Believers becoming receivers
Acts 19: We’ve never heard of that – a Holy Spirit? God within us?
They’re a small gathering of believers in the town of Ephesus. They’ve repented of their sins and been baptized with water, believing in the One John the Baptist preached about. When Paul arrives in Ephesus and makes inquiries as to whether there are any followers of The Way in Ephesus, someone tells him about them. They welcome him with open arms and soon Paul is updating them on what God’s doing. As he brings them up to speed he tells them of the awesome events of the Day of Pentecost. They’re thrilled at the idea of God’s Holy Spirit living in their lives. It sounds almost too good to be true. Soon these believers are receivers. They’re filled with the Spirit. Years earlier Jesus so values this infilling that he tells the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Now, Paul encounters this group of isolated disciples and almost immediately tells them about the Holy Spirit’s infilling. This work of God is, apparently, a priority in the Book of Acts and, is, therefore, a priority for all God’s people. Paul’s focus on the status of their relationship with the Holy Spirit is a good focus for all of God’s people.
Take Away: Have you received the Spirit since you believed?
Yielding center stage to Jesus
John 3: This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.
John the Baptist blazed to prominence in the land like a shooting star that, seemingly out of nowhere, lights the sky and draws the attention of everyone. Now, like a shooting star, he’s just as quickly fading from the scene as all attention is focused on a new “Sun” rising, shedding light, not just for a passing moment but for all time. John’s disciples are defensive about this. They believe in and support him and they don’t like it that his role is diminishing as Jesus is drawing more and more attention. For John, though, this is exactly how it should be. As he said when he introduced Jesus, Jesus is vastly superior to himself. As Jesus moves into the limelight John happily stands off on the sidelines cheering him on. I think there’s a spiritual parallel to this in the lives of those on the Christian journey. Once I acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of the world and as my personal Savior, it quickly becomes apparent that this Savior is also King of kings and Lord of lords. I understand that I need to stop being the center of my universe so that he can move to his rightful place as Lord of my life. I must decrease that he might increase.
Take Away: The only proper place for Jesus is sitting on the throne of my life.
One tough man
Luke 3: The main character in this drama…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you.
John the Baptist storms onto the world stage as “Thunder in the desert.” This is one tough man. He preaches a radical repentance. He calls some of his congregation “snakes” and tells everyone to straighten out their lives. When people begin to speculate that he might be the Messiah of God he points to the precious Lamb of God who’s soon to be revealed. John says that water baptism is the best he can offer. The coming Messiah, he declares, will baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit, changing people from the inside out. John’s approach to life change is to take a hard line against sin. Those who claim a righteousness of their own he calls “snakes.” It’s a hard message, one intended to draw attention, and of course it’s true. However, John’s message is of only limited value. The tax collector who repents and commits himself to do the right thing is still the same person he was before. The real need of his life will never be met in this manner. The need is for him to be changed, transformed into a new person. John’s method creates skin deep believers. Jesus’ method creates saints of God. Any time I’m tempted to come down hard on people, challenging them to straighten up and fly right I need to remember that the finest, most anointed practitioner of that kind of preaching ever says that he’s a mere stage hand compared to the real Star, Jesus. His method isn’t to “tell it like it is.” Rather, it’s to be a loving, humble servant of God and man. Lord, make me more like your Son, Jesus.
Take Away: More than reformation people need transformation.
The Water Baptizer and the Spirit Baptizer
Mark 1: His baptism – a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit – will change you from the inside out.
Mark’s gospel is a high speed, breath taking race through the life of Jesus. No “Song of Mary” here and no manger scene. In this story Jesus explodes onto the world scene out in the wilderness at one of John the Baptist’s riverside revival meetings. The “water Baptizer” instantly recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, and willingly steps aside for this “Spirit baptizer.” Jesus changes people, John says, “from the inside out.” The Gospel writer believes that the promise of real, heart-based change will draw spiritually hungry people like me into his story. No more playing at religion and hungering for transformation that’s forever beyond my reach. The one I read about here is the real deal. Every person who wants something more than what’s found by following the rules and trying to find God is drawn to the promise of change — real change — from the inside out. This Jesus is worthy of my allegiance.
Take Away: Jesus is the answer to the great hunger in people’s lives.
Mathew 3: Jesus came up…God’s Spirit…descended…a voice… “This is my Son.”
For a brief moment in time John’s light shines brighter than all others. His rough appearance and demeanor only add to his mystique and people can’t get enough of him. John spends a lot of time talking about repentance but he also proclaims the coming of the Messiah. On this day it all comes together. His cousin, Jesus, makes his way to the riverside and asks to be baptized. With uncharacteristic timidity John backs down, acknowledging that Jesus is closer to God than he is. If there’s any baptizing to be done, it’s Jesus who should baptize him. When Jesus insists, John yields and the result is a moment frozen in time. Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Voice of the Father is heard. You might call this a “Trinity moment.” That’s not to say that this event solves the mystery of the Person of Jesus once and for all. For hundreds of years at the beginning of Christianity godly people will struggle with the divinity/humanity of the Lord. This passage will remain a big player in that discussion. Somehow, we have Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father all acting in individual, complementary ways. Somehow, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Father are one. Finally, after centuries of debate the Church arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity: Three in One. That isn’t to say the Church came up with a simple, easy to understand explanation of it all. Rather, it’s just an effort at stating a mystery and, really, in the end, it’s simply a matter of faith.
Take Away: Ultimately our religion and specifics concerning it are about faith and not about proof.