In the previous instalment of this little series we looked at the final commandments of Yeshua before He left the church to grow for herself. If you would like a metaphor, we could say that the disciples were like 11 seedlings which had been nurtured nicely in the greenhouse, and were now ready to be planted out. However, without the daily input of their Rabbi, Yeshua, they were going to have to learn to live a life led by the Holy Spirit.
There is a tendency within the church to believe that we are the only recipients of the Holy Spirit; that before the Cross, the Holy Spirit wasn’t available. There is a tendency within the church to believe that we have it all sorted out; that Yeshua will return soon and tell us all how pleased He is with us. Both of these statements are, sadly, untrue. Unless we reform and get back to what we should have done, Yeshua will be far from pleased. And the Holy Spirit was frequently poured out upon and given to all sorts of people throughout history.
I stated in Part One of this series that I believe that the reason why we are not seeing the kind of signs and wonders which we find in the book of Acts is two-fold. You will notice I wrote the kind of signs and wonders. That’s because we do see the supernatural occurring in some church meetings. We hear claims of much more. Actually witnessing such events is rarer. The truth is, that which is supernatural going on out there is, for a very large part, counterfeit. So that is why I used the phrase I did. The kind of signs and wonders which surrounded the disciples; the kind of miracles which Yeshua performed, are simply not seen. I know there are many that claim they are seeing them daily, but if they were, don’t you think they would be making the news? Of course, defenders of this counterfeit supernatural movement will tell you that the reason why we don’t see it on the news is because the media is run by Satan. That may be true. Satan may well be in control of the media, but the truth really is that genuine acts of God are very rare indeed these days.
My guess is that there are some who do witness the kind of signs and wonders of which I speak, but, as I said in Part One, it only really happens under two conditions. Firstly, it requires people who accept God’s plan no matter what that might involve – absolute submission to His will. And secondly, they have learned how to empty themselves so much that the Holy Spirit can fill them to absolute over flowing. The signs and wonders are, in fact, the evidence of that overflow. Of course, the reason why we don’t get to hear about the genuine signs and wonders these days because God will only work such miracles through people who don’t brag about it or promote themselves…ever. Paul never bragged of the miracles he witnessed. Never. And that is how to tell that what is being promoted out there on the internet is not, in fact, a work of the Holy Spirit, but, instead, a counterfeit act performed by a demon in order to deceive people into counterfeit religion.
Let us make no mistake about this – the warnings to be found in the words of Yeshua and the letters of Paul, have all been ignored. Time is now very short. The church has to reform or what is coming will appear perfectly acceptable to even the elect. Satan’s counterfeit religion will beguile Hebrews and Christians alike. He has been practicing getting it just right for hundreds of years. The church are under the impression that they are exempt from such enchantment; that they have the Holy Spirit. Perhaps part of the church does. But not all. And certainly not all who claim to be moving in the Holy Spirit or holding so-called Holy Ghost revival meetings. Cheap parlour tricks for the most. Even the Pharaoh’s magicians could replicate some of the signs and wonders of Aaron and Moses.
The trouble is, because we only see the counterfeit, we are easily swayed by it. Anything supernatural will do. We have no idea what the genuine thing will look like. Well, that’s not quite true – we know what it should look like from the pages of the New Testament. In a way, where we are right now, as a global church, is pretty much in the same position that the disciples found themselves in after the resurrection. They didn’t know exactly what to expect. They knew about the Holy Spirit, both from the pages of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and from Yeshua. But those descriptions can only go a certain distance. Actually experiencing the Holy Spirit is a very different matter.
Famously, we all know how the opening of the second chapter of the book of Acts goes. We have heard it every Pentecost Sunday for the last million years or so. It is preached with an expectancy in the air, as if saying the words will provoke the person of the Holy Spirit to make any appearance. Like the very words are part of some magical incantation. Or it is preached as if His full power was already manifest in the building – as if preaching it somehow proved it. Believe me, if His full power was already manifest, there wouldn’t be any need for preaching. Everyone would be on the floor repenting. When we take a look at what actually happened that day, see if you can spot the differences between now and then.
The events of Pentecost really start with the ascension of Yeshua seven to ten days beforehand. Pentecost, or to call it by the correct name, Shavuot, is fifty days after Passover and we know that Yeshua appeared to people for forty days before He ascended (Acts 1:3), which means that the disciples (by now 120 in number) had between seven and ten days to wait, as commanded, in Jerusalem for power to be given from on high. Why seven to ten days? Well, ignore what we as Christians know about Pentecost, which is calculated as 49 days after Easter. The Hebrews, however, count 49 days from the second day of Passover and on the next day (the 50th day) they celebrate Shavuot. Yeshua was in the tomb for three of those days, hence seven to ten days, depending on when you start counting.
The Feast of Shavuot is one of seven feasts which occur on the Hebrew calendar. It is there to mark the giving of the Law to Moses from heaven. For Christians it represents the giving of the Holy spirit from heaven. It is one of the three compulsory feasts which the Hebrews had to attend each year in Jerusalem. This brought Hebrews from all over the then known world into the city. This is important to note because God used that particular feast to kick-start the spread of the gospel. We will come onto that in the next instalment. First, we must look at what led up to the spread of the gospel.
Yeshua had His final face to face meeting with the disciples atop of the Mount of Olives. There He charged them with remaining in Jerusalem to wait for the Promise of the Father, before telling them that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The word used here, in Greek, is baptizo , which means to dip or sink into. He compared it to John’s baptism in water. In other words a complete soaking; a drenching.
Naturally, the disciples were still expecting His Kingdom to be established upon the earth in the very near future, so they asked if the giving of the promised Holy Spirit would coincide with the Kingdom. Yeshua steers them away from wondering about such things and then He tells them why:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8 NKJV]
So, the coming of the Kingdom will happen after these things. Here He was giving them the instructions for the very purpose of, not only His three year discipleship course, but what the church is actually for. Power will be given from on high for the purpose of spreading the gospel. He tells them that with that power, which is not their own, they will become witnesses to Him. The Holy Spirit is only given for this purpose, and for no other, as you will see as we go along.
I need to recap that passage because it so vitally important that we don’t misunderstand why God chooses to pour out His Spirit. The Spirit of God is poured out for the sole purpose of the recipients becoming witnesses to Him. No other reason. Despite what certain preachers might tell you.
Yeshua continues by saying where this witness will take place: First in Jerusalem, and then in all of Judea, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. To put that in a modern context for us hoping to spread the good news today: Firstly, where you are; then into the surrounding areas; then to a place of intense opposition (the Hebrews and Samaritans still maintain a long running hatred of each other), and then to the ends of the earth. Today, it seems to me that we like to do that in the wrong order.
We are happy to rush off to India or Africa to preach the gospel whilst our own towns and cities flounder without the knowledge of His salvation. It doesn’t seem right to me. I know God well enough to say with confidence that He is more than capable of raising up people in any country He chooses to spread the gospel, all in the same principle of firstly where they are and then moving out in increasing circles or ripples. Why do we do it the wrong way around? Perhaps because we haven’t waited to receive the power of the Holy Spirit from on high first? Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we are doing little more than freelancing. I should know. I’ve been doing it most of my life. We have to learn obedience first. We read Acts and want it to be like that in our towns and then when nothing happens after we put on an Alpha course or something else which God hasn’t sanctioned, we send a mission off to some third world country, who were getting on just fine without us. It’s exactly what we did with the Crusades and the building of the British Empire. We weren’t trying to win souls for God – we were trying to make people think like us. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If you want it like it is in the book of Acts, then we need to do what they did. And that starts with being obedient.
If you take a look at Acts 1:12-14 you will see the evidence of their obedience. They came down from the mountain after Yeshua had ascended to heaven and they returned to what is known as the Upper Room. Notice what it says in verse 14:
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…” [Acts 1:14a NKJV]
With one accord. Did you notice that? If your choice of translation is the NIV you will have read something else. The NIV rendering of this short phrase is this:
“They all joined together constantly in prayer…”
Now, considering that both the NIV and the NKJV claim to use the same source documents for translation, I find it surprising that the translators failed to pick up on such an important point. And it isn’t a one-off oversight for the NIV either, it occurs several times throughout the book of Acts.
Why am I making such a big deal out of this? Well, because you can be joined together constantly in prayer with other people but still not be of one accord with them. I want you to imagine this for a moment: Imagine being in that upper room amongst the 120 people we know were present. Imagine actually being at one with everyone there – all of the same mind and the same heart with one another. Tell me honestly, have you ever actually been to a prayer meeting with that sort of number of people, all of whom were in oneness with each other? If you have, then all good. If you haven’t I will explain why.
The word from which the NIV gets ‘all joined together’ and the NKJV gets ‘with one accord’ is the Greek ‘homothumadon’, which is made up of two joined Greek words – homo meaning same and thymos meaning passion, or to have the same passion, literally. When you start to dig around to get the full meaning we find that it is spoken of groups of people who have the same mind or desires at the same time. A harmony. Another Greek lexicon describes it as a harmony which leads to action. Now, forgive me for sounding like a cynic, but that isn’t something we see very often with any church today, is it? You might see it at a sports event or perhaps at a concert. But at a church? Rarely.
So, the real question is how did these 120 people who had no idea of what was to come, find themselves at one with each other? Why wasn’t the room full of people all trying to take control of the situation? Why wasn’t a committee formed to decide upon a plan? What gave them that harmony?
There is a Hebrew adage which says if there are three Hebrews sitting in a room having a discussion, there will be five opinions. Why wasn’t that happening in a room with 120 Hebrews? When I first noticed this I asked God about what made them one. He showed me something in the gospel of John which explains the phenomenon:
We often think about the day of Pentecost as the day when the disciples first received the Holy Spirit but it actually happened on the same day that the tomb was discovered empty:
“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, Yeshua came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
So Yeshua said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” [John 20:19-22]
The Rabbi, or Master, had been executed four days previously and they were huddled together (presumably in the Upper Room) in fear. Imagine what that must have been like. No one knew what to do. All were sacred, and suddenly He appears before them, risen from the grave, just as He said He would. But even then their fear was such that He twice had to tell them to be at peace.
This is the real commissioning of the disciples – where they turn from disciples into apostles. That He sends them as His Father had sent Him means that they are now to carry on His work. They have passed their own discipleship and their job is now to make more disciples for Him. They are not to become Rabbis, but instead, His representatives. Remember what we affectionately call the Great Commission? Go into the world and make disciples…now, forgive me if you think I am just being picky, but a disciple can only be found amongst those who already believe. We seem to have confused the idea of making disciples, which Yeshua has taught us how to do by the way in which He did it Himself, with convincing people to hear the truth and then becoming believers. It is one thing to believe, and a great deal more to become a disciple.
If the disciples we are to make can only come from those who already believe, then could it be that our understanding of what His commission should be is wrong? Rather than going off to far-flung lands to convert the natives, perhaps we should be looking closer to home, amongst those who already believe in order to make disciples, and then when those disciples are ready themselves, they too will make other disciples. I would rather be in a room full of His disciples who all know how to follow Him in direct obedience and who all love one another in the way in which He taught them community, than in a stadium or megachurch filled with thousands who merely believe in His salvation. Give me a room full of disciples any day of the week.
And notice this, once He commissioned them to be like Him, to win more disciples for him, and not for them, see what He did. He breathed on them. Why is this important? Because this is how He imparted His Holy Spirit to them – in exactly the same way in which God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils, Yeshua breathed the new life of the Holy Spirit into His disciples, His apostles. It was His Holy Spirit which gave them the oneness of mind, the same passion. They had emptied themselves to the extent that they were hiding in fear. They had nothing left and He commissioned them and filled them with the Spirit which would enable them to do the work He wanted them to continue.
Now, here’s the kicker – much of the importance of this passage is lost on us because we only have the Greek scrolls as our source. The truth is that when John wrote this, all the evidence suggests that He would have it written in Hebrew before it was translated into Greek. How do we know? Well, there is plenty of evidence out there if you do the research but to put it simply, in Greek the word from which we get the translation spirit is pneuma but in Hebrew the word for spirit is ruach. But, ruach is also the same word for breath or to breathe. And not only that, it is the same word for inspire.
What John was describing was not only the spiritual rebirth that all believers go through when they are converted and receive the Holy Spirit, but also the way in which they become of one accord. The way in which they become inspired. It is that inspiration, given to them by way of the breath of Yeshua, which the eleven disciples were then able to give to others as they met with them. The breath of new life. The Holy Spirit in Hebrew is Ruach HaKodesh – the breath that is set apart. Inspiration. Even the word spirit is embedded into the word inspire.
If you now take yourself back to the Upper Room a week or so later, you will see how they were all of one accord – the disciples had received, from their Rabbi, the Holy Spirit, the breath of life. And they had shared it with others just by being like their Master. Such is the infectious nature of the Holy Spirit that 120 people could all be of the same mind all in the same place and all at the same time. It tells me this, if nothing else, that the divisions we see within churches and across denominations all show one thing – an absence of the very thing which brings oneness and unity – The Holy spirit.
In the next instalment we shall see just how powerful that influence is when He pours Himself out on all people.