Below are the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “Receive Power”, based on Acts 1:1-8, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on September 5, 2010.
In the Book of Acts, we are given glimpses into the life of the Early Church. We get to see their habits, their challenges, their fears, and their joys.
I think that there is much for us to learn from observing the 1st Century Church, and so for the next 10 Sundays, we will be gleaning The Book of Acts for some principles that will help us live faithfully as a congregation in the 21st Century.
By way of introduction, I want to draw your attention to name given to this book of the Bible: The Acts of the Apostles. I find this title to be somewhat misleading. Most of the apostles are never heard of in this book. There are, at most, 3 or 4 who play a prominent role in Luke’s recording of early church history.
What we find instead is that the constant in this book is the Holy Spirit. What we find is that behind the prayers, behind the preaching, behind the efforts of those 1st Century Christians is the powerful movements of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Luke begins this book by telling us about his previous work, the gospel bearing his name, writing, “The first account I composed Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach”.
Luke immediately alerts us to the fact that Acts is a continuation of his first account. While the Gospel of Luke is about what Jesus began to do and teach, The Book of Acts details what Jesus continues to do through the Holy Spirit.
If we want to make a distinction between what Jesus accomplished during His earthly life and what He continues to do through His Spirit, I would suggest the following analogy—it is one thing to compound a medicine, and it is another thing to administer it.
The sinless life of Jesus, and His atoning death, formed a perfect medicinal compound for the soul. This medicine is perfect and complete, sufficient in every way—and there is no need to add to it. However, there remains an urgency to administer it.
You could say then, that The Book of Acts is about the administration of the medicine of the Gospel. Luke is not concerned about adding to the Gospel content; he is concerned about promoting it, and advancing its scope.
Accordingly, what we find is that The Book of Acts is not simply about the establishment of the Christian Church but, more precisely, its primary concern is the expansion of the Kingdom of God in the world.
What this means for us at St. Andrew’s Kirk in the 21st Century is that we must not resign ourselves to simply being a well established congregation with a 200 year history. Christ’s vision for His Church is that we would always be growing and advancing.
The Christian Church is not meant to be a fixed institution, but rather, we are intended to be the dynamic means by which the Spirit of Christ continues to function in a physical environment.
I think it is fitting that the Church is also called Christ’s Body. We would think it a very strange thing if, after being born, a baby failed to grow. Growth is a sign of good health. The same can be said of the Church—healthy congregations are growing congregations.
So how do we ensure that this describes us? What is the key to our future growth?
Every indication suggests that a healthy congregation is a congregation that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the key to every success. We cannot rightly pray, we cannot rightly teach, we cannot rightly evangelize, unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is precisely why Jesus commanded the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. After telling them to remain in Jerusalem, Jesus promises, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit”(1:5).
Notice, in verse 4, the instruction to be inactive—‘Don’t do anything. Stay put for a while.’ This commandment to be temporarily inactive appears to me to be very significant.
You would have thought that these individuals were in a perfect position to carry on the ministry of Jesus. They had been with Jesus for 3 years; they had heard all of His discourses; they had seen all of His miracles; they had engaged Him in personal conversations. They had witnessed His Crucifixion and His burial, and above all, they were witnesses to His Resurrection.
You would have thought that this group of followers was in a perfect position to go out and preach, but they were not. Before they could be effective witnesses for Jesus they needed the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Now friends, if the Holy Spirit’s enabling power was necessary for the first disciples (who witnessed first hand all that Jesus said and did), how much more is the Spirit necessary for us doing ministry today?
Luke makes it clear that Jesus did not want the disciples to attempt any ministry until they had been made fit to do ministry. The same can be said of us.
Sometimes we, in the church, are so desperate to see something get done that we recruit and organize volunteers without ever discerning whether they are actually fit to do the ministry before them.
And, by fit, I do not mean naturally gifted. When I talk about fitness for ministry, I am talking about the fitness made possible by the Spirit of Christ.
This is one of the key messages from the Book of Acts: before there can be any effective ministry, there must first be Christ’s Spirit empowering our efforts.
After correcting the disciples regarding the nature of His kingdom, Jesus makes a promise to His disciples that we must claim for ourselves. Jesus promises them, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”(1:8).
The word Jesus uses here is very significant. When Jesus tells the disciples that they shall receive “power”, we might be tempted to ask, ‘What kind of power is being promised here?’
Admittedly, there are different types of power. We can talk about how the wind (Hurricane Earl) is powerful, and we can talk about how a person, like President Obama, is a powerful. What kind of power is Jesus talking about?
Nobel discovered a power stronger than anything the world had known up to that time.
Nobel then asked a friend, who was a Greek scholar, what the word for “explosive power” was in Greek. His friend answered, “Dynamis.”
Nobel responded, “Well, I am going to call my discovery by that name.” So he called his explosive power “dynamite” (Boice, Acts, 25).
Friends, I want you to know that it is no small thing that Jesus promises when He says that we will receive power from His Holy Spirit.
And what will this power give us the capacity to do? Jesus says that this power will enable us to be effective witnesses for Him (1:8).
The purpose for which Jesus gives us power is important to note. Jesus does not give us power for our own personal advantage. While we certainly benefit from receiving divine power, the power is not given to us for our sake. The power is given for His sake, it is given for His purposes—the power enables us to be His witnesses.
It must be the case then, that this power is a transformational power. When we access the Holy Spirit, He begins to cause our character and actions to conform to that of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the Holy Spirit makes us live differently than before. Apart from the Spirit, we want to live for ourselves. Apart from the Spirit, we govern ourselves by our personal preferences. But the Spirit changes that, when we’re in step with Him.
I’d like to offer what is a silly example, but hopefully you will find it helpful in highlighting our current predicament. Imagine that I told you that I had a supernatural encounter with God in which He gave me the ability to play basketball.
Out onto the court we go and you’re watching carefully to see how my encounter with God has improved my game. You’re expecting me to handle the ball with ease, and to shoot with tremendous accuracy. You’re anticipating that I’ll be able to out jump and outrun my opponents.
If, however, you see little or no change to my basketball skills, you are going to doubt whether I really had this encounter with God—aren’t you?
Similarly, if we profess to have had an encounter with God that has led us to be a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t it be the case that those around us begin to notice a profound change in our behaviour?
And if St. Andrew’s Kirk claims to be the assembly of individuals who have had an encounter with God, shouldn’t it be the case that we would stand out from every lodge, every sorority, and every service club?
Because if we don’t stand out—if we don’t increasingly resemble Jesus in our character and in our habits, then the world around us is going to question whether we’ve really had an encounter with God.
Jesus makes a promise to His followers that they will receive the Holy Spirit. And with His Spirit, Christ promises power—explosive, dynamic power that transforms and enables us to represent Jesus to this world.
Author, Francis Chan, provides a helpful analogy for what we should be experiencing. Chan imagines what it would be like to be a caterpillar.
For all of its life, a caterpillar crawls around a small patch of dirt and up and down a few plants. Then one day it takes a nap. A long nap.
And then, what goes through its head when it wakes up to discover it can fly? What happened to its dirty, plump little worm body? What does it think when it sees its tiny new body and gorgeous wings?
Friends, as followers of Jesus, we ought to experience this same kind of astonishment when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies. We should be stunned when we become aware of the presence of Divine power enabling us.
This is an awesome reality that is open to us. What is left for us is a choice.
Will we plan and live as if everything depends on our efforts? Or will we plan and live as if everything depends upon His power?
Our human efforts will produce human-sized results which will last for a season.
Divinely powered efforts, however, will produce astonishing results which will last for an eternity.
My encouragement to you this morning is to look beyond your natural abilities to God who offers you the power of His Spirit to carry out His will.
We can do some good things if we coordinate and plan well. But, we can do some awesome things if we call upon the Lord for assistance.
So let’s call upon Him—as individual followers of Jesus and as a congregation.
Let’s call upon Him and expect to receive His power today. Amen.