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“`No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
This begins the main body of Peter’s sermon to the Jews and the other believers present. His discourse is divided into three parts. First, he explains what has just happened. Second, he presents the basic plan of salvation, usually in terms of Jesus’s own life, death, and resurrection. Third, he makes a call for repentance, salvation, and baptism. This is a very typical sermon structure in the New Testament Peter and Paul used it again in their ministries. From the standpoint of typical modern preaching, though, there are a couple of curiosities here.
Peter starts by explaining a preceding event, in this case the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In most modern evangelical churches, the preaching is the event the preacher has the burden of making the service an event to which a reaction takes place. This should tell us something about the nature of our worship services. The way of Pentecost was and is for God to move first, then the preacher explains and the listeners respond. We must always be ready for the Spirit to freely move in our services and communicate to us the message that he has.
Also since the Reformation many Protestant preachers have been content to set the salvation message in Pauline terms, which has the effect of placing man’s redemption in strictly theological language. While this has its place, Paul’s outline is meaningless without the original salvation history worked out by God, first in the Jews and finally in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ winning our salvation on the cross is a historical event, both for him and for us, and we never remember this too often.
The Old Time Religion
Peter’s sermon actually started with the denial of the believers’ drunkenness this has already been dealt with. From here he launches into the heart of the matter at hand. To do this, he starts by quoting Joel 2:28-32. In its original setting, the passage is part of a prophesy occasioned by a locust plague, which for the Israelites is a disaster comparable with a lack of rain. Joel foretells of deliverance and restoration from this plague, and goes on to prophesy about the last days, the judgment of the nations, and the restoration of Israel. In interpreting the portion of Joel’s prophesy in the way he did, Peter enlightens the interpretation of the prophet by placing Pentecost between Joel’s Old Testament Judaism and the final winding up of history, where it belongs.
In response to the locusts, Joel first advises the Israelites to do penance for their sins. The only specific sin he mentions is that of drunkenness the locusts had deprived them of their wine by eating the grapes! But before that Joel asks a hard question: “Hear this, you elders listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days, or in the days of your forefathers?” He is trying to make the old timers break down and admit that this present locust plague was the worst that they had ever seen.
That’s not easy, because the old timers, then and now, frequently love to play one-upsmanship with the rest of the church. These are not only equated with the senior citizens in the church these include anyone who puts the perpetuation of a tradition in front of the movement of the Holy Spirit, something that can take place at any age. If there is a great revival or move of the spirit going on today, they can remember a far better one back in the old days. The past is always better than the present, and the present and future have no hope of catching up with these great moves of God. This can be discouraging for those who follow after, who begin to think that they can never have great moves of God as was done in the past.
This may be overgeneralizing a bit however, much of the church world is caught up in spending a large part of its energy recreating the “old time religion” in the hope that these great revivals of the past might somehow come again in the same form as they did before. Too much preaching in Pentecostal churches today is an appeal to tradition, a statement that, if we could have the same kind of moves of God that we had before and if the people would do the same kinds of things that they did before, everything would be all right.
Many have overreacted to this type of thinking by throwing the baby out with the bath water and only going out for the newest teaching, the newest music, the newest anything. This only makes matters worse because much of what is new has humanistic and occult influence behind it, and consequently is not fit to teach or practice. We need to maintain strict continuity with the Scriptures in what we say and do we should also maintain some continuity with the experience of those who have gone before.
We have already discussed the problem of making new converts — including those who are raised in church — conform to the past for its own sake. There is one other problem related to blind adherence to the “old time religion” — it’s not that old. In the U.S. at least, most Pentecostal churches were started by refugees (voluntary and otherwise) from evangelical denominations that were in existence at the time, and which had been largely built up in the country in the nineteenth century. Pentecostal pioneers brought with them ideas about church polity and structure, the nature of such things and the Lord’s Supper and baptism, the general order of worship, church music, methods of bringing people to the Lord, and many other things. Although some of these things had been going on somewhere since the Apostles’ day, many of these were relatively recent developments at the time Pentecostal churches were started. Thus, if we look at the time framework of many Pentecostal church practices, we see that Pentecostals (and to some extent other evangelicals too) are really innovators in the field of church practice.
This becomes more evident when we look at the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and to a lesser extent the Anglican and Lutheran churches, the so-called “liturgical” churches. Allowing for the many developments and modifications that have taken place over the centuries, their structure or worship is descended from orders of worship that date back to at least the second century A.D. Now that’s old time religion. It would serve little purpose to force this kind of thing on Pentecostal churches today. If, however, we want to have really worthwhile old time religion, the best place to find it is right from the start — here at Pentecost, where the church was born.
In The Last Days, On All Flesh
When I was in college, I spent a summer session sharing a house trailer with a dear Christian brother. He was already living there when I moved in. On the kitchen wall there was a small wooden plaque with the first part of Peter’s citation of Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
I have always had a weak spot for inscriptions on walls and buildings. They’re put there to impress people because the letters are big and in most cases engraved into the building to inspire people with their permanence and authority. Wooden plaques like this generally don’t have that kind of impact. At the time this one didn’t either because I wasn’t baptized in the Spirit and really did not grasp the importance of the verses quoted.
In looking back though that little plaque was prophetic, not only for Joel and Peter but for me as well. I was wrestling with a lot of things in those days, not the least of which was all of the spiritual activity about me, the likes of which I had never seen before. Before I graduated from college, the Holy Spirit taught me the real meaning of that plaque through his Baptism and I have never been the same person since. In human terms, I was an unlikely candidate for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The church I was in did not actively teach about this baptism, as was the case with its predecessor in which I was brought up. My family was well off, and had been so for a good while. I was not attending a Christian college, nor was I a major in Bible or theology. Yet the Lord saw fit to arrange my life so that I would be drawn to people who had something I didn’t, and who made me come back for more without a lot of preaching, even when my background said no. When I finally came to myself and gave up to the leading of the Lord, the Holy Spirit was able to do the work in me that has never departed nor disappointed since.
Now we can get directly into Peter’s quotation from Joel.
In the last days! This is a tremendous thought, one that gets lost as Spirit filled people and churches get too used to what they have gotten from God. This age we are in is man’s last chance to get it right. He had covenant after covenant before the Cross and none of these were enough this age is the last time God will hold out his hand in mercy to man. After this, there is only judgment for the scoffers, the judgment of the lake of fire. And we, who all too often take what God has given us for granted, do not realize what a privilege we have to live when we do. As far as the time when these last days will end, “`No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.'” “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, `Where is this `coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens and the earth existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” So we must do what we have to do while there is time remaining.
But in addition to these being the last days of the age of grace, these are the last days of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s quotation of Joel deals with both ends of the last days, both his time at the start and the great day of the Lord at the end. The falling of the Spirit takes place on both ends. In the Apostolic Age and for several centuries afterwards, there were people who had the fullness of the Spirit, and now as the age winds up we once again have this same fullness. This is a tremendous privilege. Century succeeded century without these gifts being poured out, and while many good things were done in the name of Jesus Christ, many generations did not experience the complete pouring out of the Spirit as they did in the Apostolic Age. Many evangelical church members, manfully laboring to recreate the New Testament church in polity and doctrine, long to have lived in New Testament times. But when the Holy Spirit comes as he has to us, he brings those times with him. We live in as exciting a time as there has ever been in the history of Christianity, and we have what it takes from God to face it, if we will only claim it.
The other part of the wonder of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit not only concerns when but on whom. Joel and Peter tell us that it is “upon all people.” This means you! Men, women, young, old, everyone has a chance to have the same high level of spiritual enablement and operation. These days, many speak of the lay movement in the church well, it started right here at Pentecost. Later we discover that certain people have certain ministry gifts which are well distributed throughout the Body of Christ and everyone has the chance to walk in and with the Holy Spirit. We don’t need intermediaries and we don’t need super saints to make this a reality all we need is the Holy Spirit, and he is waiting on us.
The only sad thing about this is the widespread rejection of this kind of contact with God. I am not speaking here about Christians who do not accept these things for today these have been discussed at length earlier. We need to turn outward, to the world of people who do not accept Jesus as Lord. These are the people who have the worst of it.
Ever since history began, people have been trying to make meaningful contact with powers greater than themselves. They do this principally for their own benefit they realize that they cannot make it on their own, so they hope that some outside being can deliver them from their dire straits and make everything right. This in itself is not really unadmirable this is a large world we live in, with many unpredictable external circumstances that can make life a real mess or end it without much warning. People have been at this for so long and have tried so many ways that when a new way comes along, it is inevitably the old ways repackaged for a remarketing effort. This in essence is the “New Age Movement” it is the old paganism our ancestors practiced, repackaged with modern salesmanship and tailored to modern sensibilities.
After millennia of this kind of thing, secular humanists have come along and proclaimed that we don’t need gods of any kind, that we as people are so inherently wonderful that we can solve our own problems and make our own way, and that the world would be better off if everyone went along with this type of thinking. In the past, these people, in whatever type of humanism they practiced, figured that history was on their side and that their victory was inevitable.
This hasn’t quite worked out according to plan. To begin with,. man just hasn’t been that wonderful lately. Hundreds of millions have been murdered this century, sacrificed on the altars of such causes as Fascism, Communism, and Radical Feminism (this last is the sacrifice of the unborn), none of which are traditional religions in any sense of the word. Every time the humanists come out with a new Manifesto, humans come out with new crimes to blow another hole in peoples’ faith in each other. Beyond that, secular humanism and its bride, materialism, are dry cults in practice they promise no afterlife, they give no really tangible greater purpose to life they do not make people greater than they are to start with. It is in this fading light that secular humanism has turned to the courts for relief they suppose that, if they can expel the Bible and prayer from the schools and nativity scenes from the courthouses and town squares, they can make God go away for good. If the arm of the law continues to lengthen as it has in the U.S., these people will do everything they can to eradicate Christianity and make life for God’s people rougher and shorter, because as long as there are people in this country and world who proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior the secular humanists can never rest easy.
But the secular humanists cannot make God go away neither can they do the same to the demons. Today we have more cults and belief structures than we know what to do with. We have the old occult practices of astrology, fortune telling, palm reading, and other kinds of divination, attempts on peoples’ part to discover the future and perhaps to control it. People seek out spirit guides to help them along their way, hoping that these ascended masters can help them do things and be things they could not be on their own. They attempt to raise their level of consciousness through all kinds of meditation and thought control, thinking they can raise the level of their existence by climbing their own ladder.
We see the worship of Satan reborn in our time in all forms. Some are simply attempts to get back to the Druid nature worship, and those of us with a good deal of Celtic ancestry find such is closer to natural than we care to admit. Some serve a demanding devil they sacrifice animals and children to please him, just as the Baal worshippers of Caanan did in the days of the prophets. The Masons may attempt to get around their use of occult symbols and pagan practices by telling us it’s all symbolic the Satan worshippers are beyond those excuses, for they are dead serious about their paganism, and have been since Lucifer himself took a fall with his angel followers.
Neither the “New Age” types, nor the practitioners of the old occult superstitions, nor the worshippers of Satan, have much use for the followers of Jesus we can expect no better treatment from them than we can from the secular humanists. We are facing spiritual warfare on a broad scale every day. We have seen the back of the book and we know that God’s time is long and the Devil’s short but unless we put on the whole armor of God every day, we won’t get to the end the book is speaking of.
Much of this confusion results from the nature of our times. The advance of technology has brought many benefits it has also forced us into a discipline that chafes, where our time, life, and labor are counted out in whatever currency is legal tender. We become cogs in a giant machine and indeed back in the eighteenth century, those who were in what they called “the Enlightenment” thought this was the ideal. Unfortunately, many Christians thought that this was right too they thought that believers were just cogs in the machine of God’s advancing kingdom, and that the baser you felt, the better.
The reaction to this was for many to go to the other extreme, to equate Christianity with a high self-esteem and nearly deifying (in some cases the nearly was dropped) the believer, with God as the pliant instrument of power in the hands of the man of faith. Some said that this last concept was seduction, but we must be careful it is too tempting to combat the present seduction of Christianity by proposing a return to the last one!
In the midst of this mess stands Jesus Christ, offering a better way out. It is critical in the present time that we understand the nature of his solution.
First, there is only room for one God in the universe. In the old Western movie, one gunslinger tells another, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.” He hopes that the other gunslinger will get the message and leave, but he’s prepared to force a departure. But God has never had to stop and tell anyone that the first one to challenge God on this point, Satan, fell from heaven so fast he never knew what hit him. Although there are myriads of angels and demons floating around to well populate the universe with plenty of spiritual power, properly speaking there is, and can be, only one God. This is because the qualities that make him God make him unique. Who wins when two omnipotent beings oppose each other? When people come around and tell you that you can be a god with their program, they really don’t know what they are talking about because they really don’t know who God is and why he is unique.
Man is a complex business. He was created fearfully and wonderfully, in the image and likeness of God and a little lower than the angels to have dominion over creation yet he was conceived in sin, with a short life full of woes, once to die and then the judgment. People are well created but they have serious weaknesses that will prove their undoing without assistance. Man is neither pure God nor pure animal, an entity on his own unless he establishes some kind of relationship with the outside world.
It is here that an alliance between God and man is necessary. God has much to offer man, but man must be first willing to take the whole package. This is the essential difference between Christianity and Judaism on the one hand and secular humanism and paganism (old and new) on the other in addition to promising his people prosperity under his wing, God also expects his people to behave themselves through moral demands relating to himself, to other members of the covenant community, and outsiders. The central problem people have with these alliances between God and man — and this includes the one we are in now — is man’s desire to have the prosperity without the moral responsibility.
The novel feature of the New Covenant concerns the method by which God makes provision for the moral excellence of his creatures. In large measure the Jews were hoping to get it right through the observance of the Law, the sacrificial system, and political independence. Many of the rabbis were looking to heal spiritual skin diseases, but Jesus replied that they shouldn’t be looking to cure a skin disease when the patient really had heart trouble. Jesus, through his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, proposed to man that the best way to do better was to be better, and to be better meant starting over again. It meant dying to the old man of sin and rising to the new life in Jesus Christ, in God himself. “In him was life, and that life was the light of man.” With this new life people can walk in God and have access to the infinite resource of God to make it through life and into eternity.
The pouring out of the Spirit is integral to this new life. With the Holy Spirit and his baptism, people can have spiritual power to find their way through the darkness and confusion of the world, to do the things that they need to do to accomplish this and the other tasks that God sent them here to do. With the baptism of the Spirit, men and women have the intimate contact with the inner workings of God and his plan that they would not have otherwise. Mystics have slaved over the years to climb up the celestial hierarchy through the cloud of unknowing to reach God but those baptized in the Holy Spirit need only to stand still and experience God himself poured into them to overflowing.
This all leads us to the real reason behind the pouring out of the Spirit. The whole idea behind Jesus coming to us was the giving of life to men, both while we are here and after we are gone “`The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'” People look into themselves for life, but that will only go so far. People look to others, and sometimes that is worse. People come to spirit guides and gurus behind the mask of religiosity lie either demons or people under their control. All of these are manifestations of the thief but if they were not, what sense is there to substitute the musings of little spiritual beings or humanistic thinkers when one can have the power and wisdom of the creator and sustainer of the universe? This is where true life is to be found. And those filled with the Holy Spirit, having what they have from God, are in the ideal position to receive from God the fulfillment and personal realization — the real content of life, if you please — that they are looking for.
The Day of the Lord
Peter, in quoting Joel, takes a sweeping look at these last days, which is our present time and toward the end of the quotation he speaks of the end of these last days.
A lot of preaching time and many books have been devoted to the events that will take place when Jesus winds up history, opens the books, places his people in the heavenly city, tosses the rest into the lake of fire, and closes the books. “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may in all in all.” These times will be tumultuous without precedent and the important thing about them is that they can come any time.
The Second Chapter of Acts is task enough for this work concerning the end, we can only say something about calling upon the Lord. If you’ve done it already, well and good. If not, now is the time to do it wait until the final judgment and it will be too late. “`Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.'”
Signs and Wonders
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.
Peter puts many people’s theology in serious trouble with this statement.
It is conventional wisdom amongst many evangelical theologians, ministers, and lay people that miracles don’t constitute valid proof of the presence of God. What does constitute valid proof, they say, is sound teaching and a changed life.
Both of these are vitally important one won’t find one’s way to eternal life without them. Jesus didn’t show a changed life, because he had it right to start with. He also gave out sound teaching more than that he gave out powerful teaching, of a kind the Jews had never seen before. Both of these were and are important for Jesus, but Peter tells us that Jesus was accredited — in other words, received his authority amongst the people — by the miracles, wonders, and signs that he did during his ministry.
But the miracles didn’t stop with Jesus’ ascension into heaven, for Jesus told his followers, “`Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.'” Jesus intended that his followers would continue and amplify the working of signs, wonders, and miracles after he was gone, and as we saw in Peter’s citation of Joel, this would follow the pouring out of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent to enable Jesus’ followers to do the work he sent them to do, as we have seen earlier.
The working of miracles is something that has had a part of every age of human history. All of the religions that surrounded Judaism and then Christianity had some provision for this. Many still do today. This was accomplished either by the intrinsic powers that were in the miracle worker or from some outside supernatural being, who inevitably turned out to be a demon. However, it was and is not God’s intention for his people to rely on demons, their own power, or psychological tricks to accomplish miracles. To enable his followers to fulfill such commands as “`Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.'”, he sends them forth, to use Bossuet’s expansive phrase, “clothed in the omnipotence of God.”
Most books, tapes, and discourses on the subject of miracles concentrate on our faith in the miraculous process. They spend a lot of time attempting to instruct us on how to activate our faith, how to plant our faith as a seed, how to speak our faith, etc.. Now faith is a necessary prerequisite for the working of miracles without faith these will not take place. “`Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. `I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be yours.'” Faith for miracles is like faith for salvation it is essential, but not enough. Nothing really takes place without God. Just as “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” so also when we believe for a miracle, God acts, but the miracle, like the righteousness, is an act of God, not us. There is no intrinsic power in our faith it is the value it has to God that makes both salvation and the working of miracles possible.
We discussed earlier the presence of resurrection power in the life of the Spirit filled believer. Nowhere can this be more openly manifest than in the working of miracles. Without the power of Jesus’ rising, miracles from God simply do not take place as for the counterfeits from the other side, the eternal cost far outweighs the present benefit. With this power Jesus has sent his fully credentialed ambassadors into the whole world, equipped to do all aspects of the work that he did during his ministry on this earth — and then some.
In so enabling his followers by the Holy Spirit, both Jesus Christ and we ourselves have taken on an awesome task. To centralize the power in a few well connected swamis, the easy way out, is one thing to do so throughout the whole Body of Christ is another. For both God and us, the risk is our failure. With this power and authority comes responsibility if we fail, we look bad, but God looks even worse to a world waiting for us to fall on our face. We must stick close to the heart of God if we expect the miraculous resurrection power to benefit us and advance the kingdom of God.
The Special Place of Healing
Generally speaking, when we first think of miracles, we think of healing. We find that God is of like opinion, for we find that Jesus Christ won divine healing for us even before his resurrection: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Attempts to spiritualize the healing discussed in the verse won’t do, as the term used will simply not allow it.
We should not think, though, that the divine power to heal is fundamentally different from the power to work other divine miracles for it comes from the same God. It was won for us before the resurrection however, had there been no resurrection, it would not have mattered because Jesus would have perished and our hope with him. The resurrection and the pouring out of the Spirit put this power into action. The special place of healing for both God and man comes from man’s condition. While we live in our bodies, their condition is important to us. The enormous amount of money we put into health care, directly or indirectly through government and private insurance, is testimony enough that healing is still an important need for all people.
One of the frequent criticisms of all types of fundamentally Biblical Christianity is that it is ahistorical. This means churches that go back to the Bible for the rule of faith and practice and ignore whatever church evolution might have taken place from then until now are removing themselves from the historical process and attempting to make an ideal construct out of Christianity. This is a backhanded way of challenging the relevance of fundamental Christianity if it was out of the flow of the past, then it must be out of the flow of the present, and thus not relevant to the condition of people today.
Part of the answer to this charge is wrapped up in the cross-cultural issue which we have gone through at length. The other part of this concerns the basic definition of historicity, and it is to this that we must now turn.
When Pentecostals and Charismatics are challenged on many of their practices, one favorite response is to say that their accusers are “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” The people and denominations that pursue the historicity argument have a similar problem they have a form of historicity but deny its power and reality. They and their churches frequently faithfully attempt to retain the same form of worship, church architecture, symbols, and polity as those in the past but their hearts are far from the doctrine and reality that their forefathers held on to. This was the essence of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, one which Pentecostal churches were mercifully spared but the battle still goes on today.
In reading the works of the church Fathers and other Christian writers of old, one thing that they were conscious of that many modern Christians have lost was the imminent power of God working in the world around them. This frequently took the form of miracles of all kinds and other divine manifestations. It is this type of thing that this present outpouring of the Holy Spirit is about, in a sense recovering the presence of God that has been lost for a long time for many Christians. In this regard, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are eminently historical and a few examples from days gone by should suffice to illustrate this point.
The first one comes from Irenaeus, who was bishop in Lyons, a city in Gaul (now France). Irenaeus had studied under Polycarp of Smyrna, who in turn had studied under the Apostle John. His book Against Heresies, written after he had become bishop in 177, is an interesting witness to the theological development of the church but about miracles he has this to say:
If, however, they maintain that the Lord, too, performed such works simply in appearance, we shall refer them to the prophetical writings, and prove from these both that all things were thus predicted regarding him, and did take place undoubtedly, and that he is the only Son of God. Wherefore, also, those who are in truth his disciples, receiving grace from him, do in his name perform (miracles), so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe (in Christ), and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them and making them whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, (scattered) throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them (on account of such miraculous interpositions.) For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister (to others.)
Nor does she perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error.
For this reason does the apostle declare “We speak wisdom among those that are perfect,” terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away…
This was written nearly a century after the close of the Apostolic Age, and yet all of these things were still taking place. The dispensationalists should take a careful look at this kind of evidence.
The second example comes from Eusebius’ History of the Church, written during the early years of the fourth century, shortly after Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire. It concerns an incident that took place in the 170’s.
While Antoninus was still on the throne, it is on record that when his brother Marcus Aurelius Caesar deployed his forces for battle with Germans and Sarmatians, his men were parched with thirst and he was in a quandary. But the soldiers of the Melitene Legion, as it is called, through faith which has never wavered from that day to this, as they faced the enemy in their lines, knelt down on the ground, our normal attitude while praying, and turned to God in supplication. The enemy were astonished at the sight, but the record goes on to say that something more astonishing followed a moment later: a thunderbolt drove the enemy to flight and destruction, while rain fell on the army which had called on the Almighty, reviving it when the entire force was on the point of perishing from thirst.
There are two things important to remember about this incident. Although historical records for this period of Roman history aren’t the best, had this barbarian invasion succeeded, it could have been a disaster on the magnitude of those suffered by Rome in the barbarian invasions of the fifth century. Second, the enemy was deeply affected by this event, but not Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who remained a Stoic and one of Christianity’s more determined opponents. We will see why later.
We skip a few centuries for the next incident, which comes from Bede’s History of the English Church and People. Bede’s work is important for the understanding of earliest English history Sir Winston Churchill, writing about the times he chronicled, said that he “now comes forward as the most effective and almost the only audible voice from the British islands in these dim times.” This passage, described in part by a traveling companion, concerns Bishop John of Beverly, who lived in the seventh century.
…he came one day to a convent of nuns at a place called Wetadun, ruled at the time by Abbess Heriburg. `When we had arrived and been welcomed with general rejoicing, the abbess informed us that one of the nuns, her own daughter, was very seriously ill. She told us that the nun had recently been bled in the arm and that, while she was being treated, she was suddenly seized by a violent pain which rapidly increased, so that the wounded arm grew worse and became so swollen that it could hardly be encircled with two hands. In consequence, the nun was lying in bed and terrible pain and seemed likely to die. The abbess therefore begged the bishop to visit her and give her his blessing, being sure that she would improve if the bishop blessed or touched her…So he went in, taking me with him to see the girl who, as I have said, lay helpless and in great pain, with her arms swollen so such a size that she could not bend her elbow. The bishop stood and said a prayer over her, and having given her his blessing, went out. Some while later, as we were sitting at table, someone cam in and asked me to come outside, saying: “Coenburg” — for that was the girl’s name — “wishes for you to come back to her room at once.” I did so, and when I entered, I found her looking cheerful and apparently in good health…As we were leaving the convent, the dissapearance of the pain in her limbs was promptly followed by a subsidence of the swelling, and the girl, saved from the pain of death, gave thanks to our Lord and Savior with all the other servants of God in the place.’
The last passage to be quoted comes from Bossuet. Jaques Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, was a magnetic preacher, and spoke and wrote some of the finest French prose ever composed. In his Meditations on the Gospel, written about 1695, he says this about miracles:
Here, therefore, is the greatest miracle of Jesus Christ. Not only is he all-powerful, but here he renders them all-powerful and, if possible, more power than he himself is, constantly performing greater miracles, and all through faith and through prayer: “and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” Faith, therefore, and prayer are all-powerful, and they clothe man with the omnipotence of God. “If you can believe,” said the Savior, “all is possible to him who believes”.
The performance of miracles, therefore, is not the difficulty. Rather, the difficulty is to believe. “If you can believe.” That is the miracle of miracles to believe absolutely and without hesitation. “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief”…
Thus the great miracle of Jesus Christ is not to make us all-powerful men. Rather, it is to make us courageous and faithful believers who dare to hope all from God, when it is a question of his glory…
Let us dare all things, and no matter how slight our faith may be, let us fear nothing. A small grain of faith, the size of a mustard seed, enables us to undertake anything. Grandeur has not part in it, said the Savior. I ask only for truth and sincerity if it becomes necessary that this small grain grow, God who has given it, will make it grow. Act then with the little you possess, and much will be given to you: “And this grain of mustard seed” and this budding faith “will become a great tree, and the birds of the air will dwell in the branches thereof.” The most sublime virtues will not only come there, but will make their abode therein.
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” His followers, doing the greater works he promised, could fill even more. Full gospel Christianity is well in the mainstream of the practice and belief of many Christians over the years, and we should feel honored to carry it on.
But Peter is still preaching, so we must go back and hear more.
Died and Arose
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter continues to lay out the plan of salvation in terms of Jesus himself. Although this plan has been discussed at length, there are a couple of things that Peter brings out that need to be emphasized.
One of those disputes from which Pentecostals and Charismatics have been largely spared concerns the debate over whether or not the Jews should, as a group, take responsibility for the death of Jesus. For centuries Jews had to put up with the label of “Christ killers,” which was an excuse for persecution of all kinds. Since the Holocaust has jolted both the Jews and everybody else into taking such persecution very seriously, we need to take a look at this.
Peter states that this is what in fact happened, that it was the Jews that conspired to get rid of Jesus. Peter also states that the Jews had help, in this case from the Romans. The Jews could have never done what they did without them, because the Romans took away from them the power of capital punishment. When the Sanhedrin decided that Jesus must die, they had to go to Pontius Pilate to get it done. He could have put an end to the whole matter there and then, but he did not.
The Jews, therefore, cannot be saddled with the entire responsibility of Jesus’ death this Peter makes clear. But Peter’s aim — and the aim of the rest of the Apostles — was to change the Jews’ mind about Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit and persuasion, not coercion, forced conversions and baptisms, ghettos, pogroms, etc.. These last only engender bitterness and hate, and these defeat the whole purpose of evangelization. Also, Jesus ministered in an entirely Jewish setting the Jews were the only people who had formed an opinion of Jesus one way or the other, and thus the only ones with a desire to take action. When Jesus’ followers penetrated the Gentile world and got the Roman Empire’s direct attention, they got very much the same treatment.
We have discussed earlier the importance of the blood sacrifice in the forgiveness of sins. Peter brings out something else concerning the saving act that needs to be emphasized. When Jesus died on the cross, he had two main adversaries to face, sin and death. This miserable couple had haunted humanity since Adam and Eve brought them into the world. Jesus broke the power of these two himself by taking on both onto himself. In going to the cross, he took the sins of humanity, past, present, and future. In dying he took on death to himself as well. As Jesus is God, however, neither of these two could hold him in the grave or in Hades. The absolute power of both was broken, Jesus showing the way out. Those who follow him will likewise make good their escape.
Graves, Full and Empty
David said about him:
`I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life you will fill me with your joy and presence.’
Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on the throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
We have seen that Jesus was David’s descendant the passage from Psalm 16 that Peter quotes here (vv. 8-11) is one of the prophecies that foretells this. Looking at the passage on its face, it would seem that David was wrong, because, he died, and was given a decent burial. His tomb was in Jerusalem, still visible at the day of Pentecost. David’s prophecy was, in fact, for one of his descendants and Jesus fulfilled his forefather’s foretelling in his own resurrection.
This earth we live on is a giant graveyard, constantly receiving back the dead corpses of those who have had life. Our lives are a fast business we are born, soon grow up and become adults, go through the cycle of life, and then perish from the earth. We run the human race with others, with family, friends, and others. We see others drop out in death our lives are scarred by their loss. Those who one day gave us life and love are now only dead matter. The closer they were, the more our life was intertwined with theirs when they die, a part of us dies with them. The scars accumulate worse than that, we realize that our time to follow them is fast approaching. The day comes for all of us when we must experience the agony of death, when we are ripped from our bodies and our world, hurled into eternity to leave more grieving people behind to follow us in the endless cycle of decay and death.
There is no more compelling reason than this to make God our all in all now, because he has freed us from the power of death. For those of us who have, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” What Jesus did in the resurrection made this possible.
Concerning graves, some people have nicer ones than others. David’s was nice enough to last from his day to the Apostles’. The Egyptians’ pyramids were even better than that they had a concept of immortality that demanded such a home. However, it doesn’t take a concept of immortality to produce magnificent tombs, just a good deal of money and the desire to be venerated (by the deceased) or to venerate (for those left behind). We see V.I. Lenin’s tomb in Moscow the lines are long, even in winter. Mao Zedong is enshrined in even a larger structure in Beijing. Neither of these has left their tombs on their own volition they are still there, along with most everyone else who has not been a victim of grave robbing or cremation. But Jesus’s tomb is empty because he walked out of it, alive and ready to take others with him. And we don’t even have to stand in line.
Lord of All
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, yet he said,
The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 to demonstrate another point here, this concerning the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Charismatics make much about this point “Jesus is Lord” is an expression that finds its way onto a lot of things. Pentecostal preaching traditionally has not spent as much time on this. The reasons are historical and are another part of the Pentecostal inheritance from earlier evangelical churches.
When I was growing up, I was a part of a liturgical church. The parish I was a member of was housed in an impressive Gothic structure, complete with stone vaults and traditional, medieval style stained glass windows. The largest of these windows was located just above the altar, covering most of that end of the church. It was a “Te Deum window,” named after the old Latin hymn by the same name. The opening line of this song is “We praise thee O God we acknowledge thee to be the Lord,” and continues in the same vein. The window had Jesus Christ depicted in the center, with martyrs, apostles, and other groups of important Christians around, praising him. Whatever type of response this elicited from the parishioners who cared to look, the message of this elegant window was clear: Jesus is Lord and it’s everyone else’s business to recognize that fact. And this window wasn’t unique in that respect much older Christian art, especially in the Orthodox churches, was conceived along the same lines. People have complained about the artificial perspective and settings and the stern looks on the people (especially Christ himself), but whether at the Last Judgment or another setting, Jesus’ Lordship is the clear message given.
Lordship in the ancient world was a serious business, because society was very conscious of rank and authority, and consequently undemocratic. A person’s lord had a great deal of control over that individual. When a person spoke of their god, they frequently prefaced that god’s name with the expression “the Lord,” thus “the lord Serapis,” or “the lord Zeus.” For a Christian to say “the Lord Jesus” was not just a casual expression it was a mark of his or her identification with the One who controlled his or her life.
As the Roman Empire wore on, the deification of the emperors increased and many Christians shed blood because they would not acknowledge that the emperor was God. The Emperor Domitian, under whose rule John was exiled to Patmos, insisted on being addressed as “Lord and God.” As the Roman Empire collapsed, it was replaced by feudalism, and the pyramidal structure of lord and vassal became the linchpin of the organization of society. The well known ceremony where the king or noblemen knighted someone with the sword on the shoulders was an oath of fealty, where the knight acknowledged the lordship of his superior. The British House of Lords is an institution filled with people who in the past would have had lordship, but real lordship is something that hasn’t been in the House for a good long while.
As our civilization became more democratic and less deferential in nature — and especially in the wake of American democracy — people saw fewer secular examples of absolute lordship, and so lost a good deal of their vision of the heavenly kind. Churches became democracies where pastors were called and ejected at the whim of the congregation. The believer became the supreme, autonomous unit in the church, and as long as he followed the rules from the collective interpretation of the Bible, everything was all right. This kind of thing was the inheritance of many of the early Pentecostal pioneers.
Now this does not mean that church democracy is wrong indeed, if we are serious about the presence of the Holy Spirit being spread amongst God’s people, we must also admit that his inspiration is there too, inspiration which needs some mechanism to express itself. The only way in which church democracy will ever work is when the people have Jesus as Lord and are led by the Holy Spirit, in which case the whole church can move as one God directed unit. But some are not convinced of this.
The missionary whom the Lord used to introduce my wife and I was in the U.S. on leave, and was visiting some friends at an evangelical church where he had been youth minister. He got into a discussion with one woman about the possibility of having black people (both he and the woman are white) come to this church. Our friend is a strong supporter of interracial churches, but this woman was adamantly opposed to the idea, and expressed herself in strong, sometimes vulgar terms.
Our friend had listened long enough to this, so he asked her, “What would Jesus think about your opinion?”
Before the woman had a chance to stop herself, she unloaded the truth: “I don’t care what Jesus thinks!”
Jesus is Lord and we need to admit to it and live it, whether or not it offends our democratic sensibilities or worse yet our pride. This is especially important for Spirit filled people how can the Spirit move and have free rein if Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit, is not in charge? He is in charge of every creature whether they want to acknowledge the fact or not. On the last day, the believers will bow the knee gladly to Jesus Christ our Lord. The demons and the lost won’t be glad, but they’ll bow the knee anyway. We need to be glad now.
2 Pet 3:3-7
1 Cor 15:28
2 Tm 3:5a
Iraneus, Aganist All Heresies, II,4 & 5a
1 Cor 2:6
Iraneus, Against All Heresies, V,6,1
Eusebius, History of the Church, V,5. Translated by G.A. Williamson
Bede, History of the English Church and People.
Bossuet, Jaques Beningue. Meditations on the Gospel.
1 Cor 15:51,52
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