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Podcast: Power from Above (LifeLift #8)

lifelift podcast Mar 17, 2020

Before Jesus ascended to the throne, He told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father.” He reminded them that John the Baptizer submerged people in water, but they would be immersed in the Holy Spirit within a few days (see Acts 1:4-5 ESV).

If we look back to John the Baptist’s days in the Jordan River, we hear him clearly foretell of this experience (Luke 3:16 ESV emphasis added):

I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirt and fire.

John is clear that this “Holy Spirit baptism” is something Jesus would do. Throughout Jesus’ earthy ministry, though, we never see it. Here, just before He assumes His throne, Jesus Himself reminds us that it’s about to happen.

This “baptism” occurs at Pentecost. You know the story…

120 of the disciples wait in the Upper Room. The promised day arrives and they begin speaking in other tongues (Acts 2:4). A crowd comes to them (remember, perfect loves expels fear, so the people clearly aren’t intimidated by what’s happening in the way people often are by modern day expressions of tongue-speaking that are pooched as “freedom in worship” and “letting the Holy Spirit have His way”). People are pulled to authentic expressions of faith like bits of metal to a magnet. As the people— many of them foreigners who are in Jerusalem to celebrate a Feast— understand the 120 speaking in the languages of their unique homelands, they wonder how this is possible.

Peter quotes the prophet Joel, explaining that God foretold years ago He would “pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (compare Acts 2:17 and Joel 2:28-32). After quoting a few more verses and threading them through the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he suggests that Jesus has been “exalted to the right hand of God” via His Ascension (2:33). 

And, relevant to our conversation here, Peter says, “Jesus did this. He just poured the Holy Spirit on us— like John the Baptist prophesied and like Jesus promised when He ascended. 


What do we make of this?

When I was 26 I started a church. Like most new congregations, ours attracted some bold leaders, as well as a few odd-balls who were seeking some place— any place— where they could push their agenda. That doesn’t mean the agenda-pushers were manipulative; they just had some things they felt were extremely important to them and should be to the larger body of Christ. After being told “no” at countless established organizations, a new church was the ideal place (in their mind) to present and then implement their ideas.

One such world-changer was a guy I’ll call Van, an over-sized fella who took delight in positing to me every single Sunday evening after worship that “The Lord told me that you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” 

This thirty-something was socially awkward, he had a learning disability, and he had  a knack for unintentionally disrupting the flow of just about everything that we did. I judged the messenger as unworthy, so I never gave his message a second hearing. After hearing him thoroughly the first time, I tuned him out…

Maybe you’ve done the same thing. And, perhaps you’ve done so for other purposes— for reasons not as shallow as mine. 

In my experience, people often oppose the mere idea of the baptism of the Holy Spirit because, like me, they don’t like the “package” in which the gift presents itself.

Or, as I experienced multiple times, proponents of the encounter often (wrongly) present it as if Christians don’t receive the Holy Spirit at conversion— and therefore need the “baptism” in order to really “have” the Spirit of God. Omitting many of the verses in Scripture, they suggest the Holy Spirit is given to a Christian at the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (not conversion). This creates a Christian caste-system in which many feel “inferior” or “second class,” as if they’re “missing something.” 

You’ve traveled with me for well over 150-plus pages, now. I’m hoping that buys me a bit of credibility, and that you’ll trust me just enough to roll with me for a few more as I discuss this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” issue with you. After all, the term “baptism of the Holy Spirit” does appear in Scripture. And, it’s the Holy Spirit who works through us via the spiritual gifts we’ll discuss in Part 3 of our study. So, at some point, we’ve got to deal with this issue. 

Further, I believe that this filling, this baptism, or this whatever-you-want-to-call-it encounter is the means whereby the gifts begin working through your life. So, if you’re interested in discovering— and in using— your gifts, I need you to make your way through a few more pages with me.

Disclaimer aside, there are four concepts that we must hold in tension, according to the Bible. After listing them here, I’ll walk you through each of these one-by-one:

  1. You are undeniably given the Holy Spirit at conversion
  2. Even though you are given the Holy Spirit at conversion, more awaits for you
  3. Most people do not wait for the Holy Spirit
  4. There is an additional encounter(s) with the Holy Spirit


1. The Holy Spirit moves in instantly

First, you are undeniably given the Holy Spirit at conversion. Like we mentioned earlier in the book, we become “one” Spirit with Christ at salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17). At this point, we are not two separate entities; we are two that have become “one.” According to the Bible, we are united in Spirit with Him.

In doing this, Jesus seals us with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), which is the Lord’s guarantee that He’s returning for you. You are marked as His. 

What’s a seal?

And what does it mean to be sealed by the Spirt of God?

Well, throughout the Bible we see that a seal is an irreversible, irrevocable edict. Things sealed by kings became binding laws that not even the King himself could resend the sealed decree. 

In the story of Daniel and the lions’ den, for instance, we see the seal actually works against a king’s wishes (Daniel 6:17). Many of the government leaders became jealous of Daniel and his relationship with  the king. As they knew Daniel was a man of integrity, they realized they would have to trap Daniel on some technicality in order to banish him from their ranks. 

As Scripture says, “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4-5).  

They tricked King Darius (by flattering him!) into issuing a decree that “anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den” (6:7). Darius signed the decree, and placed his seal upon it. The law became “set in stone.” When the officials saw Daniel praying, as was his custom, they reminded Darius of the decree. Brokenhearted, the king was left with no option but to feed Daniel to the lions.

Seals were— are— unchangeable decrees. The Holy Spirit has already permanently marked you as God’s own. 

“You need the Holy Spirit,” Van told me. I heard it every single Sunday.

“Ummm… No, I don’t. I have the Spirit. He lives inside of me,” I said.

But, get this, although I was right, Van was too. And that leads us to our next point.


2. There’s more

Second, even though you are given the Holy Spirit at conversion, more awaits for you. 

Do you remember what happened to the disciples when Jesus appeared to them in the Upper Room?

Jesus showed them proofs that He is alive (John 20:19-20). They believed intellectually in Him. At this point, He breathed the Holy Spirit on them (20:22). This is exactly what happens at our salvation encounter.

  • Recognizing His death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf, we’re awakened to the truth that Jesus is Lord and believe!
  • The Holy Spirit steps out of Heaven and into us, making us “one” with God.

Here’s where the Upper Room story gets interesting, though. Luke’s version of the encounter is somewhat different than John’s (see Luke 24:44f.). He includes the part about Jesus showing them proofs that He is alive, and he emphasizes that the disciples then believed in Him (24:45). But, rather than including the part about Jesus breathing the Spirit on them, Luke says that Jesus encouraged them to wait for the Holy Spirit. He seems to infer they don’t yet possess the Spirit, even though they have been given HIs Presence in this same episode, according to John (compare Luke 24:49 and John 20:22). And, get this, it’s highly likely that both men were in the Upper Room at the same time when this happened.

What do we make of this supposed discrepancy? 

Perhaps the men emphasize two different things.

  • John assures us the Holy Spirit moves into us at conversion. We are sealed. We become one with our Savior. 
  • Luke encourages us to pursue the “more,” that we continually awaken to new dimensions of what the Lord wants to do with us. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates to wait for the Holy Spirit. He reminds them of this again at the Ascension (see also Acts 1:4). 

For a while, this teaching proved difficult for me to reconcile with other parts of the Bible. Paul tells us we’ve received the fullness of Christ (Colossians 2:9f.), who dwells in us. We read that He is in us— and that we are in Him (2:10). We are totally full, ready to overflow.

At one time in my life, I felt burdened to tie these two “loose ends” in Scripture together, as if I could be right or Van could be right— but certainly not both of us. I no longer feel the need to create a tidy answer. There are some things we can— and should— hold in tension. In fact, in chapter 10 I’ll show you that people from every single stripe of Christian theology— from Charismatic to Reformed (no worries if you don’t know what those labels mean)— have argued the exact same thing for centuries. We simply use different terms to describe the encounter (we embrace some words and avoid others like a plague), which creates most of the confusion.

That said, let’s move on… 


3. Those who wait on the Lord…

Third, most people do not wait for the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us 120 people were in the Upper Room in the day of Pentecost, praying— and waiting— for the Holy Spirit like Jesus commanded (Acts 1:15). Remember, He breathed the Spirit on them in the Upper Room and He told them to wait for more (John 20:22, Luke 22:49). Rather than assuming one man is right and the other is wrong, you and I just decided we’ll hold these two truths in tension. 

That said, even though only 120 people were present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost (a mere 10 days after Jesus told them to wait), we know upwards of 500 people saw Jesus post-resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). This means that, clearly, less than 25% waited for this empowerment. Such may be the case today. We are a generation that has a form of godliness but denies (does not walk in) its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

I know… life moved on for most of these people. Besides, I re-read the text a few times. There’s not place where Jesus says to wait until Pentecost. Nor did He describe what it would look like when the Holy Spirit finally came. That is, they didn't know what they’re waiting for nor do they know how long that wait would be. It’s hard to wait when you don’t know what you’re waiting for or how long the pause will be. 

But, for those who decided to go “all in” and wait for whatever, for however long… something incredible came and engulfed them. This leads us to the final point, because we have the benefit of hindsight and do know what we’re waiting for (see 1 Corinthians 10:11).


4. It started at Pentecost and continues…

Fourth, there is an additional encounter with the Holy Spirit, subsequent to conversion, which we should seek. Even if we’re scared of the word “baptism,” it is the word used in the Bible. We can’t re-invent the dictionary simply because people have mis-used the word.  We need to dive into the text and discover how the word is actually presented. 

We’ll discuss this “baptism-issue” in more depth later. For now, let’s look at the meaning of Pentecost.

To understand the word we must first understand a bit about Pentecost. This will help us get the full weight of what is happening as well as make practical applications for our lives today.

The Old Testament stipulated that God’s people (all of them) were to come before Him three times a year at the place He would choose. Of course, the place He eventually chose for them to appear was His temple, His house. In the Temple, God’s presence lived among the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, the place the High Priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement to make restitution for the sins of the people.

The three feasts were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Jews from around the world sojourned to the Holy City during these times of pilgrimage, most of them speaking the foreign languages of their native countries. Literally, hundreds of thousands converged, making arrangements for their religious obligations. The city, artificially over-crowded for the celebration, swelled with anticipation— so much so that the modern celebrations of Christmas and Easter actually pale in  comparison. It’s no accident that God chose to reveal Himself in a deeper way at each of these Festivals.

More about Pentecost... 

This feast has several names in the Bible. In Hebrew it was called Shavout, meaning “weeks,” from which the English expression “Feast of Weeks” is derived. This designation was taken from God’s command to celebrate “seven full weeks” after the Sabbath of the Passover week, placing the festival 50 days after the Passover (see Leviticus 23:15). Greek-speaking Jews referred to the Feast as Pentecoste, meaning “50 days,” explaining why the feast has a different name in the New Testament than the designation ascribed to it in the Old.

Another name for the feast was “the day of first fruits,” based on the offering of new grain and two loaves of bread baked from new grain, given as thanks for the wheat harvest (see Numbers 28:26). The name Feast of Harvest was based on the same harvest season (Exodus 23:16). This is important, too, for we see that the 120 who are in the Upper Room during Pentecost model something that is available to everyone, everywhere; they are the first fruits of what later occurs, according to Peter’s own declaration (Acts 2:39). Their experience is available to everyone.

In addition, certain passages of Scripture were read loud— in spaces like the Upper Room, where they celebrated Passover— during the celebration. Family and friends often gathered together to read the following:

  • God’s appearance to the people at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19:20)
  • Ezekiel’s vision of God in which appears as fire and wind (Ezekiel 1-2)
  • Other passages from the Minor Prophets

It’s important to start catching the parallels here with what actually happened at Pentecost in Acts 2. Each of the passages above contain the imagery of wind and fire that occur at Pentecost! It’s possible that the 120 were reading these texts right as the Spirit rushed. If so, the text literally “comes to life” as they study together.


Celebrating the Law

By the time of Jesus, the predominant focus of the celebration was that this feast time was when God had given the Law at Sinai. Remember, Pentecost is 50 days after the Passover, which is right at the number of days it took the Children of Israel to move from the Passover to the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses delivered the Ten Commandments. The text reveals that the Israelites left Egypt on Passover, arriving at Sinai  10 days later. Moses hiked the mountain to meet with God. 40 days later Moses returned with the Torah. While atop the mountain, though, the people broke the covenant and 3,000 died. 

(By the way, Jesus died on Passover— as the Passover lamb. He ascended the Mount of Olives 40 days later, and ascended. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came down and 3,000 people were saved. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though.)

The parallels are shocking– and are obvious proofs of God’s careful planning, ensuring that the Holy Spirit would come at a time when it would be rightly understood. The new Teacher, the Holy Spirit, would help illumine Scripture as Jesus had promised, and would apply the Law in a redemptive way, pushing people to grace. In this way, Pentecost is as foundational for followers of Jesus as Sinai had been for the Jewish people. 

Each year, during the celebration of Pentecost, people visited the Temple Mount to celebrate the giving of the Law. Remember, too, the People of God saw the Law as something to be celebrated– not as a legalistic document. 

It’s said that when a rabbi read the text before preaching in the synagogues he would take a scroll and dance around the room before opening it as others followed behind. This dramatically changes the way we see Jesus in Luke 4 when He visits the synagogue and preaches. He would serve as the “lead dancer” that day! Of course, some later took it that way— as a legalistic document—  but most stood in awe. God had spoken to them, wanting to be known and be intimate with them... 

It is important to understand all of the above, for this is the context in which the Spirit of God falls at Pentecost. Once we understand this, we start fleshing out what happens to the disciples in the Book of Acts: 

  • Jesus Ascended to Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3), just as Moses ascended Sinai. 
  • Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be poured upon them very soon, and that they should wait for it— just as Moses promised he would return with everything God said for them to do (Deuteronomy 5:4-5).
  • Fire was present at both events— a literal fire at Sinai and tongues of fire in the book of Acts.
  • For centuries, Jews read Ezekiel’s prologue aloud as they celebrated Pentecost. Ezekiel’s vision of God’s presence included fire and wind (Ezekiel 1:4-28). When the Spirit came to “the house” where the disciples were staying, Luke reports the Spirit appeared as wind and fire, as well, such that the symbolism would be crystal clear to the readers of the Book of Acts— and to the crowds who were gathered in Jerusalem for that particular celebration (see Acts 2:1f.). The black and white of the written text became “alive” and really happened. As they read about wind and fire, wind and fire appeared! They are  experienced something Jesus intends for all people.
  • God moved out of “the house” (the Temple) where He had once revealed Himself and into a new temple– the community of the followers of Jesus. They became His new dwelling place, His true temple. Just as the Temple served as a reminder of God’s presence in the world, so then must the Church.

It’s with this frame of reference— of God seeking to be present with power among His people— that we see the most obvious “happening” at Pentecost, the occurrence most often associated with the day, speaking in tongues… a result, according to Peter, of Jesus “pouring out” the Holy Spirit on His people. That is, He baptized them.

That leads us to an important question: What’s this power for?

In the next talk we’ll discuss this purpose of this secondary encounter. 

For now, take a look at the chart and review the two events side-by-side.

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