(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
You will be my witnesses
11th June 2011
Before Jesus began His ministry on Earth, John the Baptist came preaching repentance, and saying:
He was, of course, referring to Jesus. But during his Earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t baptise his disciples with the Holy Spirit. Instead, just before his crucifixion, He taught them:
This was an amazing promise. We, the church – that’s what “anyone who has faith in me” means, isn’t it? – would do the same works as Jesus Himself! That is, we would perform the same miracles that Jesus did. And we can do this because, if we’re obedient to Him, He’ll send the Holy Spirit to us with sufficient power to enable us to perform those miracles. But Jesus said we would “do even greater things than these”. What is a greater work than healing the sick and raising the dead? The answer must be: bringing people to eternal life through faith in Jesus. Healings are only for this life, but to be born again as a child of God is for eternity.
Jesus says here that we will be able to all this because “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth”. The disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit, because Jesus had not yet returned to His Father but, Jesus tells them, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you”.
When? When would Jesus baptise his disciples with the Holy Spirit? We turn to Acts, Chapter 1.
Jesus proved His resurrection over and over again, so there could be no doubt about it. Then:
Jesus would send His church –us – to the whole world with the good news of the kingdom of God. We’re called by God to tell everyone, wherever they live, that Jesus died to pay for their sins, so that they can enjoy right relationship with God through faith in His atoning sacrifice. But we couldn’t start this ministry without the power of the Holy Spirit.
John Calvin writes “there are as many errors in this question as words”.
We can be a bit like those early disciples:
We don’t know when Jesus will return, because God has no intention of telling us beforehand. Instead, we are to work every day until He returns, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians have never understood that to follow Christ is to work. We think being a Christian is all about receiving – about God’s goodness given to us, about God solving our every problem and fixing our every infirmity. It involves these things but it’s also about us working for His Kingdom – serving Him with our lives in His mission to reach those who don’t yet know His wonderful gospel.
But to do His work, we need His power. And we receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Our own efforts are not enough to convert the world – they're not even enough to convert the person who lives next door.
Jesus told those early disciples, “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." And we receive the same power by the same Holy Spirit. And we are to be His witnesses in our local area, and our town, and the surrounding area, and to the ends of the Earth. Some people from your church may be a missionary in a foreign land, and the local church must at least support them in prayer. But we have God's mission in every town and village, and we have individual missions to our friends and neighbours and families, bringing the fragrance of Christ and giving the message of Christ to all who will hear it.
Jesus ascended into Heaven, and they never saw him again.
So Jesus told then to wait for the Holy Spirit, and then He left them, and one day He'll come back. What do you do when God has given you a job to do that will take thousands of years to complete, when you know you’re not equipped to do it? You wait. And you pray.
Everybody – everybody – kept together and prayed. We need God to enable us to do what he’s called us to do, we need unity, and we need to pray.
They waited and prayed for 10 days.
They were still together, and they were still praying.
The Holy Spirit had come. The mission could begin.
The 11 Apostles, plus Matthias (added to their number in Acts 1v15-26), plus Paul and Barnabas (chosen by God in Acts 13v1-13) and their contemporaries made an amazing start to the work, carrying God’s mission to countries including Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Sicily, Italy and India, where Thomas, who had such a doubtful beginning, is buried.
And we – you and I – are called by God to carry on the work until Jesus returns, whenever that happens.