19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
It baffles me that some modern churches do not believe in the current and ongoing operation of the Holy Spirit in believers. There is nothing in Scripture that says the Holy Spirit stopped working for us after the apostolic era, and there is much in the Bible that indicates we should expect the Spirit to be with us today–and to even abound in us. I suppose, however, that since we live in a modern and “scientific” society, we are skeptical of what we have not seen ourselves firsthand–or, perhaps more to the point, we do not recognize and acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit as such. It is much easier to overlook miracles of healing, special knowledge, comfort, or prophecy, and to chalk them up to the works of men or simple coincidence. And if one doesn’t believe in the devil or his demons (despite all Scriptural evidence), then why should one ever believe that the Holy Spirit enables someone to have the power to perceive evil forces, much less exorcise and bind such spirits? We are a culture of skeptics, and our skepticism has moved us away from faith and into the realm of half-belief, where we believe only half of what the Bible says and not the other half.
Today’s verses are a great example of two things written in Scripture, one that is believed and the other not so much. In verse 19, we have a straightforward statement about Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God. It’s similar to Luke 24:51, and it was spoken of by Jesus before His death and Resurrection. (Luke 22:69) It is a statement that is repeated quite often in the letters of Paul and Peter, and it shows up in the “Statement of Faith” of nearly every church. But let’s look at two things that Peter said about that Ascension:
32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.
33 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.”
29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.
31 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
32 “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Do you see what Peter said? In both of these passages–the first from Pentecost, the second after the apostles were freed from prison by an angel–Peter speaks of Jesus ascending to the right hand of God and of the CURRENT PRESENCE of the Holy Spirit in believers. In the scene from Pentecost, the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues–foreign languages that they ought not to know–testifying of God to all the people in Jerusalem in whatever language they needed to speak. (Acts 2:5-11) In the latter scene, Peter speaks of the Holy Spirit as being a witness with the apostles, that Spirit being given by God “to those who obey Him.” So you see, after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit operated in all believers, just as Jesus said it would.
15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.
16 “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever–
17 “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
So let’s go back to Mark 16:20, and look at what is written there:
Mark 16:20 (New International Version)
Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
The word, the message, the gospel of Christ was confirmed by the Lord working WITH the disciples. Yes, Jesus had ascended to the right hand of God, but He had, as promised, sent the Parakletos (παρακλητοσ)–the one who comes along side us, our “Helper” as it is translated in John’s Gospel. We are not to be orphans in our faith, not left alone now that Jesus has resumed His place with the Father. On the contrary, we have been given the very Spirit of God to dwell within us (John 14:23), to testify of Jesus with signs and wonders that confirm the word which we preach–the word which is the gospel of peace with God through Christ Jesus the Son.
Note that both Peter and Jesus said there is one condition for receiving the Holy Spirit and for the Spirit to work with believers: obedience. We must be obedient to God’s Word, faithful to Jesus Christ and the commission which He gave us all–to preach the gospel to all the world. (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-47, John 21:15-17) We must be obedient in that we repent of who we once were and what we once held dear, and instead fulfill the commandments of God by loving Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. (Matthew 22:37-38) We must express our obedience through faith in His Son, knowing that Jesus is faithful to us and that He has died and risen again to bring us salvation and eternal life. We must be obedient in our acceptance of the Holy Spirit, never grieving God by denying the Spirit’s work in our lives or the lives of others. (Ephesians 4:30) We must be obedient to live such good lives among unbelievers that they will see God’s Holy Spirit operating in us and will glorify God in the day of His return. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Brothers and sisters, whether you believe it or not, God’s Holy Spirit is among us today. When Jesus said to His disciples “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), He meant that literally. Jesus prayed the Father and sent His Spirit to work with us in our faithful obedience to God’s calling upon our lives. This is the continuing presence of Emmanuel, the continuing ministry of our Lord, the continuing manifestation of God’s power and wisdom among and within us. Accept it, believe it, rejoice in it! And know that although Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, if we repent and believe and are obedient to God, His Spirit is here among us and guiding our own hands to do His will in the world, always to His eternal glory.
Gracious heavenly Father, all glory and honor and praise are Yours. We praise You for sending Your Son to die once for the salvation of all, and that You have raised Him to glory that we, too, may partake of His inheritance as Your adopted sons and daughters. Lord God, we thank You always for Your Holy Spirit dwelling in all believers, that we might partake of Your blessings through the power and wisdom of the Helper, who has sealed us for You for the day of redemption. May Your Spirit operate openly and boldly through our lives this day and every day. Amen.