The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Three)

img_4493Acts 1:8-9

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (ESV).

The Holy Spirit came to empower the church. This empowerment is for a specific purpose: to carry out Christ’s program of worldwide ministry. During the old covenant age the people of God, with few exceptions, were confined to Israel. Even at its end, when Jesus the Messiah lived under the law, he usually limited his ministry to the people of Israel. But with his ascension, a great change occurs. The Spirit would come upon his followers and go with them into all the world. One of the themes of the book of Acts shows how the message about Jesus Christ knocked down cultural barriers to spread from the Jewish people group to all the peoples of the world. It is good to desire the salvation of one’s own people group (cf. Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). At the same time, we should recognize the cross-cultural intent of the Lord for the good news to spread to the end of the earth. Most of us have easy contact with other people groups. What efforts are we making to reach them?

The Holy Spirit produces a “Christ-focus”. Pay careful attention to Christ’s words. He said that those who would be Spirit-empowered would be “my witnesses”. The job of a Christian is simply to testify to the glory (worth, value, significance) of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ. People who know the glory of Christ will talk about Him! This agrees with Christ’s teaching in John 16:12-16, when he told the apostles how the Spirit of truth would guide them into all the truth that comes from Jesus the Messiah and that speaks of him. Like Packer wrote years ago, the focus on Christ is as a spotlight that directs our attention to someone. The Spirit directs our attention to Jesus Christ. For example, our task is not merely to tell people to know God, but to tell them how to know God through Christ. Our concern is not merely that people be saved, but we tell them that the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. Our message must always be Christ-focused.

The Spirit of God promotes evangelistic activity. He directs Christ’s followers to reach out to whatever people we encounter. We must see that the Lord Jesus has commissioned us to be his representatives on his mission. Yes, you are a “kingdom rep”! We are Christ’s ambassadors (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) to speak for him and his Father in heaven to whoever the Spirit brings into our acquaintance. If the Lord the Spirit gives us an opportunity to get acquainted with a person, we ought to consider that we are to tell the good news to that person. If he or she becomes a friend, we definitely must seek to bring them to the Savior. The Holy Spirit gives boldness to do the job. This is called the filling of the Spirit.

Christ “would have them look neither for assistance in their work, nor success unto it, but from the promised Spirit alone; and lets them know, also, that by his aid they should be enabled to carry their testimony of him to the uttermost parts of the earth. And herein lay, and herein doth lie, the foundation of the ministry of the church, as also its continuance and efficacy. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and, in the animating principles of it, invisible. If we fix our minds only on outward order, we lose the rise and power of the whole. It is not an outward visible ordination by men… but Christ’s communication of that Spirit, the everlasting promise whereof he received of the Father, that gives being, life, usefulness, and success, to the ministry” (Owen, Works, Vol. 3, p. 191).

In the weeks to come, we want to explore with you the majesty of the Holy Spirit and the greatness of receiving him. But in all this, you must maintain a proper Christ-focus, or you will surely go astray. All proper knowledge of the Spirit will lead you closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how you can check your own heart. “Am I growing closer to Jesus my Lord?”

Grace and peace, David