His Last Gift
1The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. 4Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
9And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.
- Acts 1:1-10
Luke is summarizing the last exchange between the Apostles and Jesus after His resurrection and just before His ascension into heaven. There were 40 exciting days with Jesus appearing to many disciples, teaching and making final preparations before His departure. He instructed them concerning the kingdom. He told them not to begin their ministry in Jerusalem until they were baptized with (verse 5) or received power from (verse 8) the Holy Spirit.
During his three years with them, Jesus had given them many precious gifts:
- The words of the heavenly Father (John 17:7-8) to enlighten them.
- The proof of His divinity in miracles (John 14:11) to reassure them and build their faith.
- The sacrifice of His body and blood (Matthew 26:26) to pay the debt for their sins.
- The witness of His resurrection in order to confirm all of His promises (Matthew 28:18-20).
Now, as He leaves them, He promises one last gift: the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that would give them not only the ability to carry out their mission, but also completely transform them.
Before we can grasp the meaning of this gift for ourselves, we need to first understand what the Jews themselves believed concerning the Holy Spirit.
1. Although it is never expressed as explicitly in the Old Testament as in the New, the Jews understood that God was one but that there was diversity in the Divine Being. For example, Genesis begins with a reference to God and the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:26). The reference to God here is in the plural, suggesting this diversity, and God's name is in the plural also.
With time and further revelation, the Jews understood that the Godhead manifested itself to man in different persons. For example:
By the time of David (approximately 1050 BC) the Jews grew to understand that the Holy Spirit was God and part of the One God they worshiped, but a separate being.
11Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
- Psalms 51:11-13
With time they were taught that it was the Holy Spirit that gave power to their prophets and leaders who did great miracles, saved them from their enemies and enabled them to prophecy about the Messiah to come.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
- Isaiah 61:1
Still other prophets confirmed both ideas that the Holy Spirit was God and that the Holy Spirit gave power to men, but also declared that when the Messiah would come, it would be with the power of the Holy Spirit.
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
- Joel 2:28
By the time of Jesus, the Jews anticipated that when the Messiah came the Holy Spirit would be with the people in a mighty way. In other words, He would not only be with the prophets and leaders, but with the entire nation in a dynamic way.
For the Jews of that time, the Savior would bring with Him the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit would empower the people to become a great and strong nation as it once was in the glory days of Solomon (i.e. free from Roman domination and humiliation that it was experiencing in the first century).
2. John the Baptist: God sends a prophet, John the Baptist, who is very influential and he points to Jesus and says to the people, "I baptize you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). This prophecy suggests to people that the time for the Messiah to come, according to prophecy, is very near and they are quite excited by this prospect.
3. Jesus Christ: Jesus' appearance causes great excitement. John declares that He will bring the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells the people that He is the one sent from God, the one they are expecting. His miracles are further proof that what they were expecting was about to be realized.
The golden age where the Spirit was to empower the entire nation seemed to be at hand - and it was, but not in the way the people thought.
The Holy Spirit in the New Testament
When we read what happened after Jesus returned to heaven, we learn that He did indeed send the Holy Spirit for two reasons:
- To empower the Apostles and early disciples to do miracles in the establishment of the church in the first century.
- To indwell every believer who obeyed the gospel.
We understand that Jesus did this and it fulfills Scripture, however, both these things are very different experiences.
The Holy Spirit has always been the person in the Godhead that has worked in creation and man to accomplish God's the Father's will.
Isaiah 61:1 - By the power of the Spirit the prophet spoke
20For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
- I Peter 1:20-21
By the power of the Spirit, Jesus performed His miracles.
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
- Matthew 12:28
Jesus promised His Apostles that He would give them this same power from the Holy Spirit. The same power that worked for the prophets and leaders as well as Jesus would now be there for them. Why?
- To help them remember accurately all of Jesus' teachings (John 14:26) because they had to teach others everything.
- To preach the gospel with power (John 16:7-8).
- To do miracles in order to confirm their preaching (Mark 16:20, Acts 1:8).
- Speaking in foreign languages (tongues - Acts 2:4-6) to preach to all creation.
- Healings (Acts 3:1-10), Peter heals the lame man in the name of Jesus.
- Raising the dead (Acts 20:8-12).
- Bestow on others the ability to do these kinds of miraculous acts (Acts 19:6). They were only 12 men, but through the power of the Holy Spirit they bestowed gifts on other disciples to help spread the gospel, build the church and confirm the truthfulness of God's word.
This kind of power was given by Christ through the Holy Spirit, but only to very few people for a short time and for specific reasons:
- To confirm that the Apostles and early disciples who preached the gospel were indeed telling the truth. If people doubted the messengers who spoke of a resurrected Jesus, they were reassured of their sincerity when they saw the miracles and signs.
- To help the early church establish and organize itself. There was no written record of Jesus' life and teaching in the early part of the first century, and so God provided the young church with people who had special powers to protect and guide it until every member had access to the complete teachings of Christ. By the end of the first century, the New Testament was written and was being circulated in various forms. The death of the Apostles ended the age where the Holy Spirit was given to empower people with miraculous abilities. This, however, did not mean that He left man completely alone, which brings us to the second manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
- I Corinthians 13:8-10
Not everyone was to be miraculously empowered by the Holy Spirit, only those that God had selected to carry out special ministries (i.e. healing, tongues, prophecy, etc.). However, everyone could receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and this phenomenon was the true fulfillment of the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament.
In his first sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter offers this to all those who believe and respond to the gospel in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Note that all who did this were promised the Holy Spirit, but none who were baptized on Pentecost Sunday did any miracles, only the Apostles did these and, later on, those upon whom they (the Apostles) laid hands (Acts 8:18).
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money,
- Acts 8:18
The gift of the Holy Spirit is God living within the heart of every believer, the actual presence of God within the individual in the person of the Holy Spirit.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
- Romans 8:11
Paul does not explain the mechanics of how a divine being can inhabit a mortal body, only that it does. Faith is taking God at His word even when we do not understand how things are done.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
- Hebrews 11:3
In the end, faith will be rewarded in resurrection.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
- I Corinthians 3:16
Here, Paul explains the same event but using different imagery. The body is a temple, the Holy Spirit lives within the body.
Just as the empowering by the Spirit had been given to specific people at a specific time, so too was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to specific people at a specific time.
- He was to indwell every person that believed in Jesus, repented of their sins and was baptized (Acts 2:38). The Holy Spirit was offered to everyone, not just Apostles and a few special disciples. This is how all nations would be blessed. The Holy Spirit would be available to all nations, not only the Jewish nation.
- The people who received Him would not demonstrate miraculous powers, but that is not to say there would be no change in their lives on account of the Spirit's presence. One does not have to perform miracles to know that the Holy Spirit dwells in them. A believer can know He is there in other ways.
The Holy Spirit within a Christian motivates him to seek and experience the things of Christ. How do I know the Holy Spirit is within me? Here are a few examples:
1. Prayer: He is our prayer partner. He encourages us to pray with reassurance that our prayers will be heard. He moves us to pray and keeps our prayers before God's throne.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
- Romans 8:26
2. Righteousness (Galatians 5:22): Our flesh or human nature has no interest in seeking righteousness for Christ's sake, this is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit leads us into the desire for good, gives us a thirst for God's righteousness and the kingdom's establishment. The Holy Spirit is behind every campaign to evangelize.
12So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
- Romans 8:12-14
3. The desire and ability to have intimacy with God (Ephesians 3:14-19): Without the Holy Spirit we can know doctrine but we cannot know God. The Holy Spirit acts as a facilitator between our spirit and the word of God to enable us to have a relationship with a being whose nature and scope our faculties (weakened by sin) have a hard time relating to. Without the Holy Spirit, we could not know God.
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
- Ephesians 3:14-19
4. Service in the Kingdom: In this passage Paul talks about both the miraculous abilities available in the first century and other abilities still experienced in the church today. In the New Testament we learn that every believer receives the Holy Spirit and that He enables every believer to minister in some way. If one preaches, he does so by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. If one sings, teaches, cleans, fixes, visits, organizes or gives, he does so through the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
- I Corinthians 12:4-11
I do not believe, however, that the Holy Spirit helps you to be a better teacher or sweeper than someone who is not a Christian. Being expert at something only comes by training, practice and natural ability. I do believe, however, that the Holy Spirit gives a believer the strength and faith to sweep and serve and give for something he cannot see, that is His work in so far as the Christian is concerned. People who do not posses the Spirit fix and serve and give for something they can see and touch and taste. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, helps the believer to continue to do the best he can for something not yet seen, a promise not yet realized.
I know the Holy Spirit is in me because I am spending my life serving a Lord I cannot see, ministering for a kingdom I cannot touch.
I have tried to explain who receives Jesus' last gift, the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in the heart of the believer, and what are some of the things the Holy Spirit does for the person He indwells. I want to conclude by telling you that the offer of the Holy Spirit is still available. God no longer empowers us to do miracles today because we no longer need them to confirm the gospel or establish the church. We now have His complete word recorded to help us do this work. The sign that we are truly of God is not the power of miracles but the power of love.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
- John 13:35
But He does offer forgiveness because we are still sinners and need to be forgiven.
And He offers His Holy Spirit to live within us because we all desperately need:
- Help in prayer
- Help in doing what is right
- Help in knowing God
- Help in serving Him
Summary and Exhortation
Through the eyewitness records of Jesus' final days, I have tried to share with you His Passion and His Glory.
We have been in the private room and seen Him eat the final meal with the Apostles. We have heard His final words while He hung on the cross. We were there to see and hear Him as He appeared to the Apostles and others after His triumphal resurrection. All of us know that His final command is that all the world is to believe and be baptized, or perish forever. And finally, we have all received the offer of His final gift: the Holy Spirit living inside of every single person who will receive Christ through faith, expressed in repentance and baptism.
The Passion of Christ on the cross was for your sins, and the glory of His resurrection can be the glory of your own resurrection if you respond to His call.