Power to Proclaim
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 22, 1998
Copyright © 1998, P. G. Mathew
What are you powered by? The people of the world are powered by money, by sex, by beauty, by fame. But the church of Jesus Christ is powered by the pneuma, the mighty Holy Spirit of the living God.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples went back to Jerusalem to an upper room where they were staying. There they gathered with others, about one hundred and twenty in all, together with women, in the upper room where they waited in prayer for the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit was designed by God to empower Christ's disciples to be witnesses of his resurrection. This experience would equip them to preach the gospel, meaning to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, to all nations in his name beginning at Jerusalem. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was to provide the disciples with God's power garment so that they would no longer be spiritually naked, shameful, weak, and powerless, but would be enabled with courage and clarity to preach God's word to a hostile world. In this baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ is the baptizer, the Holy Spirit is the element and the candidates are believers in Jesus Christ.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit was promised by the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 1 and granted in Acts 2. In Acts 1 we read of Christ's ascension into heaven, and in Acts 2 we read of the descent of the Holy Spirit to earth.
Don't Be Prejudiced
In this study I want to make four points. First, we must avoid prejudice when we are studying the subject of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
If we are serious students of the Scripture, we should not come to this chapter with our own theological prejudices. We should not interpret baptism in the Holy Spirit on the basis of our own arid spiritual experiences or dead orthodoxy. We should also refuse to interpret baptism in the Holy Spirit with an anti-Pentecostal bias.
Additionally, we should not interpret Acts 2 in merely academic, intellectual, or defensive terms. We should not say that Luke was only a historian and therefore, we do not need to study his writings for doctrines. Luke was both a historian and theologian. He not only narrated events but he also interpreted them. He based his writings on the Old Testament Septuagint, writing from an Old Testament background of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles teaches us doctrines as well as history. How can I make such a bold assertion? Well, the book of Acts is considered part of the canon of Scripture, isn't it? And if it is in the canon, it is inspired, breathed out, from God, is it not? Do we take seriously what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness"? If so, then we must understand clearly that the book of Acts gives us doctrine as well as a knowledge of church history. There is no book like it in the entire Bible. We should not despise Luke and his work by treating it merely as history, or by interpreting him through the eyes and theological perspectives of Paul. Luke should be studied for his own perspectives and contributions.
Different Views of Baptism in the Holy Spirit
There are some people who have interpreted baptism in the Holy Spirit in terms of sanctification. They teach that if a person is baptized in the Holy Spirit, he is perfectly and entirely sanctified. I do not believe that.
Others preach and teach that baptism in the Holy Spirit produces regeneration. I disagree with that view as well. As I read the book of Acts, I do not see baptism in the Holy Spirit effecting regeneration. Why? The recipients were already born again. Acts 1:15 tells us the one hundred and twenty were already believers in Jesus Christ. In several places in the gospel accounts we find evidence that the apostles were born again before Pentecost. They had repented and were pronounced by the Lord Jesus Christ to be clean, as we read in John 15:6. They readily confessed "My Lord and my God!" when they faced the risen Christ. They confessed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" when Jesus asked them who they said he was. They asked Jesus, "Where can we go? You have the words of eternal life," when he asked if they wanted to stop following him. The Lord breathed on them the Holy Spirit as they worshiped him, we read in John 20:22.
Thus, baptism in the Holy Spirit is not for regeneration. Yes, the Holy Spirit does many things in applying Christ's redemption to sinners, including convicting them of their sins, regenerating them raising them up, making them alive and sanctifying them. But the main purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is to empower believers to become powerful, bold, confident, articulate witnesses of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in a hostile world. It is essential that we get rid of our own prejudices and see what the word of God is actually saying.
Power to Witness
The second point is that the baptism in the Holy Spirit gives us power to witness. That purpose is revealed in Luke 24:48-49 when Jesus told his apostles, "You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." And in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses. . . ."
The people of Israel had failed in their unique task of witnessing to the nations about the true and living God, but Jesus Christ did not fail. He came to witness, which he did, and now that task is ours. So Jesus told his disciples, "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." The purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is to give us power to witness.
We read about this purpose also in John 7:37-38, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." This describes bearing witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ by people who have trusted in him and are baptized by the Spirit of the living God.
Is this purpose limited to church leaders? No. In Numbers 11 we read that God took the Holy Spirit from Moses and put it on seventy elders to do a task. When this happened, the elders began to prophesy. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, remained in their tents rather than joining the others at the Tent of Meeting, but they began to prophesy like the others when the Spirit of the Lord came upon them. Moses' aide Joshua was unhappy because they were prophesying in the camp rather than with the others, but Moses told Joshua, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (Num. 11:29).
It is God's desire that all of his people speak in his behalf to the world and to that end God pours out his Holy Spirit upon believers so that all will become prophets, speaking forth the gospel and witnessing to the saving grace of God. This is God's great eschatological plan which we read about in Joel 2:28-32, and which Peter quotes in Acts 2:16-21: "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 last days began with Pentecost.
In the last days God is going to pour out his Spirit universally--not only upon leaders but upon men, women, and servants--upon all believers, in other words--so that their mouths may be opened by the mighty Spirit of God. Then, controlled by the Spirit, these believers will prophesy, witness, proclaim and declare to a hostile world that Jesus of Nazareth is Savior, Lord and Christ.
A Great Outpouring
The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Bible says was greater than Moses, was baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Father anointed him with the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and in Luke's gospel we read that he was led by the Holy Spirit to go about doing good in the power of the Spirit. Then he ascended into the heavens where he received the Holy Spirit from his Father and now he was sending that same Holy Spirit upon the believers assembled in the upper room.
What a tremendous outpouring this was! Just as the Lord took of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders, so now he took of his Spirit and gave the Spirit to all the believers assembled in the upper room. What was the purpose of this great drenching with the Holy Spirit? That the one hundred and twenty would be empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel.
In John 20:21 Jesus told his disciples, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Where was he sending them? Into the world--a dark, hostile, pagan world in which blind philosophers mutter and murmur in their caves. But look at what happened in verse 22: "And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" We can conclude from this that in order to be sent into a hostile world, we must have this baptism in the Holy Spirit.
This great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the believers in Acts 2 is what was prophesied by Joel in regard to God's eschatological program. What will be the result of this great outpouring and consequent witnessing? That all who look to the Lord and trust in him will be saved.
Prepared through Baptism
The third point is that baptism in the Holy Spirit prepares us to do God's tasks. All of the believers were sitting together in one place, probably in the upper room, in one accord. What were they doing there? They were preparing for this great outpouring. They were there in submission to the Lord, in spiritual unity, in supplication and in serious Scripture study. Suddenly on the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday, when multitudes of people from all over the world were in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came upon them.
The Feast of Pentecost was also known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of the Wheat Harvest. In Acts 20 we read that at the end of his third missionary journey the apostle Paul made his way to Jerusalem for the purpose of attending this Pentecostal festival, which took place during the good weather of May and June. It was a time during which people focused entirely on the celebration instead of working.
Acts 2:1 tells us "when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place." Suddenly the disciples' waiting came to an end. Suddenly they heard a mighty sound coming from heaven, which doesn't mean from the sky but from where their Lord was seated. What was happening? It was the fulfillment of God's promise to baptize them in the Holy Spirit. Having received the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, now poured it down upon his church. The church was baptized, drenched, by this mighty outpouring.
The Spirit's work is symbolized here as wind. In Acts 2:2 we read that the believers heard a great noise, like the sound of a rushing, mighty wind. Now, the Holy Spirit is not sound or wind but here wind is used to symbolize the power and invisibility of the Holy Spirit. We read that the sound filled the whole house.
Not only did the believers hear a great supernatural sound, but they also saw an amazing sight. Verse 3 tells us "They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them." The text tells us the tongues were not fire but as of fire. Again, this represents the Holy Spirit.
The disciples saw the tongues as of fire dividing themselves into several tongues of fire which came and rested upon each believer. As these tongues as of fire spread, the disciples began to open their mouths and individually and severally speak in other tongues. What was happening? The Spirit of God was coming and resting, not just on the apostles but on all the believers--men, women, and servants alike.
This great demonstration should not have been too surprising to the disciples. When Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit, there was also a sound and a sight. There was the sound of the Father's benediction, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," and the sight of the Holy Spirit descending in bodily form as a dove, John tells us, to rest upon the head of Jesus and remaining there. Later on in his ministry Jesus spoke in reference to this particular baptism when he said in the synagogue of Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18).
The church was anointed with the same baptism for a purpose, not to make money and become famous in the world, but to declare the saving grace of Jesus Christ in the world. This is the anointing, John says in 1 John 2, which abides and rests on us.
Suddenly, then, on the festival day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus, the Baptizer from heaven, poured out the Holy Spirit upon the heads of the believers. They heard a great sound and saw a fiery sight. All of this speaks of the great truth that they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit once for all.
The term "baptized with the Holy Spirit" is used in Acts 11:15-16 in reference to the experience by the people of Caesarea. Like the one hundred and twenty, these people were also prepared, equipped, and qualified by this baptism to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us examine this phenomenon of fire. In Exodus 3 we read how Moses saw a bush that was on fire yet was not consumed. Here we find a church that was as if on fire yet not consumed. What a sight--a church on fire! What was the cause? The Spirit of the Lord was resting upon the church.
When I was a young boy, I once had to stay home on the Sabbath day to watch the house while everyone else went to the church. While I was home wishing that I was in church, a neighbor came and began to mock me by singing a hymn about Pentecostal fire. All of a sudden I noticed something and said to the man, "What do I see over there?" This mocking man turned to look and discovered that his own house was on fire!
Oh, I desire that all of us would be on fire, not for the world but for God! Can you imagine a church that is fired and powered by the Spirit of the living God? That would be a great sight. That is what revival is all about.
What characterizes fire? First, it gives light, and we are the light of the world because Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The blind philosophers in a cave cannot help the world. They cannot save anyone or declare forgiveness of sins. They can only mutter and murmur as they sit in darkness of a cave without an exit.
Second, fire gives warmth. The fire that warms our cold hearts is the Holy Spirit pouring out the love of God into our hearts, Paul says in Romans 5:5. And when he does that, not only will we love God with a perfect heart and love one another as ourselves, but we will also love our enemies.
Third, fire purifies and cleanses. Do you remember what happened to Isaiah in Isaiah 6? His mouth was touched by a live coal from the altar, thus purifying him and qualifying him to proclaim the gospel.
Fourth, fire produces energy. We are weak, but God is strong, and the fire of the Holy Spirit strengthens and energizes us. When we are persecuted, mocked and reviled, Peter tells us that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us (1 Pet. 4:14) to strengthen our inner man and cause us to be bold and unafraid of the world in our mission. (PGM) With this power of the Holy Spirit we are thus able to witness and proclaim, "Salvation is found in no one else but in Jesus Christ alone, who died for our sins and is raised for our justification." This fire of the Spirit is our power garment par excellence. Why should we be afraid when the pillar of fire is with us? It goes before us and behind us, and is in us.
We must make one other point about the symbolism of fire. God is also a judge, and this idea of fire also reminds us to fear God enough to obey him. In Hebrews 12:29 we read, "for 'our God is a consuming fire.'" We must fear him who is the Judge of all.
In Acts 2 we are told these fiery tongues rested on each one, meaning every believer was baptized in the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord. Every believer was thus prepared and equipped by him. Just as he was anointed by the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ anointed every believer for the task of witnessing. We have to do a job.
Proclaiming the Gospel
The fourth point is that once we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we must do the job of proclaiming the gospel. The purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is that we may proclaim that the Christ promised in the Old Testament has come. Christ came, Christ died, Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, Christ ascended, Christ is seated as the Lord of the universe on the right hand of God the Father, and Christ poured out his Spirit upon us to preach the gospel.
Who is this Christ? Jesus of Nazareth. He was crucified for our sins, as Isaiah prophesied, and was buried, raised from the dead, appeared to many, ascended into the heavens, and is seated on the right hand of the Father. This Jesus Christ is the one who pours out his Spirit upon us.
We must proclaim the gospel and say with Peter, "Repent, all of you, of your sins." We ourselves are sinners who must repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation. If the apostle Paul could call himself the worst of sinners, we must do likewise because we are also the worst of sinners. Yet to us God gave us the best of heaven, Jesus Christ, and an inheritance in him. Don't you think it will thrill your heart as it thrilled the heart of Paul to declare this gospel?
The Results of Holy Spirit Baptism
As a result of this once-for-all baptism in the Holy Spirit, the believers were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let me assure you, they drank and drank of the Spirit and they were filled. They were drunk, spiritually, and out of their innermost beings began to flow rivers of living water.
Let me assure you, to be filled with the Holy Spirit you must come to God empty. The Lord Jesus Christ sends the rich away empty but he fills the poor with himself. Perhaps you are very rich, self-sufficient, independent, and powerful. If so, God has no use for you, and he will not be impressed with your own estimation of how great you are.
The other day somebody wrote to me to tell me how much money that person was making. I was not impressed and God is not impressed. Never think God is impressed by your own estimation of your greatness. He has a way of sending the rich away empty-handed.
But what happens when we are filled? The Bible says out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, so they spoke, not about the weather, their children or their jobs, but about the mighty works of God. They praised God for the wonderful things he had done and, under the control of the Spirit of God, they spoke about Christ (Acts 2:11).
In Exodus 15 we find a song of the redeemed. "I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name" (Ex. 15:1-3). This was the song of Moses and Miriam, but I am sure the disciples spoke of the latest mighty things God had accomplished in the Heilsgeschichte, in the salvation history. What were they? That Jesus Christ died and was buried, but now he has been raised from the dead and ascended into the heavens. In other words, their message was that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
Speaking in Other Tongues
These Galileans, uncultured and despised by all, were not eloquent speakers. They had terrible accents. They pronounced the gutturals with difficulty and swallowed certain syllables. But when they received the anointing and filling of the Holy Spirit, they began to speak supernaturally and powerfully. They spoke of the mighty things of God with perfect diction in the various languages of the people from fifteen nations assembled at the Feast of Pentecost and listed in Acts 2. I am sure some also spoke in perfect Latin because people from Rome were there, and some may have also spoken in the Lycaonian languages of Asia Minor.
Many people were attracted by this miracle. Baffled, bewildered, and confused, the crowd could not believe how stupid Galileans could speak so well. They wanted to find out what was going on, so just as Moses drew near the bush that burned but was not consumed, a great multitude of people from fifteen nations gathered around the disciples. Perhaps by this time the one hundred and twenty had left the upper room and were now in the temple.
The crowd wanted to know what was going on. Some mocked them, reasoning quite rationally, but wrongly, that these people were drunk with sweet wine. In a sense these disciples were drunk, but not with sweet wine. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Even today people mock this type of supernatural phenomena. They cannot understand how people could speak in other tongues. Even theologians are embarrassed about it and do not believe it. So the people came, but they could not explain what was going on.
To this assembled multitude Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the gospel. He declared that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The Holy Spirit was working, and he who opened the closed heart of Lydia opened the closed hearts of three thousand of these people. The Holy Spirit convicted them, regenerated them, granted them repentance, and gave them faith by which they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Peter finished preaching, the people cried out, "What must we do to be saved?" What was Peter's answer? "Repent and be baptized and you shall receive the Holy Spirit." Peter was referring to the baptism in the Holy Spirit he and the others had just experienced.
I must say again, Holy Spirit baptism is for the regenerate, not unbelievers, because its purpose is to prepare the church to bear witness to the gospel.
The Sign of Baptism
What is the sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit? It is simply obedience to Lord. By that I mean obedience in all of life, but specifically in the task of bearing witness to the Lord in the world. Do you remember how the Sanhedrin tried to prohibit the apostles from bearing witness? What did the apostles say? "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29) In other words, "We have to obey a higher authority, the Supreme Lord of the universe, who said we must bear witness, and so we will keep on speaking!"
The apostles obeyed the Lord's command to witness. Additionally, the deacons obeyed the Lord, and the book of Acts gives accounts of two of them, Stephen and Philip, bearing witness to Jesus Christ. Not only that, ordinary believers obeyed their Lord's command to spread the gospel. In Acts 11:19-20 we read that as a result of the persecution following Stephen's martyrdom, many believers were scattered to different places. But wherever they went, these people continued to speak about Jesus. First they spoke to other Jews, but when some people, led by the Holy Spirit, began to speak to Gentiles, especially in Syrian Antioch, a church was also founded in that city.
May We Proclaim the Gospel!
Friends, we ought to be ashamed of our silence when it comes to proclaiming the gospel. We talk about ourselves all the time--our jobs, our children, our houses, our cars-- but such speech has nothing to do with the gospel. If we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, we must speak about the Lord Jesus Christ.
May God forgive our sin of not declaring the gospel! May we ask the Holy Spirit to come upon us with such power and might that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then we will open our mouths under the control of the Holy Spirit and speak forth the message that Jesus Christ is Lord. If we drink of the Holy Spirit, then out of our innermost being must flow speech about Jesus Christ.
In Romans 1:16 Paul declared, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." And he also said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16) That is the task God calls all of us to do.
Why Don't We Witness?
Why do you think we do not preach the gospel? We are afraid. When we read Acts 2 through 7, we discover six things the hostile world may do against the church to make it afraid. First, we may be mocked (Acts 2:13). Second, we may be interrogated. The authorities may call Christians and examine them. Third, we may be threatened. Fourth, we may be thrown into prison. Fifth, we may be beaten as the apostles were in Acts 5:40. Sixth, we may be murdered.
We recently heard Elisabeth Elliot describe how, when she was a young girl, her family was visited by a young missionary woman. This woman ate with Elisabeth's family and then went on to China to marry her fiance, also a missionary. Four years after that visit Elisabeth's father brought a newspaper home one day with the news that this young missionary couple had been caught by the Communists in China and killed. They had been stripped and paraded through the streets, and then, in the sight of this young wife, the Chinese beheaded the husband before they beheaded her. What was Elisabeth's reaction to this news? It caused her to determine even more to serve Jesus Christ with her whole life.
What are we doing, brothers and sisters? We may be afraid, but when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we will become aware of God's Spirit of glory resting upon us. Then we will experience great power, great assurance, and great confidence as we declare the only prescription for this world, the glorious message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
May God Help Us to Witness
Let me ask you: Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone? As we said before, God fills the poor with good things, but he sends the rich away empty-handed. Would you like to come to God and say, "God, I am poor, I am weak, I am a sinner. In fact, I am the worst sinner in the whole world and merit only eternal damnation. But, God, this gospel message is telling me that you are in the business of forgiving sins." Come to him, poor in spirit, just as you are, and trust in him alone. If you do, God will forgive your sins and grant you the best in heaven, which is eternal life and an inheritance in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What if you are already a Christian, but you have only been speaking about your cars, about your children, about your back pain--about everything else but the gospel of Jesus Christ? Would you this day determine and purpose to be filled with the Spirit so that you may proclaim Jesus Christ to a sinful person? Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you with such power and might that you may be filled and speak forth the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. If you pray like this, God will help you. Amen.
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Copyright © 1998, P. G. Mathew
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