The well known words with which he began his after supper exhortation echo the thought that Jesus had ascended far away to the Father's throne for the very purpose of coming very close to them.
His going would be spiritual as well as spatial, but is expressed wholly in spatial terms because there is no better way to describe it than in terms of physical ascent to God. The Father's house and dwelling places here are spiritual rather than structural. The road or way to it is also spiritual -- for it is Jesus himself (v 6). One need not be surprised, then, if the coming in this instance is also spiritual. The physical return of Christ to earth for which we wait is of course taught in abundance by other Scriptures, but is not intended here.
The Coming in John 14:3 is none other than his coming in the Comforter, Advocate or Spirit of truth.
Through the Comforter or Advocate Jesus will dwell in the believer. He will not leave them bereft -- He will come back to them. Because he is alive in heaven -- they will be alive too -- alive with his life. He will disclose himself to them.
The idea is repeated in verse 23 "Anyone who loves me will heed what I say; then my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him". This was to be a coming to in-dwell the believer: to all who put their trust in Jesus. (see also Rev. 3:20).
The word translated "Comforter" or "Advocate" is "paraclete". It is translated variously by different renderings: advocate, comforter, helper, strengthener. It is very difficult to find a precise English word to match this term. The idea of "para" is alongside, as in the word parallel, and the paraclete is the one who comes alongside another one. It can be that he comes alongside to comfort, to say "cheer up"; it can be that he comes along as your lawyer to see you do not go to prison, in which case "advocate" is the better translation. All too often the word "comfort" is thought of as a sugary and insipid word. However, its real basis is quite strong. "FORT" has the idea of strength and fortitude in it, so that the Comforter comes along to strengthen the believer. It was indeed a very virile sixteenth century word. James Stewart in his book "The Wind of the Spirit" variously translates the word "paraclete" as the reinforcer, the strengthener, the giver of power and might and victory. It conveys the idea, he says, of some heavenly reinforcement to your side. Barclay's "New Testament Words" has the same idea. This book will use the words Comforter, Advocate, Strengthener and the original Greek word paraclete interchangeably so that we can get used to the rich variety of ideas involved.
A feature of these passages which speak of the Comforter or Advocate is the way in which the personal pronoun "he" is deliberately used. (John 14: 26; 15:26; 16:13; v 14). When we think of a "he" we usually mean a bodily individual, and obviously the Holy Spirit is not personal in this sense. On the other hand when we use the word "it" of the Holy Spirit we almost feel as if we are detracting from the personal power of God manifested through the Spirit. There is indeed a deeply personal link between the Holy Spirit and the person of the Lord Jesus. So much so, that the Holy Spirit can be described now as his "alter ego", "his other self". The sequence of thought in John 14 is then
How can the one who has faith in Jesus do greater things than Jesus and why should the reason be given as because Jesus is going to the Father (John 14:12)? The intention of this passage is not to say that the disciples would work bigger miracles than Jesus. The biggest thing he ever did anyway was to die. The works they would do would be greater because more extensive: they carried his gospel to the ends of the then known world and indeed laid the foundation of the wider conversion that has taken place ever since. (Col. 1:23).
This extension has derived its strength from his heavenly supervision and has all along been a continuation of the work he started when upon earth. The Lord's range of activity had then been limited by locality. Once he had gone to the Father and the Comforter had come to the believers, then the range of his work was greater and through his church the Lord Jesus has done greater things than he was previously able to do.
These principles still apply. If I am in Christ and he is in me, then what I am doing is what he is doing, and is not the result of my own self-determination. If I respond to the Spirit, then Christ will do in me what he was doing in his own day and what he did in the first century. A thousand Christs, that is to say a thousand in whom Christ dwells, will spread Christ more widely than one Christ, though it will all be the work of the one Christ.
Note that in response to Christ's prayer the Comforter would be with the believer for ever (v 16). No sense here of a temporary first century gift to launch the church, but the whole passage, like the rest of the New Testament, vibrates with awareness of the resurrected Lord who ascended to the right hand of God and who LIVES -- at this very moment and for all time: who has received all power and is therefore universally available in the individual and in the church and at work within us for ever. At the right hand of God, sat down in God's throne, he may seem immeasurably far away. In fact, the New Testament tells us that, as our heavenly high priest, he is nearer to the believers than when he was among them on the earth, because his presence is now inward and universal.
His receiving of power at his ascension to the Father is associated in Matthew 28:18-20 with his permanent presence in the church.
I suggest that these words of Christ in Matthew 28 come echoing down the years for our comfort. They cannot be limited in their scope to the first century. Some would translate the last phrase as "end of the age" which they date in A.D. 70 when Rome overthrew the Jewish Commonwealth. This particular "with-ness" of Jesus is thus said by them to be applicable only to the first century church with the Apostles in their midst. This would mean that the unity of Christ with his church was then broken and they were left to depend for the presence of Christ solely on the written record of the Apostles' labours in the New Testament. This runs counter to the confidence and place in the gospel narrative of these assuring words. They then would be worthy of a politician, but not of the risen Christ. Surely John 14 would lead us to appropriate these words even in our own day and rejoice that Jesus is still closely and personally with us. If we have Christ only in a written record why should John chapter 14 be preserved at all? It would only be telling of blessings denied to us.
Paul in Galatians 2:20 echoes these ideas of the Son living in the believer by the Spirit : --
Similarly, in all ages, the believers must come to a state of response, ready for their individual Pentecost.
And the Comforter will teach them everything and will call to mind all that Jesus has told them. For the immediate disciples this meant that the things Jesus said during his ministry (and of course during the forty days after the resurrection) would be brought to their minds -- not only in the sense of reminding them of what they might have forgotten -- but more fundamentally -- matching the words of Jesus to their appropriate situations and enabling the disciples to see them as a whole. Thus the disciples after Pentecost were able to recall applications of Scripture Jesus had made and apply them confidently to appropriate aspects of the Lord's work. Thus his saying about the temple of his body being raised after three days came to have meaning to them after his glorification. It fell into place "and they believed the scripture (e.g. Psa. 16 quoted by Peter on Pentecost) and the Word which Jesus had said". They believed the words factually before, but now they understood them to the point where they could have faith in him and map their course and witness by these words (John 2:22).
Similarly "when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him". (John 12:16 -- particularly concerning the application of Zech. 9:9 to the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on an ass's colt). They were now able to match Old Testament predictions with the events of the Lord's ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again in the Comforter. Before the witness of the disciples could begin, this facility had to be granted them. That is why they had to wait at Jerusalem till endowed with power from on high.
Another aspect of this being taught everything and having the Lord's words brought to remembrance, is the ability to witness fearlessly before Kings and rulers, as recorded of Peter and John in Acts 3 to 5. "When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it will not be you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father, speaking in you" (Matt. 10: 19-20). The Spirit would witness within them. The very fact that the Apostles had to delegate serving of tables to others in order to find time for the Word and prayer, shows that they were not exempt from continual preparation by meditating on scripture and seeking their Lord in prayer. Yet they would not have to prepare their witness when faced with a crisis, but would find inner resources based on all previous instruction and experience made relevant to the moment.
And can we say that the Spirit never acts in this way now? For example will not the Spirit call to mind for us what we have read of the words of Jesus, either in the Bible or in the expositions of others, and make them living and active and powerful, so that the right words come for the right situation -- the right passages to meet a crisis. And have we not known the thrill of seeing new relationships in well known scriptures, bearing testimony to the power of our Lord. We must read the source book -- but the Spirit presides over the effect of his own words.
Of this presence of the absent Jesus by the Spirit we will hear more as the words of Jesus after supper proceed (especially chapter 16: 5-15).
The Lord continues his words in the upper room with the analogy of the vine. Israel had often been likened to a vine, but he was the true or "real" vine. The theme of the indwelling Christ is implicit throughout the parable.
12-14). Their position was no longer of slaves blindly obeying -- but personal friends kept fully in the picture and bringing forth fruit of permanent value, unlike that of legalism. These hints of the theme of law versus spirit are filled out by the apostles in their letters where they contrast the way of obedience in one's own strength with the obedience of love through the indwelling Lord (v 15-17).
Then Jesus adds that when he has ascended to the Father he will supplement their witness to the objective facts of his total ministry, by sending them the inner witness of the Spirit, which as we have seen was the great feature of Pentecost. "When your Advocate has come, whom I will send you from the Father -- the Spirit of Truth that issues from the Father -- he will bear witness to me. And you also are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the first" (v 26-27). The testimony of their own human observation would be augmented by the greater witness of Christ himself, present by the Spirit within them and among them as on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit comes alongside the believers to help (paraclete) their witness. The witness that they bear, the preaching that they undertake, is of none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus in emphasising the doctrine of the Spirit, we do not detract from the doctrine of Christ. It is through the Spirit that Christ is made glorious in the eyes of men and in the experience of the believer. Witness without this would be purely intellectual and sterile.
"It is for your good I am leaving you"
The King James version is probably more familiar to us "it is expedient that I go away". What an amazing suggestion -- that they would actually be better off without his physical presence.
Only by his ascent to the Father was it going to be possible to send the paraclete (Advocate or Comforter). As we saw in chapter 5 when discussing John 14, the ascended Lord Jesus -- apparently absent -- would be more present on earth than when he had been "with them". His ascension enabled him to be nearer to more people than had been possible during his ministry. Then he was inhibited by time and space and in general terms was only in one locality at a time. Now these limits would go. His presence could now be universal and inward, instead of local and outward. And to this very day "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them". Now he had been glorified, the Holy Spirit could be given to make him universally available to all who should put faith in him. Not now just in Galilee or Judea in A.D. 29, but in every century from "Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strands", Jesus is present to enter into the lives of those who turn to him.
The three aspects of this testimony of the Spirit were all present on the day of Pentecost :
b. "he will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that I go to the Father when I pass from your sight". (The Spirit on the day of Pentecost demonstrated that Jesus really had gone to the Father and from thence was still in charge of affairs -- he really had triumphed.)
c. "he will convince them of Divine judgment, by showing them that the Prince of this world stands condemned". (The work of the disciples, especially Peter and John, as recorded in the early chapters of Acts illustrates this).
Let us look closely at these words: --
b. The Spirit would glorify Jesus -- would mediate to the believers the full effectiveness of what Jesus had done. "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6), This would occur when the Spirit took hold of and transmitted to the believers the things that belong to Christ ("that are mine") in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily ("All that the Father has is mine"). Thus of his fullness have we all received (John 1:16), and in this fullness is the blend of sacrifice and victory, which originating in the Father's heart, was wrought in His Son, then by the Spirit to be worked out in the believers.
"Because I go to the Father" (the ascension indispensable to the outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit could not be given till his glorification was complete -- John 7:39).
The disciples were baffled. So he expanded the thought. When he suffered they would be plunged into grief, but after the birthpangs of the new creation were over (the things that are coming v 13) they would rejoice. When the Spirit took hold of the things of Christ and worked them into their experience, then they would know a joy which was complete (v 24). They would then see him again (v 22). This does not mean seeing him in the physical sense in the post-resurrectional appearances. "When the day came they would ask nothing of him" (v 23) -- for through the Spirit they would have direct access to God, though in the name of Jesus, and this would replace the Lord's prayers to the Father on their behalf (v 25-30).
The theme of the Spirit making the fulness of the Father in Christ known in the experience of the believer is so crucial that we must pause in our exposition of the words of the Lord after supper, to digest them and relate them to our own experience.
We saw in Chapter 5 of this book, that until Jesus had been glorified, his redemptive work was not complete and therefore not available for the Holy Spirit to minister to man's experience. After his ascension, his glorification was completed and the Spirit was poured out to give both outward and inner witness to his victory (John 7:38-39).
John 16:13-15 is expressing a parallel thought, that the work of the Spirit was to minister Christ to the believer, to minister Christ as possessing all that belonged to the Father, Christ who had risen to the right hand of God after the mightiest of all victories, even over sin and death. And by the Spirit we are led to appropriate that victory in faith and receive assurance that in him our sins are forgiven; and by the Spirit the fulness of Christ feeds us and we take of the things that are his and live by them.
Redemption and atonement are not theological issues appropriated by great intellects after a process of intense logical endeavour. They are a mighty power available to all men and women, of every race and social status who have faith in Jesus. This is not to say we should not reason about the cross and its meaning, but that salvation does not lie in the reasoning but in the fact. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a single comprehensive and exhaustive exposition of the atonement. We get a facet here and another there. Yet by the Spirit, the cross works its work and the death and resurrection of Jesus. enter plainly and gloriously into our personal spiritual experience.
I do not mean by this, that the believer learns about redemption without the Bible. The Bible is the source of information about the redemptive work of Christ. It reports the great redemptive act, but it takes something more than black words on white pages, to work it into our very experience. The Bible itself indicates here in the saying of Jesus that it was through the Spirit that he would make the cross and resurrection the supreme experience of the believer's personal life.
Indeed all expositions of the cross in the New Testament make an appeal to experience. Thus for example in 1 Peter 2 when talking to slaves and telling them to put up with bad masters, Jesus is brought forward as the example in whose steps they are to follow, who when he was abused did not retort with abuse, who when he suffered uttered no threats. And this leads on to the fact that in his own person he carried our sins to the tree or gibbet, that we might cease to live for sin and begin to live for righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed.
Similarly in Philippians 2 Paul exhorts the Church at Philippi that they should be thinking more of each other than of their own interests, because that is what Jesus did, when in spite of his divine status he laid down all his privilege in the humiliation of the cross.
Never does the exposition of the cross in the New Testament start with an apostle saying "I am going to give you a theory or a doctrine about the cross".
There is a place for a creed or a statement of faith which attempts to systematise what we understand the cross to have achieved. This is, however, not how the Bible works. The Bible is greater than any creed. It so often starts in experience and draws power to develop it from the cross, and it is almost as if we learn what the cross means as an incidental to its moral power.
Understanding the doctrine of the cross has been likened to looking at the same one cross down a number of different avenues. A complete perspective is not gained by remaining in any one avenue.
This fact is reflected in great hymns like "The Church's One Foundation", "O Saviour where shall guilty man find rest except in Thee", "There is a green hill far away", "Was it for me that thy flesh was wounded sore", "When I survey the wondrous cross", "When my love to God grows weak, when for larger faith I seek, Then in thought I go to thee, Garden of Gethsemane", "Bread of the world in mercy broken, Wine of the Soul in mercy shed", "Here O my Lord I see thee face to face, here would I touch and handle things unseen". Read the whole hymn in each case and you will find that you have some of the finest expositions of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, as one aspect after another is highlighted, whether it be his suffering, his self abnegation, his sympathy for others or his refusal to follow the world.
It remains true that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ was an objective fact and that it did something outside us as well as something to us. He did die for our sins "that we might be forgiven". Yet whether or not we could write an essay on the atonement or give a clear exposition of the theology of the cross, all who have in truth contemplated the cross know what their Lord has done for them, and are constantly being bought for God by the suffering of his Son.
Thus it is that Paul says in Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ. The life I now live is not my life but the life which Christ lives in me. My present bodily life is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me". To understand this verse is to understand the atonement in one's experience. To have Christ living in us is another way of expressing the whole work of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 6:14 has a similar ring. The crucified risen Lord, still living, enters into our experience and transforms it. We enter into his experience and are transformed so that, as far as we are concerned, the world is dead, and as far as the world is concerned, we are dead.
Many who accept the idea of Christ living within us are uneasy when we talk of the Holy Spirit dwelling within. It is a pity to disagree about words; equally however it is our loss if we hesitate to face up to the New Testament words used. The Spirit of God somehow takes hold of the cross of Christ and the whole redemptive work of Jesus and works it into the experience of the believer. This is probably the greatest truth in the whole of the Bible.
When the cross comes home into our experience, it means that we died there. The death that he died is our death: as the hymn says -- "In whose death our sins are dead". It is this death of the cross that we are appropriating as our own when we are baptised.
As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, when anyone is united to Christ there is a new world. The old order has gone and a new order has already begun. In other words once you are in Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus is in you, you have entered into a new age, the age of the Spirit.
Or again the words of Colossians 2:6: "Therefore since Jesus was delivered to you as Christ and Lord, live your lives in union with him". This is inward personal experience not an external impersonal doctrine. Indeed the windows through which one views the cross are the windows of our human experience and what we see through those windows brings into our human experience a whole range of personal emotions and attitudes.
One day as we contemplate the cross and hear the words of Peter in his Pentecostal sermon "Whom you crucified", we realise that the very things we do every day are the things that brought Jesus to his death. So our sin is shown up: whether it be the sin of the Sadducees who sought material well being for themselves: or the sin of the Pharisees who could not bear to be put right: or the sin of Pilate who passed responsibility on to the others: or the sin of the multitude who just wanted to be like anybody else -- these sins are our sins, and the cross puts the spotlight upon them.
Another day in another mood, a sense of deep gratitude will be our main response to the cross. On a third day it will be a sense of assurance that in spite of our unworthiness, he has done all that could be done. This will lead to boldness, will give us strength in weakness, matched however by humility, a desire to serve, a sense of peace, a joy of fellowship. Still another day the contemplation of the cross will deliver us from the concept of Law into the glorious wide ranging liberty of the Spirit of Christ. All these attitudes, all these reactions are the work of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in taking of the things which belong to Christ and making them ours. One of the most thrilling of experiences is to learn from the cross that when we try to achieve righteousness in our strength, we are lapsing into legalism and are doomed to fail. When we rest on him then we enter into the liberty, the perfect law of liberty in Christ.
In short, the cross is not merely to be read about but to be experienced. The Bible in our intellects is not the total working of the Spirit, though it has its place. Contemplative prayerful reading; fellowship with others; experience of life -- all ministered by the Spirit -- invite the indwelling of the living Christ, make us temples of the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament is constantly saying that what happened to Christ happens to us. All his sadnesses and triumphs are mirrored in the personal crucifixion and constant rising of the believers. The key facts of his biography are taken by the Spirit and made part of the autobiography of each believer.
The following passages of the New Testament take the various experiences of Christ and speak of the believer as sharing them.
"knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6).
"I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2: 20).
"For if we died with him, we shall also live with him" (2 Tim. 2:11).
"We were buried with him through baptism, baptism into death" .(Romans 6:4).
"having been buried with him in baptism" (Colossians 2:12).
"baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12).
"If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).
"and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6).
"You did he quicken together with him" (Colossians 2:13).
"but God quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up with him" (Ephesians 2:4).
"if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him" (Romans 8:17).
"and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).
"if we endure, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).
Commenting on such scriptures Vincent Taylor writes:
He goes on to speak of "an enhanced and enriched personality with increased powers and possibilities of life. The area of moral and religious experience is widened; the mind, the feelings, and the will are stimulated and engaged, no longer at the behest of purely self-regarding purposes, but in obedience to motives which are 'baptised into Christ' and are associated with His work for men in dying, rising, living and interceding on their behalf. This redemptive ministry is unquestionably His, wrought upon the Cross and incapable of receiving addition in its positive content, but, none the less, within the limit of his powers the believer shares in it and enters into its meaning, because the love, implicit in his faith, breaks down the 'barriers' which so often enclose men within egoistic ways of thinking and living. The experience is one in which personal interests and the purposes of God are no longer separate realms, but superimposed circles with a common centre, however incomparable in radius. The Christian dies, is buried, rises, lives, is glorified with Christ, and waits to reign with Him when His victory shall be complete. Released from the limitations which cabin and confine his existence, he is brought into an ampler form of life, with increased possibilities of pain and joy. In virtue of his fellowship with Christ, he too feels the crushing weight of the world's sin and bears it upon his heart, so that for him also there is a Gethsemane and a Golgotha; but with Christ again, he rises from death and despair in an Easter morning which sets the tone and temper of his life, fixing his hope in imperishable faith upon an End-time when God shall be all and in all and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
It is in the light of such thoughts as these that we need to appraise our daily experiences of life, the sad as well as the happy. How far do we care about people and their problems? To the extent we do we shall be sharing the Lord's experiences of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Being crucified with Christ is not only a matter of avoiding worldly pleasures but a matter of caring about our fellow men even when it hurts, and that is the work of the Spirit, "to take the things that are mine and make them yours".
But none of this could have been true until the Lord had been glorified, until His mission was complete. Only then could it be worked into our experience by the Spirit.'
The epistles, throughout, apply the cross to the thousand and one experiences of daily life so that we might have enough specimens to work at to cover our own diverse: lives. Man does not change, human hearts have the same needs and experiences, and same basic backgrounds; the same redemption ministered by the same Spirit meets all their needs. As Peter said on the Day of Pentecost -- "all that you see and hear flows from Him". On the Day of Pentecost they had a need, they had crucified Jesus or sinned in like manner. "What shall we do?" they cried. In response, Peter brought to them the comfort of sins forgiven and the. Spirit outpoured which would apply the benefits of the crucified and risen Lord to them all.
The ascension was the climax of the ministry of Jesus for himself. Pentecost was the climax of his ministry for the Apostles.
It was only at Pentecost, by the gift of the Spirit, that the benefits and blessings won by the Lord Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension were applied to the disciples. As one writer has put it "Calvary without Pentecost would not be atonement to us".
It needed Pentecost to bring home the atonement to us, because the work of the Spirit is the bringing home to the believer of the redemptive work of Christ. Jesus portrays the work of the Spirit as the continuation of his own work. The Spirit is his "alter ego" or "Other I". As John 14:15 has it, "If you love me you will obey my commands. I will ask the Father. and He will give you another to be your advocate who will be with you for ever -- the Spirit of Truth". The Spirit takes over therefore where the Lord leaves off, though actually we should not say that the Lord leaves off; the Lord continues through the Spirit. Jesus continues to be present with and in his disciples through the Paraclete (comforter, advocate, helper).
To make clear that he would continue his work through the Spirit, was one of the Lord's purposes in using the words recorded in John 17 in the closing prayer of his ministry, after the discourse we have been considering.
First he prays for strength to go forward in this crucial hour of glorification, that as a result the Father would be glorified, that eternal life should pass through the Lord to the believers. Eternal life speaks here of divine quality now, and not primarily of immortality later. This is clear from v 3 where eternal life is defined as knowing the one who alone is truly God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent.
The Lord then summarises his mission in terms which regard the disciples as God's gift to him, to whom he taught all that he had learnt from the Father, which they had received by faith, seeing Jesus as the one who came from the Father to make them the vehicles of the divine glory.
When he comes to the Father (he speaks of being already on his way, as on a journey), he begs God to protect his disciples and bind them together in a perfect unity, which is none other than the unity of the Spirit. Jesus was here fulfilling his promise of chapter 14:15-16. "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another to be your advocate".
Jesus was praying these words in their presence that they might bring them to remembrance in after years and find joy in realising the relationship of which they spoke. God's Word -- his active proclamation of Himself as well as the Scripture still to be written -- would find lodgement in them. This Word was the Truth -- that is, the fulfilment before which all else was but shadow. This Truth they would now minister to the world as they proclaimed the new age, consecrated as its priests (sanctified KJV) supervised by the heavenly High Priest. (All of which is another way of expressing the work of the Comforter).
In this section of the prayer there is special encouragement for believers today. Jesus specifically says that his prayer is not for his immediate disciples only, but for all who should believe in the Father and the Son through the word that the Apostles should speak.
The objective of the words that the Apostles were going to use in preaching Jesus was that all the believers of all time and of all places should be united; "as thou Father art in me, and I in Thee, so also may they be in us that the world may believe that thou didst send them. The glory which thou gavest me I have given to them that they may be one as we are one, I in them and thou in me. May they be perfectly one. Then the world will learn that thou didst send me, that thou didst love them as thou didst me" (v. 21-23).
And if the prayer of Jesus is that the believers of all time shall share the fellowship of the Father and the Son, then it is certain that the coming of the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, is also for them, as the means of laying hold of the blessings of the Father and the Son.
The prayer of Jesus is the top stone of the whole sequence John 14-17; we are assured by the prayer that the whole of the discourse applies fundamentally to the believers of all time. We can rejoice that the Spirit lifts us into his holy fellowship.
Let us appropriate what God has offered and realise the wonder of receiving the things that belong to Christ, and of having his redemption worked into our experience. Let us by the Spirit share not only Gethsemane and Golgotha but also the resurrection morning and the day of ascension. In Christ may we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him in suffering for others, dying for others, and with self buried, rise to newness of life and heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
We began our study with Pentecost, then went back to the Old Testament prophets, to John the Baptist and to Jesus, before his full glorification, so that we might see the way to Pentecost. Now we consider the way from Pentecost. We have heard prophets foretelling the age of the Spirit: we have seen John the Baptist emphasise the baptism of the Spirit as the greatest of blessings to come; we have listened to the words of the Lord after supper concerning the Comforter, in whom Jesus would come to his disciples and continue his presence and his activity. He would by the Holy Spirit enable them to give effective witness to him: would convict men of sin and make his own redemptive work part of their own inner experience. By the Spirit in the church, the risen and ascended Lord would continue his ministry and take charge of the whole work of bringing the gospel to men and women of all nations.
Pentecost was the beginning of this new phase of the ministry of Jesus. Now we must follow on from Pentecost to see how this supervision of the work by the Lord through the Spirit was effected. We shall be trying to grasp what it must have felt like to have been a member of the church in the first century and as we do so we shall become increasingly aware that the Spirit did not create a situation of continuous wonder working, where what we would call the "supernatural" completely took over and reduced the men and women involved to mere automatons. The Apostles and other believers were still required to study, to think, to discuss, to debate, to weigh practical possibilities, decide on courses of action, show boldness on some occasions and reticence on others; and yet all this activity as well as the overtly supernatural was the Holy Spirit's work. We should therefore be able to recognise in the Book of Acts our own experiences in the church today. If some of the more dramatic features are not part of our experience, yet this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is less active or that the risen and ascended Lord has brought his promised ministry to an end and retired from the scene. And as we become aware of the more "ordinary" activity of the Holy Spirit in the early church so we shall become more certain that the Comforter can be with us today, and having faith in this fact will find our Christian witness, Christian fellowship and Christian living more dynamic.
The book we call "the Acts of the Apostles" might well be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit". Right through, there is an electrifying atmosphere: we feel we are plugged into a very live circuit. And if this has never been switched off we should turn to examine our own Christian experience. Without the written record -- the Bible -- we should be ignorant of Christ, but has an intellectual grasp of that record superseded direct contact with the Living Lord of whom it speaks? The fundamental work of the Lord by the Spirit is surely common to first and twentieth century.
The book of the Acts is the story of the ministry of Christ as he developed his church from a small band of Jews in Jerusalem to a large body of people of every race and colour throughout the Roman Empire. All too often we are preoccupied with the Acts as the epic of Paul's missionary journeys, following them through with geographical and archaeological enthusiasm. In fact it is a highly selective record of "how they brought the good news from Jerusalem to Rome": of how the "paraclete" led the Apostles in the expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea -- to Samaria -- to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). When he was upon earth, the Lord's visible ministry had been largely confined to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel"; now the invisible ministry of the risen Lord breaks these bounds and becomes a light unto the Gentiles and salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6 and Acts 13:47). In other words Acts really is part two of the gospel story told by Luke and it is a story under which "concluded" has never been printed.
Acts chapter 1 makes it quite clear that everything that follows in the book is the story of the witness created and nurtured by the Holy Spirit. Every step that took the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and that developed the band of disciples from Jewish sect to universal church is the result of the power they received when the Holy Spirit came upon them after they had waited in Jerusalem for a short while. The seemingly natural events as well as the "miraculous" are all part of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Why then in our day, when the seemingly natural seems to prevail should we suppose that the Holy Spirit has ceased to operate or that the Lord has abdicated as Living Head?
We have already seen the significance of Pentecost that the real power lay in the gift of ability to witness and the inner witness which convicted multitudes of sin and led them to Jesus as the Christ.
After Pentecost everything was different. Life could never be the same again for the twelve, for the hundred and twenty, or for the three thousand or for anyone who came in touch with this dynamic power from the Lord Jesus seated at the right hand of God, yet present in their midst. Frequently reference is made back to that great day, and again and again the experience is reproduced, although of course there is only one Pentecost as such.
So we pick up the story after Pentecost, as the Lord Jesus continues his ministry through the Apostles.
Peter and John see a cripple begging by the temple gate: gaining his attention, Peter can offer him no silver or gold, but what he has he gives: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" -- and the man does, praising God as he leaps about (Acts 3: 3-10). The crowd are filled with wonder and come surging forward toward Peter and John. Peter meets them with spoken witness to the meaning of the miracle and the essence of his message is that what they are seeing is the evidence that the risen, ascended Lord is at work. They have no power of their own. "The name of Jesus, by awakening faith, has strengthened this man". Jesus -- invisible though he is -- is present and active (v 11-16). In so far as they have been involved, Peter and John have been only the visible ambassadors of their invisible leader. What has been done has been done "in his name" -- as any ambassador acts in the name of his king and country and not as a person in his own right. As Paul declared, God had entrusted them with the message of reconciliation. "We come therefore as Christ's ambassadors" (2 Cor. 5:18-20). The Apostles are men representing their king, one, however, who unlike earthly kings, is actually able to be present in a unique way to carry out his will. This is the theme of Acts, and our own spiritual life, individually and collectively, will be enhanced the more we realise that it is still true.
The story in Acts 3 follows the pattern of chapter 2. Having explained the sign, Peter is guided by the Spirit to speak words to lead them to repentance. He brings into focus the death and resurrection of Jesus, and shows how the promises to Abraham are being fulfilled by the blessing of sins forgiven in Jesus being offered to them, and that all the prophets had been predicting that very time (chapter 3:17-26). There is an outward and inward witness by the Spirit in the Apostles. Jesus is felt to be present and another 2,000 people become believers.
Peter and John are then arrested and stand trial before the Jewish authorities (chapter 4). The question is "by what name have such men as you done this?" The Apostles had no qualifications or authority. It was all very irregular. It is by the "Holy Spirit" that Peter answers. Luke 21:12-18 is being fulfilled.
Christ gives him a power of utterance and a wisdom which no opponent is able to resist or refute. Faced with crisis situations the disciples were to rest on the fact that they had been with Jesus. They would not be studying their notes, as it were, but from the influence that he would still be having on them the right words would come. Similarly today Christians find within themselves power from the Lord to cope. Perhaps they are faced with an exacting situation, of having, on the spot to answer for their beliefs (for example, through refusal to join a strike which would involve others in suffering): they have no opportunity to prepare a well reasoned case -- so they rest on their overall knowledge of Christ and trust in his promise to guide and help them.
Peter's answer on this occasion is that the cure has been wrought by "the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" (4:10). This constant use of the phrase "name" is meant to indicate both the presence of Jesus in their midst and the authority which this gives to them. The Jews were used to things being done in the name of God -- but now God has come very close in Jesus ("of Nazareth" being added to stress his humanity) and Jesus was in fact the Father's representative; now there was no other name through whom salvation might come. Heaven has broken into the affairs of earth in an unparalleled way and is in the midst of the new Christian group. Peter is proclaiming clearly that the ministry of Jesus is continuing, in spite of the fact that the Jewish authorities thought they had put an end to it. The whole scene is electrifying -- Jesus is very much active in this episode (4:8-12).
Men then marvel at the boldness of Peter and John -- mere untrained laymen -- and then suddenly remember having seen them previously with Jesus. The critics are defeated, have to acknowledge the miracle, and tamely order that preaching in the name of Jesus must cease. Peter replies that this is utterly impossible -- not merely that they do not want to obey -- but they cannot. They are moved by a mighty inner call:
Being freed they rejoin the church in a service of praise at which they unite in singing Psalm 2 and applying this "Kingdom" psalm to the Lord's past encounter and his current battle with the Jewish and Gentile authorities. They invoke God's promise to defeat the enemy in a way which recognises the living God and his Messiah as being in their situation. They also take up the Lord's promise that after the Comforter had come they would be able to go direct to the Father (John 16:23-24). They look to heaven for boldness in speaking the word and ask for more signs and wonders "through the name of thy servant Jesus". Their prayer over, the building rocks, they are all filled with the Holy Spirit and they "speak the word of God with boldness" (chapter 5:23-31).
How did it come about that they were then filled with the Holy Spirit. Had this not happened on Pentecost? The answer lies in looking at the occasions when the phrase is used. Often it is used when a specially powerful action of the Spirit is being noted in people who had already received the Spirit anyway (see Acts 4, 8, 13, 9). This repeated filling with the Holy Spirit has been likened to a container being "topped up". There is one outpouring at the time of conversion and then a repeated topping up. In the present case even before the house rocked they were filled with the Holy Spirit, for Christian hymn singing is said by Paul, as we shall see later, to be the consequence of letting the Holy Spirit fill you (Eph. 5:18-20). Then after the hymn and prayer they were filled even more!
The story of the Acts of the Holy Spirit continues with the Lord blending activity which appeared supernatural with that which would not appear particularly miraculous. Thus the Apostles bore witness with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and there was a decision made to pool many of the material resources of the members of the Church. No voice thundered from heaven to tell them to do this. It was a consequence -- a natural consequence, if one might so say -- of the fact that the Spirit had mused the "whole body of the believers to be united in heart and soul". So when Annanias and Sapphira practise deception it is to the Holy Spirit that they have lied (5:4); it is the Spirit of the Lord (v 9) that has been put to the test. And consequently the Lord from heaven strikes them down. They had not lied to men but to God -- i.e. the Holy Spirit in the Church. Some say that the death of Annanias and Sapphira was not a miracle but the result of violent fear when found out -- a fear which in the exalted atmosphere of the church at the time brought on a stroke. I would have thought this was still a miracle, for the exalted atmosphere of the church was due to the Lord's presence in their midst.
Chapter 5 continues with the story of people flocking into Jerusalem to be healed: of further arrest and rescue by an angel (messenger) of God. Peter's reply to the Sanhedrin when accused of defiance was boldly to accuse them of killing Jesus, who however was very much alive and from his heavenly throne, very near to Israel, available as a leader and a saviour to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. The Apostles were witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus and so, indeed, was "the Holy Spirit given by God to those who are obedient to him" (5:31-32). In other words all who joined the church received the inner witness of the Holy Spirit which gave them conviction of sin (John 16:9-11) and certainty of salvation as the things of Christ were mediated to them (John 16:13-15). Peter is speaking here of the inner working of the Spirit in all Christians, not the outward signs which were mainly in the hands of the Apostles. Gamaliel takes the point and urges caution. The Apostles went on with their work in joy (5:33-42).
The work of the church grows and matters of practical administration (serving tables) are taking up a lot of the Apostles' time (chapter 6:1-6). Quarrels over poor relief are occurring and the twelve make a sensible decision to delegate these responsibilities. No doubt they would have considered it a decision of the Spirit, but it was taken in a natural enough manner. The qualifications of the helpers are instructive. They were to be of good reputation -- men of integrity who could be trusted with handling money; "full of the Spirit and of wisdom". Not just full of the Holy Spirit -- they were required to have natural wisdom, to be capable of handling delicate human situations. This was something being full of the Holy Spirit did not ensure. So in our own day we will have known men of great spirituality, who were nevertheless hopelessly impractical. The Holy Spirit did not overrule men's lack of aptitude, though it would heighten what natural aptitude they possessed. The apparently "ordinary" nature of the conduct of affairs in this Spirit-guided community is brought out in the phrase "this proposal proved acceptable to the whole body" (v 5) and the apostles laid their hands on them, as a token of association and approval, not as a means of conveying the Spirit.
Stephen in particular comes to the fore. He was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (v 5). A man of deep trust in the living Christ, he is also said to be full of the Holy Spirit, which is elsewhere said to be the cause of deep faith. He is full of grace and power, and he works miracles: but the outstanding feature of his activity is the inspired wisdom which enables him to refute the arguments of his adversaries who engineer his arrest.
His speech before the Council is obviously a Spirit-inspired one, but it was not received like tablets of stone from heaven: it could only have come from the lips of one steeped in the Scriptures and who had meditated much on the meaning of God's dealings with Israel. Neither Stephen's speech, nor the inspired utterances of the prophets of former ages, would have had much impact if they had not represented personal convictions. Few speeches have been so subtle as Stephen's exposition which showed how in the history of the patriarchs God appeared in strange places, usually outside the holy land; the presence of God made a place holy; it wasn't a question of the holiness of a place attracting God's presence. Moreover the custodians of the law had failed and rejected Moses and all subsequent prophets. Eventually they see what he is driving at and presumably interrupt him, provoking his final outburst, which "touched them on the raw and they ground their teeth with fury".
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen is granted a specially intimate awareness of the source of the Church's power. He sees what the whole of the book of Acts is based upon: "the glory of God and Jesus standing at God's right hand". So real is this vision that he calls to the Lord to receive his spirit and dies, like his Lord, forgiving his enemies. It is not clear in what sense he saw -- he would hardly have seen God literally; no doubt he saw in the sense of John 16:16 "a little while and ye shall see me" -- i.e. he was intensely aware of the Lord's presence.
The Stephen episode brings out the interplay of human decision and divine guidance. The whole advance of the gospel is in the hands of the Lord Jesus; the Spirit is guiding affairs -- yet many stages appear quite normal. Men feel moved to take a certain line. Stephen introduces a new element into the church. Up to his appearance the Pharisee and Levitical element had been friendly, a great company of priests had believed (6:6) and the church met in the temple as well as in private houses. Stephen does not appear to have had any commission to alter this - but effectively this was his achievement. The Apostles had not linked themselves with his public debating and in fact were able to stay in Jerusalem after his death. In general however, Stephen's martyrdom got the church on the move into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1 cf 1:8) and things were never the same thereafter. The Lord of the church worked through the insights of a man like Stephen in an apparently natural way rather than instruct the Apostles to get out into Judea and Samaria.
Philip, another of the "deacons", moved out into Samaria, preached the gospel and healed the sick. Many were baptised from among the despised Samaritans and now the Apostles are drawn (providentially i.e. by the living Lord) out of Jerusalem to investigate. The baptism of the Samaritans is unique, for the Lord deliberately withholds the Spirit from them: the fullness of Christian awareness of the living Christ did not come to them at once. This was to give the opportunity for the new move away from Jerusalem into semi-Gentile territory to receive the double approval of the Apostles and the Holy Spirit for when the Apostles laid their hands upon them as the token of approval, at the same time, in response to Apostolic prayer, the Lord laid his hands upon them and granted the Holy Spirit (chapter 8: 1-25.
Simon the Sorcerer completely misinterpreted the episode along purely physical lines and sought to buy the power to lay hands on people and grant them the Holy Spirit, failing to see that the Lord was the giver of the Spirit in response here to the prayers of faithful men.
Next Philip is led by the Spirit into the wilderness and a eunuch, one not allowed in the Jewish sanctuary, is admitted to the true sanctuary. (chapter 8: 26-40).
Leaving Saul on one side for the moment -- he has been introduced here, because the entry of the Gentiles is about to come to a head -- we learn that the persecution after Stephen soon subsided and the church was left in peace to build up its strength. "In fear of the Lord, upheld by the Holy Spirit, it held on its way and grew in numbers" (chapter 9:31). No special event is here referred to. Just everything that happened to the Church was the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the same key Peter healing Aeneas, says "Jesus Christ cures you", and those who were converted in Lydda and Sharon are said to "turn to the Lord", or at Joppa "to believe in the Lord" (Acts 9:32-43). At every step there is consciousness of the presence in the church of the living Lord.
Now we reach a vital step in the outgoing procession of the gospel. Individual Gentiles have joined the church: now a semi-proselyte (a God fearer who stood on the edge of Jewry) is about to be received into the church with the blessing of heaven and the approval of the Apostles in Jerusalem. Accordingly Acts chapter 10 might be termed "the record of the Gentile Pentecost" for here it is that the Holy Spirit authenticates, beyond all doubt, the call of the Gentiles into the church, without their first having to become Jews. In accordance with Joel's prophecy, the Lord makes use of visions to prepare the ground: a directly instructional vision to Cornelius giving Peter's name and address, and a vivid lesson to Peter. Peter falls asleep on the housetop, while waiting for dinner which seems to be late (even delayed dinners enter into the Spirit's calculations); he dreams and three times is taught not to call unclean what God calls clean.
Peter goes to Cornelius and after acknowledging what has now clicked into position for him, that God is no respecter of persons nor, therefore of racial differences (cf Rom. 3:29-30), he proceeds to give his normal presentation of the gospel, with basic facts about the ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and his role as judge of quick and dead.
He has just reached the point in the message that forgiveness of sins is available to those who trust in Jesus, and is about to go on to his appeal for repentance, when suddenly, while he is yet speaking, saving him any doubt about whether the appeal should be made, the Holy Spirit falls on all the listeners. The presence of the Spirit is indisputable, for outward evidence is given by the gift of tongues. In utter astonishment Peter and his Jewish colleagues can do no other than acquiesce in the revealed will of the Lord who is the head of the Church -- and water baptism follows the Spirit baptism. The order is unusual because the situation is unique: usually the Lord who has brought faith to fruition, enters fully into the believer's life in association with his act of commitment -- but here the Lord's entry came first and the formal commitment second.
Peter then has to appear before the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. He and his supporters state the facts in the face of the suspicion of those who still think it a sin to eat with the uncircumcised. He virtually describes what happened in the house of Cornelius as a repeat of Pentecost. "The Holy Spirit came upon them, just as upon us at the beginning". Peter comments that when it happened he grasped the meaning of Matt. 3:11 and Acts 1:5. The Spirit of Truth (John 14:26; 16:13) brought to his mind the words: "John baptised with water but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit". "God gave them no less a gift than he gave us when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ: then how could I possibly stand in God's way" (11:16-17).
What could Jerusalem do but acquiesce? We can hear the tone of awe in their voices: "when they heard this their doubts were silenced: they gave praise to God and said, 'this means God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles also'". Thus did the Spirit crack open a rigid mentality which would otherwise have impeded the progress of the Truth in Jesus (11:18).
Note that Peter says that the Holy Spirit came to the disciples when they put their trust in Jesus. Perhaps this is the moment at which the Holy Spirit may be said to take up residence in the believer. Every believer has his Pentecost and only through it can he enter into the full persuasion and inner experience of the Lord's death and resurrection.
This chapter has shown how the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the means whereby the Lord leads his church in the way he wants it to go. It does not supersede human will and decision: it is not overtly miraculous all the time: the fundamental concept of the work of the Spirit is that the absent Lord is present in his church, moving it how he will; whether the outward appearances are normal or supernatural he will never go back on his promises recorded in John 14-17 to send the Comforter to the Church. We have been seeing the outworking of Matt. 28:18-20.
This has never been revoked. It is still true that the love of God in Christ Jesus is made real to the believers by the Spirit. During his visible ministry Jesus was Emmanuel -- God with us. Since then the Spirit represents the ascended Jesus and is Jesus with us.
The Gentile Pentecost, involving the conversion of Cornelius and his household prepared the way for wider developments in which Paul, rather than Peter is the key figure. However, as in the earlier events, the Lord Jesus is really the central figure and neither Peter or Paul. He is the invisible head supervising, from the throne of God, and by the Spirit, all that took place in the church, both externally and within the hearts of the believers, both in the apparently supernatural and in the seemingly natural. Saul (or Paul) is introduced into the story before the Cornelius episode, in the way that Acts has of presenting the main characters a little ahead of the stories in which they are going to figure.
Saul is on his way to Damascus resolved to destroy the influence of the growing church, when the blinding light of the Lord's glorified presence strikes him and the question assails him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" In these, the very first words Paul heard from the lips of Jesus, was locked the whole principle of the Lord's dwelling in the church, which is his body. To persecute the church was to persecute the Lord who dwelt in it. The ministry of the Church was the continuation of the ministry of the Lord. Saul reacts to the voice and the glory in reverence: "Tell me Lord, who are you?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:1-9).
The exalted position of Jesus is demonstrated by his acceptance of the title Lord, which in the Old Testament would have been Yahweh (applied to Jesus out of Isaiah 45 in Philippians 2), yet at the same time the Lord shows his solidarity with the church by using the word "me" of them. It is noteworthy that through the Acts, Jesus is referred to as the Lord -- or put the other way, wherever the Lord is mentioned he is normally Jesus. This harmonises with the picture we are seeing, of Jesus as the Lord of the church, from his heavenly seat controlling and guiding all their affairs by the Spirit.
"The Lord" speaks to Ananias. (Five times he is so described in verses 10-16). Ananias receives his instructions to go to the praying Saul, who is the Lord's personally chosen instrument to bring his name before the Gentiles, rulers and Israel. The Lord is continuing his ministry and chooses an extra apostle as specifically as he chose the original twelve. The Holy Spirit is going to work through Saul's natural qualifications: a Greek speaking man of culture to speak to Gentiles; a Roman citizen to speak to rulers; a Pharisee of the Pharisees to speak to Israel. Christ is going personally to supervise his initiation: "I myself will show him all that he must go through for my name's sake". As Paul tells the Galatians: "God chose to reveal his son to me and through me".
Ananias goes to Saul, who recovers his lost sight and is filled with the Holy Spirit. These were the two main objectives of the visit. Saul is then baptised as the outward mark of his commitment and starts on his witness. The Spirit leads him along in a natural way: he grows "more and more forceful" (v 22) in his presentation of the facts in Damascus, after first having stayed a while in Arabia to think through his course (Gal. 1:17). Three years after his conversion (which in Hebrew idiom could mean as little as 18 months -- i.e. part of three years) he visits Jerusalem, meets Peter and James, while the other Apostles are out of town, and preaches in Jerusalem to the Greek speaking Jews, though he was still unknown in Judea and finally has to flee for his life, back home to Tarsus. Thus we may link together harmoniously Acts 9:29-30 compared with Galatians 1:15-22: the picture which emerges is of natural temperament reacting to spiritual revelation to cause Paul to throw himself into the work both at Damascus and Jerusalem. However, the time was not yet ripe and the living Lord by the Spirit contrives events in a seemingly natural way to drive Saul back for a period of some ten years in the Tarsus area where his experience of preaching to Gentiles would be developed out of the glare of publicity.
Meanwhile the Cornelius conversion and the Stephen scattering had led some to preach to Gentiles in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:19-21). "The power of the Lord was with them, and a. great many became believers, and turned to the Lord". The Lord is the power behind the continuance of his own ministry.
Jerusalem hears and the church chooses Barnabas to inspect the work: absolutely the right man -- a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. The Holy Spirit is one of his three qualifications mentioned. He sizes up the situation and thinks: "I know just the man for this" and off he goes to Tarsus for Saul. Again the Holy Spirit doesn't supernaturalise the situation: Barnabas has to look for Saul -- he has no address: the phrase "and when he had found him" suggests a search. Then for a year Saul and Barnabas minister in Antioch, where the believers are called Christians and not just a sect of the Jews .
While this is going on Agabus has a Spirit-guided message that a world famine is about to start and apparently because the brethren in Jerusalem are particularly vulnerable, the Antioch disciples "agreed" to make a contribution, each according to his means, for the relief of the brethren in Judea. The decision was one taken quite spontaneously, as 1ove's response to the Spirit's revelation: no edict from heaven instructed them. The decision reached, who better to take the gift than Barnabas and Saul (11:30). Acts tells us nothing of this visit to Jerusalem, except that "Barnabas and Saul, their task fulfilled, returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John Mark".
For further details of this, Paul's second visit to Jerusalem, we have to go to Galatians 2, where we learn that Paul went up because it had been "revealed by God" that he should do so. This would sound, if we had no other information, as if an edict from heaven had sent Paul and Barnabas. In fact this particular act of the Spirit was a combination of supernatural and seemingly natural. The fact of the famine was revealed in an abnormal manner; but the decision to send help and the selection of Barnabas and Saul was the result of common sense spiritual decision. But as far as Paul is concerned it is all part of the revelation by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Paul would have attributed to the Holy Spirit many of our decisions on Christian activity in the twentieth century that we do not think of in that way. The two ages are not so different in kind.
This visit to Jerusalem also has other features which Paul would feel by the Spirit, even though his own decision-taking qualities and inmost emotions were involved. Too "miraculous" a view of inspiration robs it of its vital qualities and fails to take sufficient account of the human instruments God is pleased to use. Galatians for example is too dynamic a description of a real man's reactions to be a piece of word by word automatic dictation. And it is in Galatians that we find greater detail of what happened on the second Jerusalem visit. Were the Jerusalem Jews going to accept these same Gentiles, just as they were, as Christian brethren? Hence the uncircumcised Titus was taken to help probably with the purchase and conveyance of relief food supplies and Paul refuses to allow Titus to be circumcised (v 1-5).
The Apostles approved Paul's course and recognised Paul (or Saul as he was still known) as the Apostle to the Gentiles, on the basis of his Tarsus and Antioch ministries over the previous ten years. The NEB uses the word "consultation" and the flavour is of urgent discussion and careful weighing up of possibilities, seeking devoutly to know the will of the Lord. Decision is reached -- not miraculously imposed -- and they shake hands on it (extend the right hand of fellowship) dividing the field of labour and only requiring that Paul shall keep the poor in mind, as indeed he was eager to do (v 6-10). To help them reach the decision Paul "laid before them" the gospel he preached to the Gentiles (v 2): this is another phrase implying human judgment. Yet the whole episode was cited revelation and was the work of the Spirit -- the guidance of the living Lord.
An important issue that must be faced is that the presence of the Spirit did not ensure infallibility, for a little later, Peter is in Antioch, (perhaps the "elsewhere" of Acts 12:17 NEB -- to which Peter fled from Herod) and plays false by not eating with Gentile brethren. Even Barnabas gets caught up in the act of cowardice along with the Jewish brethren (Galatians 2:11-13), and Paul has to rebuke them with Spirit-filled vigour, anger and wisdom to ensure that a racist approach to salvation is not allowed to prevail. Eventually the whole Jerusalem church accepts Paul's stand -- but the total work of the Spirit is an interplay of human judgment with overt divine revelation. The open revelation appears to be kept to the minimum necessary, for God seeks voluntary obedience from free agents. Is it any different today? We have the same living Lord invisibly presiding over the interplay of revelation from the Bible with wisdom, experience and knowledge in the minds of prayerful men and women, together with practical circumstances and exercise of judgment. Should we not wait upon the Spirit as they did?
Paul and Barnabas were sent out on the first missionary journey after a group session of fasting and prayer during which they received indication that the Holy Spirit required Barnabas and Saul to start on the work to which they had been called. The report of the division of labour agreed upon at Jerusalem led to the special prayer and fasting: having waited upon the Lord, the conviction pressed upon them that the Spirit was at work in the proposal to make a start (13:1-3). The elders of Antioch gave their blessing (by laying on of hands) after further fasting and prayer and "let them go" -- which phrase suggests that the purpose of the whole session was to decide "shall we let them go?" -- and when they went they were sent not by Antioch elders, as such, but "by the Holy Spirit" (v 4).
The first missionary journey shows us Paul "filled with the Holy Spirit" (v 9) whether rebuking Elymas or preaching in the Pisidian synagogue. What he preached was the word of the Lord (v 46, 48, 49) -- indicating whose ministry it really was. And the consequence of the preaching was that "the converts were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit".
One little sideline on the apparent "naturalness" of much of the Holy Spirit's work is the John Mark episode. He deserted Barnabas and Paul probably because he feared the Jerusalem reaction to moving into such completely Gentile territory (13:14): when the Jerusalem council had approved such action, then he was willing to resume with Paul and Barnabas. Disagreement over this, split the Paul-Barnabas partnership. Thus two men filled with the Holy Spirit came to a totally different judgment over the reliability of Mark, to the point of parting. They both remained faithful Christians, but there was no automatic assurance of inerrancy in the fact that they were inspired men. This makes the record of the Acts much nearer to our own recognisable experiences than we normally think. This is why later on when Paul is telling the Thessalonians not to quench the Spirit, he instructs them to "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good".
The missionary journey had its quota of what we would acknowledge as miraculous signs and wonders -- though side by side with that, the Lord Jesus permitted Paul and Barnabas to labour under human limitations, so that owing to ignorance of the local language it took them a little while to realise that the men of Lystra had mistaken them for the gods, Jupiter and Mercury (14:8-17). Neither did the Holy Spirit give the disciples the medical knowledge to distinguish between death and concussion when Paul had been stoned (14:19).
And so back they came to Antioch to report the success of the venture which they described as the work of God through them, of "throwing open the gates of faith to the Gentiles" (v 26-27).
The saga continues. A contingent from Jerusalem hears of Paul's work and comes to Antioch to demand that all Gentile converts be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas fought against this, seeing clearly that salvation by Jesus plus circumcision is not salvation by Jesus at all. To add to the conditions of salvation is to destroy the redemptive work of Christ, whether the extra conditions be legal as in this case or intellectual as in Colosse.
"So it was arranged" that Paul, Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem and confer with the Apostles and elders (Chapter 15:1-2). "It was arranged" -- a perfectly normal procedure from one angle: the work of the Spirit from another. And so indeed with the whole of the Jerusalem conference. There was a long debate (v 6-7). Peter retold the story of Cornelius -- the Father had shown his approval by giving Gentiles the Holy Spirit and letting them share the grace of the Lord Jesus (v 8-1I). Paul and Barnabas told the story of what God had done through them on their missionary journey (v 12). James summed up and gave his "judgment", just as might happen in our own day, that in addition to obviously avoiding temple prostitution, for the sake of the feelings of the Jews they should also avoid idol temple meat which had been bled improperly as far as the Jews were concerned (v 13-21).
They then proposed a resolution to choose representatives to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to convey the decision. The church passed this resolution unanimously and a letter was composed announcing the decision as being taken by the Holy Spirit and themselves. (The familiar words of the KJV are: "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us"). Note too that the object of sending Judas and Silas was to vouch for the authenticity of the letter, which was received in Antioch with great joy. The way was now wide open for Gentiles to flood into the church through the gates of faith which had been opened. Men's prayerful thought had been involved: "It seemed good to us". The Holy Spirit had been the hidden doer of it all: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit". The Lord Jesus was in command of this vital stage of the operation as of all the rest before and since.
The same principles shine through the rest of the book of Acts: seemingly supernatural and apparently natural are found side by side throughout. How did the Holy Spirit keep Paul and Silas out of Asia (16:6) and the Spirit of Jesus (the same Spirit) keep them out of Bithynia (v 8-9)? We are not told: it could have been by most natural methods. It was a dream that took them into Europe, and even there in the words of the NEB "they concluded that God had called us to bring them the good news" -- they concluded, obviously after deliberation on the hindrances and the dream in the total context (v 10).
Language like the "Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul said" reflects the idea of the Lord Jesus making the words of his preachers effective in the hearts of the listeners (16:14-15) by the Spirit. Chapter 17 suggests the "natural" reaction of a spiritual man to a devout but misled city, leading him to seek to win attention. Paul would have regarded it as the leading of the Spirit.
In Corinth the Lord had many people and secured Paul's safety (Acts 18:9) and when he left, he assured the Corinthians that he would come back to them if it was God's will.
At Ephesus Paul met some believers who had been baptised by John the Baptist but were ignorant that to be complete in their relationship with God they needed to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19: l-7). They had never come to the stage where they put their trust in the one who had come, even the Lord Jesus. Therefore there was no basis on which the Spirit could take of the things of Jesus and manifest them in their experiences (John 16:14-15). Christ could not dwell in their hearts by faith if they were ignorant of him. Paul remedied this: as a token of their commitment they were baptised with water and the Spirit filled them, including in the experience outward tokens like ability to talk in tongues.
The hidden leader of the church was vividly active at Ephesus. Cures were effected by Jesus through contact with Paul's skin: exorcisms occurred and false wonder workers were put to shame and "the name of the Lord Jesus gained in honour" -- there was recognition of the personage behind it all (chapter 19:17). Magic fled before him, for the Spirit was not just regarded as a superior form of magic (19:18-20).
Eventually "Paul, led by the Spirit, resolved to visit Macedonia and Achaia and then go on to Jerusalem". So the NEB margin renders v 21. It is a combination of the Spirit at work with Paul's personal resolution. The Spirit was in the apparently natural exercise of his will.
Similarly in the riot over Diana of the Ephesians there was a perfectly normal interplay of human reactions: Paul seeking to go into the throng, other equally Spirit-filled brethren holding him back (19: 30). Paul's further movements abound with phrases like "he decided" (20:16).
His farewell message to the elders at Ephesus sums up how he regarded his mission as he led people to trust in the Lord Jesus. His journey to Jerusalem, now beginning, was "under the constraint of the Spirit", though by his own resolution. The Holy Spirit had assured him of trouble ahead. His advice to the elders was to keep watch over themselves and over all the flock of which the Holy Spirit had given them charge, as shepherds of the Church of the Lord (20: 28). And this advice is surely no less appropriate to elders of the church in the twentieth century.
As he approaches Jerusalem the interplay of Spirit-guided prediction and human decision is very closely linked, Agabus whose utterances had previously sparked off, but not instructed, a course of action (Acts 11: 27-30), again foretells the effects of Paul's further journeying toward Jerusalem. His words were words of the Holy Spirit (Acts 21:11). The inspired picture of Paul in bonds could logically have led to his calling off the trip. But rather Paul chose to regard the warning as one designed to nerve him for the trouble ahead, certainly not to cause him to back out of taking the collection to Jerusalem. "Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus". The rest of them then gave up "as he would not be persuaded". "The Lord's will be done". His rejection of the advice which they had deduced from the Spirit's information did not alter the fact that the Spirit was still in charge (Acts 21:12-14). That this assessment is true is evident from the remainder of the book of Acts.
A number of human decisions were the raw materials out of which the Spirit brought Paul to Rome where he was required by the Lord. There was the decision to pay the expenses of the four men with a vow and to be associated with Jewish orthodoxy in the minds of the people: out of respect for the Apostles there was a measure of compromise here, but it did not secure a quiet passage for the church. The insult to the High Priest; the subtly divisive cry about the resurrection; the use of his nephew's information about a plot to kill him; the respectful tone of his address to Felix; his decision to appeal to Caesar -- these are not the words of a puppet on a string, manipulated by supernatural power. He tells the story to Agrippa as one who lived continuously in the presence of his Lord (Acts 26:22). That the Lord was in the whole sequence is evident from the whisper that came to him when things look most desperate: "Keep up your courage: you have affirmed the truth about me in Jerusalem, and you must do the same in Rome" (Acts 23:11).
The shipwreck episode (Acts 27) is another beautiful blend of Paul, the man of decision and determination, with Paul the instrument of his living Lord. He is the man who gives practical advice about venturing into the winter seas (v 10); who maintains morale in the storm (v 21-26); who stops the sailors from abandoning the ship, virtually giving orders to the centurion (v 27-32); who gets the passengers and crew to eat (v 33-38). A giant of a man who dominated the scene! The secret of his power -- the Lord "whose I am and whom I serve"; the God in whom he trusted that things would turn out as he had been told (v 21-26).
And so to Rome: and this is by no means the end of Paul's story. He was released and re-imprisoned before he passed off the scene, as the epistles indicate. But the Book of Acts is not Paul's story, but the Acts of the Holy Spirit -- or how they brought the good news from Jerusalem to Rome. We leave Paul still at it explaining that for the Hope of Israel he was bound -- that is, he was bound because of his testimony that what Israel hoped for and the one in whom they hoped (Jer. 14:8) had now come in the person of Jesus; and that if Jews rejected him, Gentiles would be glad to receive him (Acts 28).
Thus we have seen in two chapters on the events recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, a major development of the Lord's ministry, which was just as much his ministry as the earthly one recorded in the four gospels and yet while we have considered the work of the Holy Spirit, the events have been brought more within the range of our own experience as Christians. We have seen the part played by human judgment and decision in what is nevertheless the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into which name Jesus commanded that men be baptised. We have tried to avoid the error which by overstressing what we call miracle and supernatural and overlooking human involvement, removes the experiences of the early church from the realm of our practical fellowship. The "miraculous" element may not be evident today, but it would be a mistake to assume that a Christian in the first century was different from one in the twentieth. In both centuries the church is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit.