Dr. Chris White April 27th, 2014
It’s the first Sunday after the most obvious Sunday of the year. I like that Easter is so obvious with the clothes, the crowd, and the great meal that follows. But now we are here at the After Easter Sunday. Now what? No doubt the first Christians wondered about the first steps after the resur-rection of Jesus. In fact, Luke’s book we call the Acts of the Apostles is relaying the ‘What next?’ of the faith. What do we do after Easter?
Read along with me. Acts 1:1-11.
First, we have to focus on what Jesus took off the table. The question of the disciples in v. 6-7 is an obvious one: Is the nation of Israel now going to enter the first steps of gaining freedom from the Romans? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Of course, every Jew wanted the glory days of King David and Solomon, armies and independence, to return. Every Jew presumed God’s will was for Jerusalem and Israel to be free and powerful again. They wanted Israel to look and feel like a kingdom; and maybe the disciples still wanted to feel like important people in that kingdom. But Jesus offers something else: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. If they thought that the reward of faithfully following Jesus was insider knowledge on the timeframe of God’s work in the world, they were sorely disappointed.
There are obvious problems with entrusting humans with knowledge of events to come, of course, but there is a deeper message here. This is not a relationship of equals. A disciple of Jesus is not going to be the next-generation Moses speaking face to face with God and delivering tablets. No matter what we’ve done for God, because of God, or through God, we are not God’s peers. We are only called to be what we are: created human beings. This is important, I think. There is a current within Christian faith that wants to know. We are not a people ate up with predictive prophecy, but we do say things like this: ‘If I only knew how this ended I would feel better’. Or, ‘If I knew that this step of faith would turn out OK, I would trust God’. In a sense we’re saying, ‘Tell me the future and I’ll be fine.’ Jesus is far more concerned that we stand justified before God than that we somehow hold all the secrets of God.
You and I will serve with limited insight and vision of the future. We will not know how things end. We will not know how our own lives end. God knows seasons and times. That is enough.
Second, Jesus is concerned with power. Verse 8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Indeed, they are not going to know seasons and times, but they will receive power. Power is coming, Jesus said, and this meant something to a people felt essentially powerless. Days after a crucifixion and a sliver of a minority movement, you hardly feel empowered. But power is coming in the form of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures is far different from what we now speak of Holy Spirit. When David speaks in Psalm 51 of ‘not taking your Holy Spirit from me’, he spoke more of God’s great, powerful favor. Spirit is also is translated wind or breath, and He was rarely a personal experience. But Jesus here speaks of the Holy Spirit as Person, an event, an indwelling, a point of power in a human being. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory. First Corinthians 12/14 & Romans 12 speak to gifts that come by the Spirit that enables us to serve God through the church—wisdom, knowledge, gifts of healing; serving, teaching, encouraging; giving, governing, and mercy. And Galatians 5:22 speaks to the power of character and personal change: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is a critical piece of our faith. This means that a power is pressing upon you. The Holy Spirit is the work of God among us as well as in us and through us. He is not only equipping us to serve, He is compelling us to serve. He is crafting power in our common lives and bringing power through our common lives. The Holy Spirit is leading us to change as well as leading us through change. We cannot take lightly what this power within us means. Small changes in our own perspective by the Holy Spirit bring great changes to families. An openness to the Holy Spirit brings great changes to the church: the book of Acts tells story after story of persons changing and that change changing the church (Opening homes for prayer; Barnabaus’ gift; Paul’s conversion; Peter and Cornelius)Your own small changes change the church and your home. A power is pressing upon us all, and as we say Yes, change occurs.
Finally, after Easter is a time for witnesses. The point of the Holy Spirit, of course, is to receive the strength we need to be faithful to Jesus in this world. Keep in mind that the word Jesus uses here for witness is the word we also translate martyr. To be a witness for Jesus came to mean far more when people were dying in their roles at witnesses. The word today carries weight as well. We have strict laws that protect witnesses from harm for telling the truth, and we take the words of witnesses seriously in our courts. As was mentioned in the Friday rally on the square, we are bound by law to report neglect and abuse of children we may witness. In the same way, we are those called to give evidence for the truth of the gospel and the truth of a living Lord Jesus. This commission resembles Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Those who saw Jesus Christ were entrusted with witnessing to what they saw in Christ. This is how the gospel spreads.
There is a crucial idea built into this. On the one hand, we are called to witness to the life-reaching work of the gospel of Jesus Christ as relayed to us in the Scriptures. The gospel goes out without commentary: Jesus Christ died to save sinners. But we must also share the peculiar work of the gospel in our own lives. What you and I know of Jesus in unique ways is important. We do not all have the same experiences. Peter’s unique offering of his life with gospel was not that of Paul’s. Same gospel, but they had different stories of failures (denial and persecution) before Christ. They also had Christ’s unique faithfulness toward them through these failures. We are also uniquely experienced. We should use these experiences of God’s faithfulness as we live as witnesses. And so it is important that we know when and where and how God has been uniquely faithful to us. We need to have an answer for those who ask us for the reason for our hope (1 Pet. 3:15).