In the first reading, we read that “the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect.” How did the early apostles witness to the Risen Lord with great power? They did so only in the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, St Paul wrote, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:4f)
Only with the Holy Spirit could the apostles testify with such conviction and power. This is why in the gospel, Jesus spoke about the need to be born again. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn 3:5f) Without the Holy Spirit, witnessing would be without power. This was why the Lord told the disciples after His resurrection, “to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:4f) The truth is that even though they saw the Risen Lord, it was not enough for them to be powerful witnesses to the resurrection; not until they received the Holy Spirit.
Why the necessity of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, we speak only about what we know and witness only to what we have seen and yet you people reject our evidence. If you do not believe me when I speak about things in this world, how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?” We can only be witnesses to what we see and hear. So how can we speak of things beyond this world, a life after death unless this is revealed to us? This explains why St Paul remarked that “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:8-11)
Indeed, the Holy Spirit is able to touch hearts, enlighten minds and change lives. He is the power of God. Jesus said, “You must be born from above. The wind blows wherever it pleases; you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, like the wind, is beyond human calculation. The Holy Spirit has the sovereignty of God’s freedom and power to act when and where He likes. No one can control, preempt or dictate how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.
Firstly, the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. He is the One who enlightens our minds to understand who Christ is. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads us to Jesus. Jesus promised the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:25f) Unless our intellect is enlightened, we will lack conviction of Christ’s resurrection. The Holy Spirit reveals to us that Christ is our Lord. As Jesus said, “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” Jesus is the Revealer of who God is.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit empowers the apostles to preach the gospel with power. They were able to convince their listeners and touch their hearts because of the Holy Spirit. We read that when St Peter preached the first sermon after Pentecost, “they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37) That day, “those who received his word were baptized” and three thousand souls were converted. We cannot proclaim the resurrection of the Lord with power unless we share the same Spirit of the Lord. Only when the Spirit of the Risen Christ is in us can we then testify with power and utter conviction His resurrection, just as the apostles did.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit not only empowered the apostles to preach the gospel with conviction but with courage. Before the reception of the Holy Spirit, they were hiding in the Upper Room for fear of their enemies. But the fear left them and they were not afraid to testify to the Lord even in the face of opposition from the Jewish authorities. They were arrested and put in prison but they remained undeterred. Before the Sanhedrin, Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19f) What was significant was this observation of the Sanhedrin. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) And on that day, because of the fortitude of witnessing, “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4)
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to do what Jesus did as He promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (Jn 14:12-14) True enough, we read that “many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” (Acts 5:12) “The people held them in high honor. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:13-16)
Most of all, it was the Holy Spirit that transformed the apostles to live selfless lives in service to the Lord and His people. Before the resurrection, they were seeking power, glory and wealth. After encountering the Risen Lord and receiving His Holy Spirit, they were detached from the world and lived only for Christ. The people, inspired by the selflessness of the apostles, gave them great respect. They imitated the apostles in their life of charity. Therefore, “the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul. No one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common. None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.”
If we desire to be true and effective witnesses to the Risen Lord, we must do likewise. We must begin by surrendering in faith to the Risen Lord. Jesus said, “the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” By contemplating on His passion, death and resurrection, we will find the intellectual capacity to submit in faith and obedience to Christ. Faith in Christ is the gateway to the reception of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism. St Peter told the crowd, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, the condition to receive the Holy Spirit is obedience to the Lord. (cf Acts 2:38)
Finally, to proclaim the resurrection of the Lord with power, we need to stay in union with the Christian community as the early Christians did. We cannot witness to the Lord alone but together with the support of our fellow Christians. Being united in heart and mind is the key to mission. This is why St John Paul II underscored many times in his teaching that “Communion with Jesus, which gives rise to the communion of Christians among themselves, is the indispensable condition for bearing fruit; and communion with others, which is the gift of Christ and his Spirit, is the most magnificent fruit that the branches can give. In this sense, communion and mission are inseparably connected. They interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, so that ‘communion represents both the source and fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion’”. (Church In Asia, 24)