‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:16-19)
I really like Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 of Ephesians, in it you see Paul’s desire for the church to be filled with the same power that his ministry has been full of. Paul’s ministry was so powerful because through prayer he experiences the deep love of Christ.
Prayer brings together love and power: the relation of love that grows up between God and the person who prays, and the flowing of power from God too and especially through that person. (Wright)
Through prayer, we too can experience the deep deep love of God and have the power, that is the Holy Spirit, flow through our ministry as we build the kingdom of God in our communities.
‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us’, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(Ephesians 3:20-21)
Jesus …came with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people …They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (The Gospel of Luke 6:17-19, New Revised Standard Version).
“Power came out from him and healed all of them.” The same Greek word is used here as in the Mark passage above. Dunamis! Not only run of the mill healings but power-healings! At first glance, the power seems to be some sort of spiritual energy that flows out from Jesus. It seems to be a kind of energy that is detachable from Jesus. What is this power? To answer this question, we do need a little 1st Century Jewish background. After all, Jesus was a 1st Century Israeli rabbi. In the time of Jesus, it was forbidden to use the holy name of God, YHWH (pronounced, Yahweh. There are no vowels in ancient Hebrew!). Whenever YHWH occurs in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) the reader would use a substitute such as Adonai (the Lord), Ha-Shem (The Name) or Ha-Gevurah. (The Power). Most English Bibles translate YHWH as “The Lord”. In conversation one of these substitute names was always used. To utter the divine name YHWH was blasphemy and liable of the death sentence. So, it seems likely that the power that came out of Jesus was not some mystical or spiritual energy but that it was nothing less than The Power! YHWH! The manifestation of God himself in healing. At his trial, Jesus also avoided speaking the divine name YHWH and he used the substitute, The Power. The High Priest is interrogating Jesus. He asked Jesus if he is the Messiah. Jesus replies: I AM. Then he says:
And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of The Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:62).
The Greek word dunamis again and with the definite article. Jesus would have used the Hebrew original Ha-Gevurah. Although Jesus did not utter the divine name YHWH nevertheless the High Priest deems that Jesus has committed blasphemy anyway because of the other things he has said:
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? Mark 14:63).
At this point, the Gospel has the ring of truth with a piece of detail of historical reliability. We know from ancient rabbinic sources that The High Priest tore his robe and that this constitutes the verdict of blasphemy. The sage Rabbi ben Qorha said that once the
witnesses have given their evidence, “the Judges stand and tear their clothing and never sew them back up.” (Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, 7:5).
Jesus, after his death but before his ascension, told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with Power from on high”. (Luke 24: 49). It is clear that Jesus didn’t think of this power as some sort of mystical or spiritual energy but rather as nothing less than the third person of the divine trinity – The Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8).
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-5)
Jerusalem was full at this time because Jews had travelled in from all around to celebrate Pentecost.
For a first-century Jew, Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover. It was an agricultural festival. It was the day when farmers brought the first sheaf of wheat from the crop and offered it to God, partly as a sign of gratitude and partly as a prayer that all the rest of the crop, too, would be safely gathered in.
But, for the Jew, neither Passover or Pentecost were simply agricultural festivals. These festivals echoed the great story of their forefathers. The Passover remembers the exodus from Egypt when God fulfilled his promises to Abraham by rescuing his people. They sacrificed a lamb just like they did the night they left Egypt and crossed the red sea into the Sinai desert.
50 days after days after Passover, after crossing the red sea, they came to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law, on the stone tablets. Pentecost then isn’t just about the first fruits, the sheaf of wheat which says the harvest has begun. it’s about God giving to his people the way of life by which they must now life, giving them the 10 commandments.
So as we hear about what happened to the first disciples as the holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost, Luke, the writer of the book of acts takes it for granted that we would remember that Pentecost is about the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law on stone tablets.
Now we see the first disciples being filled with spirit and then going on to bear powerful witness to Jesus and his resurrection to win converts from the very first day, this like the sheaf of wheat which is offered to God is a sign of the great harvest to come.
And whereas Moses and Israel were given the law written on Stone tablets, here the disciples receive the holy spirit into their hearts.
Pentecost then is the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the moment when we move from stone tablets to God dwelling within us.
Jeremiah tells us this was God’s plan when he said:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:32-35)
We are God’s forgiven people through the power of the cross and we can know God because His holy spirit lives within us.
I have often wondered why the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. In my mind it is not the best name for the book, it is not the most accurate name. I think if I were able to change the name I would make it ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’. The opening verses of Acts are about Jesus ascending into heaven and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” … After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:5,9)
The book of Acts has no one human as its main character we see a lot of Peter in the first half and a lot of Paul in the second half. There are many others who we hear about in the book of Acts. The one person present throughout is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of the early church as the good news starts to spread.
Many scholars think that Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, intended to write a third book, to make a trilogy but perhaps died before he was able. His first book, Luke’s Gospel, starts in Judea and in the town of Bethlehem. We see Jesus travel and preach in Galilee. Eventually, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem the capital and the heart of Israel. Jesus dies on the cross and on the third day rises again. The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus in Jerusalem. The book of Acts picks up in the same place, in Jerusalem. And from there the coming of the Holy Spirit the good news spreads around the Mediterranean and ends up in the capital and centre of the known world Rome. So we have in the Gospel of Luke the coming good news which starts in the countryside and ends in the capital of Israel a small country in the Roman empire and then in the book of Acts we have the good news spread from the capital of Israel across much of the Roman empire ending up in the capital Rome. The third book would see the message ripple further from Jerusalem and Rome all the way to ends of the earth. Perhaps that third book wasn’t written because we are living that book. We are spreading the Good news of Jesus to ends of the earth, we are spreading the Good news into every community.
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)