TEXT: Acts 1:1-11
TITLE : 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. 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.
Well, 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.
But 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 .
Application : 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 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. Amen!