How many of us have ever taken on a challenge that we could not do by ourselves? Maybe it was a home project like putting together a BBQ or repairing something around the house. You start well, but soon find yourself over your head unable to continue without help.
One of the earliest lessons we learn in our following of Christ is that we cannot do it on our own. When it comes to spiritual power, we soon discover that our wells are dry and our harvest is barren. On many occasions, I have been reminded of that very thing. Nowhere is it more evident for me than in preaching. There have been times when I believed the sermon was downright spectacular. It felt right. It was biblically and practically strong. I could not wait to get behind the pulpit and preach, but when the delivery time came, the sermon felt like a lead balloon. It just sat there, never rising up off of the ground. In spite of my best efforts, the sermon was a ﬂop! At other times, though, the opposite has occurred.
I was speaking at another church and had everything ready. All the points were good and strong. My introduction was captivating and my conclusion sound. But as I laid in bed around midnight on that fateful Saturday, God prompted me to change everything! After a number of hours on the computer, I had a jumbled “mess,” that on most Sundays, I would not deem worthy of preaching. I think all pastors go through that… sometimes feeling as if the sermon is lousy and has no redemptive value at all.
As I stumbled into the pulpit with great fear and anxiety, I preached what was written. When it was done, I felt “Meh.” But after the service, someone came up to me and asked if that sermon was specifically for them. What I considered “rubbish,” God used to bless someone. My expectation was dashed by God’s ability and power. For me, at least, it is but one more reminder from God that my power is never to be confused with God’s power.
This matter of power was at the forefront of the early church of Jesus Christ. They were muddled and confused about so many things that had transpired among them. Had they continued on under their own power, who knows what would have happened? But God does not abandon us to our own devices; God always provides his power.
It is truly the story of Acts. The developing church needed power. It needed direction, and God provided all of that and more.
There were remarkable things happening in the church. As evidenced in Acts 2:1-4, when the Spirit descended upon the believers gathered together in Jerusalem, an extraordinary outpouring of God occurred among them. The ministry of Peter then occupied center stage as his preaching stretched the boundaries of the existing church.
The news of God’s movement reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem. The apostles there chosen to send from among them Peter and John to visit the church at Samaria. This action was a prelude to what would happen a short time later when we read in Acts 11 the church once again sent an emissary to the church at Antioch, a man named Barnabas.
But there is something else happening in this story. A careful study of the book of Acts shows the slow and deliberate movement of God in expanding the reach of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God descended in great power upon the church of Jerusalem at Pentecost. Likewise, we see the evidence of God’s activity among the Hellenists in Acts 6. Thus the sending of Peter and John to Samaria is but one more bit of evidence that shows how the gospel reached beyond the boundaries and limits of Judaism. With each passing moment, Acts describes the inclusive power of the gospel.
Peter and John went to Samaria to witness God’s activity, but upon their arrival, they evidently recognized that something was missing in the movement. We discover this in Acts 8:15-16: “When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Recognizing the lack of completeness within these followers, verse 17 says Peter and John “laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” The moment was filled with power: there was the power of human touch, and there was the power of God’s Spirit. Granted, there is an inherent mystery to be found in this passage. Why was Philip’s great preaching, which resulted in a great movement among the Samaritans, not enough to grant the presence of God’s Spirit among these believers?
The text provides no clues to that mystery, but it is clear that the completion of their faith journey was made evident when Peter and John blessed them with their presence and invoked God’s Spirit upon them. It is a striking snapshot of how the momentum of the gospel is moving beyond the safety and comfort of Jerusalem. It has moved to Samaria, and in Acts, it will continue to expand. It is the very thing that Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:8 when he said, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
The truth is the gospel did not cease in Samaria or Antioch. It continued to grow and expand. It reached well beyond the conﬁnes of Judaism; it stretched to the whole world. The work of the Spirit in Acts signals that God’s activity is a thriving life force. This was no simple “movement,” a one-time event to get the ball rolling; rather what God was up to, what He was beginning here was to become the sheer life of the Church. The Spirit of God was lifting the gospel into every corner of creation.
As for me, I am glad that it did. Had it not, I would not have heard the story of Jesus… and neither would you. Thanks be to God for His Spirit who began His work in and continues it through the Church that the world may know and experience the power and presence of God in their lives.