Jesus had some pretty thick disciples. Here’s a little highlight reel of some of their best moments:
- John wanted to destroy a whole village for not welcoming them.
- Judas embezzled money and sold out Jesus.
- Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, hours after saying he would die for him
- They fought with each other over who was greatest.
- They constantly didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings.
They weren’t exactly the brightest stars in the sky. Not the quickest bunnies in the forest. A few noodles short of some chow fun.
But then in a matter of months, even weeks, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples become bold evangelists for Jesus. Listen to their resume post-Jesus:
- Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus
- Peter & John stood up to the most powerful Jewish council, the same one that condemned Jesus
- Most them founded & pastored churches
- They took the gospel to most of their known world:
- As far south as Ethiopia
- As far north as Armenia (the former Soviet Union)
- As far west as Rome
- As far east as India
- Some were tortured, and all but one of them were executed for their faith
How did that happen? How did this group of ordinary, flawed, reactionary, prideful guys become world-changers? They literally changed the course of history. How did they do it?
Before we answer that, let’s read the Apostle’s Creed together. Each week, we focus on one phrase of the Creed. The answer to our question is in here.
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day, he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of Father
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
So, what’s the answer to the question of how the misfit disciples became world-changers? It’s the phrase we’re gonna look at on today: I believe in the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that transformed the disciples.
So, how do we talk about a topic as huge as the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is present in nearly every book in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible describes 27 different functions of the Holy Spirit in the church and the life of the Christian. That’s way too much to cover in one sermon.
So, I have something to help out. If you look in the pocket in front of you, there’s a small booklet on the Holy Spirit. If covers more material than I can today. It’s a great resource—simple, biblically sound. My only criticism is that it uses some older language, such as using man when they really mean people. That’s really my only criticism of it. So, if you’re interested, take it home and learn even more about the Holy Spirit.
But for today, I want to start with a brief explanation of the Holy Spirit and then look at one of the pivotal passages for the Spirit.
First off: Who is the Holy Spirit?
If we’re honest, can we just admit that the Holy Spirit can seem a little strange sometimes? Like that one weird friend of yours. Every group of friends has one. And if yours doesn’t, guess what. You’re it.
But the Holy Spirit can be hard to understand. Come on, he was called the Holy Ghost up until a few decades ago. Does anyone else find that a bit creepy, in a who-ya-gonna-call sort of way? And it doesn’t help that there’s A LOT of debate and about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit can be confusing. Let’s see if we can make it clear. Who is the Holy Spirit?
First, the Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. To borrow a phrase from a later creed, this means he is co-equal, co-eternal to God the Father and Son. He is equal in every way and has always been. Second, the Holy Spirit is God’s active presence in the world and especially in the church and believer. Another phrase Christians use is God’s manifest presence. It’s God showing up in a clear and tangible way, but also sometimes in a mysterious or even miraculous way.
Now that we understand who the Spirit is, we’re gonna look at a passage in Acts to help us understand how the Spirit works in our lives.
But first, let me give you some context. The book of John records one of the last teachings by Jesus to his disciples. In it, he promises to send the Spirit, whom he called the Advocate, to help them & be with them.
Then Jesus was arrested, crucified, and resurrected. Then right before he ascends to the Father, he again talks to his disciples about the Spirit. We’re going to look at that passage today. Ironically, it’s the same passage, Acts 1, that we studied two weeks ago. But this week, we’re going to look at the parts that I just glossed over last time.
This is Acts 1:1-8 where Jesus ascends up into heaven. The Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in eight verses. So, it’s probably something worth noting.
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
Let’s pause there. Acts was written by Luke, the same guy who wrote the gospel. That’s what he means by “my former book”. And he wrote it for a wealthy benefactor names Theophilus. But that’s not what’s important in these first two verses.
Notice how he describes the gospel of Luke: “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Keep in mind that Jesus is dead now. How in the world is he supposed to continue that he began to do? The answer is in verse 2: giving instructions to the apostles “though the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is fundamental to accomplishing the work Jesus began. Let me say that again: The Holy Spirit is fundamental to accomplishing the work Jesus began.
3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus still doesn’t explain what the Holy Spirit or why he’s giving Him to them. But, he says two things: 1) receiving the Spirit is near, and 2) experiencing the Spirit will be similar to getting baptized by John the Baptist. See how Jesus is drawing a parallel between the two events. In this case, baptism of the Holy Spirit was a kind of preparation for doing Kingdom work. Just like Jesus was baptized by John before he started his public ministry. But now, it’s the disciple’s turn top get baptized, but in a whole new way.
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Still, they didn’t understand Jesus’ kingdom that he was establishing and inviting them into. Remember, not the fastest bunnies in the forest.
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And there it is. One of the strongest, clearest verses about the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit is consistently associated with power. The New Testament alone has a dozen references to people receiving power through the Holy Spirit. I mentioned before that the Bible describes 27 different functions of the Holy Spirit. Giving power to God’s people is one of the primary functions of the Holy Spirit.
So, what are we supposed to do with all that power? The rest of this passage answers that question: “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” God was empowering them to do his work: preach the gospel and be a blessing to the whole world. That has always been God’s mission. We see it as far back as Genesis 12 when God calls Abraham to bless all the nations. This was God’s plan all along. You see, the Holy Spirit is about bringing more of us into God’s story not more of God into our story.
That’s one danger about some perspectives that focus on the Holy Spirit: turning the Spirit into something very individualistic. The Spirit is always about God’s bigger story. If you remember that, it can help prevent you from turning the Spirit into your own private spiritual energy drink.
So, how can we bring all of this together? How should we understand what God is showing us in this passage about the Holy Spirit? Here it is: The Holy Spirit empowers you to do what the Father has planned and Jesus began.
There are 3 parts to this statement. If you miss any one of them, you risk having a distorted view of the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit empowers – When you are living life led by the Holy Spirit, you are more powerful, more effective, more peace-filled, more patient, more kind, more loving… basically more of everything that is good. In my life, I call this Super Greg. There’s normal Greg—friendly, good with computers, a decent public speaker. But then there’s Super Greg—with more wisdom than I normally have, more perseverance than I typically have, and definitely more love than I normally have. Super Greg (or more accurately Holy Spirit empowered Greg) is a better version of me because I’m followed God’s leading not my own.
- To do what the Father has planned – The Holy Spirit is always about accomplishing God’s will, God’s plans, God’s purpose for you. When you live by the Spirit, you are entering a story that is bigger than you. Don’t ever fall for the mistake of making the Holy Spirit individualistic. The Spirit is deeply personal but not individualistic.
- And Jesus began – These plans we’re talking about, Jesus began them 2,000 years ago and continues to do them. Remembering this will keep you anchored in Christ and not in yourself.
If you believe in Jesus Christ and you’ve made him the Lord of your life, then you have the promised Holy Spirit living inside you. You can do amazing things for God’s kingdom. Imagine if each one of us allowed the Holy Spirit to work in our lives for the betterment of this church, this neighborhood, the other churches in St. Paul, the 2nd & 3rd gen Hmong in the Twin Cities. Imagine the good we could do together. Imagine the people who could discover the hope and healing of Christ through us and our living in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
And to do all of this, we need to remember: The Holy Spirit is in you, but he’s not about you. He’s about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.