Snapsots From Acts Number 7: The Work of the Holy Spirit
Snapshots from Acts -Number 7: The Work of the Holy Spirit.
Running through the book of Acts is the work of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the promise of Jesus to his followers: "and lo, I will be with you to the end of the age". (Matthew 18:19) When Jesus took on human form he was somewhat limited in that human form. As humans we are after all bound as to time and space. The Holy Spirit does not have that limitation and can be everywhere and anywhere at the same time. Jesus told the woman at Jacob's well that those who worship God would not have to go to a specific place to worship but would worship "in Spirit and in truth", and so be free to worship anywhere at any time. (John 4:23)
Luke, in the book of Acts, describes the work Jesus continued to do after his ascension, working through his disciples and the Holy Spirit (1:1-5). John records that Jesus told the disciples (John 14:18) that he would not leave them as orphans. He explained that he had to go to the Father so that the Holy Spirit could come, (John 16:7-11) and help them in their task of taking the Good News into a lost world.
The book of Acts can perhaps be described as the "Acts of the Holy Spirit", rather than the Acts of the Apostles (Marshall pg.32) Remember that the headings of the books are not part of the original text but added much later by translators. Often Luke accredits actions to the Holy Spirit, but even when not specifically mentioned its influence and direction is obvious on every page.
As we follow the references to the Holy Spirit in Acts, we can learn more about how the Holy Spirit worked in the first century, and even how it works today. The Spirit is mentioned many times in the book of Acts. Sometimes Luke refers to it simply as the "pneuma" or wind. The same word is used in the rest of the New Testament to describe the so called third member of the Godhead. (see Mt. 3:16; 4:1; Luke 4:14; John15:26; 16:13; etc.) At times the New Testament writers, including Luke, refer to the Holy Spirit as the "hagion pneuma". Acts 1:2,5,8; Mt. 1:18;2:32. This can then be translated "Holy Spirit". In the King James version, it was translated "Holy Ghost" but most more modern translations refer to the Holy Spirit.
As the book of Acts opens, the Holy Spirit was involved in giving instructions to the apostles (1:2). They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:5). They received power when the Holy Spirit came on them(1:8). In Peter's advice to the apostles on the election of someone to take Judas's place, he credits the Holy Spirit with working through David in the Old Testament (1:16), at least implying that it was working also in their decision. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages (2:3). Peter refers to the prophecy in Joel about the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people empowering them (2:16-21). The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to those who repent and are baptised for the remission of sins (2:38). These believers then become witnesses to the Good News through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.
In Acts 4:8, Peter "filled with the Holy Spirit" answered the religious leaders of the time. When he and John returned to their own people, they prayed to God, praising him and saying that he spoke to the people through the Holy Spirit in the words of David (4:25). After prayer the place was shaken and the believers being filled with the Holy Spirit proclaimed the word of God mightily (4:31).
Ananias and his wife lied to the Holy Spirit and died (5:1-4,9). The men chosen to assist with the Greek widows were men "who were known to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom" (6:3,5). Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, prayed as he was stoned to death (7:55).
When Phillip preached the word in Samaria the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to lay hands on the believers so that they could receive the Holy Spirit (8:15-17). This indicated two different works of the Holy Spirit. One in salvation and another in the ability to perform miracles. This second work could only be achieved by the laying on of hands of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit told Phillip to join the Ethiopian Eunuch on his journey and took Phillip away after the conversion took place. (9:29,39)
In Acts 9:31, Luke records that the church enjoyed a time of peace and grew; while being encouraged by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit spoke to Peter after he saw the vision at Simon's house and gave him instructions/orders (10:19,20). In his sermon at the house of Cornelius, Peter explained how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power (10:38) Peter, back in Jerusalem, explained his action in accepting Gentiles into the faith. He told the Jews there that the Spirit had told him to open the door to the Gentiles (11:12)
Agabus, through the Spirit, predicted a drought (11:27) and prophesied about Paul (21:10). The Holy Spirit instructed the church in Antioch to set aside Barnabas and Paul for the work he had called them to do (13:2) They were sent away by the Holy Spirit (13:4) and Paul, "filled with the Holy Spirit", preached to the proconsul in Paphos (13:9). They then moved on to Perga where they preached the Good News and converted many but were rejected by the Jewish leaders and the chief men in the city. Paul and Barnabas "shook the dust off their feet" and left. The disciples were "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit" (13:49-52). Paul was prevented from preaching the Gospel in the Province of Asia by the Holy Spirit (16:6,7). In Ephesus Paul corrected the disciples who had not heard about the Holy Spirit when they had been baptized and so after laying hands on them, the disciples spoke in languages and prophesied (19:1-6). Paul was then compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem (20:22)
When Paul made his final statement in Rome that was recorded by Luke in the book of Acts (28:25-29), he said that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah predicting that the hearts of the Jewish people would be calloused, but that God would return and heal them. In the final analysis it would, however, be the Gentiles who would listen to the message.
Some deductions about the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts:
1. The Holy Spirit was active in the actions of the early church, in its establishment and progress.
2. People filled with the Holy Spirit did great things for God.
3. Even at times when people chose to attempt to over ride the Holy Spirit, God was in control through the Holy Spirit. (16:6,7)
4. The Holy Spirit was involved actively in and through the lives of Christians, and specially those spreading the Gospel.
5. In the other New Testament books we can learn a lot more about the Holy Spirit, i.e. "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-26) and the law of the Spirit frees us from sin and death (Romans 8:2).
References: NIV Translation: Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Marshall I.H.: Acts - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
Roberts J.W. Acts of the Apostles; The Living Word Commentaries