Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Acts 19: Holy Spirit is Gift for Believers

Acts 18:24-28 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. 

Acts 19:1-20 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism." And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9  But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. 

There are still Christians who are uncomfortable whenever a preacher speaks about the Holy Spirit as a Person in His own right. They have no problem with preacher speaking of Personhood of the Father and the Son. But somehow, they balked at the idea that the Holy Spirit is a Person like the Father and the Son, to whom we have to give an account. They rather speak of the Holy Spirit as some kind of divine influence and power--impersonal and incidental in their ministry.

But this is not the case in Acts. The book of Acts gives equal weight to both the Holy Spirit and Jesus: the Holy Spirit is mentioned 63 times while Jesus is mentioned 72 times. So, if the early church is not reticent to mention the ministry of the Spirit as much as the work of Jesus, why are some Christians still feeling uncomfortable about the expressing, "Thus says the Spirit" (Acts 21:11)? It's nothing to do with the Scripture, but their own fears of the unknown.

So, when Paul was at Ephesus, he came across some disciples of Jesus taught by Apollos who was there before him: "he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25). In other words, he knew about Jesus and his death and resurrection, but apparently he was not among the disciples when the Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 2). So, he was a disciple of Jesus and believed Jesus is the Christ--but neither he nor his students were aware that the Spirit had descended. When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teaching in the synagogue about Jesus, they quickly pulled him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26), possibly because his "Gospel" made no reference to the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost as evidenced by his twelve disciples whom Paul met.  Paul noticed the deficiency in their faith in Jesus--the Holy Spirit was absent in their experience. They had believed Jesus as the Christ after being baptised by John the Baptist. So when Paul asked, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" Their surprised answer was: "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (Acts 19:2).

Their situation still describes many Christians who have believed in Jesus as Lord and Saviour but no one has told them about the Holy Spirit. Yet without acknowledging the Holy Spirit's role in the age of the Spirit, the church will remain impotent and unable to make advance into the kingdom of darkness to heal the sick and set captives free. So, Paul immediately rectified the deficiency in their knowledge and spiritual experience: He got them baptized into the name of Jesus and "laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying" (19:6). Supernatural gifts ought to accompany Spirit-filled believers to engage in supernatural ministry. This supernatural element of kingdom ministry is especially important in the Asian contexts, where other religions are winning adherents through their supernatural powers.

I remember one particular testimony of a Chinese-speaking church in Sabah (East Malaysia). The pastor was an Alpha champion but he left his denomination after growing his church to almost 1,000 through Alpha because the denomination rejected the supernatural gifts. He  started a new church with 50 members and within 2 years it grew to 400 members (mostly through conversion of Chinese idol-worshippers). Their challenge to this pastor was this: "If you can show that your Jesus is more powerful than our gods, we will believe." And this Spirit-filled pastor demonstrated Jesus' power over the idols through the supernatural ministry of exorcism and healing. And the Chinese non-believers were convinced. His church grew when these Chinese idolators turned to Christ.

That's why Jesus was very unequivocal about the Holy Spirit's role in the preaching of the Kingdom Gospel: "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28). We can't preach about the Kingdom without also teaching about the Holy Spirit. The two are synonymous.

Father deliver us from our traditions which have blinded us to the truth. Amen.

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