“Ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you.”—Acts 1:8
This is the first of a series of messages from the book called “The Acts of the Apostles.” My purpose is not that we should study the early missionary career of the church of the New Testament, but that we should discover the secret of her power. From many angles this book is of great value to us. It has a historical value because, as a book of history, it is authentic, but as such it is merely a fragment.
You may read this book through and through, and put it down and you will be all the more hungry to know more about it, especially when you find at the end of the story, Paul in a hired house in Rome. What happened to him there? As a history book it is but fragmentary. It has a strong dispensational value from the point of view of understanding the Scripture, because it is the hinge upon which two ages swing—one swings out and the other swings in. Judaism is replaced by Christianity, and the movement of the Acts of the Apostles is away from the Jew to the Gentile.
But most of all, this book is of supreme value as it teaches us the real mission, meaning and message of the church of Jesus Christ. The key which unlocks the secret of the book is, of course, the first verse of the first chapter, for the writer, the beloved physician Luke, looks back on his Gospel, and he reminds those to whom he is writing of the things in his Gospel which Jesus began both to do and to teach.
In the Gospel of Luke we read of the birth, childhood, manhood, testing, transfiguration, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is that all that He did and taught? Indeed it is not, says Luke. It is but the beginning, the foundation upon which all else is yet to be laid. He looks back, therefore, upon his Gospel as an unfinished record.
You will remember that it is in Luke’s Gospel alone, in the 12th chapter and the 49th verse that the Lord Jesus said, “I have come to send fire on the earth.” He came to save men from themselves and from sin, and to kindle within their hearts a great flame of the love of God. But He could not do this until He had faced the cross. There could be no Pentecost without a Calvary; no power without pardon; no deliverance until sin had been judged. Therefore in a human body Jesus said, “I am straightened till this be accomplished,” for as John said concerning Him, “There cometh one after me who shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
In the light, therefore, of these truths, I suggest to you that the title of the book which we are considering is a misnomer. The actual Greek interpretation of the title would be “Acts of Apostles.” That perhaps is a little nearer because it is only some acts of a few apostles. The acts of the apostles so-called is a record of the unrestricted, unlimited ministry of the power of the risen Lord in heaven in the power of the Holy Spirit on Earth. That is what the acts of the apostles is.
When you and I meet together to worship our God, we do not meet in the name of a leader who is dead. We are not here to look back upon a cross and to thank God for simply giving Jesus on a cross; that is not our Gospel. We meet every Lord’s day in the presence of a living Lord, a mighty God in heaven upon a throne far above principalities and powers. We are not simply concerned about one who acted and taught in ancient times, but we are here to declare that His touch has still its ancient power, and that Jesus who worked in a restricted ministry on Earth, has power and capacity to work in an unlimited ministry from the throne of heaven in the power of the Holy Ghost released through His body, the church. The thrill of a morning worship is our communion with Christ in the power of His Spirit and this is the only inspiration for all our service.
You remember that the Lord Jesus said to John, “It is better for you that I go away.” It is better for you that I see you no more. It must have been hard for them to believe! John might say, “Lord, am I never again to lean upon your breast? Am I never again to feel the warmth of your voice and love and affection? Better for me that you go away?” That is hard to believe, but it was true, for as long as Jesus stayed in Palestine He could not be in Chicago, and as long as He witnessed in the Holy Land, He could not be here in America. But the glorious truth is that wherever His people meet, whether it is behind an iron curtain, a bamboo curtain, in India, China, Africa, anywhere all over the world, where two or three meet He is in the midst of them.
Therefore, as Paul says, “Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, so now know we Him no more.” I want you to underline this point because it is tremendously important in the light of the challenge of this book to our hearts, and to remind you that the departure of Jesus to heaven was not sunset, but sunrise for this Christian age.
The difference between the beginning of what He did on Earth, as recorded in the Gospel, and what He continues to do now is just this: that on Earth He worked in His limited body; now in heaven He works in all the power of the Spirit of God released through His people, and supremely, the acts of the apostles is the record of a spirit-filled, spirit-taught, spirit-disciplined, spirit-controlled Christian church. From the very beginning to the end, the Holy Spirit fills the ministry of this book.
In the first chapter He is the Spirit of Promise; in the second, the Spirit of Power; in the third, the Spirit of Healing; in the fourth, the Spirit of Boldness; in the fifth, of Judgment; in the sixth, the Spirit of Administration; in the seventh, of Steadfastness; in the eighth, of Evangelism’ in the ninth, of Comfort; and in the tenth, of Guidance. So on through the Book the Holy Ghost fills the picture.
Beloved, this is the ministry and the day of God, the Holy Ghost. It is the ministry of the Spirit that we need today both in song, preaching, in life and daily witness, for the moment the church puts anything or anybody in the place of God, the Holy Ghost, she cuts off all her effectiveness. There is a great plea that runs throughout this Book; a great throb and longing to make room for the Spirit of God; a great plea to have done with stereotyped dead church organizations and to make room for the mighty organic power of God, the Holy Spirit.
There is a great burden expressed throughout the book to make room for the King of kings, to let Him within the church do His work in all His power. This is no place to spend time in an analysis of the acts of the apostles, but may I remind you that it is divided into three sections: the first seven chapters down to the fourth verse of chapter 8 contain the Jewish period of witness, and in those chapters Jerusalem is the central city and Peter is the chief character. From the fifth verse of chapter 8 through the end of chapter 12, we have what we might call the transition period of witness, when you have both Peter and Paul at work together, and Antioch as the central city of importance. From the 13th chapter through to the end of the book, we have the Gentile period of witness with Rome in the center and the Apostle Paul as the chief character. But the first chapter in a sense constitutes the link between the Old and the New; the link between what Jesus began to do in the Gospel and what He is about to do in the power of the Spirit.
I want especially that we consider this in the light of this statement that I am about to make and with which many of you theologically may disagree, but I trust experimentally will support me. It is possible for a Christian to be on the right side of Calvary and the wrong side of Pentecost; for a child of God to be on the right side of pardon and the wrong side of power; to be positionally in Christ perfect, but experimentally in Christ to be in defeat and in failure. I see that very condition appertaining in this little group of disciples in the first chapter of Luke.
This chapter deals with a period of ten days. This is simply explained as our Lord was crucified on the day of the Passover He was the Passover Lamb. The third verse of this chapter tells us that he was seen alive for forty days by many infallible proofs. The second chapter begins with the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, as we are told in Leviticus 23, was 50 days after the Passover, so by simple process of arithmetic, this chapter of the Acts of the Apostles deals with a time period of ten days; a ten day prayer meeting.
There are two main things that I want you to note in this chapter for here we have the last glimpse of the disciples before Pentecost. We will meet them again, but they will be different men. There will be a new tone in their voice, a new radiance in their face, a new ring of authority in their message, a new confidence in their whole bearing, a new demeanor, but at the moment here is the last exhibition of a little group of disciples who have witnessed the death and resurrection authority of Jesus Christ, but who are helpless without the Holy Ghost.
We also witness the last glimpse of our precious Lord. We shall not meet Him again like this, touching the sick, putting His hands on the children. We shall not see Him on the road to Emmaus, going from Jerusalem to Jericho. All that is ended for from Acts chapter 1 onwards henceforth know we Him no more after the flesh. So we do not see Jesus like this again, and we do not see the disciples like this. How do we find the disciples?
If you read into this chapter you will be impressed by the amazing results of what has happened to them through the cross and resurrection, but I think supremely you will be impressed by their essential need for something more. Take a glimpse of these few men gathered together here in this chapter.
Observe their confidence in the Saviour, verse 6, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom unto Israel?” Forget for a moment their obvious mistake. They are absolutely sure of His ability to do the thing. They know that He can do it and there is no question about His power. On the Road to Emmaus, just a few days previously, they had hoped that it had been He which would have redeemed Israel, but they had lost all hope and were falling to pieces, disintegrating, but now the cross, resurrection and assurance that they had seen Him alive had given them absolute confidence in the authority of Jesus Christ.
Notice also that they had such confidence in one another. In the 14th verse they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. In other words, they were of one mind. Peter and John had never agreed until this moment. Peter was always doing things and John always dreaming things—a visionary and a man of action. The two of them were utterly incapable of getting on together. They could never do it as they were two men of opposite temperaments. But they had been eye witnesses now of the cross and of the resurrection. Even at the last moment Peter found John a problem to him, and said, “Lord, what do you want this man to do?” But they got over all that now. Mary the mother of Jesus, was there and his brethren and the women. They had never been there in the days of His flesh. They had not trusted Him, and they had not believed in Him. But now there was confidence in one another. This little group of 120 people, because of the cross, an empty tomb, a risen Christ, were being planted together in such a spirit of fellowship.
And then notice, they had confidence in the Word of God. In the 16th and 20th verses Peter is interpreting their present situation in the light of past Scripture. He is applying two quotations from the Psalms to illustrate what has happened to Judas Iscariot. You see our Lord had talked with these people and He had walked with them, spoken to them, opened their minds and their understanding, and in the light of that revelation, they had absolute confidence in the Word of God. So much had been accomplished without the Holy Ghost, an absolute confidence in Jesus Christ and His authority, a complete trust in one another and absolute confidence in the Scripture as they possessed it. They were sure of all that without the Holy Spirit.
But in the midst of all this, I find these men desperately in need of something more. They were ignorant of Christ’s purpose for them: verse 6. “Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Lord, what are you going to do? What do you want us to do? What is our job? What is the program? Observe that the Lord Jesus did not rebuke their idea that He would restore the kingdom to Israel. But what He did rebuke was their curiosity concerning the program. He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, but you shall receive power.” I want to send you out into this godless, Christless world flaming with the power of God. That is your business.
They were utterly ignorant of Christ’s purpose, and therefore they were incapable of carrying out His commission: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you. Ye shall be witnesses unto me.” Yes, here they were in an upper room, steadfast in prayer, of one mind, happy together in fellowship, loyal to each other, but absolutely helpless to begin to do the task for which Christ had appointed them. They were incapable of carrying out their commission.
In the third place they were utterly inefficient in organization. In verse 22, I suggest that their idea of what was necessary in order that a man might be a witness to the Lord Jesus was wrong. They said that a witness must have been with them since the baptism of John. The thing that mattered was that they had seen Jesus since His resurrection. The principle of the selection of someone to replace Judas was wrong. There was no need for the casting of lots as that was in God’s hands. Mathias was wrongly appointed. He is never heard of again. Then the Apostle Paul comes into the picture. He was God’s replacement to the traitor Judas Iscariot. As I picture these disciples confident in Christ, in one another, in the Scripture, I find them at the same time ignorant of God’s plan, incapable of carrying out the Lord’s commission, inefficient in church organization. The last glimpse of the disciples before the Holy Ghost.
A last glimpse of our precious Lord. What has He to say to that group? What is His message in that condition? First, a word of correction in the 7th verse: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power.” Second, a word of promise: “Ye shall receive power.” Third, a word of commission: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” You shall be His, and this is what Jesus really said, You shall be My argument; you shall be My evidences, My credentials; My reputation, My honor, My character. That is the Christian. You shall be that wherever you go throughout the uttermost parts of the earth.
Then a final word of departure, for in that body of His limitation, as they watched Him taken from them, He ascended up into heaven and the body with which He began to do and to teach this world of ours was removed from the scene. Why? In order that it might make way for another body which Paul describes as “the fullness of Him that filleth all and in all”; in order that the body in which He was limited might make way for another body in which you and I are part of His church; in order that now the limitation should cease and the restriction of His testimony should end in the unrestricted mighty flow of Holy Ghost power and the church should sweep the earth in the Name of the King of kings.
Two thousand years have gone by, and we ought to be before God with broken hearts, for the commission is unfulfilled, and there are more unevangelized people in this modern world than there ever have been since Christianity made its first impact. What are we to say to these things? God has had something to say to me about this, and I trust He has something to say to you.
I give you again in conclusion the glimpse of these disciples as we find them here, and I am asking you in all sincerity, earnestness and humility, as I remind you of their condition, do I put the mirror of God’s Word in front of your face? Is this the description of your life?—confidence in the Lord who is able to do anything but fail? Confidence in one another within the fellowship of this Christian church, in the Word of God, an unfailing assurance in the authority of Scripture, but absolutely ignorant of God’s purpose for your life?
You are absolutely incapable of fulfilling His commission and totally inefficient in the organization of a local church body. There is only one answer to that situation. We believe the Bible. I trust that we trust each other, for that is the whole basis of fellowship, and I believe we have confidence in the ability of God, at least we sing “God can do anything but fail” often enough. But as the Holy Spirit looks into your heart, what do you know about God’s purpose for your own personal life, and are you walking in it? Have you any capability or none at all of effective testimony in the power of a risen Christ?
When it comes to the point of organization, is it helplessly inefficient? Is there a struggle and an effort and attempt to make the church work, and to raise enough money to keep it going? Is it a desperate fight? There is only one answer to the need of the church today and that is God the Holy Ghost in power; for the Holy Ghost to strike in conviction at the very heart of the church.
If that is the need, what am I doing about it? What are you? What had they to do about it? What did Jesus say? “Tarry ye” said the man who came from heaven, “in the city of Jerusalem till ye be endued with power from on high.” Is the Lord waiting for every Christian to tarry? He is not. There is no suggestion in the New Testament after Pentecost that a Christian group or individual has to wait for God. God is waiting for us. He is waiting for you and for me to repent and forsake all sin and to turn to Him in utter emptiness and in desperate need.
He is waiting for us to make a new stand on the principles of faith, and for us to believe the promises of God. Not to say we do not have enough money, but to believe that God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies. He is waiting for the church to believe all the promises in this book, and go right out upon them, knowing that Jesus never fails. He is waiting for us to launch out in New Testament evangelism in which every Christian has every gift that he ever possesses at the feet of the Master for God’s use: our gift of speech, song, ministry, teaching, or just you without any apparent gift, your whole life available to Him.
He is waiting for us in the Name of our risen Lord, and I believe God can do the impossible if you and I are prepared to fulfill the conditions, and to launch out in Holy Spirit leadership in America to bring a new era of Holy Spirit power into a decadent fundamental testimony in this country. Throughout this land there is a yearning, a hunger, a longing for God to move in America in mighty revival, and there is a growing conviction and recognition that it is the letter of the law that kills, but it is the Spirit which gives life.
“Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” and the Holy Ghost will not condescend to come upon a man who has never had his heart broken and never repented altogether of his sin, and forsaken it. May the Lord give everyone of us grace to take the Word to our hearts, and may we be prepared in our own soul, whatever it may cost us, to fulfill the conditions which He lays down.