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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN ACTS
by Oswald C. J. Hoffman







The Spirit of the living God has come to usher in a new age. Whenever the Spirit comes, He acts. The Spirit acts in the church He has Himself brought into being. He acts in the church through people convicted of their own sin by the power of the Spirit and convinced by that same Spirit that there is forgiveness of sin and a new life for them and for the whole world in Jesus Christ, the crucified One, now risen from the dead and living forever.

This is the story of Acts. It is history in the best tradition of Greek historiography, combining the storytelling qualities of Herodotus with the attention to accuracy and detail of Thucydides.

From the viewpoint of history alone, the Acts of the Apostles is a fascinating book. It is filled with dramatic events, which need only to be told as they actually happened to make fascinating reading. Renan did not mean to exaggerate when he called Luke’s Gospel the most beautiful book every written. It would not be an overstatement to call the Acts of the Apostles one of the most exciting books ever written, offering one illuminating look after another into a world of people milling about in Caesar’s empire almost two thousand years ago. The book is well named, “The Acts of the Apostles.” It is a book of action from beginning to end, with riots, demonstration arrests by the police, shipwreck, unfairness on the part of some public officials and venality on the part of others, humor, sarcasm, charges of various kinds and spirited defense, all of which are incidental to the real action threading its way through these human events and giving rise to this record of them.

Competent teller of history that he is, accurately reporting the names and titles of public officials and showing a remarkable understanding of the complex political relationships within the Roman Empire, Luke had a more compelling purpose in telling his story than to entertain the reader or even to instruct him regarding names and places important in the early history of the church. His story is one of action not so much by the apostles (despite the name given later on to his work) but by the Holy Spirit, teaching, reminding, guiding, showing, convicting, convincing, and producing a new people for a new age -- all through witness to the Man Christ Jesus who has been declared by resurrection from the dead to be the Son of God with power.

The Acts of the Apostles is the story of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work, always at work. He is at work through people, ordinary people and extraordinary people, like the ones who walk across the pages of this book. Without these people, there is no church. Without the church in all its varied forms, there is no action. Wherever there is action the Holy Spirit is at work in His Church through people.

This is the story Luke tells. The writer himself is involved, with the people, in the church, by the Spirit. Modest man that he is, Luke never tells us that part of the story. You must read it between the lines. There it is in Chapter l6. Paul and Silas are making their way through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit prevents them from speaking God’s message in Asia. When they come to Mysia, they try to enter Bithynia, but again the spirit of Jesus will not allow them. So they pass by Mysia and come down to Troas, where one night Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man standing and appealing to him in the words: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” “As soon as Paul had seen this vision” reports Luke, “he made every, effort to get onto Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to give them the Good News. So we set sail from Troas and ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the following day to Neapolis. From there we went to Philippi, a Roman garrison town and the chief city in that part of Macedonia. We spent some days in Philippi and on the Sabbath day we went out of the city gate to the riverside where we supposed there was a place for prayer. There we sat down and spoke to the women who had assembled. One of our hearers was a woman named Lydia.”

How did the Holy Spirit prevent Paul from speaking God’s message in Asia? How did the Spirit turn him aside from Bithynia and cause him to pass by Mysia on the way to Troas? Was it through illness or through some other circumstance that the Spirit made His wishes known, as He so often does? Was it through a certain Greek physician called in to attend Paul at Troas, and through extended conversation with him regarding the plight of the people on the mainland, that Paul, received the vision of the man from Macedonia saying: “Come over and help us”? Was it here at Troas that a man named Luke came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour while rendering professional service to the apostle of the world’s Saviour? Did the Holy Spirit direct Luke so that his path crossed that of the apostle to the Gentiles in this place on the coast of Asia immortalized by the dean of epic poets? We shall never know; but this we know: a non-professional, writer with professional competence in medicine joined the company of Paul and somewhere along the line, either then or later, became a professional soldier in the army of the Lord Jesus Christ to witness of the Spirit, working as He does by people in the church.

So Luke tells his story, in the ordinary language of the day, without literary frills but with great effect, how the Spirit of God worked to build His church through living witness to the Lord. Jesus Christ with the constant proclamation of, the Good News of Christ, of forgiveness and life: in His Name, to other people like themselves, redeemed by Christ from the folly and. futility of living without God and without hope in the world. This is the story Luke tells of how the church grew through the power of the Spirit from Jerusalem to Antioch to Europe and finally to Rome. It is an unfinished story, leaving us with the people of God “preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and freedom.

In the Acts of the Apostles , Luke has one story to tell. It is true that the Spirit works in various ways within the church. In this story Luke tells how the Spirit works by witness, reaching out to people beyond the church through Spirit-filled people in the church. Acts is not the story of everything that happened at Antioch, including the set—to between Peter and Paul regarding the growing cosmopolitan character of the church there. Acts is rather the story of how Peter was led by the Spirit to Cornelius and to his final conclusion: “Could anyone refuse water or object to these men being baptized —- men who have received the Holy Spirit jut as we did ourselves? Then he gave orders for them to be baptized, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not a story about church organization, or about church—state relations, or even about methods of evangelism. It is the story of how people filled with the Holy Spirit used every conceivable method to bring the Gospel to people who did not know the Lord Jesus Christ, that they might believe, be baptized, and be saved. It is a story of proclamation and instruction, of how the Spirit of God uses the people of God to proclaim the Word of God to bring to birth new children of God by the Gospel.   The story comments about Peter’s visit to Cornelius: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues, and glorifying God.

Acts is full of comment about amazing results of the Spirit’s work of witness: “But the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increased in influence.” “But when the Gentiles heard this they were delighted and thanked God for His message. All, those who were destined for eternal life believed, and the Word of the Lord spread over the whole country.” “When these men heard this they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and then, when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to speak with tongues and the inspiration of prophets.” “In this way the Word of the Lord continued to grow irresistably in power and influence.” “That night the Lord stood by Paul, and said ‘take heart! For as you have witnessed boldly for me in Jerusalem so you must give your witness for Me in Rome’.”

That is Luke’s story: The Spirit of God at work in he church through the people of God, by proclamation of the Gospel. As he tells ‘the story, without continued proclamation of the Evangelion (the Good News in Christ) the church would never have got off the ground and in a generation would have become extinct. The church survived and. it exists today through the power of the Spirit as people witness to their faith -- not to the fact that they have faith but to the fact that Jesus Christ is worthy of faith. He that believes in Him shall not be confounded.

The story that Luke tells is not in Madison Avenue style, because the Holy Spirit does not use the Madison Avenue approach. “Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit” says the Lord of hosts. The apostles and their followers did not go around loudly proclaiming the virtues of the Spirit. He would not have liked that, since He is a modest Spirit reticent about Himself but always proclaiming the virtues of Jesus Christ.

The apostles did not proclaim themselves, even as the bearers of the Spirit. They proclaimed Christ. One has only to open a page of the Acts of the Apostles to recognize that the Spirit works through that proclamation. The Spirit may be modest about Himself, but He is not reticent about proclaiming Christ through the people of God to others whom He wants to be children of God.

There is nothing in the Acts of the Apostles of that reticence about Christ which seems characteristic of so much that passes for Christian witness in the modern world. People are ready to talk about the wind and the weather, and sometimes even about God as the author of both, but Christ appears a little too personal to talk about to others. Not so, people who are filled with the Spirit!

Luke’s story begins quite simply. “In my first book I wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught, from the time He began His work until the day He was taken up to heaven. Before He was taken up He gave instructions by the power of the Holy Spirit to the men He had chosen as His apostles. Forty days after His death he showed Himself to them many times, in ways that proved beyond doubt that He was alive, He was seen by them and talked with them about the Kingdom of God. When they came together, He gave them this orders ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait, for the gift which My Father promised, that I told you about. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’.”

With this short introduction, Luke launches immediately into the theme of the whole book! “The apostles met together with Jesus to ask Him ‘Lord, will you at this time give the kingdom back to Israel?’ Jesus said to them: ‘The time and occasions are set by my Father’s own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But you will be filled with power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth.’ After saying this He was taken up into heaven as they watched Him, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.”

From there we go back to. Jerusalem, for a catalog of the apostles by name, together with the last mention of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Whereupon, the story plunges into the heart of the matter: “A few days later there was a meeting of the believers, about 120 in all, and Peter stood up to speak: ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘the Scripture had to come true in which the Holy Spirit, speaking through David, predicted about Judas, who was the guide of the men who arrested Jesus. Judas was a member of our group, for he had been chosen as a part in our work.’” Here Luke adds an explanatory note about Judas for the benefit of his Gentile friend to whom the book is written. With Peter’s speech, and with the choice of Matthias we are ready for the beginning of the action: “When ‘the day .of Pentecost arrived, all the believers were gathered in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And they saw what looked like tongues of fire spreading out; and each person there was touched by a tongue. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”

It is astounding even today, to hear who they were: “There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious men who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this nois, a whole crowd gathered. They were all excited, because each one of them heard the believers talking in his own language. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed: ‘These men who are talking like this —- they are all Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native language? There are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia; from Pontus and Asia, from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the regions of Libya near Cyrene; Some of us are from Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, converted to Judaism; Some of us are from Crete and Arabia -- yet all of us hear them speaking in our own languages of the great things that God has done!” Amazed and confused they all kept asking each other “What does this mean?” Others made fun of the believers, saying, “These men are drunk!”

Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and loud voice began to speak to the crowd. “These men are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only nine oc1ock in the morning. Rather this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: This is what I will do in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit upon all men: your sons and, your daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Yes, even on my slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will perform miracles in the sky above, and marvels on the earth below; there will be blood and fire and thick smoke; the sun will become dark, and the moon red as blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. And then, whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Listen to these words, men of Israel! Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine mission was clearly shown to you by the miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him; you yourself know this, for it took place here among you. God, in His own will and knowledge, had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed Him, by letting sinful men nail Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, He set Him free from the pains of death, for it was impossible that death should hold Him prisoner. . . All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that it is this Jesus, whom you nailed to the cross, that God has made Lord and Messiah!

What happened when men, filled with the Holy Spirit, got to proclaim the Gospel? They talked as Peter did to people of the time in the language of their day. They told the Good News of Christ with a buoyancy befitting the good news it was, and is! To religious people they talked as Peter did. The Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled. Christ is the Messiah. To others who were all too religious but had no

knowledge of the Old Testament at all, they talked as Paul did. The God who created heaven and earth has: entered human history. There is a relationship between redemption and creation, between the present and the past, between God and all of human history. At the apex stands Jesus Christ, sent by the Father and born of a woman, true God and true redeemer of the world and Saviour of all men.

This is always part of the apostolic proclamation: Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. In spite of everything, He is the world’s hope, though humbly born, living unpretentiously, and dying in degradation. Through resurrection from the dead He has been declared by the Spirit of God to be the Son of God with power. Luke tells us: “With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection.”

The apostles did not proclaim the Gospel in a vacuum. The proclamation Of Jesus Christ was always accompanied by a ca1l to repentance and to faith; by an exhortation to turn away from self—confidence which leads to despair, and to turn toward Christ with confidence in Him that gives hope. As he rehearsed his ministry with the elders at Ephasus in Acts 20, Paul summarized his whole message: “repentance toward God” and “faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the power of the Spirit, the apostles told a simple story: Jesus of Nazareth, born a man, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross despising the shame and was set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He gave Himself for you, they said. Give yourself in joy to Him.

The message described in the Acts of the Apostles , was simp1y amazing. It amazed people at that time, and it amazes us today. We should be amazed. It is not something to be taken for granted. The power of the Spirit is at work in the world through the Gospel. It works through ordinary men, and sometimes extraordinary ones, within the fabric of the church, reaching out to touch those who have not heard and do not even want to hear. The story of Acts is being repeated today. It is repeated wherever there are people of God with sufficient confidence in the Gospel to proclaim it.

David H. C. Read concludes a little essay he has written on the Communication of the Gospel: “At a time when there is a great deal of moral confusion and lack for firm conviction of any kind, the diffusion of an infectious faith in God through Jesus Christ should not be seen as a problem so much as an opportunity. We have looked at some of the problems but the final note should be of confidence and hope. Thoughtful people everywhere are aware of the necessity of an integrating faith to make sense of a baffling world. Whether we live in the middle of a big city, or in a small community in the countryside, the pressures on us today are much the same. Modern means of communication bring the same problems to the doorstep of the city apartment, the suburban villa, or the farm. And throughout there is a restlessness that seeks a basis of belief and action. Our task is to meet that restlessness with the invitation of Jesus Christ. To do so we shall need a much greater sensitivity to the difficulties of the unbeliever, and the reservations of the semibeliever. We shall need to work harder at the interpretation of the gospel in present-day terms. We shall need to train a generation of Christian leaders and moulders of opinion. But above all we shall have to recapture that confidence in the power of the gospel, that living experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, which alone can make possible an effective communication of the gospel.”

It takes all kinds of people to proclaim the Gospel. There were Peter, Paul and Philip. Each was a personality in his own right. No one could mistake the one for the other. And then there are all those little people, including the women: Lydia, the purple seller from Thyatira, who opened her house to Paul and his company, as well as to those who were won to the faith in Philippi; and such comparative unknowns as Damaris, of whom we know only that she was a member of the Areopagus. There were Gamaliel and Gallio of whom we do not know that either became a committed Christian, but each contributed to the cause. There was Stephen, a Greek layman occupying a singular position all his own. Then there were all those unknown people in Samaria who listened to Philip when he and other believers fled Jerusalem following the assassination of Stephen. What shall we say about that Ethiopian official, the treasurer of Candace of Ethiopia, who was baptized and continued on his way, full of joy? And of Ananias, who had the courage to go and see Paul, and to put his hands on this persecutor of the church, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me -- Jesus Himself, whom you saw on the road as you were coming here, sent me so that you might see, again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And what of Cornelius, or Tabitha, whose Greek name (Luke tells us) was Dorcas, meaning a deer? Or of Simon with whom Peter was staying when the call came to go and visit Cornelius? And of Barnabas, the evangelical character who came to Antioch, where Jews and Gentiles were worshipping together, and liked what he saw enough to stay and minister there? And of Silas, sitting in chains that gloomy night and singing hymns? Or of the man in Lystra whose feet were crippled, but whose name we are never told? Or of those elders at Ephesus who tried to prevent Paul for his own good from going to Jerusalem? And Of Julius, officer in the Roman army contingent called “the emperor’s regiment?” Or of those brothers who came out from Rome to meet Paul as far as the Forum of Appius at the corner of the Three Taverns? And of Luke himself, with his living witness to the Gospel that will never die.

They are all there – and all different, but all with a story to tell -- a story never before heard, in this form, in the whole history of the world! Jesus is the Christ. He has come. He lived and died. No one can deny it. You may turn away from it, but you cannot deny it. He rose from the dead; He is the Lord. Repent and believe this Good News. Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. “Now, my brothers, I know that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done because of your ignorance. God long ago announced by means of all the prophets that His Messiah had to suffer; and He made it come true in this way. Repent then, and turn to God, so that He will wipe away your sins, so that times of spiritual strength may come from the Lord’s presence, that He may send you Jesus, who is the Messiah He has already chosen for you. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for all things to be made new, as God announced by means of His holy prophets of long ago . . . the promises of God through his prophets are for you, and you share the covenant which God made with your ancestors. As He said to Abraham, through your descendants I will bless all the people on earth. So God chose and sent His servant to you first, to bless you by making all of you turn away from your wicked ways.”

The apostles assumed nothing. They knew the Spirit of God. Knowing the Spirit of God, you cannot assume that anyone will turn away from the proclamation Of the Gospel. The power of that proclamation is the power of the Spirit, when the Good News of Christ is told as the good news it really is.

The Gospel answers the opposition. Again and again in the story Luke tells, people stand open-mouthed, finally having nothing to say in opposition. Indeed the Gospel is constantly confirmed with signs following, silencing the opposition. The Spirit is at work, He has his own way of foiling those who would try to thwart Him. In signs, of course, there is a subtle danger. People look for signs. Our Lord called it an evil and adulterous generation that sought for signs. When the proclaimers look for signs and parade the signs, they stand in the way of the power of the Spirit producing the signs I The Spirit will do his work whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, even without signs following.

There is a time and a place for everything: mass testimony or personal witness. The Spirit at work in the Church through the people of God does not canonize any particular method. All He asks is that Christ be proclaimed. We are not to give people the impression that we are trying to get people to believe in ourselves rather than in Christ. If we proclaim ourselves, the Spirit deserts us. If we proclaim Christ, the Spirit is at work.

The Good News is in Christ. We are to be like Paul and Barnabas, when people tried to worship them as gods. There is a certain humor in this incident which was not lost on Luke. “When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they started to shout in their own Lycaonian language, The gods have become like men and have come down to us!’ They gave Barnabas the name Zeus, and Paul the name Hermes, because he was the one who did the speaking. The priest of the god Zeus, whose temples were just ouside the town, brought bulls and flowers to the gate. Then the crowd wanted to offer sacrifice to the apostles. When Barnabas and Paul heard what they were about to do, they tore their clothes and ran into the middle of the, crowd, shouting ‘Why are you doing this, men? We are just men, human beings like you! We are here to announce the Good News, to turn you away from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. In the past He allowed all peoples to go their own way, but He has always given proof of Himself by the good things He does; He gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; He gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.’ Even with these words the apostles could hardly keep the crowds from offering a sacrifice to them.” When it comes to the adulation sometimes offered a messenger of the living God, it is necessary that he keep his sense of humor; that he remember he is human and something great is happening. The Spirit is at work.

The Spirit does not permit us to canonize ourselves or even our plans to evangelize the world. He has His own plans and refuses to be restricted to our own preferences or prejudices, our pet projects, our prepared plans. He does His work at His own time, in His own way, and at His own speed. It is not for us to stand in the way of the movement of the Spirit.

It is the Spirit’s purpose, for example, to encourage and bring about unity in the church for concerted witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Many aspects of the ecumenical movement are not impressive to me. Some forms of this movement appear to make no positive contribution to proclamation of the Gospel and some constitute a positive danger to true faithfulness and fellowship within the church. Yet I cannot oppose the work of the Spirit. He chooses His own time and place; they are not always mine. Because the Spirit of God is at work among the people of God, I cannot canonize my prejudices or even my convictions. What the Spirit of God wants, He will have, if not through me, then through someone else.

The Spirit of God at work in the people of God is a Spirit of unity. The story Luke tells is one of unity amid diversity. There is no encouragement in the Acts of the Apostles for diversity in doctrine, but there is a great deal of encouragement for diversity of gifts in the service of that one Spirit. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of a1l, over all and through all and in all.

There is great, virtue in conviction,, when it has this purpose: to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ so that men may believe and be saved. There is little virtue in conviction for its own sake, whose only purpose, if it has a purpose at all, is to preserve the status quo. The Spirit is a working Spirit, not a status quo Spirit. He is a Spirit of fervent and fervid action, ready in His work to turn the world upside down. If necessary, He will turn the church upside down, recalling it from materialism, selfish ambition, personal rivalry, and all the other preoccupations which tend to divide believer from believer and cause a formidable obstacle to be placed in the path of those to whom the Gospel must be proclaimed. There is a time for separation, and there is a time for unity. Each, in its turn serves the purpose of the Spirit: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its truth and in all its power. In everything, let there be no lack of faith in the Gospel and no lack of confidence in the power of the Spirit to do His work through the Gospel



In the Acts of the Apostles, there is a great preoccupation with the Gospel but none at all with methods of evangel. The apostles preached in synagogues, and they called upon people in their homes. We are told: “Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish meting house and. spoke in such a way that a great number of Jews and Gentiles became believers. But the Jews who would not believe stirred up the Gentiles and turned their feelings against the brothers. The apostles stayed there for a long time. They spoke boldly about the Lord who. proved that their message about His grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders. The crowd in the city was divided, some were for the Jews, others for the apostles. Then the Gentiles and the Jews, together with their leaders decided to mistreat the apostles and stone them. ‘When”tbe apostles learned about it, they fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities in Lycaonia, and to the surrounding territory. There they preached the Good News.”

Apparently, it is not for us to choose the time and the place’. One cannot say that there was no planning in the various trips made by St. Paul, that he had no plan eventually to reach Rome. If he had formed no plan at all, nothing might have happened. Who planned the tritp Troas, however? Who planned the appearance ‘before Festus and King Agrippa? Who can predict the great events when the Spirit is at work?

If I read the Acts of the Apostles aright, the projections of church executives for the next ten or twenty years may serve some purpose, but most of them will turn out to be wasted effort. ‘The Spirit is at work. He gives us the now in which to work, and He has His own plans, for the future. The plans could include persecution which we do not now foresee. They could also include a great upsurge which no one could possibly predict.

The persecution in Jerusalem, described in Acts 8, looked like a major disaster for the church at that time. Under the ministration of the Spirit, it turned out to be a great thing. Those who were scattered went about preaching the Word. They went out in sorrow and started new churches in joy. That’s the way it was. The Spirit was at work.

The lesson of the Spirit is that no one should lose heart in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel contains its own dynamic, which cannot long be contained. The Spirit is at work through that Gospel and who can predict what He will do?

I could give many examples of how the Spirit works in unexpected ways through the proclamation of the Gospel over the airwaves. Every week is a constant surprise. Instead, I shall give one example of personal evangelism. Participating in a concerted effort of a congregation in Michigan to reach unchurched people in her community, a woman accepted an assignment to visit four families on each of four evenings during the week. Since she owned no automobile, she hired a taxi driver to pick her up every evening and take her to make these calls. She invited the families to come to a special meeting that very night. The first night she was disappointed. No one came. The second night she was disappointed. No one came. The third night she was disappointed. No one came. Finally, on the fourth night, her persistence was rewarded. One came -- the taxi driver!

The Spirit does His own work in His own way at His own time. All the Spirit asks of faithful witnesses is that they be honest, employ no subterfuges and no tricks, and give straightforward testimony to Jesus Christ. You may go from house to house or to many houses at one time, as one does through the modern means of communication, but the story has to be the same. The Spirit has no truck with cleverness. He is an honest and modest Spirit, demanding honesty and modesty of those in whom and through whom He works.

There is room for preaching in the outreach of the church through the power of the Spirit. There is room for teaching by that same Spirit, Indeed, in the Acts of the Apostles , there is very little discernible difference between preaching and teaching when the Spirit is at work. Proclamation without instruction can be extremely superficial. Instruction without proclamation can be self-defeating. Preaching and teaching go together. The apostles proclaimed the Good News in Christ, and then they stayed to teach people, that they might grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. A casual remark is made in one place that Paul stayed for a year and a half to teach the people he had won for Christ through proclamation. In every case, arrangements were made for instruction that the faith of the new converts might have a sound basis, of intellectual and emotional conviction.

The apostles drew no lines in their proclamation of the Gospel to people. Impartiality, in this case, was not associated with impersonality. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles makes it quite clear that most of the apostles arrived the hard way, through personal experience, at the recognition that the Spirit is no respecter of persons. “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality . . . Who was I that I could withstand God? He made no distinction between us and them . . . God made from one every nation of man . . . From one man He created all races of men, and made them to live over the whole earth.” Who can say that the Acts of the Apostles has no relevance to our time?

Hardly any issue in the modern world, runs deeper or is more extensive than preoccupation with race. All through the Acts of the Apostles , the Spirit is at work enlightening the mind of people so that they come out of the darkness of sin into the light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, out of the darkness of dead works into the light where they can serve the living God; out of the darkness of racial prejudice into the light of love which can draw no boundaries.

At the bottom of it all is a hard theological fact: Christ died for all. Henceforth, there are no distinctions. Nothing can be called unclean that God has redeemed by the blood of His Son. Paul had to learn it, Peter had to learn it, Philip had to learn it, everyone had to learn it We all have to learn that lesson, and some of us may have to learn it as they did, the hard way. There are no distinctions. All have sinned and are far away from what God expects of them, but by the free gift of God’s grace they are all put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered Him so that by His death He should become the means by which men’s sins are forgiven through their faith in Him. We conclude that a man is put right with God only through faith, not by doing what the law commands. Is God only the God of the Jews? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also? Of course He is. God is one; He put the Jews right with Himself on the basis of their faith, and the Gentiles right through their faith.

The preaching and teaching mission of the church is directed to all. If it is not, the Spirit of God will not be at work. It is not His way to let us pick and choose whom He will call, He will have none of it.

The Church must always be ready for a new beginning -- a beginning like the one in Acts. If the church is not ready, it must be made ready. Even now the church is being made ready for a new beginning. Reporting to the home congregation at Jerusalem, some of whose members were criticizing him for eating with uncircumcised Gentiles and thereby making ridiculous their insistence on the circumcising of Gentiles before they could openly be admitted to the church, Peter said: “I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’.” It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!” As Peter told the story, this was the key sentence: “When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them just as on us at the beginning.”

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is always a new beginning. He comes when a man like Peter speaks “words to you by which you and all your family will be saved.” He comes by word and work, neither of which can be separated from the other. Works of mercy must be joined to the verbal witness of the Gospel. Testimony by word which is not backed up by testimony with works is bound to be worthless. In fact, it can be worse than worthless, since it gives people the impression that faith in Christ is nothing but a matter of words, just that and nothing more.

A new age comes to every place where the Gospel is proclaimed, believed, fo1lowed, and lived in that place. Proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something people have to think about a long time before they can talk about it or before they can act on it. It comes naturally to people living in the new age.

Ananias came to Saul; Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit; something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes; he was able to see again; he stood up and was baptized; and after he had eaten, his strength came back. Just a few days later he went straight to several synagogues and began to preach about Jesus. What did he say? “He is the Son of God,” he said. All who heard him were amazed and asked: “Isn’t this the man who in Jerusalem was killing those who called on His name? Didn’t he come here for the very purpose of arresting them and taking them back to the chief priests? But Saul’s preaching became even more powerful, and his proofs that Jesus was the Messiah were so strong that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not answer him. So they decided to kill him.

This is not the first case of racial or religious prejudice gone wild, and it certainly has not been the last. Usually, the answer of the world to violence is more violence. In spite of the fact that this process has never produced peace, it is still followed both personally and professionally by the best people as well as by the worst.

In Acts, a new age has been ushered in, the age of the Holy Spirit. A new Spirit has entered the world, working in the church through people. He is the Spirit of the living and exalted Christ, the Spirit of the living God. The Spirit has literally been poured out on the world because Christ has been exalted. God has raised this very Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses to this fact. He has been raised to the right side of God and received from Him the Holy Spirit, as His Father had promised; what you now see and hear is His gift which has been poured out on us.”

Where the Spirit is at work in the world, there is such a thing as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The fellowship is His church. The church consists of people; the Holy Spirit is at work in the church through people. These are people who have to think about themselves, because they can no longer accept their own pride and prejudice and passions as the arbiters of action. They think about the Holy Spirit, too, who has expressed the good will of God for the world and wit nesses constantly to the Saviourhood of Jesus Christ through the Word of God given to the world by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Jesus, the Son of God sent by His Father, is the Saviour of the world lost in a wilderness of its own making. This is the testimony of the Spirit of the living God. Jesus, Son of God and Saviour of the world, is our hope, as He is the hope of a multitude of people in whom the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of faith. So says the church, so say we, with every new beginning. So say we right now to our world: “If you confess with your lips, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will never be disappointed.’ This includes everyone, for there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all, and richly blesses all who call on Him. As the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on Him, if they have not believed? How can they believe, if they have not heard the message? How can they hear, if the message is not preached? How can the message be preached, if the messengers are not sent out?

Where the messengers go out, where the message is preached, where people believe and calling upon the Name of the Lord are saved, there the Holy Spirit of the living God is at work. He is ever at work in His church through His people.

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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006