THE ASCENSION, THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE MISSION
The Ascension in this context refers to the manner in which Jesus was taken to heaven.
The Ascension -Acts 1:6-11
Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus called together his apostles and they were all together in one place. Suddenly, one of them asked him if he would be restoring the kingdom to Israel at that time. Jesus told them it was not for them to know the time or season which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Jesus then said that instead, they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them and that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea, Samaria and even to the end of the earth.
When Jesus had said so, and as his apostles were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud covered him out of their sight. As they gazed into heaven, two men stood by them in white robes saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
- It marked the promise of the Holy Spirit which was fulfilled during the Pentecost. For christians it is the Holy Spirit that would give them guidance in evangelism and the work of God.
- The way Jesus ascended into heaven is the same way he will return. The Ascension is significant to christians because it opened their eyes as to the manner of Jesus’ second coming.
The Pentecost -Acts 2 : 1 -41
The word Pentecost is derived from the Greek word for ‘fifty’. Pentecost was another name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place exactly fifty days from the Passover Feast. The Feast of Weeks was to mark the completion of the wheat harvest during which they showed appreciation to the god of harvest.
During Pentecost, every male child must be made to appear before the Lord. It was an agricultural feast that always marked the completion of wheat harvest during which they gave thanks and praise to God for granting them good harvest. This occasion was usually used to welcome the farming season.
The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost has to be understood against the background of Jesus’ promise during his ascension. Jesus had told his apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit which was guaranteed to give them extra power to carry on with the ministry.
The apostles prayed fervently for ten good days and waited patiently for the Holy Spirit, which came on the Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) day. As expected, the city of Jerusalem was full of pilgrims from far and near who had gathered in Jerusalem for the great Jewish Feast.
Where the apostles were praying, there came a sound from heaven similar to the rush of a mighty wind and it filled the whole house. Then, there appeared tongues of fire which rested on each of them and immediately, they were filled with the Holy Spirit as they began to speak in other tongues other than their own, as the spirit gave them utterance. That sound attracted a great multitude who were on a festive mood.
Some people accused the apostles of drunkenness as they heard the apostles speak many languages including their own (the multitude’s). Before long, a large crowd had gathered. Peter used that opportunity to preach the gospel of salvation of Christ. He explained to them that what they were experiencing was the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the coming of the spirit on all people in the last days.
Peter went on to recount the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews and how he rose and was sitting at the right hand of God. That same Jesus it was, who was then fulfilling his promise of the Holy Spirit which all were experiencing. So many were touched, so much so that they asked Peter what they were to do. Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him”. (Acts 2:38-39).
Altogether, about three thousand people repented at the Pentecost and were baptized and were added to the christian community.
Significance of the Pentecost
- The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ remark of restoring the kingdom of Israel to mean an earthly political kingdom. The statement however, signifies the establishment of the Kingdom of God in man’s heart.
- Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to every part of the world. This signifies that there is no Jew or Gentile in the Kingdom of God. There is no discrimination.
- Christians today should help to continue in spreading the gospel to every part of the earth.
- The promise of God never fails even today. Just as Jesus fulfilled his promise of sending the Holy Spirit, so is he still steadfast today in his promises to us.
- The Pentecost marked the beginning of the church.
- It brought a special and different power and courage with it which gave the apostles great boldness to preach.
- A great number of people were saved that day, having repented. Their number swelled the population of the church.
- The “sound like the rushing of a mighty wind” symbolized the power and energy of the Holy Spirit to smash every opposition and threat to the spreading of the gospel.
- In like manner, the tongues of fire symbolize the boldness and courage which was to enable the apostles preach the gospel.
- The miracle of speaking in tongues where people understood the apostles as they spoke their languages symbolizes the universality of the gospel.
- The Pentecost marked the beginning of aggressive evangelism which is still in progress today.
The Mission of the Church -Acts 8
The mission of the church is simply the summary of Jesus’ charge to his disciples shortly before his ascension as recorded in Acts 1:8
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”.
With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were set to begin to spread the good news, first from Jerusalem. However, there were opposition here and there, especially, from the Jewish religious leaders who were not happy that Jesus whom they succeeded in crucifying was now being preached as the Messiah and so many were accepting him as such.
On so many occasions, the apostles were beaten up and even imprisoned, but the work continued in spite of opposition and intimidation. One of the victims of bloody Jewish persecution was Stephen who was stoned to death.
Stephen’s death sparked off numerous persecution among the christians, so much that they scattered, each person continuing with work where he found himself. Philip fled to Samaria where he achieved much in terms of witnessing Jesus and proclaiming the salvation of Jesus Christ. For instance, Philip converted a deadly magician called Simon who was feared greatly by many by reason of his magical artistry.
Hearing the news of Philip’s successes, the disciples in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to help in encouraging the believers there. They laid hands on the believers and they received the Holy Spirit. However, Simon, the magician -turned believer tried to obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit with money, but received a sharp rebuke from Peter who told him.
“Your silver perish with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity”. (Acts 8:20-23)
This rebuke from Peter caused Simon to be afraid, he asked Peter to pray for him so that none of the evils pronounced would happen to him.
Conversion Of The Ethiopian Eunuch- Acts 8:26-39
Philip again recorded a second success by converting the Ethiopian eunuch along the road leading to Gaza. This man was a treasurer of Candace — the Queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch was reading a portion of the book of Isaiah which he did not understand. The Holy Spirit ministered to Philip to join the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot. Philip went to him and asked him if he understood what he was reading and his answer was no. Philip explained to him the meaning of the verses of the Bible he was reading and also preached Jesus Christ to him.
While they were travelling together, they came to where there was water, the eunuch requested that Philip should baptize him. He was baptized and thereafter, the spirit of the Lord took away Philip. The eunuch did not see him again but he continued rejoicing on the way. Philip was later found at Azotus. He passed on from there preaching the gospel in all the towns till he got to Caesarea.
- The promise of the Holy Spirit to his disciples was made shortly before Jesus’ ascension.
- It was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
- The arrival of the Holy Spirit gave a push to the disciples, who now under the power and influence of it, swung into action, proclaiming Jesus every part of the world.
- There were oppositions, persecutions and even death, but they continued in their mission.
- Philip’s encounter with Simon the magician, revealed the superiority of christian faith over other forms of belief. This is to show christians that if they have strong faith in Jesus, no other power can overcome them.
- The Holy Spirit manifested in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, This means that when we are led by the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish much.