During the Easter season our focus is necessarily on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I would like to ask a simple, yet profound, question, “How do we know for sure that Jesus rose from the dead and lives today?”
An initial response may go something like this, “Christians experience the ongoing presence and reality of the Lord Jesus, alive, with eyes of faith. We see the living Christ present with us and with others.” True.
But, of course, the witness of Scripture is the primary reason we believe that the Lord Jesus was raised and is alive. This is the historical record of those who attest to the reality of the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus after His resurrection. We trust their testimony is true as the Holy Spirit inspired them to recount it.
Let us take a step further into this discussion. If, as we affirm in the Apostles Creed, that Jesus died, rose, and ascended to the Father’s right hand, how can we speak of our personal experience of His ongoing presence and work among us?
We’d like that experience, not as a replacement for faith, of trusting in things unseen, but along the lines of Thomas who himself also wanted to see and touch the resurrected Lord Jesus. Like Thomas, we want to know and experience for ourselves the glory, the beauty, the truth that through His life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has defeated sin, death and the devil.
This actual personal experience is not to replace the need for faith but rather supports the validity of our faith.
Thus, we know and experience that the resurrection of the crucified, truly dead, and buried Jesus is not some figurative, psychological construct of the disappointed disciples, but rather, actual objective reality and historical fact.
The Holy Spirit mediates Jesus’ living presence with us
It is the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus present with us even as Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand.
The Holy Spirit brings us into relationship with Jesus Christ as risen Lord. Our experience of the living Jesus confirms our faith to be based on the objective reality of Jesus’ resurrection as attested to in Scripture.
Indeed, wherever Christians begin to open themselves to the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, their faith in Jesus, what He taught and did, is confirmed through actual experiences. These experiences, in turn, encourage our faith.
When Christians share these experiences of the living Lord with each other, our mutual encouragement builds the Church.
Here then is the inseparable connection between Jesus Christ as the Living Word of God, the Bible as the written Word of God, and the Holy Spirit who confirms the reality of both in our hearts. Attempts to separate these three one from another lead inevitably to lifeless, powerless Christian faith and practice, and ultimately, to heresy, a clear departure from the truth revealed in the Bible.
Teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Chinese and English in Flushing, New York
I recount here one such experience of the Holy Spirit making Jesus present with us.
Just a couple of weeks ago, at the Dunamis project In The Spirit’s Power equipping event for Chinese Christians in Flushing, New York, John Chang and I were teaching through the basics of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this unit of the Dunamis project, we spend most of the time establishing the Biblical foundations of our need for the Holy Spirit’s gifts to empower us in building the Kingdom of God.
On the Saturday afternoon concluding the equipping event, we were teaching on tongues and prophecy.
We believe that tongues are a very good gift to help us pray, but not normative for all Christians. As for prophecy, we emphasize that the Holy Spirit uses prophecy to speak to us today, never as a replacement for the Bible, seldom to foretell the future, but rather to encourage and guide us biblically in following Him.
We also teach on a form of prophesy in which the Holy Spirit invites us to join Him in creating the future. We are careful to draw a sharp distinction between this and fortune telling. This is important in this Chinese context as well as for those in the West infected by the New Age Movement.
Dr. Brad Long and the Rev. John Chang teaching together. Both are fluent in English and Mandarin and tend to take turns as teacher and interpreter.
From Teaching to Practice: Asking the Holy Spirit for the gifts of Tongues and Prophecy.
We taught right up to 5:00pm. Supper was to begin at 6pm. We would have an hour for practice. This lab time turned out to be low-key, even clinical. Everyone was hungry and tired and ready for supper.
There was no time for worship, no energy or space for heightened emotions to be expressed. Somewhat matter-of-factly we asked the Lord to give us the spiritual gifts He knew we needed in order to be faithful witnesses for Him in the particular contexts to which He called and would call us.
After a time, we asked Him specifically for the gifts of tongues and prophecy. We invited the nearly 100 people gathered to come forward to have hands laid on them by members of the leadership team.
Much to my disappointment, I received guidance from the Holy Spirit to step back, move to the role of intercessor, and allow others to lay hands on. I obeyed even though I love to lay hands on people and pray for them to receive gifts of the Holy Spirit!
Clearly, He wanted everyone to know the process is not dependant on the one who lays hands on and prays. It is, indeed, central to PRMI’s teaching that the Holy Spirit anoints whom He will for leadership. Time and time again in such situations, He emphasizes that it is the resurrected Lord Jesus, mediated by the Holy Spirit, who gives the gifts He wants to give. And not us!
Dr. Long and Dr. Chang inviting people forward for prayer to receive the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit wanted to give them to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. Behind them are members of the Team.
As people came forward, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us. It was wonderful! For many people it was the first time they asked to receive the gift of tongues. Still others began to manifest gifts of prophecy. For the most part, these words of prophecy were given to bring encouragement to those around them in that moment.
The Rev. Edwin Richards a powerfully anointed evangelist from Malaysia, laying hands on people. Many received the gift of tongues; some were given prophetic words of encouragement.
An outpouring of the Holy Spirit: Believers exalt Jesus by singing in the Spirit
We were about to break for supper when the Holy Spirit fell upon us all in the most remarkable way: we began to sing in the Spirit. This is what St Paul describes in First Corinthians 14:15.
If you have never had this experience, bear with me. If you have sung in the Spirit, you know how hard it is to describe. The Holy Spirit appears, invisibly, as the conductor, the choir director. He gives people words and melodies to sing. The harmonies are beautiful, unexpected, and divine!
This evening, the Holy Spirit disrupted our dinner hour by calling us into an extended period of praising Jesus. Suddenly, I became aware in the Spirit, that we in the sanctuary were not alone. A heavenly chorus of angels had joined us in exalting the Lord Jesus, the risen, the living, the very present, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
One must always bring to an experience like this what we call the Four Guidelines for Discernment.
- Does the experience give glory to the Lord Jesus?
- Is the experience consistent with Scripture?
- Do others who are filled with the Holy Spirit have a confirming witness?
- Is there objectively verifiable fruit?
In the debriefing that followed, we confirmed a strong yes to all of these questions. We went to dinner, all of us, amazed! We experienced first-hand the Scriptural witness of the living Christ. What we personally experienced was confirmed by the Scriptures: Yes! Hallelujah! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!