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You will be my witnesses

11th June 2011

Before Jesus began His ministry on Earth, John the Baptist came preaching repentance, and saying:

Luke 3v16b
"I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

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:

John 14v12-17
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

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.

Acts 1v3
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Jesus proved His resurrection over and over again, so there could be no doubt about it. Then:

Acts 1v4-5
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit."

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.

Acts 1v6
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

John Calvin writes “there are as many errors in this question as words”.

  • They’re thinking about an earthly kingdom, not the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • They think the kingdom is just for one nation, not for the whole world.
  • They think the whole kingdom might come immediately, but the church needs to labour, taking the gospel into the world, until Jesus Christ returns. As Calvin says, “They desire to triumph before the battle, because before such time as they begin to work they would have their wages”.
  • They seek knowledge that God does not intend to give them.

We can be a bit like those early disciples:

  • We pray for earthly things, more than for Christ’s kingdom.
  • We pray more for ourselves and our little church than for the whole world.
  • We imagine Christ will return in our lifetime. He may, but he probably won’t. And we must do His work until He comes.
  • We seek knowledge that God does not give us, searching the Bible for what is not there, looking for signs of the return of the King instead of preaching the gospel with our lives and our words.

Acts 1v7-8
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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."

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.

Acts 1v9
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus ascended into Heaven, and they never saw him again.

Acts 1v10-11
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."

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.

Acts 1v12-14
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

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.

Acts 2v1
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

They were still together, and they were still praying.

Acts 2v4
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

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.