The photo above is from a dirt road leading up to Ephesus. Paul lived and taught here for two years.
[Final Theme Summary – Acts]
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus’ promise here sets up the theme for Acts, a demonstration of the Holy Spirit working through individuals to achieve God’s greater plan. In a world of interesting thoughts and opinions on the workings of the Holy Spirit, Acts reveals it’s true missional purpose; hope of the gospel for all people and all nations. We receive the framework for understanding this purpose in Acts 2, the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers during Pentecost.
Pentecost was celebrated yearly as a remembrance of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the wilderness. At this point in history, Jews lived in every nation as a result of the diaspora, but most of these people would make the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate this holiday. Thus Jerusalem was at capacity with Jews from all nations (I’m continually blown away by God’s strategy). The disciples were all together in one place, hidings indoors, trying to figure out what Jesus meant in the above verse. Suddenly, wind fills the room and tongues of fire appear on their heads and they run out of the house speaking in other languages. Of course this draws the attention of all the diaspora Jews in Jerusalem. The significance of each element of this story broken down shows the intent of the Holy Spirit all throughout Acts.
1. Tongues of fire on their heads
The Jews would have immediately thought back to the wilderness wanderings where the spirit of God was with them through a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire during the night above the holy of holies in the Tabernacle. As good Jews, believing that a miracle such as this could only come from God, they would have been astonished at the possible meaning. If this fire truly represented God’s presence, then the people the fire resided on must have been made clean in some way. God was holy, and could only be present with those who were made holy by blood sacrifice. The witnesses of this event would have been wondering what made these men clean. Maybe Jesus’ sacrifice was atonement for all?
The second thing good Jews would have drawn a parallel to is the idea of the temple. If God’s presence resided in a pillar of fire over the Tabernacle, then God’s presence over these men made them holy like the tabernacle. Could it be possible that through Jesus’ blood as a covering for all sin, these men were enabled to become holy places, mobile tabernacles?
2. Who was filled by the spirit?
The Jewish priesthood was taken very seriously and represented the extreme exclusivity of the faith. Only men over thirty, most with an ancestry tracing back to the 12 tribes of Israel were considered worthy of priestly service. Here, it’s the Galileans, Jews from a Gentile area who were filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only that, it was men, women, and children of all ages who were filled with the spirit. Could it be that all people were made clean, and that all people could have God living inside them?
3. Different Languages
The Diaspora Jews are astonished because they are hearing the language of the nations they came from spoken in Jerusalem. If they were to be good Jews, they would have understood that there was one holy language (Hebrew) and one holy place (Jerusalem). Could it be that now relationship with God was available to everyone? That God’s promises are made for every tribe and every nation? Could a diaspora Jew go back to their nation, away from Jerusalem, and bring God’s presence with them?
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit broke open the kingdom to God for all people and all places. Christ’s sacrifice covered the sins of both Jew and Gentile, which was God’s plan all along. Through Acts, the reader watches how God’s Holy Spirit blossoms in the hearts of believers, breaking down every barrier that ever kept men from God in the past. The power and strategy of the Holy Spirit was channeled into one mission, one message. God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and is furiously drawing all people from all places into his great love and purpose.
[Final Application – Acts]
Paul’s ministry focus throughout Acts really resonated with me this week. I find continually the temptation to overcomplicate ministry and to focus on the fruit rather than the root of what you’re doing. In every ministry decision I’ve made, I feel like there has been this little secret motivator in the back of my head, pushing me to do things that would look big and great to everyone else. I feel like I’m coming to an age of specialization, where God is leading me to choose something and really dig my teeth into commitment. The scary thing about the start of commitment is that it turns the focus from the fruit to the roots. And the roots don’t make for good newsletters or exciting support raising.
But then I look at Paul. His simple obedience and adherence to one sphere of society, made for great power and work of the Holy Spirit in many other spheres of society. Here is my favorite story in Acts:
He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books[b] was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Everywhere Paul went, he simply taught the scriptures. His entire life was devoted to education under the scriptures. When he was saved, he gained new gusto for connecting what the Jews had known of the Old Testament scriptures to the new and astonishing work of Jesus Christ. In Ephesus, he stayed for two years, simply teaching. He started in the synagogues, which was to be expected, but he also argued with skeptics in the public university (Lecture Hall of Tyrannus). It is amazing to see that through this, all Jews and Greeks in all of Asia had heard the truth about Christ.
Now what’s really cool is the next part of the story. Inadvertently, Paul’s name became famous among all in Ephesus. Jewish exorcists were hired to expel the evil spirit out of a man. They use Jesus’ name, the one they heard Paul use, and the demon calls them out. The demon recognizes the power of Jesus and the name of Paul and attacks the men as impostors. This story became known to all the people of Ephesus and many people became believers and burned their books about magic and sorcery. The crazy thing is that Ephesus was the 4th largest economy in the entire Roman world because of the money it brought in from these magical practices and mystical religions. The value of the books burned was 50,000 days wages. The only thing I could compare it to is if half of Vegas shut down it’s strip clubs and burned all their pornographic material publicly. This amazing work of the Holy Spirit in the Vegas of the ancient world truly demonstrated how the world was being turned upside down by the gospel. Now where was Paul in all of this? Paul was simply teaching in the synagogue and the university and going home every day. It was through his simple dedication to teaching the scriptures in one place, that enabled this great miracle to take place. Paul was not worried about the fruit of his ministry, rather his obedience before God, but the fruit came anyways.
There is power we cannot fully realize in our simple commitment to what God has called us to each moment. This is why my focus will be less on fruitful explanations and more on this unshakable confidence that comes from commitment to obey what God is saying.