Waiting For Further Fulfillment
He ordered them….to wait for the promise of the Father “….you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
In one sense, the fulfillment of the Father’s promise (Acts 1:4-5) can never come again as it came at Pentecost. In another sense- and in as deep a reality as with the first disciples- we need to wait daily for the Father to fulfill His promise in us.
The Holy Spirit is not a person distinct from the Father in the way two persons on earth are distinct. The Father and the Spirit are never without or separate from each other. The Father is always in the Spirit; the Spirit works nothing but as the Father works in Him. Each moment, the same Spirit that is in us is in God too. And the person who is most full of the Spirit will be the first to wait on God most earnestly to further fulfill His promise and to still strengthen him mightily by His Spirit in the inner man.
The Spirit in us is not a power at our disposal. Nor is the Spirit an independent power, acting apart from the Father and the Son. The Spirit is the real, living presence and power of the Father working in us. Therefore, it is the person who knows that the Spirit is in him who waits on the Father for the full revelation and experience of the Spirit’s indwelling. It is he who waits for increase and abounding more and more.
When God gives grace or strength or life, He gives it by giving Himself to work it- it is all inseparable from Himself. Much more so is the Holy Spirit. He is God, present and working in us. The true position in which we can count upon that working with an unceasing power is as we, praising Him for what we have, still increasingly wait for the Father’s promise to be still more mightily fulfilled.
When we consider the fact that the disciples had been with Jesus for three and a half years continuously; had sat at His feet and been taught personally by Him; had observed and participated with Him in miraculous happenings; and yet were instructed by Him to wait for the promise of the Father- the coming of the Holy Spirit- we have to wonder why we don’t feel we need the same infusing of power and whether God provided the disciples with something that He withholds from us.
In my opinion, we most likely need the Promise of the Father in these dark days than maybe any other generation. We must accede that much of our efforts to affect our communities falls to the ground and despite the fact that we’re doing our best, the church seems to be losing rather than gaining influence. The disciples were facing a difficult task. They were instructed to carry the gospel to the whole world. Many of them, perhaps most of them had never traveled outside Israel and even that travel was very limited. None of them were great orators and all of the struggled with their faith. Besides all the personal challenges, they lived in a hostile environment. Christ, their Master and Leader had just been crucified and there was question of whether He had actually risen from the dead. They had gone into hiding in fear for their lives and yet their final instructions were to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world.
Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority (all power of absolute rule) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.”
Following His ascension they did nothing toward this command except to meet together in prayer and waiting. Jesus had given them the first step that would prepare them for the assignment.
While being together and eating with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Of which,” He said, “you have heard Me speak. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized and empowered and united with the Holy Spirit, not long from now.” So when they had come together, they asked Him repeatedly, “Lord, are You at this time reestablishing the kingdom and restoring it to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” Then the disciples returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet (Olive Grove), which is near Jerusalem, [only] a Sabbath day’s journey (less than one mile) away. All these with one mind and one purpose were continually devoting themselves to prayer, [waiting together] along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
There can be no doubt that they knew the teachings of Christ and understood their mission. But how to carry it out was not in their thinking nor ability.
Then He opened their minds to [help them] understand the Scriptures, and said, “And so it is written, that the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed) would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance [necessary] for forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 Listen carefully: I am sending the Promise of My Father [the Holy Spirit] upon you; but you are to remain in the city [of Jerusalem] until you are clothed (fully equipped) with power from on high.”
So they waited in prayer and united purpose.
Forgive my silly illustration but it’s like having a car that has all its parts and each part functions well but there’s no gas in the tank. I remember some years ago being called by a friend of mine who couldn’t get his car to start. When I got to his house, I began to check the car out. We pulled the plugs, checked the distributor and the fuel pump. We poured gas into the carburetor and it would run for a little bit. Finally after some time I asked him, “Are you sure it has gas in the tank?” Well I’m sure you’ve already figured it out. There was none. We had foolishly assumed the problem was with the vehicle and that there was fuel in the tank. Once we put gas in the tank then we had to go back and readjust all that we had previously changed.
Sometimes I think this is us in the modern church. We see that we’re not moving so we begin to tinker with the parts, hoping if we can make the right adjustments, we’ll begin to move. Some churches change pastors or other leaders. Some change their programs for other programs that are human designed and human lead. Some change their format of worship or try some new packaged evangelism program, again all human powered. Like my friend and I the more changes that are made by humans without seeking the plan of God, the more broken the church becomes. I remember that the more we worked on that car, the more confused I became and the more frustrated I felt. There was a point that I told my friend that it was junk and he just needed to scrap it and get another. I think sometimes this is the way we feel about church. Since it seems to be ineffective and declining, we in our frustration may feel it’s time to trade it in for something else. But what if we just check the gas? By this I mean, what if, like the disciples confess that we don’t have the power to carry out the mission of God? What if we decided to cease trying to do the work of God, which is supernatural, by the way, with human thought and ability? What if instead of planning sessions we gathered in prayer meetings, waiting on God. I’m not talking about modern prayer meetings where there is someone sharing devotions or a few taking turns praying while others listen. I’m talking about an Acts prayer meeting where all are actively praying, and yes, out loud at the same time. I know what some will say. They will say that it will sound like total chaos and confusion. That may be true if we believe that the prayers offered are for us to hear and understand rather than each heart crying out to God who hears millions of prayers at the same time daily.
Our model for effective church is the Acts church. From its embryonic beginning in the upper room to its growth throughout the world, it provides instruction and example for all of us who follow.
Let’s begin. We know that their first course of action was to meet in prayer together. This first prayer gathering lasted between 7-10 days depending on how scholars view the dates. On that last day of gathering, the day of the Feast of Pentecost, their waiting before God was rewarded with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Beyond the phenomenon of speaking in unlearned languages was the evident boldness exhibited by previously fearful people. Peter, who had denied knowing Christ before the fire barrel to the young woman, now in the same city under the same leadership, loses his fear and in the streets of Jerusalem declares that Jesus was the Son of God and only through Him was salvation obtained. What was it that so transformed Peter? Nothing less than the infilling of the Holy Spirit. That same vehicle that just days earlier sat uselessly and idle was now moving with incredible power. There was gas in the tank. From a fearful denier to a bold proclaimer that God so used to move a multitude so powerfully that 3000 men gave their hearts to Christ, Peter provided us with the reason why we must also wait for and receive the Promise, the Holy Spirit.
We further read that this initial infilling was not a once and only. The believers that received the infilling of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost also were filled again and again. Someone asked my why this was so and my reply is this, “We leak!”
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit]. And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately]. And when this sound was heard, a crowd gathered, and they were bewildered because each one was hearing those in the upper room speaking in his own language or dialect. They were completely astonished, saying, “Look! Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears in our own language or native dialect? Therefore let all the house of Israel recognize beyond all doubt that God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Messiah, Anointed)—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart [with remorse and anxiety], and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what are we to do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways, accept and follow Jesus as the Messiah] and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and your children and for all who are far away [including the Gentiles], as many as the Lord our God calls to Himself.” So then, those who accepted his message were baptized; and on that day about 3,000 souls were added [to the body of believers]. They were continually and faithfully devoting themselves to the instruction of the apostles, and to fellowship, to eating meals together and to prayers. A sense of awe was felt by everyone, and many wonders and signs (attesting miracles) were taking place through the apostles.
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.), and a man who had been unable to walk from birth was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, so that he could beg alms from those entering the temple. But Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have; but what I do have I give to you: In the name (authority, power) of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—[begin now to] walk and go on walking!” All the people saw him walking and praising God; So they arrested them and put them in jail until the next day, because it was evening. But many of those who heard the message [of salvation] believed [in Jesus and accepted Him as the Christ]. And the number of the men came to be about 5,000. After Peter and John were released, they returned to their own [people] and reported everything that the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “O Sovereign Lord [having complete power and authority], it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything that is in them, And now, Lord, observe their threats [take them into account] and grant that Your bond-servants may declare Your message [of salvation] with great confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders (attesting miracles) take place through the name [and the authority and power] of Your holy Servant and Son Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were meeting together was shaken [a sign of God’s presence]; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness and courage.
As we face these uncertain times, it is in some way the same as these believers. We have a monumental task of proclaiming the gospel in a way that actually makes an impact on our world. We cannot afford to remain the church of business as usual that is continually leading to decline and ineffectiveness in our communities. Nor should we continue to give great energy and resource to programs that at the end of the day satisfy us but do not work toward the mission of the church which is bringing people to the knowledge of Christ so that they too may become children of God. I recognize that we have spent great energy tricking out the car and polishing it until it shines. We might have even installed improvements that would make it get better mileage or have more power. All this is good but what we need to do is check the gas tank to see whether there is fuel to take advantage of all these features.
No matter how long you’ve been a Christian and no matter how you’ve served God and no matter how many times you’ve had encounters with God, you need one more. You need more of His Spirit and more of His Presence and more of His Power. Like our natural bodies, we are either growing in strength or we are on a course of weakness and ultimately death.
So why don’t we take the time and pray that we to would be “endued with power from on high?” Maybe, just maybe, we could reverse the course and change the outcome.
Dr. John Thompson