That’s what God is looking for. Not the super-talented, the enormously wealthy, the political giants, the gorgeous, the self-sufficient. Just people… moving in power.
People on fire.
Acts 8 begins with a chilling note, at the point of Stephen’s death. “And Saul approved of their killing him.” This was the orthodox response to this new thing that God was doing. Kill it. All the people that conspired to have Jesus killed are all still there, still in power, still watching. Saul becomes their champion. “A great persecution broke out … in Jerusalem” and “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Kill it before it gets any worse. Stamp it out once and for all. The trouble with bush fires, apparently, is that they often start from small fires that people try to stamp out. And the stamping throws live embers into the air and spreads it out further and further.
And so, though the core of the fire remained hot and tight (the apostles stayed in Jerusalem), thousands of new Christians simply ran for their lives. And “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Wherever! They weren’t ordained or organised. They were just people… full of fire. And the flame spread.
There’s a line in the book of Daniel that says: “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.” That’s what had happened. Jeremiah had prophesied “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD.” The theoretical idea had moved into an experiential reality. They knew their God and it made them bold.
You may know of the Queen of England. Maybe you’ve even seen her or shaken her hand at some event. But I knew this guy who worked on the royal family security detail. He knew her enough to joke with her. His insider knowledge meant that he had total 24/7 access to the inner rooms of the palace. He knew his queen and it made him bold.
Just people…moving in power. Bold. Intimate with the king of kings. 24/7 access. How did they get like that?
It was Pentecost. It was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The resurrected Jesus said “I am going to send you what my father has promised.” (Lk 24:49) And on Pentecost he delivered on the promise. Acts 2 starts with a people “all together in one place.” “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Pentecost was a Jewish feast-day and consequently the city was crowded with tourists –pilgrims- from many places, with many languages and yet they all heard about the power and wonder of God in their own language. It was a remarkable miracle. It was God empowering the people of God, showing them this new thing: no linguistic barriers, no cultural barriers, no gender barriers, no age barriers. It’s like a tsunami sweeping every barrier aside.
And Peter identifies what’s going on through the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy…” Wonders and signs. The end-times begin. It’s five minutes to midnight, folks. And “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Everyone saved. Just call. Everyone receiving the pouring out of the Spirit. Prophesying. Speaking in tongues. Boldly witnessing. Unstoppable. Filled with the fire of God.
And do, by Acts 8 we see the result of this empowering. Philip was just one of the table-helpers mentioned in Acts 6 in passing. Nobody special. Like me and you. He goes to Samaria (outside of the covenant of Israel) and “proclaimed the Messiah.” No barriers. No distinction between Jew and Samaritan. Those old fences are not important any more. They’re still not!
“When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed. They all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”
This is what Jesus did. This is what he told his disciples to do in Luke 10:9: “ When you go into a city…Heal those there who are ill and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Go, preach the kingdom, heal the sick. It’s his final commission to the people of God as recorded in Matthew 28: 18-20. “Go.. make disciples of all nations.”
Just people…moving in the power of Pentecost, and all heaven breaks loose.
The sick are healed. The demonised are delivered. And they receive the “good news of the kingdom” and Philip baptizes them. And “when they apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John…and when they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them: they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
That’s important. According to this chapter, there’s a difference between accepting the word of God – being a “believer” -and receiving the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19 too we see the same thing: Paul, arrives in Ephesus where “he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”
So here’s the thing. ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ Are you operating on low power? Of course, the Spirit works in your regeneration when you are born again. Romans 8:9 says: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” But that is different from being filled with the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit.
I’m here to say that if there is confusion in your mind, little fruit in your character or passion in your witness, if fear and doubt and worry are messing you up and yet you’re a believer…. Listen: There’s more on the menu. “God hasn’t given us a Spirit of fear, but love, power and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7)
He longs to create an army of ordinary people.
Just people…moving in power.
So how do we receive this gift? “Eagerly desire” (1 Cor 14:1). Ask God; cooperate with the Spirit, believe, persevere.
And see what He does!