God’s Plan Is: People with Power
Summary: God’s plan to reach the world involves using people filled with His power.
Last Sunday night the youth missions team shared about their trip to Ethiopia and Nona Faber shared that one of the things she took away from the trip is the encouragement that comes from knowing we’re part of a global faith.
The team worshipped with believers in Ethiopia, saw people praying for their city, and met missionaries from around the world who had been called by Christ to serve there. After the trip Nona and her family went to Israel where they saw Nigerians worshipping and praying and met even more Christians from around the world.
When she shared Sunday night, she wanted the rest of us to be encouraged by the global reality of our faith – that Christianity is not an American trend. Jesus is for all people, everywhere and the global church is vibrant.
That message fits right in with what we’re going to see in Acts as we learn how the Christian Church began and how it came to be so global.
Recently we studied through the gospel of Matthew and saw the life, teachings and miracles of Jesus. We also saw His final days with His arrest, trial, crucifixion and, as we saw last week, His resurrection. Over a period of forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples, proving He had risen from the dead and teaching His followers. Now we learn what happened next:
Acts 1:4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
For two thousand years now Christians have been living in the space between the Resurrection of Christ and the promised Return of Christ. In that space, we have seen the constant expansion of the gospel and the Kingdom of God so that now there are, as Nona observed, Christian churches in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and at the very ends of the earth.
The task is not complete, but tremendous progress has been made and it’s absolutely amazing because God has done it through people like us. Moms and dad, professors and pastors, businesswomen and bureaucrats, soldiers and salesmen, as He filled them with His Spirit and supernatural power. The story of the Christian Church is the story of God using normal people filled with supernatural power to build and expand His Church.
In other words, history is full of proof that God has done what He told the disciples He would do so long ago. But you need to know He hasn’t stopped. He’s still doing it today. We’re still waiting for His return, and Christians are still receiving the baptism of John – the baptism of repentance, as well as the baptism of the Holy Spirit – the baptism of spiritual power.
In fact, I want to argue that the normal Christian life involves supernatural power – power made available to you by God, power you might not be tapping into. This morning I want to talk about the promise of the power, the purpose of the power and the experience of the power mentioned here in Acts 1.
First, the promise.
This is not the first time Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit coming and the relationship He would have with Christians. In the Upper Room, on the night before He was crucified, Jesus spoke to the disciples at length about the matter. Keep a finger here in Acts but turn with me a few pages back to:
John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
John 16:7 [Still the same conversation in the Upper Room]… I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
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13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.
Here’s the point: God has always planned to include us in His work by giving us the help we need through the presence of the Holy Spirit in and upon our lives, thereby making us witnesses other people can see and hear in their lives.
Here’s why this is important – when Jesus was on earth, He could only be in one place at a time. If He was in Jerusalem, He could not be in Beijing. If was in Nazareth, He could not be in London. When He was on earth, Jesus was only ever in one place at a time. That would have been OK if He was going to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem at that time as the disciples were asking. Everyone could be brought to Jerusalem to Jesus.
But that wasn’t the plan; instead, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit are distributed among Christians who then carry their transforming relationship with Jesus everywhere they go as they traverse the globe.
And this is really, really, good news. Because it means that no matter where we go, or where we live, God is giving us the strength we need for the things He wants to see in our lives and for the changes He wants to make. He has not left us on our own with this phenomenal work to do and this difficult life to live.
We marvel at stories of people who have overcome obstacles or demonstrate tenacity. We are wowed by stories of self-made men or women. We are often impressed by feats of endurance.
A few years ago James Lawrence, a man they call the Iron Cowboy, ran an Ironman in all fifty states in fifty days. They called it 50-50-50. Literally one Ironman after another, that’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and a full marathon – running 26.2-miles every day for 50 days straight. You might call that crazy, you might say, “there’s no way I would ever do that!” But you still respect his accomplishment.
Just recently, another man travelled from California to Hawaii on a standup paddleboard – that’s 2900 miles of open ocean, 76 days, with nothing but a paddle. That’s amazing.
Our own Tim Busch who is leading worship this morning once rode a bicycle all the way across the United States from coast to coast – it’s amazing the things you learn about people, isn’t it?
These feats are impressive, and we should be impressed. But one reason we admire or respect people who have done these things is because they require a tremendous amount of drive, ambition, physical strength, and determination, quieting your own fears and the voice in your head that says “Stop, there’s no need for all this!” These athletes accomplish
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incredible feats by digging down deep inside themselves.
But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here in Acts. Instead of reaching down deep inside to find strength, Jesus promises to give us power and strength from outside ourselves to live the lives He is calling us to – and I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that’s true. God isn’t calling you to run a spiritual Ironman on your own. God isn’t sending you out into the open ocean all by yourself spiritually.
Jesus says I’m promising to be with you, every day, every moment, in every season of life. I’m going to give you the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit forever, and that’s good news.
But, what is the purpose of the power?
At first, the disciples thought it might mean Jesus was going to establish a physical kingdom on earth centered in Jerusalem, to re-establish the glories Israel had known as a nation under King David and King Solomon. After all, Jesus was telling them to stay in Jerusalem and Jerusalem had always been the political capital of the kingdom. So they asked:
“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.
To be clear – there is a coming kingdom. Jesus will return, rule, and reign. After He was taken up into Heaven, the disciples stood around marveling and two men stood by them in white apparel [most people say these are angels], 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
But no one knows exactly when that will be. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had told the disciples:
Mark 13:32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
So let me just point out something important here, and that is: there are some things that we are just not meant to know. It’s not for us to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. We aren’t always going to know how things will turn out or when certain things will happen. But, there is one thing we can know and that we should be absolutely sure of: that the Father does know all things. He does have a plan and He will bring it to pass by His authority and in His own time.
In fact, this ability to tell the future and then bring it to pass is one of the defining characteristics of God – it proves His absolute sovereignty. As we travel through the book
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of Acts we will see over and over again how God initiates His work and interrupts our lives – He is the One leading the narrative, everyone else is simply struggling to keep up.
There are times in your life when you will really, really, want to know an answer to some question. You’ll pray, and you’ll ask others, you’ll probably worry and wonder maybe even feel anxious or depressed or angry. I hate to tell you, but it’s true: God will not always give you the answers you’re looking for. He might say, “It’s not for you to know – but go, do this instead.” And you’re going to have to trust Him and obey anyway.
Can you do that?
Can you look back on what He has already done, all the things He has already shown you, all the things He has already brought you through, and can you can look ahead to all the promises He has made and trust Him enough to walk through the difficulty you’re currently facing?
Again, it won’t always be easy. You might need to pray like the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.” We live in a day and age where we want more and more information, we want transparency, we want openness and communication — God doesn’t promise to give you all of that, all the time. In fact He says, His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8) It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search things out (Proverbs 25:2).
We might not like to hear it, but the truth is: God doesn’t owe you all the answers. But He has given you enough to go on if you will trust. He has proven Himself time and time again. And look at what He’s saying here: it might not be for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority – but He’s not completing turning you away. It’s as if He says, “I’m not going to give you that information, but I am going to give you the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and something to work on while you wait.” I’m going to give you spiritual power and a call to expand the kingdom – and that’s no little consolation prize.
Now, when it comes to the question of exactly when is Jesus going to set up His kingdom there always seem to be people trying to figure it out and even putting out their ideas about when it will happen and who, among our current global powers and politicians might be involved, but Jesus says clearly, no one knows the day or the hour so don’t get caught up with people who say they’ve got it all figured out.
Because here’s the problem – when we focus on Jesus’ return or Jesus establishing the kingdom, we often think of ourselves instead of others. Just a few weeks before all of these events in Acts happened, just a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples assumed Jesus was about to set up His kingdom and were vying for positions in Jesus’ cabinet. They had actually been asking Him for an appointment to sit at His right hand. They had been fighting over who would be His number two. That’s what they thought this final trip to Jerusalem was all about.
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Then the arrest and crucifixion happened and things looked pretty bleak for a while. But now there had been the resurrection and this promise of power – maybe now it’s time to set up the kingdom and start thinking about what that’s going to mean for me personally.
So Jesus corrects them again and says, no, that’s not what this is all about. The purpose of the promised power is to help expand the boundaries of a spiritual kingdom – to take the things they had learned from and about Jesus and communicate them in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the outmost parts of the earth.
In other words, their responsibility was not to know what’s going on with the kingdom, but to receive God’s promise and walk by faith as He used them to expand the Kingdom.
And He’s asking the same things of us today. We experience God’s power as He uses us to increase the coverage map of the gospel.
You’ve probably seen one of those maps showing cellular coverage – places your phone will and will not have coverage. Well, imagine what that would look like if it showed the penetration of the gospel. Where are the places in need of a gospel witness? And where are the places where that gospel witness is you, where you’re the cell tower?
Have you ever thought of your life that way? Where are the other Christians in your life – at home, at work, in your family? And where are the places you go where there are few, or no, Christians? Where are the spiritual dead spots where there is no gospel signal strength? What if God has put you there, to be a witness, to be a signal extender, repeater, or router? God is giving you an amazing opportunity to show Christ to people. And, He promises to give you the power to do it.
Think about that, because it’s amazing: God’s plan is people with power.
Jesus said: you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall
be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
He doesn’t say – go out there and live for Me as best as you know how. He doesn’t say come up with a strategy, come up with a plan, and then get out there and execute. He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, you’ve got this!” He says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’m going to give you power and you shall be My witness.” It’s a given, a promise. He didn’t say you might be a witness, He didn’t say suit up and warm up and I’ll call you if I need you, He says this is the plan – you shall be witnesses to Me everywhere you go.
Now, you realize He could do this all by Himself, right?
You realize God could use angels to get the word out? You realize God could do signs and wonders in the sky or visit everyone in a dream on the same night or take over your computer screen and broadcast His message – there’s nothing God is not capable of. It’s not
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like He really needs us, but God’s plan is people with power living out a compelling witness to other people all over the world and all throughout time.
And notice the grammar here – Jesus doesn’t say you’ll give witness, He doesn’t say you’ll testify, He says you will BE witnesses to Me. So, it’s not just the things you say, it’s also the life you live. Things are going to happen in your life, changes are going to occur, and spiritual gifts are going to be given – you’re going to do things you never thought you could do maybe never even thought you could do – but the Spirit is going to prompt you and encourage and empower you to serve.
We’re going to see this happen time and time again through the book of Acts – the Holy Spirit is mentioned more than 70 times in this book – frequently as He comes upon people to give them power and make them witnesses.
So let me ask: what would happen if you began to pray: God, make me a witness for You?
I’m not talking about giving you opportunities to share the gospel, though we should certainly be praying for that. I mean, what if you started by saying, God, please pour out Your Spirit on me. God please empower me to live as a witness for You – let people see Your grace, Your wisdom, Your gifts, Your transforming gospel power at work in me.
What affect would that have on your marriage, your business, your school? What would your kids see? What would your roommate see? What would your parents see? If you prayed, God, pour out your Spirit on me and empower me to be a witness for You?
If you are saved, if you are born again, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit. He lives inside of you. Remember Jesus said in John 14, the Holy Spirit will abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
Christian, the Spirit is in you, but are you empowered by Him? Do you depend on God for daily strength? Do people who see you, and people who hear you discern your witness for Christ? Are you, as we like to ask around here – increasingly available to God? When was the last time something happened in your life that you could directly, and only, attribute to His power coming upon you?
My hope is, that as we go through the book of Acts, God will provoke us with a Godly jealousy – that we see all He has done and can do through people filled with His power, and we’ll ask Him to do even more in us. My hope is that we will be witnesses to what God is doing in each other’s lives and that the world will take notice here in our own Jerusalem or wherever God sends us next – for His glory, and their good. My hope is that we would all become, individually and corporately, increasing available to God, full of power when the Holy Spirit has come upon us; and therefore witnesses to Him until the day of His return.