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Waiting for the Spirit

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Date: December 12, 2021

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Waiting for God

Scripture: Acts 1:1–1:14, Acts 2:1–2:13

We are currently in Advent, the time of the year where we look back at Jesus’ first coming and look ahead to His return. I’ve entitled this sermon series Waiting on God, as one of the themes of Advent is waiting – waiting for the Messiah to come, and waiting for Jesus to return. In this series, I’ll be looking at some of the major times of waiting in the Biblical story to see how they can help us in those times when we feel like God is distant, delayed, or not answering our prayers. 


Two weeks ago, we looked at the story of Abram, Sarai and the child of promise and waiting on God’s promises. Specifically, the challenge it is to wait for God’s blessing in God’s timing instead of trying to manufacture the blessing ourselves. Last week, we looked at waiting for the resurrection, and how to have hope in times that feel hopeless. Today’s sermon is entitled “Waiting for the Spirit,” as we will look at the time after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven when the disciples were waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We will look at this to learn about who the Holy Spirit is and how to be filled with the Spirit.


Let’s begin by reading Acts 1:1-14.


Acts 1:1-14 - In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 But 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."  9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."  12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.  13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.


Jesus is about to leave them to go to heaven. He tells them to wait until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit. He tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them, and that they will be witnesses to what Jesus has done. And so the disciples gather together in an upper room to pray and wait for the giving of the Holy Spirit. And then this happens:


Acts 2:1-13 - When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"  12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"  13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."


They are waiting in the upper room, and then, on the day of Pentecost, which was the Feast of the Weeks, the celebration of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, 50 days after Passover, God pours out his Holy Spirit. The disciples declare the wonders of God in the languages of those who are gathered. Peter preaches about Jesus to the gathered crowd, and about 3000 come to faith in Jesus that day. And the church is born.


Now remember, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. What if they had gone ahead in their enthusiasm to share about Jesus with the crowds? What would have happened? Maybe some people would have been intrigued, or some might have wanted to follow them. But nothing of spiritual significance would have happened. People would not have come to faith in Jesus. They would not have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. The disciples would not have had the power to heal, to speak words of conviction, to bring people to Christ. 


I worry about that for my own life and for our church. Are we doing things without spiritual power, without the leading of the Holy Spirit? My desire for you and for our church is that we would be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we would be led by the Spirit in all we do, that we would live our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. But what does that mean? What does this passage have to teach us about how to be filled by the Spirit?


Who is the Holy Spirit?


The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. God is three persons. Each person is fully God. There is one God.

The Holy Spirit reveals God. He is a seal marking that we belong to God. He is a guarantee of our inheritance. He unifies God’s people. He empowers. He purifies.


Ezekiel 36:26-27 - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.


The Spirit empowers believers to follow Jesus. The Spirit transforms someone from a spiritually dead, self-centered person into someone whose desire is to know and follow God, who has spiritual power to do things of eternal significance. Consider Paul’s example:


1 Corinthians 2:1-5 - When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,  5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.


Part of the empowering of the Spirit is that He gives us gifts with spiritual power to transform lives. Here is just one example:


1 Corinthians 12:4-7,11 - There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.  7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good... All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.


Notice: the gift of God’s power is not so that you can be like some kind of superhero; God empowers His people for the common good, so that you can make an actual eternal difference in the lives of other people.


The Spirit also purifies, like fire burning away the dross and leaving pure gold. The Spirit convicts you of your sin and lifts up Jesus so that you will desire Him more and become more like Him. Remember what Jesus said about the importance of purity:


Matthew 5:8 - Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.


Purity of heart is to desire one thing. The Holy Spirit purifies us so that we would desire Jesus above all other things, that we would not be captivated by those things which can never satisfy us. Jesus, I want to know you, follow you, be like you, and bring you glory – that is the cry of the heart that is pure. The pure in heart bear the fruit of the Spirit:


Galatians 5:22-25 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


To be pure is not to become some self-righteous, uptight person. No – it is becoming a person of Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Oh, that God would pour out His Spirit on us, to empower and purify us!


How do we become filled with the Spirit?


Are we to follow the example of the disciples at Pentecost, waiting for the miraculous gift of the Spirit? Not exactly. First and foremost, I would say that Pentecost is not meant as a model for us to follow. The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a specific moment in salvation history, a transition from the old covenant to life in the Spirit.


As Jesus said in John 14:16-17 - And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--  17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you


When we have the Spirit, He lives with us and will be in us. So if we were to gather like the disciples did, waiting on God to send His Spirit, we would be ignoring Him, not honoring Him. We do not need to wait on the Spirit like that when the Spirit is already in us.


Do we need a baptism of the Holy Spirit, as some Pentecostal denominations would teach? A secondary experience that brings us to a new level of intimacy with God and power for service? No. Paul, Peter, or Jesus never teach us that what we need is to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. A better and more Biblical way of thinking about it is this:


  • Surrender everything to God


Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.


We must empty ourselves. You can not receive if you are clutching other things with your hands. Confess and repent of sin, trust Christ to forgive, commit every area to the Lord's service, yield fully to him, believe that Christ will empower you and equip you. That is how you grow!


Ephesians 5:15-18 - Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise,  16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.  18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.


Be filled not with the things of this world, but with the Spirit!


  • Ask Him to fill you with His Spirit


Ephesians 1:17-19 - I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.


Be transformed more and more into His likeness


2 Corinthians 3:17-18 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.


That includes confession & repentance. Reorienting our heart and will to His. Ask for an outpouring of more spiritual gifts, of power for ministry, of a greater infilling of the Holy Spirit, of greater joy in worship, of deeper fellowship with God.


  • Walk in obedience to the Spirit


Romans 8:5-9 - Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;  7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.  9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.   


How do we walk in obedience to the Spirit? How are we to be led by the Spirit? I can imagine that answers to this question could be on a continuum. On the one extreme, we make no moves or decisions without first consulting the Spirit and waiting for some kind of impression, leading, sign, etc. On the other extreme, we do whatever we think is best and pray for His blessing on it and call it “being led by the Spirit” when it may be no different than us doing whatever it is we want to do. Somewhere in the middle is what it actually looks like to wait for the Spirit and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.


I believe that God’s usual method of guidance is to transform us into holy and wise people, not to guide through techniques. As you keep his commands, as you more deeply understand the love of God, the more you will have his heart and mind, and the more the Spirit will lead the decisions you make.


What does this mean in terms of your decisions? Say you aren’t sure whether or not to marry someone, or take a job, or what church to go to, or what house to buy. The typical Christian approach to following God is often about trying to learn techniques. Some of the most common ones are:

Impressions/feelings – trying to pay attention to impressions and say that they are from God is a very subjective practice.


Listening for the still, small voice – this comes from Elijah’s experience with God but is never given to us as a model to follow; once again, very easy to confuse “hearing from God” with hearing your own voice


Praying for peace – often people look for God to give peace with one decision. But where does the peace come from? And do you really think Jesus had peace on the way to the cross, when he was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? Suffering is a reality of what it means to follow God, and you may not have peace while you are suffering


Open doors – Does an open door always mean God’s will and a closed door mean it is not his will? No. An open door does not always mean it is God’s will. 2 Corinthians 2:12-13  Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,  13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.  Just because Jonah found a boat sailing to Tarshish does not mean it was an open door from the Lord. And a closed door does not mean it is not God’s will (consider the Israelites at the banks of the Jordan River, or the parable of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18). Sometimes a closed door means persevere or trust God to open it, and an open door just means one possible avenue


Putting out the fleece – This was one example of seeking God’s will, by Gideon in the book of Judges 6:36-40. But it is really like divination, putting God to the test. I would not follow this as a rule of how to seek God’s will.


Open the Bible and point – And, of course, some people just hope that if they point to a random verse, God will give them the answer they are looking for. But that is not how the Bible was meant to be used. Don’t treat the Bible like a sign-book; let it teach you wisdom and holiness.


The extraordinary means of guidance were rare; don’t make them the norm. They usually came when people were not looking for them. The answer is NOT in techniques. God’s will is about a relationship, about becoming a holy and wise person who will live and make decisions as Jesus would.


I believe His desire is not that we would have to consult him for every decision, but that we would be in such a deep, transformative relationship with Him that we would be becoming the kind of person who knows what His Father would do.


This is how Proverbs puts it:

Proverbs 11:3The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity

Notice that they are guided by their integrity – as they become a person of integrity, that guides them. Who you are is more important than knowing any techniques.


God’s usual method of guidance is to transform you into a person of wisdom and holiness who will make choices as Jesus would.


Let us boldly and fervently seek Him and ask Him to pour out His Spirit, to fill us up, to empower us, to purify us, to give us a deeper fellowship with Him, a greater joy in worship, increased effectiveness in evangelism, greater gifting in the Holy Spirit.