Spirit-filled For the Harvest Field
Topic: The Spirit-filled Life Passage: Acts 1:4–1:8
Marks of the Spirit-Filled Life Part Six
Spirit-Filled for the Harvest Field
I got an e-mail this week from a friend in the church that really stirred something in me. Several of us were interacting via e-mail about outreach and evangelism to this community and he shared his concern that we not become introspective as a church, focusing the vast majority of our attention of our own fellowship (as important as that is) and not giving at least an equal amount of attention to reaching the community God has placed us in.
God used that e-mail as a catalyst as I began to ponder that question: are we introspective? More to the point are we doing all we can to reach out with the gospel to those around us and this community? And the Lord began to speak to my heart that there was one more message He wanted me to preach on the Spirit-filled life.
For our guests, we are going through the book of Ephesians in a series called Life. Powered by grace. We have been spending the last several weeks looking at Paul's exhortation in chapter 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit, and this morning we're not leaving that topic but we are leaving Ephesians briefly. So turn with me please to
Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-6; 36-41 (Pray)
Lord I pray that by Your Spirit You will graciously allow this message to impress us. I don't mean impress as in people thinking it was a good message or that it was well delivered. I mean impress as in long after the words are forgotten, the message still impresses our hearts - still grips us. The burden reverberates and echoes and remains in us as a church. That we would become a church characterized by an outward focus and an outreach mindset. Empower us with a new boldness to preach the gospel and see lost souls won for Christ. Amen.
I. Waiting for the power of the Spirit - Acts 1:8
Jesus didn't send his disciples out immediately - He told them they needed to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. Think about that for a minute. They had the gospel message - now they knew that Jesus had died to pay for our sin and that God had raised him from the dead. They had the Great Commission - in Matthew 28 Jesus commissions them to take that message to the world. And they had some pretty serious motivation and enthusiasm. Can you imagine how pumped up they were to see Jesus alive again? Resurrected? In a glorified body that could walk through walls? These guys probably feel pretty ready to go preach the gospel to the whole world.
But Jesus says they're not ready to go yet. It's not enough to have the right message. Not enough to have the Lord's commission. Not enough to be motivated and excited about going. They needed - and we need - the power of the Holy Spirit. Need to always remember our need for the Spirit in our witnessing.
Paul Brand was a medical specialist who devoted his life to helping lepers in India. One night Dr. Brand was speaking in a medical college in India on "Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father." In front of the lectern was an oil lamp, with its cotton wick burning from the shallow dish of oil and as he preached, the lamp ran out of oil. Because the wick didn't have oil it started to fill the air with smoke which made Dr. Brand cough. He used it as a teaching moment. "Some of us here are like this wick," he said. "We're trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That's what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit."
The fuel of our witness can't be ourselves - if we are to shine for the glory of God it needs to be the Holy Spirit fueling our witness. We need to be filled with the Spirit.
Jesus told His disciples to wait. We don't need to wait for the giving of the Spirit the way the pre-Pentecost believers did. The Spirit has already been given to the church. When a person becomes a Christian they receive the Holy Spirit. After the day of Pentecost you never see the church duplicating that waiting - from Pentecost forward the church isn't waiting for the Spirit, the church is advancing relentlessly by the Spirit! That is us today - we don't wait in the same way the disciples needed to before the giving of the Holy Spirit.
There is still a waiting that needs to take place but waiting looks different today than it did then. Need to wait upon the Lord in the upper room of prayer. Need to ask daily, consistently, and with faith and expectation that God our heavenly Father fill us with the Holy Spirit and give us power to be His witnesses. But I submit to you, wait, ask, and go! The Spirit-filled life is for the harvest field! Go into the field with prayer and God will fill you and use you. Often we see in Acts after chapter two that the Spirit fills men as they act. That's why it's called the book of Acts and not the book of "Wait". Pray and go! Pray and do!
"Brethren, do something; do something, do something! While societies and unions make constitutions, let us win souls. I pray you, be men of action all of you. Get to work and quit yourselves like men. Old Suvarov's idea of war is mine: 'Forward and strike! No theory! Attack! Form a column! Charge bayonets! Plunge into the center of the enemy!' Our one aim is to win souls; and this we are not to talk about, but do in the power of God!" Charles Spurgeon
II. The purpose of the power is to go to the harvest fields 2:1-6
In chapter 2 we see they are filled with the Holy Spirit and then something happens between verse 4 and verse 5 - look with me. It's not stated directly, but it is necessarily implied. They are in the upper room waiting and praying, and then the Holy Spirit falls upon them and they are among the thousands of people who are in Jerusalem for Pentecost. And these thousands of people hear them praising and declaring the works of God in their own languages. And then Peter stands up and preaches to the multitudes.
What happens between verse 4 and verse 5? They leave the upper room! The power of the Spirit was not given to ramp up their church meeting - it was given to ramp out their church meeting! The same today. Our mission isn't contained in these four walls. It's out there. All around us - what Jesus calls the harvest field. And he says the harvest is white unto harvest but we are to pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers.
The purpose of the power the Spirit brings will be for reaching outside these four walls! The testimonies, the lives touched by love of Christ, people coming to faith in Christ, even the testimonies of being rejected for the sake of Christ - that is what the Lord has called His church for, and commissioned us to do, and most of that takes place outside these four walls. I never want to minimize the importance or blessing or necessity of our assembling together - we are told in Hebrews that we are never to forsake the assembling of believers. But it cannot be the sum total of what we are about as a church. Must be out in the fields where the lost souls that Jesus died for are. Jesus fills us with the Spirit so that we can go to the harvest field!
"Preach abroad (preach out of church)....It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has dampened the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in." Jonathan Edwards
III. So what stops our message from going out?
So what stops us? Why are so many Christians silent about their faith? Why are so many churches seeing so little activity outside of their four walls? And how does the Holy Spirit empower us to overcome the walls that keep us from going out with our faith?
I think if we're honest, this is a biggie. We're afraid. Afraid of looking foolish. Afraid of saying the wrong thing. Afraid of being tagged a fanatic. Afraid of being rejected. Afraid of offending. And so we are either silenced, or we round off the corners of the message of the gospel to make it as acceptable and unoffensive to people as possible.
Problem is that Jesus is the Rock of Offense. Scandalon, the stumbling stone that trips men up. Paul writes to the Corinthians:
For the word of the cross is folly (foolishness) to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor. 1:18
There is a strange phenomenon in football that happens when a team gets a sizable lead in the game. If you've watched football much you have heard the term "prevent defense" - and you've probably cringed to see your team go into "prevent defense" mode. Because at that point the team stops playing to win and starts playing not to lose. Big difference!
I had a friend who used to say that prevent defense just prevents that team from winning. Strategy built on fear - we don't want to lose this thing. And what happens? If the other team makes a play or gets momentum, they start get a sense, and then a hope, and then a confidence that we could win this thing. And they throw away all caution and start playing with abandon to win. And so many times the team playing to win will beat the team playing not to lose.
Churches can get this mentality. We don't want to lose what we've got. If we say that thing, we'll offend that person. If we preach this way - that person may stop coming. I've built a friendship with that person who doesn't know Jesus, but if I come right out and share the straightforward gospel I might lose their friendship. Yeah, you might. But you have little chance of winning them to Christ if you don't share - humbly, with love, the gospel. They are headed for hell with no hope for eternity. God has provided the only hope of rescue in His Son Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save us from our sin. What will you do with Christ? That has the potential to offend. Power to save - by the Spirit of God who is in us.
¨ Willing to risk failure. If Christian or a church isn't willing to risk some failure gonna always play not to lose. Let's not try anything new - might fail. Not step out and trust God cause we might fail. Don't share the gospel with that person - risk offending.
Peter and the disciples knew what it was to be afraid - they all fled when Jesus was arrested and Peter even denied knowing him. But when the Spirit filled them they were filled with a supernatural courage.
Look at Peter - once afraid to confess he even knew Jesus - now he stands up and preaches Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord. Vv. 36-37. He doesn't round off the edges at all - twice he refers to this Jesus Christ whom you crucified! Preaching to cut their hearts and that's exactly what happens - their hearts are cut to the core (that's the power of the Spirit at work). But he calls them to repent and trust in Christ and on that day 3000 are saved.
Fear keeps us in our four walls - but the Spirit of God fills us with a holy courage and boldness if we ask Him too. Doesn't mean we won't be afraid - won't let fear stop us from stepping out. Jesus fills us with the Spirit so that we can go to the harvest field!
- Lack of spiritual urgency
We just don't feel any spiritual urgency. Life seems pretty routine and it seems odd to get worked up over the eternal destinies of men. As I felt this message in my heart I wrestled with that - let's not be weird. But if we really believe this book then we are called to a rescue mission that is far, far more urgent than any emergency personnel have ever responded to.
Patrick Perl just got back a few weeks ago from a medical e-team to Uganda where they were able to help and care for dozens if not hundreds of sick and suffering people - men, women and children. He shared with us the pictures and testimonies of various people they cared for.
But what if Patrick and the team he went with spent whole time in their rooms reading and playing board games and occasionally talking about helping people. What if the pictures he showed us instead of long lines of people waiting to be cared for and holding signs that said "thank you" were of his team hanging out in their rooms and the signs the people were holding said, "where are you?"
We have been commissioned to a rescue mission that is far, far more urgent than the medical needs of seriously suffering people - the lost are in eternal peril and God has commissioned us with the only message that can save them. And we don't know when the last time we see someone might be the last time we ever see them.
When David Smaltz, executive pastor of Manna Church in Fayetteville, NC was attending Bible College he worked at a restaurant called Chi Chi's. One day it snowed and turned into sleet and ice and because they're not equipped with snow plows and salt trucks down there (only get one or two a year) the roads were pretty bad when he and another guy Wayne came out. Wayne's car was stuck but Dave was from Michigan and knew what to do - let the air out of his tires to get better traction and then offered a ride home to Wayne. Told him he wasn't working the next day but Wayne could get a ride in and get his car the next day.
On the way home, even though tired and cold, Dave took the opportunity to tell Wayne the gospel. How are we doing at that? Taking those opportunities around us - maybe a waitress, a co-worker, a neighbor? Opportunities are all around us - are we seizing them or losing them? Dave shared the gospel and urged Wayne to pray and ask Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Wayne said he needed to think about it and got out of the car.
Dave went in to work two days later to find a can near the time clock that said "for Wayne". He asked about it and they said, "didn't you hear? Wayne was killed in a car crash yesterday coming in to work. We don't know whether Wayne ever trusted in the Lord Christ, we can hope so, it was God's mercy that he heard the gospel just hours before his death. This story is a dramatic illustration of a universal truth: everyone we meet is mortal. We don't the day, but everyone of us has a last one. And we never know, never really know, when we may be seeing that person for the last time on this earth. There is a spiritual urgency. Don't need to make it up - but we should ask God to fill our hearts with that sense of the shortness of time every single day.
Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our want of success." ~ Hudson Taylor
- Lack of Christ's love for the lost
The third reason that may hinder us from going if we're brutally honest is that many times we lack Christ's love for the lost. Jesus loves the lost and died for them - but we can lack a real love and concern for their souls. Way too often that is me - and maybe you too. The Holy Spirit once again supplies all that we lack.
Romans 5:5 says God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We don't want to put the wick down into our own source of love - we need to put the wick down into the love of Christ as imparted to us through the Holy Spirit. Without love, our witness will be imbalanced or wild-eyed or arrogant. Produce a lot of smoke and just make people cough.
Effective evangelism isn't ultimately about methods or strategy or programs. If we want to be a church that has an outward focus and wins souls for Christ then the most important thing is that we love people and want to see them saved enough to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ even if it costs us their good opinion or friendship.
¨ Impress our hearts: pray for one unsaved person we know.
¨ Be ready - at the check out line, in a restaurant, to a neighbor. Ready to seize that opportunity.
Jesus fills us with the Spirit for the harvest fields. Fields where people live real lives that are desperately in need of the grace and mercy that are found in Jesus Christ alone. That is the mission field God has called each one of us who are Christians to labor. But we need to ask the Father to fill us with the Holy Spirit for the task and then live in the expectancy that He will do just that and use you and me to reach the lost that He love so much.
That's it. Burden. Call worship team up. If you're not a Christian, there's no better time than right now to get things right with God. You don't have any guarantees there will be a tomorrow. Some of you young people who are growing up in a Christian home but have never personally trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. There's a heaven, but there's also a hell. No one - no one - gets to heaven except through Jesus Christ. He is the gate - no one enters any other way. Will you pray with me?
Let's respond together in praise and worship to God and then I want to open the mic up here for just a few minutes for a brief but heartfelt time of corporate prayer that God would fill us for the harvest fields. Not going to have an altar call because I think this is a message that calls all of us to respond not just some.
Return the Cross to Golgotha
I simply argue that the cross be raised again
at the center of the marketplace
as well as on the steeple of the church.
I am recovering the claim that
Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral
between two candles;
But on a cross between two thieves:
on a town garbage heap;
at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan
that they had to write His title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...
And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut,
and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died,
and that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ's men ought to be,
and what church people ought to be about.