READ: Acts 1:8-11 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
These words were penned by a second generation Christian named Luke.
He was a physician who also wrote the gospel of Luke.
Luke wrote at the beginning of his gospel:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
So Luke this careful, thinking person…who had become a follower of Christ did his own research…and he put it in a letter addressed to man named Theophilus…a man he was trying to help grow in his faith.
Luke had the advantage of being able to interview eyewitnesses of Jesus who were still alive…his research was first hand.
Then in his letter that is now called “Acts” he describes the spread of the gospel after the resurrection of Jesus…again from firsthand witnesses.
These witnesses were credible for many reasons not the least of which was that they were cowards before the resurrection and courageous to the point of laying down their lives afterwards…most of them were killed for their faith.
People may kill for a lie…but they will not willingly or knowingly die for one.
These men had been changed…and their changed lives resulted in changed lives…including the life of Dr. Luke.
Here in these verses we read, Luke gives Jesus’ very last words before he left the visible presence of his apprentices.
Jesus states two facts (that were at that point, still in the future):
- The Lord’s apprentices were to receive power
- They were to be witnesses to others regarding the gospel
(Luke would be one of those who would impacted by their witness)
Then after these last words Jesus was said to be “taken up” and a cloud covered him.
This would have been an amazing experience but Luke doesn’t make a big deal of this…he is rather matter of fact about it.
That is because he interested in giving us the facts…no hyperbole, no exaggeration…very little emotion…as he said in the preface to his gospel…he wanted to give an orderly account.
He just says it happened…Jesus went up and a cloud hid him from their view.
But the cloud was most likely not a cumulus or nimbus…not a normal collection of dust and moisture at all.
It was most likely a visible expression of God’s glory…here’s the precedent for this.
First in the OT in that portable structure, the Tabernacle, where God’s presence was manifest among his people we see this…
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Ex. 40:34-35
Then the New Testament…where the glory of God is revealed in what is called Jesus’ transfiguration…an event where his glory was made visible to a few people.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them…Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. Mark 9:2-8
There Mark described what looked like a cloud…but it was not merely dust and water…it was God’s glory made manifest…or visible.
What the disciples saw what appeared to be Jesus taken “up”…the glory of God obscured his physical presence.
What our mind tends to do with these accounts from Scripture is turn this into a fable or myth…or not think deeply about it at all.
We have in our minds movie visions of people going up on an alien tractor beams…but we have not seen this in our real lives.
So we don’t contemplate this as if it really happened…but we must…because it did.
What we have is how Luke described what it looked like phenomenologically.
-This is a word that describes our use of words like “sunset” to describe what we see…but what actually happens is the earth moves not the sun…the sun doesn’t set.
But the word sunset is not inaccurate…it describes something real that we see…its what it looks like…so weathermen and scientists use the word…but they know is not the whole story.
What the disciples saw was a reality…that they described using language we can understand.
What happened was Jesus exited their physical presence and now lives in a very real state of being that we cannot see…until he makes himself visible to us again in the future…which he said he will.
There are intersections of the spiritual and physical all around us: we don’t currently/normally have the eyes to see it…probably for good reason…it would be terrifying, or we would be frozen with wonder and get nothing else done.
Occasionally people will see the intersection of spiritual and physical…I have friends who have seen angels and demons with their physical eyes…they were awake and sober when they did.
Angels, demons…are present in the world around us…even now.
We don’t normally see them…any more than we see quarks or atoms.
But they are real.
There are also real spiritual battles in the lives of people…in the bodies of humans there are brains and minds and wills…and spiritual forces at work…forces of good and bad.
I am making this point so strongly so we can overwrite some of the cultural bad code we have accumulated in our minds regarding how we read the bible…how we think about it…and how think the world we live in.
Many don’t tend to read Bible as actual historical narrative but more like fiction or fable…a sort of religious writing.
So we can breeze through this…”Jesus went up” without thinking deeply about it.
We have Luke’s rather clinical description, but we get a clue as to how the disciples responded to it by the fact that angels appeared to them and told them “guys, quit gazing at the sky…get on with it.”
So evidently as Jesus left their visible presence…they were so struck by the experience they continued to stand there staring into the sky…frozen…much like you and I would be.
It took spiritual beings (angels) who were no doubt already there…making themselves physically visible, to get them to move on with their lives/mission.
“Snap out of it…he is coming back…now move on”
What was next for them, in terms of obedience was not witness but wait.
Prior to telling them they would receive power and be witnesses he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Spirit.
It is unlikely they knew exactly what this would mean…but they did spend the next ten days waiting and praying.
They did other things like select a replacement for Judas, but mostly they were actively waiting.
Then in Acts two, Luke describes an experience that was “like” the blowing of a powerful wind…but clearly it was not merely a physical experience…not just air moving around…it was “like” that but different.
This was when the Holy Spirit empowered the church to witness to the gospel as the Lord had promised.
The description the Lord gave of how this empowered witness would unfold is the outline of the rest book of Acts…this is exactly what happened historically:
They would in fact be his empowered witnesses first in Jerusalem, then the surrounding area, and then out to the far reaches of the known world.
This year…our theme is Closing the gap on faith and love…I hope, I pray that you are doing that…experiencing that.
Some of you have and are…some may be struggling to see progress
If you are thinking…”It’s almost October…too late for this year…I’ll get started next year.
I encourage you to rethink that.
Its like when we decide on Friday to begin to exercise on Monday and now its Thursday(we have not started yet)…and instead of starting today…we say…”Might as well wait till Monday.”
Or “I blew my diet at noon…I’ll start again tomorrow…and eat a lot for dinner tonight.”
We have these rather random ideas of when to start doing good things…they are often in the future:
A better approach to life is to start what is good…right now…present…cut your losses, start getting wins…now.
So…start right now…closing the gap…or just continue with it if you are on track.
This month we have looked at faith and love expressed in a “present” lifestyle.
Present with Christ and present with others…knowing and loving God and making God’s love known to others.
Next week we will begin looking at the “Seven essential heart attitudes” that shape us into a healthy community.
Today we are going to focus on the power of his presence in us…to equip us to be present with others in powerful ways.
- What is this power?
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.”
Power is ability.
Powerless is inability.
A corded drill has no inherent power…when plugged in it has potential power…when turned on it has actual power.
The sun continually releases power packets towards earth…photons, that when they reach our planet they enable life…this power is actualized as it rains down into our atmosphere.
The Christ follower has resident power…power for transformation and power for effective witness…and power for more than we can probably imagine and more than we usually experience.
The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of God resident in us.
This power is for “Christ-honoring” character…a life change into Christ likeness
And it is power for “Christ-centered” relationships…relating to others in ways that draw them to Christ.
The Holy Spirit brings with him power…ability.
He brings gifts…abilities given to individuals to serve the larger community of faith.
He brings fruit…character transformation empowering believers to become like Christ.
He brings wisdom (ability, power to understand important things)
He brings conviction (ability to know what is amiss in our relationship with Christ and how to fix it)
He brings power to know and make Christ known.
If all this power is available…then why are its effects so often not present or obvious?
There is a difference between potential and realized…or stored and released power.
So we can have power…that is not being accessed or released.
Then the question is: how is his power accessed and released?
First how is it accessed?
- Accessed by Plugging into the source of power.
The first followers were told to “wait” not to “witness”
They were to wait on the promised Spirit (promised first in the OT)…centuries earlier.
The life Christ had for them (us) required his power…not just our own energy and activities.
So after the angel said “Quit gazing at the clouds…he’s coming back.”
They went back to the city and prayed and waited…then a week and half later…the Holy Spirit came.
Why a week and half? Why not right away.
It was God’s timing because it was God’s power
There was to be no doubt as to who was doing this…whose ability it was…this is God’s mission.
So “waiting for God preceded working for him”
We don’t have to continue to “wait” for the Spirit to come…that was only true when the Holy Spirit first came on his church.
But the principle remains…we must live, love, and go in his power not our own.
So we must prioritize relationship with him…not activity for him…or we will end up living our lives without him.
So…we do still wait…in prayer, adjusting our lives Scripture, here in worship…we wait for him.
As we move through life…we are to do so in his power and in his timing…not our own energy alone.
This explains why many well-meaning Christians become busy and burned out…they go to work doing good stuff without living in a state of active waiting and being plugged into the Spirit’s power.
The church was born when the Holy Spirit came on them…as they waited obediently.
Now, after that first coming of the Spirit…a person gains access to power when they become a follower of Christ.
-Believe the gospel…commit your life to Christ…you received his power in your life.
There are groups who believe that after initial faith in Christ a subsequent experience of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is necessary to live the “full Christian life”
The fact is that when a person becomes a follower of Christ they receive the Holy Spirit in all of his “potential” power.
We do not at a later date receive what we do not have now (the Holy Spirit).
But sometimes God receives, at a later day, what he did not have from us…a fuller expression of surrender to him.
As he gets “more” of us…we experience “more” of him.
The great commission was to “teach others to obey all the Lord commanded”
This is because the realm of his will (what Jesus said to do and become) is the realm of his power…surrender to him is how we plug into his power.
So we access the power by surrendering our lives to him…but how do we close the gap on seeing more of this power released in our lives.
III. How is the power released?
We plug into the power source (he enters us) at the moment of our faith surrender to Christ.
We unleash, or turn on that power as we live lives of surrender to him…his power is released in surrender and revealed in changed character.
For the most part spiritual experiences, miraculous encounters, lofty and emotional worship do not transform our character.
People have chased these things for centuries…hoping for a sudden, momentary experience that will permanently “fix them”…do away with all struggle, give them permanent and abiding faith…and victory over sin.
We want a quick fix…instant Christ-like character.
But Justification is a moment, sanctification (life transformation) is a life long process…a gap we close over our lives.
Sometimes people go into missions or go to seminary, or join the priesthood…hoping these experiences…or commitments…will “fix them.”
But as many have discovered joining the priesthood, or going to missions…or any number of miraculous experiences do not change character into Christlikeness.
I have had supernatural experiences in my life and I am grateful for them…but they have never transformed my character into Christlikeness…I was the same person on the inside before and after.
The greatest evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power…is that we become more like Christ…revealed in the way we treat others.
You may have many profound, extraordinary moments in your journey…I hope you do.
But they will not transform you into the character of Christ…Daily decisions to obey Christ…a day-to-day obedience in his direction will transform us.
Let’s walk through an important passage that demonstrates clearly the pathway to this power experienced and expressed by us.
Col. 3:1-17 (won’t read all the verses)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ (you live in a different realm of life now…real change, power is possible), set your hearts (affections, will, choices) on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Not above as in the sky, but above as in things that are lasting in value and importance…set your mind on HIM, specifically)
Set your minds(active, aggressive actions…tell your thoughts where they are to go…pick what you think most about) on things above, not on earthly things (this doesn’t mean walk around with your head in the clouds…it means place God before your mind so he will direct your life).
Norah leaves today for Chicago…a week in the hospital.
-Yesterday I wanted to buy her a gift that would encourage and bless her.
-I walked through Walmart…asked God to direct me to the best toy for Norah.
-Silly when so much is going on in the world…to pray for direction regarding a toy…what difference does it make.
-It makes a difference to me and to Norah.
*A single story life means we pray for direction at work in important decisions, when seeking the Lord for medical help or relational decisions…when praying for world disasters…or choosing a toy for Norah.
This “set your minds”…must not be spiritualized into something that is not practical or actionable…a part of every part of our lives.
Look at the next phrase…
Put to death (very aggressive, volitional word) therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…(his list is not all inclusive, but representative)
*sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (greed is idolatry because it puts other things in place of God)
*We are not to toy with these things…or things like them…we are execute them…put them to death.
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
*These are the things of the old life…why live in them now?
The jail cell is open, just walk out.
*Amazing how believers will watch things that are full of this old life as a form of entertainment…or willingly hold on to thoughts and emotions that are full of the old life…a life in a jail of bitter and dark things.
We can put ourselves back into these dark cells…but why would we want to?
Instead…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Put off all of that old stuff and put on this new life…like clothing)
…And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (All of this shows up in what we say and do…it becomes our lives.
This is the “Spirit powered life”…we engage the Spirit’s power for this change by choosing to obey, to walk in the way of Jesus.
The power of the Holy Spirit is released through surrender and a settled ongoing decision to say “yes” to Christ.
You might say…”I’ve tried all that, it doesn’t work…at least not for long.”
That’s like saying “I tried air, it doesn’t work…I still need to breath”
You don’t try this…you live this…day by day…you close the gap on where you are where you can and want to be.
The power of the Spirit is released in those who pursue the character of Christ…by a life of obedience…”yes Lord”
When we say “no Lord”
We say “I’m sorry Lord”
Then “Yes Lord”
We would want what he wants if we could see as he sees.
So we set our minds on him…so we can train ourselves to see as he sees…and over time…we want what he wants.
- How is the power revealed to others?
Jesus said of himself…“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10
Someone who is lost is not where they are supposed to be.
A lost child is not at home, not safe with her parents.
Jesus came seeking those who were far from God…and far from the life he alone can give.
It is no surprise then, that those who were “found” began to try to help others experience what they have experienced.
The Holy Spirit did come on the disciples and the gospel spread out geographically from Jerusalem, to Judea, then Samaria and then beyond…it happened just as the Lord said it would.
So Acts 1:8,9 was not a commandment…it was statement of future fact.
“You will receive power and you will be my witnesses.”
This is what happened…when they received power…then they gave witness to the reality of Jesus…with their lives and their words.
You don’t have to tell an apple tree to produce apples…you don’t demand it, preach to it…command it…”Make apples…or else!”
If you plant it in the earth and if it receives light and moisture and grows to maturity, fruit will happen.
The apple tree does not need to be commanded to bear fruit, it has the “power” to do so by virtue of how God has designed it…the power that is potential in an apple seed is released by its being put in the ground.
In Matthew 28 Jesus did command his followers to go make disciples and to teach them obey him.
But here in Acts 1, it seems that the result of the Holy Spirit coming in power into their lives was that they would be witnesses to the reality of Jesus.
It was just going to be true as a matter of fact…power would lead to witness.
So if we are not faithful witnesses does it mean that the Holy Spirit is not resident in us?
Not necessarily, but it does likely indicate that something needs to be different about us.
If the apple tree bears no fruit, it doesn’t mean its not an apple tree…but it does indicate a problem to be solved.
That power, to produce apples, remains in it by virtue of it being an apple tree but that power is unreleased…if you want apples…you would ask “why?”
There are many reasons why an apple tree doesn’t bear fruit and there are many reasons why a Christian might not bear fruit as well.
None of the reasons why a Christian doesn’t bear fruit are irreparable…the cause of the fruitlessness can be fixed.
By fruit…I don’t mean, “people becoming Christians” that of course is the goal…but that is not something we can have power over.
We can be faithful witnesses to Christ but we cannot simple decide that people will follow Christ.
If we look at our lives and see no gospel witness over a long period of time…no power being released in missional relationships…then this is evidence of a problem to be addressed.
Don’t wallow in guilt and despair, instead simply ask God to help you see why the Holy Spirit in you is not more consistently being released through you?
He will show you if you ask him.
So let’s look at some possible reasons why… so we can move towards change.
- What can block the power?
- Maybe nothing is…perhaps you are living with false guilt.
We can all do better…hence we are closing the gap…it is a lifetime pursuit.
But guilt is to be dealt with and left behind, it is not something we are meant to live continually in…guilt is a door to confession and freedom…not a space live in.
If you feel guilt because you are guilty…tell God “yes, I will obey you”…and move out of guilt.
But if you feel guilty because you are not perfect…this is false guilt.
Our lack of perfection results in our sin…but it is not in itself…sin.
My mom often told me she felt like she was not a good witness to Christ…she felt sad about this…yet I know people personally who came to Christ through her witness.
I told her so…perhaps you have a tender heart like yours and feel like you are not doing enough.
Perhaps that’s true…but it may not be all true…don’t wallow in guilt…there is no benefit there for anyone.
Simply…say “Yes…Lord. As I know your will I will do it…show me”
Mean that and stay there…and you will live an empowered life…that will result in a fruitful witness over time.
But what might actually be blocking the pathway of the Spirit’s power…something other than false guilt?
Apathy: You may have stopped caring about the things God cares about.
-This can happen…and it can and must be addressed.
-A hard heart can be shut off to the values of God and the needs of others.
Unbelief: You are struggling with questions. Fair enough.
-But as I said a couple of weeks ago…you must learn to struggle with answers…there are a lot of them.
-Do what you know to do and watch God show up in your life.
An idol: If something else has take priority in your heart other than Christ…then you will stop valuing people as he does.
Distraction: Could be trouble, or a full plate, or your health, or financial, or relational problems or needs…any number of things could have captured your attention.
To put Jesus first will not require time or energy that you do not have…it will require you deciding to put your attention on him in the midst of your life as it.
There will always be potential distractions…you can choose to not let potential distractions be actual distractions that take you away from the Lord and his priorities.
I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure
What you have here is a decision to focus on God…to keep him first in your thoughts.
-What you think most about shapes you the most.
Then a belief that shapes behavior…he is right there, I will not move from what is true and right.
Then emotions and words that are transformed.
And finally an impact on your physical body.
A settled focus on God…works its way into all of you are.
*Terry…You went through all that and never said…”No…go tell people about Jesus…people are lost without him.”
Not because its not true or necessary…but because I don’t want to have to keep saying that and you don’t want to keep hearing that.
Do better, be better, work harder…bad, bad
What I don’t mind saying and what you will not mind hearing week after week is “Set the Lord always before you”
He is good, he is the good news.
And when you do set him before you…then “you will receive power”
And when you live in his power…then “you will give witness to Jesus”
So…”Set the Lord always before you”
*all that is good will follow after that