The eleven disciples were radically changed by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Before Pentecost they had been ordinary men -- fishermen, not scholars or leaders. And like us, they were often bumbling. At times it seems in almost every occasion that they did the wrong thing. They panicked in the face of danger. They kept not catching what Jesus was teaching. They had little sense of power: they defintely didn’t think they could feed the 5000 when Jesus told them to. They kept taking eyes off of Christ. Virtually never were they praised by Jesus. And yet how many times they were rebuked! How many times Jesus said to them: "How long shall I put up with you?" (e.g. Matthew 17:17)! How many times He called them, "O men of little faith"! How many times He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe"! How many times Jesus rebuked them for some foolish statement like, "Get these kids out of here!" We find them falling asleep during crucial prayer, thinking the kingdom is coming now, competing for top spot, rebuking Jesus for talking about cross, scattering and even denying they knew Him when He was arrested, hiding in fear from authorities after the crucifixion.
And yet after Pentecost they were completely different. They did not flinch in the face of danger. They stood up to the very ones they had previously been cowering in fear of. Instead of a constant flow of foolish and cowardly statements, there are strong and righteous statements coming forth from their mouths, like "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard."(Acts 4:19-20). They were filled with joy even in the face of great suffering, living lives that gave vibrant testimony to Jesus Christ, going all over the world to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus, laboring tirelessly, loving not only their friends but even their enemies, willing to die for the cause of Christ. They were men of great wisdom and stability.
In Acts 4:13 we read, "Now as [the men of the Sanhedrin] observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." (The word "untrained" here is the Greek word IDIOT(ES). It means common men, laymen, as opposed to trained professional clergymen.) The thing that was so surprising was that these untrained men provided such a forceful argument for their position. So what does "recognize them as having been with Jesus" mean? Does it mean that they recognized these men as the same disciples they had seen earlier, e.g. at Gethsemane? I don’t think so. It doesn’t make sense of the context. Read it again: "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." "Recognizing them as having been with Jesus" was the way that they explained this dilemma of untrained men being so confident and unintimidatable.
What seems to be going on here is this: When the Jewish leaders observed the confidence of Peter and John in spite of their lack of formal training, they realized that these followers of Jesus were acting like their Master. He too sat at the feet of no rabbi, and yet He spoke with an authority that amazed the masters, even from when He was only 12 years old. People had expressed the same surprise at Him: John 7:15 "The Jews therefore were marveling, saying, ‘How has this man become learned, having never been educated?’" Now His uneducated disciples were doing miracles and fearlessly standing up to the best professional challengers, just as Jesus had done.
For three years these men had been with Jesus, and at every turn the stark contrast between the Master and the disciples is very evident. All of a sudden, they are acting very much like Jesus Himself. The change was gigantic. And the change was immediate. And it was not only them. The whole community of Christ’s followers was transformed:
And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47)
What happened to the Twelve? What happened to these 120 original believers? What happened to change them? It was Pentecost. It was the coming of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2.
You Are Where?
Well, if we hold these two models before us: the disciples before Pentecost and the disciples after Pentecost, which do you identify with more, which does your life fit in with most? I don’t know about you, but I am a lot more like the disciples before than after Pentecost. I panic in the face of danger. I have to keep learning my lessons over and over again. I keep taking my eyes off Christ. I’m constantly struggling with pride. I frequently have little sense of God’s power in my life. (I could never say, for instance, what Paul said in Colossians 1:29 "And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.") I keep worrying about my earthly position. I often fall asleep during prayer. Timid and afraid, I’m always thinking about what people are going to think of me. I often don’t know what to say when I get an opportunity to speak to someone. I feel like I’m constantly doing things all wrong.
Here is this great chasm between what the disciples were and what they became. And I see the same great chasm between what I am and what I should be. And so I say, "I need the same thing the disciples got. I need to be filled with the Holy Spirit!" It’s so important for us to know and believe that the difference between us and them has only to do with the Holy Spirit. That’s all. They were no better than we are as men. They were no better educated. They were probably no smarter. There is no indication that they were any more naturally talented than we are, or any more courageous, or more spiritually inclined. The Holy Spirit made the difference!
Have you been trying to change for years and years and still find that you struggle with the same sins and bad habits you’ve had all along? I sure have. After a while, it becomes clear that we cannot change ourselves. And yet here in the disciples we see real change, real change brought about by the Holy Spirit.
My friends, we don’t need a self-help program! We don’t just need to unlearn some bad habits. We don’t just need a little more self-discipline or accountability. We need God’s grace, we need to have our hearts changed by His mighty power, we need to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself, so that each of us can say what Paul said in Gal.2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."
Fears About Seeking the Holy Spirit
Some folks might be afraid of this whole idea of seeking the Holy Spirit. And I can imagine two kinds of fear that might crop up in people’s minds:
1- Fear of being too close to God
Many Christians are scared of what God might do to them if they really surrender all to Jesus. I can understand this concern. And, I’ll be honest with you, fullness of the Spirit might well mean a loss of some comforts and some securities. It may mean an increase of persecution. It probably will bring trouble. It may mean giving away some of our possessions. It may mean losing some of our friends. It may mean letting go of some things that we really enjoy. It may mean doing some things that right now we would never want to do. There is a cost. But there is a benefit too. There is a heavenly benefit. But there is also a gigantic increase of happiness. For man’s real happiness comes in being filled with God. And as I’ve said before, happiness and comfort do not go together. You can only have one or the other. For me, I would much rather be joyful and fulfilled and at peace in my discomforts, than miserable and troubled and restless in my comfort. Isn’t that what you really want too?
2- Fear of charismatic extremes.
On the one hand, we need to be willing to be and do whatever the Bible teaches, even if it does seem extreme. On the other hand, the Bible itself warns us against dangerous extremes. And so it is appropriate to be afraid of unbiblical extremes. But that fear must not prevent us from precious treasures that God has in His will for us. Sometimes Christian people, out of fear of extremes, will miss out on very important truths in God’s word. You can be so afraid of legalism that you won’t talk about the commandments of God. You can be so afraid of Mormonism, which teaches that God has a body that you won’t talk about the arm of the Lord, or His eye or His ear or His hand. We must not be so afraid of extremes that have come in the name of the Holy Spirit that we are afraid to talk about the Holy Spirit and seek the Holy Spirit.
Seeking the Spirit
How do we go about being filled with the Holy Spirit in the way the disciples were? Well, on the one hand, the Holy Spirit is not someone that men can control. We can’t make the Holy Spirit come to us. And yet Scripture calls us to seek the Spirit. Pentecost itself occurred as the end of a three step process: first there was the "bumbling disciples" stage, then there was the "prayerful waiters upon the Lord" stage (Acts 1:14 tells us what they were doing in the ten days between the ascension of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."), and finally as a result of Pentecost, the "Spirit-filled dynamos" stage. Let’s move from stage one to stage two and hope that the Lord will move us to stage three.
So the first thing is prayer. In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus said to the disciples,
"Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him '; and from inside he shall answer and say, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' "I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. "For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened. "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? "Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
This is not just prayer. This is urgent, persistent, fire-in-the-belly kind of prayer. This is "God, I need this! And I’m not going to let go until You bless me" kind of prayer.
But the first thing to decide is: Is this what I really want? Do I really want to be a Holy Spirit-filled Christian? Do I want to be a person who is filled with God? Does it bother me that I am a person who is full of myself and not full of Jesus? Do I really want to die to myself and have Christ live through me?
If that’s what we want, then let’s start praying, let’s start fasting, let’s get serious about this! Don’t be a detached observer, be a participating seeker. It’s not a matter of believing in me, it’s a matter of believing God’s word. Can anyone dispute the fact that our lives are not what they should be, that our lives are not like the Twelve once they were filled with the Spirit? And can anyone dispute the fact that it was the Holy Spirit that made the difference? And can anyone dispute the fact that this same Spirit is here for us today and that the same power that filled them can fill believers now? Then no matter what you think of me, it is clear what you ought to do. You ought to seek Him. You ought to cry out to Him. You ought to pray for God to fill you with His Spirit. And will our Father not answer us if we cry out? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:13)
One more thing they did in stage two: study the Scriptures. It doesn’t say this explicitly. But it seems a safe assumption. First of all, if you were told by Jesus to wait around until the Holy Spirit promised of old was poured out upon you, wouldn’t you want to go back and study those promises? And secondly, when Pentecost occurred and Peter got up to preach, he quoted a long section from the prophet Joel about the pouring out of the Spirit. How do you think was Peter able to quote such a large portion of Joel off the top of his head? I think it’s safe to say that it was because he had been spending a lot of time in the portions of the OT which talk about the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This is really the purpose of this series. We are going to study what the Scriptures teach in terms of who the Holy Spirit is and what ministry He is supposed to have in the life of a believer. But you can be an expert on the Holy Spirit without being filled with the Holy Spirit. So study is not enough. On the other hand, seeking the Spirit without studying the Spirit is dangerous, and many have gone off into serious errors following that path.