Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power to Do God's Will

Part 2 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 1:1-11; 2:1-4




“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).


Do You Have Power?

Last week Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The island is completely without electrical power. And it won't be a matter of days until power is restored but months. We get annoyed when we lose power for just a few hours. Imagine months! Obviously we can live without electrical power. People did it for thousands of years. But life is much easier when we do have power--hot water, light at the flick of a switch, and so on.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the apostles that they would “receive power” (1:8) to live as he wanted them to live. Was this power only available for the apostles? No, it’s also available to us today. It might be possible to be a Christian and lack this power (just like it's possible to live without electrical power), but we can't live as God wants us to live without it. What is this power and how do we get it?


The Promise of the Father

Jesus instructs the apostles to “wait for the promise of the Father” (1:4). He tells them that John the Baptist had “baptized with water” but that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” in a few days (1:5). The Holy Spirit will “come upon [them]” and they will “receive power” (1:8).

The fulfillment of the promise of the Father occurs in chapter 2. The apostles (and the other believers with them in Jerusalem) are “all filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). And the Holy Spirit gives them the power “to speak in other tongues [i.e., languages]” (2:4). What do they speak about? The gospel. 

Peter speaks to the people about Jesus:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (2:22-24). 
He goes on to say,
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (2:32-33). 
Peter concludes by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36). Is this the same man who only a few days earlier had denied knowing Jesus? What caused the dramatic change in Peter’s life? Two things: (1) he had seen the risen Jesus (who had forgiven him); (2) he was empowered by the Holy Spirit.


The Purpose of the Holy Spirit

There’s lots of confusion about the Holy Spirit. Many people think that the Holy Spirit is merely a force, not a person. But the Bible refers to the Spirit as a “he,” not an “it.” He’s the third person of the Trinity.

And there are different views among Christians on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (also known as spiritual gifts). A spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit for service. The two basic views about spiritual gifts are cessationism and continuationism. Cessationists believe that some of the spiritual gifts are no longer in operation today (e.g., the gift of tongues). Continuationists believe that all of the spiritual gifts are still in operation today.

What was the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity in Acts 2? And what is the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives today? During the Last Supper, Jesus declared, “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me” (John 16:14). We glorify Jesus by what we say and what we do. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, they talked about Jesus. And they also lived like Jesus. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit’s power, we will act like Jesus and talk about Jesus. 


How Do We Get the Spirit's Power? 

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” We receive the Holy Spirit at conversion, but we are not always filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. And we don’t have a gauge that tells us if we are filled with the Spirit or not.

How do we get this power? There is not “secret” to being filled with the Spirit. (Just like there really isn’t a secret to losing weight or getting out of debt). We must daily surrender ourselves to God’s will and ask him for the power to do it.

Is it possible to be a Christian and lack this power? Yes, but is that what you want? Are you content with being a middle-of-the-road Christian?

Monday, September 18, 2017

How It All Began

Part 1 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 1:1-11




“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). 


Gone Viral

Up until the last few years, when you heard the word “viral” you probably thought of a viral infection (e.g., the common cold). But now when you hear the word “viral” you might think instead of a viral video. A viral video is a video that quickly gets millions of views by people sharing it with others on the Internet.

In the beginning of the book of Acts, only a handful of people are aware of the gospel. But at the end of the book, thousands of people have heard and believed the gospel. The gospel went viral. How? By people simply sharing it with others.


Jesus Is Alive!

The Acts of the Apostles is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Luke states that in his “first book” (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) he wrote about what “Jesus began to do and teach” (v. 1). Now in the book of Acts Luke will tell us about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles.

Luke writes that during the time between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Jesus “presented himself alive to [the apostles]…by many proofs” (v. 3). The apostles were convinced that the gospel was true. Jesus had died for their sins and had risen from the grave! All who put their trust in Jesus will be saved!


Sharing the Gospel

Jesus says to the apostles, “You will be my witnesses” (v. 8; cf. Isa. 49:6). A witness is someone who tells others what he/she has seen. The apostles were witnesses in a unique sense. Unlike us, they had seen Jesus before and after his death and resurrection.

  • “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (2:32). 
  • “You killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (3:15). 
  • “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:20). 
  • “God raised [Jesus] on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (10:40-41). 
Does this mean that v. 8 doesn’t apply to us today? No, all who receive the testimony of the apostles all become witnesses. We haven’t seen the risen Jesus, but we have seen what the gospel has done in our own lives. 

Many of us have probably heard the saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” But the truth is that people need to hear (or read) words in order to be saved. Justin Taylor has said, “The Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.” That’s not to say that how we live is unimportant. It’s incredibly important. (And we’ll see this as we go through Acts.) But the fact remains that being a witness requires a person to use words.


To the End of the Earth

Jesus tells the apostles that they are to be witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). Verse 8 could be used as a table of contents for the books of Acts. It begins with a few witnesses in Jerusalem, and by the end of the book the gospel is taken all the way to Rome. And it eventually reached us!

Though they lived in a different time and culture, the apostles and the other followers of Jesus in Acts were people like us. They struggled with fear like we do. There is no valid excuse for not sharing the gospel. (Keep in mind that most of the believers in Acts did not speak to large crowds like Peter and Paul did.)

Wherever we are and whomever we’re with, we should look for opportunities to share the gospel. But not every moment should be considered an opportunity to share the gospel. Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” There is a time to speak up and share the gospel, and there is a time to keep silent and pray. We need boldness, but we also need wisdom.


In the Meantime

“As [the apostles] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (v. 9). “While they were gazing into heaven” (v. 10), two angels two angels said to the apostles, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (v. 11).

Earlier the apostles had wanted to know when the kingdom of God would come to earth: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). But Jesus told them that this wasn’t for them to know: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (v. 7). Too many Christians spend more time speculating about when Jesus might return than thinking about how they might share the gospel with a friend.

We are living in the time between two great events: the ascension and the second coming. Jesus went up to heaven, and one day he’ll return. In the meantime, we have are to his witnesses. We are to share with others what God has done for us—and what he can do for anyone—through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Right Paths Are Not Always Easy Paths

Part 5 of Summer in the Psalms

Text: Psalm 23




Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (v. 4).


The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm in the book of Psalms. The psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd” (v. 1). God is our shepherd, and we are his sheep. One of the jobs of a shepherd is to lead his sheep.

This summer my sister went with my family and I to New Hampshire. She claimed to know how to get to certain places, but she often ended up being wrong. Finally, I said, “Danielle is a great GPS. Just ask her which way to go and then go the opposite way.”

God always leads his sheep in the right direction. But sometimes the path he leads us on is difficult.


Never In Need

God’s sheep “shall not want” (v. 1). Our shepherd “makes [us] lie down in green pastures. He leads [us] beside still waters” (v. 2). In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

So we are never in need, right? Not exactly. Earlier Paul wrote, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12). Paul says that there were times when he was in need. Does this contradict Philippians 4:19 and Psalm 23:1? No, sometimes we need to be in need. But, as Paul says, “[We] can do all things [i.e., face any circumstance] through him who strengthens [us]” (Phil. 4:13). We won’t get everything we want, but we will never lack what God knows is good for us. 


Right Paths

Sometimes we stray from our shepherd, and we find ourselves on a wrong path. The path is difficult because of our own sinfulness or foolishness. God “leads [us] in paths of righteousness” (v. 3). “Paths of righteousness” are right paths. God leads us to both “green pastures” (v. 2) and “the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4). Both the green pastures and the dark valley are right paths. The right paths are not always easy paths, but on every path our shepherd is with us. 

Notice in verse 4 that the pronouns change. In verses 1-3, David refers to God as “he.” But in verse 4, he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Perhaps there is a switch from “he” to “you” because it’s in the moments of great fear and uncertainty that we most sense God’s presence with us. In a sermon on Psalm 23, John Piper says, “The crises of life draw us closer to God. We are more prone to talk about God when we are in the green pasture and more prone to cry out to God when we enter some fearful ravine.”


The Path to the Cross

We might question God’s love for us when we we’re on a difficult path, but we must remember that Jesus walked a difficult path that lead him to the cross. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus was not like the hired hand who “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12). Jesus was willing to give his life to save his sheep. The hired hand “flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13). But Jesus, the good shepherd, loves his sheep. We can trust a shepherd whom we know loves us—even on the difficult paths.


A Restored Soul

David writes, “He restores my soul” (v. 2). “Restores my soul” probably refers to the refreshment or comfort of the soul. Lamentations 1:16 says, “My eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit.” Comfort is also mentioned in verse 4: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Proverbs 18:14 says, “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Even in good times people can have a crushed spirit. How can we possibly have a comforted soul as we’re walking through “the valley of the shadow of death”? The presence of God comforts our souls. “Surely goodness and mercy [steadfast love] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (v. 6). Jesus, the good shepherd, says, “I came that [my sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).