Saturday, 26 October 2013

Questions About Holy Spirit Baptism (Part 1 of 2)

Q: Does the statement in Mark 1:8, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” indicate that Holy Spirit baptism was intended for others besides just the apostles?
     Luke’s account gives more details, wherein the observation is made that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; cf. Matt. 3:11). In the immediate context, the baptism of fire is a reference to the unquenchable fire of hell (vv. 9, 17), reserved for those who are not obedient to Christ (cf. Matt. 3:10-12; 25:41). To be consistent, those who wish to claim Holy Spirit baptism for themselves from this passage must also claim the baptism of fire. However, three baptisms are mentioned here: water, Holy Spirit, and fire. Not everyone on that occasion received water baptism (Matt. 3:7; Luke 7:30), nor is everyone to receive fire baptism (Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17). Who, then, was to receive Holy Spirit baptism? John is merely making a general statement here which is later qualified by Jesus in Acts 1:1-5. The Lord specifically applies John’s statement to his specially chosen apostles. The surest way to understand a prophecy is to consider its fulfillment.
Q: Did the 120 believers of Acts 1:14-15 receive Holy Spirit baptism?
     Between Christ’s ascension and the Day of Pentecost the apostles did assemble with 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), yet several days elapsed from the apostles’ return to Jerusalem to the outpouring of the Spirit (1:5). Seeing that Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover (Lev. 23:15-16), and from Christ’s resurrection to his ascension was forty days (Matt. 28:1; Acts 1:3), over a week stood between the Lord’s ascension and Pentecost. Since the temple was the regular assembling place for larger groups (Acts 2:46; 5:42), it is interesting to note that their prayer meetings were in the temple (Luke 24:53), not in the upper room where the apostles were residing. When Luke records that “they” were in one place (Acts 2:1), the nearest antecedent is the “apostles” (1:26). In order to assert that the Holy Spirit was poured out on 120 men and women, one has to skip back over eleven verses and ignore the immediate context. Furthermore, the apostles are the only ones recorded in Acts 2 as speaking from God, and the masculine pronoun houtoi (“these”) in verses 7 and 15 (literally “these men”) clearly has reference to them. Finally, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never promised to all disciples but specifically “to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2-5; cf. 2:43; 5:12).
Q: In Acts 2:17-18 do the words “last days,” “all flesh,” and “sons and daughters” indicate that Holy Spirit baptism was not just for first-century apostles?
     The phrase “last days” in the NT refers to the last period of Bible history (namely the Christian Dispensation), which began in the first century AD (cf. Heb. 1:1-2), inclusive of a transitional period or the final days of the Jewish Age. Notice that Peter is quoting from Joel 2:28-32 and applying it to the events that were taking place as he spoke (Acts 2:16). It was “in” (not “throughout”) the last days. Joel (who lived around 800 BC) had prophesied about what was to take place in the first century AD.
     The words “all flesh” (KJV) or “all mankind” (NASB) cannot be taken in a literal, ultimate sense. No one understands this to mean that the Spirit was to be poured out on absolutely every person in the world, including unbelievers, the disobedient, Buddhists, Satanists, etc. (cf. John 14:17). It must therefore be understood representatively. When Joel received and transmitted the prophecy, there were only two classifications of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on representatives of “all mankind,” namely both Jews and Gentiles. Since all of the apostles were Jewish, Acts 2 only records the initial fulfillment of this prophecy. Later, in Acts 10:44-47, Gentiles (viz. Cornelius’ household, including sons, daughters, male and female servants) received the same Holy Spirit baptism.
     The latter part of the prophecy quoted in Acts 2:19-21, though often mistakenly applied to Christ’s return, is actually a symbolic depiction of the dark, terrible day of Jerusalem’s destruction only four decades later in AD 70. This is figurative language typically used by OT prophets to describe God’s judgment and the violent overthrow of a nation (cf. Isa. 13:6-11; 34:1-5; Ezek. 32:7-8; etc.). The prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 had its initial fulfillment in AD 30 on the Day of Pentecost and completed its fulfillment in AD 70 at Jerusalem’s destruction, thus consummating the “last days” of the Jewish Age and ushering in the final period of Bible history.
--Kevin L. Moore

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Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

     To eleven apprehensive missionaries the Lord issued a colossal assignment – make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:16-20). If that wasn’t challenging enough, at least two major obstacles stood in their way. For one, most Jews had rejected Christ and even collaborated a few weeks earlier to demand his execution. If the Lord himself couldn’t convince them, how were these far less competent evangelists expected to succeed? Secondly, the Jews stubbornly refused to have any meaningful association with non-Jews (cf. Acts 10:28), and these unassuming apostles were supposed to bring all men together into one unified body! They didn’t even have the written New Testament to substantiate the divine origin and authority of their message. Help from above was desperately needed.
     Prior to his ascension, Jesus declared: “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). This was not a universal pronouncement for all people of all time but a specific address to “the apostles whom he had chosen” (v. 2) to be fulfilled not long after it was spoken. It was a reiteration of the promise he had given them multiple times before (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-13).
     On the day of Pentecost these divinely-appointed men were together in one place and received Holy Spirit baptism just as the Lord had said (Acts 1:26; 2:1-4). This powerful event attracted a multitude of unbelieving Jews and convinced them that the message preached was from God and that Jesus was indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:5-37). About 3,000 were converted that day, and the gospel began rapidly spreading throughout the Jewish community (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; et al.). Nevertheless, the task of reaching “all nations” was far from being accomplished.
     Although the first obstacle had been overcome, the wall of prejudice and division that firmly separated the Jews and Gentiles had solidified over a period of fifteen centuries. But all that changed with the events recorded in Acts chapter 10. When Peter was finally persuaded to go to the home of a Gentile family to introduce the message of Christ to them, how could he and his companions be sure and how were they going to convince their Jewish brethren that God accepted non-Jewish people? The Lord intervened once again, and these Gentiles received the same Holy Spirit baptism that the apostles had received, confirming God’s approval (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-17). The result was that this long-standing ethnic barrier received a crushing blow and the gospel freely spread to all nations (Acts 11:18; 13:49; et al.). Obstacle number two had been removed.
     It is important to note that the apostles in Acts 2 and Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 are the only two accounts recorded in the New Testament of anyone receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was a special promise for a specific purpose for particular individuals that’s been fulfilled. Holy Spirit baptism was not intended for everyone, nor was it promised to everyone, nor is it needed by everyone. The Bible teaches that there is now only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), and it is not a promise to be fulfilled but a command to be obeyed (Acts 10:33, 48); it is not for a select few but for all penitent believers (Acts 2:37-38; 8:12); it is not a divine outpouring from heaven but an immersion in water requiring human participation (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47; 1 Peter 3:20-21).

Revised from the original version appearing in The Exhorter (April–June 1998). 

Image credit: Pentecost by El Greco,

Saturday, 12 October 2013

JESUS: the Reason for Unity

     In 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul asks the rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?”1 Although the anticipated response is “no,” in actuality many would have to answer in the affirmative (both then and now). Should Christ be divided? Absolutely not! Yet this is the tragic reality when the emblematic body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) is internally besieged and fragmented. 
     After the Roman soldiers had secured the physical body of Jesus to the cross, they divided his garments and cast lots for them (Matthew 27:35). But are we any better than these murderous gamblers when we divide Christ’s spiritual body -- the church which he shed his blood to purchase? Are we not guilty of crucifying our Lord all over again when we contribute to, participate in, or do nothing to stop the division of his body? When the church is rent asunder because of stubborn pride, selfishness, apathy or ignorance, surely the Lord is crying out, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
     Consider the apostle Paul, who at one time purposefully tried to destroy the church of God. Have you ever noticed how much and how often he stresses unity in his epistles? (Romans. 15:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 3:28; et al.). From his conversion to the end of his life Paul had Jesus living in his heart (Galatians 2:20). You can’t have Jesus inside you without possessing a genuine concern for unity. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:29). To be truly Christ-like is to have a sincere interest in the unity of God’s people.
     In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed not only for first-century disciples but also for you and me. His earnest prayer was “that they all may be one.” In this small segment of his petition we learn at least three things about the oneness the Lord wants us to have. First, the kind of unity: “just as” Christ and his Father are one (v. 21). Can you imagine any disagreements, disputes, complaints, hurt feelings, or clashes between Jesus and his Father? They are perfectly united in mind and in purpose. Second, the inspiration for unity:  “I in them” (v. 23). Again, if we have Jesus abiding in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), we will have the same desire for unity that he has. Third, the reason for unity: “that the world may believe...” (vv. 21, 23). One of the greatest hindrances to world evangelism is a divided brotherhood. Our love for the lost (another attribute of Christ) ought to generate within us a powerful yearning to be unified.
     How does it make you feel when unity is strained, jeopardized, or destroyed? Do you find yourself thinking, “I don’t care, as long as I get my way,” or “We don’t need him, her, or them anyway, and we’re probably better off without them”? When division occurs, shouldn’t it break our hearts? Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night because of your “deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28)? Can people recognize you as a Christian based on the love you exhibit for your brethren? (John 13:34-35)
     Unity is promoted, not just by our words, but by our lives. Jesus increased “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He lived above reproach. This doesn’t mean that everybody liked Jesus. But any discord between him and others was not his fault; he could not legitimately be blamed. The Bible says: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). The Lord wants us to be at peace with everyone, but two important qualifiers are implied: (1) it is not always possible; and (2) it often depends on me, viz. my attitudes and behavior. If there is a problem between another person and me, what have I done to cause or contribute to it, and more importantly, what am I doing to rectify it? (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15)        
     In order to promote unity, should we not think and act like Jesus? What was his unity-inspiring manner? Isaiah prophesied: “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice . . .” (42:2). In other words, the Lord was typically a quiet, gentle, self-controlled person who was not characterized by using loud, abrasive, and angry words (cf. Matthew 11:29). There may have been occasions when a more direct or even confrontational approach was called for (e.g. Matthew 21:23-46), but this seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. Solomon said: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). How many church problems could be avoided if brethren would just learn to say and do the right things in the right way? 
     The power of truth is often weakened when it is applied with too much ferocity, and many discussions end up generating more heat than light. But what about those who are sinning?! “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). But what about those who are opposed to what is right? “And the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Jesus died even for those whom we perceive as trouble-makers and knuckle-heads, and he wants them to be saved too. If people can’t see the love of Christ in our words and actions, our labors will most likely be in vain.
     Jesus was not a weak, cowardly, passive individual. When something was wrong, he didn’t sit back in silence hoping it would go away or sort itself out. He took appropriate action. When his disciples demonstrated a lack of faith, the Lord aptly rebuked them (Mark 4:40). When Peter spoke hastily or irrationally or wrongly, Jesus lovingly but firmly corrected him (Matthew 26:33-34). When religious leaders were hypocritical and oppressive, he boldly confronted them (Matthew 15:1-12). When merchants made a mockery and profit out of religion, Jesus stepped in and did something about it (John 2:14-17). He was a man of integrity and conviction, and he also had the wisdom and self-control to take appropriate action as dictated by the circumstances.
     If Jesus were physically present today, what would he do about the current condition of his church? Would he approve of the “unity in diversity” concept or the “agree to disagree” mentality? The answer is, yes and no. The church is obviously comprised of diverse people -- ethnically, culturally, personality, etc. -- yet we can all be united in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). But it is hard to imagine Jesus approving of the diversity of doctrinal beliefs and practices that is tolerated, condoned, and justified by many today.
     Are we to simply “agree to disagree” about matters which affect a person’s eternal destiny? Is being “accepting and tolerant” of almost everybody and everything an expression of the love of Christ? The brethren at Corinth were proud of their acceptance and tolerance of an immoral brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). But is it loving to allow (and even encourage) people to lose their souls? What would Jesus do? Love them? Yes! Forgive them? Certainly! Die for them? Absolutely! But Jesus would also have enough honesty, compassion, and courage to say: “unless you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3); “. . . go and sin no more” (John 8:11). 
     If you had a cancerous tumor growing inside your body, what would you do? Would you do nothing, hoping that it goes away or at least doesn’t affect your health? Would you rationalize, accepting it as a new and cherished member of your body? Or would you take the doctor’s advice and either treat it or have it removed? Some things are admittedly painful for a time but necessary in the long-run. The love of Christ is not exhibited when we ignore or compromise things which ultimately destroy unity and contribute to the loss of souls.
     When the church is no different from the world (i.e. senseless bickering, outbursts of anger, hurtful words, loose moral boundaries, vague convictions, etc.), why would anyone want to leave the world to be part of it? We must allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives, individually and collectively, and strive to be more like him. Each of us must have the heart of Jesus to desire unity, the wisdom of Jesus to promote unity, and the conviction of Jesus to pursue the right kind of unity.
     “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations in English are from the NKJV.

Related PostsPreach Jesus

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Modified from the original version appearing in The Exhorter (Jan.-March 1999).

Saturday, 5 October 2013

God Answers Prayer

     From 1 John 5:14-15 the Christian learns at least four things about prayer: (1) God hears my prayers; (2) he answers my prayers; (3) this is something in which I can have “confidence”; and (4) the Lord's answers are according to his will, not mine.1
     It was probably during the period recorded in Acts 20:1-3 that the apostle Paul produced Romans and 2 Corinthians. Two prayers are mentioned in these epistles which serve as good biblical examples of how prayers are answered.
     Paul’s letter to the Romans was written approximately AD 56/57 before he traveled to Jerusalem with a benevolent gift from various congregations. Apparently he had some concerns about what might happen when he got to Jerusalem, but instead of worrying about it he prayed about it and encouraged others to pray for him as well. In Romans 15:30-32 at least three specific prayer requests are made: (1) that Paul may be delivered from unbelievers in Judea; (2) that his service may be acceptable among the Jerusalem saints; and (3) that he may come to Rome with joy. By reading Luke’s historical record of this visit to Jerusalem and subsequent events, we see exactly how these petitions were answered. 
     According to Acts 21:17-20a, the brethren in Jerusalem received Paul gladly and rejoiced in his ministry. It seems that this part of his petition was answered with a resounding “yes.” However, the apostle’s service was not accepted unconditionally. While numerous Jews in Jerusalem had come to believe in Christ, many of them viewed Paul with suspicion, as though he were a traitor to his nation and cultural heritage. His effectiveness and influence among them, therefore, were compromised by this misguided perception.
     In order to show that he had not completely forsaken his people or his past, Paul agreed to carry out a customary ritual in the temple (vv. 20-26). But his attempt to please his Jewish kinsmen led to further complications. He was falsely accused, dragged out of the temple, and nearly beaten to death by unbelieving Jews (vv. 27-33). Fortunately he was delivered from these attackers (vv. 33-34), as per another of his prayer requests (Romans 15:31), yet not without a great deal of distress and suffering. As a result of his arrest in Jerusalem, he was sent to Caesarea (spending two years in prison) and then on to Rome. Paul had prayed that he might come to Rome with joy, but when he finally arrived after several near-death experiences along the way, he was in chains (Acts 28:16). 
     Did God answer the three petitions of Romans 15:30-32? Apparently so. Did he answer them the way Paul wanted? Apparently not. No doubt Paul desired that his service to the Jerusalem saints would be received without reservation, but it wasn’t. He likely would have wanted his deliverance from unbelievers to be void of pain and distress, but it wasn’t. Surely he would rather have come to Rome as a free man, but he didn’t. Nevertheless, as a prisoner in Rome, looking back on these ordeals, Paul had to admit: “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). God’s way may have been harder, but it was so much better.
     If Paul’s service in Jerusalem had been accepted unconditionally (as he wanted), the chain of events which eventually took him to Rome likely would not have occurred; consequently so many would have missed out on the Lord’s great blessings through the ministry of this dedicated apostle. The point is, Paul's prayers were answered by God, not necessarily the way he wanted, but obviously so much better than he even knew how to ask.
     Another of Paul’s specific prayer requests is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. He struggled from what appears to have been a physical malady (“a thorn in the flesh”), concerning which he pleaded with the Lord no less than three times that it might be removed. God’s answer was not “yes,” or even a “qualified yes,” but an absolute “NO.” Thus Paul continued to suffer from this infirmity for the rest of his natural life. But notice his attitude. He didn’t cry, “God hasn’t answered my prayer!” He didn’t complain that God’s answer wasn’t what he wanted. Paul graciously accepted this negative response and acknowledged that the Lord’s way was even better than that for which he had asked. This physical “thorn in the flesh” kept him humble, which ultimately contributed to his spiritual salvation (cf. Proverbs 16:18). It caused him to depend more on God and less on self. It made him a much stronger person. 
     The lesson is simple: God answers prayer. He answers prayer according to his will, not mine. He doesn’t always answer according to my expectations, and his ways are not always the easiest. But I can be assured that his answers are always the very best answers. Even when I don’t get exactly what I ask for, I know that God has something much better in store!
     “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
-- Kevin L. Moore

     1 This is a revision of the original version that appeared in The Exhorter 4:1 (Jan.-March 2000). All scripture quotations are from the NKJV.

Related articles: Mike Bensen's When Did Jesus NOT Pray?

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