The Francis Asbury Society

Power from on High

Posted on | May 20, 2013 | 2 Responses

By Stan Key

Many years ago, late on a November evening, a 31-year old French mathematician had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that changed his life forever. Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) wrote about what happened that night on a single sheet of paper and sewed it into the lapel of his coat. He wanted the memory of that sacred experience to be kept near his heart wherever he went. Though he had been soundly converted over six years earlier, Pascal’s “Night of Fire” was a dramatic deepening of God’s work of sanctifying grace in his life:

The year of grace 1654, Monday, 23 November… from about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight: FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty…. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy… Sweet and total renunciation. Total submission to Jesus Christ….

Pascal would have identified readily with Jesus’ final words at the end of Luke’s Gospel. There, the risen Jesus spoke to his followers about the importance of being filled with the Spirit of God. Though they had been following Christ for three years, Jesus knew they were not yet ready to face the challenges that lay ahead. Without the fire of Pentecost, they would be impotent and ineffective. So he gave them an incredible promise: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49 NIV).

Something was missing in the lives of those disciples even as something was missing in the life of Blaise Pascal. Though they had turned from their worldly ways and put their trust in Jesus, they yet lacked the ability to live as Jesus lived. Their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak. They had the “want to” but not the “know how.” Meeting behind locked doors and still troubled by nagging doubts, the disciples were hardly ready to be sent on a mission to change the world. So Jesus put his finger precisely on the thing that was missing: they had no power.

The first two chapters of Acts (also written by Luke) tell the story of how Jesus fulfilled the promise he had made. On the day of Pentecost, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon his waiting disciples so that they fully received the promise of the Father. Just as Pascal was transformed by his night of fire, so the disciples experienced a transformation that caused them to burst out of closed doors and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The gift of the Spirit meant that the disciples not only experienced signs and wonders, more importantly, the promise of the Father enabled them to live their lives even as Christ had lived his. The Holy Spirit empowered them to change the world:

Jesus said to them, “…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).

Who Needs the Holy Spirit?

Jesus was crystal clear about who most needed to be filled with the Spirit: his own disciples! His concern was not for the pagan Romans, the legalistic Pharisees, or prostitutes and tax collectors. The ones who really needed power from on high were the very ones who had already committed their lives and put their trust in him. Far from hiding the needy condition of the apostles, the New Testament highlights it! The disciples had been following Jesus for three years yet were still characterized by selfishness, ambition and pride. Still controlled by their fears and doubts, these rascals needed a work of grace in their hearts that would mend what was broken, purify what was polluted, straighten what was twisted, and bring to life what was dead!

Many in the church today imagine that the great need of the hour is for those outside the church to get converted. As important as that may be, Jesus is urging us to think differently. Pentecost is God’s eternal reminder that the greatest need of the hour is not the salvation of the lost but the sanctification of the found! This is the key that unlocks the floodgates of heaven’s blessings. Before revival can come to those outside the church it must begin inside as believers become combustible and burn with the fire of God.

What Happens when the Holy Spirit Comes?

Many get nervous about what would happen if they asked God to fill them with his Spirit. “Will it make me weird?” they wonder. “Will I fall on the floor and babble incoherently?” Though it would be presumptuous to try to predict how God should behave in every situation, we can be sure of this: whenever God moves in power, he comes to do us good!

There is a wonderful scene in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy learns about Aslan for the first time. She is enchanted as Mrs. Beaver describes his character but becomes alarmed on learning that this King is a lion! Lucy wants to know if Aslan is “safe.”

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Our God is not “safe” either. He is sovereign and his actions cannot always be predicted. And yet the Scriptures help us to understand that when it comes to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, some things are vital and should always be expected and other things are of secondary importance. Listen again to Jesus’ words as recorded by Luke:

  • You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48–49).
  • But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… (Acts 1:8).

Jesus is emphatic. The coming of the Spirit in power is specifically for the purpose of enabling his disciples to be witnesses. This is the essential work of the Spirit. Spiritual phenomena are of secondary importance. Note that he did not say the purpose was to “do witnessing.” Jesus put the accent on who we are, not on what we do or say. Frankly, I know some followers of Christ who do witnessing but who are lousy witnesses! What makes the difference? The sanctifying Spirit!

In the Greek, the word for witness is marturos, from where our word “martyr” is derived. In the New Testament, to be a witness for Jesus was to be willing literally to lay down your life. This is what happens when someone is filled with the Spirit of God. One has the power to give up one’s rights and lay down one’s life for others. A self-absorbed, arrogant little egotist like Peter (or like me—or you!) suddenly begins to think of others more than he thinks of himself. He cares more about their welfare than his own. He is willing and ready to give his very blood for others. You can be certain that it takes a supernatural work of sanctifying power to bring about a change like that!

When Does this Happen?

Theologians have debated for centuries about whether we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit at conversion or whether it is a “subsequent work” that comes later. Is there one work of grace or two? Or for that matter, three or four? The debate has its place but certainly will not be resolved in a magazine article like this. The safe path is to examine the context of what Luke is saying and simply put the emphasis where Scripture does.

Luke wrote a two-volume work. The Gospel is Part One and the book of Acts is Part Two. Between that final passage in the Gospel where Jesus told the disciples to wait in the city for power from on high (Luke 24:48–49) and the passage in Acts 2 that describes the coming of that promised Spirit, there is one event that is of paramount importance. It is this event that makes possible the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. I’m talking about the ascension and exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord over the entire universe (Luke 24:51–52 and Acts 1:1–11). It is simply impossible to miss what Luke is saying about the timing of the Spirit’s coming. When does the fullness of the Spirit happen? When Jesus is exalted as Lord and King.

The earliest creed of the Christian Church was the simple affirmation, “Jesus is Lord.” To recite this creed and mean it (!) indicates that Jesus is the sovereign ruler over every area of one’s life—not my will but his be done. It’s all about him! He is the center, not me. The ascension means that Jesus is Lord, not just over the universe but also over me. And when Jesus reigns over all, look out! He is about to pour into your life the promise of the Father: power from on high so that you can pour out your life for others.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Today, if your life is characterized by impotence, barrenness and self-centeredness, perhaps Dr. Luke has just the prescription you need. Exalt Jesus as Lord over everything you are and everything you have. Worship him and surrender your will to his. Then let him fill you with his sanctifying power so that you can live as he lived, laying down your life for others.


2 Responses to “Power from on High”

  1. Jeff Keaton
    May 20th, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

    Great article!

  2. Erin
    May 21st, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    Glad you enjoyed it! We’ll pass this along to Stan.

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