It might be expected that I would spend a lot of time today dealing with Acts 2, but that is not my intent. All Pentecostal Christians are very familiar with the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. There might be debate about whether the initial tongues were those in a heavenly language or whether they were the first of the works of the Holy Spirit working through the newly filled believers to preach to the gathered masses in their own language, but the story is familiar nevertheless.
For the lesson today, we will start at the end and work backwards through the various lesson texts till we reach far back into the Old Testament. Hopefully, there will be a new perspective on the Holy Spirit from this process.
The Work of the Spirit in Leading to Christ
Probably the most important work of the Holy Spirit is that of convicting men of sin and leading their hearts to seek salvation from their sin. If it was not for this work, mankind would be lost. Few sink deep enough in the depths of sin to realize, on their own, that something has to change - although that does happen for some. If it was not for the work of the Holy Spirit in moving individual men and women toward God, the Christian church would never have survived. The persecutions of the early church and throughout the centuries (Wikipedia) would have killed off any desire to voluntarily take a religious path meeting major political, civil, and religious resistance.
But thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit did not give up on the creation and kept prodding at people's hearts on a continual basis. If it were not for this work, then the work of every neighbor, relative, friend, disciple and teacher, every preacher, minister, priest, and person of authority in the church, and of every apostle, missionary and evangelist working out in the world would be in vain. Unless a person's heart has been softened and prepared to receive the Gospel Message before hand, then the words that are sown by Christ's workers are all too often sown in vain (Luke 8:5-15).
The Work of the Spirit in Our Lives
The scripture used in this lesson gave several instances of the way the Holy Spirit works to change our lives. When each person accepts Christ as their Savior, the Holy Spirit begins working toward the goal of making each person's life holy and acceptable to God (1 Cor. 12:1-2). It is Christ's desire that each of us live a life that is holy and perfect before God (Mt. 5:48). This verse is part of a larger context where Christians are commanded to love not just one another, but those who are against them. But God's standards are high whether speaking solely of love or any of the other aspects of Christian living.
In Galatians 5:22-26, the fruit of the Spirit is listed. It should be noted that it is a singular fruit, finding expression equally in all of the aspects that are listed.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Although not included in the scripture reading from the quarterly, this section of attributes which should be seen in Christian's lives follows a list of attributes which should not be seen. These are listed following a discussion of the differences between Christians and non-Christians toward the end of Galatians 5:13-21.
The work of the Spirit in each of our lives cannot be stressed enough. Satan is continually striving to destroy each Christian individually and stamp out Christianity in general. He tries to tear each of us down, concentrating like a jackhammer on our weakest spots. We need to continually pray for one another for strength in the face of the onslaught of the enemy and to combat our own weaknesses.
The Spirit moves to make us more Christlike, in a battle against Satan's forces for our souls and eternal life. This work is aided by an order of magnitude by the baptism in the Spirit. All Christians should be moving to be more Christlike in their every day walk, regardless of whether or not you have received the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. His presence in you that led you to be saved in the first place will continue to work in you to continue this work. The Holy Spirit baptism will give a tremendous boost in all of the fruit of the Spirit. This should make your testimony and walk obvious to all around you as was the testimony of Peter when condemned for healing at the gate Beautiful (Acts 4:8-20).
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a co-requisite for salvation, but it can be a very big blessing and source of strength in keeping that salvation as you go about your day to day business.
The Work of the Spirit through the Church
The third major way in which the Spirit works in Christians today is through the gifts of the Spirit. There are both gifts of ministration as seen through 1 Cor. 12:12-31, Eph. 4:8,11-15 and gifts of the Spirit as described in 1 Cor. 12:1-11 and 1 Cor. 14. It is useful to note that between these two major chapters on the gifts of the Spirit sits 1 Cor. 13, speaking of love and the work the Spirit must do in each of us for the gifts of the Spirit or the ministrations of the Spirit to have good effect.
The ministration gifts of the Spirit are necessary to enable the church to carry on its role of discipleship and training up of new converts to Christianity. This role is just as important now as it was in the early church. The forces of the world against the church are just as strong now as they were then. Although we are able to know about more going on in the world for bad today than then, so also we are able to know more about what is going on in the world for good. Christians need to be more vocal when God does good things for His people and His church to help people to know that He is. We are too often silent today.
The action gifts of the Spirit - speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues, words of prophecy, diving of spirits, words of knowledge and wisdom, miracles, healing, and a divine faith that ties it all together are meant for two purposes. First, God is a loving Father and truly does care for His children and His creation in general. While we might not always know how to pray in our own wisdom in each situation, the Holy Spirit can direct our prayers to the best result in each situation. This closeness can be a beautiful thing.
When God acts on our behalf to perform a miracle or heal someone or provide just the right word in a given situation, it is because He loves us and wants to help us out when we are in need. Although He does sometimes bless people who He cares about over and above what they need (Solomon would be an example), His primary focus is to meet needs and not wants. We frequently confuse those two things.
Over Easter, our church food bank passed out hams. We purchased 60 hams for the occasion. We gave out 110 - one to as many as came to the food bank. There was one ham left in the locked refrigerator/freezer when the day was done. When they went back to check, there were 8 hams there. God is still in the business of caring for His people and meeting their needs. He is still in the creation business.
I mention this not to pat ourselves on the back. I only mention it because it is the kind of thing that happens all over to Christians that the world never hears about. Whether the miraculous as in this instance, or simply God speaking to Christians to deliver a basket of food anonymously to a church family who is in need, God still cares for His people.
The second purpose in the gifts of the Spirit is to get the world's attention. He has been doing this since Peter at the gate Beautiful, since Christ walked the Earth, and even before. One of the reasons that he blessed Israel, for example, was so that the nations around them would see that He was and that their idol worship was in vain. When Israel was with God and following His commandments and direction, they increased in power as a country and the nations around about were afraid of them. As Israel fell away from God, He took His mighty hand away from protecting them and their enemies were successful against them.
Whether you look at the Old or the New Testament, God's Spirit has been working through God's people to get the world's attention.
The Baptism of the Seventy
So why did the quarterly writer choose to go all the way back in the Old Testament and look at the filling of the seventy elders in Moses day for the Pentecost Sunday lesson? I can't be sure of what the writers intentions were, but I can present the thoughts I had as I reviewed this interesting chapter in Numbers 11. It is important to review all that is going on in this chapter to appreciate the significance of what happened.
The chapter leads off with God's fire beginning to consume the camp of the Israel. This was not the cloven tongues of fire that made an appearance in Acts 2. This was a consuming fire working from the outside of the camp in, destroying everything in its path. Once again, the people had complained about their state to God and God reached His limit and began to wipe the people out. Moses prayed and intervened on behalf of the people and the fire was stopped.
What was their complaint? God was feeding them manna on a daily basis, with twice as much provided on days before religious days so the people would not have to gather and process the manna on the religious day. Anything gathered in excess of their needs turned rotten so they had to depend on God for their daily bread literally.
The people thought back to their life with the Egyptians and longed for flesh to eat. They wanted meat along with their bread and God's anger was raised again against the people. Moses was also displeased. He knew what the people were complaining about and he also knew that he didn't have the capability to feed the people as they wanted fed. God replied in Numbers 11:23:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD'S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.
God said - to paraphrase - "They want meat? I'll give them meat! I'll give them meat till they're sick of it!" I'm pretty sure that if God had wanted, he could have given them cattle or sheep or any other normal meat to eat. But because they complained, he give them birds. I'm not much of a game bird meat fan. I like domesticated turkey and chicken just fine, but I'm not much for wild bird meat or wild game meat in general. God decided to give them quail for a month till they were sick of it.
But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?
Moses next asked for help in governing. God told him to pick 70 men to come to the tabernacle and said He would take of the spirit that Moses had been given and give it to these men as well to help him to lead the people. When the 70 were baptized, they prophesied and two of them went on prophesying through the camp. This annoyed Joshua who thought there was a time and a place for this sort of thing and the two should be remonstrated with for continuing to prophesy. Moses, who was very tired of dealing with the fractious people, declared that he wished that the entire Israeli population was full of the Spirit and was prophesying as well.
And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!
Application to Today
As I thought about Numbers 11, it struck me how much like the people of Moses' time the church is today. And that made me sad for the church and as I saw applications from this scripture and the strength of the hand of God to my own life, sad for myself as well.
In Acts 2, a mighty power was unleashed on all those present in the upper room. It was a power that they had been told would be sent and that they were specifically commanded by Jesus to wait for (Acts 1:4-5). He knew what the church would need to be successful.
This power was so great that the church just formed grew by thousands in a single week. Continued working by the Spirit helped the church continue to grow as more were baptized in the Spirit and God did miracles through the individual members. Perhaps the miracles weren't on the order of the manna, or the quail, or the feeding of the 5,000 by Christ, but the miracles performed by early church members were just as important locally to the individuals impacted by them as were the larger miracles that were performed and recorded in the rest of scripture. Since there were many more Spirit filled believers, the actual number of lives touched was likely to have been far higher than when Christ himself was doing the work largely alone.
Sadly, today there are denominations of Christians that reject the Biblical principle that people of today can receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). How like Joshua many in the church are today. Even in denominations where the Spirit is beginning to move, the traditions of the church are so strongly enforced that it is hard for Him to do the work He wants to do in each church service. A class member testified that Pentecostal people she knew were attending a Baptist church and felt God strongly impress on them to give a message in tongues and interpretation in the church. They did and the people reacted, in large part, just like Joshua. What are you doing? That sort of stuff went on 2,000 years ago and simply isn't done today!
Churches have grown up with traditions, and Christianity itself has fractured and split over the multitude of generations since the days of Peter, Paul, and Mary. People resist changes to their traditions. Woe be it to the pastor who tries to follow the leading of the Spirit if it goes too far against tradition. I remember a Methodist church I went to with a Spirit filled pastor who tried to even move the music forward a century or two to try to attract a newer age group of people. He eventually left due to illness in his parents and was replaced by a conservative. The new hymnals we had purchased that actually had a few songs I had grown up with are now packed away or disposed of and tradition has once again been restored.
Is the church today - taken as a whole - any better than Israel of Moses time? Is our ratio of Spirit filled churches much different today than the 70 elders (2 out of 68 went on prophesying). For those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit, are you letting the Spirit grow His fruit in you? Are you walking in the power of the gifts and making yourself available and listening for His prompting for when, where, and how to use the gifts in order to further His kingdom? It's all too easy to just take an attitude of checking that off your list of required things to do and maybe giving a message in tongues or an interpretation when you're surrounded by your friends. It's harder to step out for God when you might end up before the local equivalent of the Jewish leaders of the day.
We have been given all the tools we need to survive as a church. The gifts and fruit of the Spirit are there to transform the world and our own lives and lead those who the Spirit has prepared to a right place with God. And yet, so many in the church complain and chafe at and blatantly disregard the good miraculous gifts of God - the manna - or seek only the things that make a big bang - the flesh of Numbers 11 which equate to the very visible gifts of the Spirit today, that the church has become an ineffective mess. We need to each seek the fullness that God has for us and begin to work out our own salvation and God's will for us and put our trust in Him.
His hand hasn't waxed short over the thousands of years since Moses. He still wants to supply our needs as we work for Him. He wants the world around us to know that He is. Be filled with the Spirit and begin to do the work that He wants you to do!