The Spirit Is Power

Many people have a clear picture of who God the Father is. They’re not confused about the person of Jesus either. But who is the Holy Spirit? What does He do? And how do we experience His presence? In this teaching series, The God I Never Knew, we remove some of the mystery surrounding the Trinity’s third person. We’re meant to know God the Holy Spirit as fully as we know God the Father and God the Son. This week we are exploring the power of the Spirit – how He transformed the lives of the disciples, and how He transforms us.

As we begin this series, I want to start with a few questions.

Maybe you’ve heard about or read about the revival that happened at Asbury University in Kentucky just a couple months ago, where they had what some would call an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so strong that miraculous healings were happening.

And people were traveling for days just to be a part of that movement of the Holy Spirit. 15,000 people experienced what was happening in that little chapel each day and over 50,000 people traveled to Kentucky to experience that movement of the Holy Spirit.

What was your first response when you learned about what was happening at Asbury?
Were you skeptical?
Did you just take it at face value?
What did you think?

Suppose you were to read a report about a church in San Francisco that had been dying.

Then they had some real dramatic services and people started speaking in tongues and longtime members who said they had been “Baptized in the Holy Spirit” realized that they hadn’t even been Christians before.

Now they understood what Christianity was about.

Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
How sure are you?

Suppose someone at work were to stop you tomorrow and tell you, “I was watching TV yesterday, and I saw a man on a stage and he was preaching. Then he was touching people on the forehead and they’d fall backwards. It was called being slain in the Spirit. What’s that about? Is God at work in that?”

How would you answer?
What would you say?

Imagine you have a neighbor that you’ve been talking to about spiritual things, and she or he says, “You know, I was at a church recently and the teaching was on this topic — “Expect a miracle.” Now, if I become a Christian, can I expect miracles? I don’t mean vague spiritual change. I mean clear-cut, nature defying, indisputable miracles. Can I expect them?”

What’s your answer? Yes or no?

Imagine if someone in your small group, or someone sitting next to you right now were to say to you, “Last night, God spoke to me in a dream.”

How do you respond?
Does God do that sort of thing?

Suppose I was to ask you today, “What does it mean, exactly, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?”

What exactly is that?

Or “How do you explain what are sometimes called the miraculous gifts of the Spirit?”

Are they a good thing?
Are they for today?
Should I seek them?

How clear are you — really — on the person and work of the Holy Spirit?

My guess is a lot of people in this room, including some people who have been in church for a long time, are pretty fuzzy about the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people, including people who have been Christians for a long time, have quite a clear picture of God the Father. His power and his grace are quite clear to them.

And they have high clarity on God the Son. They have a well-developed picture of Jesus.

But the Holy Spirit remains vague and fuzzy.

That’s why we’re doing this series — The God I Never Knew.

We should know God the Holy Spirit just as well as we know God the Father and God the Son.

And I want to start today by telling you how strongly Jesus felt about the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t vague or fuzzy about the Holy Spirit.

John 16 is a rather lengthy discourse in the Gospel of John, and Jesus is telling the disciples that he’s going to be leaving them. He will no longer be part of their lives.

And he observes, when he gives them this news, that they’re filled with grief.

John 16:6 says:

You are filled with grief because I have said these things. (John 16:6)

Now, I want you to notice verse 7. These are the words of Jesus. This is one of the most staggering statements he ever makes.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [that’s another name for the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Now, put yourself in the disciple’s place for a moment.

There was a time when your life was without purpose or passion. You were going to live and die a fisherman or a tax collector.

And then, one day your life is interrupted by this teacher from Nazareth. And nothing is ever the same.

For three years you’ve been captivated by Jesus — the way he talks; the things he does.

His way of life is so extraordinary that you’ve abandoned everything to follow him.

And you’ve arranged your whole life around one thing — “I’ve got to be with him.” That’s the whole purpose of your life. — “I’ve got to see what he’s going to do next. I’ve got to hear what he’s going to say next.”

And now he says he’s leaving.

And you know you’re going to lose everything you’ve invested your life in for the past three years.

But he doesn’t just say that.

Then he says, “It’s for your good that I’m going away.”

Can you imagine the disciple’s response to never again hear that voice speak about the Father’s love, to never see those hands perform another miracle?

“You’re leaving and you say it’s a good thing for me? No way. Good thing for you, maybe, to return to heaven to be with the Father. Good thing for me? No way.”

It sounds like a joke, like a cruel joke.

Except you know Jesus well enough to know he’s not the kind of person to say something like this glibly.

Ordinary people are.

Parents will sometimes say to their kids before they’re about to punish them something like, “This is for your own good. This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

Kids never believe this. Mostly because it’s not true.

Parents are just trying to keep the kids from getting mad at them.

But Jesus doesn’t say this just to keep the disciples from getting angry or sad.

He’s quite serious about this statement… for one reason.

Jesus is saying that it really is better to live in the era of the Spirit than in the days when Jesus lived in the flesh.

I want you to think about that for a moment.

On the authority of Scripture, you, right here in your life, have an advantage over people who looked Jesus in the face and heard his voice.

Now, why is that?

And why are we going to devote a whole series to studying the Holy Spirit?

Jesus makes another very important statement about the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8.

Jesus was about to return to his Father, and he’s talking to his disciples for the last time.

He says in Acts 1:4:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

We’re going to get to that subject in this series — being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Verse 7:

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

“You will receive power.”

If there was one word that had to be associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it’s that one word “power.”

Jesus does not say, “You will receive further instructions or further doctrinal information or a do-it-yourself church starter kit.”

He says, “You think these last three years have been something? You haven’t seen anything yet. You better fasten your seat belt, because you’re in for the ride of your life. The Holy Spirit is coming, and when that happens, you will receive power. You — ordinary human beings.”

And I want to tell you something. That’s exactly what happened.

Again, put yourself in the disciple’s place for a few moments.

After Jesus said these things and then went back up to be with his Father, they must have wondered to themselves:

What’s going to happen?
What’s going to take place?
What did Jesus mean when he talked about the Holy Spirit?
What did he have in mind?
How will we know when the Holy Spirit comes?
What if we miss it?
What if we’re not paying attention, and it happens, and we don’t even notice?

Sometime later, they were all gathered together.

John tells us that they were so afraid after the resurrection, they would gather in a locked room.

Acts 2:2 — picture this taking place.

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:2-4)

The disciples are behind locked doors talking and praying like they did yesterday, and the day before, and every day since Jesus left them.

And now, all of a sudden — same room, same group — out of nowhere, this tornado comes along. Only instead of it being outside, it’s an indoor tornado.

And while this is going on, spontaneous fire descends in their midst and separates itself into little personalized tongues of fire.

And this fire lands on each one of them — fire.

But instead of burning them, they begin to speak — and by now, because of all that’s going on, a rather diverse crowd from many different countries and languages has gathered around them —

And they’re quite amazed to discover that it’s as if the disciples have been given a crash course in world languages, because apparently they’re enabled to speak in languages that other people can understand no matter where they’re from.

The disciples are speaking Egyptian because people from Egypt are there.
They speak Greek because residents of Greece are there.
They speak Dutch because that’s the Holy Spirit’s original language.

And the disciples look at each other with all this going on — an indoor tornado, fire turning into flames of fire, people speaking languages they’ve never even heard before.

They look at each other with this going on, and they say, “I think maybe this is the Holy Spirit Jesus was talking about.”

There’s a book about the Holy Spirit called “The Holy Spirit, the Shy Member of the Trinity.”

Well, the Holy Spirit did not exactly tiptoe quietly into that room on the day of Pentecost.

It was not a particularly introverted entrance. It was a pretty dramatic deal.

Jesus said, “You shall receive power.”

And the group of followers that had been hiding in fear behind locked doors discovered that’s exactly what they got — power to convict sin hardened souls.

Peter, that day, spoke under the inspiration of the Spirit — Peter, who had been such a timid person.

And when he was finished speaking under the power and inspiration of the Spirit, the writer of Scripture says:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

And he told them.

And the church grew from 120 to 3,000 people in one day.

That was the power of the Holy Spirit — power to create community.

And all of a sudden on this earth, people who had been hostile towards one another, discovered that that hostility had been destroyed and they were like one.

Jews and Gentiles
Slaves and free
Rich and poor
Male and female

That was unheard of, unthinkable.

The Book of Acts says no one even claimed any of his possessions were his own. But they shared everything they had.

Luke, the writer of Acts, makes this statement. Think about this.

And there were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:34)

You think in the first century, in a world of starvation and hardship and suffering and poverty, what would it mean to have a community where there was just oneness — Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, and not a needy person in their midst.

What in the world could do that?

Only one power — the power of the Holy Spirit.

There was the power to heal.

There are many extraordinary statements in the Book of Acts. One of them is in Acts 19:11.

Listen to this.

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)

Have you ever had that happen with your clothes?

People rummage around your dirty clothes pile just to access raw spiritual power.

That was the Holy Spirit; the power to change lives.

Shortly after Pentecost, Peter was arrested because of his witness for Christ.

And Peter, who denied Jesus three times in his fear before Pentecost when Jesus most needed him — this same Peter now defies the authorities and says, “We must obey God rather than man.”

That’s the Holy Spirit.

And when Peter was beaten, the writer of Scripture says he and other disciples left the same Sanhedrin, rejoicing in their beatings, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

When Peter and John are released from prison, the believers prayed.

Only, after this very bad trouble, they didn’t pray for protection. They didn’t ask God to keep them safe and protect them. They prayed for greater boldness, which would mean they would get in more trouble.

And the text says after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.

The place was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

That’s the Holy Spirit.

No wonder Acts 2:43 says, “Everyone was filled with awe.”

There were a lot of things they didn’t understand and there was a lot of stuff they messed up, even after the Spirit came.

In some ways, giving them the Holy Spirit was like giving the keys of a Ferrari to a ten-year-old.

But one thing they did know — Jesus was right.

Jesus said, “You shall receive power,” and they did.

When the Holy Spirit came, everything changed and nothing would ever be the same again, not ever.

“You shall receive power,” he said, and he was right.

Now, for 2,000 years the church has been wrestling and struggling, and its greatest minds have fought and written and pondered over what does this gift mean?

And now, it’s our turn.

Over these next several weeks, we will devote ourselves to understand and to yield ourselves fully to the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

What does that mean?
What will that look like?

Does it mean Blue Oaks Church in Pleasanton, California will look exactly the same as the church did in the first century in the Middle East?

I don’t think so.

I think this Spirit is quite free to manifest his presence and ministry and person in every century, in every situation, as he sovereignly sees fit.

But I have three goals that I want to ask all of us to commit to as we devote ourselves to the Spirit over these next several weeks.

The first one is this:

I will respect the mystery of the Holy Spirit.

You know there are things in life that you can predict and control and put in a box. The Holy Spirit is not one of them.

Jesus says this in John 3. He’s talking to Nicodemus, and he says:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

There’s a mystery to the Spirit, kind of like the wind.

It’s a very powerful thing. And it’s a very real thing. You can’t predict it. You can’t control it.

And I want to tell you something — the longer I’m a Christian and the longer I’m involved in ministry, the more I realize the truth of this.

Those of you who are small group leaders — have you noticed sometimes you work and pray and struggle so hard to make a small group meeting great, and it’s just flat?

And then, there are other times, the truth is, you don’t even really prepare hardly at all and maybe you had a bad attitude. You were sinning all day long and God just anoints that meeting.

Why is it sometimes that good people offer earnest prayers for wonderful outcomes to no avail, and goofy people make wacky requests that seem to get answered?

Why is it, if I have the Spirit in me that sometimes I really desire God, but sometimes the truth is, I hardly think about him at all?

Why is it that sometimes he touches me, and when I least expect or deserve it, I’m just immersed in his presence and love?

Why is it that sometimes I just sweat bullets over how to be a good dad and pray earnestly and can’t seem to find the right thing to do?

And then, other times, times when I’ve had a bad attitude or haven’t even prayed for my kids the way that I should, God just moves in a moment and something happens or some word is given to me, and it’s just a gift?

There is mystery to the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is sovereign power attached to the working of the Holy Spirit, and we have to understand this at the outset.

There are some churches that act as though they’re the licensed franchisees of the Holy Spirit, and in charge of distribution.

And there are people there who will tell you they receive guidance from the Holy Spirit about what shirt to wear that morning and when to swing from a chandelier in the church at night.

They act as if the Holy Spirit is just a genie in a bottle. They can summon him up on command.

On the other hand, there are churches that live as if, for all practical purposes, the ministry of the Holy Spirit finished 2000 years ago.

There are churches and lives where the winds of the Spirit haven’t blown in a long time.

There are churches where people get real nervous about even talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Phillip Yancey wrote about this. He said:

I attended a Christian college at a time when a sister school [he mentions a well-known Bible school] posted instructions on what to do in case of emergencies, which they defined as fire, tornado, air raid, emotional upset, suicide or charismatic activity.

The Holy Spirit is not our genie in a bottle.

The Holy Spirit is not a relic who retired 2,000 years ago to just watch the earth from some distant place.

He is alive and well and is as fully committed to the redemption of this earth today as he was 2,000 years ago.

And he longs to move in his church.

And when people don’t understand that the Spirit is a real person who can choose and with whom there is mystery, that the wind blows as it will, then their spiritual lives become mechanical and rigid and militaristic and stagnant.

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it will.”

And that leads to a second goal that I want to suggest for all of us, and that is:

I will align myself with the Holy Spirit’s work in my life.

I’m going to ask that during this series, we seek very diligently to align ourselves with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

We’re going to talk about that a lot more.

Let me just say this right now. On the one hand, it’s true — there is mystery to the Spirit. The wind blows where it will.

At the same time, the writers of Scripture have some real clear guidelines that we can fully understand and definitely live out.

For example, the writer of Scripture says, “Don’t grieve the Spirit.”

That’s quite clear.

We grieve the Spirit when we choose, knowingly and willingly, to sin.

If you think you can claim the Spirit’s power, but defy his commands, you’re mistaken.

The Spirit is not that kind of a person. He is grieved when human beings choose to defy what is clearly the will of God.

There are going to be times in your life during this series, during this week, maybe tomorrow, when you are defying God… and you’re going to hear a little voice, a little twinge inside of you that’s going to seek to convict you.

Listen and stop and repent.

Just determine now, as best you can with God’s help, that you’re not going to grieve the Spirit.

Writers of Scripture say, “Don’t quench the Spirit.”

To quench is to throw water on a flame to extinguish a fire.

And part of what the Spirit will do in your life is to prompt and lead and guide.

And when that happens, we need to respond right away.

Sometimes you’ll immediately understand the reason for a prompting.

I had a conversation recently where there was a prompting for me to say something, and I did. And it was apparent by the end of that conversation why I needed to do that, and I was so glad I did.

On the other hand, sometimes you may not understand why a prompting comes. Obey it anyway.

Just make up your mind, for the next several weeks, we will relentlessly say yes to the Spirit’s promptings.

We will not quench the Spirit.
We will not grieve the Spirit.

And then, another statement that’s made relative to the Spirit is, “Walk in the Spirit.”

Walking is a picture of fellowship in Scripture — a picture of relationship.

The idea here is engage in activities that keep you connected to the Holy Spirit.

Become a student of the Holy Spirit.

Next week, we’re going to look at the initial visits — this is fascinating material in the Old Testament — some of the initial visits of the Holy Spirit to the earth.

And the response of people was amazingly like us.

Often they’re shocked.
Often they don’t know how to respond.
Sometimes they get jealous of someone else when the Spirit’s involved in that person’s life.

God had to prepare the human race for when the Spirit would be poured out on everyone.

We’re going to start learning about that next week — how to be prepared for and receptive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit when he breaks into your life.

Don’t grieve the Spirit.
Don’t quench the Spirit.
Walk in the Spirit. — Align your life with the work of the Spirit.

And then, the last goal for you and me is:

I will earnestly pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest his power in my life and in the life of our church.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2007, I drove an old beat up Volvo station wagon. It did not have very much power.

I had a friend who was in private equity who was doing quite well financially. He had a Ferrari that was in mint condition. That was power.

I remember when I first saw his Ferrari, I went over and touched it because I’d never been that close to a Ferrari before.

And I said to him, “I never knew anyone could actually drive something like this.”

And he went over and touched my car and said to me, “I never knew anyone could actually drive something like this.”

Old beat up Volvo station wagon — no power.
Mint condition Ferrari — a lot of power.

What do you want, a Volvo station wagon or Ferrari?

Anyone here need any power?

Jesus said, “You shall receive power.” That’s what Jesus said.

This is from a prayer that Paul has for the church at Ephesus.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:16)

That’s God’s desire, that you might be strengthened in your inner being — in the absolute vital core of who you are — with power through his Spirit.

In the beginning of the establishment of the church in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon an ordinary group of men and women and filled them so strongly with his presence and power that they became irrevocably committed to God and irrationally devoted to one another.

Why can’t it happen again?
Has the Spirit lost his power? Has he?
Is he any less able to transform lives today than he was then?

What if we just ask God to pour out the power of his Spirit in our lives and church?

Those of you who lead small groups, what if every time you met, before you started, you prayed, “Holy Spirit, now you be the leader. You be the guide of the group — your power.”

What if all of us who participate in a small group, every single time before we met over these next months, we just stopped and said a little prayer: “Holy Spirit, guide and empower what I say and what I don’t say, and make us one in heart and spirit. Pour out your power.”

What if the power of the Holy Spirit just got poured out all over our church, like it never has before —

The power to heal marriages.

The power to knit the hearts of parents and children together, even when they think they can’t be knit together.

The power to knit the hearts of husbands and wives together, even when they think that things are broken.

The power to liberate people from the destructiveness of sin — people who think they are trapped — people who are addicted, people whose lives are getting thrown away. What if the Holy Spirit’s power just got poured out over them and they were freed from their sin?

The power to create so much generosity and love and sweet spiritedness that once again it might be true of a human community, as it was 2,000 years ago. — “And they were one in heart and in spirit, and there was no needy person among them.”

What if the Holy Spirit got released in your life, and in my life, and in our church like never before? What if?

What if you really become his student and really seek to align yourself with his work?

Ask God, “God, let that wind blow freely. I don’t know a lot of things about where it comes from and where it goes, but God, let it blow freely in my life.”

And determine as best you can, with God’s help, not to grieve or quench, but to seek to walk in the Spirit.

What would happen if you do that?

I don’t know a lot, because the Spirit can’t be put in a box and he will do new things.

I just know this much. I just know this one thing. — You shall receive power.

So I’m just going to pray now and ask God to immerse our church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA