Precursor To Pentecost And The Coming Of The Holy Spirit
Preparation is very important in every area of life. I don’t know about you, but when I am about to travel to a place where I would spend more than a week, I begin my preparation toward the trip ahead of time. The reason is simple. If I don’t prepare in advance there is a likelihood that I would leave something important behind.
I would like the youth in particular to hear a lesson in life that I learned from a wise Professor in college. When I attended College in Kentucky, I took a class under one Dr. Jerry Hopkins, a graduate from Oxford University. The name of the course was “Christian Disciplines.” Dr. Hopkins asked every student what his/her call into the Lord’s work was. Then he told us to begin to prepare for our lifetime of ministry while we were in college. He told us not to waste our time doing nothing in college, thinking that when we go to seminary or full time ministry, we would have all the time we need to do what we have been called to do. I took that advice seriously.
My college president, Dr. Laverne Butler gave me a formula for life that has been my guide since then. You can write it down and use it to guide your own life. He said, “preparation plus opportunity equals success.” After His resurrection, Jesus used the rest of His time on earth to prepare the disciples for Pentecost before He ascended back to the Father. The title of the message is “Precursor to Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit.”
OF THE HOLY SPIRIT VV. 4-5
The Book of Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke closes with Jesus’ post-resurrection exhortation to the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed or endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Acts 1 recounts Jesus’ final message to the disciples before He ascended back to the Father. The disciples of Jesus urgently needed three things if they were to accomplish the task that Jesus assigned to them. First, they needed the assurance that He was alive. The resurrection appearances were crucial to the work of the disciples of Christ. If Jesus was dead, then there was no hope for them and the lost and dying world. Second, they needed instruction from Jesus as to what they should do. Third, they needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be able to do what Jesus has chosen them to do. The activity of the risen Christ was designed to meet these needs and thus to prepare the apostles for their mission to the world.
Assurance of the resurrection was given when Christ presented Himself alive (v. 3). At least eleven appearances of our Lord Jesus Christ following His resurrection are recorded in the Scriptures. The appearances we are told occurred over a period of forty days. The risen Lord was not constantly seen by the disciples as He was before His death on the cross. These appearances were not optical illusions or hallucinations, but miraculous manifestations of the person of Christ.
Verse 4. When Jesus had gathered His disciples, He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Jerusalem was the last place the disciples wanted to be. Jerusalem was the place where their Master had unjustly been crucified. Besides, all the eleven disciples were from Galilee and if their Lord and Master who went about doing good had been brutally killed, what do you think could happen to them? The disciples were afraid for their lives, but Jesus commanded them not to run away but wait in Jerusalem for the Father’s promise. Maybe, you work in a hostile environment, where the people you work with are hostile to Christ, Christians, and you. Sometimes you contemplate leaving that job place. Sometimes you literally want to run away, but the Lord has put you there for a purpose. The Lord has put you there for a witness, for a change. Don’t quit; don’t run away. Don’t leave until the Lord tells you it is time to go. (A story from Dr. Tony Evan’s book The Battle Is the Lord’s).
Jesus commands the disciples to wait for the promise of the Father. There is something special about this promise of the Father. The promise was originally given in Joel 2:28ff and was repeated by both John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8) and Jesus (John 14:16, 26, etc.), but its ultimate source is in the Father. That is, the promise proceeds from God the Father. Second, the promise finds its realization in a baptism in/with the Holy Spirit. The imagery of baptism suggests among other things, abundant supply. It carries the idea of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit from on high by God. It is also associated with the forgiveness of sin (2:38). In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon the prophets of God and some of the kings, but they were not baptized with the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Spirit of God came upon them temporary. When the prophets and selected kings finished their assigned work, then the Holy Spirit would depart. But in the promise of the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will abide permanently in the lives of men and women of God. The third is that the fulfillment is at hand. The disciples would be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now. To be precise it was ten days after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
In the Gospel of John 16:7, Jesus had told them that it was expedient for them that He leaves. If Jesus had stayed on earth, His physical presence would have limited the spread of the gospel, because physically he could be in only one place at a time. After Christ is taken into heaven, He would be spiritually present everywhere through the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:20). The Holy Spirit was sent so that God will be with and within believers after Christ returned to heaven. The Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know His truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, and give them the right words to say, and fill them with power. By the way, if you are saved the Holy Spirit will do the same thing in your life. The only implication is that you are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to experience His work and power in your life.
Have you ever taught your children or a class some profound truths and come to find out that they did not understand what you taught them? All that Jesus has spent His life teaching the disciples concerning the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God; they have not understood Him. They were too preoccupied with the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. They were concerned with their national identity. At this time in history, the Jews had been marginalized. Therefore, Jesus’ words awakened their nationalistic feelings and thoughts. Since 63 B. C. their land had been under the dominion of Rome, and more than six hundred years the Israelites had known no real independence. The disciples fully expected Jesus to affect a restoration of Israel’s political sovereignty. They wondered if it were at this time that He would do it. The mistake that the disciples made was that they had misunderstood both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit.
Jesus might have been dismayed at their question. Were the disciples still lacking in perception? Jesus corrected their mistaken notions of the nature of the kingdom, its extent, and arrival. Jesus said that it was not their business to know times or seasons. Jesus said that God has reserved the knowledge of these decisions to Himself. The kingdom of God is spiritual in character. The apostles had confused the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Israel. Anytime you confuse the kingdom of God with an earthly kingdom you distort the word of God.
The second part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples contains both a promise and a command (v. 8). The promise is of power (dunamis), that is the dynamic needed for efficient service (Luke 21:15). The coming of the Spirit is to bring this power. The power was to be for a specific purpose: witnessing. The power that the Holy Spirit brings is not to scare or intimidate people. In fact, the power is not to make you and me popular in the sight of people. The power of the Holy Spirit is not to draw attention to self. Rather, the power that the Holy Spirit brings is to witness to Christ. The witnessing has to do with both our way of life and testimony of Christ pointing others to Him. A witness tells of what he knows, what he has seen and heard. You tell people what Jesus has done in your life. Your life then must be consistent with your words. You live what you profess. You live what you preach. The promise of power was for all the disciples, and it was unconditional. This is what I always try to get across to you. The power that the Holy Spirit provides is not for a few or some elite Christians. If you are a genuine Christian, the power of the Holy Spirit is available to you. Therefore, stop letting people treat you like you are a second-class Christian. Nobody has a corner on the Holy Spirit. The gift and power of the Holy Spirit are unconditional. The only condition is that you are saved and washed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Lack of teaching and preaching of the truth of God’s word, and lack of knowledge of the person and power of the Holy Spirit have made some Christians ineffective and spectators instead of effective participants in the cause of Christ.
The command is found in the statement: You shall be My witnesses. This is a reminder that the disciples, you and I are sent into the world not to make predictions about the future (v. 7), but to bear witness to Christ—to testify to what you have seen, heard, and known of Him. This indeed, is the principal task of every Christian. Therefore, if you are not witnessing of Christ to others then you are defying His command. The keynote, the overarching theme of the entire Book of Acts is witnessing. I think I have found the reason churches are weak and not experiencing signs and wonders today as they did in the New Testament. The reason is lack of witnessing in contemporary churches. When you go home read the Book of Acts. The healing, the casting out of demons, and the miracles occurred as the Apostles and disciples moved about sharing Christ with the people they encountered. Today, many Christians display their Christianity only in the pews on Sundays. But Jesus said that the signs and wonders are to follow us as we go and share the gospel with the lost people.
Power in God’s kingdom is different from power in human kingdoms. The reference to the Holy Spirit defines the nature of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is His rule set up in the lives of His people by the Holy Spirit. The kingdom is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers. It is spread through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by the force of arms, political intrigue, or revolutionary violence. At the same time, in rejecting the politicizing of the kingdom, we must beware of the opposite extreme of super-spiritualizing it as if God’s rule operates only in heaven, and not on earth. The fact is that, although the kingdom of God must not be identified with any political ideology or program, it has radical political and social implications. In other words, we are not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. We must maintain a balanced perspective. Kingdom values come into collision with secular values. And the citizens of God’s kingdom steadfastly deny to Caesar the supreme loyalty for which he hungers, but which we insist on giving to Jesus alone.
The disciples, like some of you cherished narrow nationalistic aspirations. They asked Jesus if He was about to restore to Israel her national independence. In His response, Jesus broadened their horizons. He promised that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses. In other words, the kingdom of God is international and universal in its membership. How do you see the kingdom of God? Do you see the kingdom of God as parochial or provincial in focus? The kingdom of God is universal without any racial barriers. Jesus said that the disciples will begin indeed in Jerusalem, the national capital in which He had been condemned and crucified, and which they were not to leave before the Spirit came. But then the Christian mission will radiate out from that center to all Judea, to the despised Samaria, and then far beyond Palestine to the Gentile nations, indeed, to the ends of the earth. The risen Lord’s mandate to the little flock concerning world missions begins to be fulfilled in the Book of Acts. The uttermost part of the earth shows that Christ’s parting concern was for the whole world. Moreover, the words presuppose that salvation is not restricted to Israel. Salvation is not confined to your particular ethnicity. Salvation eliminates your racial barriers or prejudices.
Jesus promised the disciples that they would receive power to witness after they receive the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit involves courage, confidence, insight, ability or spiritual gifts, and authority. The disciples will need all these gifts to fulfill their mission. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you can experience the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Notice the progression of the reception of power to witness: (1) You will receive the Holy Spirit (2) The Holy Spirit will give you the power, and (3) you will witness with extraordinary results. Often, we try to reverse the order and try to witness by our own power and authority. Witnessing is not showing what you can do for God. It is showing and telling what God has done for you and the rest of the human race. God has important work for you to do for Him, but you must do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. We often like to get on with the job, even if it means running ahead of God. But waiting is sometimes part of God’s plan.
III. THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST VV. 9-11
It was important for the disciples to see Jesus taken up into heaven. Then, they knew without a doubt that He was God and that His home was in heaven as He had told them. The significance of the ascension can be summed up as follows. First, it is a necessary corollary of the resurrection. That is, it is the abiding proof that the resurrection of Jesus was more than a temporary resuscitation. To accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but deny the ascension, you must affirm either that Christ is still an inhabitant of earth or that He later died again. Second, it conveyed to the disciples that the period of forty days was at an end. The ascension relieved their tension, put their minds at ease, so that with the arrival of each new day, they did not wonder whether their Lord would again reveal Himself. Third, it suggested that Jesus was no longer to be perceived by physical sensation but by spiritual insight. Fourth, the ascension was symbolic exaltation to the right hand of God. Fifth, the ascension was indicative of His entrance upon His heavenly priesthood.
The two men dressed in white (v. 10) were angels who proclaimed to the disciples that one day, Jesus will return in the same way He went—bodily and visibly. History is not haphazard or cyclical as the Hindus and Buddhists would have us to believe. History is moving toward a specific point—the return of Jesus to judge and rule over the earth. You and I should be ready for the sudden return of Jesus (1 Thess. 5:2), not by standing around looking into the sky, but by working hard to share the gospel so that others would be able to share in God’s great blessings. The angels gave two reasons why the apostles should not be sky-scanners. First, they said that Jesus would return. Jesus will return in His own time and in the same way. The angels didn’t mean that Jesus would return to the same spot, wearing the same clothes. “The same Jesus” indicates that His coming will be personal, the Eternal Son still possessing His glorified, human nature and body. “In the same way” indicates that His coming will be visible and glorious. Second, the angels implied that until Jesus returns, the apostles must get on with their witnessing, for that is their mandate.
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