November 13, 2017

Not By Might Or Power, But By God's Spirit

INTERESTING FACTS : Oliver Wolcott,  born Nov. 20, 1726, Windsor, Conn. [U.S.],  died Dec. 1, 1797, Litchfield, Conn., U.S. American public official who signed the Declaration of Independence (1776) and helped negotiate a settlement with the Iroquois (1784).  Descended from an old Connecticut family long active in public affairs, he was the son of Roger Wolcott, who was the colonial governor in 1750-54.[1]
 
"Through various scenes of life, God has sustained me. May He ever be my unfailing friend; may His love cherish my soul; may my heart with gratitude acknowledge His goodness; and may my desires be to Him and to the remembrance of His name....May we then turn our eyes to the bright objects above, and may God give us strength to travel the upward road. May the Divine Redeemer conduct us to that seat of bliss which He himself has prepared for His friends; at the approach of which every sorrow shall vanish from the human heart and endless scenes of glory open upon the enraptured eye. There our love to God and each other will grow stronger, and our pleasures never be dampened by the fear of future separation. How indifferent will it then be to us whether we obtained felicity by travailing the thorny or the agreeable paths of life - whether we arrived at our rest by passing through the envied and unfragrant road of greatness or sustained hardship and unmerited reproach in our journey. God's Providence and support through the perilous perplexing labyrinths of human life will then forever excite our astonishment and love. May a happiness be granted to those I most tenderly love, which shall continue and increase through an endless existence. Your cares and burdens must be many and great, but put your trust in that God Who has hitherto supported you and me; He will not fail to take care of those who put their trust in Him....It is most evident that this land is under the protection of the Almighty, and that we shall be saved not by our wisdom nor by our might, but by the Lord of Host Who is wonderful in counsel and Almighty in all His operations"[2]
 
Daily Reading : ACTS 1 - 3
 
TEXT : Acts  1:1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,  1:2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:  1:3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:  1:4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.  1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.  1:6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?  1:7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.  1:9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.  1:10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;  1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
 
THEME : The Holy Spirit
 
Acts 1 
 
Overview
 
Act_1:1, Christ, preparing his apostles to the beholding of his ascension, gathers them together unto the mount Olivet, commands them to expect in Jerusalem the sending down of the Holy Ghost, promises after a few days to send it, and ascends into heaven in their sight; Act_1:10, After his ascension they are warned by two angels to depart, and to set their minds upon his second coming; Act_1:12, They accordingly return, and, giving themselves to prayer, choose Matthias apostle in the place of Judas.  (Matthew Henry)[3]
 
Acts 2 
 
The day of pentecost being arrived, and the disciples assembled, the Holy Spirit descended as a mighty rushing wind, and in the likeness of fiery tongues sat upon them; in consequence of which, they were all enabled to speak different languages, which they had never learned, Act_2:1-4. An account of persons from various countries who there present, and were astonished to hear the apostles declare the wonderful works of God in their respective languages, Act_2:5-12. Some cavil, Act_2:13, and are confounded by Peter, who asserts that this work is of God; and that thereby a most important prophecy was fulfilled, Act_2:14-21. He takes occasion from this to preach Jesus to them, as the true Lord and only Messiah, Act_2:22-36. The people are alarmed and convinced, and inquire what they shall do, Act_2:37. He exhorts them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, that they may receive remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Act_2:38-40. They gladly receive his word, about three thousand are baptized and added to the Church in one day; they continue steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, Act_2:41, Act_2:42. The apostles work many miracles; and the disciples have all things in common, and live in a state of great happiness and Christian fellowship, Act_2:43-47.  (Adam Clarke)[4]
 
Acts 3 
 
In this chapter we have a miracle and a sermon: the miracle wrought to make way for the sermon, to confirm the doctrine that was to be preached, and to make way for it into the minds of the people; and then the sermon to explain the miracle, and to sow the ground which by it was broken up.  I. The miracle was the healing of a man that was lame from his birth, with a word speaking (Act_3:1-8), and the impression which this made upon the people (Act_3:9-11).  II. The scope of the sermon which was preached hereupon was to bring people to Christ, to repent of their sin in crucifying him (Act_3:12-19), to believe in him now that he was glorified, and to comply with the Father's design in glorifying him (Act_3:20-26). The former part of the discourse opens the wound, the latter applies the remedy.  (Matthew Henry)[3]
 
TRUTH FOR TODAY : "NOT BY MIGHT OR POWER, BUT BY GOD'S SPIRIT."
 
"In the beginning, God created the Christian and the Church.  And the Church was void and without power. So, God said - ‘let there be power,' and there was power, and the Church grew and multiplied on the face of the earth.  Thus, there was love, power, and great joy in the beginning of the Church in the last days."
 
Perhaps, Saint Luke could have opened the Book of Acts this way.  For the early Church, after Christ left, and before he had given the power of the Holy Spirit to the 120 in the upper room, the Church was leaderless, unorganized, and small in number.  Nevertheless, Christ had promised he would never leave the Church, and that after he went into Heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, Jesus fulfilled his promise on the day of Pentecost as we read in our text, and Acts chapter 2.
 
The Apostles, after watching Jesus ascend into Heaven, continued for many days in prayer with the other disciples.  No doubt, they were waiting for the promise of Jesus -the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  He told them, as you read, they were not to know the time of Israel's return to power.  However, he did say to the Apostles they would be his witnesses throughout the world.  Yet, he emphatically told them not to leave the city of Jerusalem until they had a received the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, they obeyed Jesus command, stayed steadfast in prayer, and did not leave the city of Jerusalem.  These were his instructions.
 
Then, as you also have read, tremendous power came on the Church.  The early Church literally had nothing.  They were entirely dependent on the words of Jesus, on his commands and instructions.  Yet, once the Apostles and other disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the entire known the world was "turned upside down."
 
(But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Acts 17:5-6)
 
How did a small group of men and women make such an impact on the Roman Empire as well as the Jewish community in such a short span of time?  Certainly, it was not because of their wisdom, will, and ambition.  Remember, only two months earlier the same 12 Apostles all denied they even knew Jesus.  Every one of them fled from Jesus before his crucifixion.  They all fell asleep during a time of prayer at Gethsemane.  They doubted his resurrection when told about it from the women.  Thus, not only did the early Church lack leadership, it obviously lacked aptitude and ability as well.  Therefore, if the Apostles and other disciples even dared to reach the world with a message they themselves were not sure of and could not adequately explain, it certainly would not be done by their power, that is - by human strength.  The power and the wisdom had to be supplied by God himself.
 
You may remember, during the rebuilding of the Temple after the Jews were released from captivity in Babylon, they had great difficulty doing so.  Even though the Prophets had stated the Temple would be restored, there were so many obstacles and so much opposition that the Jews gave up.  They stopped building due to discouragement and disillusionment.  They saw no way they could rebuild the Temple of Solomon.
 
It was then the Spirit of God spoke to the Prophet Zechariah.  After he received a message for the governor of Judah - Zerubbabel by name, he delivered it.  This was the revelation -
 
"Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts."  (Zec 4:6)
 
Like the early Church, the Jews after the Babylonian captivity had nothing.  They had been captives for 70 years.   After they left Babylon, the Jewish people left with nothing, or at least very little.  This is the reason - the primary reason, they believed they could not restore and rebuild the Temple or the destroyed city of Jerusalem.  They were weak and without strength.  At times, they lacked ambition as well.  They had good leadership in Ezra and Nehemiah, but it was the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who heard from God and told them what to do.  Specifically, Zechariah's prophecy was what gave them the impetus to build.  Eventually, they were successful.  It was not by (their) might, nor by (their) power.  It was the power of the third person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit.  God alone was the reason the Jews succeeded in rebuilding the temple of Solomon.
 
Thus, the reason the early Church was likewise successful - it was due to God alone.  The similarities between the rebuilding of the Temple and the building of the Church are nearly identical.  In both instances, there was complete dependence on God's Spirit.  As God provided for the Jews in the Old Testament, he likewise provided for the Church in the New Testament.  It is to the credit of the Apostles that they followed Jesus' command and instruction not to leave Jerusalem and try (on their own) to be witnesses to his resurrection and Gospel. Had they done that, they would be in the same position as the Jews when they tried to rebuild the temple of Solomon.  They would have failed.  Apparently, the Apostles had learned a lesson in Gethsemane as well as Calvary - the hand of man cannot build the kingdom of God. It must be built by the Spirit of God.
 
Jesus said - "I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Notice who is building the Church.  It is Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  It is not the work of man.  It never was.  It never will be.  Jesus, God come in the flesh, cannot lie.  He will build his Church.  Further, the gates of hell will not prevail against the work of the Church to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
Jesus has made no promises or guarantees to build any man's Church, fellowship, or denomination.  He will only build his own.  For that, you need to be grateful.  It is an assurance that God is in control of history.  He will bring it to his desired end, which is an everlasting kingdom that shall have no end.  Most importantly, it will not be done by the might of man or the power of man.  The eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It always was, and always will be.

  • [1] Brittanica, Encyclopedia. Encylopedia Brittanica Deluxe Edition. 2011.
  • [2] Letters of Delegates to Congress: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776, Paul H. Smith, editor (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1978), Vol. 3, pp. 502-503, Oliver Wolcott to Laura Wolcott on April 10, 1776
  • [3] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. Public Domain, [1662 - 1714].
  • [4] Adam Clarke LL.D., F.S.A. Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible. Public Domain, 1715 - 1832.
  • [5] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. Public Domain, [1662 - 1714].
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