The Holy Spirit and Pentecost
In writing the book of Acts, Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more than fifty times, indicating His preeminence and power in the progress of the gospel and the development of the Church. He was the promised dynamic for witness (1:8), and the divine energy and power – filling, guiding, equipping and sustaining the disciples. When the Holy Spirit came, He filled the house, so that all that were present were immersed in the Spirit, which Paul refers to as the “baptism” in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). The manifestation of His presence in cloven tongues of fire indicates the Spirit’s power for testimony to both Jews and Gentiles. All the believers that were present on the day of Pentecost were united together into the body of Christ. This was the mission of the Spirit in the world. Peter is the man who dominates the first part of the book, and the difference the coming of the Spirit made to him is evident. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he is possessed by One whose resources were immeasurably greater and he is dispossessed of the fears that beset him in the gospels. Peter’s preaching of Christ on the day of Pentecost as he gave a bold witness to the crucified, risen and exalted Jesus of Nazareth, is evidence of the difference the Spirit’s coming made. The message pricked the hearts of many and resulted in 3000 being saved.
The Spirit’s Witness to Israel.
Against the background of the healing of the lame man who sat at the temple gate which is called Beautiful, Peter preached and charged the men of Israel, “Ye have denied Jesus the Holy One and Just. And killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead.” The Spirit’s appeal to the nation was, “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you” (4:19). The response of the religious leaders to this appeal was to shut up Peter and John in prison. The next day having been brought out of the prison, Peter “filled with Holy Spirit” charged home their guilt of crucifying Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The rulers, powerless to deny the power of God displayed in the lame man, threatened the preachers, and then let them go (4:21). Peter and John reported to the Church “all that the chief priests and elders had said.” And the church lifted up their voice with one accord and prayed. The result was “the place was shaken” and they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:31), and “they spoke the word with boldness, and the apostles with great power gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and great grace was upon them all.” Stephen’s address in chapter 7 was the appeal of the Spirit to the nation. In it, Stephen makes reference to Joseph and Moses. Both were rejected at their first appearing but received when they came the second time. If the nation would “Repent and be converted” as Peter had appealed to them to do, God would send Jesus a second time. Then with great power Stephen charged the council with being “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit.” Being cut to the heart, they gnashed on him with their teeth, rejecting this appeal of the Spirit, and stoned Stephen to death.
The Spirit in the Early Church
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church is demonstrated in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. This husband and wife had a possession which they sold and agreed together to keep back part of the price (5:1-11). The remainder they laid down at the apostle’s feet as if it were the whole amount. Peter said, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” Ananias immediately fell down and gave up the ghost. Later, his wife did the same. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church gave a new dimension to Christian conduct. Anything that would destroy the purity of the early Church was met with displeasure and divine discipline.
The Holy Spirit and the Gentiles
After the vision of the sheet let down from heaven (Ch.10), Peter, taking six other Jews with him, goes to the house of Cornelius and opens the door to the Gentiles (Matt 16). While he is preaching to Cornelius and his household, the “Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word.” This was something new. The barrier between believing Jews and believing Gentiles was broken down. The Gentiles, hearing and believing the message, immediately received the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues and magnified God (10:46). They were uncircumcised, and received the Spirit before they had been baptized. They believed and the Holy Spirit fell on them. Peter then commanded them to be baptized (10:44-48). From this point, water baptism always followed believing. Peter, on returning to Jerusalem, was called into question about the happenings in the house of Cornelius. He answered, “The Spirit bade me go and as I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning. What was I, that I could withstand God?”
At Antioch, God established a new Gentile center of witness without any apostle being involved. When it came to “the ears of the Church at Jerusalem,” they sent Barnabas to go as far as to Antioch. He was a man full of the Holy Spirit and when he came and saw the grace of God was glad. His heart appreciated what God was doing and he encouraged the believers, “with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord.” Later, he brought in Saul and together they taught the Church for a whole year. The disciples were called Christian’s first at Antioch. This resulted in a multiplicity of prophets and teachers in the Church (13:1-3). While they were ministering to the Lord, the Spirit was heard saying, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
The Spirit and Missionary Work
The preeminence of the Holy Spirit is clearly indicated in the call of Barnabas and Saul. He called, separated, and sent them forth to the work. In recognition of this Holy Spirit’s choice, the Church “sent them away” (13:3). Taking ship to Cyprus they soon encountered opposition in the work of the gospel as Elymas the sorcerer “withstood them.” Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, demonstrated the power that accompanied the gospel, and Elymas, who was opposing the work of the Spirit in Sergius Paulus, is blind for a season (13:7-12). Arriving at Antioch in Pisidia, they went into the synagogue. Being invited to speak, Paul proved from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews contradicted and blasphemed Paul’s preaching, but the effective working of the Spirit in the Gentiles resulted in their asking that these things be preached to them the next Sabbath day. The persecution that followed could not dampen the joy of salvation; “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Spirit.”
When certain men came to Antioch from Judea insisting on circumcision for Gentile believers or they could not be saved (15:1) it was a real threat to the future of gospel work among the Gentiles. To settle the dispute, Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to discuss the problem with the apostles and elders. After much disputing by the different parties, Peter rose and rehearsed his commission to the Gentiles; Barnabas and Paul followed. When they had finished, James summed up saying, “My sentence is that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” The resulting letter sent to the Gentile believers said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.” The Holy Spirit secured the purity of the gospel. Salvation for the Gentiles was by faith through grace as it was for the Jews (15.13-35).
The direction the gospel was to take from this point was under the direct control of the Holy Spirit. Paul and his fellow workers thought they would go and preach the gospel in Asia. But the Holy Spirit forbade them. They assayed next to go into Bythinia, but the Spirit suffered them not. The gospel was to go into Europe. The remainder of the Acts is a record of the Holy Spirit’s control of the apostle’s gospel activities until eventually Paul reached Rome, the great metropolis of the world, with the message of the gospel. The book of Acts and Paul’s missionary journeys testifies to the preeminence of the Holy Spirit’s control.