The Trap of Experience & the Testimony of Evidence

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of Jesus Christ which is the church as written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses nineteen through thirty of the eleventh chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the eleventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts drawing to a close and the beloved physician Luke bringing a chapter to a close where Thea pestle Peter stood before the apostles and a number of the circumcision in Judaea concerning the events which had taken place in Caeseara. I have to admit that this passage is quite intriguing and quite captivating, for within it you will find the apostle Peter returning to the city of Jerusalem and to the church and brethren which were there and finding them contending with him concerning the events which had taken place in Caeseara. If you turn and direct your attention to the previous chapter of this book you will find that one of the most extraordinary turning points in the history of the early church—quite honestly within the history of the church throughout history as a whole—taking place, as the apostle Peter was led by the Spirit from Joppa to Caeserea. It’s quite interesting and worth noting that the apostle Peter had been to Caeserea before while walking with and following Jesus the Christ, and yet this time he was not heading there because he was walking with and following the physical person of Jesus the Christ, but because of the leading of the very Spirit of Jesus the Christ. Pause for a moment and consider that reality, for it’s quite interesting to think about and consider the fact that the apostle Peter had been to Caeserea previously while walking with and following Jesus the Christ, and now here he was being led back to Caeserea by the very Spirit which Jesus the Christ promised without even knowing and understanding what it was that he was actually being led to do. I have to ask if this isn’t something the very Spirit of Jesus the Christ would do within our hearts and lives—namely, lead us into places and leading us unto places without our fully understanding or comprehending that which we are actually being led to do. Haven’t there been times within your life where you have found yourself being led by the very Spirit of Jesus the Christ, and while following that leading and while listening to that voice within your spirit you have absolutely no clue where you are going or what you are doing? Haven’t there been times when you have followed the leading of the Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ, and in all reality you have done so in what appears to be a blind manner and blind fashion as you were provided absolutely no notice or instruction as to what you are being called or asked to do? What is found within the tenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is a truly remarkable picture of the Spirit of the living God working in two distinct places and within two different individuals which would otherwise have had no dealings or interactions. In fact, I would invite you to consider just how the Spirit of the living God worked within the life of the apostle Peter while he was lodging at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa, and how an angel of the Lord had appeared unto and visited Cornelius the Roman centurion from the band known as the Italian band:

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave mush alms to the people, and prayed to God always. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and called for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodge the with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually: and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:1-8).

“On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have taken: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; Kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord: for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven” (Acts 10:9-16).

If you continue reading the account which is found written in the tenth chapter of this New Testament book of Acts you will encounter and come face to face with the fact that while the apostle Peter doubted in himself what the vision he had received meant, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. Those men whom Cornelius had sent unto Joppa to the house of Simon the tanner had come to the gate and asked if Simon called Peter was there, and while Peter was still thinking upon the vision the Spirit said unto him how there were three men who sought him. What’s more, is the Spirit would go on to instruct the apostle Peter to arise and get himself down, and go with them, doubting nothing, for He had in fact sent them. Being obedient to the voice of the Spirit and that which the Holy Spirit had spoken unto and instructed him, the apostle Peter went down unto the men which were sent from Cornelius and asked them for what purpose and what cause they had come. Upon hearing the question of the apostle Peter those men who had been sent by Cornelius declared unto him how Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feared God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, and warned from God by an holy angel to send for him into this house, and to hear the word which he had spoken. After hearing that which these men had spoken unto him Peter invited these men in to the home where he was staying and lodged them for the night before departing with them the next to make their way unto Caesarea where he would meet with Cornelius according to the instruction of the Spirit, as well as the word and report of the men which had been sent unto him. I feel the great need to highlight one of the things which were spoken concerning this centurion named Cornelius and how the men who were sent unto Peter made a very specific declaration that coincidentally reveal the identity of this centurion as the same centurion which Jesus encountered while He walked upon the earth. In the previous treatise which the beloved physician Luke wrote concerning the life, the ministry and the gospel of Jesus the Christ, he wrote and recorded in the seventh chapter of the book how a Roman centurion had sent certain of the elders of the Jews unto Jesus to entreat Him to come unto his home and heal his servant who lie sick of the palsy and was on the verge of death. When the elders of the Jews who had been sent unto Jesus had come unto Him you will notice two very didst cat realities which they spoke unto Him—the first being that this man had built a synagogue for the Jews, and how he loved the nation of the Jews. In the seventh chapter of the gospel which was written by Luke you will find him writing concerning the centurion how he was loved by the nation of the Jews, and how he had built for them a synagogue, while in the tenth chapter of the book of Acts you will find the servants of Cornelius declaring unto Peter how this centurion Cornelius was of good report among all the nation of the Jews, and was one that was a just man and feared the living God. Oh, the more I think about and consider this centurion found within the book of Acts the more I can’t help but think about and consider the fact that it was his initial interaction with Jesus the Christ having healed his servant that helped strengthen his faith, and while he did not feel he was worthy to heave Christ come under his roof, this was not the case in the book of Acts when one of Jesus the Christ’s own apostles would come under his roof, and one whom he was not expecting also entered into his home and came under his roof—namely, the very Spirit of Jesus the Christ which was sent by Jesus from the right hand of the Father.

I full recognize and realize that what we find and what we read in the final verses of the eleventh chapter are completely separate and independent from that which we find in those opening verses of the chapter—even from that which we find in the previous chapter—however, I can’t help but be confronted with and by the fact that while Scripture doesn’t explicitly state and declare that Cornelius the centurion in the book of Acts is the same centurion who was mentioned in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, I would dare state that based on what I find before me in each of these gospels, as well as that which I find in the book of Acts, it is quite likely and very much possible that this centurion who was not mentioned by name in the gospels was the same centurion who was mentioned by name in the book of Acts. What’s more, is that I would dare say that it would be just like Jesus the Christ to commend the faith of this centurion while He Himself walked upon the earth, and would ultimately heal his servant who lie at home sick of the palsy and on the verge of death, and when the Holy Spirit would be released within and upon the earth would make His way unto the house and home of this centurion. In the gospel which was written by the beloved physician Luke we find that Jesus entered into Capernaum, and how it was while Jesus was in this town that a certain centurion’s servant who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. When this centurion heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that he would come and heal his servant. When those who were sent by this centurion came unto Jesus, the besought Him that He would come and heal his servant, for this man was worthy to have this done, for he loved the nation of the Jews, and even built for them a synagogue. As I sit here this morning I can’t help but think to myself and consider how absolutely remarkable and wonderful it would be for this centurion who loved the nation of the Jews, and who built them a synagogue would find healing for his servant because of his faith, and how as a direct result of the healing of his servant he would faithfully serve the living God for the rest of his days. What’s more, is that it would be just like the Spirit of Jesus the Christ to highlight this centurion when He came upon the earth in order that He might come into him, come under his roof, fall upon both he and all his household, and fill them each with His presence, His person and His power. What might very well have began with an invitation given unto Jesus to come unto him and to come under his roof to heal his servant would ultimately and eventually culminate in one of Jesus’ apostles coming under the roof, speaking and preaching the word concerning Jesus the Christ, and while the apostle Peter was still speaking the word, the Spirit of Jesus the Christ would fall in that place, would completely fill each and every one in the house, and would baptize them with the evidence of speaking with other tongues and praising God. It’s interesting to think about and consider the fact that while Jesus the Christ might not have come under the roof of this centurion while He walked upon the earth, one of His own apostles would enter in and come under the roof and would be joined by the very Spirit of Jesus the Christ which was sent from the right hand of the Father.

That which we find and that which we read in the eleventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is centered upon the apostle Peter, his entering into the house of the uncircumcised, and how it was unlawful for Jews to enter into the home or keep company with those who were unclean. Much of the eleventh chapter centered upon the apostle Peter having his actions initially called into question after the apostles and many of the circumcised heard how the word of God had been preached unto Gentiles, and how the Spirit had fallen upon those who weren’t of the circumcision and weren’t of the promise which was given unto the Jews. In the tenth chapter we find that while the apostle Peter was speaking unto Cornelius and all his household the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word, and those of the circumcision believed and were astonished, because upon on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. They were astonished—not only because the Holy Ghost had fallen upon Gentiles, but also because they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Oh pause for a moment and think about what this sight must have been like for the apostle Peter and those compassions who had traveled with him as they not only witnessed and beheld the Holy Ghost fall upon Cornelius and his entire household, but also as they spoke with other tongues and magnified the living God. Up until that moment in time the Holy Ghost had only fallen upon Jews and those of the circumcision, and yet what we find here is the Holy Ghost not falling upon Jews and those of the circumcision, but falling upon Gentiles and those who were considered to be outside of the promises given unto the Jews. Up until this moment the promise of the Father which was the person and presence of the Holy Ghost was perceived as being available only unto the Jews, however, when the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and his entire household and enabled them to speak with other tongues and magnify the living God, it was made evident and clear that the Holy Ghost was not solely for the Jews alone, but would be for the Gentiles. In all reality, this follows a pattern that is found within the book of the Acts, for within the book of Acts you will find the Holy Ghost initially coming upon the one-hundred and twenty who were present in the upper room, and how He had baptized them all, filled them all, and enabled them to speak with other tongues and magnify the living God. Even though the Holy Ghost would enter into that upper room and fill those one hundred and twenty who were present within that room, the Holy Ghost would not remain there in the upper room, as the Spirit would emerge from the upper room and would begin to move within and throughout the city of Jerusalem. When the great persecution broke out against the Christians and followers of the way in the city of Jerusalem, the Jews would be scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria, thus signifying that not only was the gospel never intended on remaining in Jerusalem alone, but neither was the manifestation of the person, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to the eleventh chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea hearing that the Gentiles had also received the word of God, and when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with Peter speaking unto him of his going in unto the uncircumcised and did eat with them. Upon hearing their contention with him concerning his actions the apostle Peter rehearsed unto them everything that had happened there in Caesarea from the vision he had received from the Lord, to the angel appearing unto Cornelius, to the Spirit instructing him to go with the men who had come to Joppa to seek him out, and how he had preached the word concerning Jesus the Christ unto Cornelius and unto his entire household. What I find to be so absolutely remarkable when considering the dialogue the apostle Peter had with the apostles, the brethren and those which were of the circumcision is that while it was unlawful and while it was considered common and unclean to enter into the house of an uncircumcised, and even to eat with them, it was not so for the Holy Ghost who was not limited and bound by the same rules, regulations, limitations and restrictions. THE HOLY GHOST HAS NO RESTRICTIONS! THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS NO BORDERS! THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS NO BOUNDARIES! THE HOLY SPIRIT DOESN’T OPERATE WITHIN OUR RULES! If there is one thing I can’t help but notice when reading the words which are found within this passage of Scripture, it’s that while it might have been considered unlawful for the apostle Peter who was a Jew and of the circumcision to enter into the house of a Gentile and those who were uncircumcised, this was not so concerning the Holy Ghost. One of the greatest realities I love about this passage of Scripture is that while it was possible to question the actions—and even the motives of the apostle Peter—it was not so of the Holy Ghost. As surely as those of the circumcision could and would question the actions of the apostle Peter, there was not a single one of the circumcision who would dare call into question the actions, the motives and the work of the Holy Ghost. While it would be easy to question the actions, the motives, and even the intentions of man, there would not be a single one who would dare make any attempt to question the works, the actions, the motives and the desires of the Holy Ghost. What I so love and what I so appreciate within this eleventh chapter is what you don’t find and what you won’t find within it—namely, those of the circumcision calling into question the actions, the movement and the work of the Holy Ghost. Undoubtedly they heard how the apostle Peter had entered into the home of the uncircumcised, how he ate with them, and how the word of God was preached unto them, but as surely and as much as they would contend with him concerning his actions, there was not a single one among them who would dare contend with the Holy Ghost and call His actions and His work into question.

I sit here this morning and I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with and by the fact that what we find in the tenth chapter, and what we find being rehearsed in the eleventh chapter is a wonderful and powerful declaration that the Holy Ghost does not operate within our predetermined and preconceived borders, boundaries, rules, limitations and expectations. Up until this point in time the Holy Ghost appeared and seemed to be available only unto the Jews and those of the circumcision, and yet what took place within the town of Caesarea revealed the awesome and incredible reality that not only would the word of God be preached and delivered unto Gentiles and the uncircumcised, but so also would the Holy Ghost fall upon and be manifested among Gentiles and those who weren’t of the circumcision. How absolutely wonderful it truly is to think about and consider the fact that while the apostle Peer agreed to go with the men whom Cornelius had sent, he had absolutely no idea what was in store for him, he had absolutely no clue what was in store for Cornelius and his entire household, and he had absolutely no clue what the Holy Ghost was up to and would do underneath that roof and in that household. Unbeknownst unto the apostle Peter when he entered into the home and came under the roof of Cornelius the centurion the Holy Ghost would fall upon each of them who were Gentiles and would enable them to speak with other tongues and magnify the living God. Oh how I am completely and absolutely fascinated with and by the fact that while those of the circumcision contended with the apostle Peter because of his going in unto those who weren’t of the circumcision—ultimately and inevitably they would have to relent and recognize that not only had the word of God been preached unto the Gentiles, but the gift and promise of the Holy Ghost would also be made available unto the Gentiles and those who weren’t of the circumcision. How absolutely wonderful it is to think about and consider the fact that what is highlighted in this passage of Scripture—though it is not expressly or implicitly stated and spoken of—is that the Holy Ghost could do whatever He wanted to do, and did not need mans’ approval. Please note that I am not in any way seeking to suggest that the Holy Spirit is ultimately his heavenly rebel who continually goes about doing that which is outside of the framework and context of man, but rather that the Holy Spirit is one hundred percent God and has full and complete authority within and upon the earth. Jesus the Christ was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God while He walked upon the earth for thirty-three and a half years, and now in His absence the Holy Ghost is the divine manifestation of the person and presence of Jesus the Christ, and is the ultimate expression of the authority, the power, and the might of the living God upon the earth.

By the time you come to the end of the interaction between the apostle Peter and those of the circumcision you will find that when they heard the words which Peter had spoken unto them, they held their peace, and glorified God declaring that God had also granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life. What’s more, is that one of the final statements the apostle Peter made to those of the circumcision was one which I am convinced each and every saint of God, and each and every follower of Jesus the Christ desperately needs to recognize and understand—namely, who are we that we can withstand and contend with God. Despite our futile attempts to contend with God and to somehow resist His authority, His power, and His will and purposes—in the end it is absolutely pointless and impossible to contend with the living God. Even when Saul was on the ground blinded by the glory of God and the light surrounding Jesus the Christ, it was declared unto him that it was hard for him to kick against the pricks. In that encounter between Saul and Jesus you are met with two distinct realities—namely that it was ultimately Jesus whom Saul was persecuting, and also that it was Saul who was resisting the authority and power of the living God. What we find in the eleventh chapter of the book of Acts is the apostle Peter declaring unto those of the circumcision that he was not one who would or even should contend with God and make any attempt to stand in the way of what he was doing. In all reality, I have to admit that I absolutely love how the Holy Spirit worked in the previous chapter, for first the Holy Spirit spoke unto Peter while he was still in Joppa at the house of Simon the tanner, and then once Peter was in the house and under the roof of Cornelius the centurion, the Holy Spirit would fall upon those who weren’t of the circumcision and those who weren’t initially and originally of the promise. Perhaps one of the most incredible and unbelievable realities found within the tenth and eleventh chapters of the book of Acts is that the Holy Spirit can indeed and can in fact do whatever He wants to do, and that the Holy Spirit can and will move however, whenever and wherever He wants. The Holy Spirit did not need to appear in Jerusalem and ask for approval or permission to go in unto the Gentiles, and even to fall upon and fill the Gentiles, thus causing them to be filled with His presence and His power. The Holy Ghost did not hold a council or session with the early church to determine and decide if it was good and wise to fall upon the Gentiles and those who weren’t of the circumcision, but instead simply manifested Himself unto the Gentiles, fell upon all those in the house of Cornelius, and enabled them to speak with other tongues and magnify the living God. What we find within the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit falling upon men and women, filling them and causing them to speak with other tongues, and now we find the Holy Ghost doing the same thing among the Gentiles as well. Thus, not only would the Holy Spirit not stay and remain in the upper room, not only would the Holy Spirit not stay and remain in the city of Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit would also not remain among the Jews themselves, for He would fall upon Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and his entire household. As you will later see within the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit would move beyond even Judaea and Samaria and would fall upon those who in the city of Ephesus as well. Thus, the Holy Spirit would transcend the borders and boundaries of Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria, and would ultimately be manifested among Jews and Gentiles alike outside of those borders and boundaries.

When you come to the nineteenth verse of the eleventh chapter you will find the beloved physician Luke seeming to shift gears and speaking of all those of the way who were scattered abroad as a result of the great persecution which broke out in Jerusalem after Stephen was stoned to death and martyred outside the city. What you find when you come to these final verses of the eleventh chapter is those of the way traveling and journeying as far as Antioch and speaking unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. The beloved physician Luke writes how the hand of the Lord was with those who were in Antioch, and how a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Ultimately report and the tidings of those who believed in Antioch would come unto the church which was in Jerusalem, and they sent forth Barnabas who would make the journey and come as far as Antioch. Barnabas—upon coming unto Antioch and seeing the grace of God which was manifested there—would be exceeding glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. What I so appreciate within this passage of Scripture is not only that the hand of the Lord was upon the disciples and followers of the way who came unto Antioch to preach the word, but also that Luke makes some incredibly powerful statements concerning Barnabas himself. Within these verses we find and read concerning Barnabas how he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and how many people were added unto the Lord as a direct result of the ministry he was given there in Antioch. Oh please don’t miss that which is spoken of concerning Barnabas, for it is now spoken of concerning Barnabas that which was spoken concerning Stephen, for we now learn and discover Barnabas to be a man full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost. This further confirms the reality of being filled with and being indwelt by the Spirit of the living God is as much an evidence as it is an experience. It is possible that we spend so much time and emphasis on being filled with the Holy Spirit as an experience that we oftentimes neglect and miss the fact that as much as being filled with the Holy Spirit is an experience within our lives, it must transcend experience alone and must move into the realm of evidence, witness and testimony. What we find written concerning Barnabas is now the second mention in the book of Acts of one of the followers of the way being filled with and full of the Holy Ghost, and we also learn that the seven deacons which were chosen, ordained and appointed by the apostles were full of the Holy Ghost. If and when we read the book of the Acts of the apostles we must come face to face with the fact that being filled with the Holy Ghost is an experience which we may very well have within our lives, however experience has its limitations and in all reality only goes so far. There are countless men and women who brag and boast of experience—particularly and especially when it comes to the movement, the ministry and the manifestation of the Holy Ghost—and yet experience in and of itself is only part of the ultimate picture and reality. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—what good is experience if that experience doesn’t yield to and lead to evidence, witness and testimony within your heart and life? What good is speaking of experiences within your life and yet there is absolutely no physical and tangible evidence that supports the experience?

THE EVIDENCE THAT SUPPORTS THE EXPERIENCE! I am sitting here this morning and I can’t help but be absolutely captivated with and by the fact that as certainly and as surely as we would like to brag and boast of experience within our lives—even if those experiences were in fact truly wonderful and remarkable—we must not allow ourselves to get caught up in the trap of experience versus the evidence and manifestation of witness and testimony. THE TRAP OF EXPERIENCE! In all reality, I would dare say that experience and experiences can sometimes be a trap we face within our lives as we can get so caught up in experiences and boasting and speaking of experiences that we never take the time to transcend experience and actually have a tangible and real evidence of such an experience. There is not a doubt in my mind that Barnabas could be spoken of as a man full of faith—and even as a good man—because of the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the evidence of being filled with and full of the Holy Ghost. Oh I do believe there is an initial experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, however, I am completely and utterly convinced that experience in and of itself is not and has never been enough, and must be joined together with a physical, tangible and real evidence of that experience, as well as a continued experience and encounter with being filled with the Holy Spirit. When I read of Barnabas being full of the Holy Ghost, and when I read of Stephen being full of the Holy Ghost, I can’t help but come face to face with the fact that yes there is an initial filling of the Holy Spirit, however, there is a subsequent work of continuing to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I do believe that the Holy Spirit falls upon us initially, and I do believe that the Holy Spirit fills us initially, however, I also believe that the more we walk with the Lord and the more we worship and serve Him, the more we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Ghost. What’s more, is that I absolutely love how it’s written of Barnabas and Stephen that they were full of the Holy Ghost, for it suggests that there was absolutely nothing lacking within their experience with the Holy Spirit, and that they each continued to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There is not a doubt in my mind that if we are going to truly be full of the Holy Ghost it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we continue being filled with the Holy Ghost. There is an initial experience of being filled with the Holy Ghost, however, with each day we walk with and serve the Lord there must be a continual experience of being filled with the Holy Ghost, for we cannot truly state and declare we are full of the Holy Ghost if we don’t continually come to the source. Much like one who visit a well daily, or even weekly to draw water for themselves, so also we must continually come to the source in order that we might be filled and continue to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Oh that our being filled with and our being full of the Holy Ghost would transcend mere experience, and would actually enter into the realm of evidence as that which is both a witness and testimony within our hearts and lives.

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