I now want to look at three examples of what happens when the Spirit of God is with His disciples in His fullness. This is the best way to see the kind things which should accompany the fullness of His presence. With Yeshua, who was clearly full of the Holy Spirit all of the time, we see many fantastic miracles performed. And therefore, because He said we would do all the things He did and even greater things, it follows that when the disciples were full likewise, those same signs and wonders should also be present.
My first example is to be found in Acts chapters four and five. Generally, when people mention the account of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, they say it is in chapter five. However, you will perhaps note, depending on the translation you have, that the first word of verse one of chapter five is actually ‘But’, signifying a continuance. Sadly, whilst the book of Acts was never written divided into chapters, somewhere along the line, a well-meaning individual added them. This causes much confusion because people have a tendency to only read the chapter which is mentioned. Often, as a result, they will miss out on vital background context. In this case, the background context is useful but not necessarily crucial to the text.
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Yeshua. And great grace was upon them all.
Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
And Joses, who was also named Barnabus by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men rose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.”
Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” [Acts 4:32-5:11]
Right. Not your run-of-the-mill type of miracle. Yeshua raised people from the dead. I see no account of anyone dying because of something He did or said. But, don’t let that put you off. The reason I have included this as an example of what life is like for those upon whom the fullness of the Holy Spirit is poured out, is precisely because it is an odd one. There is nothing else quite like it in the New Testament. This doesn’t mean we should treat it any differently to any other Holy Spirit supernatural event – we shouldn’t. But it shows just how important the foundations of the early church were to God. He simply couldn’t allow any bad seeds in before His own seeds had taken root and got established.
Usually, we understand, that God’s judgement is reserved for a later date – the day known as the Day of the Lord. However, there are times when God’s judgement falls on a person, or persons, in a spontaneous fashion. There are accounts of this happening throughout the Old Testament. One that comes to mind immediately is the death of Aaron’s two sons when they failed to follow Yehovah’s instructions with regard to the lighting of the incense censers. God devoured them with fire for their disobedience and lack of reverence for Him. You might be thinking that both the events recorded in Acts chapter 5 and those in Leviticus chapter 10 are a little extreme. I would tread carefully if you do. Look at the effect it had on both the church and everyone else. Great fear, it says in Acts 5:11. God’s immediate judgement was designed to serve two purposes. Firstly, He wished to stamp out sin immediately in His fledgling church – for such things to be tolerated would have meant that sin would have been able to take root. And secondly, God knew that fear of Him would increase the likelihood of people following His instructions.
Of course, none of this would have been possible if the Holy Spirit hadn’t been present. God could have stuck them down at anytime – that is true. However, it was the very presence of the Holy Spirit which brought the conviction to both Ananias and Sapphira through what Peter said to them. When convicted of such a sin as lying to the Holy Spirit, there was no way they could stand in His presence.
You will have no doubt also considered that Peter was given a word of knowledge by the Holy Spirit in the first place. This was common in Yeshua’s life. There are countless verses in the gospels when Yeshua knows the thoughts of people’s hearts and their inclinations. This, if you like, should act as evidence to all of us. If we are empty of ourselves, God’s Holy Spirit will fill us. And, in certain circumstances, such words of knowledge will be given for the purpose of furthering God’s plan or preventing disruption to it. If we are not empty of our own fleshy ways, this will never happen in the way it did for Peter, for if it did, we would use it for the wrong self-motivated reasons. Take a look at what Peter actually said to Ananias:
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit..?”[Verse 3 – partial]
Remember that our hearts are the soil. Satan sowed seed upon what should have been the good soil of Ananias’ heart. Instead of rejecting the thought the moment it entered his mind, Ananias allowed the seed to fall onto the good soil of his heart and take root. We must be on our guard against Satan’s seeds. He is trying to sow them in our lives all of the time. If we entertain them and tried to feed the desires of the flesh to which they appeal, then we will find that we are bringing judgement upon ourselves, just as Ananias and Sapphira did. Paul instructs the church at Corinth on such matters with some very good and valid practical advice:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” [2nd Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV]
In other words, when these seeds are sown, by whichever method Satan chooses, they are designed to appeal to our fleshy, carnal side. So, we should, with the use of our knowledge of God, take apart those arguments or thoughts or ideas which come our way, and only follow those which are obedient to Christ, that is, the will of God.
In practical terms, Ananias should have recognised the idea for what it was when it came to him. And if he didn’t spot it, his wife should have done. The immediate and fatal judgement of God makes it clear that they should have known better. God’s mercy is such that He doesn’t slay the ignorant. They had clearly received the message of truth; why else would they be in the company of the church? The message is clear – there can be no complacency in the people whom God calls. We must be guarded at all times against the mixing of God’s pure seed.
The second example of the power of the Holy Spirit being evidenced in the people of God, deals with Peter again. It continues right where we left off in Acts chapter five:
“And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” [Acts 5:12-16]
It is often very easy for us to read short passages of the book of Acts and fail to take in what was actually happening. We tend, on occasions, to skim over stuff, thinking we already know what it is all about. Please forgive me if this is not the case for you, but I would like to draw your attention to a couple of points this particular passage makes, without writing them in actual words.
So, here we have the apostles (and presumably, the rest of the believers) gathered in what was called Solomon’s Porch. This was an area around both courtyards of Temple Mount. It was like a covered walkway with pillars. One courtyard was only for Hebrews, and the other was known as the Gentile’s Court. We’re not sure exactly where they were but, because at this stage the message hadn’t yet been revealed to the Gentiles, I think we can safely assume that they would have been in the Hebrew’s side of the courtyard.
The text says that ‘none of the rest dared joined them’. This is an important point for two reasons. First, we need to make the distinction of just who ‘the rest’ were. These were Hebrews; the faithful of Jerusalem who, because they lived there, attended Temple on a daily basis. For those who lived outside of Jerusalem, Temple was only attended at the three main feasts, generally speaking. So we can accept that ‘the rest’ were made up of devout believers whom feared God but were still subscribing to the view that righteousness could be attained by observing Torah, the Law.
The second reason is that although they would have heard the gospel being preached and probably knew all about Yeshua, not to mention the rumours of Ananias and Sapphira dropping down dead, God hadn’t quickened their hearts to believe. You see, people can’t just decide to follow God off their own steam. I mean, unless God reveals the truth to us, the words which are spoken sound like foolishness. Those whom the text refers to as ‘the rest’ didn’t dare join them because God hadn’t empowered them to believe. They may well have held them all in high esteem, but that didn’t make them believers.
On the other hand, it says that ‘believers were increasingly added to the Lord’ – man cannot do this. Only the Holy Spirit can if the true gospel is being preached. It might appear to happen today at some church buildings, where the true gospel is no longer preached, where the seed has been mixed and the word diluted. In those cases, the preacher is preaching to people’s carnal side and will probably be able to persuade many to agree with what he says. But we know that the apostles were preaching the true gospel.They wasn’t appealing to people’s carnal side, but to their spiritual side. It was God’s pure word which was being preached, otherwise the Holy Spirit simply wouldn’t have opened people’s spiritual eyes and ears to the truth.
And we see that multitudes from the cities around Jerusalem came and heard the true gospel and believed. Only the Holy Spirit can make this happen. The true gospel message is difficult to receive unless the Holy Spirit first makes you aware of the burden of your sin. Many of the people of Jerusalem had hearts that were too hard to even receive the seed of God’s word. As the parable of the sower suggests, the moment the seed fell to them, Satan would have snatched it away from them. Some, we know, were saved.
It is vital that we understand that it is God who calls and chooses people to Himself. We can’t achieve this by any means. If the Holy Spirit isn’t present when we are preaching, then our words are just words. It is the Holy Spirit who makes them into living words.
Now, here’s the point of using this example – the people whom God had added to their number by making them believe, brought the sick and the demon-possessed to the Temple courts so that they would be healed by just being in Peter’s shadow. Like the woman who had bled for twelve years, who simply knew that if she touched Yeshua’s robe, she would be healed, the Holy Spirit, put the same idea into the hearts of those whom He called that if they got close enough to Peter, they too would see healing and freedom. Such is the power of the Holy Spirit when He fills people that even those who stand in the shadows are set free.
The third example I wish to draw your attention to is the wonderful account of Philip in Samaria. You can find it in Acts chapter eight. The events recorded come hard on the heels of Stephen being stoned to death. Saul, as he was known then, had been given the job of persecuting the church. Such was his zeal for the traditions of the Pharisees that he was willing to break God’s commandments. Yeshua warned the Pharisees of such an approach. You can find what He said to them for such an approach in Matthew chapter 15.
The Philip to whom I refer is not the one included in the original twelve. We know that because in Acts chapter six, he is amongst seven chosen for food distribution at the instruction of the twelve. They wouldn’t have chosen one of their own because they were needed to spread the word of God. Essentially, the Philip of Acts 8, is therefore a food server, or a waiter, one of the wider group of disciples, but full of the Spirit nonetheless.
The chapter opens by telling us that a great persecution of the church broke out and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. The apostles, however, remained in Jerusalem. One of those scattered, as already mentioned, was Philip, the former food server. But look at what he’s up to now:
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralysed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in the city.” [Acts 8:5-8]
Right, before we go any further, some background context. You will be aware, I hope, that the people of Judea and the people of Samaria had an intense dislike for one another. This deep-rooted enmity dated back to the time of the Assyrian exile when the ten tribes of Isra’el were captured. Assyria basically took away much of the population of the ten tribes and supplanted their own people in the northern kingdom of Isra’el. Against God’s wishes, those Hebrews left in Isra’el intermarried with the Assyrian people (more mixing of the seed). However, this was not the main bone of contention. Those of the northern kingdom of Isra’el had long fallen out with the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah in the southern kingdom, then known as Judah. This dated back to a disagreement with King Solomon. The net result was that the kingdom of Judah believed that you could only worship God at His Temple in Jerusalem, whilst those in the northern kingdom of Isra’el would only worship at Samaria, their capital city. Yeshua makes reference to this enmity in the story of the Good Samaritan – to the Hebrews of Judah, no Samaritan could have been good. And the encounter He had with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter four shows how great such enmity was – she would have been considered to be ‘unclean’ by His disciples.
And here’s Philip, a Hebrew, running from the persecution straight to the city of his enemies. I think it very important to note that this is exactly how God works. He uses the bad things that are happening to His own good. The persecution against the church, He turned into the transport method for spreading the gospel. Don’t forget that Yeshua’s last words to His disciples were that they would be witnesses to Him first in Jerusalem, and then in Judea, and then in Samaria. He didn’t tell them how His words would be fulfilled, but they knew that they would. Later when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he made the point that God always works everything to the good of people, providing that they are called according to His purpose and that they love Him (see Romans 8:28). It is easy to believe that Philip fulfilled both those criteria – the evidence of God turning the situation around is clear.
The text tells us that the multitudes, with one accord (that phrase again), heeded what he said. It tells us that he simply preached Christ to them. But because he had chosen not to save his own skin, and chose instead to spread the message of Christ, the Holy Spirit was able to fill him, so much so that He overflowed upon those present. The Holy Spirit, because the true gospel was preached, caused his enemies to hear and believe what he said. It doesn’t say that he drove out the demons or unclean spirits, It says that they came out, as if they came out freely, simply because of the very presence of the Holy Spirit.
There are some important lessons for all true believers here. If it is hard and you are facing persecution, don’t try to save your skin, keep on preaching the truth. If you deny yourself, God will fill you with His Holy Spirit, and He will overflow from you in all you do. Demons and unclean spirits will flee, as will sickness and infirmities. Such is the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the very same power who raised Yeshua from the dead.
Philip, as you read on in chapter eight, was constantly ready to do the will of God. If we remain open to the voice of the Holy Spirit and are prepared to deny our fleshy desires of self-preservation and pride, God will work through us in mighty ways.
I have used these three examples simply as that – examples. There are no boundaries to what God is willing to do through us providing we are willing to sacrifice ourselves and allow Him in. And you don’t have to be like Peter, chosen to show others the way. You can be used by God when you are like Philip too. He was essentially a waiter, a servant who served food. God used him mightily in Samaria because he didn’t consider his life worth saving, knowing instead that the hope of salvation is far more valuable.
The church needs to consider why we are not seeing the kind of power of the Holy Spirit which is shown in these three examples. The only logical explanation is that we are too full of ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us to over flowing.
In the next instalment we will look at what it meant back then to preach the word.