"Proofs, Politics, and Power to Change"
March 30, 2008 Acts 1:1-11
Longing for OUR Kind of Leader
Few things fill the news as much as politics. For months, TV and radio and newspaper reports have flurried around the US presidential race. You don't have to have even been IN the states to have heard all you want about nominees McCain, Clinton, and Obama. One wonders at the amount of energy and attention devoted to this. It must REALLY be important to get the right leader - that is, the one WE like. Entertainment personalities such as Oprah get into the act, throwing their support behind certain candidates. Canadian satires like Rick Mercer and This Hour has 22 Minutes even get involved, commenting on and interviewing the hopefuls. Meanwhile those leaders who currently have the real power, such as Pres.Bush, fade into obscurity backstage even before their term is up.
We want things to be orderly in our lives so we're not hassled. We like those in power to wield that power the way WE would. Better yet, just let US make the decisions - that way we'd all be happy. In coffeeshops can be found any number of armchair presidents/prime ministers who feel they could run the country better than the current administration. Thankfully they will never get the opportunity!
We hanker for power, for control, for authority to run things the way WE want. After Jesus' resurrection, in the brief 40-day window He showed Himself to them at least 10 times and as Acts 1:3 says, "gave many convincing proofs that He was alive". Now, just think of the opportunity the disciples had to ask valuable questions. Here's the Lord, risen from the dead, and you can ask any question you like - what would you ask? How some of the details of creation were handled? What it was like after He died? What it will be like when we who believe get to heaven? But no, the disciples didn't ask anything like that. See their one question in this whole passage in v6: "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" They just had to talk about politics! Like just weeks before when the disciples were arguing about who's going to get to sit next to the Master in the positions of prestige and power (Mark 9:34; 10:37,41). They wanted Jesus to bring power to them, to put them in charge so they could sort the world out.
Too often we expect God to come through according to OUR ideas of what's best. For centuries the Jewish people had been anticipating a Messiah who would free them from foreign domination. Lloyd Ogilvie comments: "The people of Israel were secure that this kingdom on earth was His chosen people. The Davidic kingdom was the closest they had come to God's kingdom in their history. When that kingdom was divided and when Israel eventually lost its political power and independence, the Kingdom of God was envisioned in the future when they would return to that time of David's glory. That's why there were so many questions asked by Israel's leaders about whether Jesus was the true son of David. The Messiah was expected to return Israel to the grandeur of international power and political freedom. His peace was understood to be the result of victory over other nations and the supremacy of God's people as a theocracy. God reigning over Israel and Israel a military leader of the world were the vision and hope."
So how did Jesus respond to his dull domestic disciples' political aspirations? He had a better plan in mind. He deftly and politely nips their throne-climbing in the bud. V7 He responds, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority." That's God's authority to decide - not yours! But Jesus does go on to spell out 3 ways in which the God's Kingdom requires submission in various areas of our lives.
Lord of Our Time
Power, pride, and impatience go together in our fallen human nature: we seize power as a means of obtaining control (which is at the root of pride) to get what we want when we want it (which caters to our impatience). If Jesus is truly Lord in our lives, we will learn to wait for His timing rather than trying to run things on our schedule. V4, when Jesus was eating with them (remember He had no problem devouring a piece of broiled fish - Lk 24:42f), He commanded them: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about." Putting power-relationships in proper order in our lives means we have to wait rather than running ahead, sometimes running over people to try to get what we want. Some of Jesus' last parables emphasized the need to "keep watch" and wait like the ten young women waiting to meet the bridegroom (Mt 24:42; 25:13). Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." Hosea 12:6, "But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always."
Acknowledging Jesus' lordship in our lives involves letting Him be in charge of our time. Sometimes this means waiting rather than rushing. Sometimes it means starting earlier so you can honour the Lord's name by not being late. I have a compulsive tendency to try and fit as much as possible into the time allowed; when I underestimate, I run out of time and may end up running to catch up. It's hard not to press just a little harder on that accelerator - praise God for cruise control! Seeking God's kingdom rather than our own earthly fiefdoms may mean saying 'no' to trying to squeeze in just one more thing. Acknowledge your limits and His sovereignty.
Lord of Our Emptiness
Let's face it, life can be pretty drab at times. Especially at the end of March when it's cloudy, cold, and that snow just won't seem to go away! Or we're bored with our job. School seems a drag. Maybe a friend has stopped being interested in getting together. Or said something hurtful. Any number of things can leave us feeling empty, lonely, or hurt. Often individuals try to mask that pain with substance abuse or sex or wrong pleasure-pursuits. They're looking for an anaesthetic, but those are only short-term solutions. Jesus wants to be Lord of our Emptiness, our emotions and experience.
V5, "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." It's a little ambiguous whether it's "baptized with" or "baptized in" water / the Spirit. Point is, Jesus is about to create a Spirit-soaked community of faithful folk who are connected intimately to Himself, the Father, and one another through the third member of the Trinity, the Helper.
The goal of life is not earthly kingdoms - getting our wishes fulfilled, our appetites catered to, our senses indulged in endless comforts. What was Jesus' main subject of conversation during His earthly life and the 40 days post-grave? End of v3, He 'spoke about the Kingdom of God'. This was Jesus' emphasis consistently ever since the Sermon on the Mount - "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mt 6:33; Lk 12:31) - then everything else will fall into place. What's this "kingdom" business?
As Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." (Jn 18:36) His jurisdiction isn't geographical, marked off by electoral districts, counties, and provinces. Unlike Islam where adherents are obligated to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and encircle its holy place at least once in their lifetime. Instead, Jesus was focussed on creating a new community of the faithful, a spiritual 'network' linked to God regardless of location. In Luke 17(20f) when Jesus was asked by Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, He replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." It's not 'out there' but 'in here': within you or among you (NRSV). Baptism in the Holy Spirit initiates us into that connection.
Paul wrote, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit..." (Rom 14:17) Pagans run after earthly fulfilments, but God's re-born children are otherwise engaged and satisfied. In Galatians 5 there are two camps - those controlled by the sinful nature, occupied by "deeds of the flesh"; and those functioning in the Spirit and showing its fruit: love, joy, peace, etc.including self-control. Paul warns his readers sternly that "those who live like this' [following the desires of the sinful nature, committing acts of the flesh] 'will not inherit the kingdom of God.' Our choices have serious eternal consequences.
We live in such an electronically-engaged culture that it's all too easy to turn on some gadget or flop in front of a monitor when we're tired and just looking for a little amusement or entertainment. Yet let's be cautious lest our attention be steered towards things that gratify sinful desires - the very things Paul warns us against (immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, rage, envy, drunkenness etc.).
You don't have to be quite so restrictive as I have been in the past. You know, it could be every Christian parent's dream to be written up in Focus on the Family's monthly magazine. In the March issue under an article titled "Turn off the Tube" we read, "Growing up as a home-schooled pastor's kid in a low-income family, it took a day's worth of preparation to 'flick on the tube'. First, Dad had to head downstairs to the basement and dust off the old black and white box.Then, after bringing it up and installing it, he plodded off to the local library where he rented a VCR. Next, we picked out a movie to rent-- which also took a lot of deliberation, considering we were only allowed to watch G-rated movies. Finally, after popping corn on the stove, we gathered around the TV for a family night of entertainment." You think, How extreme! Then look at the author and realize it's by my own daughter...Surely we weren't THAT restrictive; Emily must have been exaggerating from her memory.
Then this week we received a card from Yvonne's long-time friend in Nova Scotia. She wrote, "I read Emily's article in the Focus on the Family magazine. I hadn't noticed the author but as I read I thought 'That sounds like the Dows' so then I checked for the author. I was right!" So, maybe it really WAS that much of a procedure...
While you don't have to be quite that restrictive, do allow Jesus to be in charge of your remote. Use viewer discretion. Don't fill your emptiness or emotions with what's sinful or tempting. His Spirit offers activities and experiences much more wholesome.
Lord of Our Expression
Verse 8 tells more about what the outcome of receiving the Holy Spirit will be. Jesus said, "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." That's actually a summary of the whole book of Acts in one sentence; those are the stages in which the Christian message spread.
Go back to the start of the verse: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you"; power, might, strength, ability. The disciples had been eager for power, but a different type - earthly, bureaucratic, 'power over'. Jesus offers power for ability, strengthening, making us capable to serve. See how He links it to service, saying, "and you will be My witnesses..." The Holy Spirit's power is so we can get the word out, power for our expression, our witness, the message we convey - whether in speech, in art, in writing, in a cup of cold water for someone who's thirsty. Jesus' power is given not to be used in a selfish way, focussed on 'me', but focussed on Jesus - "you will be MY witnesses".
The role of a witness is fundamentally secondary, derivative: the event didn't depend on you to happen, you were just there to see it, so you can pass on to others what you experienced. But the focus is outside ourselves. It's not about us, or our successful initiatives, or the church building we're hoping to construct. Our witness is to Jesus, what He's done and doing in people's lives.
The first apostles became 'martyrs' in the full sense of the Greek word for 'witness': they were so convinced of the truth of Jesus' resurrection from the dead (by those 40 days and 'many convincing proofs') that they maintained their story even to the point of suffering violent deaths as a result of persecution. We're called likewise to communicate to others as best we can the difference Jesus has made in our lives.
Other post-resurrection passages similarly emphasize witnessing. Mt 28(18-20), "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.[there's that Kingship/submission issue being settled] 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...'" Mk 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." Lk 24:47, "...repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." And John 20(21ff), "(Jesus said), '...As the Father has sent me, I am sending you....Receive the Holy Spirit.If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"
We are called to make Jesus the Lord of our Expression: called to be witnesses, helping other people realize there is a solution to their guilt/sin problem. That although God is holy and a just judge, He is also merciful and offers forgiveness through His Son. The Holy Spirit equips us with power not to control other people, but be spiritual obstetricians coaching them into the freedom of knowing Jesus and forgiveness. A better kind of Lord than earth's fast-vanishing presidents and emperors; one to whom they can really entrust their whole existence.
Pull Rank, or Come Alongside?
Knowing and loving Jesus affects how we interact with other people. For instance, what would be your response to someone who's being difficult or disruptive? Would you tend to get rid of them, or spend time with them?
Meredith Culbertson is 26 and has just launched a ministry in Winnipeg for inner-city children. 'Urban Potential' as it's called is focusing, in her words, "on potential, on what these kids can be when they get older, besides prostitutes, drug dealers, and unmarried mothers when they're 15." The ministry provides after-school programs that emphasize relationship-building and skill development.
One especially disruptive 8-year-old was attending a program Meredith Culbertson ran. She considered sending him home, but decided to talk to him instead. She was surprised by what she found. She recalls, "I didn't think he wanted to spend time with me, when that's all he wanted.He didn't want me to get my budget done or make sure dinner was on the table. He wanted me to sit beside him and read a book, or watch him play."
Christ's power works wonders when we choose to come alongside others in love rather than merely pull rank to avoid them. It takes time and the right way to express it, but that's all part of being a witness to His risen life within us. Hear the apostolic ring as Culbertson says, "Christ's love can't reach [these kids] unless we go in there and love them." Let's pray.