… to Reveal Jesus (LifeLift #9)

lifelift podcast Mar 24, 2020

Throughout the Book of Acts we see at least five instances of people encountering the Holy Spirit in a way which is clearly identified as being separate (and in addition to) salvation.  Now, although my friend Van (I mentioned him in the previous talk) would have loved to create a formula from this, you can’t. Each event is entirely different, showing us the central focus is pure relationship rather than some rote ritual.

We’ll walk through all five episodes, including the original Pentecost event, in the order we see them: 

  1. Acts 2:1-4, Pentecost, the Spirit falls on the 120
  2. Acts 8:4f., Samaria, Phillip (one of the seven chosen in Acts 6:1f.) leads a revival
  3. Acts 9:10-19f., Saul becomes Paul after being blinded on the road to Damascus
  4. Acts 10:1f., especially Acts 10:34f., Cornelius and his household become the first Gentile converts
  5. Acts 19:1-10, the disciples at Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit

After briefly reviewing each of these, I’ll provide you with a chart which compares and contrasts these meetings. Though I haven’t included the entire Biblical text for that passage in this book, I encourage you to open a Bible and read the actual stories side-by-side with my commentary.

Here we go…

 

Not about speaking in tongues…

The first occurrence = Acts 2:1-4, Pentecost, the Spirit falls on the apostles (and the 120). This is the first encounter we referenced in the previous chapter. Because the 120 spoke in “other tongues” during this celebration, modern-day churchgoers most often equate Pentecost with “praying in tongues.” However, as we saw earlier, neither tongues nor  prayer were the focus of this event. Rather, Jesus pouring the promised Spirit on His church and preaching were the focus. In other words, we should equate Pentecost with the Holy Spirit and power for witness— not praying in tongues.

That said, let’s look the situation and the result. Then we’ll make a few additional notes about curiosities we observe. (We’ll do this for all five encounters in Acts.)

Situation: Pentecost. The 120 wait on the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus said (Acts 1:4). This is ten days after the Ascension, fifty days after the Passover, crucifixion event. It’s important to remember the Pentecost was actually a festival that commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai— don’t forget the imagery of the wind and the fire which are present in both events.

Result: The Holy Spirit falls on all of them— and they all begin speaking in tongues.

Notes: Tongues (in this passage) is clearly a foreign language (see Acts 2:8f.). Other people hear them preaching in their own native tongues. This often occurs with missionaries, even today. Some arrive on foreign soil and possess command of the new language instantly, without ever having studied it. Others study minimally and then speak incredibly well. 

By the way, at least three different uses of tongues appear in the Bible: 1) foreign languages (as in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 14:22); 2) private  prayer language (1 Corinthians 14:2-4,14-15); 3) public ministry gift (1 Corinthians 14:5,13). Many people get “tripped up” on the tongues issue. They shouldn’t. All three should function today.

Again, the most important issue at Pentecost is not tongues. The bigger issue is that a once-weak Peter finally transforms into a bold witness (remember, this is the man that Jesus said was a rock even though he appeared more like shifting sand) and, as a result of his encounter with the Holy Spirit, 3,000 people are saved! 

Tongues isn’t the goal; tongues is simply a means God uses to exalt Jesus and draw people to Himself. The first post-Resurrection Pentecost makes this clear.

 

… and the Holy Spirit won’t fit in a box

The second occurrence = Acts 8:4f., Samaria, Phillip (one of the seven chosen in Acts 6:1f.) leads a revival. In Acts 6 the early church set aside seven men who were “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) to oversee the food distribution for the widows. This allowed the apostles to focus on the “ministry of the Word and prayer,” ensuring the church met both the spiritual needs and practical needs of the people. 

Soon thereafter, the church grows and— as might be expected— persecution increases. Stephen, one of the seven, becomes the first martyr. Saul (soon-to-be-Paul) holds the cloaks of the executioners and consents to his death (8:1). This leads us to Phillip’s story.

Situation: Phillip ends up in Samaria, where he begins preaching. Notably, the “waiting on tables” doesn’t exclude the first seven deacons from preaching the Word, as Stephen preaches the longest sermon contained in the Book of Acts (see chapter 7), and Phillip launches a full-throttle revival (Acts 8:5f.). People are saved, healed, and freed of demons— just like they were throughout the ministry of Jesus.

Result: The apostles send Peter and John from Jerusalem to, in Luke’s words, “pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (8:15). This is all the more interesting, because mass conversions have already taken place— so numerous that the local wizard (Simon) believed in Jesus, too (8:12-13). This means, according to other places in Scripture, they already have the Holy Spirit in the conversion sense of the relationship. 

When the two apostles arrive, they lay hands on the people and pray. The Holy Spirit falls on them (Acts 8:17). This is subsequent and in addition to the initial salvation encounters. Simon the Magician visibly witnesses the power— and sees some evidence that the Holy Spirit has fallen. We’re not told what “evidence” he sees, but we do know that he’s already seen healings, bold proclamation of the Gospel, deliverance from demonic strongholds, and more (8:6-7). He wants to purchase whatever power it is. Some suggest that it may have been the gift of tongues he saw, but the Scripture remains silent on this point.

Notes: This passage says nothing about the gift of tongues. Laying on of hands is highlighted, though. Luke tells us explicitly that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (8:17-18). In other places we see laying on of hands used for healing, as well as imparting spiritual gifts to people. 

Notice the difference between the encounter with the Holy Spirit in Samaria and at Pentecost. There are two important ones, at least. 

First, we don’t see anything about laying on of hands at Pentecost yet we do in Samaria. It’s important to me that Simon sees something with the laying on hands that causes him to want to buy the power to do the same thing (8:19). Growing up in the church, I was taught that laying  on of hands was largely symbolic. Scripture seems to point in the opposite direction— that we actually impart something through this gift of touch.

Second, consider the time which elapses between the salvation encounter and the subsequent baptism of the Spirit. Whereas the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 at Pentecost a mere 10 days after Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them in the Upper Room, it’s likely that the salvation encounters in Samaria happened a few weeks before Peter and John appeared to lay hands on the people there. Remember, word first traveled from Samaria back to Jerusalem, and then they made the journey. In other words, a significant amount of time lapsed between the conversion encounter and the subsequent “baptism of the Holy Spirit” encounter. 

Here’s the bottom line: even in the first two episodes we see that we can’t fit God in a box…

That said, there is a common thread woven through every encounter. Namely, the Holy Spirit always shines the spotlight on Jesus. 

 

The one consistent factor: the Holy Spirit always empowers people to elevate Jesus’ fame

The third occurrence =  Acts 9:10-19f., Saul becomes Paul after being blinded on the road to Damascus. Saul was one of the ringleaders of the early persecution which caused the seven and other disciples to flee Jerusalem, taking the Gospel with them. After consenting to Stephen’s stoning (Acts 8:1), we read that “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house… he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:3 ESV). 

After reporting Phillip’s revival in Samaria, Luke circles back to Saul’s story. Luke tells us that before his beautiful collision with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Saul visited the high priest in Jerusalem and received letters giving him authorization to arrest any “followers of the Way” he found at the synagogues in Damascus. 

That leads us to one of the most famous conversion stories of all…

Situation: Jesus intercepts Saul while he’s en route with his letters. A light blinds him, and Saul falls to the ground. He instantly recognizes Jesus as Lord, implying salvation has come in a moment (Acts 9:5). Jesus teaches Saul that he’s actually been persecuting Him, then instructs him to go wait for the messenger whom He’s sent to visit him.

During this time, Ananias is told to go lay hands on Saul, for he is the Lord’s chosen instrument (Acts 9:15). It’s interesting that Ananias is led by the Spirit here— through direct revelation in prayer. He has no other evidence that Saul has converted, and actually reminds the Lord of Saul’s reputation (9:13).

Result: Though initially hesitant, Ananias obeys and goes to see Saul. He lays his hands on Saul for two specific reasons. He says (Acts 9:17 ESV, emphasis added), 

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Two things occur after Ananias prays. First, Saul regains his sight immediately. Second, he grows “more and more powerful” in his witness (see Acts 9:22). We infer the second is a result of Saul being filled with the Holy Spirit— just as Ananias proposed would happen (Acts 9:17).

Notes: Saul, who later becomes Paul, was already considered a “brother” when these two things happened. Ananias clearly addresses him as such (9:17). Remember, Paul apparently (though not renamed until Acts 13:9— even after being sent on his first mission voyage) addressed Jesus as Lord on the road to Damascus when he was stopped (9:5), even offering his allegiance to Him at that moment (see 9:6).

So what do we see and what do we not see in this passage? 

Well, a few things… 

First, Ananias lays hands on Paul that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, he doesn’t use the word “baptism” at all. Yet, at the same time, this is an encounter subsequent to his salvation. 

Second, we see absolutely nothing mentioned about tongues. Now, we know that Paul later spoke in tongues— more than everyone else, according to his own testimony (1 Corinthians 14:18). And, we know that Paul desired for everyone to speak in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 4:5). Whether or not he received that ability when Ananias laid hands on him is purely hypothetical. 

Third, after this encounter, Paul “grew more and more powerful” (9:22). This is, apparently, spiritual strength. Remember, this is exactly what happened to Peter when the Holy Spirit “baptized” him in  Acts 2. The Holy Spirit isn’t power to speak in tongues; the Holy Spirit is power for witness. That’s the one consistent factor we’ve seen thus far; the Holy Spirit always empowers people to elevate Jesus’ fame.

 

What if the encounters happen in “reverse" order?

So far we’ve evaluated three post-salvation encounters with the Holy Spirit: 

  1. Acts 2:1-4, Pentecost, the Spirit falls on the 120 just10 days after Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them (no laying on of hands, but we see tongues present— in the form of foreign languages)
  2. Acts 8:4f., Samaritan revival with Phillip, the Spirit falls on people weeks or months after their salvation encounter (no mention of tongues, but we see laying on of hands)
  3. Acts 9:10-19f., Saul becomes Paul after being blinded on the road to Damascus, the Spirit is imparted to him three days after his salvation encounter (laying on of hands, no mention of tongues)

Let’s look at the fourth occurrence of the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit, because this meeting shows us— yet again— that there is no one-size-fits-all mold here.

The fourth occurrence = Acts 10:1f., especially Acts 10:34f., Cornelius and his household become the first Gentile converts. Cornelius is a devout, God-fearing Gentile (“God-fearer” was the name given to Gentiles who followed the religious routines of the Jews). He  had a vision in which an angel clearly told him to call for Peter— by name— to come share the Gospel with him (Acts 10:5f.) 

The following day, Peter also had a vision. It was the sixth hour of prayer (noon), and Peter became hungry. He experienced the well-known vision of the sheet descending from heaven, full of “unclean” animals which Peter was told he could now eat (see Acts 10:10f.). These animals were now “clean.” As Peter reflected on what the vision meant, Cornelius’ delegation arrived, asking for him by name. The next day, Peter and his hosts traveled to meet Cornelius (10:17f.).

Situation:  Peter arrived and was greeted by Cornelius, who detailed why he sent for him. With his entire family present, he told Peter that “we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (10:33 ESV).

Result: After acknowledging the Lord truly calls all people to Himself, Peter preached the Gospel to them (see 10:37f.). He’s interrupted, though. Luke writes (10:44-45 ESV), 

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles…

Now, notice how they knew the Holy Spirt had been “poured out” on them (10:46 ESV):

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Notes: Peter concluded that the Spirit rushed on Cornelius and his family in the same way that happened to them. This, to him, meant that they also needed to be water-baptized.

So a few interesting things occur here…

First, we don’t see the laying on of hands. Peter never even prays for them. There’s not even a formal invitation or salvation call. They interrupt his sermon!

Second, we do see speaking in tongues. In fact, this becomes evidence to Peter that something supernatural has occurred. Peter observed that if the subsequent encounter has occurred, the first must have already happened. 

Third, the encounters happen in “reverse” order. We clearly see a “subsequent” or secondary encounter with the Holy Spirit (it’s not called a “baptism” here, but we do see speaking in tongues). But, this events happens before water baptism.

Peter concluded (and declared and declared to everyone) that the first encounter (salvation) must have already occurred, too (10:47). They should all be baptized in water, since it’s apparent they’ve been baptized by the Holy Spirit.

This leads us to our fifth and final occurrence of the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts…

 

We haven’t even heard of the Holy Spirit

The fifth occurrence =  Acts 19:1-10, the disciples at Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit. Apollos, a mighty orator, had been teaching in Ephesus. Notice something Luke reports to us about his theology, though (Acts 18:25 ESV, emphasis added)— 

… he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.

Say what?

Yes, he knew of John’s baptism— a baptism of repentance designed to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus (Matthew 3:1f.). That is, John’s baptism was a baptism of behavior-modification, of ceasing wrong behaviors and doing the right ones. In the same way in which the sacrifices of the Law reminded people of sin (and highlighted  the need for a permanent resolution to the sin-issue), so also did the baptism of John remind people of the need for grace.

The Gospel is more than simple morality, though. It includes morality, but it goes beyond that. The Gospel includes power— the Holy Spirit’s power— to change.

Remember the picture we reviewed in talk 7? 

  • Earlier, we said that without love, people just veer into legalism. 
  • Here, we see that without power, the church just has a form of godliness— of morality— without an expression of the supernatural. 

Anyway, Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teach, then “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26). That is, they supplied him with details— those from Part 1 of our study about being a New Creation as well as those from Part 2 of our study about the presence of the Holy Spirit. He was missing a lot! Christianity isn’t just about thinking right or living right, it’s about becoming a new (kainos) creation that lives via the power of God expressing His presence through us.

After learning this, Apollos took a more complete message to Corinth. Paul returned to Ephesus. Effectively, these two leaders swapped locations (Acts 19:1). Apparently, Corinth blossomed under Apollos’ skilled teaching and the church began growing (see 1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul remained in Ephesus, supplying what those believers lacked. 

Here are the details:

Situation: While Apollos grew the church in Corinth, Paul discovered that the disciples he left behind in Ephesus hadn't yet even heard of the Holy Spirit. Remember, Apollos— the teacher— hadn’t either (until Priscilla and Aquila provided him with the details). When Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (to which we would all say, “Yes!”), they told him they never heard of the Holy Spirit (19:2). 

They claimed they were baptized into the name of John, so Paul taught them that John looked forward to Jesus— who has already come. (It’s possible they didn’t yet know Jesus had come, because of the distance from Ephesus to Jerusalem. We’re still just a few years out from the resurrection at this point!) Upon hearing the story of Jesus, they were all baptized into the name of Jesus.

Result: After this, Paul laid hands on them. They began speaking in tongues and prophesying, making this the only passage we've studied in which we see both laying on of hands and speaking in tongues combined together (19:6-7).

Notes: It seems Apollos lacked information about the finished work Jesus and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. When he was “taught the way of God more accurately” this must have been one of the missing ingredients, thereby explaining the powerful witness he gave at Corinth, such that even Paul’s former church exploded with growth (Acts 18:26, 1 Corinthians 3:6). In other words, Apollos’ knowledge was not complete until he had the full message of the Gospel, including salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both were important. 

Something was, therefore, missing in the church at Ephesus which he left behind. However, Paul supplied what was missing. 

Again, John preached a baptism of repentance. That is, he preached a message of behavior-modification. The Gospel is more. It not only includes discipline (“sound mind”) and love, it includes the power that raised Jesus.

We later read the results of this throughout the New Testament. Corinthi became an explosive church— after this encounter. Without power, the church is simply a place of moral behavior. And, while morality is important, we’ve been called to far more than behavior management. 

 

What’s the point?

I know. I just gave you a lot of information. I think it’s important for you to see it, though, because the Holy Spirit is central to the ministry of Jesus.  

Furthermore, since Jesus promised to send us the Spirit after He ascended (John 16:7), and since He promised the disciples the Spirit would provide them with power for witness (Acts 1:5f.), and since we see such a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the early church, it’s important that we dive deep into this topic.

Since there's so much confusion and innuendo about the Holy Spirit, it’s all the more imperative that we mine through Scripture, allowing the Spirit who inspired the Word to tell us exactly what He intends to reveal about Himself (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

In the end, we learn that we don’t need to fear this topic. Quite the opposite, we need to embrace it. Like I penned for the main idea of this talk, the Holy Spirit always reveals Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has come to us so that we might join Him in doing the same. That’s a consistent factor we see throughout each of these stories in the book of Acts.

Here’s another consistent factor: the Holy Spirit reveals Himself in the way He desires, and He manifests Himself through people in the way He deems appropriate. Some worshiped; others spoke in tongues; all of them connected with Jesus in a greater way.

One way the Spirit expresses Himself through us is through the “spiritual gifts.” That is, there are unique ways He empowers each of us to speak, to serve, or to share. And when He does that, as you might imagine, it’s always to elevate Jesus and benefit His church, referred to as the Body of Christ, in some way (see 1 Corinthians 12:7).

But that’s not all. 

In the next talk, we’ll discover that the coming of the Holy Spirit didn’t just provide the church with unprecedented power, it connected the church with unprecedented intimacy with God.

The ministry we do ins’t just a new “supernatural behavior.” Rather, it’s an overflow of the union we experience with our Creator. As we nurture that intimacy, our capacity for ministry increases.

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