The Holy Spirit’s Power to Change Us

Acts 8:14-17 

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 9:51-56 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  And he sent messengers ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[b]?”  But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

One of the things that we don’t always understand when we read Luke 9:51-56 is the hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. The animosity between the two groups was so great that those traveling between Galilee and southern Judah would purposely travel around the Samaritan territory. And I mean they were willing to add days to their trip just to avoid one another. So, it should be of no surprise that the residents of this Samaritan village refused to welcome these weary Jewish travelers. Jesus, however, held no such animosity toward the Samaritans. The residents of the village, however, had absolutely no problem turning Jesus and his disciples away.

When the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and the disciples, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” weren’t amused. And in true fashion for two dudes with anger issues, they wanted to retaliate.

“Lord,” they said, “do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

Wow, talk about animosity

They wanted to release destruction on this village just because they were turned away and not given lodging and rest for the rest of their journey. 

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

It seems silly to us now, but this was their response. How dare you refuse the King of the Jews! The Messiah! Emanuel! Fine! Be that way! Lord, just say the word and we’ll take care of it! 

The sad reality is that this is often the response that we have today. Oftentimes we get entangled in conversations that get under our skin and get our blood boiling. For the Christ follower this is often when we hear people slandering what we believe, and we go into this “protection mode” thinking that we have to defend God.  We get offended so easily when people of the world reject Him.

When we are rejected or hurt or offended, our initial response might be to hold a grudge or even to retaliate. However, we must remember that judgement belongs to God. We need to allow Hm to handle those who have offended us. Not only do we need to allow God to handle those who oppose us, we need to allow Him to handle those who oppose Him as well.

Believe me, I think God can handle His own affairs.

These two passages in Luke and Acts are connected because we get to see an amazing transformation in the character of Peter and John. In Acts 8, we find Peter and John, being sent to a Samaritan village to see if they had in fact become followers of Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind that up to this point Christians were not sure whether or not it was even possible for a half-Jew or a Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until Peter’s experience with Cornelius in Acts 10 that the apostles were convinced that the Holy Spirit was for everyone to receive.

Typically the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s life at conversion. We call this initial sanctification. However, this event in the Samaritan village was special. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit would happen again with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:44-47, signifying that the Holy Spirit is for Jews, half-Jews and Gentiles alike!

What can we pull out of these two passages?

One could look at these two passages and conclude that the overarching themes boil down to one key word… CHANGE

Photo by Bluehouse Skis on Unsplash

Luke highlights the animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews, a deep hatred that caused them to avoid each other at all costs. In the passage in Luke 9, we deal with rejection, retaliation, and grace. The Samaritans rejected Jesus and His disciples. James and John seek to retaliate, but Jesus shows grace and mercy on the Samaritans by rebuking Peter and John.

In the passage from Acts, Luke paints a picture that is vastly different from the Luke 9 passage.

Here we have Peter and John after they received the Holy Spirit.The Apostles had received reports of a Samaritan village accepting the word of God, so they commissioned Peter and John to go and investigate the situation.

Keep in mind what we know about the Samaritan and Jewish relationship. It was not good, not good at all. So, the fact that these two were sent to Samaria was astounding in itself!

Now, I want to pause here for a moment because I think that there is some significance as to why John went with Peter. John along with his brother, James, wanted to destroy a Samaritan village in Luke 9. There is no proof that these two passages are talking about the same village. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. After all, it was Luke that wrote both accounts.

So, I love that John is chosen to go along with Peter. Could you imagine what might have been going through his head? Surely this can’t be right. It’s a trap. That most definitely might have been the case had they not received the Holy Spirit.

However, I have found that the Holy Spirit has the power to change hearts. To change our perspectives, the way we think and view the world. I believe that the Holy Spirit got a hold of John in such a way that everything about him changed. He went from a Son of Thunder to a Son of Peace.

If we are to understand and believe that the Holy Spirit has the power to change a man known for rage to a man known for love, then it appears to me that John may have gone to that village with a very different perspective than when he and his brother wanted to destroy the Samaritan village that refused to help them back in Luke 9.

This should give us all great encouragement that God can change anyone. James and John wanted to destroy who they thought were their enemies in Luke 9. However, through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, their hearts were changed. This allows John to minister to the people in Samaria, changed and ready to spread the Gospel message to all in need.

The same is true for us today. The same Holy Spirit that filled the early apostles is the same Holy Spirit that fills us today. This same Holy Spirit changes us from sinners to saints and allows us to extend the same grace that has been extended to us.  

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Published by Pastor Garry D. McGlinchy

I am the lead pastor of Culpeper Hope Community Church of the Nazarene in Northern Virginia. I write about my understanding of Scripture and the way that it intersects culture today. As a pastor, I fight for the underdog, those who are often on the margins of society.

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