I recall how surprised I was at theological college when we were told that the emphasis of the preaching of the early church was on the resurrection of Jesus, as shown conclusively by C.H. Dodd in his book ‘The Apostolic Preaching And Its Development’. As a result of my conversion I was deeply convinced that God loved me and that Jesus had died to make me right with him. I was therefore expecting the emphasis to be on the Cross, that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (I Corinthians 15:3). It included that, but it was not the emphasis. Beginning with Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the emphasis was on the resurrection (Acts 2:32-36). It was not until I was in my first appointment as a Methodist minister that I began to understand why this was so.
One day the local newspaper carried a headline: ‘Miracle Man comes to town’. The story concerned the forthcoming visit of a Pentecostal evangelist called Fred Ball. Having a free evening and being curious I went along to see what it was about. He began by sharing that when a young man he had been told that he had an incurable liver condition and had been given a life expectancy of about six months. He told us how he went home and prayed: ‘Lord, if you heal me the rest of my life is yours.’ ‘The Lord healed me’, he said, ‘And here I am’. Another surprise. I was even more surprised when, at the end of the meeting, he invited those who were in need of healing to come forward to be prayed with. This was 1965 and I had no awareness that Jesus is alive in the person of the Holy Spirit to do today what he did in his physical lifetime.
It was like seeing colour television for the first time after black and white. Here was another dimension to ministry about which I knew nothing. I asked him what was his secret. What did he have that I didn’t? He pointed me to the promise concerning a spiritual baptism, or immersion, in the Holy Spirit, a promise that is found in each of the gospels, indicating its importance. (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16, John 1:32-34).
I came to see that John the Baptist was contrasting what he was doing, baptising people with water, with what Jesus would do, baptise people with the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is a gift he wants to give us (Luke 11:9-13).
Most of the teaching of Jesus concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit was given during the Last Supper and is found in John’s gospel chapters 14-16.
This was his last opportunity to share with his disciples before his crucifixion. He tells them that he is not going to leave them to manage as best they can. He promises to return to them in a spiritual form: ‘Now I am living with you, then I will be living in you. I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you.’ (John 14:17-18). He goes on: ‘On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.’ (v.20)
The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete meaning ‘One called alongside’. He is the teacher who will remind them all that Jesus has said to them (John 14:26). He is the Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth (John 16:13)
In one of his resurrection appearances shortly before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 4-5,8). The promise of the Spirit was fulfilled during the Jewish festival of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20). The Holy Spirit, the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), was now living in them as Jesus had promised.
It was this awareness of the Lord being with them and in them that gave the early Church its zest and impetus.
Jesus has not changed. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”