Topical Scripture: Acts 2:1-11; Ephesians 5:18
In 1981 Janet and I purchased our first house, in Arlington. It needed much work, so my Granddad came down to help. He lost his farm in the Depression and became a carpenter, and worked until he died a few years ago at the age of 99. He built a tool shed, sheet-rocked the garage, redid the kitchen, and generally transformed the house for us.
I still remember his reaction when he looked at my tools his first day with us. I had a socket wrench, a hammer, and a few screwdrivers to my name. So first thing, he took me to Sears and bought me a drill.
He had to show me how to use it, to change the bits and so on. I’ve used it ever since. But one thing he didn’t have to explain was the fact that the drill must be plugged in to a power source. Unplugged, it’s of little use. There’s nothing wrong with it—it just needs power. So it is with the church today.
Last week we walked through the Book of Acts and saw the power of God working on every hand. 3,000 saved at Pentecost; a crippled man healed; fearful disciples now preaching boldly to the Sanhedrin; the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira; the conversion of Saul, Cornelius, and thousands of people across Paul’s journeys; miracle upon miracle.
Here’s my question: can God really do today what he did then? Can we have the same power in our lives which they had in theirs? If we can, why don’t we see that power more? More miracles, healings, proof of the Spirit at work? Can we truly have this power, or is this just rhetoric?
Many of you have that question. We read about miraculous power across the Book of Acts, but wonder if this is still possible today. If it is, why don’t we see it more?
Let’s see how the Spirit worked, and how he still works today.
How did the Spirit work?
The first Christians are meeting in an upstairs room of a house in Jerusalem; tradition says it was the same place where Jesus took his Last Supper with them. They are spending this time exclusively in prayer and worship (1.13-14).
Now comes the day of Pentecost, one of the three great Jewish holidays, 50 days after Passover (early June on our calendar). Every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally required to come, and Jews from across the world would crowd the streets of the city for the party.
Suddenly, while the first Christians are in prayer in their upper room, the Holy Spirit moves in a way never before seen in human history.
Previously the Spirit would come “upon” people for a particular purpose and time (cf. Judges 14.19). This is why David prayed, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51.10). No one after Pentecost needs this prayer.
For now the Spirit moves “into” us, taking up residence forever. These Christians are “filled” with the Spirit—he moves into their lives. They are empowered by him for the purpose Jesus had assigned them: to be his witnesses.
In fact, each believer is so empowered that he or she begins immediately to go into the crowd to tell about Jesus.
Thus the people say in surprise, “How is it that each of us hears them?” (v. 8); “we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (v. 11). Not Peter yet, but each of the 120 fulfilling God’s purpose by God’s power.
And this in a miraculous way. People from across the world have crowded into Jerusalem for the festival. Fifteen different nations are listed here by Luke, each with his or her own language. But by the Spirit’s power these Galilean Jewish Christians speak of Jesus in languages they have never learned.
Imagine how it would feel to hear yourself speak words you don’t know, in a language you’ve never learned, and you’ll have something of the wonder and joy these men and women felt. Imagine being far from home in a distant country, surrounded by languages you do not know, then hearing the gospel in your own native tongue. You think this person is an American, but discover that he’s a German, or Spaniard, or Frenchman, and he’s just as surprised to be speaking English as you are to hear it.
Their response then was the same as today. Some are confused: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?'” (v. 12). Some criticize: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine'” (v. 13).
But others are convicted: “When the people heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (v. 37).
And these celebrate as well: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41).
And the Spirit continued to empower God’s people to accomplish God’s purpose.
He “filled” Peter as he preached to the rulers and elders of the nation (4.8).
He “filled” all the first believers with his power (4.31).
He convicted Ananias and Sapphira of their sin (5.3).
He witnessed to the Sanhedrin through them (5.32).
He empowered the deacons and specifically Stephen (6.3, 10; 7.55).
He directed Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (8.29) and led him away after the man came to faith (8.39).
He empowered Paul for his life and ministry (9.17; 13.4, 9).
He encouraged the entire church (9.31).
He directed Peter to go to Cornelius the Gentile (10.19; cf. 11.12).
He called Paul and Barnabas to their missionary work (13.2), led them to Europe and the West (16.6), and empowered them throughout their ministry.
When does the Spirit work today? (Eph. 5.18)
Do you want God’s Spirit to work in your life and church like this? Do you believe Scripture when it says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8)? Do you believe that God can do anything today he wishes, and that he could move in our lives with the same power we saw in theirs?
Then why doesn’t the Spirit work like this today in us? Where he doesn’t, the simple reason is that we haven’t asked him to. We haven’t done what Scripture teaches us to do, that we might know his power today.
So, what are we to do? Ephesians 5.18 is our key: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Let’s walk through this verse, step by step, and experience it in our lives this morning.
First, receive the Holy Spirit in salvation. This verse is to believers, and it assumes that we have already asked Jesus to forgive our sins and be our Lord. When we do, the Holy Spirit moves into our lives (cf. Romans 8.9). Have you made this decision? If you have not, make it right now.
Second, decide that you need his power. Not just his salvation, but his power. A carpenter knows that a drill needs power. Do we know that our church, our lives need power as well?
To be “filled” by the Spirit means to be under his control. Just as someone drunk with wine is “under the influence,” so a Christian is to be “under the influence” of the Holy Spirit.
The first Christians needed this power, and they knew it. They were 120, charged with taking Christ to a hostile nation of 4,000,000 and an ungodly Empire of 25,000,000. This meant that each Christian had to win more than 30,000 just in Israel to fulfil God’s purpose for them.
But Jesus had promised them his help: “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” (Luke. 24.49). So they stayed in Jerusalem, at the risk of their own lives, until they received the power they needed.
You and I need this same power today. Listen to Zechariah 4.6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” This verse should convict us every time we hear it: “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4.20). Do we have all the power we should? All that we need?
My friends, God will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves. If we are comfortable and complacent with our spiritual lives, our witness, our ministry in this city and world, then we will not know the power of God’s Spirit.
A drill can do some good on its own, without electrical power, as we use our own strength. Some of us like the credit, we don’t like being dependent on others, we’re convinced we can do it ourselves. But we cannot.
This step is the hardest for most of us, and essential: we must admit that we need him. That we need him as desperately as these first Christians did. Only then can he move in power in our lives.
So I ask you, are we winning enough people to Jesus? Are you? Do you want the Spirit to have control of your life? To empower you? Make this decision right now. If you do, you can proceed to the next step.
Third, be cleansed from all that hinders him. I can connect my drill to a socket and still have no power if the plug is corroded. The plug must be clean for the power to flow.
In the very same way, we are seeking the power of the Holy Spirit, and he cannot fill and control a dirty vessel. He cannot give his power with a dirty plug. We must be clean first.
2 Chronicles 7.14 is clear: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” If we confess, God will forgive. If we are clean, God will move in power.
Are you willing to be cleansed from everything which hinders the Holy Spirit in your life? Then take a moment for a moral inventory. Write down anything which is hindering the Spirit in your life. If you’re not sure, ask him and he’ll show you. Confess these sins specifically to God, and claim his cleansing. Cleanse the “plug” and you will know the power.
Last, ask him to control and empower your life. The drill doesn’t have to do this, for it has no will. But we do. And we must ask the Spirit to control and empower us, before he will.
Will you do this, right now? In prayer, simply ask the Spirit to take control of your life, your mind, your time, your abilities. Surrender your will to him. Promise to obey him wherever he leads you.
And believe that he has. Nowhere does the Bible describe how it “feels” to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Some of you will feel something unusual; others will not. I seldom do. The proof is in the results, not the feeling. So step out in faith, believing that the Spirit has empowered you, for he has.
And do this daily. The literal Greek is, “Be continually being filled.” Whenever sin corrodes your relationship with him, confess it and claim cleansing. Then reconnect with the Spirit. Stay in communion with him all through the day—stay “plugged in.”
As you do, remember that God empowers us according to his purpose for us. The Holy Spirit never empowered a Christian in the Book of Acts except to make him or her a more effective witness. If we are not willing to share Christ, we will not have the power of the Spirit. If we are, we will.
Dwight Moody preached to over one hundred million souls in his ministry. He founded what became Moody Bible College, and was widely considered one of the godliest men in America. His prayers have been recorded and published; his passion for the lost was legendary. And yet Moody often said of his own soul, “I am a leaky bucket, and I need to be refilled daily.” If he needed this, so do I. Do you?
Does God still move? Can we see “Book of Acts miracles” today? Can some of us be the next Paul, Barnabas, Peter, Lydia? The answer is up to us, isn’t it?