Wednesday, October 25, 2017

You Don’t Have to be a Superhero - Acts 1:1-8

Today we’re starting a new study on the book of Acts.

Why do we call it “Acts”? Sometimes it is called “the Acts of the Apostles”, but that name isn’t accurate. The first verse says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Acts is a sequel to Luke, where we read about what Jesus “began” doing. Acts is the continuation of what Jesus is doing through the Holy Spirit in the church. It is about Jesus, not us. 

Acts is an unfinished book. You and I are living in Acts chapter 29 even now. Jesus is still acting through the Holy Spirit. This understanding is critical to the way we live today. 

In order to see why, let’s look at these first few verses. Before Jesus left, He gave us the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Mark 16:15’s version is “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

He had only a handful of followers, and there were about 300 million people on earth. How were less than a hundred going to convert 300 million?  There’s no way a handful of fishermen were going to make a difference!

Still, they weren’t worried. They had Jesus right in front of them, freshly resurrected! All He needed to do was to show Himself in public anywhere He could be identified, and He would be crowned as king. Who’s going to argue with a man back from the dead? Then they could spread the word to coming to Jerusalem and see the new emperor! Even the Romans would join. They were only a mile away from the temple—a fifteen-minute walk. Jesus could be king in half an hour. The disciples only needed to go tell people to come to Jerusalem and see Jesus.  If he showed Himself in public, the world would be theirs.

But Jesus showed Himself only to His disciples for almost a month and a half. The disciples were getting impatient. They asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  It’s high time Jesus showed Himself, so they could get on with world conquest! 

But Jesus said to wait. Something was going to happen. They were to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. When that happened, they would have power.

 They were puzzled. They knew about the Holy Spirit, but what was the “baptism of the Holy Spirit?” What’s this “power” He talked about?

Political scientists write about five kinds of power to rule others. 

First, there’s physical power— “brute force.”  Think of it as the “Incredible hulk” kind of power.

Second, there’s legal power—This is “Donald Trump” power. He can write an executive order and the military, government and everyone must obey.

Third, there’s persuasive power--This is “Hollywood” power. Whoever controls our minds sets the agenda.

Fourth there’s nurturing power—The power to do favors. It’s “Oprah Winfrey” power when she gives cars to her studio audience. If we do nice things for others, we can get them to do whatever we want.

Fifth, there’s collaborative power—The power of many people cooperating. It’s “the Avengers” power. A team is stronger than someone working alone.

What kind of “power” will the Holy Spirit bring? None of the above. The Holy Spirit brings a different kind of power altogether.

After Jesus says this, He suddenly rises up into the air and disappears, without anyone but the disciples seeing Him. Any hope of a worldly King Jesus is suddenly gone! This must have thrown them into utter dismay. What if before the Normandy Invasion in World War II, General Eisenhower disappeared?  What if just before Gettysburg, General Lee left the field? It’s something similar here. What would have been easy in Christ’s presence seems impossible in His absence. 

So they did what Jesus told them. They waited for whatever the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was. That was the key to whatever God was planning. So what is this baptism of the Holy Spirit?

The power to fulfill this great commission is the Holy Spirit’s. It can’t be divided from the Holy Spirit.  We don’t control it--we only carry it. We don’t choose how to use it. It’s not our power, but God’s.

A lot of Christians look at the power of the Spirit like a superpower. They think God gives us power, which we use to either do miracles (as Charismatics think), persuade people to follow Jesus (as Evangelicals think), or to change social structures and reorder society (as social action Christians think). Our teaching on “spiritual gifts” is based on this. We have taken a few passages out of context and made a list of superpowers that God might give us. Then we confuse these power with natural abilities and we must be “gifted” people to be used by Jesus. But our emphasis is in the wrong place.

 We focus on this power as some gift we possess and control--quite apart from the Spirit. To use them makes heroes or superheroes out of us, when they are really are the uncontrolled and uncontrollable manifestations of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit hasn’t come to make us Superman or Wonder Woman. We’re more like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. We call on Him and He rescues us. The miracles are not ours, but His.  We listen to Him constantly just as the disciples listened to Jesus. The Spirit leads through listening and trusting.  We don’t have to be strong, just open and obedient.
The “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is being washed and hidden in Him. We don’t control Him, we are hidden in Him. He does the working, thinking, and planning.

He said “you will be my witnesses.”  A “witness” isn’t a preacher.  Jesus could have said you will my preachers, but He didn’t.  The world wasn’t won by the preaching of the apostles, but the power of God’s Holy Spirit. 

This should have relieved the disciples from the burden of winning the world for Christ.  Once the Holy Spirit came, and they understood what Jesus was saying, I believe it did.

There are many today who hear the Great Commission and say, “I’m ready to go.  Let me at the world!” Those people are simple-minded and arrogant. Do you really think you—or even all of us together—can convert eight billion people?  Do you think you alone can cure cancer?  Do you think you can solve poverty or bring about world peace?  It’s beyond the efforts of every Christian on earth.

Jesus doesn’t say “evangelize.” He says “witness.”  Being a witness is simply to mean living a changed life in the world.  Is the Mona Lisa a witness to the genius of Da Vinci? Is Hamlet a witness to Shakespeare?  Of course! These are works of genius by the hand of masters.  We witness to Christ by being from being lives changed from human wreckage into vessels of divine glory.

Let’s face it—most of us can’t even manage our lives.  We try to live like Jesus and we fail, over and over. That’s why we need the grace of God.  We aren’t Superman. We aren’t even Jimmy Olsen. 

We are overwhelmed by responsibilities, and tired of trying to carry everyone’s burdens. We are tired of beating our heads against the wall, trying to do what we ought to do. We struggle with our inner lusts and addictions, with our helpless attempts to take care of the world. We struggle to keep our heads above water financially and emotionally. Then someone comes along and says, “While you are treading water, you should be trying to evangelize the world!”

But there is one who is coming who can both keep your head above water and be a witness to the world.  He is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to give you superpowers. He doesn’t need to. Instead, He is going to operate in and through you. All you have to do is to hold on to Him. Get to know Him. Let Him carry you.

Here’s what happens with so many new believers. They go to some meeting and hear the Gospel from a powerful, anointed preacher. They are persuaded by that preacher to accept Jesus. They come forward at the altar call, pray a prayer, and confess Jesus as savior. It’s an emotional catharsis, and are temporarily relieved.

In that moment, they declare that they are going to do great things for God—they are going to save the world for Jesus!  We put on our tights and our capes and become Superchristians.

But as time goes on, that emotional moment dissipates, and they are emotionally back to their old selves again. After the preacher is gone and our emotions are settled down, the burst of adrenaline from that divine encounter leaves.  Their insides go back to their original condition. Their life doesn’t permanently change, and the people around them notice.

 They are still talking about Jesus but their old selves are still there. People say their new religion “didn’t take’”
Why? Because they didn’t wait for the Holy Spirit. Or if they did, they took back control. They decided they could take on the world without Him and they failed. Wait for orders. It takes time to be transformed. If we are not transformed by the Spirit we can’t be witnesses for Him.

We live in a time when many are turning away from the Christ and the church. But that isn’t the worst part. What’s worse is that they are indifferent to Christ.  They have seen the people who are supposed to possess the Spirit and they see nothing. The world doesn’t see Jesus in us. We can’t control whether or not the world turns to Him or against Him, and that isn’t our concern. Our concern is that we be vessels of His Spirit. The world will not see Jesus, but we must in the Holy Spirit.  We must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit for ourselves, to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. He will never be real to the world, but will be real to us.  Only then will the world react. 

Unless we are filled with the Spirit, we are like empty Coke bottles on a shelf.  We can have the logo of a terrific product on the outside, but have nothing of it on the inside. No one wants a Gospel that we represent, unless we possess it ourselves. 

Do you want to transform the world? Then stop right here and wait.  Seek the power of the Holy Spirit, and give Him complete control.  Then, if He chooses, he can use us to make a difference in the world.  

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