396:  The Holy Spirit in the Early Church

396: The Holy Spirit in the Early Church

Trying to live the Christian life in the flesh is exhausting and, quite honestly, impossible.  But that’s how many believers live today.  They start out well, full of hope and empowered by the Spirit, and then digress into a life of flesh, pride, and reliance on human wisdom rather than the wisdom of God.  But the early church shows us the “abundant life” Jesus promised those who follow Him fleshed out in real time (John 10:10).

And it’s all based on faith.

Look at the faith involved in the healing of the lame man at the Gate Beautiful.  Question:  Whose faith is the agent God uses to perform this sign and wonder?

Acts 3:6-7 – Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

Note what happened here.  Peter had something that he was able to give to the lame beggar.  What was that?  And how did Peter know he possessed whatever he possessed?  And the healing took place, not when Peter spoke the affirmation, but when he “took him by the right hand and lifted him up” (Acts 3:7).  That’s faith.  But whose?  The beggar’s?  Not really.  It was the faith of Peter.

What does this mean?  And what can we learn about exercising our Spiritual gifts in the world today?  Want to know more?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 3:1-10.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

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.

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395:  What Does it Mean to Live by Faith? – Part 2

395: What Does it Mean to Live by Faith? – Part 2

The best way for the early church to disciple the 3,000 who came to faith after the preaching of Peter’s sermon would be to let them learn to live like the disciples had lived for the last three years.  Think about it.  How did the disciples of Jesus, who had left everything to follow Him, support themselves during the time they went from city to city with Jesus?  Did they take out a home equity loan on their house?  Did they max out their credit cards to fund their extended mission trip?  Did they cash in their 401k, take the tax hit, and continue on with their vision quest with Jesus?  What did they do?

They lived by faith.  Just like the early church did.  Consider the following:

Acts 2:44-45 – Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

And later…

Acts 4:32-35 – Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.  And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.  Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

Did you ever wonder how that is even possible?  How can we trust each other that much, like they did?  Seems impossible, doesn’t it?  Want to learn more about living by faith?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 2:42-47.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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The Focus of Our Faith

The Focus of Our Faith

The context of Psalm 3 deals with David’s great betrayal at the hands of his own son, Absalom, whom he dearly loved (2 Sam. 18:33).  Absalom had driven his father from the holy city, Jerusalem, and was seeking to usurp his kingdom and take his life.  David’s guilt as a failed father towards his rebellious son must have been unbearable.  Adding to that the guilt of his own sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his close friend, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:15), may have caused David to feel Absalom’s actions were justified, a fitting penalty for the sins of David’s past.

The future looked bleak.  There was division within his own family.  To regain his kingdom he would have to wage war against his own son, forcing him to repay evil for evil to the one he loved.  God was grieved and David was unsure as to what to do.


Our Focus

There is much for us to learn about God and our own problems in this psalm.  Note, for example, what happens when we, like David, focus on our problems and what others say about our situation:

Psalm 3:1-2 – LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!  Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”

But now, the focus has shifted from what is before us to our God and all He has promised.  You can almost feel David’s faith begin to grow:

Psalm 3:3-4 – But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.  I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.

As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

David realizes God has not abandoned him.  He has cried out to his Lord, our Lord, and his voice had been heard.  God was still on His throne and He still loved his son, David, no matter how desperate the circumstances.  The same truth applies to each of us when we get our focus off our problems— the immediate, the overwhelming, and focus instead on what lasts— the Eternal, the Lord, the Sovereign One.

And the result of that change in focus?  No more fear.  Rest and peace in the face of turmoil.  Confidence in Him and Him alone.  “God’s got this. I’ve nothing to fear.”

Psalm 3:5-6 – I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Great question.  Answer, no one.  Not even Absalom.

This thought brings great courage to David.  God is not finished with him yet.  Today and tomorrow are just setbacks.  But God’s plan endures to all generations.

Finally, that confidence is expressed in action.  David, and each of us, find our prayers going from “Help me, please, for I am dying” to “Arise, O Lord” and do what You promised to do for your children.

Psalm 3:7-8 – Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God!  For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.  Salvation belongs to the LORD.  Your blessing is upon Your people

Did you get that? “Your (God) blessing is upon Your (God) people.”


The End from the Beginning

One final thought, did you notice all of God’s actions are recorded in the past tense (have struck, have broken)?  That’s right.  For the child of God, we can rest in faith knowing what God has promised to do has already been done in the eyes of the Lord.  His Word never changes.  If God promises to do something for us, in faith, it’s already done.  It’s finished, established, completed, done.  Time is a construct of man, not of God.  He sees everything, past, present and future, in real time.  Scripture calls that seeing “the end from the beginning” (Isa, 46:10).  We simply have to rest, by faith, in the completed work of the Lord even though our eyes may see, for a time, something quite different.

David saw Absalom’s rebellion and his kingdom, the one promised to David by the Lord, ripped from his hands.  But not God.  None of that surprised Him.  God knew how all of that was going to turn out and His knowledge of the future was not based on changing circumstances, but on what He had promised David in the past.  What was currently happening, in God’s eyes, were merely details.

So we should also live our lives with the same focus on Him, with eyes of faith, seeing the truth of what God sees and not what our circumstances cause us to fear.  The promises our faithful God has made to each of us are true, and will come to pass, regardless of how dark and bleak our circumstances may seem today.  And living in the reality of this faith, to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), will give us the peace and assurance in Him that will help us know our Lord sustains us and gives us the confidence to proclaim, even in the midst of the battle, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).

Psalm 3:8 – Salvation belongs to the Lord, Your blessing is upon Your people.

The “Your people” also include you and me, those chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  And His blessing is upon His people.  Take a moment, stop fretting, and rest in that.

Pray for the Lord to open your eyes today to see the wonder of His grace and sovereignty in all things (Ps. 115:3) and to teach you how to live like children of the Most High God (Rom. 8:17).  Which, as incredible as it sounds, you are.

Praise be His Name!

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Day Two:  Sending Me to You in the Form of Him

Day Two: Sending Me to You in the Form of Him

Today is the second day of a 40 day adventure with the Lord.

Yesterday, day one, was a good day.  I experienced much peace and was able to pray more than I have in a long time.  It seemed like my prayers were effortless and more natural and I had a deeper sense of His presence with me.  I know this is only the beginning, but I am greatly encouraged.  I was able to spend more time in prayer and meditation on His Word as my mind seemed to be more in tune to spiritual things, rather than carnal things.  I find it amazing that after just one day, I can already see changes in my life.

Today I arose early, a little before 6:00am.  For some reason I couldn’t turn my mind off.  I was thinking about our conversation yesterday, how the Lord wants to speak with each of us, with me and you, in a more personal, intimate way that maybe we have not allowed Him to do in the past.  I am convinced He wants to reveal His heart to us in ways we’ve never understood or experienced before.

This is what my desire is with Him.  And this is what I have been praying this time with Him will accomplish.


My Fear of the Holy Spirit

Then I started thinking about my fear of the Holy Spirit.  No, you heard that right.  To be completely honest, I’ve always been a little frightened of the Holy Spirit.  Why?  Because I don’t understand Him.  I find it difficult to get close to Him.  I can’t get an image of Him in my mind and He’s hard for me to relate to.

God the Father, not so much.  From the Old Testament, I see Him as unapproachable, fire and smoke and thunder from Mt. Sinai erupting like an active volcano (Ex. 19:18).  When I think of His voice, I see it booming from the heavens, loud, frightening, much like I viewed the Wizard of Oz when I was a young child.  To me, He seems more like a boss, or a ruling monarch, and less like a father.  I know much of my caricature of God is based on my own dysfunctional and somewhat abusive relationship with my own father.  And I know I’ve imposed character traits and motives on Him that belonged to my earthly father, and that’s unfair and wrong.  But that’s something we’ll have to talk about at another time.

Jesus, on the other hand, I understand much better.  I see Him walking the dusty roads of Galilee in the New Testament and I long to be there with Him.  I see Him having endless patience with people like Peter and Thomas and me.  I greatly admire His compassion for the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), and His love for the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-30).  I wonder what it must have been like to minister with Him as He unselfishly met the needs of people He didn’t even know when He multiplied the five loaves and two fish and fed them all (Matt. 14:13-21).  And I see Him encouraging His disciples into a deeper life of faith when He beckoned Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water with Him (Matt. 14:28-32).

Jesus I like.  Better yet, Jesus I love and want to emulate my life after Him.  I want to devote my life trying to walk like Jesus, to live like Jesus, and to love like Jesus.  Why?  Because He’s left me a tangible, written example of who He is in the Scriptures.

But the Holy Spirit?  I’m not so sure.  He’s wispy, like an apparition, and hard to get a reading on.  I know He’s an equal member of the Godhead, fully God, yet I’ve always viewed Him as some sort of power that emanates from God the Father or is used by Jesus the Son.  Like He was some sort of possession of the Father and the Son, and not co-equal with them.

I’m not sure why I feel that way about the Holy Spirit.  Maybe it’s because I have a hard time getting close to something I don’t understand.  For me, at least, my mind rules most of my life and my emotions and passions are left subject to what I think.  When my mother died a couple of years ago, for example, I remember sitting at my desk asking myself how I was supposed to feel about what just happened.  What’s the proper emotion?  In other words, I was going to mentally determine the proper response with my intellect and then allow my emotions to feel what my mind gave them permission to feel.  It’s no wonder I’ve had such a hard time relating to the Holy Spirit.

So, what’s the Holy Spirit like?  How can I learn to relate to the One who lives in me when I often see Him like a ghost, or something like a mist or a force that emanates from some other being— that being God.


Seen One, Seen All

All throughout His ministry, Jesus made it abundantly clear that “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).  He never took credit for the mighty works He performed, but gave that credit to His Father.  He said His purpose on earth was to do His Father’s will, the “will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38), and even likened that will to food, or His sustenance— “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

In John 14, Philip asked Jesus, almost incredulously, if He would show, or manifest to them, the Father (John 14:8).  Jesus was a little taken back.  It seemed the disciples were comfortable with Jesus, but when faced with the prospect of Him leaving them and ascending to His Father (John 13:33), they wanted more than assurances from Jesus alone.  They wanted Him to bring out the big guns, to show them the Big Guy.

John 14:9 – Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Let that sink in for a moment.  Jesus said, “he who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  How can that be?  Because, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).  In other words, if I look at Jesus, I’m also looking at the Father.  Why?  Because Jesus and the Father are one and the same.

Within the Godhead, the Trinity, you have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who are all God, co-equal in essence, all one God.  Each Person is fully God and, yet, there is only one God.  There’s no division in the Godhead.  There’s never an argument in the Trinity.  There’s never been a vote, 2 to 1, majority rules, among the Father, Son and Spirit.  They are all of the same essence, singular in focus: God is three persons, each person is fully God, and there is one God.

So if I want to know what the Father is like, I look to the Son.  God the Father is just like Jesus.  And Jesus is just like the Father.  So how does the Father respond to my sin and failure?  The same way Jesus does.  How much does the Father love me?  As much as Jesus loves me.

If I’ve seen the Son, I’ve seen the Father.

But what about the Holy Spirit?  What is He like?  How can I wrap my mind around Him?

In John 14, Jesus speaks the most revealing truth about the Holy Spirit found in Scripture.  In a few words, Jesus tells us all we need to know about what the Holy Spirit is like.

John 14:15-18 – “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And (the promise) I will pray the Father, and He will give you another (allos) Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

The key word Jesus used in describing the Holy Spirit is, another.  The word translated another is allos in the Greek and means “another, but of the same kind and essence, of equal quality.”  Jesus is saying, “I will pray to the Father and He will send you another (allos) Helper, or Comforter (KJV), or Advocate (NIV), or literally one who comes alongside, who is just like Me.”

Or, to put it another way, “I will not leave you as orphans, but I am leaving.  Do not fear.  For I will pray to the Father and He will be sending Me to you in the form of Him, the Holy Spirit.”

Do you know what that means?  Can you comprehend the implications of these few words?  It means if you want to know what the Holy Spirit is like, simply look to Jesus.  How would the Holy Spirit respond in a particular situation?  The same way Jesus would.  Which, by the way, is the same way the Father would.  There’s no mystery here.  No sleight of hand.  If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father.  Why?  Because Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30).  And if you’ve seen Jesus, then you also know all about the Holy Spirit.  How?  Because Jesus and the Holy Spirit are allos, they’re “of the same kind and essence, of equal quality.”  The Father is one with the Son and the Son is of the same essence as the Spirit.  Which makes the Spirit and Father also one.  Remember?  If A = B and B = C, then A = C.

Which means the Holy Spirit has the same characteristics and traits and emotions as Jesus, all of them.  He’s a person, just like Jesus, with all the same traits of personality Jesus had.


The Personality of the Holy Spirit

We know Jesus was a person with a personality, we see that in the way He interacted with people as recorded in the Gospels.  He had knowledge, for example, as well as will or volition.  He possessed a mind or thought, in addition to various emotions such as grief, anger and love.  That’s a given.  But the Holy Spirit also possesses the same traits in His personality.  Why?  Because Jesus and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence, allos. Consider the following:

We see the Spirit’s unique knowledge of “the things of God” in 1 Corinthians 2:11.

We encounter His will regarding the distribution of His gifts “to each one individually as He (Holy Spirit) wills” in 1 Corinthians 12:11.

We find the Spirit having a mind, or thoughts and purpose, in Romans 8:27.

We see the Spirit grieved, sad and in sorrow, in Ephesians 4:30.

And we find the love (agape) of the Spirit revealed in Romans 15:30.

These are human emotions and traits, that are attributed to the Holy Spirit.  And they’re the same emotions and traits that belong to Jesus.

So what does this mean?

For me, there’s no longer any reason to fear the Holy Spirit or to feel uncomfortable around Him.  Why?  Because I don’t feel that way about Jesus, and the Spirit is of the same essence as my Lord.  When I sin, Jesus is always there with the love and forgiveness I so desperately need.  So is the Spirit.  When I hurt, my Lord stands with me to comfort me in my sorrow.  Guess what?  So does the Spirit.

And the amazing part of this is that I have spent most of my Christian life ignoring the Spirit who lives in me!  It’s not Jesus that lives in me.  No, He’s seated at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34).  It’s the Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, the Trinity, that was given to me as a pledge, a down-payment, as the guarantee of my future inheritance in Him (Eph. 1:14).  It’s the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, with Whom my salvation was sealed (Eph. 1:13).

This changes everything.

Will you join me as we continue to grow together during these 40 days, asking the Lord to reveal His truth to us through the residing presence of the Holy Spirit?  Who, by the way, is just like Jesus— who just so happens to be one with the Father.

One final thought.  Towards the end of His time on earth, as He was preparing His disciples for His death and resurrection, Jesus said these words regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit:

John 16:7 – “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage (profitable, better, beneficial) that I go away; (why) for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

Could Jesus really have meant what He said?  Does this mean Jesus viewed the coming of the Holy Spirit as more advantageous to us than His physical presence on earth?  Absolutely.

But we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

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