6)? Do you think we, as the church, can learn anything from the life they forged for us with the Spirit?
I do. But that’s something we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to discover together.