Purpose, Promise, and Power

  • Purpose, Promise, and Power
  • Acts 1:1-11
  • Brian Brownlow
  • January 29, 2017
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1-29-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Good morning! I want to take a moment to welcome all those who are worshipping in LakeRidge praise and those who may be watching online. We are so glad you’re here.


How many of you are familiar with the term, “Throwback Thursday”? Okay, looks like quite a few of you. Some of you are like me, you’re a bit challenged when it comes to social media so you may not be familiar with that term. “Throwback Thursday” is something that happens on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, all the different social media platforms that are out there. On Thursdays, people will post pictures, stories, or some remembrance of what they were doing at some point in the past. Some people post embarrassing baby pictures or maybe those always entertaining high school prom photos.


I want to try a little throwback activity with you this morning. We’re going to look at different eras in music and the type of media that was used for music at that time. I’m going to hold up some different mediums that music has been recorded on over the years and I want you tell me which of those you can relate to. Okay, the first one should be 100 percent. I want you to raise your hand if you have ever listened to a CD. This should be pretty much everyone. I know we’re now streaming music online, but for the most part, if you buy music on a physical form of media, the standard today is still the compact disc – the good ol’ CD. Alright, as I move through these different formats, I want you to keep your hand up if you remember personally using that format – not that you’ve seen or heard of it – you actually used it. If it was before your time, put your hand down. Our second form is the cassette tape. Ahh, the 80s and 90s. What great decades those were! Moving on to our next item is the 8-track tape. The crowd is starting to thin out. Our last format is the 45 vinyl record. Elvis and the rise of rock ‘n roll.


It’s fun to relive some of those moments in our lives. Music defines a lot of periods in our past and it reminds us of things that were going on at that time. Over the next several weeks we are going to be doing a series titled “Throwback Lessons from the Early Church”. It is a study of the New Testament book of Acts focusing on what the early church was devoted to and our need to be devoted to those same qualities as the church today. We’re going to look back, not just be nostalgic, but rather to learn about what gave the early church its power. Essentially, we are going to look back so that we – as the church today – can look forward.


This morning I want to read to you from Acts 1:1–11.

“In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.  Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”  (NLT-SE)


I think this passage breaks down into three sections. There is a Purpose, a Promise, and there is Power. Now, for a long time, preachers have been fond of using alliteration in their sermons. It’s been cool to have your sermon start with all the same sounds. So Purpose, Promise, and Power must be a good sermon title – right? Well, I’m not trying to be cute. I really see in this passage a purpose…a promise…and power.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of things we argue about regarding the Bible. One of the things that is almost universally agreed upon is that Acts was written by Luke. In commentaries and other discussions of the Bible it is very common to see a section titled Luke/Acts. They’re dealt with together because it is highly likely that they are two volumes of the same story. The Gospel of Luke is just that. Like the other three Gospels, it is the accounts of Jesus’s life that goes up to his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. It begins by addressing a man named Theophilus. Here, in the very first verse of Acts, a connection is made to that same man. It is, in many ways, a continuation of Luke’s gospel. The author quickly recaps what has happened – especially emphasizing the resurrection of Jesus and that after the resurrection, Jesus continued to teach his disciples for forty days before he ascended into heaven.


That’s the purpose. In the first three verses, we are reminded of all that Jesus has done in His teaching, His ministry, His crucifixion and His resurrection has been to prepare his disciples – and those that they would disciple – how to live as the kingdom of God. We know that Acts goes on to describe the formation of Christ’s church and how it would become a force that would change the world.


In verse 4, we have a shift from the purpose to the promise. Jesus actually gives them a command. The command is to wait – to be patient. They are to wait in Jerusalem until the promise that he was going to give them had come. Look at the end of that verse. Jesus adds a short clause that is very important. “Just as I told you before.” In Matthew 10:20 Jesus is sending out his disciples to preach. It was kind of a trial run. He was having them practice for what they would be doing the rest of their lives. As he sent them out, he told them not to worry about what to say. Specifically, he told them not to worry if they were arrested or if someone took hold of them. He promised them that the Spirit of God would give them the words to say. In John 14:15–17, in what is usually called the “Farewell Discourse”, Jesus is meeting with his disciples before his crucifixion and at that time he tells them that after he has been arrested and killed that they will not be left alone. He promises them a “helper.” The helper would be the Holy Spirit. When Jesus talks about a promise in verse 4, it’s not the first time they’ve heard this. Jesus has clearly told them that he will send the Holy Spirit.


In verse 5, he reminds them of something else they’ve also heard before. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Water baptism, commanded by Jesus, symbolizes our membership into the body of believers– the church. It also symbolizes new life. Our old self dies and we are raised with Christ anew. It’s a powerful image. Here Jesus is telling his disciples, and I think telling us today, that we will also receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When John was baptizing, he told people those very same words. He warned them that their water baptism was extremely important, but one would come after him who would baptize them with the Spirit and with fire.


The idea of a baptism of the Holy Spirit has been controversial in the church for centuries. Despite the fact that John the Baptist clearly told those he was baptizing that they would receive it and Jesus tells his disciples that they would receive it, there’s a lot of pushback in the church regarding this. I understand that there are many ways that this is been lived out. In some of them, the Holy Spirit has been misused as a tool to manipulate people. Let’s just put that out on the table and admit that and recognize that. However, I want to remind you that one of Satan’s favorite tactics has always been to take the truth and distort it just enough to make it a lie. From the very beginning, in the garden until now, Satan has tried to twist the truth in a way that is destructive. We are going to pick back up on that in a few moments.


Let’s move to vv.6-7. I have to look at this and think Jesus hung his head and thought, “What am I going to do with these guys?” This was a typical response from his disciples. Now, let’s don’t pick on them too much here. I think this is where we can relate. I know I can relate! Jesus is talking about the coming of the very Spirit of God. He’s promising that these men will receive God’s Spirit in themselves and all they can ask is if they are going to receive earthly power. This isn’t a bad question. God has promised that he will bring freedom to Israel and they will be restored. Certainly, as a part of his good plan, but God is talking about so much more here. A mark of living in the Spirit is that we are focused on God’s Kingdom – not our kingdom. Back in v3 we’re told that Jesus talked to his disciples about the Kingdom of God. Here they’re simply worried about their earthly kingdom. Jesus, as he always does, gently redirects them in v7, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.”


I can relate to the disciples here. I focus on the flesh rather than the Spirit way too often. I want to ask you this morning if perhaps God is redirecting us today. Is he redirecting us as individuals and as a church? By the church, I mean the body of Christ everywhere – not just this congregation. Is God trying to send the Holy Spirit and all we want to know is how is it going to improve our earthly kingdoms? Our church, our nation. Are we asking the same question the disciples did? God, when are you going to fill our churches? When are you going to make our nation the most powerful in the world?


I want to tell you something. I’m proud to be an American. I also realize that is a great blessing that I was born into.  When the Pledge of Allegiance is recited or the National Anthem is played, I stand up, put my hand over my heart, and participate. I’ll confess, it irritates me when others don’t. On the other hand, one of the great blessings is that I get to live in a country where people get to choose freely. Even if that means they get to choose something I don’t like – even if they disagree with me.


Now I’m going to stop and clarify something right now. I’m not going to try to make this into a political statement. I believe that as we examine the word of God it speaks into where we are today it doesn’t matter what side we’re on or which political party or candidate we agree with. I believe God is speaking to all of us when he is telling us to focus on the Kingdom of God. We do not put our confidence in man-made authority. We participate as Christians in the world in which we live. We don’t go live in a cave somewhere, but we know that the only real power that can transform the world is the Spirit of God. Not elected officials. I have already said that I’m a proud American. I will defend and honor this country and I will especially honor those who have given their life for the freedom I enjoy. But our identity is in Christ and he has promised us the Holy
Spirit. That brings us to the power in v8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.


Those in the early church who were baptized in the Spirit were unmistakable. Wherever they went people didn’t have to sense the Spirit – they could see it. It was a common occurrence for people to be healed. I hear it proclaimed the Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way anymore. Well I’m going to say to you today that is an assertion of man. There is nothing in the Bible that says the power of the Holy Spirit was only for these men and for a short period of time. God has not changed and his Spirit has not changed.


I heard someone say that in the modern church our idea of the Trinity is, Big Father, Medium Jesus and a little bird. We have relegated the Holy Spirit to a little bird that we put on our stationary and our stained-glass windows. We have discarded the Spirit that the word tells us was manifested in tongues of fire and a powerful force in the lives of the people who encountered him. I am believing for great things today. I believe the church should be a place where the Holy Spirit is moving in powerful ways. I believe that God did not send the Spirit simply to make our lives a little bit better. I believe that we should see healing today. Yes, physical healing, but also emotional and spiritual healing. I believe fathers who have not spoken to their sons in years will be giving testimonies about how their hearts were softened and their relationships are restored. I believe we should be hearing about men and women who were on the brink of divorce and the Spirit of God changed their hearts so that they were reconciled and have never been happier.


The world says that can’t happen. Miracles don’t happen. God says differently. God says I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly and he has  sent us the power of the Holy Spirit to make that happen. Look closely at v.8. He specifically tells them what to do with that power. Jesus tells them that they will be his witnesses everywhere. In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Do you know where those places are today? For those of us sitting here, Jerusalem is Lubbock. Right where we live. Most of us would agree that we should be witnesses here. Judea would be our region. The whole state of Texas. We could probably agree with that. But what about Samaria is that Oklahoma? Hmmm…I don’t know about that. What about those Yankee states up north? I don’t want to go there.


Most of you know the story about Samaria– we don’t need to repeat it this morning. It was the place where Jews would not even walk through the country. They would go around to get where they were going. The Jews despise the people there. Where is our Samaria? I’m going to suggest one. For 21st Century American Christians, our Samaria just might be where a nation’s population is a majority Muslim. It will take a miracle. Do we believe God can do that kind of a miracle?


I want to share with you a question by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who is certainly not known as a Pentecostal preacher. When he held the great pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London as the great preacher of Reformed theology, near the end of his life–and some say at the very pinnacle of his ministry–he asked his congregation a question. He said, “I want to talk to you today about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You may call it what you want, but I want to know, have you experienced the fullness of the Spirit? I know all of you listening to me come as I do from a Reformed background. But it’s not good enough. I know that all of you would want to say to my question about the Holy Spirit, ‘Well, we got it all at conversion; there’s no need for any more experience.’ Well,” said Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “I have only one other question to ask you. If you got it all at conversion, where in God’s name is it?”


This preacher, who certainly wasn’t known for speaking in tongues or other of the marks of the Holy Spirit, recognized that there was no power in the church of his day.


Another great preacher named John Wesley, maybe you are more familiar with him, said the following, “I fear not that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist either in England or the Americas. I fear only that they should survive as a dead sect. Having the form of religion without the power.” The founder of the Methodist movement feared – over 200 years ago – that we would become a church that was focused merely on building its own kingdom.


I believe that what Jesus said to these men before his Ascension was for the church at all times. This passage ends with those disciples looking up for one last glimpse of Jesus. I don’t blame them for that. I would too. I would want to see Jesus for as long as I could.  But then two angels come to remind them they’ve got work to do and that the Spirit has been given so they can do it. Over the next several weeks we’re going to be looking back at the early church, but we’re looking back so that we can look forward. We are not looking back just for nostalgia sake. We are looking back to see what the men and women of the early church did and how they lived. As we move through, I think you’re going to see that they didn’t trust in their own power, they didn’t trust in their elected officials or their government. They trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit that is alive and active – yesterday, today, and forever. My prayer for us is that we would embrace the baptism of the Holy Spirit in all of its fullness and we would live with the power of the early church that was meant for the church at all times.