The Holy Spirit and Us
Readings: Acts 4:5-12
5 The next day the Jewish leaders, the elders, and the teachers of the Law gathered in Jerusalem. 6 They met with the High Priest Annas and with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and the others who belonged to the High Priest's family. 7 They made the apostles stand before them and asked them, “How did you do this? What power do you have or whose name did you use?”
8 Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered them, “Leaders of the people and elders: 9 if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, 10 then you should all know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth—whom you crucified and whom God raised from death. 11 Jesus is the one of whom the scripture says,
‘The stone that you the builders despised
turned out to be the most important of all.’
12 Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.”
At the beginning of our New Testament Reading, the Jewish religious leaders were unsure how to deal with Peter and John, who were standing before them. The previous day, on their way into the temple, the pair had seen a man, lame from, birth begging, as he did every day. In front of many witnesses, Peter had said, “‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk.” (Acts 3:6-8 NIV). The crowd were filled with wonder and amazement.
To make matters worse for their inquisitors, Peter had then proceeded to preach to the crowd that the man had been healed by faith in the name of Jesus Christ. He used the Scriptures to demonstrate that Jesus had been expected since the early days of Jewish History. All the prophets had foretold of the coming of Jesus the Messiah and how He must suffer. He went on to say that, when they had handed Jesus over to be killed, they had acted in ignorance, as had their leaders. There’s a lesson here about handling other people. If they’re at fault in something, never back them into a corner with no option but to fight. Always give them a face-saving way out and you’ll have a much more peaceful outcome. That’s what Peter did. He said they should repent and turn to God so that their sins could be wiped out. And the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The next morning, just imagine what it would have been like for Peter and John. They in their rough, homespun clothes, facing the Sanhedrin, normally numbering 71, including the High Priest, Annas and his family, in all their finery. Were it us today, it would be our MPs in their Armani suits and Gucci shoes and we in our Primark jeans and tee shirt. For any ordinary person it would have been quite an intimidating confrontation but the disciples stood there perfectly calm, showing neither fear nor unease. The priests looked down at the pair in their lowly garb and noted that the disciples were unschooled, ordinary men, so they asked them, “By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7 NIV).
Peter answered them that the act of kindness had been performed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. What could the Jewish leaders do? The restored man was there in front of them, his miraculous healing had been seen by many and was now known about by thousands. It could neither be denied nor hidden, as they’d tried to do over the resurrection of Jesus. They told them that they must not teach or preach in the name of Jesus. Then came a defining moment for them and for us “… Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?” (Acts 4:19 NIV).
A moment like that can present itself to any one of us at any time, sometimes building up gradually within or around us, at other times it can come like a bolt from the blue. If you are directly challenged as to what is more important to you, your faith/your occupation/your relationship/your leisure activities, etc., etc. it can be very tricky at least and even quite daunting, especially if it’s your job. If we choose wrongly, we’re not only letting ourselves down but also our Saviour. Jesus promised that, “… whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33 NIV). Such a confrontation can also affect onlookers in either a good way, or a bad one, depending on your answer. If there is conflict in your life between what you believe and what you find yourself doing, then something needs to change.
Let’s have a closer look at these men, who stood so boldly in front of the most powerful men in Israel (apart of course from the occupying Roman garrison and its commanders.) What made them able to come from a humble background and challenge their rulers with such confidence?
A little over three years previously, these two had been just hard-working fishermen, often risking their lives in the storms that could blow up without warning on the sea they fished. Then Jesus walked by one day and said for them and their brothers, James and Andrew, to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. That was only the beginning of a metamorphosis so incredible as to be almost unbelievable. What would be different in their lives compared to our own?
From God’s word to us, we know that we’re supposed to put Jesus first in our lives. Jesus said, “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well” (Matthew 10.37 GNB). There probably are people like that but I don’t think I’ve met one, certainly not one with a family to think about. Coming to church on Sundays and hearing about various aspects and happenings in His life; praying and singing His praises; this is about the level of commitment many Christians have in doing the will of Jesus. Alas, if that were true even for most Christians in this country, that would be a wonderful thing but, as the weekly attendance at Church of England services has now dropped below 2% of the population, even that bar would seem to be set too high. So, we have most of present-day Christians at one end of a scale.
Now, imagine the opposite end of this scale ? for three years, 24/7, to live with, listen to and discuss all that Jesus would share about His Father and the relationship they had. On a daily basis to see miracles of all kinds performed and to marvel at the way He could influence the thousands of people, who would flock to hear Him. What would we give for that? What would He want for that? ? Everything! That’s what Peter told Jesus they had left to follow Him (Matthew 19:27).
Are those the experiences that enabled them to stand up to the Sanhedrin the way they did? Well certainly Jesus must have given them some confidence in themselves. He once told them, “when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10 19,20 NIV). But note also what our reading told us about how Peter answered the questions of the Sanhedrin. It said, “Peter, full of the Holy Spirit” (v 8) answered them without fear.
Don’t forget that after the death of Jesus, the only times the morale of the disciples was lifted, were the three occasions on which He appeared to them. The rest of the time, they hid in rooms with doors and windows bolted “For fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NIV). When Jesus was arrested, his friends mostly disappeared like mist in the night.
So what happened between then and the short time before this confrontation with the Jewish leaders? In a word ? Pentecost! I spoke just a few weeks ago about this amazing occurrence and the tongues of flame resting on each one present (11-02-18). That must have been incredible to watch but the truly wonderful thing was that each person there was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now in our Bibles, we can read a lot about various people being filled with the Holy Spirit but usually, especially in the Old Testament, the infilling with the Spirit was for a specific purpose.
Joseph and later Daniel were given the power to interpret dreams, which in each case put them in high positions in foreign lands, enabling them to help their people. Joseph’s story is in Genesis 41 and that of Daniel in Daniel 2.
Also worthy of mention is Gideon. The bible tells us that at an opportune time, the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, a nobody from the lowliest tribe of Israel and he was able to lead a small band of his followers to a great victory over an enemy too numerous to be counted (Judges 6, 7).
Then there was Samson. Even though he’d led a selfish life, at its very end, God filled Samson with His Spirit so that he could bring down the Temple of Dagon and kill 3,000 Philistines (Judges 16:30).
But the infilling by the Spirit in that room on Pentecost wasn’t just some flash in the pan, it became a permanent state. That was how Peter spoke to the crowds outside and 3000 of them became believers. It was also how the lame man was healed. Peter had no power of his own. Nor do any of us. Any power or gifting we have comes from the Holy Spirit within us.
Those filled with the Holy Spirit, like the ones affected by their Pentecost experience, weren’t troubled by the everyday cares of the life around them. They thought, breathed and lived Jesus Christ. He filled their hearts, their minds and their very souls. Peter lived only to demonstrate the love of Jesus either by word, quoting the Scriptures, healing the sick and possessed, and especially by the life he led. Did he believe that he himself was special? A centurion by the name of Cornelius was visited by an angel, who told him to send for Peter and bring him to his house. When Peter entered, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence. Peter said, “Stand up, I am only a man myself” (Acts 10:1–26 NIV).
I’ve met some really devout, Christian people in my life. I used to look up to them as examples of what my own life should be like. I still admire them greatly and can learn from them but, after all was said and done, they were just ordinary human beings with the worries, flaws and cares of normal people. We shouldn’t try to model our lives on others, otherwise we’ll end up having their weaknesses plus our own.
It would be better to try and follow how Peter lived. But we’ve already discovered that he and others gave up everything they had to follow him. How many of us are in a position to do that? Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “… a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:33, 34 NIV).
So, what’s the answer? When I was growing up, I and I’m sure many other children of that era were told to do the very best we could and that no one could expect more than that from us. We here this morning have an advantage over what was taught then. When God requires it of us, we can do more than the best we can, because that best isn’t the best we can do. It’s only the best we can do in our own strength. As we’ve heard from various Bible texts this morning, when God wants something extra from us, He can fill us with the Holy Spirit and He of course has infinite power.
Were those occurrences in the Bible just for those times? What would be the point of that? Just so we can read the stories and choose to believe or disbelieve them? I don’t think so. The difference between then and now is a matter of faith. Peter expected the lame man to get up and walk. He expected Tabitha to come back to life (Acts 9:36–41), both by his faith in the name of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of a single reason why those miracles were only possible in those days and not now, except perhaps for a general lack of that strength of faith in this modern age. I don’t know if any of you have seen healing (or any other kind of miracle) occur in front of your eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit but once you have, you will never doubt again.
I don’t want us to get confused here between this kind of infilling for a special purpose and the Holy Spirit each of us has within us from the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord. That part of God’s Spirit was put within us to guide us in our everyday lives into living the kind of life Jesus would have for us. But, as our Bible tells us, we can be given extra gifts, usually to help others in a particular way described in detail in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.
To sum up then, we can have the Holy Spirit within us, given to us when we accept Jesus as our Lord. We should all have this and try to keep in touch with that Spirit so that the correct guidance can be given, understood and followed.
We can have extra gifts of the spirit, usually to lead us down a particular path to help others. Dealt with in the Parable of the Talents sermon (19-11-17). If we find we have such a gift, God gave it to us for a purpose and it should be used.
Then there are the times when the Spirit of God comes upon someone with super-human power to accomplish something in particular at a given time. Anyone who’s had one of these will know it. If not, it doesn’t mean to say it will never happen.
And finally, there is the complete filling with the Holy Spirit such as came upon those in the room at Pentecost. Many early Christian Martyrs fell into this group but there have also been more modern ones such as D L Moody (1837-99) and Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1834-1892. Both examples of just how powerfully God can use a man, if the will and the faith are there. How might our own faith respond? Amen.
1) Have you ever found yourself in a position of having to defend your faith in front of others and/or standing by your faith if it could lead to trouble for you?
2) Do you think your knowledge of the Bible is sufficient for you to use it to defend your faith in Jesus and say why you have it? (Many “Christian-baiters” know certain sections of the Bible very well).
3) Have you ever found yourself “disowning” Jesus (as in Matthew 10:33) by not speaking out, when He is being disparaged.
4) The Holy Spirit was placed in us when we first believed in Jesus as our Saviour. He is there to guide us. How often do you disregard this guidance? How do you feel as you willingly go against God’s will for you? How do you then get yourself right with God?
5) Have you ever asked for extra power from God’s Holy Spirit to help someone or some situation?