“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.””
Acts 1:8 (NRSV)
“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.”
Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Acts 2:37-42 (NRSV)
Have you ever been in a position where you were unable to do something because of an external force outside of you? The answer for the vast majority of us is – of course! Our minds go back to the days when our parents told us we couldn’t go out and play with our friends. We remember the times when we encountered teachers and, later on, professors who gave us our project focus and didn’t allow us to choose our own. Many of us are even reminded of the times in our adult lives where our jobs took precious time and moments away from our families. Personally, at our old apartment here in Brooklyn, I was forced to air dry my freshly washed and re-twisted locs because the weak electrical system and outlet blew when the dryer was plugged into it. Even now, the federal, state, and local guidelines on quarantining to prevent the further spread of coronavirus (covid-19) may have come to mind based on this question.
In all of those examples, there is some level of choice that plays a part. You can choose to disobey your parents or not unless, of course, they were physically holding you down or back. Realistically, you could lobby a teacher to allow you some autonomy as it relates to your project. Many of us could choose family over our jobs, reset schedules, or even find employment that better suits our lifestyle. There was the option for me to air dry my hair when the dryer shorted the circuits in our old place. Even now, there is a chose that some people have (and are exercising) in rebuffing the stay at home orders of local municipalities, state officials, and the federal government.
What happens when you don’t have a choice or an alternative?
One of my wife’s laptops that is mainly used for work is interesting to say the least. This particular laptop started off not being able to disconnect from the power cord. When it was disconnected, it would begin to power down and shut off almost immediately. After dealing with this for a while, we finally got a new battery for it. Now, the new battery works much better and has eliminated a lot of hassle. But the battery only keeps a charge, disconnected from the power cord, for a grand total of 2 hours. The laptop still needs to be connected with the power cord for the majority of the time if it is going to remain operable and efficient.
You may be reading this and talking junk like, “They have some janky stuff in the Weathers’ household,” but you would be wrong and even missing the point about what this laptop ultimately reminds us all of.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus, who has been raised from the dead with all power, is offering a departing word of hope, inspiration, and instruction to his disciples. Although they have walked and talked with Jesus for three years and have witnessed what He said was going to happen, His resurrection, they are still traumatized by His crucifixion. They are not bold, courageous, wise, and influential apostles, as they will come to be known. They are in a period of transition on their way to transformation.Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, which will give them power. Power to do what exactly? They will be empowered to be witnesses to Christ Jesus in Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria. This is similar to the great commission at the end of the book of Matthew, when Jesus instructs them to go and make disciples of all nations. While it is similar, in Acts chapter one the scope is far more specific.
Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria are all places, but they are also representative of very specific things. Jerusalem for the disciples represented what was familiar. This is what they knew, who they knew, and what they were familiar and comfortable with. Judea would still represent familiarity of some sort, as that is the region Jerusalem was in, but it also represented a broadening of the scope. The Gospel was not only for who they knew, it was for all those outside of their bubble of existence and community. Likewise, Samaria would have been familiar to the disciples as well. As self-respecting Jewish men, however, Samaria represented the Samaritans. These were a people and a region they would not have liked. There was beef there. They would have looked down upon them and been unable to utter a kind word about these people and where they came from. Jesus was undoubtedly “asking” for a lot!
When we arrive at Acts 2:1-4, the disciples have already found a replacement for Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, and are still preparing for the Holy Spirit along with the other followers of Jesus to “come upon” them. This spectacular event is described, where the Spirit rushes in like a “violent wind.” The scriptures recount that, “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.” These were not “tongues,” as we have come to know speaking in tongues. They were all from different places and regions, which means they had different languages and dialects. They now possessed the ability to communicate to one another in the other’s language. Or perhaps it is better understood to us that what they communicated in their language was received by the others in the language they spoke and vice versa. Let’s call it divine interpretation. Divine interpretation communicated through the disciples and these followers the message in the way that it needed to be heard. But that is not all.
For the next 32 verses the spectacular continues. People believe that they are all drunk, which prompts Peter (yes, that Peter) to set the record straight. He preaches about the fulfillment of what has been prophesized. Not only is Jesus raised from the dead, but the comforter that He spoke of, the Holy Spirit, has now come upon them. What they perceive as drunk is the Holy Spirit at work. He preaches this dynamic message that leads to verse 37. The onlookers ask what they are to do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then and only then will they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that they had just witnessed in the disciples and followers. Verses 41 and 42 conclude this particular event with, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
I would now like us to return to the story of my wife’s laptop. The laptop has to be connected with the power cord in order for it to be sustained and efficient. Yes, it can stay off of the power cord charger for about a couple of hours, but that will ultimately prove to be unsustainable. Even with the fresh battery, this is the reality. Many would call this laptop janky, but many of us, in the process, would be indicting ourselves as janky! Our lives were once like the original battery in the laptop. It was faulty and ultimately had to be replaced with something greater. That something greater was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But, far too many of us stop there. We think because we have confessed our sins, declared Jesus is Lord, and been baptized that we should just be able to go it on our own. What we oftentimes fail to realize is that if we’re not connected to the source like the laptop needs to be, then we will soon run our course. We will burn out unnecessarily. We will be lifeless. The person of the Holy Spirit is the source we should be connected to. The Holy Spirit gives us exactly what we need to not only be sustained, but to operate in the purpose we were meant for.
Notice that it is not until the Holy Spirit “comes upon” them that they are able to communicate with one another. One of the things that is so powerful about that is that being connected with the Holy Spirit fosters community like no other. In addition, when you’re connected with the Holy Spirit you are able to break things down in the language of others. You’re able to effectively communicate and grow the community that has already been or is being fostered. We see that in effect with Peter as well. This is the same Peter who allowed his fear to lead him to denying that he even knew Jesus, after he was arrested, on three separate occasions. That doesn’t sound like the same man who in Acts chapter two preaches a dynamic sermon with bold authority, which leads to 3,000 people giving their lives to Christ and joining the church. He was able to do this through connection to the source, the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit empowers us to do the will of God! More specifically, being connected with the source, the Holy Spirit, allows us to be faithful to what Jesus instructed the disciples, early followers, and all of us today to do. We are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. But, Pastor, we live in Brooklyn, the United States, how is that possible? Once again, I will translate for us what Jesus was saying to them. We are to witness about the Good News of Jesus Christ to the places and people we know, the world outside of our network, and to the very people we do not like and who don’t like us. That means we are to witness to cousin Ray Ray and them, the stranger we encounter in the supermarket and in the airport, and ultimately to that low-down passive aggressive coworker. These are just small examples that may apply to us but are not exclusive. Our Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria’s may look different, but we are all given the same directive. And, we can do none of it if we are not connected, in communion, with the Holy Spirit.
Many ministers would do well to be refreshed on that, but it is a message for all of us. We may think we can do it apart from the Holy Spirit or that the successes we’ve had or were a part of were solely because of us, but we would be fooling ourselves by believing that. The reality is that this doesn’t just apply to the church or working on behalf of the church. Fulfilling our God-given purpose in our careers, providing uplift to our communities, mentoring the next generation, being a source of support and advocacy to “the least of these,” loving our family, friends, and world unconditionally, and loving The Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and everything within us is not possible without being connected with the source, the Holy Spirit! Our connection with allows us not to be consumed, worn out, or misdirected, but it also allows us to enjoy success, in whatever way that that looks like, with all of these things and more. In short, we can do nothing apart from the Spirit.
In this post-resurrection season, let us seek the power that is connectivity to the Holy Spirit in order for us to fulfill what Jesus instructed us to do and live the lives of purpose, love, and joy he paid the ultimate sacrifice for.