The Power Behind God’s Purposes

Acts 2:1-17; 9:31

August 24, 2003 | Brian Bill

The story is told about a logging foreman who sold a farmer a chainsaw that was guaranteed to cut down fifty trees in a single day.  A week later, a very unhappy man tracked down the previous owner and told him the chainsaw didn’t work very well because it averaged only three trees a day, instead of the fifty that were promised.  The foreman grabbed the saw, pulled the cord, and the chainsaw roared to life.  To which the startled farmer yelled, “Hey, what’s that noise?”  [Lift up chainsaw]

We might laugh at the foible of the farmer, but I suspect that many of us have felt the same way when it comes to the Christian life.  We’re working hard but not getting anywhere.  Like the residents in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest more than a week ago, some believers have been hit with a blackout.  To paraphrase Thoreau, we could say that most Christians settle for “lives of quiet mediocrity.”  

It’s my prayer that you and I will have a better understanding of the Holy Spirit’s unique role, that some of our misconceptions will be cleared up, and that we’ll experience His power on a daily basis.  Perhaps we’ve been too timid to tackle the doctrine of the Holy Spirit because we’ve been afraid of the controversy surrounding Him.  Or maybe we just don’t know much about the Spirit and end up missing out on His power in our lives.  I’d like to suggest this morning that if we’re serious about fulfilling God’s purposes we must rely on the power of the Spirit.

Interestingly, while I have many books in my library on the Holy Spirit, when I went to find some more titles at a Christian Bookstore, they had only one book on this topic.  I’m not sure why that it is, except to say that He is often the forgotten member of the Trinity.  Before the great Bible teacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee died, he looked back over his life and commented that if he could start his ministry all over again, he would preach more about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Clearing Up a Misconception 

To do justice to the splendor of the Holy Spirit, let’s clear up one misconception right away.  The Holy Spirit is not a force or a principle or even a power.  He is a “He,” not an “It.”  The truth of His personality is of fundamental importance.  Charles Ryrie suggests that the Holy Spirit has personality because He possesses three key ingredients that every individual has:

  • He has intellect.  1 Corinthians 2:10-11 tell us that the Holy Spirit knows and searches the things of God.
  • He has emotions.  Ephesians 4:30 states that the Spirit can be grieved by the sinful actions of Christians.
  • He has a will.  According to 1 Corinthians 12:11, when spiritual gifts are distributed to believers, they are given according to the “will” of the Spirit.

In addition, there are actions attributed to the Holy Spirit that a mere thing or force or power does not have.  Only a being with personality can perform these activities.  Let me mention them briefly. 

  • The Spirit teaches (John 14:26)
  • The Spirit testifies (Romans 8:16)
  • The Spirit guides (Romans 8:14)
  • The Spirit convicts (John 16:7-8)
  • The Spirit directs (Acts 8:29)
  • The Spirit performs miracles (Acts 8:39)
  • The Spirit commissions (Acts 13:2)
  • The Spirit sends (Acts 13:4)
  • The Spirit intercedes (Romans 8:26)

Having said that, the Holy Spirit is more than just a being with personality; He has attributes that only God can have:

  • He is all-knowing (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)
  • He is everywhere at once.  “Where can I go from your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7)
  • He is all-powerful (Luke 1:35)
  • He is truth. “It is the Spirit who…is the truth” (1 John 5:6)
  • He is holy (Luke 11:13)
  • He is eternal. “For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14)
  • He is equal to God.  “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart?  You lied to the Holy Spirit…you weren’t lying to us but to God’ (Acts 5:3-4)

The Holy Spirit is God and He is the third member of the Trinity.  In our “Statement of Doctrine and Faith,” we define the Trinity this way: “We believe there is one God, Creator and Preserver of all things, Who is infinite and eternally self-existent in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the same in essence, though distinct in personality.”   This is clearly taught in several passages.  

  • All three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:10-11: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
  • When Jesus gave His commission to the church in Matthew 28:19, He told us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Apostle Paul loved to include the entire Trinity in his benedictions, as evidenced in 2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

We don’t have to look very far in the Old Testament to find the Holy Spirit.  Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit as active when God the Father called the universe into existence: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  The Holy Spirit was at work in the Old Testament, repeatedly empowering people to accomplish God’s purposes.  An example of this was a man named Bezalel, who was given supernatural ability to be a master craftsman.  We see this in Exodus 35:31: “And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” Judges 3:10 tells us that the “Spirit of the Lord” came upon Caleb’s younger brother, Othniel.   The prophets were repeatedly recipients of God’s power through the Spirit, as were some of the kings and priests.

Despite the Holy Spirit’s presence among them through their leaders, Israel’s experience of the Spirit was ultimately unsatisfying.  We could say that the work of the Spirit in Old Testament times was selective and temporary.  The focus of the Old Testament is fixed on the future, when God’s Spirit will one day be given to all believers and be universal and permanent.  We see this in Joel 2:28: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Keep this verse in mind because we’ll come back to it a little later.

Since there are almost 100 references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, I want to focus on just two passages from the Gospel of John before we get to the Book of Acts.

Turn to John 14.  Jesus is talking to His disciples the night before He is crucified.  His followers are afraid and filled with questions.  This passage teaches us three truths about the coming of the Holy Spirit:

  • He will be a comforter.  Look at verse 16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth.”  This word refers to one who exhorts, helps and makes appeals on another’s behalf.  He will be a faithful comforter who will never leave them.
  • He will reside within believers.   In contrast to the Old Testament, when the Spirit comes, verse 17 makes it clear that He will indwell believers permanently: “But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
  • He will be a teacher.  Knowing that each of us have a propensity to forget, when the Holy Spirit comes, He will make sure we focus on truth.  Look at verse 26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

In John 16, Jesus says something that really rocks their world.  Notice verse 7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  The disciples couldn’t believe Jesus would say this!  How could anything be better than the physical presence of the Son of God?  

the Holy Spirit will comfort the saved, convict the lost, and convey the truth

I’m sure if we took a vote and asked, “Would you rather have the Holy Spirit inside you or have Jesus sitting right next to you?” most of us would vote to have Jesus next to us so we could talk to Him.  But Jesus Himself said that it was for our good that He was leaving the earth because the Holy Spirit would come in His place.  And, in verse 8, we see that when He comes, the Spirit will “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”  To sum up, the Holy Spirit will comfort the saved, convict the lost, and convey the truth.  

Day of Pentecost

As we come to the Book of Acts and the launch of the church, it should be no surprise to learn that almost half of the references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are found in this book.  Last week we established that in order to be faithful witnesses in our community, our county, our country, and on the continents, we must have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.  In Acts 1:4, Jesus instructed His disciples to “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”  In verse 9, Jesus ascends into heaven and His followers begin waiting for the gift of the Spirit.

Turn to Acts 2 and follow along as I read verses 1-4: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

I want you to notice “they were all together in one place.”  The first Christians understand the need for fellowship.  They met together, they prayed together, they witnessed together, they served together, they worshipped together, and they waited together.  Have you made a similar commitment to the community of faith here?  Friends, when we gather together in unity, great things always happen.

They were together on the “day of Pentecost.”  I love how God uses events and even the calendar to accomplish His purposes.  This is the day He made good on His promise to send the Comforter who would now take up permanent residence in those who put their faith in Christ.  The word “Pentecost” means “fifty,” and was so named because this feast was celebrated fifty days after Passover.  Since this was one of the three major annual feasts, Jerusalem would have been filled with people from all different areas of the known world.  

This yearly harvest festival was originally the Feast of the First Fruits of the grain harvest and later became associated with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai.  It’s no accident that Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life at Passover time and that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.  The three thousand who came to faith in Christ that day were the “first fruits” of many thousands who would follow.  And, just as the Law was given to Moses, so now the Spirit is given to believers.

As the 120 believers prayed, and thousands of Jews gathered for the expected feast of Pentecost, something very unexpected happened.  We see three signs that the promised Holy Spirit had come.  First, a sound like rushing wind filled the house.  Second, they saw what seemed like tongues of fire.  Third, the disciples were able to speak in the language of the pilgrims who had gathered from all over the region.

  1. Let’s look first at the wind in verse 2: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”  Interestingly, the Greek and Hebrew words for “Spirit” can also mean “wind” and “breath.”  This would bring their minds back to the graphic display of dry bones scattered in Ezekiel 37, when God sent wind and breath to give life to that which was lifeless.  After the brittle bones were born again, God said in verse 14: “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live…”  In John 3:8, Jesus describes the Spirit as “the wind blowing wherever it pleases…”  This first sign was something they heard.  I want you to notice that this was a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind.”  The noise was deafening and the source of the sound was clear: it “came from heaven.”
  2. To the great sound of wind was added the visual image of fire in verse 3: “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  Fire symbolizes God’s purifying presence, as in the burning bush that Moses encountered (Exodus 3:2-5) and the pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22).  When God gave the Old Testament Law, He confirmed it with fire in Exodus 19:18: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire.  The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently.”  These “tongues of fire” fulfilled John the Baptist’s words in Luke 3:16 about the Holy Spirit “baptizing with fire.”  Notice that every believer in the room received these tongues of fire.
  3. Having been filled with the Spirit, they began to speak in other tongues in verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”  Let me make a couple observations:
  • They were all filled with the Spirit.
  • These “tongues” were unknown foreign languages.  
  • This ability to speak in other languages was for the express purpose of evangelism.

Verse 5 indicates that there were Jews in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven.”  When they heard the deafening sound of the Spirit, verse 6 says they were bewildered because “each one heard them speaking in his own language.”  I love verses 7-8: “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?’”  What they’re really saying is, “These Galileans are backwards people who speak poorly with bad accents.  How can they be speaking clearly in our own dialects?” Once again God chose to use the simple to confound the wise.   Verse 11 sums up their amazement: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

The ability to speak in a language that they had never uttered before allowed the gospel to spread to the Parthians, who lived in what is now Iran and the residents of Mesopotamia, which is the region we know as Iraq.  The other locales included Asia Minor, Egypt, Rome, and those who lived on the island of Crete, along with an array of Arabs.  The important point to remember about this first occurrence of “tongues” is its purpose: to get the message of salvation through Christ out to the world.

Some commentators refer to the events at Pentecost as Babel Reversed.  In Genesis 11, God saw that the people were filled with pride and were disobedient and so He confused their languages and scattered them over all the earth.  What happened in Acts 2 signaled the formation of a new humanity, a coming together under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  People no longer needed to build up to the heavens in search of their purpose because God has now sent the Spirit down to earth to dwell within His people so that His purposes can be fulfilled.

Verse 12 reveals that the coming of the Spirit really shook people up: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”  They wanted to know more. Verse 13 reminds us that whenever God is at work there will be some who will mock: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” 

Peter, shaking off his past shortcomings, took advantage of the questions and the confusion in verse 14 by standing up, with the Eleven standing in support of him, in order to address the crowd.  He had their attention when he said in verse 15: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!”  

Preaching God’s Purposes

We can learn from Peter’s approach here.  He started with their questions and proceeded to give them an answer.  When your friends ask you questions, be ready to explain as 1 Peter 3:15 states: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”    

Recently I had a conversation with an acquaintance that went like this.  I asked him where he had been.  He responded by saying that he was just running aimlessly through life.  I paused for a second and then said, “Still searching for your purpose in life, huh?”  To which he replied, “Yep.  Maybe when I’m 60, I’ll find it.”  I wasn’t really ready to answer him at this point but I look forward to giving him a “Purpose Driven Life” book next month and inviting him to our church. 

Peter was prepared to give an answer in Acts 2:16-17: “No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’”   At last!  This is what believers in the Old Testament were waiting for!  The Spirit had now come!  

Continuing to quote Joel, Peter sums up the steps one needs to take in order to receive the Spirit.  It’s actually not that difficult.  The Spirit comes to dwell forever in those who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Look at verse 21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Peter then follows an outline common to almost all the evangelistic messages in Acts.  As we learned last week, as witnesses, we need to be ready to tell our story.  We must also be ready to tell His story.  That’s what Peter does here:

  • Summarize what Jesus did (22-35).  Mention his miracles, his death, His resurrection (occupies nine verses in this sermon) and ascension into heaven.
  • Summarize who Jesus is (36).  Peter boldly declares that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.  He is God and He is the promised redeemer.
  • Summarize how to respond (37-41).  When the people heard this message, they were “cut to the heart,” which means “to strike violently, to sting sharply.”  The crowd was stunned.  They cry out, “What shall we do?”  Peter emphasized the importance of repentance, forgiveness, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amazingly, verse 41 tells us what can happen when the Spirit’s power is unleashed: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”  Wouldn’t it be great to see that kind of explosive growth today?

The Spread of the Holy Spirit’s Power

As the dynamite of the Holy Spirit is unleashed in believers and through the church, the Book of Acts records how the presence of the Spirit changes everything.  A.W. Tozer once said, “If the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.  If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everyone would know the difference.”

Let me quote just a few passages from the Book of Acts to show the early church’s absolute reliance upon the Holy Spirit:

  • Acts 4:8,12:  “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said… Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 
  • Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
  • Acts 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

Let’s look a little more closely at this verse.  

  1. The church was at peace.  The enemies of the gospel had attacked the early church vigorously.  James and Stephen were martyred.  And then God converted Paul from a persecutor to a propagator of the gospel.  The church now had a window of peace so they could prepare themselves for what God wanted to do next.
  2. The church was strengthened.  This is the word for “edify,” meaning the church was built up for the next leg of their journey.  We’ll learn more about this next Sunday but the church was strengthened because believers devoted themselves to Instruction, Ministry, Prayer, Adoration, Caring, and Telling others the gospel. 
  3. The church was encouraged by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was actively comforting and encouraging this growing group of Christ-followers.
  4. The church grew in numbers.  Because they were focused on following Christ completely, others were attracted to what they had and joined with them.  God loves to use multiplication, not just addition.  Acts 6:7 in the King James Version says: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
  5. The church lived in the fear of the Lord.  They never lost sight of the awesome holiness of God.  To fear the Lord means to dread doing anything that might displease Him.  Acts 5:11 says that “great fear seized the whole church…”

Friends, God has given us a period of peace so that we can be edified and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.  As we live in the fear of the Lord, we will reach even more people for Christ!   One commentator put it this way: “When the members walk with the fear of the Lord before their eyes and with the Spirit’s encouraging voice in their hearts, the church will be strong and will also surely multiply.”

God wants to multiply His work, not simply add to what He has already done.  Would you join us in prayer?  2 Thessalonians 3:1 is our key prayer verse: “Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country (county) to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you.” 

Are you ready to participate in God’s purposes?  Are you relying on the power of the Holy Spirit?  I’m convinced that if we want to fully participate in everything God has for us, we must first understand all that He has done for us.  Some of us continue to ask for that which has already been given to us.

  • We ask Jesus to be with us, forgetting that in Matthew 28:20, He says, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  • We ask Him to bless us, ignoring Ephesians 1:3, which tells us that we have been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
  • We ask for more strength and God says in 1 Peter 1:3 that “…His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…”
  • We ask for the Spirit to come and God says that He already dwells within believers according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

When you think about it, we don’t need more of the Holy Spirit; He desires more of us.  If you’ve been saved, the Holy Spirit has been sent to you, He lives within you, and He has sealed you as His own for all eternity.  Our problem is that we want to run our own lives, instead of submitting and surrendering to Him.  I love how D.L. Moody responded when someone asked him why he urged Christians to be filled constantly with the Holy Spirit.  He pointed to an old leaky water tank and said, “I need a continual infilling because I leak!”

Does the Holy Spirit have all of you?

Does the Holy Spirit have all of you?  Ephesians 5:18 commands us to be constantly filled with the Spirit.  We do that by surrendering to Him and by relying on His power instead of our own.  Then, when we engage our faith, His explosive work will be unleashed in our lives. [Pull cord to start chainsaw]

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?