Scripture: Mark 8:22-36; John 4:3-34; Acts 8:26-38
Leading Question: Who is the Holy Spirit?
In the early centuries of the Christian era, Christians struggled mightily to understand and define the three members of the Godhead. Its main outlines were established by the Council of Nicaea (325) and Council of Constantinople (381). But to this day, the understanding of the Trinity, especially the role of the Holy Spirit, continues to be the subject of lively debate.
The complexity of the doctrine is such that this quip by the English minister, Robert South (1634-1716), seems to have some merit: “Just as denying this fundamental Christian belief could cost you your soul, so trying too hard to understand it could cost you your wits.”
It is not surprising, then, that early Adventist pioneers were not enthusiastic in their support of the traditional doctrine. Both James White (1821-1881) and Uriah Smith (1832-1903), were well-known for their outspoken antipathy to the Trinity. In the Review and Herald for Aug 5, 1852, for example, James White wrote of “that old trinitarian absurdity.” And Uriah Smith, to his dying day, could not affirm the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.
In Adventism in the late 19th century, scepticism about the doctrine of the Trinity remained widespread. LeRoy Froom, in Movement of Destiny (Review and Herald, 1971), noted that after 1888, R. A. Underwood had given several studies on the Holy Spirit as a “Person of the Godhead” at one campmeeting where “the ministers by vote asked him not to speak further on the subject” (p. 266).
But when we turn to Scripture, all those debates over definitions are nowhere to be found. John 14-16 speaks openly of the interplay between Father, Son, and Spirit. Two of the more forceful passages are these: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, NRSV). “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (John 15:26, NRSV).
The other rich source for the work of the Spirit is the book of Acts. The official study guide for Monday notes, “The book of Acts rightly has been called, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
So for practical purposes we will simply understand the Spirit as the active and personal presence of God in the life of God’s people.
Question: What striking examples in the book of Acts illustrate the work of the Spirit in the life of the church?
Stoning of Stephen: “But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55, NRSV).
Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39, NRSV).
Gentiles receive the Spirit: “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:44, 45, NRSV).
Unity at the Jerusalem Conference: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28, 29, NRSV).
Closed door to Asia, open door to Macedonia: “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:6-10, NRSV).
Question: What impressive conversion stories does the book of Acts record?
Lydia: “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us” (Acts 16:14-15, NRSV).
Philippian jailer: “When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (Acts 16:27-34, NRSV).
Dionysius and Damaris of Athens: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34, NRSV).
Crispus and other Corinthians: “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6 When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ 7 Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized” (Acts 18:5-8, NRSV).
Question: How important was it that Philip not only told the story of Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, but linked Jesus’ story with the Old Testament prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53?
Acts 8:26-39 (NRSV): “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”
Comment: Everything discussed in this lesson indicates why the Spirit played such a large role in the experience of the early believers. They most likely did not understand how God was accomplishing his work, but they sensed the mysterious power of God at work and were grateful.