Fire of God - Part 1

Scripture: Acts 18:, Acts 19:
Apollos was a great speaker and theologian well-trained and from Alexandria. But something was missing in his life. He had a theoretical knowledge of truth, but they did not have the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
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Ephesus was a city of Lydia located on the west coast of Asia Minor. It was a junction city situated on one of the natural trade routes between east and west. And because it was such an important commercial center there was also a concentration of population in this area. Thousands of people came to take part in the festivities that seemed to center in this pleasure resort place of the Empire. It was a religious center. They worshiped Diana of the Ephesians. In fact, history says that the people had built a giant amphitheater, four hundred and ninety-five feet in diameter and seating almost twenty-five thousand people. And on some occasions a hundred thousand would gather around the outside of this great arena shouting and worshiping their goddess Diana and taking part in the repugnant ceremonies and rites. It was to this great center of heathen worship that Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, came to preach the gospel. Apollos had been converted over in Alexandria. And by the way, he had also received his education in that great cultural city. It was recognized at that time by people all over the world as the center of learning for all the earth. Anybody from Alexandria was well received. He would be accepted as a person of influence and importance and authority, if he could trace back his education to the University in Alexandria.

And so, when Apollos came to this heathen city he was well received, no doubt. He was placed in a most favorable position to preach the gospel. They gathered around. There was no question about coming out to hear such a learned man preach. Now there are some other good things about Apollos that I ought to mention today. The Bible says many fine things about him. He was fervent of spirit, he knew his Bible well, he preached convincing sermons. He was a powerful preacher, he could sway people by the way he spoke. Yes, everything looked good for Apollos when he came to this big city.

But there's another thing I must tell you about Apollos also. I don't like to mention it. I wish we could just pass over it and not say a thing about it, but apparently this man's knowledge and learning, concerning Jesus Christ, was mostly theoretical. In other words, when he spoke it was not with the power and the spirit of true conviction. There was no working of conversion in the hearts of the people. Now maybe the pagan leaders of that place didn't recognize the lack, but some of the poor members of the church did. Now they didn't have many Christians in Ephesus. Just a little handful, and among them was Aquila and Priscilla. They were earnest Christians, and when they heard this man preach that night they knew something was missing. And after the discourse they took Apollos aside, this great theologian who had come from Alexandria, it says these laymen sat down and instructed him more perfectly in the way of the Lord.

I'm thankful that this man was humble enough to receive it. Why, these people knew Jesus better than he did, even though he'd been through the university and graduated with all the honors and recognition. And now they sit down and tell him more than he ever knew about Jesus. Now, you would really think that Apollos would turn the city upside down, wouldn't you? You would just imagine that hundreds of people would be converted as he stood up to preach. But the results were apparently very, very meager, almost nothing. And after a little while Apollos moved on over to Corinth, and a short time after that Paul came along visiting the churches, and he started to look up the church which was in Ephesus.

Now, I don't know what Paul expected to find when he came there, I don't know what he expected. I don't know whether he had heard about the meager results of Apollos's evangelistic meetings or not, but I know one thing, he had a hard time finding the church. It was located down in an obscure section of the city in an upper room and there were just twelve members when Paul arrived. Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? And when Paul walked into that little room where the church was meeting, immediately he sensed that something was wrong. He didn't find the spirit, and the spark, and the power, and the enthusiasm that he expected to find. Why the testimony of those people was just empty. There was a barren feeling about it all, and Paul knew it. And without any preliminaries he got right down to the heart of the trouble and stood up to preach. His first question just went right to the heart of those people. He said, "Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" And they said, "Why Paul, we don't know anything about any such thing. We never heard of that." And he said, "Well, how were you baptized?" And they said, "Unto John's baptism."

Now friends, John baptized, of course, in the waters of repentance, teaching them about Christ who was to come. These people knew all about the Messiah, and what He would be like when He did appear. But here they were living twenty years after Pentecost, and they didn't know a thing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They had never been instructed at all in the way God had visited the church after He ascended back to heaven. And so, Paul, didn't chide them, he didn't rebuke them. He began to tell them about the glorious reception of the Holy Spirit which had come on the believers over at Jerusalem and all through the Christian world of that day.

Now friends, this reminds us of something. You know, too many people fail to really grasp the glories of a spirit filled life, because they're too easily satisfied. They somehow believe that baptism is the object of the Christian life, and that this is everything that God wants to do for them. May I tell you today that that's only the beginning of what God wants to do for us. Why, there's an unlimited avenue ahead of spiritual conquest for the Christian. Too many people stop right there on the banks of baptism, they want to stay in that spot. They feel that God has come near to bless them, that maybe this is all that the Christian life is intended to be, but it's not true. If we would dare to go on out into the deep things of God, He has unlimited blessing for us in spiritual resources. This was the burden of Paul's message to them. Why, they were dead as far as he was concerned, because they did not have the fruits of the spirit, because they did not have the mighty power of God operating through them as it might have been operating.

Now, let me ask you something. Suppose Paul came to visit your church. What would he have to say to the church that's in your home town; not the church that's in Ephesus, but the church in your town, U.S.A.? Suppose he walked into your solemn assembly on Wednesday night? Suppose he came on Sabbath morning and felt the spirit of the church and took the pulse of the spiritual life? I wonder friends, what kind of question he might address to us. Do you think we might squirm a little bit like those people? Do you think Paul would say to us, "Listen, haven't you received the Holy Spirit yet?" I think maybe he would. We're living down in the time of God's power. This is the day of the latter rain. This is the hour that God is going to finish His work in mighty strength. And I tell you something. We ought to be much farther along in our Christian life than we really are. We ought to be closer to the kingdom of heaven than we are. And maybe Paul would speak to us with the very language of heaven, and stir us up a little bit and help us to realize, maybe, how dead and barren we really are in comparison to what we ought to be.

Yes, I think his question suggests the reason why so many lives are dead, and why the church perhaps, is as feeble as it is. Nothing in this world will compensate for the lack of the Holy Spirit. Do you believe that? Nothing. We can know the Bible very well. We can teach the prophecies accurately; we can communicate with the people convincingly, but that's not enough. We must have that power in our lives to bear witness for Christ and this is what those people lacked. Have you received the Holy Spirit? That question divides; it draws the line; it makes the boundary between two classes in the church. On one side you find people who acknowledge Christ alright, as the Lord who forgives them their sin and who holds out to them the hope of heaven. But there on the other side you have another group who know Jesus as the Lord over the power of sin, and He comes in as a living presence into the heart. Now there's a difference, a vast world of difference between these two classes.

Some people have come along to minister unto the baptism of water and to merely an outward cleansing and outward reformation of the life, a moral reformation. And that's very good. We have no criticism to make of anyone who changes his way of life, his conduct, his attitudes. But I must tell you, dear friends, that there is a deeper more spiritual work than merely washing away sin by the water. That's the first step, but Paul talked about a burning fire of the Holy Spirit that would come in and permeate and cleanse and purify the heart and the life, the inner springs of a persons being. And when that work of transformation has taken place on the inside, the question of conduct and of outward actions will all be taken care of as well. Do you believe that? If we've been changed, dear friends, in the heart, if we've been converted by the indwelling spirit of God, then our life is going to be all right on the outside as well as on the inside.

Now, too many Christians have not entered into this experience of the inward work. And that's why we sometimes have to draw up rules. That's why we have to have rules in schools and colleges. Why, if everybody had this same experience we wouldn't need to have any rules in our educational institutions. The young people wouldn't even desire to do anything wrong. They'd be walking under the rule of God's Holy Spirit. It would be a wonderful thing. The church would be a blaze of light and witnessing power if everybody had the same experience that Paul was talking about.

All right now, Jesus came to do a much deeper work than John ever thought of doing. John spoke of that one who would come baptizing with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Do you remember that expression? Yes, just like the work of fire is different from that of the water, so the work of Jesus was to be mightier than the work of John. Oh, He spoke of something that would reach down and burn and purge and purify in the life, that's what Christ came to do. In fact, it's this baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit which completes the preliminary baptism of water. And friends, that's our greatest need without question, and I say it without any reservation at all. Our greatest need is to be baptized of the Holy Spirit every day.

The devil has robbed individuals of this experience too long. You know, Satan has two ways of operating as far as truth is concerned. First of all he'll try to cover up the truth as long as he can, He'll hide it and keep it down. And finally, when it breaks out and he can't do anything about the publication of the truth he will twist it and distort it and try to lead away into fanaticism and extremism. Now just think for a moment about the beautiful doctrine of justification by faith. During long weary centuries of the dark ages the church didn't know about this truth. They just lived by the law of the church. They tried to fulfill the letter of what the church told them to do and this was salvation to them. But one day, this monk, this searching, seeking monk, Martin Luther, was crawling up the stairs in deep penitence, and suddenly like a burst of light, the great truth flooded his heart. Why, the just is saved by faith. And the whole thing opened up. He began to write it and then he nailed it on the church door over at Wittenburg. And he forced this wonderful message out into the open. People knew now that you're not saved by works, you're saved by grace through faith. But when the devil saw that it was known: when he saw that the thing had come out of hiding at last, and everybody was going to hear about this truth, he started twisting, and perverting, and distorting, and convincing people that "alright, that's fine. It's all grace and faith. The law, you don't have to worry about the law. You can throw it out the window. You don't have to worry about the law now. Just believe, just have faith, and you're alright." And my friends, the pendulum swung from way over here on the right side of extremism way over there to the other side of extremism. The devil doesn't care which way you go just so long as you're a fanatic. As long as you'll just get in some rut and refuse to walk in a balanced Christian life. Before, they had shut out the wonderful grace of Jesus and faith in Him. Now they go over to the other extreme and under the influence of Satan they just throw the law out the window and say it's all grace.

Now let's think also about this beautiful doctrine of the Holy Spirit; why, the church didn't speak about it and preach about it in those early centuries. No books were written on the subject of the Holy Spirit. Just in the last fifty years there have been more publications on this matter than in all the two thousand years before that time. The thing suddenly burst into light and the people started talking about the Holy Spirit. People began to understand about the operation of God through the Holy Spirit. And so the devil got busy. Do you know what he tried to do? He wanted to discredit this thing. He wanted the people to go overboard and so he brought fanaticism in. He made thousands of people think that the Holy Spirit was just an emotional feeling, and nothing more.

And so, in these days there have been great fanatical demonstrations under the name of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And the whole doctrine has been brought under reproach and condemnation because of the extremism inspired by Satan. Now, friends, many Christians are not the type to be deceived by a lot of strange mysticism. Human beings are a sort of funny people. We're not going to allow our emotions to run away with us, not for a moment. But another danger is this: That we will shy away from the true manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Now, if we stand in any danger today this is it. We're liable to steel ourselves against the fanaticism and against this emotionalism, and thus shut out the true spirit of God who is trying to come in and work in our lives.

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