Receive or Resist
Robert Wurtz II
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:14-17)
The book of Acts is a breath of fresh air in every chapter. In Luke’s narrative we discover, in the simplest of ways, how the Gospel was preached, what was preached, and how the various people responded. From Jewish leaders to Roman officials; common Samaritans and pagan Greeks, multitudes heard the Gospel. There was no time to get too bogged down in theological debates; things were pretty straight forward. The Apostles preached the word and the people responded. Indeed, the book of Acts contains a God’s eye view of man’s reaction to the message. In this entry I wish to examine two categories of people: they who gladly received the word and they who resisted the Holy Spirit.
You Always Resist
You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. (Acts 7:51-54)
Our first example is taken among the very people that the Gospel was originally sent. Many Jews had already believed, but many had not. Some, such as Saul of Tarsus, were persecuting the Church. He would be present for this sermon.
The Holy Spirit was at work with the preacher to bring to bear the truth of what was spoken. Stephen had preached a powerful message; perhaps one of the greatest of all time. Nevertheless, the people refused to receive what was said, but, rather, continued in the pattern of their fathers- resisting the Holy Spirit and persecuting the messenger. You will notice later in Acts chapter 8 that the thing which characterized they who received the Holy Spirit was that they first received the word of God. This is the key.
In Acts 2 the people were said to have “gladly received the word” and as a consequence were baptized. However, in Acts chapter 7, the people resisted instead of receiving. They resisted Stephen’s preaching and they resisted the Holy Spirit. God was trying to set them right, but they closed their eyes and stopped their ears. We have this passage in Isaiah:
That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. (Isaiah 41:20)
You will recall that part of Paul’s commission was to “open their eyes” so as to turn the people from darkness to light. Paul preached so that “they may see, and know, and understand, and consider…” This is what Stephen had done. At first Paul (Saul) resisted the message and refused to consider. Nevertheless, in time Paul did see and understand. In fact, when we get to Acts 28 he thoroughly explains the process by another reference to Isaiah:
And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Acts 28:25-27)
Will you notice, “their eyes they have closed.” This is an obstinate refusal to recognize the truth of what is preached. Their heart had “waxed gross” or in the language of Hebrews, they had an evil heart of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12) This means that their heart refused to receive what was said and consider it. No matter how much evidence was brought to bear, the people still refused to believe. They needed to be healed of their backsliding and rebellion, but they resisted the one who wanted to come in to them and do the work. One cannot receive the Holy Spirit without agreeing with God’s word and believing on Him. We simply cannot receive and resist at the same time.
Two Types of Hearers
In time the message was almost lost in the main stream as the Church became locked up in the Catholic system. God corrected this in time with the Reformation other great moves of God. Nevertheless, the high-speed evangelistic methods of the early 1900s destroyed nearly 400 years of progress in evangelism and New Covenant, book of Acts, Christianity. When the people refused to receive the word, many ministers changed the message. When this happened with famous preachers, many local ministers followed the trend. this is why it is so rare to hear expounded the basic message of Acts: repent, believe, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit.
It is important to point out that following popular preachers feels like the safe thing to do. It’s an ancient temptation we all must deal with from childhood. How many of us have used the excuse, “Well, everyone is doing it!” – only to have our parents or teachers reply, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do that too?” Moses writing in Exodus 23:2a states,Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil. We have to preach God’s word no matter who likes it. That seems brash, but it is as simple as we can say it. We can’t keep wasting time worrying about offending folks. Rather, we ought to worry about offending God who has given us His word to see clearly. What sense does it make to follow the pattern of the radio and TV guys when the Bible is in our hands? We follow no one beyond their agreement and conformity to the Book. Stephen was gnashed on with the peoples’ teeth, but refused to compromise the message. We have not yet resisted unto blood striving again compromise. But then again, Stephen was genuinely full of the Holy Spirit.
How the people received what was preached was out of Stephen’s control. He knew this. It is not our responsibility to force people. We lay out the message and the response is between the hearer and God. If they receive it, wonderful! If not, Jesus said to wipe the dust from your feet. (Mark 6:11) Paul had to do it at times. Stephen didn’t get a chance. He was killed for merely being the messenger. However, when Philip preached in Acts 8, those people gladly received the very word that the people in Acts 7 rejected and resisted. What can we learn from this?
People Are What They Are
Modern western culture is sales-driven. It has been this way since the early 1900s when central banking came into fashion and money was readily available. Nobody is alive that can remember a time when products were sold strictly on their performance. Today, items are made to appeal to the unconscious desires of consumers. that is how you make sales.
The trouble with this aspect of our consumer driven culture is that sales people have been taught to “land a sale” at almost any cost. People are prepared to stretch the truth, manipulate, appeal to selfish desires, or anything else to “get the sale.” Typically, and more basically, when you want to sell something to a person the goods or services have to appeal to their wants. We need to ask, should this method be employed in the Gospel?
When this consumer philosophy carries over into evangelism the preachers become salesmen and the product is the Gospel. Bill Bright, in the 1950s, actually employed a “crackerjack car salesman” in his training of the four spiritual laws. That sounds almost unbelievable, but it according to his wife, it happened. This is the “billion in print” tract that begins with, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life…” Is that ever said in the book of Acts? Absolutely not, but it is a safe thing to say and in part it is true. Nevertheless, this is not how the Gospel was presented. The problem was that this corruption of evangelism was never challenged in the main stream, so salesman preaching became the norm ever since.
In contrast, the book of Acts reveals that none of the preachers were “crackerjack salesmen.” The Apostles presented the message and God’s requirements, and didn’t worry about landing the sale. Obviously they cared about souls, but they knew that if the message did not change the person- the preacher can’t change the message. Change only flows one direction; and it is towards the hearer.
It is amazing how smooth things go when people “gladly receive the word.” No fuss over repentance and faith. No fuss over water baptism. No fuss over receiving the Holy Spirit. No proof-texting to avoid all of this. Sadly, when the resisting begins – so does the fuss. Many people appeal to reason, the epistles, or even the Old Testament to try and sidestep the straight-forward message of the book of Acts. Repent, believe the Gospel, be baptized in water, and receive the Holy Spirit is the basic package. The ink has been dry for almost 2000 years. Nevertheless, at issue is inward rebellion against God and a refusal to agree with Him and turn from the evil. Man can manufacture excuses like Henry Ford produced automobiles; but God is never at the mercy of excuses. He searches the hearts and knows its true condition.
Why So Many Never Receive
I believe that one of the greatest problems we face in the world today is that people, generally, have no idea how powerful God is. They are blind to the fact that He knows the deepest thoughts and intentions of our hearts; and He cannot be fooled. Many try it and end up empty. They refuse to receive the word and repent; they refuse to receive Christ; they refuse to receive water baptism; and they refuse to receive the Holy Spirit. Indeed they resist the word; they resist Christ; they resist water baptism (as did the Pharisees); and they resist the Holy Spirit. They will receive our fellowship and social activities; they will receive the pop music and singing (and the soulish feelings – believing it is the Holy Spirit); they will receive the aesthetics that feel more and more like the sinful world they enjoy; but they refuse the very reason for our existence. Many are unwittingly trying to fool sinners into feeling and experiencing something that they think is the Holy Spirit. Majestic impressions are not the Holy Spirit; they are emotional impressions. This is the modern consequence of rejecting Romans 12:1-2. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit does not come to bring a feeling- He comes to convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. That is a staggering and sobering consideration.
Two “One Accords”
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. (Acts 8:5-6)
The people in the previous chapter ran upon dear Stephen with one accord in their rejection of his word and their resistance of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, the Samaritans with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake. Both Stephen and Philip worked miracles. What was the difference? It was plainly the people. There was no middle ground. Fortunately things were cut and dry back then. There were no ministers changing up the message to allow a group that resisted the Holy Spirit and rejected the word to join and participate in the church. That would come later. So the question becomes, what line are we in? The new standards of modern times have no authority. They are a smoke screen. We must hold up the mirror of God’s word to our lives. If we were transferred back into Acts 7 and 8; what category of people would we be placed into? Would we run upon the man of God with gnashing teeth; or would we gladly receive the word, repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit? All of the fussing in the world boils down to this reality.
The Blessing of Receiving
The wonderful thing about receiving the word and the promises is that God will leave off convicting of sin and will pour in love, joy, and peace. The operation of the Holy Spirit changes when we stop resisting and finally submit. What an awesome truth! Once the foundation is laid, God wants us to live in a continual flow of His Spirit. The reason why Stephen could endure the violence of the crowd was because he had something the crowd did not have. He was full of the Holy Spirit. Full of love. Full of joy. Full of peace. How? At some point he had to open his eyes and see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this. He had to gladly receive the word; and then receiving the rest was not a fuss.