A. W. Tozer once said, "If the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the Church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and nobody would know the difference."
The Church was born the day its first members were baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is foolish to end in flesh what began in the Spirit (Gal 3:3). In spite of the unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit all over the world, thousands and thousands of Christians are yet to comprehend the gifts, ministries and the power of the Spirit in their personal, family and church life. When the Father and the Son are in Heaven, and only the Holy Spirit is here on earth in His total Personality, it is an insult to the Godhead if we disregard the Eternal Spirit who is resident here.
A cursory look at the Christmas story reveals the vital role the Holy Spirit played in the birth of Christ. There are atleast seven manifestations mentioned in the narrative. They are for us to expect and embrace in this Pentecostal age. Jesus said, "When the Helper comes... He will testify of Me... He will glorify Me" (Jn 15:26; 16:14). Yes, Christmas cannot be adequately appreciated apart from Pentecost!
Dreams and visions are prophesied as an integral part of the endtime Outpouring (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16,17). There are so many examples to this in the early Church (Acts 10:3,9-11; 16:9; 18:9; 22:17, 18; 23:11; 27:23,24). See their abundance in the Christmas story:
God communicated His message to Mary through the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:26, 27). When her betrothed husband Joseph was contemplating to put her away secretly, an angel appeared to him in a dream and admonished him to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:18-20). The wise men were "divinely warned in a dream" not to return to Herod (Mt 2:12). For the safety of Baby Jesus against the plotters, Joseph received warning ant guidance three times through dreams (Mt 2:13,19,22).
Dreams are images, thoughts and impressions which pass through oneís mind when asleep. Visions are received while awake or in a dream-like state. God uses both dreams and visions to communicate His mind (Num 12:6). Though in this age, with the canon of the Scripture completed, God does not reveal doctrines and give teaching through dreams and visions, He does employ these means to convey specific guidance. We need not go seeking dreams and visions, but we must keep ourselves open to this channel also. Visions and dreams can of course be counterfeited. Therefore they must be tested against written revelation (Dt 13:1-5).
Not all dreams should be taken seriously. Several dreams result from much activity and many cares (Eccl 5:3). But if a dream lingers on in the mind for long, we must consider it prayerfully. Too personal dreams should not be disclosed to others. But if one feels that the Lord is saying something specific to a group or an assembly through a dream or a vision, the same must be shared with the elders, leaders and mature believers before making it public. When God gives us visions and dreams, we should resist the temptation to boast (2 Cor 12:1,7).
Any genuine outpouring of the Spirit is characterised by renewed commitment to the Scriptures, because the Spirit is the Author of the Scriptures (2 Pet 1:20,21). The Scripture and individualsí faith on it reverberate throughout the Christmas narrative.
Mary surrendered to the human impossibility, saying, "Let it be to me according to Your Word" (Lk 1:34,38). The virgin birth was the fulfilment of the Word of the Lord through prophet Isaiah (Mt 1:22, 23; Isa 7:14). Elizabeth concluded her greeting of Mary with the words, "Blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45). The song of Mary ended with the phrase, "As He spoke to our fathers" (Lk 1:55). The chief priests and scribes found out for Herod a passage from the book of Micah relating to Christís place of birth (Mt 2:6; Mic 5:2). Josephís escape by night to Egypt with Mary and Jesus was the fulfilment of what prophet Hosea said (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). The slaughter of innocent male children had been prophesied by Jeremiah (Mt 2:17,18; Jer 31:15). Mary and Joseph brought the Infant to be circumcised "according to what is said in the law of the Lord" (Lk 2:21-24).
The Spirit-filled early Church regularly turned to the Scriptures to understand and explain the Lordís thoughts and doings. Here are a few examples:
Peter explained the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit, from David and Joel (Acts 2:25-28, 34,35,16-21). The threatened Church saturated its prayer with challenges from Psalms (Acts 4:25, 26). The first martyr quoted from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Amos and Isaiah in his defence speech (Acts 7:3,7,32-34,37,42,43,48-50). Philip led the Ethiopian official to Christ through a passage from Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32-35). The apostles moved to the non-Jewish world when they understood Isaiah 49:6 (Acts 13:46,47). The dispute in Jerusalem Council was settled by the interpretation of Amos 9:11, 12 (Acts 15:15-17).
"Faith" is one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:9). This faith is primarily on the power of Godís Word. In the chapter on faith, the very first reference is to the power of the Word of God (Heb 11:3). We are admonished to take the shield of faith "above all" the weaponry in spiritual warfare (Eph 6:16). In every temptation, the ultimate victory is experienced when we boldly confess against the devil what is "written" (Mt 4:4,7,10; Rev 12:11). Letís soak ourselves with the Scriptures. The Word in our mouth and mind keeps us stout and sweet.
Christmas is a miracle of miracles. A virgin conceived without the seed of a man. Unbelievable! God became man. Unimaginable! A priest was made dumb for unbelief. Unheard of ! A star guided the wise men exactly to the spot where the Child was. Inscrutable! Yes, nothing is impossible with God (Lk 11.34-37).
The life and ministry of the Church in the years following Pentecost were filled with miracles, signs and wonders. But when the next generations began to depend on physical strength and material power, the supernatural manifestation of the Spirit became less and less. Theologians then concluded that the days of miracles were past. Far from truth! God is a God of miracles and He has never changed. His hand is not at all shortened. None of the gifts of the Spirit is withdrawn. The gifts of working of miracles and healing are available today to be manifested through "those who believe" (1 Cor 12:9,10; Mk 16:17,18).
Even two thousand years before all the scientific and technological advance, God performed unusual miracles to prove the resurrection of His Son (Acts 3:15,16). How much more He would do today! He is ready to confirm our preaching by "signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit," provided we pray for them and exercise our faith (Heb 2:4; Acts 4:30). Someone said, If you can explain it, then it is not a miracle. We must therefore train ourselves to submit our natural reasoning to the supernatural working of God (Eccl 11:5; 1 Cor 2:9,14).
Not only the Old Testament prophecies were abundantly referred to during Christmastime, but also there was a fresh outburst of the spirit of prophesying during the Season.
When Mary greeted Elizabeth, the latter was filled with the Holy Spirit and "spoke out with a loud voice" prophetic words of blessing for Mary and Jesus (Lk 1:41-45). Following this, Mary flowed into prophetic singing (Lk 1:46-55). What rich content! When his dumbness was healed, Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied glorious words about Johnís ministry and that of the Messiah (Lk 1:64, 67-79). It was a visionary poetry.
With the Baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon prophesied, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many!" He spoke about the Cross when the Child was still in the Cradle! (Lk 2:28-35). Revelations and guidance of the Spirit! (Lk 2:25-27). And there was Anna, an 84 year old widow, uttering prophetic words about the Redeemer (Lk 2:36-38). Truly the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy! (Rev 19:10).
The Greek word prophetes comes from pro, "forth" and phemi, "to speak." A prophet therefore is primarily a forthteller, one who speaks forth a divine message that can at times include foretelling future events. Simply stated, prophecy means inspired utterance. The effect on the hearers is the proof.
The infilling of the Holy Spirit gives potential ability to all believers to prophesy (Acts 2:17,18). On the day of Pentecost, the 120 Spirit-baptized believers spoke forth the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:4,11). Years later when the 12 disciples in Ephesus received the anointing through the ministry of Paul, they spoke in tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:1,2,6,7). The apostle encouraged all believers to prophesy (1 Cor 14:5). If prophesying is not elevated above the Scriptures, and the Biblical regulations are followed, this gift will strongly build the Church through "edification, exhortation and comfort" (1 Cor 14:3,4).
Though all believers can prophesy, the Ascended Lord has given to His Church "some" prophets (Eph 4:11). These men and women with the prophetic office function at a higher level to guide the flock.
Merry Christmas! Joy unspeakable because of Godís unspeakable Gift! Gabriel entered Maryís humble home in Nazareth with the greeting, "Rejoice!" (Lk 1:26-28). She experienced a spirit-piercing joy. When she greeted Elizabeth, the babe in the latterís womb "leaped for joy." Elizabeth was boundlessly excited that the mother of the Lord came to her. She shouted aloud blessings on the Virgin (Lk 1:40-45). When the wise men saw the star, they rejoiced with "exceedingly great joy" (Mt 2:10). Who can explain the enthusiasm and haste with which the shepherds rushed to the manger? (Lk 2:15,16).
The Holy Spirit is the greatest Joy-producer! When He excited the 120 in the upper room, the onlookers thought they were drunk (Acts 2:13). The Spirit-generated gladness of believers wooed thousands into the Church (Acts 2:46,47). Their converts brought into the silent temple Pentecostal expressions of joy: "walking, leaping and praising!" (3:8). The joy of the Holy Spirit made the apostles bubble and dance when they were beaten and driven away (5:40,41; 13:50-52).
When, where and why did Christendom lose joy? Thank God for the charismatic groups bringing back shouting. "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! In Your Name they rejoice all day long" (Psa 89:15, 16). Joyless churches are strengthless churches. Because, the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8:10). When joy and gladness are cut off from a congregation, the ministers and members should cry out to God for a fresh Pentecost (Joel 1:13,16; 2:28,29; Psa 85:6).
The gathering of saints must be characterised by a festival spirit (Psa 122:1). The Lordís Day especially commemorates the victory of the Lord over death! (Psa 118:24). How then do we explain the funeral atmosphere that prevails in many a congregation? If the Church does not get back healthy excitement and enthusiasm to the pew and pulpit, our youth will sure go after feverish enjoyments offered in platforms.
The song of Mary is magnificent in worship. She exalted the Lord as the Saviour, Mighty, Holy, Merciful, Helper and Covenant-keeper (Lk 1:46-55). After the angel announced the good tidings to the shepherds, a multitude of the heavenly host joined him in rapturous praise. Imagine the volume of their shout! (Lk 2:13,14). A spirit of praise captured the shepherds when they saw the Baby (Lk 2:20). Simeon "blessed" God holding His only begotten Son in his arms (Lk 2:28). Anna "thanked" the Lord for His visit (Lk 2:38). The wise men came all the way from
the East just to "worship" the Baby King. They "fell down" and worshipped Him with lavish gifts (Mt 2:2,11).
The message of Christmas is, "God sent His Son to the lowly Earth." The message of Pentecost is, "God seated His Son in the lofty Heaven." If the former initiated so much worship everywhere, how much more the latter should inspire! The foremost ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3b). What the Spirit enabled the disciples to speak out in new languages was "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:4,11). It was pure praise (Acts 10:46). Wherever they were, pathways or pulpits or prisons, the disciples overflowed with praise.
One of the significant contributions of the charismatic movement is the restoration of Spirit-led worship and Spirit-anointed singing to the Church. The fallen tabernacle of David is being rebuilt. Tozerís "missing jewel of evangelical Christianity" is found!
This does not mean that we should throw away all the old forms of worship and embrace new patterns. But there must be "a balance of appeal to the mind, heart and spirit; a balance of order and freedom, structure and flexibility; a balance of liturgy and spontaneity; a balance of the traditional and contemporary; and a balance of solemnity and celebration" (Terry Wardle).
Also, the Holy Spirit is the most powerful Motivator for giving. Look at the voluntariness and spontaneity with which the Spirit-bathed believers pooled their wealth to share with the needy (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:34, 35). By giving us glimpses of eternal glory, the Spirit loosens our grip on earthly gold.
The angel told the shepherds that the News of Bethlehem was good tidings to "all people." And they spread it "widely" (Lk 2:10,17). Simeon testified that the Baby was Godís salvation for "all peoples" and a light to the "Gentiles" (vv 30-32). And Anna began to gossip the gospel with everyone in Jerusalem (v 38).
The very purpose of Pentecost is to give us power and boldness to proclaim the greatest story ever told (Acts 1:8; 4:31). Stamp out all fear and shed down all shyness. Tell every non-Christian neighbour the message of Christmas. Go singing bajjans to non-Christian homes. Present the residents with suitable literature. Stop the unhealthy practice of begging in the name of carol rounds. Arrange special get-togethers and parties for non-Christian friends. Give brief talks and show films to explain why Christ came. Indian Hindus shun Western practices in religion. Be sensitive to their feelings and behave wisely. Make best use of the Season.
When a 85 year old villager was asked whether he had heard about Jesus, he politely requested our missionaries to try in the next village! We are fighting over the details of the Second Coming of Christ, whereas there are millions yet untold about His First Coming. Thereís no news better than the Good News. Thereís no commission greater than the Great Commission. Go and tell everyone that Christ came and is coming again! You will cause "exceedingly great joy!"