By Paul Witter, 09 Apr 2016
We have not long finished a series in the book of Acts and what has stood out for me, amongst other things, is that there was a church (or later a group of churches) where the Spirit of God was so evident that people around were aware there was something different about Christians. Perhaps, though, the most stunning thing is that people fleeing from a violent persecution (the one that breaks out after the stoning to death of Stephen in Acts 7-8) go from place to place telling people about Jesus. They were not the apostles. They were not trained evangelists. They had not even done a “Two ways to live” course to help them with evangelism. They simply told people about Jesus wherever they went. And don’t forget it was their allegiance to this Jesus that had just cost them their homes and livelihoods and forced them to flee Jerusalem. And I think the key to that is to be found in Acts 4. It comes after Peter and John have been arrested, interrogated and then released with threats about not speaking any further of Jesus. When they tell this to the rest of the disciples the whole community gets to praying. And one of the things they pray, in v.29, is “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Not long after this, we are told, the building shook and everyone was “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” I think they were still filled with the Spirit when they are chased out of town and yet continue to preach the word and proclaim Jesus. And this is not surprising. Jesus himself had said that when the Holy Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus (John 16:14). “This is what a man does when he is filled with the Spirit – he wants to praise God, to glorify him, to tell others about him, and to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ in particular.”
And the more that; I have looked at the New Testament church, even those like Corinth that have great problems, it seems to me that it is a church that has great power at work. And that power is described in Ephesians 1:19-20 as the very power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. And what is more there is a great joy. When the gospel came to Samaria there was, we are told, great joy there (Acts 8:8). And even when persecution is stirred up against a fledgling church like that of Pisidian Antioch Luke, the author of Acts, can still write, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). This joy is described by Peter as being “unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8). And I take it that this is more than what many see it as. It is not something we have deep down in us, so deep that it rarely sees the light of day. Peter is writing to Christians across what is now Turkey, people he probably does not know, and he says they rejoice with a joy unspeakable. He does not have to explain this to them. He does not have to make his case saying something to the effect of, “well, you know of course that this is inside each of you even though you do not often feel it.” He simply assumes that it is so and that they know it is so. They know it by experience. Speaking of this verse, Lloyd-Jones says, “It is a touch of the glory everlasting.” It is, in other words, something quite distinct from what many of us think of when we think of Christian joy.
Power and joy; that it seems to me is the combination that wins a world to the gospel of Jesus Christ. So Paul says to the Corinthians, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). And then, writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul writes that, “our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
And we see this same power at work whenever there has been a revival. It was there in the time of the Reformation. It was there in the times of the Puritans. It was there mightily whenever George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley preached in the great awakening of the 1740s. It was there again in the prayer revivals of 1858-59 in New York and Ulster. It was there in frequent revivals in Scotland and Wales. The preaching of the gospel has been with joy and with power. Read the stories of Whitefield, Wesley and Edwards, for example and you will read of God soaked encounters that left them filled with a profound joy in Christ Jesus. And these revivals always led to ordinary men and women fearlessly proclaiming Christ and to multitudes coming to know Jesus.
And what all of this does is makes me hungry for this. It makes me want for more. It makes me discontented with my own walk with the Lord; discontented that it does not display more of the character of the walk of the early Christians. Speaking of 1 Peter 1:8, Lloyd-Jones says that it would “do us all great good” if we read it “every morning of our lives.” He proceeds to say, “I should say to myself that I must become like that. I must not be content with anything less than that. If I allow myself to be content with anything less than that I am sinful. I am deliberately sinning.” I want what they had. I want to see the gospel going forth from churches all across this land, by the mouths of ordinary Christians, with great power and communicated with a joy that is very real and very evident. If there is anything the church in the West needs more than the power of the Holy Spirit at work within it, then I do not know what it might be (other than the actual return of Jesus Christ in glory). I wonder if you will join with me in praying for this?