What was the key ingredient to the success of the Early Church? What was the secret of those first disciples’ success in establishing a Church which grew at a phenomenal rate each year for more than two generations? Did they just follow a plan and tick off the tasks each day? Did they simply decide one day that they would devote themselves to the Apostles teaching every day, share deep, rich koinonia fellowship every day, share meals with each other in their homes every day and worship together every day?
Were these things simply on their ‘to do’ list or part of some strategic plan and the rest just happened? Absolutely not. Human beings lack the capacity to discipline themselves to follow a list of tasks for that long and God only blesses and grows what comes from our hearts. The rest is just works-based religion and we all know that God hates religion.
So what was it that allowed our forebears to get it so right for so long and have such an incredible impact on the world around them? Well the correct question is not ‘what’ … but ‘Who’ made all this possible. This ‘Who’ is mentioned in almost every chapter in the book of Acts and multiple times in many chapters. Of course I am speaking about God, the Holy Spirit. Everything about the early Church which made it powerful, effective, real, world-changing and dynamic – was initiated by the Holy Spirit. The disciples were responsible for listening to, discerning the presence of and then responding positively to the Holy Spirit.
This should not surprise us, because the One Who birthed this miracle of the Church, Jesus Christ, operated exactly the same way! Long before the book of Acts and the birth of the Church, Jesus modelled this Spirit-led lifestyle to His disciples. Jesus Himself is the one perfect manifestation in history of the complete work of the Holy Spirit in and through a human being. Jesus was begotten of the Holy Spirit. He is the only begotten Son of God. It was entirely by the Spirit’s power working in Mary that the Son of God was formed within her.
Jesus also led a holy life and offered Himself without spot to God through the working of the Holy Spirit. We read in Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Jesus met and overcame temptations as other men and women may meet and overcome them – in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was anointed and fitted for service by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10:38 “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.”
Luke 9:14 “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about.”
In a similar way Jesus said of Himself when speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth:
Luke 9:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor; He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
All these passages contain the one truth: it was by the anointing of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ was qualified for the service to which God had called Him. As He stood in the Jordan after His baptism, “The Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Him like a dove,” and it was then and there that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and equipped for the service that lay before Him. Jesus received His equipping for service in the same way that we receive ours – by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was taught by the Spirit who rested upon Him. The Spirit of God was the source of His wisdom, direction and power whilst on earth. This was prophesied many years before by Isaiah:
Isaiah 11:2-3 “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. And shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears.”
Why did Jesus tell them to wait? Because without the Holy Spirit we are aimless and dangerous; we are ineffective; we are powerless; we are disconnected from heaven and the power of God. All we have is religion and a man-made institution which is completely powerless to change the world. Jesus had taught these disciples so much over the previous three years and they had a lot of knowledge and experience. But the main thing He taught them was that He achieved nothing apart from the Holy Spirit.
Everything in His ministry was in response to the Spirit’s leading and empowering. The disciples knew that, so they waited for that power from on high before attempting anything in Jesus’ name. If only the modern Church would do the same. If only we would wait for that power from on high before we race off into our ministries and plans in Jesus’ name.