Power to be His Disciples
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Acts 1:1–1:9
Last week we looked at the first words that many of Jesus’ disciples heard from Jesus: the words follow me. Discipleship really begins with a person choosing to follow Jesus with their life. This morning I want us to fast forward to the last words that Jesus’ small band of disciples heard just before he ascended to the right hand of God the Father so turn with me please to Acts 1 beginning in verse 1, but we will be focusing most of our attention on verse 8.
If ever men were ready to live life out as Jesus’ disciples, the eleven apostles were ready. For three years they had walked with Jesus himself, listening to his teaching, seeing him perform miracles, observing his example and character. They were as well-taught as any men could ever be. Can you imagine any seminary or teacher who could come close to imparting what Jesus imparted to these men?
On top of that, they also were eyewitnesses to his crucifixion and to his resurrection. If that doesn’t give them the courage and motivation to tell the world what God had done through Jesus Christ then nothing will! And on top of all that, they had Jesus’ own command to go into all the world making disciples of all nations. If discipleship were just a matter of being well taught and highly motivated, these guys would have been totally ready to take the baton from Jesus’ hands and carry on His work in the earth.
But Jesus told his disciples to wait. The one thing they lacked was power. Power such as only the Holy Spirit can deliver.
We are going to be in a series on discipleship for the next several months but at the outset I want to remind us that being disciples of Jesus Christ takes more than teaching and training and equipping and motivating. It does take all that, but we need to remember that, according to Christ, it takes power. Power from the Holy Spirit. Two questions:
- Why do we need power?
- How do we get (or grow) in this power?
1. Why do we need power?
Depending on your background, I realize that talking about the Holy Spirit and power can make some people feel uncomfortable. Maybe you get images of a guy in a white suit with bad hair waving a mic around and dozens of people falling to the floor. That’s not what we’re going to be talking about.
The fact is there are two extremes that churches need to be careful of: the one extreme is to emphasize the power of the Spirit but not emphasize that the purpose of the Spirit’s power is to enable us to be witnesses for Christ and to make disciples. Christians in this kind of church can grow in their faith in God’s supernatural power, but not grow in their Christian maturity. Instead of their lives being built on the word of Christ and sound doctrine, their lives are built on spiritual experiences – and often the results are sincere Christians who are believing God for great supernatural signs, all the while their personal lives are falling apart.
The other extreme is a church that has programs and meetings but lacks spiritual power. Maybe it has several contexts for Bible teaching, maybe even very good teaching, but while minds are being filled with biblical truths, hearts remain empty of any deepening love for Christ, any life-transforming effect of those truths on the lives of the hearers. If there’s anything we learn from the disciples here in Acts 1 it’s that you can know a lot and not have spiritual power. It’s good for us to humbly acknowledge our need of the power of the Holy Spirit.
The structure of activity and programs and meetings can exist without much evidence of spiritual life. Programs aren’t wrong, activity isn’t wrong, structure isn’t wrong – in fact, to some degree they are all needed. But churches can do all that without the power of the Holy Spirit and it will never be enough. Why do we need the power of the Spirit?
a. Because the Word of God must be empowered by the Spirit of God
The Bible teaches us in Matthew 28 that disciples are made through baptizing and teaching. In Acts 2 we see the first converts to Christ being devoted to the apostle’s teaching. Teaching the word of God is essential in the making of strong disciples.
But the word of God taught – even taught well – isn’t sufficient without the empowering of the Holy Spirit. One reason for that is because the Great Commission isn’t to make disciples by teaching others what Jesus commanded. The Great Commission is to make disciples by teaching others to obey all that Jesus commanded. The mark of a true disciple isn’t a filled head, it’s a bent knee. It’s a heart that is humbly seeking to obey Christ’s commands. And that’s where the problem comes in:
• When we come to His command to love our enemies, we find we aren’t able to
• When we come to His command to forgive those who sin against us 7 x 70 times, we find we aren’t able to
• When we come to His command to love our neighbor as ourselves, we find we aren't able to
• When we come to His command not to be angry, not to lust, not to be proud, not to be selfish, we find we aren’t able to obey
• Over and over again Jesus’ commands press us against our inability to really obey them.
The disciples didn’t need power to witness for Christ – to convey the story, the information, the truths of what Jesus had taught and done. They needed power, Jesus said, to be His witnesses. They needed power for their lives to shine with the reality of the risen Christ. They needed power to live lives that didn’t contradict the gospel. They needed power to overcome their fear of being persecuted and step out boldly to proclaim Christ. They needed power to be able even to die for their faith. And so do we.
b. Because we are called to carry on an impossible work
Another reason we need the power of the Holy Spirit is because Jesus has called us to carry on an impossible work. When Peter preached Christ to thousands of people and their hearts were pierced and 3000 got saved – it wasn’t Peter’s eloquence that saved them. Many of these people were the same people mocking Jesus just weeks earlier. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.
First responders to an accident often use a device called the Jaws of Life to rescue people out of cars or collapsed buildings. One jol unit has the spreading power of 50,500 psi and the cutting force of 120,000 psi, making it possible to extricate someone for a crushed car or building much faster than they ever could using their own power.
The Bible tells us that man’s problem isn’t that we are simply mis-informed, but that we are ensnared by sin and that our hearts are closed to God. Jesus came to rescue the lost from the grip of sin, and when we preach the gospel our mission is to rescue others who are entrapped by sin get set free, but no one can ever be set free from the chains of pride, selfishness, anger, or any other sin by words or programs alone. Only the gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit can spread the bars of sin, break the chains of sin, and release the grip of sin on a sinner’s soul.
When Peter preached to thousands of people on the day of Pentecost, it says that 3000 were saved that day. That wasn't because of Peter's eloquence or delivery. It was because the Holy SPirit took his words and opened hearts - pierced hearts - with them. And the chains of sin and closed hearts were overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So maybe we’re convinced that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to be and to make disciples. How do we get that power?
2. How do we grow in that power?
Actually I’m going to reword that and ask, how do we grow in that power, for if you are a Christian then God has given you His Holy Spirit and your need is to grow in the power of the Spirit in your life. Share briefly two thoughts:
a. Don’t focus on power, recognize your weakness
Earlier I alluded to the stereotype of the televangelist with bad hair waving his mic around or blowing on people and their falling down by the dozens. It’s not for me to question the sincerity of such men, but the whole picture does a disservice to the genuine work of Christ and here’s one big reason why I say that: it turns spiritual power into something that you need to be a superstar to have. A stage, soft music, a pumped up crowd, and one man – one man who has this tremendous power he can aim at people and they are overcome by the power. He might give glory to God, but it’s him walking around commanding the stage.
Most of us don’t have stages or bands softly playing or bad hair or thousands of people flocking to hear us. Just ordinary people with ordinary lives that really aren’t impressive in any way. But Paul writes that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God isn’t looking for grandstanders He can use, He’s looking for weak people who know we need His power and move aside so He can use us.
The primary stage for this kind of power is a stage that the televangelist sadly has very little power in - the stage of ordinary life – the place where your quiet witness and imperfect life witness of the grace of God to those who need to know Him themselves.
The power of the Holy Spirit in us isn’t looking to make superstars out of us – rather, humble servants of Christ. The less we are aware of power and the more we are aware of our weakness, the better. Don’t think that you will always even be aware of the power of God working through you. I have often heard of people who felt they flopped in something, only to find out later that God used it tremendously in the life of someone else. And when we are impressed with our gifts and ministry for God, we are probably close to a humbling from God.
b. Pray for the power, but don’t wait for the power
Jesus told his disciples to wait until power came upon them, so why am I saying not to wait for the power? Because the waiting was for the day of Pentecost – the day when the Spirit would be poured out upon His people. After that day, you never see anyone waiting for the power of the Spirit to be poured out again. What you do see are believers asking in prayer for God to stretch forth His hand and pour out His Spirit.
So don’t wait, pray and serve. Pray for God to fill us with His power, pray fervently. I feel my need for His power – I hope you do. But don’t wait for some feeling before you start serving. Launch out in ministry – serve Jesus – work - and give God something to empower.
I pray that our longing here is for spiritual renewal and revival – the renewal and revival that can only come by the power of the Spirit poured out on His church. But our vision here at Grace Community will never be one superstar dispensing the power while the crowd watches. I don’t think that’s a biblical vision or captures what we see in Acts. Our vision is a church full of ordinary people who pray for God to move in power. A church full of ordinary people who want to serve God with their gifts. A church full of ordinary people who have the courage and holy ambition to believe that God wants to do extraordinary things through us.
A church full of ordinary disciples.