September 26, 2004
The Love of Christ Compels Us to Depend on the Holy Spirit
Acts 1:1-11; 2:1-4

“What got into those people?” Have you ever asked that question? It might have been when your children cleaned the house while you were gone, even tough you had not asked them to. It might have been when your otherwise under achieving students performed superlatively on an exam. Perhaps you asked the question last year when both the Cubs and Red Sox made it into the playoffs! “What got into those people?”

That is precisely the same question that is on the minds, if not the lips, of virtually everyone in the crowd in Acts 2. The crowd is diverse, including people from all over the then known world. In fact, this crowd even includes people, like the Medes, who ceased to exist centuries before! Luke, it appears, wants his readers to know that all people throughout history, past and present, were represented in that Jerusalem crowd. And yet, they all heard Jesus’ followers speaking in their own languages. “What has gotten into these disciples?” they asked. We probably would have asked the same question had we been standing in the crowd that day. Fortunately, Luke answers it for us in 1:1-2:4.

Jesus, just prior to his ascension into heaven, had instructed his followers to gather together in Jerusalem and wait. These “waiters” included the disciples, Jesus’ mother and brothers, and other unnamed men and women—120 in all. The group, at least from what we know, was hardly a “Who’s Who” of 1st century Palestine. Just a group of ordinary, otherwise unknown people with little to commend them. No one in the crowd would have expected anything unusual, let alone earth-shattering, to come from this group.

But Jesus did. In fact, he was now passing on to his followers the weighty responsibility of continuing his work. Charles Williamson recounts an old story in which Jesus, just after his ascension into heaven, went before God the Creator in order to give a report of his time on earth. The entire host of heaven—angels and archangels—gathered around to hear what Jesus had to say. Eagerly they listened as Jesus described his many encounters, but they shuttered a bit when he informed God the Creator that he had entrusted to his followers the responsibility of spreading the good news wherever they went. One of the angels even gasped and said, “But what if they fail? What other plan do you have?” And Jesus replied, “I have no other plan.” In Jesus’ mind, his followers are it. But they dare not go at it alone.

So he instructs them to wait. Stay in Jerusalem and wait. Waiting, as Jesus envisions it here, is not the equivalent of feet-dragging. It is not synonymous with either rejecting a call or wasting precious time that could be used more productively. Waiting instead is the antidote to impulsiveness and presumption. Waiting is the safeguard against self-dependence. Waiting provides an opportunity for his followers to acknowledge their own limitations and to receive from resources outside of themselves. And so they wait.

Waiting is often difficult for many of us, isn’t it? We live in a society that celebrates speed and productivity. We are conditioned to want things quickly and easily, and to make the most of every minute of the day. So when the Lord tells us to be still and to wait, we grow fidgety and uncomfortable. Waiting, however, is a fundamental part of the spiritual life that must not be ignored. “Stay in Jerusalem,” Jesus instructs his followers, “and wait.” And that is precisely what they do.

As they wait—one day segues into the next—they are; as was promised, suddenly overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is central in Luke’s telling of the story is evident on the basis of sheer numbers alone. Luke refers to the Spirit six times in 1:1-2:4 and more than fifty times throughout Acts as a whole. Further, Luke uses his references to the Holy Spirit here as a way of connecting all of salvation history. David, who of course preceded Jesus, spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1:16). Jesus himself, who lived at the center of history, spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And now the church—those of us who carry on the work of God after the time of Jesus, are also to carry out our work through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the common energizer working throughout the entire history of God’s redemptive activity.

And what is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Jesus’ followers? According to Luke, we can mention these primary items. First, the Holy Spirit brings people to a point of confession. Jesus had earlier informed his disciples that the Spirit would convict the world of its sinfulness (John 16:7), and we find the Spirit doing precisely that here in the book of Acts. When the people heard the inspired proclamation of the Gospel in Acts 2, they “were cut to the heart,” as Luke phrases it, and they asked the disciples, “What are we to do (2:37)?” And again and again throughout the book, when people encounter an inspired church declaring an inspired message, they respond with confession.

What a wonderful ministry of the Holy Spirit this is, and it aids us today in at least two primary ways. First, the Holy Spirit works within the hearts and minds of unbelievers—those here today who have never given their lives to Jesus—to bring their own sins to their attention. The Holy Spirit works through songs, readings, and feeble words to help people see how desperately needy they are. As the Spirit speaks to us, he assures us of Christ’s love and helps us to cry out to God for his grace and mercy.

But the ministry of the Holy Spirit in terms of confession is not limited to those who have not as yet followed Jesus. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, unless we have repeatedly ignored his voice and shut him out through our own hardheartedness, works tirelessly to help us as believers recognize our own shortcomings and sins. He brings to our minds unkind words that we should never have spoken, unclean thoughts that we should never have entertained, and unloving deeds that we should never have performed. The Holy Spirit works within us to root out all unrighteousness, and it is one of his precious ministries to call to our attention everything in our lives that is displeasing to God. The Holy Spirit brings us to a point of honest and genuine confession.

The Holy Spirit also works in our lives by providing guidance and direction. One can hardly read through Acts without being struck by the simplicity with which Luke unashamedly attributes the role of “tour guide” to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit instructed Philip specifically to go and speak with the Ethiopian eunuch riding through Jerusalem in a chariot (8:29). He informed Peter that three men were looking for him, and he told Peter to go with them without hesitation (10:19). The Holy Spirit instructed the believers in Antioch to commission Barnabas for a special assignment (13:2), and he prevented—forbid!—Paul and Timothy from speaking the Gospel in Asia (16:6). Luke never discusses the various ways in which the Holy Spirit communicates with the characters in Acts, but he certainly believes that it is in fact the Spirit who orchestrates the lives of Jesus’ followers.

This particular ministry of the Holy Spirit, once again, is of inestimable importance to those of us who serve Christ today. The Spirit, I believe, works to give us guidance and direction, just as he did the earliest Christians. The Holy Spirit leads us, for example, as we wrestle with vocational decisions. If we recognize, once again, our deeply engrained tendency to think in terms of jobs and careers and seek instead to discern God’s call on our lives, the Spirit will guide us along the way. The Holy Spirit works also to help us discern rightly when we are confronted with conflicting choices and difficult decisions. I’ve been in counseling sessions, for example, when I simply did dnot know what to do. “Help me, Holy Spirit,” I often pray. He also prevents us at times from moving in directions that might be harmful—I’ve often wondered how many bad things might have happened in my life had it not been for the gracious protection of the Holy Spirit in my life. One of the wonderful ministries of the Holy Spirit is to guide us as we journey through life as Jesus’ disciples.

The Holy Spirit leads us into confession. The Holy Spirit offers us direction. And Luke informs us continuously that the Holy Spirit empowers Christ’s followers both to be and to do all that God asks of them. “In Jesus final statement to his apostles,” Paul Walaskay reminds us, “he promises that they will receive power—not to rule, but to witness.” The Holy Spirit, importantly, is not given in order to transform people into powerful, successful, self-sufficient individuals, but into witnesses. Into godly servants. Into saints. The Holy Spirit does not empower people to simply excel at what they wish to do with their lives, but to be faithful and effective witnesses for Christ in the world.

And it is nearly alarming to notice just how frequently Luke attributes everything that the disciples do to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addresses the public officials (4:8). Other believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke the word of God with boldness (4:31). Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, maintains his faith and joy, even while being stoned to death (7:55). Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, abruptly confronts an evil false prophet (13:9). Just go down the list—one Christian after another is empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach, witness, confront, and correct. These otherwise ordinary men and women are seen here doing extraordinary things.

We today need to depend on Holy Spirit to empower us, even as our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith did. The very fact that Jesus instructs his followers to wait suggests that the calling is too great and the work too important for us to depend on our own resources and ingenuity. And so, the Holy Spirit is given to those of us who follow Jesus in order to empower us both to be his people and to do his work in the world. The Spirit empowers us, first of all, to be God’s people. To be transformed into witnesses who are faithful and holy. To resist evil. But the Spirit also empowers us to do the work God calls us to do. We simply cannot do these things alone.

The earliest followers of Jesus, once again, were everyday, ordinary men and women with little to commend them. And yet, when the crowds looked on, both in Jerusalem and beyond, they asked that age old question: “What got into these people?” Luke’s answer is simple and clear. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who leads people to confession. The Holy Spirit, who provides people with direction. The Holy Spirit, who overwhelms people with his power.

I can hardly help but imagine in my own mind a sort of contemporary Pentecost. Rather than watching Jesus’ followers proclaim the Good News in Jerusalem, I picture people in Cumberland County standing by as the Grantham Church and other groups of believers in our area carry on the work of Christ right here. Can you hear them asking the question, “What got into those ordinary people?” Christ’s love compels us to depend on the Holy Spirit, and as we do, the world will notice.