I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
The risen Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned his disciples concerning how they are to live, what their priorities are to be for the rest of their lives. Everything he has told them has been written in the Scriptures. Then he lays before them a life in which they are to be engaged in proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. They will begin where they are, in Jerusalem amongst the family, neighbours and enemies who were there when they crucified our Lord. Mercy will be shown to them immediately, to Jerusalem sinners as Bunyan’s book of that title declares. Then they are not to stay there but to go out from there in every direction to all the nations of the earth. They are to be witnesses to these things. These disciples listened and they must have been gob smacked. They were already sobered by his crucifixion and then his resurrection from the dead. They are further sobered by the terms of his commission. Many of them were young, and they had little experience of testifying and preaching, and yet the Lord not only sent them as evangelists and missionaries but he gave them a message which would be utterly unpalatable to all to whom they spoke.
They had to tell everyone two things, that they were sinners, in other words that they had broken the law of God and were guilty in God’s sight, but that he was offering forgiveness to them in the name of Jesus Christ. So the first hurdle they had to cross was preaching sin and guilt to all men and women urging them to receive divine forgiveness. Then they had to tell their hearers that they needed to repent, in other words, turn right round and change in their understanding of themselves and their values and beliefs and enthusiasms. They needed a totally new view of Jesus Christ and also of themselves. So this second message was one of radical and often painful change. They told them they were law breakers, and they told their hearers that they needed to repent and turn their lives around and set out from that moment on in a different direction, on a narrow path that led to life. So that was their message to the world that all men were sinners who needed forgiveness, and all men needed to repent of their sins.
And the content of the message he gave to them was compounded by the fact of the location in which they were to preach it, “to all nations” (v.47) he said to them, not omitting a single country, to go to people who spoke a different language and practiced different customs, who had an utterly different background to themselves. They were there in their midst as strangers, as foreigners, and there, far from home, they were to tell the local people that they were sinners, guilty in the eyes of God, who needed to be forgiven, and that this forgiveness came through a man named Jesus, a Jew who had lived a life of extraordinary miracles and amazing teaching, who had been crucified as a criminal but had risen from the dead. That is what they were to tell people, and that they all needed to turn around and repent of how they had lived until then. That is what this Jesus of Nazareth was telling them the first time he met them all, just a few hours after he rose from the dead. They were shaken to the core by his crucifixion, and further shaken by his resurrection, but the Lord Jesus didn’t wait for a month until they got used to him being alive, rather, immediately he spreads out before them how they were going to live, and what they were going to do with their lives from that moment on.
You can imagine them being utterly shocked, glancing at one another, incredulous at what they were hearing, thinking that this was an utterly impossible task for them. It would be like telling a mountain to jump into the depths of the sea. Some might be able to do some of this but the rest of them weren’t smart enough, or good enough, or eloquent enough for it, or courageous enough. They were far too weak, and tongue-tied, and nervous with far too many responsibilities in Jerusalem and Galilee with their families and farms to drop everything and become itinerant preachers of such a message, far from home to people and places they’d never visited in their lives. “Thanks but no thanks,” they were all thinking, “we’re not equipped enough, and confident enough, and trained enough for such a vocation.” That is the scene in this room, listening to Christ speaking to his disciples. This is the background to the words of our text in verse 49, his mighty promise, this absolutely essential promise, this comforting promise that he gives them all. “I want you to fulfil this commission for the rest of your lives, and in case you all feel that this is something you could never do in a month of Sundays then let me tell you this. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised you; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (v.49).
- IT WAS THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER.
It was first made by God to his servants the prophets, that he would one day pour out his spirit on all his people. God said this through Joel chapter 2 and verse 28, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” You see what God is emphasizing here that no longer will it be men like prophets and priests and kings who will receive an endowment of power by the Spirit. All who trust in the Lord will have it. Everyone without exception, young people who trusted in him, people with the most mundane jobs working at check-out counters or refuse collectors would become the recipients of God the Holy Spirit.
Again, through Isaiah God the Father speaks of judgment being on the land until something remarkable occurs. He says this chapter 32 and verse 15; “till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.” The emphasis there is on the consequence of the Spirit of God coming upon and into a person. The change he accomplishes can be compared to the Sahara becoming Kent, the Garden of England, or a flat boring field becoming an arboretum! It is something God alone can accomplish.
Or again the God’s repeated promise of the coming of the Spirit is made twelve chapters later in Isaiah 44, and verse 3 “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” And what is this promise centred on? On the future, in other words, the Spirit doesn’t come like a flash in the pan, in a spasm of emotion, at a special meeting when you are vulnerable. No! The Spirit of God could have been on your grandfather in his generation, and on your father, but now he is in you and he will be on your children and their descendants who love and trust the Lord. God pours out his Spirit in the new covenant age on one generation after another.
Or again the promise of the Father of Jesus pouring out his Spirit came through the prophet Ezekiel chapter 39 and verse 29, where he tells them that the day will come when the Holy Spirit will not be the mysterious member of the three persons of the godhead. He will come and make himself known to them and they will experience his power in their own lives; “I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.” Then how will it be for his people? Ezekiel says in chapter 36 and verses 26 and 27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” What is the result of the Father putting his Spirit in us? He moves us to follow his decrees. Jesus says to these disciples, “You will be my witnesses,” and they are fearful and inadequate. “What has my Father promised you? The Holy Spirit himself and he will move you to follow what I say.”
So there we have examples from the Old Testament of God the Father promising a coming day when he will pour out his Spirit on all his people and telling them of the amazing transformation that that will bring, and when the Son of God had been in the Upper Room with the disciples before the Last Supper then Jesus underlined and repeated what his Father had said because he has told us all that his Father has said. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth . . . he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:16&17). “Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 17:7) “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn.15:26&27). “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (Jn. 16:15).
The promise was made first by the Father through the prophets, but in the New Testament the Son of God repeats the promise and now makes it to his own disciples, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised,” (v.49). We say, “To us? You are going to send him to us?” “I am going to do it,” says the Lord Jesus. “The gates of hell will not stop me, your own doubts and questionings are not going to prevent it. I’ve made up my mind. I am going to send to you men and women, gathered in this room, with all your feelings of unfittedness and unbelief, what my Father has promised. He is going to come to you.” That is what Jesus says to them.
“So what are your inadequacies if you have the Holy Spirit in you? What are all the sum of your weaknesses if God the Holy Ghost indwells you? What are all the enemies of God in the world if God the Holy Spirit is in your heart? What are all the fiends from the pit of hell if you have the Holy Spirit in you? I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” Every Christian has that promise. If any man has not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his. We must be born of the Spirit, that is how we begin, and enlightened by the Spirit of God, and sanctified and changed by the Spirit of God. The whole normal Christian life is being fulfilled in each one of us through the realisation of this promise that both Father and Son have made to every single one of Christ’s disciples without exception. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us because in every Christian the Father has fulfilled his promise to send to each one the Spirit of God. You cannot be a Christian without the Spirit of God sent by the Father.
- THIS PROMISE IS CONFIRMED BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE SON.
In those Old Testament promises that were read in your hearing it is God the Father who says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” but here in these words of Jesus he affirms, “I am going to send you what my Father promised” (v.49). What are we seeing here? The absolute equality of Father and Son in their rank, and power, and exaltation. Jesus talks about “all authority in heaven and earth.” What is that? Who is that? God. God alone is all authority in heaven and earth, the one true and living God, the Creator, the one in whom we live and move, the Ancient of Days. That authority is not something external that belongs to God. That is God himself, and Jesus says that that is his. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him by his Father. In other words, God has been given to God. In other words, to the God-man who has two natures, divine and human, who suffered and died as a man and remembers today his tears and agonies and cries, who will for ever be God and man, glorified and exalted. Jesus our great high priest is the true and living God. He is not less than God in anything he is or does. He builds his church; he brings all his people to glory; he equips them for his purposes for them before they reach the throne. He tells them what he wants them to do, and he enables them to do it. “You shall be my witnesses, and what my Father has promised you are certainly going to receive because I will ensure and guarantee that he will come to you, because I am personally going to send the Spirit to you.” That is how much the Lord Jesus Christ loves us. He forgets nothing. He omits nothing. Has the Father promised to do something for his people? Jesus Christ will make sure that we get it. If he promises that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death that he will be with us, then the Lord Jesus Christ will make sure that he will be with us. If God promises that no good thing he will withhold from those who fear him, then Jesus Christ will make sure that we get every good thing we need. If God promises that nothing will separate us from his love. Jesus Christ will see to it. If God promises that in our flesh we shall see God, then Jesus Christ will ensure that that sight of God will be ours. “I am going to do whatever my Father has promised you.”
- THE MEANS OF THE FULFILMENT OF JESUS’ PROMISE.
“But,” he says. In other words, there is one particular way that this promise will be fulfilled in these listening disciples. Jesus mentions a kind of specifying limitation on this promise of the Spirit being accomplished. In other words he says, “From now on your life is going to be spent in knowing and doing my will. You are going to be teaching men and women the will of God for them. You are going to be instructing them to do whatever I have told you. That is what you are going to speak, and that is certainly how you must live your own lives, doing what I say. So here is the number one requirement that I am going to make about your futures. Are you listening? Then what I want you to do is to stay here in Jerusalem.” There were no other conditions. He never said to them, “You might be” or “you could be” or even “you can be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” The condition for the receiving of the Spirit was not psychological, that they got into a suitable frame of excited anticipation, or moral that they became exceptionally holy people. Note that the reference that Jesus made was geographical. It was not a spiritual action they were to perform but he simply asked for a spatial action. It is not the waiting that is being stressed by Jesus but waiting in Jerusalem, or the word can mean “sitting” in Jerusalem. Nothing was added to that. There was nothing heroic demanded, no initial provocation of the Sanhedrin and the chief priests or Pilate. They were not to taunt them or mock them or preach outside their dwellings. Just remain in Jerusalem. They were not to name this blessing and claim this blessing, they were just to stay in the city.
There was to be no more of this going home seven miles or so to Emmaus to pick up the pieces of their lives and then get on with things they once did. That life was all over. The old man was dead. Peter shouldn’t have said, “I’m going fishing,” taking with him a number of the other boys. Jesus used their uncertainty to his own gracious ends. The Lord Jesus did give them an instruction to pay a visit to Galilee and there our Lord would meet with Peter and with all 500 of his disciples, but they were not to stay there, and they were not to scatter all over the land. At the very end of the forty days Jesus would lead them a couple of miles, walking with them to Bethany where he would ascend, but then they were to return and stay in Jerusalem, and they were to remain there for ten more days. And that was the only request he made of them in how and where they were to receive the promised Holy Spirit
The Lord Christ did not say to them that they were to pray for ten days without ceasing, or go through a regimen of devotional exercises, although we know they did meet for times of prayer. Of course, what better use of time could they make as they encouraged themselves and drew closer to God? We are told that during these weeks, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). But Jesus did not lay it down as a condition that if they prayed he would send the Spirit. He did not tell them solemnly that the condition for having the Spirit was praying with all their hearts, or that they should agonize, or that they put all on the altar, or that they didn’t commit a single sin. His request was un-strenuous. There were no human works or human terms introduced as conditions to be fulfilled in order to get the Spirit, any more than that he was prepared to lay down his life for them as long as they did their part and stuck by him and watched and prayed and never denied him. If he had put those down as conditions for atonement he never would have shed his blood for them or for any of us. So too in giving us his Spirit, it is all of grace. ‘Tis mercy all immense and free, that the Spirit of God is poured out on all the people of God – just as much as the Son of God dying for our sins. He loved us and gave himself for us. He loved us and gave the Spirit to us. The coming of the Spirit is not called the ‘opportunity’ of the disciple, or the ‘privilege’ of the disciple, or the ‘blessing’ of the disciple. It is called the promise of the Father. It is divine grace that gave these men God. God had promised and God fulfilled his word.
It was a gift from God, just like eternal life. It was not by works lest we should boast. There were no negotiations between ourselves and God concerning his giving and our receiving the Spirit. It wasn’t that we brought our things to the table, and God brought his things to the table and then after some debate we came to an amicable conclusion, we fulfilled the divine conditions that he stipulated and then we got the Spirit. There was nothing like that whatsoever. The Spirit was a gift, with all the happy associations of a present at Christmas. It is not because of the harsh demands of the law completely fulfilled by us that every Christian received the Spirit. When we first became Christians we knew very, very little about the Holy Spirit. What we wanted was the Lord Jesus to be our Saviour and to forgive us our sins. “Come into my heart Lord Jesus,” we prayed, but what a glorious comprehensive answer of blessing did God give us. In the book of Acts the Spirit is never achieved or obtained. He is always a gift.
So they stayed in Jerusalem for a further ten days after the Ascension and then, when the Day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. What were they doing? They were “sitting” that is the only word that describes their activity. They were not groaning or rolling on the floor. They had not fulfilled any so-called conditions of Pentecostal blessing; it was the calendar of feasts that now pointed to this feast and it had been fulfilled. Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover. It was the feast of Pentecost that had fully come. It was not that they had fully entered into the blessing. They had done what he had told them and stayed put, and now, unknown to them, the set time of God’s gift had come. “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 word of Jesus to them was exactly fulfilled, just as he and his Father had promised. Where did the wind come from? Luke tells us it was “from heaven” as Jesus had said it would.
Then notice that the coming of the Spirit was to all of them, just as Jesus promised. They were all together sitting there. Luke might have said where they were ‘mortifying themselves’ or ‘seeking’ or ‘yielding’ or merely ‘kneeling’ or ‘praying.’ But Jesus had given such attitudes no encouragement as conditions for getting the promised Spirit. There was no hint such as, “Some of you hyper-spiritual men and women who have reached the higher life will receive the Spirit. Some of you who have really emptied yourselves will be filled.” We never meet the word ‘some’ when Jesus makes promises to the disciples in the gospels and Acts. He promises to them all the gift of the Father and every one of them receives the Spirit. From the 120 at Pentecost to the twelve believers in Ephesus every single person received the Spirit. There is no record in Acts of any believer in a group of believers failing to receive or partly receiving the promised Holy Spirit when he came. The Holy Spirit came inclusively; the Holy Spirit came unconditionally because he is a gift. They were all very different men and women of different levels of maturity, and different types of people, possessing different kinds of personality problems, but the gift of the Spirit did not depend on any subjective state or intelligence or strength of personality. The Spirit of God does not bubble up from within you, from some state in yourself; he comes from “on high” (v.49), from heaven, from God. God overlooks all such conditions when he gives the Spirit. Stay in Jerusalem and wait to receive this gift. Just trust Jesus’ promise that he will give him to you.
Neither does the Holy Spirit anywhere in the book of Acts come first of all to apply the blessing of justification, and then months or years later return to apply sanctification. He is never described as coming partially to return later when one person has made himself more worthy or emptier or cleaner. Never does some part of the Holy Spirit come; it is the indivisible person of the Holy Spirit who comes, and he comes on all of them. That is the consistent teaching you find everywhere in Acts. And he comes to fill the person and he comes to dwell in that person, not merely to pay him a visit and move on. Where the Spirit is he is there fully. So the words of Jesus to all of them in that room about the coming of the Spirit were straightforward telling them his plan and what he would accomplish, and that they were to stay in Jerusalem, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (v.49).
- THE RESULT OF RECEIVING THE PROMISE.
It is very simple. Our Lord tells them that they would be “clothed with power from on high” (v.49). What is this power? It was a gracious heaven-sent energy to obey the Lord who had said that “repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (vv.47&48). He had given them this Great Commission and they were shocked to hear what he expected of them. They were ill prepared for such a calling. They knew they lacked the experience, and intelligence, and courage, and spirituality for such a vocation. They could not do it without God. We cannot do it without God and here God was promising to give them God, because without him they could do nothing.
An awareness that this is so is the foundation of Christian living, in other words, a conviction that I cannot live a life pleasing to God without the help of God is foundational to changing your life. There is no way I can fulfil man’s chief end of glorifying and enjoying God without being clothed with power from on high. Here is a Christian husband, and he is to love his wife in this way, he is to lay down his life for her. Here is a Christian wife, and she is to honour her husband. Here are children in a Christian home and they are to obey their parents in all things. There is your neighbour, the person who in the providence of God you bump into, and you are to love him as you love yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. You think of your enemy and you are to love him; you are to do good to him; you are to lend to him without expecting to get anything back; you are to overcome his evil with good; you are to go the second mile. If your enemy strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back; you are to forgive seventy times seven. You are to be more aware of the plank of wood in your own eye than the speck that’s in your brother’s eye. Whatever you do you are to do it with all of your might. Your aim in everything is to please God. You are to be witnesses to these things. You are not only to preach them to others but practice them yourself.
So, as you think of the nature of the Christian life, you realise that only power from on high, from totally outside of yourself, can enable you to seek to live like that. Your wits won’t do it; your education won’t achieve it; the example of your parents isn’t powerful enough for this; the way your minister and the elders and deacons behave day by day is not enough to accomplish in you a change of such dimensions as Jesus requires. You need to be clothed with power from on high. Jesus tells us this. If we did not need it he would not have made this promise to us. He’d have said, “You can do it. Go for it!” No. He told them of a reality that people in the world know nothing about, that God is. Jesus Christ is. The Holy Spirit is, just as the Bible is, and the living church is, and the Lord’s Day is. These are realities. Don’t go on living your life in such an impoverished and defiant way, behaving as if these realities did not exist. It is like a couple whose home is a cottage in a village in the country twenty miles from here who’re living in denial of electricity. They say stubbornly that it does not exist, and live and cook on an open fire and lighten the dark winter evenings by a paraffin lamp. How impoverished their lives are because they refuse to believe in electricity. It is like a person who refuses to believe in antibiotics, who will not consider them or in their power to help when an infection comes. What a dangerous delusion. I am saying that God is the most fundamental reality of all, and that Jesus Christ is real and that the Holy Spirit is real. Please don’t go on living your life refusing to believe he exists.
Do you know what evidence of this will be the great give-away that you in fact do think like that? I will tell you. You will hear what Jesus says about loving your neighbours as yourselves, and doing to them what you would have them do to you, and loving your enemies, and turning the other cheek, and you respond by saying that that is idealistic, and that it is beautiful but impossible, and that no one can live like that. And that response shows that you are a stranger to power from on high, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in your life. You are living during the age of electricity by paraffin. You are living in the age of the Aga by cooking in a wood-burning fireplace. You are surviving sickness in an age of superdrugs by taking nettle soup and apricots. You are living weakly when you could live strongly. You are living in a state of denial. God made this world. God sent his Son to be its Saviour. Redemption has been accomplished and now it is applied by the Holy Spirit. This is the age of the Spirit being poured out. Don’t limp through life and stagger at such a poor dying rate. By the Spirit you can mount up with wings as eagles; you can run and not grow weary; you can walk and not faint. Whatever the Lord Jesus asks you that you are able to do. If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. He can do all the things that Jesus commands us to do by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I make this distinction between two words, promise and offer. I do not promise all of you that you will possess power from on high. I only promise that to everyone whose faith is in Jesus Christ. I promise you that God will never put you where his grace cannot keep you. I promise you that he will work everything together for your good. I promise you that you will be able to do all that God want you to do. I promise you that you will more than conquer despair and rejection and loneliness and alienation and guilt and weakness. I promise that to every believer because you have power from on high by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I don’t promise that to you all, but I do offer that wonderful way of life and that supernatural enabling to every single person here without exception, no matter how badly you have lived, no matter how you have gone against your conscience and against the advice of those who love you most, and have fallen again and again. You need not go on like that. You can change by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can change in such categories as these, from death to life. This will come to whosoever turns from their unbelief and puts their trust in Jesus Christ. This holy loving power will come to you as you believe in the Lord Jesus. The only condition for receiving the Holy Spirit is the identical condition for salvation, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
7th July 2013 GEOFF THOMAS