The Fulness of the Spirit, Desperately Needed
Again he measured a thousand cubits, and it was a river that I could not ford, for the water has risen, enough water to swim in, a river that could not be forded. (Ezek. 47:5)
I have travelled countless times over the dam at Jinja, Uganda, the source of the Nile River, on my way to the eastern part of the country. There is a hydro-electric power plant there that supplies a large amount of the electricity for the country. I am told that when the Nile River is high, when there has been plenty of rain, which is usually the case, then the turbines turn easily and there is plenty of electrical power for that region of the country. However, if the water level is low, then the turbines turn sporadically and little power is produced. The country must then ration electrical power.
The church of Jesus in the western world strikes me as being like the Nile at Jinja when the waters are low. There is little power. This ought not to be. Ezekiel is prophesying better days for the nation of Judah that is in the midst of being taken away into exile by the Babylonians. In line with Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit on all mankind (Joel 2:28), Ezekiel is also given a vision by God of water flowing from the eastern side of the temple. It begins only ankle deep. Then a thousand cubits from the temple, the water is knee deep. Then another thousand cubits and it reaches the loins. Then it is over his head, preventing Ezekiel from fording or walking through the river. It is so deep that he can only swim to make his way across it. God goes on to say that the water flows into the sea, making it a fresh water lake that yields fish to eat.
Water, as symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and sanctifying power, is a prevalent theme in Scripture. Isaiah proclaims, ‘Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters’ (Isa. 55:1). Jeremiah rebukes Judah for having committed two evils, saying that they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer. 2:13, 17:13). God promised that ‘mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will go out from the house of the Lord to water the valley of Shittim’ (Joel 3:18). When a person touched a corpse in an open field, then the priests were instructed by Yahweh to purify them with flowing water (Num. 19:17). Yahweh prophesies that he will sprinkle clean water on his people and they will consequently be clean, that he will cleanse them from all their filthiness and from their idols, giving them a new heart and a new spirit so that they will walk in his statutes (Ezek. 36:25-27). Jesus told the Samaritan woman that if she drank the water he had, then she would never thirst again (John 4:14). And Jesus proclaimed, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, “from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water”‘ (John 7:37-38).
All these prophecies were fulfilled at Pentecost, after Jesus’ ascension, after he had told the disciples that he was sending forth the promise of the Father upon them; but they were to wait in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). And he also told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they would be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Pentecost has come and gone, and while Pentecost is never to be repeated it also is never retracted. We have the Holy Spirit. We ought to see much more power and efficacy than we do today. If I was to ask, ‘Do you believe that Jesus is more powerful than Mohammed?’ then you would surely reply, ‘Of course he is.’ If I was to ask, ‘Do you believe that Jesus is stronger than the secularism that floods the west?’ you would say, ‘Yes, no doubt about it.’ Why then do we see so little power? Why do we see so few conversions? Why are so many of our church members ambivalent about personal holiness? Why do so many hold their time and money selfishly? Why are we so worldly and materialistic? Why do preachers labour in ministry with so little progress in congregational holiness? Why is the church plagued with apathy and ignorance? Why do so few of our people meet regularly and consistently with God in private and family devotional times? Why is the church so generally devoid of powerful prayer? Why do so many come out for a fellowship dinner but so few for revival prayer? Why do so few fathers intentionally labour to produce kingdom disciples, future Jesus men and women? Why are we so weak, timid, lethargic, and ambivalent?
In a revival culture – where there is mighty praying, mighty preaching, mighty conversions, mighty assemblies, mighty holiness, mighty generosity, mighty personal evangelism, mighty societal impact, mighty leadership development, and mighty battles with the world, flesh, and devil – where there is a palpable sense of the Spirit’s presence and power, the waters flowing from the throne of God are deep, mighty, rushing, vibrant, productive, and fruitful. In a revival culture of swiftly flowing Holy Ghost power, people listen to the Word preached and act upon it. People evangelize and many are truly saved. In a revival culture people hold their money, time, and worldly possessions very loosely, willingly giving them up for those in need. In a revival culture people cannot help but speak of Christ to their neighbours.
In other words, this is the fullness of the Spirit. This is different from the filling with the Spirit. Paul makes this present tense command (Eph. 5:18), meaning this is to be a continual pursuit. This is something we are repeatedly to do. We need this because we sin and fellowship with God is broken (Isa. 59:1-2). But the fullness of the Spirit is something more pervasive, more enduring, more permanent, and more powerful, something that describes one’s life. Luke tells us that Barnabas was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24) and he gave all his possessions away for the sake of the gospel and the covenant community (Acts 4:36-37). Luke also describes Stephen as being full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5), and when he made his powerful defence before the Sanhedrin and they were cut deeply in their hearts, they stoned him to death. Luke then tells us again that Stephen was full of the Spirit (Acts 7:55). Simon Kistemaker writes that Barnabas’ fullness of the Spirit made possible the presence of the Holy Spirit and complete trust in Jesus that furnished him with serene stability, genuine love for his fellow man, and unparalleled dedication to the work of the Lord.1 It was a state of being for him. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin notes that since all who hear the gospel do not commune with Christ, we must look higher as to the reason for it – namely the secret energy of the Spirit by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.2 The Holy Spirit is the power source for Christian living and ministry. We would do well to tap in daily to our power source so that the glory of God may come upon us.
Some say to me, ‘I want to believe that we will experience this revival culture you talk about but I fear that we will never see it.’ I know. I wonder about that myself. I wonder if we are willing to pay the price on a congregational level, on a denominational level. And perhaps we are not, but one thing is sure, one thing I want you seriously to consider – you can personally have this revival culture every day in your own life, even if others around you don’t pursue it. How? Ask for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Seek him until you find him (Matt. 7:7). Draw near to God (James 4:8). Believe you have his presence and power (Heb. 11:1). Do not grieve the Spirit Eph. 4:30). Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). Go forth humbly but confidently believing that he will give you what you need for that very moment (1 Thes. 5:24).
- Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Acts, page 421.
- The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book, III, chapter one, page 537.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
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