Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

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Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

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To God be the glory.

Integrity

  I.      Introduction

The last time I taught, we studied who the Holy Spirit is and His perfect timing at appearing at Pentecost 50 days after the Passover Lamb was slain.  And we studied how, at the moment of our trust in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who laid down His life as a payment for our sins, that we become new creatures, temples of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

And Chris and Theresa and I have always said that we welcome your questions, we should all be like the noble Bereans and check the Word of God to see if what we are teaching is true.  As teachers, we should be prepared to explain our teaching, even if we have to say, “Let me study that and get back to you.”

Well, immediately after that lesson, Jilda came up and asked me one of those questions.  And I was stumped, so I resolved to study the question so I more clearly understood the Word of God.  That understanding also led itself on today’s lesson, so I’m going to back up to Jilda’s question and share my journey with you.  So, bearing in mind that the Holy Spirit comes to live within us at the moment of our trust and belief, let’s look ahead briefly to Acts chapter 8.

I don’t mind looking ahead to Acts chapter 8 because in May I’ll be teaching from this same chapter.  I might just simply teach this same lesson again.  If you’re getting older, like me, you won’t remember that I already taught this.

II.      The Holy Spirit in Samaria

Acts 8:14-17 –

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

So, Jilda’s question was, “I thought you said the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment of our belief?  So why wasn’t the Holy Spirit indwelling already in these people when they believed?”

That’s a good question, and I was stumped.  In my quest to understand the answer, I was directed toward a biblical research article entitled, “The Transition Problem in Acts” by Roy L. Aldrich of the Dallas Theological Seminary.  The key to understanding Jilda’s question is first understanding Dispensational Theology, that while God never changes, our relationship with God has changed several times.  Some of these dispensations, or distinct periods, are very easy to understand.  We talked about how in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came upon men briefly and for a specific purpose, but in the New Testament, Christ died for us and we are considered pure and holy and now the Holy Spirit dwells within us, He doesn’t just come upon us and leave when the mission is fulfilled.  These are two distinct Dispensations out of 7 Total Dispensations, and we are living in the 6th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace, or the Church Age.  The Millennial Kingdom after the return of Christ is the 7th and final dispensation.

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The Book of Acts is unique in that it is a transitional book between the 5th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Law that the Israelites had lived in for 1500 years, and the 6th Dispensation of the Church Age we live in today.  Certain things are recorded in Acts that only happened once as part of this transition, like the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.  Make sense?

So this question about why these people had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit can be answered by recognizing that Peter and John were in Samaria, and up to this point, the people of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria hated each other.  While they believed the same God, Samaria had their own temple.  For the Church Age, God desires a Church in unity, and it would do for the people of Samaria to have their own traditions separate from the new converted Jews of Israel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the Samarians began with unity with the new Christians in Jerusalem.

I know of no other example of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling being delayed in the Church Age except for the Samarians in Acts chapter 8.

It was a good question, and it actually helped me a lot with today’s lesson on Acts chapters 4 & 5, and let’s read today’s scripture.

III.      Tithe, or Die

Now, remember in this transitions to the beginning of the Church Age, Acts describes the birth of the church and identifies many desirable attributes of the church.  Let’s start at the end of Acts 4:32 and continue to Acts 5:5 –

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?  And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?  What made you think of doing such a thing?  You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

One possible lesson from this verse is that we should tithe, or die.  Or another way to look at this is a transitional verse, unique to the first century church at that time, and see how we may apply it to our lives today.

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So what’s happened here?  Let’s look at the early church, described so beautifully in our Acts 4 verses.  The believers were one in heart and mind, and they shared everything.  This is a biblical approach to the church – we are not to lay up treasure on earth, but instead store up treasures in heaven.  We are to love God with all our heart mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  It’s our recognition that the gifts and blessings, whatever they are, are given to us by God for His purposes, and as Christians our purpose is to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I dare say that this first church was unique.  The Holy Spirit has enabled speaking in tongues and the understanding of those tongues, the Holy Spirit had blown through this church with a rushing wind and fire and power.  At one prayer meeting, the Holy Spirit shook the meeting room.  Peter was so filled with the Holy Spirit that thousands who had heard of Jesus gathered outside the church and hoped Peter’s shadow would fall on them so they would be healed.  It says in Acts 5:16,

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Every person Peter touched was healed.  Every.  Person.  I dare say none of us have ever belonged to a church like that.

And Ananias and his wife Sophia… er,  Sofaria… Sopapilla… what was her name?  Oh yes, Sapphira.  Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be part of a church like this.  And everybody else was selling their possessions and their land and their houses and Bananas and Sopapilla wanted to be among them.

Were they required to sell everything?   No.  Peter says right here in the scripture, “after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”  Ananias wasn’t required to sell anything at all.

It reminds me of a story I heard when I was a kid, about a man that was confronted by a robber with a gun.  The robber pointed the gun at the man and said, “Your money or your life.”  And the man replied, “Why, my life, of course.  I’ll need my money for my old age.”

One of the reasons this first church was so generous with each other was that they lived with an expectation that Jesus would return, not just someday, but within their lifetimes, based on scripture like Matthew 14:28,

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

That’s not what Jesus meant, and Mark 9:1 quotes Jesus in a way that clarifies what Jesus meant –

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

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Jesus was referring to the Day of Pentecost when Jesus’ kingdom came with power.

And so the first church lived expectantly that Jesus would return quickly.  And if we knew that Jesus would return tomorrow, what use are any material possessions?  The first church was already ready for Jesus’ Second Coming, and placed their faith that all their needs would be met.

All except Ananias and Sapphira.  They were still laying up treasure on earth, just in case.  But they also wanted to be part of the fellowship of this incredible church, so they donated some of it, and kept the rest for themselves.  And there is nothing wrong with that, except they wanted to appear as though they had given up everything.

And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could see right through their lies and into their hypocrisy.  They were lying so they would look good.  They wanted to be counted with everybody else as completely generous with everything, but they also wanted to keep some for themselves.

So why did they have to die?  Remember how powerful the Holy Spirt was in this church.  Ananias and Sapphira were there for the miracles, they had experienced God’s power and seen and felt God’s holy presence residing in Peter and the church.  People should be reverent when in the presence of God, but Ananias and Sapphira casually lied to the Holy Spirit to make themselves look good.

IV.      Your Money or Your Life

Look, God doesn’t need your stuff.  Whatever you’re holding back, God will still accomplish His plan even if you don’t have a garage sale and donate all the money.  I dare say God can create more stuff if He needs to.

But what He desires is for us to have a heart for Him.  And that means trusting in Jesus for our needs and being honest with the Lord of Creation that can see into our hearts.  God doesn’t want us to give Him lip service and say we love Him.  He will look into our hearts and see for Himself if we love Him.

This is harder than it sounds.  We all want to look good in front of others, so we say and do things to please people instead of the Lord.  But our outward appearance is of no interest to our Lord.

The prophet Samuel was looking for somebody to replace Saul as the King of Israel and he came to Jesse’s family.  Samuel looked at Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab.  Eliab was apparently tall and strong and handsome, for when Samuel looked at him, Samuel said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”  1 Samuel 16:7,

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel then went through all the sons of Jesse before he found David, the youngest, the one who slew Goliath, the one after God’s own heart.

The Lord looks at the heart.  People look at our fruit.  Our challenge as Christians who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is for us to be the same on the inside and the outside.  We want to be Christians on the inside because a heart for the Lord pleases our Creator, and we want to be Christians on the outside, not to please men, but to be able to do the Lord’s will effectively.

  V.      Math Quiz

Let’s have a math quiz. Everybody get out a sheet of paper and a number two pencil.

What is the definition of a fractional number?  A fraction consists of a numerator and a denominator.  The denominator, the bottom part, tells us how many parts the whole is divided, and the top part, the numerator, tells us how many parts we have.  A fraction is part of a whole.

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And integer is a whole number.  It is complete.  It’s not a fraction like ¾ and it’s not a decimal like 3.14.  It is complete.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

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God wants us to be an integer, full of integrity.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else.  You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach.  Integrity is being one person.  You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside.  When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God.  We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

Last week when Theresa spoke about the change in Peter’s character, I started thinking about Peter’s conversion into a man of integrity.   When Jesus was teaching, Peter was like, “heck yeah, I’m one of Jesus’ guys.  Me and Him, we’re close.”  And then after the arrest of Jesus, Peter was like, “Man, I don’t know the man.”  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Peter was so afraid of being seen as a Jesus-freak that he cursed in front of a servant girl to prove he didn’t know Jesus.

But after the death of Jesus on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, Peter changed.  He proclaimed Christ boldly, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became the rock upon which Jesus built His church.  When Rome burned in 64 AD and Nero fiddled, Nero blamed the Christians and arrested the most visible, most vocal, most dedicated Christian he could find – Peter. Peter was crucified by the Romans, proclaiming the glory of Christ all the way to his death.  Peter was crucified upside down, claiming he was unworthy to die in the same manner as our Savior.  Peter died as a man of integrity, the same inside as he was on the outside.

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We can sometimes give up the long term benefits of integrity for the short term benefits of appearances, but it rarely ends up well.  Ananias and Sapphira tried to maintain appearances by lying to the Holy Spirit, and it didn’t end up well for them.  It’s interesting to note that Ananias and Sapphira were believers and their salvation is secure, though their bodies are a little worse for wear after failing their integrity test.  But when we focus on what God wants instead of our own desires, our integrity brings us a closer relationship with God our Heavenly Father.

 

VI.      Conclusion

We struggle with integrity, we forget that the struggle is not ours, but we surrender to the Holy Spirit working within us.  Our sinful selves war with our new eternal selves, and we are called to die to ourselves and let Christ live within.  Only then can we be whole, and integer.  We cannot do this on our own.

King David, after his affair with Bathsheba, was confronted by the prophet Nathan, and David was grieved when he realized what he had done.  What he had done before men was selfish and prideful, but it wasn’t against man that David sinned.  All sins are against the Lord who sees our innermost beings.  David cried out to the Lord in Psalm 51:1-7 –

Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You—You alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.

So You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Only through accepting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the punishment for our trespasses can we be cleaned, whiter than snow, a child of God with the integrity our Lord desires within us.

To God be the glory.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

I.      Introduction

Today we’re going to study Acts chapter 2, so open your bibles to John chapter 16.

II.      Jesus promises the Holy Spirit

Jesus is teaching and comforting His disciples in the hours before His crucifixion.  He’s letting them know His hour has come where the Son of Man will be sacrificed, and the disciples are understandably upset.  But Jesus tells them that it must be this way.  Let’s start with John 16:6-15,

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

I wanted to back up to this chapter of John to remind us that Jesus is fulfilling a holy purpose.  Jesus will become our sin and be crucified on a cross as punishment.  The disciples were upset about the upcoming death of Jesus, but Jesus tells them that there is reason to be joyous.

And then, there is this statement in John 16:6-7 –

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

The NIV uses the word “advocate,” NASB uses “helper.”  King James uses “comforter,” not the kind from Bed Bath and Beyond of course.  The original Greek word is “parakletos,” and the literal meaning is somebody who is called to your side to give help.  Somebody who pleads your case before a judge, for example.  But that definition is too limited, because a “parakletos” is also a helper, an assistant, and a comforter.

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Jesus is talking about the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and John 16:6 was one of those verses that would raise a question in my mind.  Jesus says He has to go away first or the parakletos won’t come to us.

III.      Who is the Holy Spirit?

What exactly is this Holy Spirit?  Why won’t He come unless Jesus goes away?  Well, let’s go back to the beginning.  And by the beginning, I mean the beginning, Genesis 1:1-2 –

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The Holy Spirit was an integral part of creation, part of God’s plan for this world.  It reminds me of John 1:1-3 that says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

At creation, the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – were present.  The Holy Spirit is present throughout the Old Testament, and is usually described as “coming upon” people such as Joshua and David and even Saul.  And in the book of Judges, the Holy Spirit “came upon” various judges to deliver Israel from her oppressors.  The Holy Spirit is described as coming upon people to perform certain tasks, and then the Holy Spirit would depart.

I think we have to understand our condition as children of Adam before we can understand God’s plan for the Holy Spirit.  See, in the Old Testament up to the crucifixion of Jesus, man was unclean.  Priests would make atonement for the themselves and then they could be clean enough to present sacrifices for the people, but these sacrifices were temporary and had to be repeated.  Priests had to purify themselves every time before entering the temple; the people had to be purified every year.  We are infused with sin, or as Jesus says in John 8:44, we belong to our father, the devil, and we want to carry out our father’s desires.

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But Jesus changed everything.  When He died on that cross, he carried our sins away as far as the east is from the west.

Slide10

Remember in the Old Testament, David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba?  Once the prophet Nathan convicted David of his evil ways, David cried out to the Lord in Psalm 51, and acknowledges that David has been sinful from birth, but he knows God has had a plan for him even before that while David was still in his mother’s womb and says in Psalm 51:10,

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

I think this sheds some light on Jesus’ statement earlier in John 16:6-7 – don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that our lesson today is in Acts 2, but I’ll get there.  Let’s go back to Jesus’ statement,

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

Before the death of Jesus, we are unclean and in need of purification.  If we accept Jesus as our sacrifice, we become clean forever and the Holy Spirit indwells in us.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

So Jesus had to die as our sacrifice before we are considered clean before God and our bodies purified for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s exactly who we are, temples for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  And none of this would be possible without the sacrifice of Jesus.  It’s a true cause for celebration.

IV.      The Holy Spirit arrives at Pentecost

Speaking of celebrations, let’s now turn to Leviticus 23 for some reason that I hope will become clear to both you and me in this study of Acts.  In Leviticus 23 are the mitzvots regarding festivals.  Remember the 613 mitzvots?  Maybe one day we’ll study how Jesus fulfilled these requirements, but we’re going to run out of time if I don’t eventually start talking about the book of Acts.  Starting in Leviticus 23:4, the festival called Passover is described, where the unblemished lamb is offered to the Lord as a sacrifice to commemorate how the Lord brought the Jews out of Egypt.  You may recall in the book of Exodus how the blood of the unblemished lamb was painted above the doors of the faithful Jews, so when the angel of the Lord came to Egypt to slay the first born males of every house, he would “pass over” the faithful Jews.

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And we know that Jesus fulfilled this requirement once and for all, becoming our unblemished lamb, a perfect sacrifice that was pleasing to the Lord.  At the end of the week before Passover, Jesus came to Jerusalem, was crucified, buried, and raised again to life, hallelujah.

After Passover, though, what happens?  Leviticus 23:15 describes the next festival, the Festival of Weeks:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.  From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord.  Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.  Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering.  The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest.  On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

 

This Festival is called the Festival of Weeks by the Jews, or in Hebrew, is called “Shavuot.”  So, after the Passover lamb, count off seven weeks plus 1 days, or 50 days, and offer sacrifices for our sins and for fellowship.  In Greek, the word for “fifty” is “pentekonta.”  We are going to abbreviate this in English as “Pentecost.”

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The disciples of Jesus were faithful Jews, and they were full of joy after the Passover Lamb because they had met the resurrected Jesus and knew then that He was truly the Messiah with power over death.  And in Acts 1, last week Theresa taught about the first 40 days after Jesus.  Here is Acts 1:3-5:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

And now finally we get to today’s scripture in Acts 2:1-4 –

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Fifty days after Pentecost, faithful Jews are supposed to make a sin offering and a fellowship offering, and do no regular work.  We are supposed to fellowship, accept Jesus as our sin offering, and rest on the Sabbath.  Pentecost is the birthday of the church when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to us and who even today resides in us as Holy Temples for His presence.

The disciples were the first to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in tongues, and every person listening heard their own language being spoken.  In utter amazement, the people listening were amazed at the miracle they were witnessing –

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Ok, so not everyone was amazed.  Even today, there are plenty of skeptics about Christian behavior.  But Peter goes on, beginning in verse 17, to give his first sermon as a Christian that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was a fulfillment of the prophecy by Joel.  And during this first church service, Peter concluded with, in verses 38-39 –

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

On the birthday of the church, those that did not think the disciples drunk, became believers in Christ and 3000 were baptized that day.  All due to the power of the Holy Spirit.

  V.      What is the Holy Spirit?

So who or what is this gift of the Holy Spirit that lives inside all believers during the Church Age?  Is the Holy Spirit a ghost?  Is the Holy Spirit sort of like The Force in Star Wars?

Slide23

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.  If you had to classify the Force, it’s a New Age Pantheism that more or less believes that God didn’t create the universe, but that God is the universe.   Belief in the Force, pantheism is.

The Holy Spirit isn’t a ghost; the Holy Spirit isn’t a mystical pantheistic force.  The Holy Spirit is an integral part of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is a person, and in Genesis 1:26, God says,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image.”

This “us” is the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are made in the image of the Holy Spirit.  He looks like us.  And the Holy Spirit has purpose in our lives, and I’m going to outline 4 broad missions of the Holy Spirit –

a.  Regeneration

Regeneration.  Rebirth.  A new beginning.  Just like in Genesis 1 where the Holy Spirit is present and hovering over the waters during creation, when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for our sins, the Holy Spirit makes in us a new creation.  Our old self is dead; behold, our new self will live in Him for eternity.  We are born again.  In the Old Testament, in the book of Ezekiel, the word of God came to Ezekiel and told him that the people of Jerusalem would be scattered, but a remnant would remain faithful, and in those faithful, Ezekiel 11:19 says,

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

The Holy Spirit was responsible for regeneration and rebirth from the beginning.  This information was available to the Pharisees in Jesus day, but they did not understand.  Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3:3-10,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?”

b.  Indwelling

Indwelling.  Being filled with the Spirit.  There is a major difference between the Holy Spirit’s role in the Old and the New Testaments.  In believers today, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is permanent.  1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

And Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us this is a permanent indwelling, a guarantee of salvation –

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In the Old Testament, indwelling was selective and temporary. The Spirit “came upon” prophets and people such as Joshua and David for a specific reason and a specific time.

We are blessed by this indwelling because the Holy Spirit is right here when we need Him to intercede for us, even when we don’t know what we need.  Look at Romans 8:26-27 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

The Holy Spirit is more than our conscience; the Holy Spirit guides us, helps us, gives us moral direction by directing us to obey God’s will.  When you are troubled or confused or in conflict, ask God to search your heart like David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”  The same Psalm in verse 7 asks,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

The Holy Spirit also guides us.  Look at John 16:13-14 –

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth; if what you hear conflicts with the Word of God, then you’re not hearing the Spirit, you’re hearing something else.  And notice that Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring glory to Him.  The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus Christ.  Turn to John 15:26-27 –

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to tell people about Jesus Christ and how they can have a relationship with God.  God, Spirit, Jesus.

c.   Restraint & Encouragement

Restraint.  The Holy Spirit restrains us from sin.  In Genesis 6:3 before the Flood,

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

It seems to imply the Holy Spirit is withdrawn when men are unrepentant and the Lord gives them over to their sin.  This theme is repeated in Romans 1:24 when God gives unrepentant men over to their sinful desires, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 when men are given over to lawlessness at the end of days before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes instead of restraining us, the Holy Spirit is compelling us.  Later in our study of Acts we will get to Acts 8, and in verse 29,

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Don’t confuse this with our sinful urges that tell us when we *want* to do something.  But when we are compelled because we *ought* to do something, very often that is an encouragement from the Holy Spirit.

d.  Empowerment

Empowerment.  A fourth aspect of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament is the granting of ability for service.  For instance, in Exodus 31:1-5, Bezalel is given a gift to make artwork for the tabernacle:

Then the Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

VI.      Fruits of the Spirit

For us in the church, we are empowered with both gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The fruit of the spirit is easy to find – they’re all listed in a single verse, Galations 5:22-23 –

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

This fruit of the spirit are, like fruit from a garden, beautiful evidence to all that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.  When we exhibit these qualities, we know that Holy Spirit’s sanctification of us is in progress.

We stumble when we try to do these things under our own power.  Let’s take for instance, kindness.  If I attempt on my own power to be kind, I can get frustrated when my kindness is not recognized.  I may think, well, they just don’t appreciate me, why should I do all these kind things for them?  And I may realize that with this attitude, I am long forbearing, I am not joyful, I am not gently, I am not faithful.

But when we grow and realize that we belong to Christ Jesus and He has a purpose, it will bring me joy to be used by the Holy Spirit to be kind to someone.  My joy is in the Lord, not my own efforts.  I find whether they are appreciative or not doesn’t matter, for I know that it pleases the Lord to be faithful and gentle.  And I know that whatever rewards await for me at the Bema seat, the Judgement Seat of Christ, it is simply an added benefit to the gift of salvation that has been given to me.  The difference between trying to be kind under my own power and being powered by the Holy Spirit to be kind is immeasurable.  They’re not even the same thing.

Notice also that it is not “fruits” (plural) but “fruit” (singular).  The fruit of the spirit embodies all of these characteristics and is available to all believers.   One cannot pick and choose, saying I have the fruit of gentleness but not the fruit of self-control.  It is one fruit with all 9 attributes, all bound by agape love summed up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is our joy, our pleasure, our command to serve one another in agape love.

VII.      Gifts of the Spirit

Gifts of the Holy Spirit are harder to list.  Partly because they’re scattered over several verses, and partly because they overlap.  Also, there is some debate about whether all the gifts are still available to us, or whether some of them were reserved just for the first apostles.  Paul wrote much about these gifts, but let’s use 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 to summarize –

There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit.  There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord.  There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.   The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.

Here’s a summary of the various gifts listed in the New Testament; there are a lot of overlaps and similarities, but generally either 7 gifts or 9 gifts are accepted.

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It’s highly unlikely you have each and every one of these gifts in abundance.  On the other hand, it’s equally unlikely you are missing one of the gifts completely.  These gifts are given to each of us in a unique way specifically to enable us to help one another.  It may or may not be the same as your skills at your job.  But the number of gifts given to the individual members of the church just happened to be the exact same number of needs in the body of Christ.There is no “most important” gift.  Each gift enables us to serve one another.  Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  Let’s take one verse out of context and see what it means –

If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?

They say the bible is unintelligible to those who claim to be wise.  Let’s look at the surrounding verses and see if it makes more sense.

There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ.  We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink.  So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?  God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.  The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care.  The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any.  In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

Each one of us is powered by a gift, freely given by the Holy Spirit.  You have a spiritual gift, and God wants you to use it for the benefit of the body of Christ.  What is your gift?  Do you feel an urge to live a simple lifestyle so you can devote more time and money to God’s service?  Do you express your love for God by singing?  Do you have compassion for the problems of others?  Do you like to make gifts that will remind them of Jesus?  Do you find joy in speaking uplifting words to others?  Does studying the bible bring you peace and joy?  When you pray, does it seem as though the Holy Spirit steps in and helps you pray?

VIII.      Conclusion

Whatever your gift is – and you have at least one – you can thank the Holy Spirit for His gift in your life.  The Holy Spirit who has been a part of creation, is central to our “born-again” spiritual life, empowers us to serve one another in love.  What a joyful realization that God loves us so much that He provide a sacrifice so that we are righteous before Him and our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit, working in our lives and the lives of those around us.

To God be the glory.