In today’s Bible reading Paul asked some disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19:1-4)
Like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they had only heard of — and received — John’s Baptism; they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them the rest of the story, they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit, manifesting Him through tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6) This is the same manifestation we saw in Acts 2:4 when Jesus’ Disciples received the Holy Spirit and when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:46).
Although tongues and prophecy aren’t specifically mentioned when the Samaritans received the Spirit in Acts 8:17–18, Simon’s response seems to indicate something similar happened here as well.
Assuming that my inference is correct, there are only four places in the entire book of Acts where we’re told that the Holy Spirit manifested with tongues and prophecy. I find this significant in light of the over-emphasis seen in many churches and ministries in the past one hundred years. I say over-emphasis because so many insist that the Holy Spirit always manifests in these ways when people understand the whole Gospel.*
* By the whole Gospel, I’m referring to 1) the proclamation that of Jesus’ resurrection and accepting of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for the sins of those who repent, 2) water baptism to symbolize the Believer’s union with Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and 3) the proclamation that God’s Holy Spirit indwells believers to empower them to live a holy life. The book of Acts (and the Gospels) is unique in that it describes people believing in the progressive revelation of God as it was being revealed: John’s baptism of repentance, belief in Jesus’ resurrection and immediate water baptism, and the receiving/baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who only receive John’s baptism of repentance aren’t told of the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. Later, when they hear of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, God manifests the Spirit in the same way (tongues and prophecy) to validate the person’s Holy Spirit baptism.
In other words, what Dr. Luke describes in Acts is not prescribed for the future church. In contrast to Acts, the Holy Spirit now takes up residence in the new Believer when they repent/believe/are saved and as he/she yields to His leading over time, the Spirit manifests in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) In fact, Paul says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually makes us Christians, uniting new Believers to the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Further, Paul urges Believers to be continually filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
In summary — and speaking generally, today, the operation of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy (for evangelism and equipping) is different today than it was in the book of Acts (for revelation and validation).
The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives Believers various spiritual gifts for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping Believers to grow in their faith. No one gift is more — or less — valuable than any other. All spiritual gifts should be used for the service and glory of God rather than the Believer who has been given the gift(s) by God.
I know that some of what I have said here is up for debate among believers. These issues are not primary issues of faith; they are areas where Christians should be able to agree to disagree. My hope is that this brief devotional helps to shed some Biblical light on some questionable, commonly-held theology.
It’s important for each of us to be open-minded and teachable. There is so much that we don’t know and can learn from other people. However, if you’re too open-minded, you may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and convictions. It seems that was the case in Athens.
In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” That’s a problem.
It’s easy to become enamored in “all things new”. But at some point, you have to be concerned with real-world stuff. King Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) They were so open-minded that their brains leaked out!
But there is one very good thing that comes out of this: The men of Athens constructed an altar to an unknown god … just in case they overlooked someone. Paul saw the monument and pounced! He used the altar as an inroad to open discussion. It’s important to note that at no point did Paul compromise his message to match the altar. When he began to talk about Jesus’ Resurrection, he had many of them hooked!
Peter encourages his readers to already be ready to give a defense for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) How easily could you create an object lesson to tell people the Gospel? Maybe it’s not a pagan altar. Maybe it’s a TV show or a movie. It could be just about anything. Anything that might open a door of conversation with an unbeliever. Whatever it is, remember to be true to the Gospel Message. Don’t twist the Bible to fit the conversation.
This can easily turn into a learning opportunity with another believer. Be iron for each other. (Proverbs 27:17) Listen to what they say about how you can improve your presentation. Then listen to them create an object lesson. Critique their presentation.
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!
As you read today’s Bible reading, note how Peter and John connect the dots between the Gospel they preach and Jesus’ Resurrection. You may have heard me say before that “the Sadducees were sad, you see because they didn’t believe in the Resurrection”. Oftentimes that sect clashed with Jesus because of this central doctrine and historical reality.
As the Disciples explained themselves to the Sadducees, they kept driving home that the Jewish leaders were responsible for Jesus’ death and that He had indeed been raised from the dead. (4:2, 10) They tell the Jewish leaders that they will continue to talk about what they have witnessed. As we continue reading through the book of Acts, you’ll also see them highlight the Resurrection in their messages.
The Resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of the Gospel message. Either Jesus was raised from the dead or He wasn’t. Paul even goes so far to say that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, the Christian faith is invalid. (1 Corinthians 15:14)
Historians have noted that the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most provable events in history. Paul says there were over five hundred people who saw Jesus after His resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:6) Imagine having to sit through a trial and hear the testimony of over five hundred eyewitnesses!
Spend a few minutes praising God for sending Jesus to die for our sins and for not leaving Him in the grave. Jesus’ Resurrection proves His power over the curse of sin. And thank God that the very same Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, if you are a Believer. (Romans 8:11)
In today’s Bible reading, the Resurrected Jesus appears to His Disciples. He invites Thomas to put his fingers in His pierced hands and side, knowing that he wasn’t so easily convinced as the others that He had been raised from the dead. Upon recognizing that this was indeed Jesus, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
Thomas’ exclamation is a very clear statement of Jesus’ Divinity. The fact that Jesus praised Thomas for his faith is a very clear statement by Jesus Himself regarding His Divinity. In other words, in not correcting Thomas with, “No, really I’m not your Lord and God”, Jesus affirms Thomas’ statement, thus making the claim for Himself.
Jesus praises Thomas for believing that He had come back from the dead as a result of checking the evidence. And Jesus added a blessing on those who believe without asking for evidence. (John 20:29) Jesus doesn’t condemn Thomas; He praises him for believing. For Thomas, “seeing is believing”. But for the other Disciples, believing is seeing.
Jesus appeared to His Disciples for the next forty days “with many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3) Jesus knew some of His Disciples would quickly and easily believe He had come back from the dead. And He knew that others would be like Thomas and need a little more convincing.
There is more than enough evidence to support the fact of Jesus’ Resurrection. But despite the overwhelming evidence, many today don’t believe. For that matter, many didn’t believe during those forty days of Jesus’ walking and talking with His Disciples.
The fact that God gives us evidence is remarkable. It goes to show that the New Testament story of Jesus is real. He was a real man who walked on real streets with other real people. Believing in Jesus’ Resurrection doesn’t require you to take a leap of blind faith. It simply requires you to believe in a historical fact as easily provable as any other historical fact.
And yet, there is more to believing in Jesus than accepting the historicity of His Resurrection. You must have faith. And that faith is required to save your soul. (Romans 10:9-10)