The Spirit’s Power

Title: The Spirit’s Power

Text: Acts 1:4-8

Date: September 30, 2007

Jesus appeared to his disciples off and on again over a period of forty days after the resurrection, preparing them for the time when he would be physically gone from their presence. He also assigned them the near impossible task of living the victorious Christian life and recruiting others to join them in living such a life. But he cautioned them to not rush out and immediately start trying to fulfill their mission, but rather to wait for the supernatural power from heaven that would come to enable them to do what he commanded them. This whole scene is depicted in Acts 1:4-8, “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 baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 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.’” Now we have to remember that before Jesus was crucified, he had been with the disciples for three years, teaching them, guiding them, and directing them in how to live according to the will of God the Father. Even then, they had still gotten themselves into trouble and constantly needed his intervention to save and rescue them from failure. We remember on one occasion, Jesus told them to go out and among other things cast out demons while they announced the kingdom of God. They found themselves unable to cast out a particularly entrenched demon, so they turned to Jesus to help cast it out. Of course he did and the victim was delivered. But the disciples were amazed and perplexed as to why they couldn’t do it. This is just one of many examples where Jesus had to rescue them while he was with them in the course of three years. But now, Jesus would be leaving, never again to be with them in his immediate, physical form they had learned to rely on. How would they ever succeed in their Christian lives and ministries? We might ask the same question of ourselves today: how can we possibly succeed in our Christian life and ministry? If the disciples struggled so with the actual presence and power of Jesus with them for three years, how would they hope to succeed with his physical presence and power gone? And if they could expect to have trouble succeeding – at least they had been with him for three years – how can we have any hope of success in our Christian life and in any ministry we might attempt to do today, not having even the advantages the disciples had with Jesus? The answer for us is the same answer as to the disciples: additional supernatural power would be needed, given by God for the purpose of helping both them and us succeed in Christian living. Let’s explore this exciting possibility more.

First, It’s impossible to live the Christian life with natural ability. Acts 1:4-5, “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 baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” A man named Bill Gothard came up with a list of 49 general commands Christ gave to his disciples to obey. I’ve been a part of Bible studies where these 49 commands were being taught. Commands such as “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and “Love your enemies,” etc. Let me tell you, once you start going through all the commands of Christ you soon realize that without help, without supernatural power, you’re not going to be able to obey them; it’s just too much. This is exactly why Jesus told his disciples to wait – wait for the power to enable them to fulfill his expectations. Without this additional power, their natural abilities would never be enough to believe and live as they were instructed by the Lord. Why else would Jesus tell them to wait? Think about that. The last instruction of Jesus to his disciples is wait. That’s odd, that’s funny. You would think it might be, “Now get going!” But no, it’s to wait; but not just wait for something in general, but to wait for a specific thing – for the power to do everything Jesus has told them to do. They, like us, can’t follow Christ without extra supernatural power. Our own natural ability is not enough. Some people have more natural ability than others, but nobody has enough natural ability to do what Christ tells us to do unless they get the extra power from heaven. You can’t pray as you ought unless you have supernatural help from heaven. You can’t love as we are commanded to love without help from God. You can’t live the married life without the power of God. You can’t live the single life without extra power. You can’t witness the gospel without the Spirit’s assistance. You can’t resist temptation without Christ’s power. In fact, there isn’t much of anything in the Christian life you can do without help from heaven. That’s why Jesus told his disciples, which includes you and me, to wait for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, instead of just trying to do it all on our own strength. Do you realize that most Christians are trying to live their Christian lives in their own power? Most Christians are trying to just go out and do the best they can directly. They aren’t waiting, praying, or pursuing the Spirit’s power and presence daily in their lives. They live defeated lives and they wonder why. It’s because they aren’t waiting daily in prayer and spiritual sensitivity for the Spirit’s presence and power. Have you found out that you can’t successfully live the Christian life in your own natural ability? Have you come to realize that you need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to succeed in your Christian life?

Second, we need supernatural power to live the Christian life. Acts 1:6-8, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 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 upon you.’” We see here that the disciples kind of got distracted from what Jesus was trying to show them. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, but they were thinking about something else – the political liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman occupation. We find it hard to believe that the disciples were so distracted by this they had a hard time grasping what Jesus was saying about receiving power, but that’s because we aren’t Jews. The Jews at the time of Christ, and also throughout their history, were greatly concerned about safety and security. They were a small nation, not a great people in terms of numbers, so they were always on the verge of extinction. Many of the other nations around them from the land of the Bible, for example, the Philistines, were extinct; they just vanished, as have hundreds and hundreds of ancient peoples. The Jews have always been battling to stay alive as a nation. At the time of Christ, the Romans occupied their land and every Jew had a dream of freedom. We can understand that; as Americans we love our freedom, don’t we? We even take freedom too far in many ways, but we can understand the desire to be free. But this desire on the part of the disciples distracted them from the real solution Jesus was trying to teach them. We are the same today in our lives. The reason we don’t live the victorious Christian life the way we should is because many things distract us, just as the disciples were distracted in this verse. God is trying to give us the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to empower our Christian lives and ministries, but we are distracted from this to other things. Television distracts us; we spend a lot more time watching television than we should, as everybody sheepishly admits (Except Todd here, who doesn’t even own a television set!). We are distracted by our worries and cares and anxieties, even as God is trying to get us the Spirit’s power and enable us to have peace about our problems. We are distracted by other people, what they do, what they don’t do, and complaining about this, that or the other. All the while the Holy Spirit is inviting us to simply ask for wisdom and power to love other people and overcome all obstacles that seek to block us from doing the will of God. Is distraction keeping you from the supernatural power of God in your life? Why not ask God to break through all your distractions today with his supernatural power? Why not make a habit of turning to God for help instead of turning to the many distractions that rob our time and energy so often?

Finally, third, expect the Spirit’s power, pursue it, and settle for nothing less. Acts 1:8, “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 are given the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be a witness to the presence and power of God in the world today. People, by and large today, doubt that there is a God, that he is active, that he cares about them, that he is available to interact in a positive way with them. Yes, the polls will indicate that 95% of Americans believe in God, but this is true only in a general way. Most Americans have rather vague notions about God. They mostly live their lives as if there were no God. They don’t have much of a “relationship” with him or interact much with God on a regular basis. Most people are ignorant of God and his ways. But if we live out our Christian lives as Christ instructs us to, our lives will bear witness to the fact that there is a God, he is active in the world, he loves and cares about people, that he will interact with us positively now and in eternity. But how can people know about God if we live defeated Christian lives? If we can’t even resist temptation, if we can’t love our neighbors, if we can’t follow the basic instructions of Christ to his disciples how will the watching world detect the reality and presence of God? When we live failed and defeated Christian lives — due to lack of ability or power because we are relying on ourselves rather than God – we not only disappoint God and ourselves, but we also disappoint the watching world. That’s why scandals within the Christian church are so devastating and damaging to the spread of the gospel. The Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals not only gave a negative witness against Christian ministries generally; it also hurt the witness of the gospel, Christianity, and the church worldwide and for years to come. The Roman Catholic priest scandal gives a negative witness to the reality of God, as does this latest preacher in Colorado, Ted Haggard, who was caught in a homosexual relationship and removed from his church. All of these and other scandals among Christians hurt the witness of the gospel, just as when Christians live the victorious Christian life is a positive witness to the gospel. How can you live the victorious Christian life? How can you make a positive witness for the Lord, the gospel, and for the Christian church, so that others may see and believe also? By being filled with the Holy Spirit every day before attempting to go out and live the Christian life. Start every morning with prayer and Bible devotions, and ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit’s presence and power so that you might have the ability to live the Christian life. Then, during the day, off and on, turn to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the Trinity, individually, or any combination thereof – and ask for continual guidance and strength, especially when you are facing a tough situation that requires extra power. See if the promise of the Father, of whom Jesus spoke, doesn’t come and assist you. We don’t have to live defeated Christian lives; we can turn to God for his power and presence in order to live the victorious Christian life. But, we can’t do it in our own strength.

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