Wednesday, October 12, 2005

4. Lessons from the Acts of the Holy Spirit

Reading through the gospels, one gets a glimpse into the life of Christ as well as a glance into the lives of those who came into contact with Him. What strikes me immediately is that historically, the Jews had a history of “remnants”; that is, God spoke to the fathers and the prophets in many portions and in many ways and had a rather small following of obedience. Historically, we have little or no evidence that the nation ever carried out the moral, civil or ceremonial laws God established. While speaking to people on a grand scale through so many means, a handful of people ever followed through on what He said and expected. The same is true when God became flesh and dwelt among us—of the multitudes that followed, there was a small core that He called to Himself and stayed closest to Him.

Thinking of the disciples, they had so many “issues”. Jesus had to take them by the hand so many times, sat them down and explained quietly things He did and said. Of all He said and did, the practice of prayer stands out. Jesus was asked about it by the disciples, and He certainly taught about it is so many places—but He also did it. Only one time in the record of scripture did He ever do it with them—and they failed at it, sleeping instead of praying. Though they heard about it and saw it, it is only assumed the disciples themselves ever actually did it. Being good Jews, we can assume they observed a regular practice of prayer to some degree, but I wonder what their habits were like . . .

I notice in reading that not much is said about the spiritual disciplines of the disciples until just prior to Jesus' arrest. In the garden is the only time Jesus says, "pray with me" and the disciples are found not praying, but sleeping.

After Jesus ascends back to heaven, Luke records some particular events that are perhaps the only suggestion we have as to what the prayer habits of Jesus’ disciples may have been like. The record of Acts 1-2 and 6:4 gives a clue to what those prayer habits looked like against the setting of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Pentecost was a special day on the Jewish calendar marking the completion of the barley harvest. Pentecost was a feast day, “proclaimed as a ‘holy convocation’ on which no servile work was to be done, and at which every male Israelite was required to appear at the sanctuary (Lv. 23:21).” This was a day of joy and thanksgiving as it also served as a reminder of the necessity of the sin and peace offerings, of the Exodus from Egypt and that God had a covenant with His people. The main idea is that God accepts the offering because sin is removed and the people are reconciled to God. Pentecost later became to be identified with anniversary of the LORD’s giving of the law at Sinai. The Sadducees observed Pentecost on the 50th day from the first Sunday after Passover. [1]

When we get to Acts 2:1, the feast is underway, the disciples and others are gathered per Jesus’ instruction. “The Holy Spirit came on this day as the firstfruits of the believer’s inheritance (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:11, 14).”[2]

How does the pouring out of the Holy Spirit affect the prayer practices of the early church? The disciples saw Jesus pray and heard Him teach about it. Now they were in a festival where prayer should have been ingrained as a way of life. Jesus had made the sacrifice and the way was open for mankind to be reconciled to God. The disciples were obviously praying about something that was on all their minds—and the Holy Spirit came, empowering them to continue the words and works of Jesus. The disciples saw a direct link between what they were now doing, who God made them to be, and prayer. They prayed, then ministered. They prayed, then ministry reaped it’s harvest. They prayed and ministered. The acted like Jesus: praying and ministering.

Prayer became associated with action, and was less an activity.

[1]Wood, D. R. W., D. R. W. Wood, and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. electronic ed. of 3rd ed., Page 898. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962.
[2]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Ac 2:1. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.

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