The Holy Spirit was the power for the early Church and not their purpose. They found their purpose in the final words of Jesus as recorded in Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18-21. Will we love Jesus and obey His commands and teach others to do the same?
My wife and I recently attended a friend’s funeral. It was her wish that the hymn, “The king of love my shepherd is” should be sung at her funeral. Very few people knew that hymn well enough to make a good job of singing it so a recording of it was played instead. I felt slightly guilt that we had not actually fulfilled the wishes of our deceased friend.
Jesus’ last words as recorded in the fourth book of the New Testament were “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.” (Acts 1:8 NIV) The book of Acts narrates the lives of people who heard Jesus give those last words and the people around them whose lives had been affected by witnessing their passion and courage.
The stories reveal a whole bunch of people who are so obsessed with fulfilling that mission given by Jesus and honouring His final wishes that they are prepared to suffer enormous hardships and even in some cases die for it.
The fascinating thing about these people and their mission is that, though what they were witnesses to was so unlikely (the death and resurrection of a man, Jesus, who they claimed was no other than the son of God), they were so successful that we can still see the results today. They gave birth to Christianity and the Church as we know it. The final words of Jesus play a key part in explaining the extreme lengths to which those first followers of Jesus went to in order to be true witnesses.
Much has been made of the Pentecost experience of receiving power and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changed fearful and confused disciples into the bold preachers that initiated the first Church we read about in Acts 2 and onwards, but there has to be more to the picture than that.
I am a pastor and pretty active as a Christian and personally claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit but my life is aimless when compared to those of the people I read about in Acts and I can say the same for hundreds of people I know. Why? Are we not filled with the same Holy Spirit as the first Christians were filled with?
I think the difference is not in what we have been filled with but in the understanding of the purpose of our lives as disciples of Jesus. The people who had waited, praying, in a locked upper room, who were so powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit that they threw caution to the wind and fell out onto the street proclaiming the wonders of God in languages they had not learned, had the last words of Jesus as their sole focus in life.
Why else would they have remained in Jerusalem to be hounded out as followers of the crucified Jesus? The Holy Spirit’s filling came as the first followers of Jesus obeyed his last words and waited in Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit was the empowering for the mission, not the mission itself. Often I think we confuse the two and search after the Holy Spirit (or more of the Holy Spirit) without realising that the filling is for a purpose and not the end in itself.
The purpose for those first witnesses was so clear that once they had fulfilled the first part of Jesus’ instructions (waiting to receive the Holy Spirit), the second part (being witnesses in Jerusalem) followed naturally.
Jesus said: “If you love me you keep my commands” (John 14:15 see also 14:23-24). I think we have lost sight of the fact that if we want to be disciples we must obey the commands of Jesus, not because He is a dictator but because we love Him.
In the more often quoted final speech of Jesus in Matthew 28, we are commanded to “go out into all the world and make disciples baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that he commanded” (Matt 28:19). This is a circular command, coming back on itself continually; it commands us to make disciples and teach them to obey all that He commanded. You can only conclude from this that to be a disciple means to make disciples: they cannot be separated. A disciple makes disciples! In the calling of Simon and Andrew to become fishers of men (Matt 4:18-19) we see that making disciples was the life purpose of the first followers of Jesus.
When people are passionate about something you generally find out about it after spending a short space of time with them. These passionate people talk confidently and enthusiastically about their passion. They can often hold people’s attention even when the subject is of no interest to the listener purely because their enthusiasm is compelling. The enthusiasm is often contagious, resulting in changes in the listener’s attitude and even in some cases their actions towards the subject. Have we lost our passion for Jesus?
When reading Acts I am continually being confronted by the lives of people who had a single-minded passion, a consuming obsession that they would risk everything for. It’s a book of the actions of passionate people, hence its title: “Acts”. What should our story read like? How should we fulfil the command to make disciples and teach them to obey all that He commanded?
It is unrealistic to assume that we can all stop work and just make disciples but we can live in love with Jesus; our passion for Him will spill out everywhere we go and affect the lives of everyone around us. We should respect the last words of Jesus as much as those first witnesses did.
Let’s find again the right perspective and the right focus. Perhaps we should pray as the early disciples prayed when the authorities forbade them to speak about Jesus and sought to stop them fulfilling their commitment to fulfilling Jesus’ last words:
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)