Be Filled With The Holy SpiritErwin W. Lutzer | March 23, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
Have you ever stopped to wonder why Jesus said that you’d receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you to preach the Gospel?
It’s because when you share the Gospel, you are going up against two formidable powers that you can’t overcome on your own: the human heart and the spirit world.
By looking at the early church in Acts, Pastor Lutzer shows us what can be accomplished when we’re filled with the Spirit.
We also learn how to be filled with the Spirit. Then he shares this prayer with us that he prays each morning:
No matter how I feel, by faith I receive today the fullness of the Spirit, which is my inheritance. It is a gift given to struggling Christians just like me, and I receive that gift. And everything that happens today I’m going to say, ‘Lord, this is your problem. This is your problem. This is your problem. This is your challenge, because I can’t do it. You don’t expect me to do it. I’m going to trust You to do above and beyond whatever I could possibly ask or think because it’s Your Spirit doing it and it’s not me.’
I want to begin today with a question and that is, “Who brought you the Gospel, and where did you first hear that Jesus won a victory on your behalf, and that you can be reconciled to God through simple faith?” In my case I heard it because I was born into a Christian family. Perhaps some of you were also. Others of you say, “No, I wasn’t but I was brought to church, or somebody gave me a Bible.” There was some communication somewhere that brought you to saving faith in Christ.
What kind of an investment are we making for other people? Suppose that you had been born in Peru or East Africa or China and you never heard the Word? How important would it be to get the Word to you? You say, “Since my eternity is at stake, it’s very important.” Yes, it’s very important.
D. L. Moody had a heart for the world. It is beyond belief almost that in his first graduating class in the school in Massachusetts that he founded they had 30 different nationalities represented. Moody had a heart for the world. He embraced the globe.
Moody Church was founded in 1864 (That’s why we are celebrating its 150th anniversary.) and 14 years later it sent its first missionary, and what a missionary he was, supported by Moody Church. His name was Fredrik Franson, and Fredrik was born in Sweden, came to America, and came to Chicago to get to know Moody. He had already been to Europe doing missionary work, and then the Moody Church sent him in 1878. He’s sent by the Moody Church and he begins mission agencies in Sweden and in Germany and in Poland, that those countries might be reached with the Gospel, and that they also might think about their obligation to send missionaries elsewhere. Amazing!
He came back after many years of successful mission work and decided that there had to be a home base. There had to be somewhere an agency in America that could pool resources, pool information, and help send missionaries out to the field. And he began an organization, which was later called TEAM. It had a different name at the beginning, but it was TEAM – The Evangelical Alliance Mission. And if you want to know his legacy you can go to Carol Stream, next to Wheaton, and you can see there the headquarters of TEAM. And they have about 600 missionaries serving in different parts of the world with 200 volunteers. What a marvelous ministry! All my life I’ve heard of TEAM.
Now here’s what’s interesting. Franson dies at the age of 56. I mean 56! Some of us just got started at the age of 56. He’s in Colorado. (And my lovely wife, Rebecca, would say that if you have to die, you should die in Colorado, because she loves the state so much.) He’s there visiting friends, and they try to wake him for breakfast, and he’s home to heaven. But what a legacy! Today TEAM still exists because of his vision and legacy. Moody Church’s first missionary!
Now I went through the archives and looked at other missionaries. I have no idea the number of missionaries that have been sent from Moody Church. There are hundreds upon hundreds. I just happened to go through 1935. Every month they had The Moody Church News, and I won’t take time to read it, but this is one page of The Moody Church News, and it has one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight different reports of missionaries, missionaries from China, from Poland, from Peru, from different parts of the world, from East Africa. All of this and more, giving reports to the Moody Church, and today we have about 80 missionaries.
And I want us to understand that I’m not so much interested in the past. The past is past. What I am concerned about is what is the Holy Spirit of God saying to us today? In my time here I have seen some of the best singles and married couples leave Moody Church and go all over the world, and we pray that God will continue to do that. And you know, Pastor Levi and his wife, Diane, have had a lot of experience in helping people discern that call, and helping send them all over the world because the same Holy Spirit who led those who paved the way is the same Holy Spirit who leads us today. And it is that Holy Spirit that I want to speak about because unless we understand His fullness, I am afraid that we won’t witness in America, and we won’t witness around the world.
Your Bibles are open. I hope that at least you have them and you can turn to the first chapter of the book of Acts. And Jesus here, you remember, is saying some last words to the disciples. After His death and resurrection for 40 days He is here on earth, and He appears occasionally to the disciples. They don’t know when He is going to be coming and dropping in on them. And that’s sort of the way in which it is today. We don’t know when Jesus is going to come. We don’t know when He is going to drop in on us, and come and take us to Himself. But there He is. He’s teaching them. He’s training them, and then I’m picking it up in verse 6 of Acts 1. “So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.’”
Don’t you wish that some people who predicted that they knew exactly when Jesus is going to come read this verse and took it seriously? That would have certainly ended a lot of nonsense that we’ve had to put up with. Verse 8, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Let me tell you why I’m preaching this message. It’s certainly not just to missionaries. It’s to everybody who is listening. No matter your vocation, no matter your circumstance in life, I expect things to be different because you have heard the Word of God, and you have received it by faith.
Notice that Jesus says, “You shall be my witnesses.” You know a witness is simply somebody who stands in for another. Notice in Acts 1:1, “In the first book, O Theophilus.” I love that name. I don’t know of any child I’ve ever dedicated called Theophilus, but it does mean God lover. He’s talking about the book of Luke that he also wrote (Luke wrote Luke and he also wrote Acts.) when he says, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Jesus began it and now He’s on His way to heaven, and now He passes on the legacy and the responsibility to the disciples. And what are they supposed to do? They are supposed to do what He did, and they are supposed to preach what He preached. And so Jesus is handing off the baton and He said, “You are to be My witnesses.” That word witness simply means that if you are in a court of law you have witnesses come and those witnesses are to reveal what they have seen and what they have heard. It doesn’t matter whether they are good looking. It doesn’t really matter whether they are articulate or not as long as they know something that is important for people, and they have some news and some insight that has to be shared. And Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses. What a privilege to be a witness for Jesus. We stand in for Him. “As the Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”
There’s a story that comes to us from the days of the Civil War where a young soldier had an artery that was shattered as a result of some shrapnel, and a doctor came and helped him – bound it up and took care of him. And he said to the doctor, “What is your name?” And the doctor said, “Well, it really doesn’t matter much.” And the young man said, “No, it matters. I want to be able to tell people who saved my life.” And that’s what witnessing is. It’s witnessing to the fact that when Jesus died on the cross His death was sufficient for us. He won a victory and now we are witnesses because He changed our lives. He’s reconciled us to God. He has all of the authenticity of the Son of God, and we are witnesses to that, said Jesus.
But then He says, “You shall stay in Jerusalem because you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit shall come upon you.” You know, why did they need power? That’s a really good question. I think it’s a good question. I was just thinking this past week about some of my past life, and I know that in seminary I once went door to door selling, and the thing that I was selling was pictures by a photography company. What I would say to people was, “Would you like a photographer to come and take a picture of the whole family?” and you know I had sample pictures of wonderful families when this photographer came around and took their picture. And I remember going door to door in Dallas where it’s kind of a friendly atmosphere. You know, we sold quite a few pictures. I don’t think I made a lot of money. If I did, I probably spent it on books anyway. But the point is this. We didn’t have a lecture. We had a brief seminar on sales, but he didn’t say, “Now, you need power; you need the Holy Spirit to sell these pictures and this photography.” He didn’t say that. Why does Jesus say that you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you to preach the Gospel? It’s because when you share the Gospel you are up against two formidable powers that you cannot overcome by your brilliance, by your cleverness, by your uniqueness. Unless the Spirit overcomes those it’s a lost cause.
First of all, the human heart. I’ll tell you the human heart resists the Gospel. The idea that I can’t save myself and be the captain of my own ship is so resistant. You’ve had the experience where people don’t even want to hear that salvation is a free gift that you can humbly receive. They don’t want that, and they don’t want God to interfere in their lives anyway. There’s a huge resistance. But in addition to that, when you share the Gospel you begin to elicit all kinds of response in the spirit world, and pretty soon principalities and powers are after you because a being called the devil and his fallen angels hate, and I mean hate, the message of the cross.
So, you see, unless you receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you and I can’t witness the way we should. We can say the words but unless there’s power of transformation, unless there’s power to change the human heart, and to overcome its darkness, without that spiritual power it is indeed a lost cause.
Now look at what happened. The Holy Spirit did come upon them (Acts 2). They began to speak in tongues, and there has been so much discussion about that so I’ll simply say that what happened is this. All of the different languages that they began to speak are listed in Acts 2. Every time tongues is spoken of in the New Testament, it is a gift that God gave to show that the Gospel is now going out in all the different languages of the world. No longer is it limited to Hebrew. God spoke in Hebrew as the Old Testament was being compiled, and now suddenly the Gospel is going out in all these different languages. And God wanted to make a point. He was going now to the ends of the earth. So you have this miraculous gift, and it happens elsewhere in Acts wherever you have a people group accepting the Gospel. Twice again in Acts it occurs.
But the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which they received, was the beginning of the Church. And you and I don’t have to seek the baptism because if we trust Christ as Savior, according to Paul, we are baptized into the Body of Christ. That’s the unity of the Body of Jesus Christ. But repeatedly in the Gospels what you have is the fact that the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. And then you go along a little further, and you discover once again that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Many times they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and when that Spirit came and they understood its fullness they became an unstoppable group of people because they understood the Holy Spirit. And in a few moments I am going to explain to you how you and I can experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so please hang in.
But let’s just back off for a moment and ask ourselves this question. What were they able to do as a result of this experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit? Think through the book of Acts. First of all, they had pretty soon, as the Church was birthed, internal controversy. You remember the Hellenistic widows. The Greek widows thought that the Hebrew widows were getting better treatment than they, so the Apostles said, “Look, we can’t take care of this. Let’s appoint some deacons to handle this particular dispute,” and as far as we know, these deacons who were full of the Holy Spirit, by the way (the text says), were able to resolve the controversy. And that’s what you find in churches today. There are controversies, and what the Church needs is people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, which comes by the Spirit to resolve controversies among God’s people.
But that being said, that was the least of their problems. Persecution broke out. I think it’s in Acts 4 where you have the Apostles… By the way, Peter, spoke on the Day of Pentecost. I mean would we have Peter speak in our church? I mean he just denied Jesus a couple of weeks earlier and we say, “Hey, this guy just denied Jesus. He’s not the one we want to preach in this pulpit.” Listen, Peter, now having experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit, preaches to a large crowd, and he is so politically incorrect. He said, “You crucified Messiah.” How do you think that went over? Perhaps like a screen door in a submarine. I mean, let’s talk about it. How would it go over? And yet he stood up there boldly. And then persecution comes and the Apostles are thrown in prison, and then they decide to let them go after they are flogged.
What would you and I do? I know I’d complain and say, “Oh, it’s come to this in America. So this is the way….” None of that! The Bible says that they rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for His name. And they go back and they prayed together, and the place where they prayed is shaken because they didn’t say one thing about taking away the persecution. All that they did was praise God. Where in the world does that power and attitude come from? It comes only from the blessed Holy Spirit of God.
And then you have the Church moving on. You have other issues such as the racial issue. You see, if you can just understand the hostility between Jews and Arabs, for example, and the Palestinians over in Israel today, that’s the kind of hostility the Jews had toward the Samaritans because they were half-cast people – half Assyrian and half Jewish. And they were just utterly despised, and now the Gospel is going to them. Philip is preaching the Gospel over there in Samaria and lo and behold, they are beginning to believe, and the Church doesn’t know what in the world to do. Is this going to assure them that that is not a separate church? They are going to experience the very same thing that the Apostles experienced because God is going to keep this church together, and the racial issue is going to collapse because that which unites them in Christ is now going to be much greater than that which divides them. So the Holy Spirit of God comes.
By the way, speaking of that experience, can you take your Bible and just go over to Acts 8 for a moment? You know, you’d think that after the time of Steven’s death there was more persecution. You’d think that people now would say, “Well now that Steven’s dead, let’s back off (the persecution).” This is what it says in chapter 8, verse 1. “And Saul approved of his execution.” That’s another story. Saul was convinced in his heart he had done right but his conscience troubled him. “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the Apostles.”
You say, “Oh I thought only the Apostles were filled with the Spirit. I thought only the Apostles were out there witnessing. Isn’t that what we pay them for?” (chuckles) Everyone who was part of the Church was filled with the Spirit, and Satan wanted to blow out the light, and he blew it so hard, it would be like you blowing out your birthday candles and setting the curtains on fire. He blew it so hard that the Gospel was blown across the country.
It’s the same thing, I understand, that happened in China. You know the authorities in about 1949 and 1950 said, “Let’s take these Christians and break them up and send them to the farthest regions of China so that they are not connected any more. And all throughout the different regions of China people were believing on Christ. That’s what was happening here because of the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
So the Gospel went from Jerusalem (just like it says in Acts 1:8) to Judea, to Samaria, and then beyond that to the uttermost parts of the earth. It goes to Ephesus, and then where does the book of Acts end? It ends with Paul sitting in a jail, and then later on probably out on parole so to speak – a person who was house confined in Rome, and there’s Paul put in jail in Rome. And if you and I were there we’d be so concerned. We’d say, “Oh Paul is in jail. Look at how unjustly they are treating him, and look at all of that injustice and all that.” And Paul just writes the book of Philippians and says, “Hey, guess what! The Gospel is going to the guards here because I have a different set of guards every 8 hours, and every one of them is having the Gospel explained to them, and some are believing.”
The Church was unstoppable. It didn’t matter whether it was injustice, persecution or racial issues. The Church kept marching on. Why? It’s because they understood the power of the Holy Spirit of God. And if we are going to touch this city, and if we are going to continue to touch the world in a greater way, it will only be because of the power of the Spirit.
Now I told you that I was going to explain to you how you can receive the Spirit’s power. Aren’t you glad you came today, by the way? I hope that you listen very, very carefully from now on. (applause)
First of all, I want you to see very clearly the absolute importance and how essential it is that we understand the filling of the Spirit. I listened to a message by Jim Cymbala recently and he pointed this out. It’s a powerful point.
Here are disciples who were with Jesus for three years. I mean could you get any better teaching than that? As they walked along the road, as they ate together, and as they fellowshipped together, they are constantly asking Jesus questions, and He’s answering them, and they are interacting. I mean you couldn’t get any better teaching than that. So you’d think that Jesus when he left said, “Now you are well educated. You know the truth, so what I want you to do is to go out and I want you to begin to witness. All right?” No. Jesus said, “You wait in Jerusalem until you understand the fullness of the Spirit.”
“But Jesus, people are dying. They are dying every day, and therefore we need to get out there and to share.” Uh uh! It doesn’t matter how much you know. It doesn’t matter whether or not you attend an equipping class. If an equipping class would do it, it would be done. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are taught in your TMC Communities and in your small groups. Important though all that is, if that were to revolutionize our lives, all of our lives would be revolutionized. You must experience the fullness of the Spirit, and if you don’t have that you’re not going to overcome the opposition. You are not going to be motivated to give generously. You are not going to be motivated to share your faith. You will sit next to the person in the cubicle next to you for years and never share the Holy Spirit and the Gospel, even though you know it all. You need the Holy Spirit. You wait until the Spirit comes.
Second, the fullness of the Spirit is for every Christian. You know, you look at the 120 that were up there in the upper room. I mean you don’t have just the 12 Apostles, someone taking the place of Judas, of course. You have the mother of Jesus. She’s up there. Women are up there. You have diversity of people. They are in the upper room. We don’t know their names – all of them – 120 different people. You have the individual Christians as I mentioned from Acts 8. They are going about sharing their testimony, sharing the Word of God. Where do we get this idea that the fullness of the Spirit is for missionaries and pastors, and you and I don’t have the privilege of that? I mean that’s something really to attain to. “Oh if I were only more spiritual. If only I had more victory over sin, then I could receive the fullness of the Spirit.”
Jim Cymbala pointed this out. I’m so glad he did because I’ve also believed it for years, but he emphasized it so much. See, here’s what happened, and now we’re just talking one on one. You are in my study. You are having a cup of coffee and I’m having a cup of tea and we’re having a little chitchat. Here’s the average Christian who says, “Look at all the sin in my life. Look at all the failure in my life. If only I could overcome that then I could be found worthy to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Well, when are you going to overcome that, and when are you going to be filled with the Holy Spirit? “Well, I don’t know,” but years go by. “Well, you know, some day, somewhere, when I really am holy!”
Listen, all those things that we as pastors sometimes tell you to do to be filled with the Spirit, you can’t do those unless you are filled with the Spirit. We all begin at point zero, so what we must understand is that the Holy Spirit is a gift.
Now let me be clear. When you receive Christ as Savior, the Spirit indwells you. “He who does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of His.” So I’m speaking to you as a believer. The Holy Spirit indwells you, but the Holy Spirit also indwelt the early Apostles and the people in the early Church. And over and over again we read, “And they did this, and they were filled with the Spirit.” Filled with the Spirit! Why? Multiple fillings!
Well, I can do no better than our founder, D. L. Moody. He said, “Do you know why I need to be filled with the Spirit so often? It’s because I leak.” That’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard. And I leak and you leak, and that’s why we need to be filled with the Spirit repeatedly.
Now let’s back off and think. Okay? When you came to Jesus Christ and received Him as Savior, did you say to yourself, “You know, I have to get my act together before I come to Christ?” No, of course you didn’t. You didn’t! You came as you were. You came with your sin, and the Bible says that as you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk in Him. You come, and the Bible says that Jesus died on the cross for our salvation. He ascended and He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that gift is to be received by the most defeated, struggling, hapless Christian. It is for all of us if we come and receive it by faith. We receive by faith the Spirit in His wholeness, and we do that regularly. You say, “What about my sinning issues?” When you begin to do that, that’s when the Holy Spirit begins to show you your sin and then you begin to deal with your issues. But you and I spiritually are so bad off, we need the fullness of the Spirit right from the get-go where we are, and He is to be received by faith,
Jesus said the only requirement is thirst. “He who is athirst, let him come,” Jesus said. And he says, “He who believes on Me from within Him shall flow rivers of living water and this He spoke of the Spirit which they who believe would receive.” See, the Spirit was not fully poured out until the ascension of Christ, for Jesus was not yet glorified. The cross takes care of my past and my future, received by faith. The fullness of the Spirit dwells within me to walk in that fullness received by faith. By faith!
This morning I woke up. I hope that you recognize that I did. I had a very, very interesting dream. It was one of these where… Oh I know. Now you’re going to say, “What was it?” I know I shouldn’t have mentioned that. But actually I’ll tell you a little about it. I was supposed to be preaching in Mexico City and I got cut off from the people who were taking me there, and I was totally lost. It was really a bad experience, and when I woke up I thought, “Lord!” Have you had that experience? I mean really you just say, “Thank God, it was only a dream.”
So when I got up this morning I didn’t have a heart hot for God. I felt as bad as you did. And you didn’t have a heart for God either, did you? You just wondered, “How do I get ready to go to church?” That’s the way I felt, but before I got out of bed I asked that God glorify Himself in my life today at my expense, which I always pray – perhaps not always, but almost always. And then I said, “No matter how I feel, by faith I receive today the fullness of the Spirit, which is my inheritance. It is a gift given to struggling Christians just like me, and I receive that gift. And everything that happens today I’m going to say, ‘Lord, this is your problem. This is your problem. This is your problem. This is your challenge, because I can’t do it. You don’t expect me to do it. I’m going to trust You to do above and beyond whatever I could possibly ask or think because it’s Your Spirit doing it and it’s not me.’” (applause)
That is what you and I should pray every single morning. Then the Holy Spirit of God points out, “Hey, you’ve got a sin issue over here. You’ve got this over here, and you’ve got that over there.” But you see, then we work together filled with the Spirit. I’m not saying we can do everything that happened in the book of Acts, but can’t we do something that happened in the book of Acts if we have the same Spirit?
I don’t know how many of you remember Jessica McClure in 1987. Some of you weren’t even born in 1987. The little toddler became world famous. She was 18 months old and fell into a shaft in her back yard. The question is she was 20 feet into that shaft and how were they to get her out? Well, of course, the sensible thing was to dig a shaft right next to it and to dig over and pull her out. You can’t begin at the top and try or else the dirt would fall on her and she’d be smothered in a minute.
But what they discovered was that this shaft was encased basically by limestone that was so hard that it took diamond bit drills and they broke them as if they were pencils. So you had one team after another working, working until they had a little hole and then they began to chisel that little hole. The television cameras fifty-six hours later all turned to midland Texas. I happened to be watching T.V. that evening, and none of us could keep back the tears when that paramedic went down into the hole and was able to pull her out from the one shaft into the other and then bring her up. And there was this little bundle just full of mud and dirt, but there she was.
Who rejoiced? Well, first of all the people who dug the hole. They rejoiced. They had a part in it. The folks who did the drilling and the chiseling rejoiced. They had a part in it. The paramedic rejoiced, and then eventually all the world rejoiced.
And now folks, when we think of missions, who rejoices when we receive reports of Muslims coming to Christ in North Africa or in France, or we hear reports about churches being established? We all do. There are those who go. There are those who stay, who pray, who give, who contribute, but we all participate, and we are all witnesses wherever God has planted us because we have the same Holy Spirit as the dear missionaries out there.
You know, when little Jessica was rescued I remember there was a big debate as to who should pay for the rescue. Here you have teams of workers working day and night 56 hours, and somebody said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have spent all that money. I mean little girls are important, but there are plenty of them.” (Chuckles) Yeah, unless it’s your little girl and then there is no cost too high.
I’m just sharing my heart with you as a pastor. As I look at our missionary giving, I have to say that in all the years I have been here I’ve never seen it this low. At least I don’t remember it to be this low. There is on the part of many of us I fear the idea that missions is what happens out there. We don’t understand the investment that we are making because somebody else’s soul is at stake. Not yours, but it is somebody else and it is somebody else’s little girl and little boy. The question is what are we doing as a church unitedly to see the Gospel go out? And then what about the person with whom you will work tomorrow? What about them? It’s their soul! Right? Is that important to you? Is it as important to you as your soul? I don’t think any of us would say that. It’s ours that’s important – as long as I’m saved.
The Bible says that through the filling of the Spirit, we can have a much greater impact because we are willing to go, we’re willing to speak, we’re willing to stand in for Jesus, and witness winsomely lovingly.
I love the fact that we’ve met a Savior who actually took away our sins, who brought us into God’s presence, and forgave us forever. Imagine that! And those of you who are listening who have never received that Savior, you too can pray and say, “Today I receive Him as mine – my Savior, who died for me.”
As I pray today I want to pray a prayer about the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and you can pray it silently in your heart if you are so inclined. It’s very simple. It’s nothing profound because it’s not the prayer that does it anyway. It’s the heart! But let’s invite God by His Spirit to touch our hearts individually and collectively, that we also may be an unstoppable church for the glory of God.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, we want to thank You today that the Holy Spirit is a gift, and that means we don’t have to attach to it all kinds of requirements, and all kinds of this’s and that’s. We look in our hearts and we are discouraged because of our failures and sins, but now by faith, Lord, we receive the Holy Spirit in His fullness. He lives within us, but we want to be controlled by Him. We want to be led by Him. We want to be comforted by Him. We want courage from Him, so we receive Him now. Thank You, Father, that as we learn to walk in faith the sky is the limit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.