Acts Lesson 3 - The Promise
The power of the Holy Spirit was never intended to be an end in itself. The Holy Spirit was given to us to sanctify us -- to set us apart. But people miss this all the time and treat Him like some sort of energy source.
The CEO of a major corporation left town on short notice - only a few people knew that he’d even left. Knowing that his senior vice-presidents and their staffs would not be able to operate for very long without guidance, as he flew to his destination, where he would be for several weeks, he wrote a lengthy and specific letter - it described several key projects that he wanted accomplished while he was away, several important clients he wanted contacted, he wanted business handled as usual, etc. As soon as he arrived at his distant destination, he mailed the letter back to his company. He was away for a long time - in fact, several months went by before he returned. As he pulled into the corporate parking lot, immediately he sensed something was wrong. The corporate campus had not been cared for, the grass had not been mowed. As he entered the lobby, the receptionist was painting her nails while the phones rang; he quickly got on the elavator to the executive suite. When the doors opened he was absolutely amazed. His senior vice presidents had turned the large workroom into a modified gymn. Everything from weights to pooltables - the staff were in casual clothes - laughing and playing. As they began to take note of the fact that he was standing there, they quited down and came over to where he stood. He simply asked, “Did you receive my letter?” Their response shocked him - “Your letter?” Oh yea we got it. In fact, we photocopied it so that every employee could have their own. He asked, “Well, did you read it?” “Read it?” We’ve got the entire company divided into smaller groups to study it!” Some of our more aggressive people have actually memorized large portions of it. One man even memorized the entire thing - we call him the Walking Letter. Others have even written songs about your letter - we’ve got everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs with quotes from your letter written on them - what an incredible encouraging, challenging uplifiting letter you wrote. In fact, we were just talking about taking a couple hours out once a week to get all the employees together for a special discussion on your letter.
By this time, the president of the compnay felt weak, but still he asked the question, “Did anybody do what I asked in the letter?” “Do?” “Yes, you know, the clients I wanted reached, the projects I wanted accomplished; did anybody do what I asked in the letter?” “Uh, no sir . . . you see, we’re still in the process of developing new and creative ways to study your letter . . .and innovative methods of applying the letter . . . we, uh, really aren’t doing anything.”
If there ever was a fable that described the modern day church of Jesus Christ, it is that fable.
The difference between the church in Acts and the church in America, is the church in America makes a lot of motion, while the church in Acts created a movement.
The typical church today has a lot of programs, but little power.
And it is a shock for most to discover that the power of the Holy Spirit was never intended to be the end in itself - it was intended to bring about a spiritual awakening.
Yet, the opposite is true, as one of my seminary professors was fond of saying, “The church is the most revolutionary force on earth, stuck in cement.”
You see, God knew that the seductive, intellectual, pietistic trap for his followers would be the lie that receiving the letter was enough, that reading and studying the letter was enough - that memorizing the letter was enough.
In order to help us past that trap, he included in His letter a portion called “The Book of Action”. And when you open your letter to the Book of Action, you are immediately confronted by believers who dared to do what they knew. Christians who behaved what they believed.
And in the very first chapter, we discover the directive from our Chief Shepherd. A directive that the early church obeyed - they simply did it!
Look at verse 8. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (that’s the promise, now here’s the command); and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
According to this verse, the measure of a church is not the size of its membership; but surrender to it’s mission.
Not in the number of seats, but in the number you have sent.
Furthermore, the mark of maturity for every disciple of Jesus Christ is not how much of the Bible you’ve learned, but how much of the Bible you’ve lived.
Now let’s set the stage for this timeless promise and challenge.
In the first few verses of Acts 1 - up to verse 5, the disciples are in numerous places, being taught by the Lord who would appear randomly, it seemed.
In verse 4 we’ve read, he “gathered them together, and commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised.”
Now, in Luke’s Gospel, which was his first letter to Theophilus we learn that this was spoken to the disciples in a room where they had gathered to eat.
That’s important to understand - in fact, turn back to Luke 24.
LUKE 24 (the disciples are eating together in an room; Jesus suddenly appears)
look at verse 42. And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. skip to 45. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them. Thus it is written, that the Christ (Messiah) should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. now v. 48. You are witnesses of these things. 49. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Sound familiar?!
In the book of Acts Luke picks up the story with where he leaves off here. In fact the first verses of Acts 1 are merely a reminder of this last section in the Gospel.
Now turn ahead to the sequel - Acts 1:6
Now verse 6 reads, “And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
And all of us immediately think, “What a dumb question!” Sounds like Simon Peter again - “Lord is it now?”
It is a dumb question, unless you know where they had come together. In verse 4 they were gathered together in a room, but in verse 6 they were gathered together - on the Mount of Olives.
How do we know - first of all, the Lord has to ascend to the Father still. He doesn’t ascend through the ceiling of a room, but from the mount of olives. In fact, look ahead to verse 9. And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Now verse 12. Then (after the ascension that is) they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying.
This presents an altogether different picture - “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
Why’d they ask that - because they put together the teaching of Jesus related to the literal kingdom of God on earth (which will happen one day) together with their limited understanding of Old Testament prophecy about the coming Kingdom - such as Zechariah 14 which declares, “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east.”
What’s happening in Acts 1:6 - Here is the resurrected Christ - sovereign King of Kings - and now his feet are on the mount of Olives - “Lord is it now, is it now?”
It was a great question. And Jesus didn’t rebuke them for asking about the kingdom, they were right about the truth of a literal kingdom on earth, they were simply wrong about the timing of the kingdom.
There was something the prophets didn’t know and hadn’t seen - that between the first and second coming of the Lord, there would be the creation and duration of something brand new - the church age. The age or dispensation of grace where the message of redemption would go out not only to the twelve tribes of Israel but to the gentile nations of the world.
Now while you’ll not read one word of rebuke related to the Kingdom of God being established, Jesus did rebuke them, and everyone since then, for trying to establish a set date related to a future event.
Frankly, I believe that rebuke was intended for the church as much as it was them.
It is a rebuke that seems to go unheeded.
- A few decades after this, some 1900 years ago, many of the Thessalonians were so convinced that Christ was returning for the church, to the point that many of them quit their jobs and eventually depended on others to sustain them. Paul had to challenge them with the words, “If you don’t work (and the implication is, you can work), then you don’t eat.”
- In our own American history, The Millerites in the 1800’s (the forerunners of 7th Day Adventism) set date after date, only to be disappointed again and again.
- I read in a magazine some time ago about a woman and her following who were camped out on a high mountain somewhere in the west, wearing white robes, waiting for the fullfillment of her vision, that had given her knowledge about the exact date for the end of the world.
- I heard one evangelist announce to his television audience a few months ago, that the return of Christ for the church will occur between 2001 and 2012. At least he’s clever enough to give it a 12 year span. That’ll give his T.V. program more time as well.
- Eight years ago many Korean believers fell into the powerful arguments of a man who wrote a booklet giving many reasons why Christ will return in 1988. They sold their property, had their pets put to sleep and so on. The confusion among the people was traumatic, the loss of credibility by church leaders was enormous. January 1, 1989 brought an incredible backwash of anger and disoluissionment and despair. I remember when we as a church took time out in the morning service in January to pray for the Korean believers who had, in effect, overlooked the timeless principle of Acts 1:7.
You only thing you can safely say about the timing of rapture of the church is, Jesus Christ did not rapture the church yesterday - but He might today.
While you and I can determine the truth about prophetic events, we cannot determine the time. That’s up to the Father to know and determine.
The exciting thing is, He already knows when the rapture will occur. He already knows who the anti-christ is. He also knows if the mark of the beast is an invisible tatoo, or a debit card, or a credit card number, or a cattle brand burned into the forehead. He already knows when the literal kingdom of Christ on earth will begin. He already knows the date when he will destroy planet earth with fire, according to the Book of Revelation and create a new heaven and a new earth, that you and I will enjoy forever and ever.
Here’s something else encouraging -= since, according to verse 7, the Father has complete control and authority over these world-wide, incredible magnificent events, could it be possible, dear Christian that the Father has a little itsy bitsty bit of control over the events in your life.
Is that too much of a stretch?!
I like the story of a woman who came to G. Campbell Morgan, one of my favorite expositors of the past generation. She came up to him after one of his meetings and asked him with trembling hands, “Dr. Morgan, do you think God is interested in my little problems?” To which he responded, “Dear Lady, do you think any of your problems are big, to God.”
What a great assurance it was to these disciples - who would soon face incredible persecution to hear that the Father had determined the epochs of history and future and He alone rode the winds of time with sovereign power and authority.
Now here’s the really exciting part.
Verse 7 reads, It is not for you to know times or epochs. . .BUT (verse 8)
The word, “but” is “alla” which can be translated, “on the contrary” - in other words, you’re not to know about the time when future events will be fulfilled, but you are to know something else.
On the contrary, here’s something to fill your minds with - there is something for you to anticipate . . . Jesus says, “Let me tell you about the promise” 8a. But you shall receive power.
This is future tense - and I don’t have any doubt that not one of the disciples, including Simon Peter said, “What do we need that for?” We’re ready to go.
No - the truth of the matter was and still is, that apart from the power of the Spirit operating in your life - you can’t fulfill the rest of the verse - you will never impact your generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If the Spirit doesn’t come - they are powerless.
Part of our problem as believer’s, into whose life the Spirit of power resides is the fact that we’re not terribly convinced we need Him.
Martin Luther, the reformer once quipped, “God created the world out of nothing - when we realize we are nothing, He can make something out of us too.”
I happen to believe that every disciple on that windy hill-top knew he was nothing! Totally needy and dependant on something other than will power and intellect and commitment.
Two weeks ago we were reminded of the value of an invisible power called electricity. I don’t understand electricity; I can’t see electricity, but boy do I need it. In fact, I think we ought to have a national holiday in honor of Thomas Edison - I love that man.
You also discovered that no matter how much you paid for your appliances - no matter how good they looked or how state of the art they were, without that invisible source of power, they weren’t worth more than a cardboard box to you.
Tony Evans makes an excellent point in his book on the Holy Spirit; he writes that we are like electric appliances - we have been given all the components for effective living and ministry - but we have no intrinsic source of power - we have not been designed to work on our own.
There must be a dynamic operating in your life that is both beyond understanding and seeing.
That power promised in verse 8 – is dunamis. It gives us our transliterated words, dynamic and even dynamite.
8. now notice, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” Here’s the promise - “Gentlemen, you’re about to take on dynamite - you’re about to receive a revolutionary dynamic - a source of power that will enable you to function.”
But it isn’t an impersonal force - it is a person.
Now remember, they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come - his descent was dependant upon the Lord’s ascent as the Lord had already taught. The Lords’ ascension will occur in the next verse. The Spirit’s descent will be reported in the next chapter.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit that they waited for is something we now experience upon conversion. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But you were all baptized by the Spirit into one Body.”
It wasn’t the result of spirituality - many in that fellowship were divisive and carnal. In fact, if you put these disciples to the test - you discover they received the Holy Spirit in spite of their track record; in spite of their understanding; in spite of their education; in spite of their failure - the God of grace would provide these ordinary men of clay with the Spirit of God so that they, and us could carry out His command.
Now watch this here - the power is a Person - the empowering Person of the Holy Spirit is source of power.
Which means, Christian friend, you don’t need to pray for power - you just need to submit to a Person. You don’t need to cry for the Holy Spirit to come; He already came. You don’t need to plead and weep and fast for the Spirit to descend - you need to surrender to the Spirit who has descended already.
There is another errant pattern of thinking prevalent today. It is the thinking that the power of the Spirit is an end to itself.
“I want to feel the power of the Spirit!” Why? So I can experience certain gifts. So I can be victorious . . . so I can be healed.
In fact, verse 8 does not have a period after the word “you” although that’s exactly who those movements seem to focus on; look again “...when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. end of verse, end of chapter, end of the believers pursuit?!
The verse isn’t over. “and you shall be My witnesses...”
He, the Spirit of God has come so that you will be empowered - so that you can testify on behalf of the Son.
In fact, the Holy Spirit hasn’t descended for the purpose of announcing Himself - Jesus Christ said in John 16, “I’m going to ascend to the Father, He (the Spirit) will descend and when He does He shall magnify Me.”
That doesn’t mean the Spirit of God is less important than the Son of God. They are equally God. I has nothing to do with essence, it has everything to do with function. And the function of the Holy Spirit will be, primarily, to magnify the Lord.
In other words, the Holy Spirit will become the advertizing agency for the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ.
The thought struck me - in the advertizing world today, the point is not to magnify the advertizing agency but to exalt the product. In fact, if the advertizement is really good, you walk away with the name of the product on your mind, certainly not the name of the agency who came up with the ad.
Here’s an example - here’s an ad for the Lexmark WinWriter 150c color printer.
Movements today that are focused on the Holy Spirit, enamored by the Holy Spirit, bent on experiencing the Holy Spirit, pleading for the Holy Spirit, claiming a special relationship with the Holy Spirit have missed the point.
Here’s the point! Or better yet, the priority.
v. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and (expanded translation could read, “and as a result”) you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
Next Lord’s day we’ll take a look at the priority and the plan for this global advertizing plan.
Luke’s record will take us into a courtroom scene and we’ll discover why Jesus didn’t call us his lawyers, or the jury, or the judge.
In the courtroom drama of human history, we have been called to take the stand as witnesses.
Let me close by reading you a quote from the writings of a Greek statesman named Aristides - he was not a Christian, but he wrote about Christians in his work entitled,
“The Apology of Aristides”
And so, from the first century to the 20th century, the challenge remains dear Christian - having been born again into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ; having recieved the person and power of the Holy Spirit at that very moment of conversion; having recieved from our CEO, the leader of our lives and faith, a letter - the letter . . . the question remains - are we simply studying it - memorizing it - enjoying it - or are we living it - are we walking it - are we doing what the letter from our Leader said to do.
The Apology of Aristides
The Christians persuade others to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction, brothers. They do not worship strange gods; and they walk in all humility and kindness. And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with necessary food. The observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. They praise and laud God and over their food and their drink, the render Him thanks. And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they speak of his body as though he were moving from one place to another. Such is the law of the Christians and such is their conduct.
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