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Fulfilling the Great Commission & the Last Days

The Holy Spirit: the stark contrast between the Church in Acts & the Church in America today

The deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt on the Passover signifies our deliverance from slavery to sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was a pivotal moment in the history of Israel.

Forty years later another significant event took place—the crossing of the Jordan and the invasion of Canaan, the Promised Land. The purpose was to take possession of Canaan so that the kingdom of God could be established in the land. The Lord had transformed the former slaves into a powerful, conquering army. What does this signify for New Testament believers?

When we are forgiven of our sins through faith in Christ and are delivered from slavery to sin, we are born again of the Holy Spirit. As spiritual infants, we want to mature. We want to grow to become like our Lord Jesus Christ both in terms of holy character and also in terms of works and deeds. We want to become like our Lord Jesus, abounding in the fruit of the Holy Spirit which consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Lord also commands us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), and to disciple all nations (Matthew 28:19). For this we need the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us fruitful witnesses of Jesus Christ to the lost by enabling us to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives. It is also the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and boldness to share the gospel with others. It’s the Spirit who enables us to minister to the sick and demonized with power as confirmation to the world that the gospel is the absolute truth.

Therefore receiving the Holy Spirit should not be an afterthought, but a pivotal component in the life of a believer.

Dying in the wilderness

Fearing death the Israelites refused to obey God’s command to invade Canaan, preferring to remain in the wilderness or even return to Egypt. God was very displeased with them and vowed that those of military age would die in the wilderness over the next forty years and never enter the Promised Land. Fear and unbelief ultimately result in disobedience to God’s holy commands, which in turn can result in “dying in the wilderness” and failure to enter Canaan—a wonderfully fertile land ‘flowing with milk and honey.”

Fear, however, is something that we all have in common. How can we drive out this enemy? It is only through the Holy Spirit. Only He can give us power to be boldness witnesses to  this lost world for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Crossing the Red Sea & then the Jordan River

For the Israelites crossing the Red Sea signified water baptism (1 Corinthians 10:2), which for us signifies repentance and the subsequent forgiveness of our sins. Is it possible that their crossing the Jordan forty years later to invade Canaan signifies our being baptized in the Holy Spirit to receive power to proclaim the gospel and establish the kingdom of God wherever He has placed us?

In Acts we in fact see that the gospel did not explode until the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Only after that was the Church born as the gospel was proclaimed with power by the suddenly emboldened disciples. The disciples had “crossed the Jordan and began possessing the Land.”

How do we receive the Holy Spirit?

To answer this question, we might well want to examine how the Israelites crossed the Jordan. God had commanded the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to step into the flowing Jordan River which was at flood stage. Under Joshua’s leadership they obeyed the Lord’s command. As their feet touched the water’s edge it was cut off and stopped flowing (Joshua 3:15-16).

Joshua 5:1  Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

The Israelites moreover were tremendously encouraged and emboldened seeing how the Lord was definitely with them—miraculously cutting off the flood-stage Jordan with its strong currents. The key to their crossing the Jordan was their obedience to the Lord’s command to step into the Jordan by faith.

In the same way, we must obey the Lord’s commands if we want to receive the Holy Spirit:

John 14:15  “If you love me, keep my commands.  16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever–  17  the Spirit of truth.

What if we are not “possessing the land”?

If we are not witnessing fruitfully for Christ with power and not having impact on people around us—especially if we have been Christians for many years—then we must consider the possibility that we are not yet baptized in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we might still be in the wilderness like the fearful Israelites—constantly grumbling and complaining at our lot in life and relying solely every day on the “manna” which God provides only to spiritual infants who are unable to produce their own food.

Joshua 5:12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

If we are truly baptized in the Holy Spirit—regardless of our theology on the Holy Spirit—we ought to be conquering and possessing the land around us for the kingdom of God. If we are not—simply quietly going to church once or twice a week—then we need to face the hard reality that something very important is missing. We ought to take care not to “die in the wilderness.”

Yet only two of the men of military age who left Egypt 40 years earlier succeeded in entering the Promised Land—Joshua and Caleb. Only two out of thousands. The rest died in the desert.

Numbers 13:25  At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.  26  They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.  27  They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 

28  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.  29  The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” 

30  Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can CERTAINLY do it.” 

31  But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”  32  And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  33  We saw the Nephilim there the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

The Lord was extremely displeased with the Israelites. 

Numbers 14:20  The LORD replied [to Moses], “I have forgiven them, as you asked.  21  Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth,  22  not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times–  23  not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 

24  But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

Do we follow the Lord wholeheartedly like Caleb? Only the Holy Spirit can take away our fear and give us holy boldness like Caleb. —Those who are filled with the Spirit will possess the land flowing with milk and honey!