Acts 13 records the account of the first deliberately local church-sent missionaries in history. The Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul to the work of worldwide evangelism and called the local church to, quite literally, let them go. They went and—praise God!—the world has never been the same.
But as these men departed from the comforts of their local fellowship, they did not go alone. The text tells us that they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” (v. 4). Of course, when the Holy Spirit sent them, He at the same time went with them. In accordance with the promise of Jesus (Matthew 28:20), these ministers of the gospel did not go alone.
The proof of this is found in the next couple of chapters. As they went and proclaimed the gospel, the Spirit of God used them in a marvellous way as people were converted, disciples were made, churches were established and leadership was appointed. But further, the Spirit of God energised them for the task.
The Holy Spirit is the Great Evangelist, the Erstwhile Exhorter, and the Faithful Exalter of the Lord Jesus Christ. As these missionaries went forth into all the world, they did so, no doubt, being constantly reminded (by the Holy Spirit) of the glory of Christ. This, ultimately, is the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). It was this vision of the omnipotent Christ that motivated these missionaries when they faced conflict after conflict. And it is this Christ-exalting ministry which undergirds what we so commonly refer to as the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Volumes could be (and have been) written on this blessed subject, but for my purpose I simply want to drive home the truth that the Holy Spirit accompanies the believer in his day to day routine of life—and He does so with a view to reminding us of the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1-5). The Holy Spirit moves in our lives to keep us cross-centred so that we might be Christ-consumed. He wants us to treasure Him who is the Treasure. Therefore, the Holy Spirit communes with us to convict us in the light of the cross, so that He might console us through the truth of the cross, with a view to controlling us through the message of the cross, so that we will be conformed to the one who died on the cross. Again, all of these ministries of the Holy Spirit combine to produce what we affectionately embrace as the communion of the Holy Spirit.
When we experience His ministry in this way, we have an increased courage to proclaim the message of the cross, as well as the conviction to embrace the message of the cross. We do not need external aids, for the internal aid of the Spirit is God’s good gift to accomplish this.
Recently I read a blog sent to me from an ex-member of our church. He wrote extolling the benefits of the Crucifix. Here is what he said:
Kneeling before that Crucifix last night, I came to appreciate why the Crucifix is so important, and this is because I suddenly grasped the real message of the Crucifix—and realised that I have missed it. And missing the real message of the Crucifix is the root cause of why we are so prone to take the crucifixes that surround us so for granted.
What is the real message—the real CORE message—of the Crucifix? It is this: God loves us! Three little words—so easy to miss; but also three infinitely immense words—with equally immense consequences: GOD LOVES US!
On the Crucifix we behold that Christ died for us. Why? Because GOD LOVES US!
This is why the Crucifix is so important for ALL Christians—not just Catholics. Sadly, Protestants tend to scorn the Crucifix in favour of an empty Cross because, they claim, the empty Cross tells us not only that Jesus died, but also that He rose again. Because this is true may empty crosses continue to abound! But, what an empty Cross is not able to do is portray God’s love in the way that the Crucifix does. So, may crucifixes abound even more!
I appreciate that he desires to walk in the love of God, and this is the desire of every one who is born again (Romans 5:1-5). But there are a couple of problems with this approach.
First, believers are not dependent upon a piece of art for this. Both the first and second commandments should convince us of this. Rather, the Spirit of God, by means primarily of His Word, is sufficient for the task. And, by the way, neither should Christians be dependent upon empty crosses! Artwork is not necessary as an aid to worship. Aaron would have been in as much trouble had he made a bronze calf or a gold lamb. Anything that skews the biblical priority and biblical portrayal of God is idolatrous. It is not just Roman Catholics who need to be careful of aids to worship.
Second, there is a theological reason behind the historical rationale for an empty cross amongst Protestants. Paul said that it was by the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we who believe in Him are justified (Romans 4:25). Jesus was “raised for our justification.” Therefore an empty cross can portray the gospel as it is: the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus remained dead then there would be no gospel, there would be no experience of the love of God; there would be no communion of the Holy Spirit.
In my earlier days I was a lot more vociferous about crucifixes, but I suppose I have mellowed as my hair has greyed. Nevertheless, I don’t think that “crucifixes abounding” is the solution to the weakness and failures in the church; rather, what we need is a new appreciation for the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We need to appreciate and pursue the blessed communion of the Holy Spirit. It is He who will point us to Christ and to the love of God as demonstrated through Him.
When Barnabas and Saul collided with the false prophet Bar-Jesus in their evangelistic confrontation with Sergius Paulus, it was through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that this man believed, “being astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). In other words, it was not some external aid that convicted this man, but rather the Spirit-empowered gospel. This is always how it is. We don’t need crucifixes or empty crosses. Rather, we need the communion of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who enables the gospel to remain real to those who have experienced it and who subsequently proclaim it. And it is by the same power of the Spirit that those outside such communion are persuaded to believe on the one whom He continues to exalt. May the communion of the Spirit abound even more!