When Evangelism was Banned – Acts 1:4-5
By: Alistair Brown
(Part in a series in Acts 1.)
There is one time in the New Testament when evangelism was banned. The disciples were told they must not reach out to anyone with the gospel. That sounds so odd, so wrong. Usually people are urged to tell the good news, so when were disciples commanded not to tell?
The answer: after the resurrection but before the gift of the Spirit. Luke reports the ban right at the end of his gospel (Luke 24:49), and he writes about it again in the opening verses of Acts. It’s the same command, but Luke records it in both his books. It must have been important. Why? That is what this study is about.
Acts 1: 4-5
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
I was brought up to believe the good news of Jesus always had to be shared. Any time, any situation, with any person. Paul gave that message to Timothy: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage…” (2 Tim. 4:2). In other words, don’t hold back. Every time you can talk about Jesus is a good time.
It is, but there was something different about the particular time when Jesus told the disciples to wait. Two things had to happen first: one they needed to understand and the other they needed to experience.
1. They had to understand how much they needed God’s power.
St. Andrews in Scotland is often called the Home of Golf. It’s where the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has its headquarters and where the famous Old Course is located, scene of triumphs and disasters for golf pros. And not just for golf pros…
I grew up just a few miles from St. Andrews, and when I was fourteen I entered the St. Andrews Boys Golf Championship. The first round was a qualifying event. You had to do well enough in the qualifier to be allowed into the rest of the tournament.
I arrived with my bag of second hand clubs and wearing an old sweater and golf shoes I had found in a good will store. I was early for my start time so I stood by the first tee watching others begin their rounds. Some were local lads just like me, with no special clothing or expensive equipment, just keen on golf. Then there were the upmarket boys. Most of them had travelled from far away to take part in this tournament and all of them looked like they had visited a golf store on the way where they had bought top of the range clothing and golf clubs. They were intimidating.
Then the Glamor Boy of the upmarket bunch stepped up to the tee. He was much taller than everyone else, a Goliath among pre-adolescent boys. He had immensely broad shoulders and huge arm muscles. What’s more he was immaculately dressed: the best leather golf shoes, neatly pressed trousers, fabulously patterned shirt and a golf cap with an expensive brand name embroidered on it. As if that was not daunting enough, his clubs were top of the range, best of the best, worth a fortune. And even that was not all. He had a caddy. He wanted someone to carry his clubs and tell him the best lines for his shots. No-one else was dressed so well. No-one else had clubs so expensive. And absolutely no-one else had a caddy to guide him round the course. Glamor Boy was in the tournament to impress and to win.
Glamor Boy’s turn came. He looked down the fairway, waggled his driver a few times, the club was drawn back, his body curled, the downswing delivered fantastic power and with an almighty whack the ball was on its way. Off it soared, but after about 75 yards it curved right in a huge slice and sailed over the railway line that ran beside the course. That was out of bounds. Glamor Boy groaned. He’d have to tee-off again. He turned to the caddy who tossed him another ball. He lined up his shot, swished the club and off the ball went. It got 75 yards out, sliced right and that one also disappeared over the railway line. Glamor Boy was very far from pleased.
He got a third ball from the caddy. This time he was very careful setting the ball on the tee, lining up his direction and he made sure his backswing was perfect, the body curl perfect, the downswing perfect and off went the ball and – unbelievably – that third ball soared out only 75 yards before it turned right and flew over the railway line. The caddy threw Glamor Boy a fourth ball. By now the much humbled and humiliated player looked completely distraught. Back went the driver, down it came and off went that ball. This one did not turn right at 75 yards and did not disappear over the railway lines. Why not? Because it didn’t even reach 75 yards. He topped the ball and it trundled along the ground about 30 yards.
Glamor Boy had thought he’d be at least 250 yards down the fairway after one shot. Instead his ball had gone just 30 yards and he had scored 7 to get there. Despite his expensive clothing, his expensive golf clubs and his expensive caddy, he was doomed to failure before he’d finished just one hole. He had everything except the one thing he needed: ability to play the game.
The disciples Jesus was speaking to had everything but the one thing they needed: the power of the Holy Spirit.
They knew Jesus and his teaching.
They’d seen many, many miracles done.
They understood the message and the mission of taking it to the world
They realized they’d be challenging the established religious views.
They knew they might suffer for their faith and witness.
They were ready. Except, they weren’t.
They needed to understand exactly that. They were not ready. Something had to happen first. There was something they needed to experience.
2. They needed to experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
These apostles could not do one miracle.
They could not cast out one demon.
They could not remove one sin.
They could not give eternal life to one person.
Only God could do any of these things. They needed his power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
The reason they had to wait at that moment was because Jesus was saying: “In your own strength you cannot and must not set off to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt 28: 18-20) to make disciples of all people. You have no skill and you have no power to change anyone’s eternal destiny. So – wait! …wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And when the power of the Holy Spirit floods your lives, then everything I have asked of you will be possible.”
Two things specifically are being said here about the Holy Spirit.
First, the Spirit is a gift to Christians. Jesus told them this was a gift promised by his Father. The Spirit cannot be bought, cannot be earned, cannot be deserved. The Spirit is a gift given by a generous God to those who belong to his family.
That runs counter to the way our minds work. Surely, we think, I need to be a very holy and good Christian before I could have the Spirit’s power. Or, I need to have a deep faith or be really close to God before the Spirit will fill my life.
In the few years I worked in journalism, I moved from covering small stories to large ones and eventually to major front page lead stories. As I got better, my responsibilities increased. The news editor recognized I had some talent. But what was the biggest sign of success? They put me on the late shift. I know that doesn’t sound like promotion or reward but it was. I went on a rota for the 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. duty and I could not have been more pleased. The reason? It was a huge sign of trust because on any particular night only one journalist worked that shift and if a story broke late there was no-one except that journalist to report on it. That would be me. Being put on that shift meant I had proved myself and they believed in me. I got to join the 8-2-3 club, the elite group who covered the news at night. I’d earned it by good work.
Too easily we think like that about spiritual progress, as if God will not use us unless we prove that we’re worthy. As if God will not invest in us without evidence he’ll get a return. As if the Spirit is given only to super saints.
That is not God’s way. The Spirit is a gift. We could never be holy enough to earn the Spirit because we could never be holy at all without the Spirit. Only with the Spirit can we truly do good and do God’s work. The coming of the Spirit has nothing to do with reward, nothing to do with proving ourselves, and nothing to do with first class spirituality. God blesses all his children with a gift, the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Second, the promise is of immersion in the Holy Spirit. “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said.
The Greek word ‘baptize’ was not necessarily a religious word, and it was used in ancient times for a ship sunk at sea. The idea of someone being sunk by their baptism may not sound encouraging, but the word did carry that sense of ‘submerge’ or ‘immerse’. So, these disciples were not being told they would have a light sprinkling with the Spirit but a waterfall experience. They would be deluged, soaked through and through, and therefore transformed by the Spirit.
When our daughters were small we moved home and the girls went to a different school. That school had a uniform, and now they needed green shirts instead of the white shirts they’d worn to the previous school. Alison and I had so little money in those days we could not afford to buy new shirts for them. Alison is very resourceful, and she bought green dye. She filled the bath, put in the dye, and soaked the girls’ white shirts overnight in dye in the bath.
You may expect a horror story from this. But there isn’t. Those shirts stayed in the dye until the green had permeated every fiber and they were changed, permanently changed. Our girls went to school in green shirts like everyone else.
Christians aren’t just touched by the Spirit, we’re baptized. We’re not just influenced by the Spirit, we’re transformed by the Spirit. Every part of us is impregnated by the Spirit. Our thinking, our purposes, our standards, our relationships, all changed. Our use of time, our money, our gifts, our minds, our voices, all changed. Paul said we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), and we certainly are because God baptizes us with his Spirit. We have stood under the Niagara of his Spirit and we are drenched through and through.
So there was a time when evangelism was banned! At the very beginning of God’s work through the first Christians, Jesus told them to “wait.” They needed to understand how much they needed God’s power. They could never do God’s work in their strength. And they needed to experience their lives flooded with the Holy Spirit – life changing for them and, eventually, destiny changing for all those they would reach with the good news. The Spirit was worth the wait.
 This baptism with the Holy Spirit had been promised before. Each of the first three gospels records John the Baptist prophesying Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)