Sunday, May 19, 2013

Acts 1:1-11 "The Holy Spirit has Come to Empower us for Effective Witness "

50 days  after Easter, and now more than 2000 years  ago,   our Sovereign God  does the next  thing on His divine agenda.  Following the ascension of  Christ, the Holy Spirit  is outpoured  in this world. This  is the biblical fulfillment of   what the prophet Joel had announced in  Chapter  2:28-29. It is also the fulfillment of the  promise which Jesus gave to His disciples  in John 14 & 16, and also here in Acts 1:4,8.

Today is  Pentecost Sunday. This is the day on which the church worldwide remembers   the coming of the Holy Spirit. The  actual event is described in  Acts 2, but  for the purpose of this morning’s meditation, I wish to draw your attention to the first eleven verses of Acts  Chapter 1  in which the Lord Jesus prepares the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is important information, for here He tells  them what   the primary  reason  for the Spirit’s coming will be.

The Holy Spirit  will be doing a number of  things in the world  and  through the church. He  is  the church’s Helper; He is the church’s  Counselor; He  is the One who convicts the world of sin.[1]   He reminds  us  of what Christ has taught, and He  is the One  who opens our eyes to finally see Christ for who He is. The fruitfulness of  every  Christian is due to His work in their  lives.  He gives spiritual gifts   which lead to effective service, but His primary objective will be  to  empower   the disciples  to  be effective witnesses to the glory of God. He empowers believers  to be  effective  witnesses  concerning the  person of Jesus  and His saving  work  in the world. If this is His primary objective, then  this  will also determine  our  understanding of His work in the world. It will  influence  our perspective of the Holy Spirit. I say perspective, because one  of the  great mistakes following the  so called  Pentecostal and Charismatic  renewal  of the  mid and late 20th century  was   to  focus almost exclusively upon secondary aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Take for instance the gifts of the Spirit.  For many years  the church was led to believe  that the focus  for the renewal of the church should be placed  upon   a rediscovery  of  the  spiritual gifts, and this  through endless spiritual gifts workshops and  laying on of hands to receive  spiritual gifts etc.   Much spiritual energy was wasted here, for the  truth is  that Holy Spirit is the Sovereign Dispenser of  spiritual gifts . If you  have been  born again, then you have been spiritually gifted. That is axiomatic. If you do not know what  your spiritual gift is  then serve  the Lord Jesus in the Church you will soon discover what  your spiritual gifts are. They will make a  difference to the body of Christ. 

Moreover this emphasis of the gifts of the Spirit was usually coupled  to   an experience  called the baptism ‘in’  or ‘with’ the Holy Spirit,  of which the sign and seal  (it was said)  was  the speaking in tongues. Thus, the desire for spiritual gifts and  the experience of the  so called baptism in the Holy Spirit became  an all - consuming passion (and, dare one say)  a self centered passion for many at that time. This misplaced emphasis  began to subtly  replace  the focus on the missionary agency  of the Holy Spirit who was  sent by Christ to equip  His disciples with power to witness to Christ.  We need to remember that ultimately all the spiritual gifts exist to glorify God  through the growth of the kingdom of God . The kingdom of God grows as  we   do our work as witnesses in the world. With this in mind,  let us go  back to Acts 1 : 1-11   and  confirm this.

The book of Acts  begins with  Jesus giving His final instructions to His disciples  after  His  resurrection  and just  before His ascension. Take note of the  following facts:  
1. Jesus must leave  before the Holy Spirit comes. 
2. The apostles and the church must wait  for the empowerment  (baptism) with  the  Holy Spirit  before they can do anything (v.4).  
3. The  church will  be  empowered by the Holy Spirit  to be witnesses  of   Christ to the whole world, beginning in Jerusalem  (vv.6-8)  
4. The church needs to stop daydreaming and get on with its witness (vv. 9 – 11)

But the key issue is  this: The  disciples (the church) need to be empowered  by the  Holy Spirit  to  be  effective witnesses of Christ   to the world. 

The key text to this end is  verse 8:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you , and you will be  my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea  and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So, Jesus  not  only summarizes  the essence of the   work of the Holy Spirit (i.e.  empowering  His disciples to be  witnesses in the whole world), but  He also summarizes  the  essence of the work that He has given His disciples “you will be my witnesses”. This helps us to see that the Holy Spirit is a missionary spirit and that   Christian disciples  are a missionary people.  These are the two primary observations I want to consider now with you  in a little more detail:

1.       The Holy Spirit is  essentially a Missionary Spirit

Whatever  we learn about the ministry of the  Holy Spirit in the  New Testament  must be seen against  His primary  objective – to empower Christian  disciples  to be effective  witnesses to Christ. That means that His role as Helper,  Teacher, Counselor and the  Giver of Gifts  must be seen  against  the background  of  this primary objective.  He helps, teaches, counsels us to be better witnesses. He gives  us spiritual gifts  ultimately  for the purpose of being more effective witnesses  for  Jesus.

2.       All Christian Disciples  are ultimately called  and empowered to be Witnesses

a.       What exactly  are we to witness  to?

The  Greek word for  ‘witness’  is ‘martureō’ , from which  we derive the English word ‘martyr’.  Whatever we have to  witness to is worth dying for.  Jesus Himself is called the “faithful and true  witness” (Rev. 1:5) , and He died for the truth  He came to proclaim. The same thing  can be said  of  the  apostles. Most of them died for the sake of this testimony. 

What is the content of this testimony?  It is all about a new kingdom  which God is building, and which will come into  full flower after  this present evil kingdom  in which we now live, under the rule of Satan, demons and wicked men  will have come to an end.   This testimony is about  a new world filled with  God centered, God loving, obedient, righteous  people  who live in joyful and happy  submission  to their King , who is Christ Himself.

How do we get into that kingdom? That is  where the Gospel message comes in.  The Gospel  message is central to the  establishing of the kingdom of God. The Gospel  message is an open  invitation to all  the fallen subjects of this present fallen  world – to all who will hear  and submit  to the  entrance requirements for this kingdom. 
This is what they must do : 

The subjects of this fallen world must each repent of their sin (of which the key sin is their  rebellion against the King). They must  each  receive the King’s forgiveness.

For this to happen,  they must not trust in their  self –efforts or in their own righteousness. The truth is that  no subject of this fallen kingdom has any merits  of their own to  justify  themselves  as worthy subjects of the kingdom. No! They need an Advocate! Somebody needs to speak for them.  This is where the gospel message becomes  so very important. The gospel  tells us that God, the righteous King who is offended by  the sin of the world, will not listen to  the sinful subjects of this rebellious kingdom. No unholy person will He receive into His  holy presence. Holiness and unholiness are mutually exclusive. But, the gospel also  says that He  will  listen to   the Advocate (the Intercessor) - His  Son, Jesus Christ.

What must sinners then do? Well, by the gospel they are called to come to  the Advocate,  Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus  the Advocate also happens to be the One who  made atonement for the sin of sinners. We are told  that He receives repentant sinners gladly. We are told that by the  work of the cross (shedding of  His  blood)  He washes  all the sin and guilt away  of those who come to Him for pardon. The Advocate presents  those that have come to Him  to the  King,  and  the King receives them, not because of what they are, but because of who Jesus is, and what He says on their behalf.  Now they are beloved and accepted by the King, who treats them as His own beloved children.  

This is the  witness that  we bear to the world!  All who will hear  and accept this witness will not perish but receive  eternal life  (Jn. 3:16).

But now there is another obstacle which we need to deal with, and it is  a very significant  obstacle!  It is called the deadness and the hardness of the human heart. The  witness  concerning  Christ and His wonderful work  may be  shared freely  with the world, but  the question is this: Will  such hard and spiritually dead  people  respond?  The answer is both  “no” and  “yes”.  The first solemn fact is that  the sin of this world  has made us totally blind and deaf to  the beauty of this new kingdom.  We  love sin; we prefer the muck; we hate change.

However the second  wonderful fact is this. We  receive  power to witness! The reason why some  people respond to the gospel (despite our common  spiritual deadness and  hardness)  is that the Holy Spirit  empowers  the witness  of Jesus’ disciples in two ways:

(i)                      He  empowers the witnesses  to speak boldly  and clearly  so that the testimony can be understood.

(ii)                   He empowers the hearers  to hear the gospel  and  to  respond to the gospel.

Do we  understand   and embrace the Holy Spirit’s help in the work of witness?

Did the apostles before Pentecost understand their mission  in respect  of God’s Kingdom? Clearly not! (see 1:6) Their question to Jesus indicates that they had not yet understood the apostolic task to go and tell – to be witnesses to all that Jesus came to say and do. They were at this stage  more  anxious about a political restoration of Israel.  They understood “ God’s kingdom” as  being  applied to the political entity  called Israel.

But note how different Jesus desire is to theirs. Jesus concern is not for a political restoration of Israel! Jesus is concerned about  a kingdom, into which the people of this world must escape, if they wish  to  escape the coming wrath. To escape this doomed world they must enter through  a narrow gate (Matthew 7:13,14) – a door  (Jn. 10:7). This door is Jesus. Nobody has access to the new world , except through Him. He says: “no one comes to the King – the Father except through me.” (John  14:6)

So we have a work to do.
1.        We must tell the world  that there is  a wrath to come. The Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah  and every earthly disaster merely foreshadow this.
2.        The world  needs to know that there is an escape route: Jesus Christ,  the Lamb of God. Those who look to Him  will not be  turned away.
3.         Don’t be too concerned about those who will not listen.  No one listens to this witness by choice. Trust in the power of the Holy Spirit  to do the changing and convicting. Pray  for gospel success . That is  what the early church did.
4.         Understand the scope of our   witness bearing: “to the ends of the earth.” Our mission begins at home, but  it must move beyond our borders and comfort zones  into  the world!  Pray for our outreach intiatives (also through SOLA 5) , but more importantly,  be a part  of  God’s mission.

The church needs to get on with its mission! (9 – 11)

Without a further word, Jesus ascends to  heaven.  The disciples are still standing there, mouths wide open, as they keep  looking into the sky.  But  they had  not been commissioned to gaze into the sky. They had been commissioned to go to the ends of the  earth! Their calling was to be witnesses and not stargazers.

We need to hear the message of the angels. “You have seen Him go. You will see Him come. But between that going and coming, you must reach this perishing  world in the power of the Holy  Spirit!” Tell them there is life after death. Tell them there is a judgement to come. Tell them there is a Saviour. Tell them  that there is a future  in God’s Kingdom.   

[1]  See John’s gospel , Chapters 14 & 16

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