Could it be that persecution does not just refine true believers, but rather reveals true believers?
The one who scourged Paul would have given one third of the lashes across his breast, another third on his right shoulder, and another on his left. Halfway through, the skin would begin to break and tear. By the end, parts of Paul's back would be like jelly. The lacerations would not be clean, but torn and shredded, so that healing would be slow and complicated by infection. Now, consider that this happened a second time on the same back, opening all the scars. It healed more slowly the second time. Then consider that some months later it happened a third time. Then it happened again. And finally it happened a fifth time. And this was just one of Paul's suffering.
Today, we will conclude our look at "who" Jesus is issuing His command in Acts 1:8 to: His followers. We have already seen that a true follower of Jesus Christ is one who desires Him and denies themselves. Today, we will see that the true follower of Jesus also follows Christ without qualification. If you have missed our previous posts on this topic, please go back and read them so that you can get the full message of Luke 9:23-26.
III. Follow Him without Qualification v23c, 26
A third way that we must respond to Jesus if we are to be His followers is to follow Him without qualification. He tells us in the latter part of verse 23, “Follow Me.” That is straightforward and plain enough. Stay one step behind me. Go where I go. Do what I do. Follow me. He adds in verse 26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Stay close to me. Don’t be ashamed of me. Imagine Peter, following Jesus at a distance after his arrest. This distant following led to a clear and unequivocal denial that he even knew Jesus! If we are to be His followers we must follow Him closely, unashamedly, and without qualification.
When we consider verse 26 and Jesus’ teaching that “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him” we must recognize that Jesus is not referring to the context of our modern, western churches. He does not mean that when you walk down an aisle and turn around to a bunch of smiling supportive faces that you are necessary unashamed.
What does Jesus mean? Keep in mind He has just pointed out that the one who would seek to save his life will lose it and the one who would lose his life for Christ’s sake would save it. He seems to have something more in mind than being embarrassed. There would come a time when Nero would send his soldiers to Christ’s followers and they would demand, “Say, Caesar is Lord, burn incense, and live, or refuse to do so and die.” How should a follower of Christ respond to this? We know how the early followers of Jesus responded when they were threatened for the cause of Christ. According to tradition, Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia for not being ashamed. Mark was drug to death in Egypt for not being ashamed. Luke was hung in Greece. Peter was crucified upside down. James was thrown over a hundred feet down from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. He survived the fall, and was beaten to death with a club. James, the brother of John was beheaded in Jerusalem. Bartholomew was beaten to death in Armenia. Andrew was beaten by 7 guards and crucified in Greece. Supposedly, he continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died.
Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India, Jude was shot with arrows, Barnabas was stoned, and Paul was beheaded. This is not unique to the early followers of Jesus. Since the first century, more than 43 million people have taken up their cross and followed Christ in martyrdom. Half of that number have taken up their cross in the last 100 years! That means that more people have been killed for Christ in the last century than in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history combined. It is no wonder that the word for witness in Acts 1:8 has evolved into our word martyr.
We must be willing to follow Jesus without qualification. Jesus seeks to make this abundantly clear. Consider His call in Luke 9:57-62. We read, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” What is He doing? According to those who know how to do evangelism today, He should have led them in a sinner’s prayer on the spot. But, Jesus asks, “Are you sure you want to follow Me, because it will likely mean homelessness?” “Do you mean it? Then, let someone else bury your dad.” “Am I worth it? Then, don’t even say good bye to your family.” In other words, Jesus requires total, superior, and exclusive devotion. Jesus does not solicit a hasty, emotional decision. Jesus never encouraged an unthinking, impulsive leap of faith into discipleship in hopes that later on they would be willing to pay the price. He demands that they count the cost first.
Consider Luke 14:26-33 as well. Jesus said in verses 26 and 27, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. He says over and over again, you cannot be my disciple, you cannot be my disciple, you cannot be my disciple! Here is what he is asking. If your family was to hate you because you come to me would you come? And if you had plans and ambitions and I asked you to do other than that would you be willing to do that? And if I asked you to take everything you have, sell it all and give it to the poor, would you be willing to do that? And even if I asked you to die in the cause, would you do that? He is asking, am I worth everything to you?
He goes on in verses 28 through 33, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” In the first parable Jesus says, “Before you start to build, sit down and decide whether you can afford to follow me.” In the second parable he says, “Sit down and decide whether you can afford not to follow me because I, the King am coming.” You have to decide. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! That is where we are right now as we consider what Jesus said it required to be His followers. It is the true followers of Jesus Christ who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses.
As we consider what we have learned, we are going to have to answer 3 questions. Are we going to believe Jesus? Are we going to obey Jesus? I know the urge is to run back to the Jesus we have created in our own image. I know that the urge is to run back to the safety of our cultural Christianity. Resist that urge, for while that may ease our minds…the biblical Christ will save our souls! Are you willing to come to Christ on His terms? I know none of us are fully here yet. I would imagine, and hope, that we are wrestling with these things. But are you willing to take a step? Are you willing to begin moving in this direction? Are you willing to make it your goal to desire HIM above all else? Are you willing to make it your goal to deny yourself and die to self daily? Are you willing to make it your goal to follow Him without qualification? He is worth it.
As we continue answering the question, "who?" from our study of Acts 1:8, we see the second necessary response and requirement for those who desire to follow Christ.
II. Deny Self v23b-25
The second way that we must respond to the call of Christ is to deny ourselves. Jesus goes on in verse 23, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus' call demands that we deny ourselves and bear our cross each day. We need to recognize what Jesus meant, and did not mean, when He said take up your cross. This was absolutely positively not talking about a piece of jewelry. I have heard things like, “this is just my cross to bear” referring to an illness, a grouchy husband, or a bad mother in law. Christ's original audience knew exactly what he was calling for. Perhaps some 30,000 men were crucified during the lifetime of Christ alone. The disciples knew exactly what to expect and it was not good. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying the instrument of his execution on his own back, and one thing about that man was certain: if he was seen leaving town carrying a cross, he was not coming back. He was as good as dead! Jesus is saying, this is what you have to be willing to embrace if you will follow me. Jesus said, you must willingly and intentionally give up your life.
He goes on in verse 24 to say, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Stop. Read that verse again and ask yourself, Am I characterized by working hard to save my life or to lose my life for Christ’s sake? Am I living in reckless abandon for my Master? Somewhere along the way we have missed what is real about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.
There is a warning and a promise hear in this text. The warning is, if you save, you will lose. The promise is, if you lose, you will save. Some of us are likely thinking, Jesus didn’t literally mean…and this where we need to pause. Who are we to say that Jesus did not mean what he said? Who are we to say that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says? When we do this, we are molding Jesus into our image. We are interpreting the Bible so that it fits the comfort of our culture and keeps us comfortable. We must be very careful!
Jesus goest on to ask His audience in verse 25, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” This is a serious question that Jesus asked directly and indirectly often in His ministry. Consider what occurred in Luke 18:18-30. We read: “A ruler questioned Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19 And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ 21 And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 They who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.’ 28 Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ 29 And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.’” When we read this we are often quick to say, this was not a requirement of everyone. While this is obviously not a requirement for everyone, was it not a requirement for some? Notice the pattern of Scripture. Peter and Andrew left their nets. James and John left their nets and their father. Matthew left his career. Jesus reiterates this expectation in Luke 14:33 when he says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In the original language, the word renounce is ἀποτάσσεται (apotassetai) and literally means “to say good-bye to.” If we take this verse seriously, we have to admit that in order to follow Christ, we must be willing to give up everything. We must desire Him and deny ourselves daily even to the point of death.
As we consider Acts 1:8, we have asked six questions of the text: who, what, when, where, how, and why. We want to dig deeper into each one of these questions as we work our way through this study. We need to know who Jesus is issuing His commission to in Acts 1:8. He is directly issuing His Great Commission to His disciples and followers who followed Him up on the mount where He ascended. He is issuing this command indirectly to all of his followers from that day on to today.
The obvious questions follow. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? How do I know that I am one? And how do I become a follower of Jesus if I am not already one? It doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think about these questions. What matters, is what Jesus says in response to these questions. We need to know what Jesus says. We find a concise and clear call by Christ in Luke 9:23-26.
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
From a solely biblical perspective, what does it look like to follow Jesus…to be a follower of Christ? What response is necessary to follow Him?
I. We must Desire Him v23a
The first way that we must respond to Christ is by desiring Him. Notice the text, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me…” He issues this message to “them all.” He leaves no one out. This call that Jesus is about to issue is for them all. If there is any doubt that this was an all inclusive call and command, He adds, “If anyone.” If anyone wishes to come after me…anyone who would wish to come after me needs to hear what I am about to say. This call and command is for everyone. There is no other option and no other way.
Notice that the very first necessary response is that we would wish to come after Him. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me.” We must desire Him. We must wish to follow Him. He must be the object of our desire and affections. This leads to the obvious question: Do we desire the things of the World? Are we chasing prosperity, possessions, power, popularity, and pleasure? Are we passionate about sports, politics, our family, or our hobbies? What is it that excites us? What makes our heart beat faster? Is our desire for the things of the world, and in this world, strong? We must not only ask ourselves if we desire the things of the world. We must also ask ourselves, Do we desire the things of God? Maybe we love the Bible, prayer, the songs, Sunday school, sermons, and church. We love the things of God and that is good, but we have to remember that all of these “things” are a means to an end and not the end themselves. The question we really need to ask is, do we desire God? Do we desire Christ Himself? Do we get past the Bible, our prayer list, our favorite hymn, our Sunday school class, and our church and get to God Himself? Do we get past the things of God and get to God Himself? Does Jesus excite us? Does Jesus make our heart beat faster?
Jesus says, that we should come after Him! He should be the object of our desire if we are to be His followers. We read in Mark 12:30, “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.” He desires all of our love, all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds, and all of our strength. He demands singular devotion! He desires that we should desire Him. Follow “Me” was Jesus’ simple command. We must desire Him
You can watch the Message in the video below
“But you will 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.” Acts 1:8 As we introduce our study of Acts 1:8 we have been answering 6 questions from 20,000 feet, so to speak: who, what, when, where, how, and why. We have already answered, who, what and when, and where. Today, we will answer the questions, how and why.
How do we respond to what we have learned thus far in Acts 1:8? While the specific answer to this question is not found in the actual text of Acts 1:8, I would be remiss if I did not give some guidance as to how to apply this command of Christ. The obvious, and simple answer would be, go be a witness. But, I believe there is more to obeying the Great Commission. I believe we can be obedient by taking four strategic steps.
First, we must pray. Jesus in Matthew 9:35-38 saw the harassed, helpless, and hopeless crowds of people. The sight of them caused His heart to break for them. He looks at His disciples and tells them how to respond to the great need before them: pray. We read, “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’” Step one in embracing this Great Commission of Christ is praying, and specifically praying that the Lord of the harvest would send out laborers!
Secondly, we can obey the Great Commission by giving. We have a financial obligation and responsibility to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. Consider the reality that 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.50 a day and 2 billion more live on less than $2.50 a day. That means that roughly 40% of the world makes less than $900 a year! That means that if you make more than $32,400 a year, you are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world. That should cause us to pause when we recall Jesus’ words in Luke 18:24, “It is hard for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.” Could you imagine what a difference it would make if we saw the responsibility that we have to use our resources to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. The average church attender gives 2.5% of their income to the church. If we really believed the Great Commission was important would we increase our standard of living at every opportunity and keep sending our nickels to the nations or would we totally revolutionize our lifestyle to give to the cause?
A third way that we can obey the Great Commission is by going. Virtually every one of us can serve as missionaries in Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, if we are creative enough. One out of every six German Moravian believers in the 1700’s left their homes to spread the gospel to the nations. They took their businesses and set up shop wherever the Lord sent them. As they worked in their new land, they shared the gospel. As we consider the reality that most of the unreached and unengaged people groups are located in the riskiest places, this approach to missions will be necessary once again. Business as mission makes it possible to get to the hardest place in this world because even Yemen and Somalia need engineers, teachers, and medical personnel.
Finally, we must obey the Great Commission by sending. Organizations do not send missionaries. Churches do. We must call out, train up, and send out missionaries from our churches. We must make it our goal to find those within the congregation that God might be calling out to serve as missionaries. We then must train them to be godly, disciplined people of the utmost integrity. We must ensure that they have solid doctrine and are good examples of what a follower of Christ looks like. We do not want to be like the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” They were exporting toxic religion to their proselytes. We have to ask, what are we exporting and do what we can to ensure that we only export the truth and a good testimony. When those called out are trained up, we must send them out. We pray, we give, we go, and we send long term to engage the ends of the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Finally, we ask our sixth question fo the text: Why? Why do we do this. Obviously, we could say because Jesus told us to. Obviously this it true. Some of us might say that we should go because we love the lost. There is truth in this as well. We know that it is important to love people. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love I am nothing. We may be able to prophesy the future, unlock the mysteries of the past, and have faith enough to move mountains, but without love we are nothing. Love alone is not nearly enough however. The unreached and the unengaged often are not very lovable. If fact, after spending some time with them and seeing the fruits of their false religion, their sin, and the damage it does to those who are young, weak, and often innocent, we might walk away thinking that these people deserve to go to hell. And they do. And so do we. We need more than a romantic idea of missions and a feeling of love in our hearts. If we go to them primarily because we love them, we will discover that they are unlovable.
So why do we go? We go primarily for the glory of God and for the sake of His Name, with a love for mankind. We go because the One True God is not worshipped (Psalm 96:3-10). We go because Jesus is worthy of worship, praise, honor, and glory. We go because the bride groom is worthy of His bride. We go because Jesus is worthy of worship from every nation, tongue, and tribe. Paris Reidhead, in his sermon 2 Shekels and a Shirt tells the following story about 2 young Moravians that illustrates the ultimate “why” of missions. He said:
In the late 1700's a British planter owned an entire island in the West Indies off the coast of South America. Several thousand slaves toiled in the sugar cane fields under the burning sun. The atheist planter vowed that no missionary would ever set foot on the island to talk about God. He had said, "No preacher, no clergyman, will ever stay on this island. If he's ship wrecked we'll keep him in a separate house until he has to leave, but he's never going to talk to any of us about God."
3000 slaves were doomed to live and die without hearing of Christ.
Two young German Moravians heard of the island. They sold themselves to the British planter for the standard price for a male slave used the money they received for their sale to purchase passage to the West Indies. The Moravian community came to see the two young men off, who would never return again, having freely sold themselves into a lifetime of slavery.
Family members were emotional, weeping. As the ship slipped away with the tide and the gap widened. The housings had been cast off and were curled up on the pier. The young men saw the widening gap. They linked arms, raised their hands and shouted across the spreading gap "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering."
This is why we go! We go so that the Lamb may receive the full reward of His suffering. We go for the glory of God and for the fame of the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We go because He is worthy of worshippers from every nation, tongue, and tribe.
1. Who? You
2. What? Witnesses
3. When? When the Holy Spirit has come upon us
4. Where? Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth
5. How? Praying, Giving, Going, and Sending
6. Why? For the Glory of God and the fame of the Name of Jesus Christ
“But you will 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.” Acts 1:8
As we introduce our study of Acts 1:8 we are going to answer 6 questions from 20,000 feet, so to speak: who, what, when, where, how, and why. We have already answered, who, what and when. Today, we will answer the question, where. Tomorrow, we will conclude by answering the questions, how and why.
The answer to where is made clear in Acts 1:8. Jesus said, “But you will 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.” Jerusalem and Judea was their hometown and area. It was comfortable. People looked like them, talked like them, had a culture like them, and for the most part, had the same religious background as them. Jerusalem and Judea were comfortable. Samaria, was not comfortable. Samaria was made up of half Jew and half Gentiles. The Samaritans were not like the Jews. They did not worship like the Jews. In fact, they were despised by the Jews. Most Jewish people would go all the way around Samaria to get from point A to point B, rather than go through it. Now, Jesus is telling them to go to Samaria! Not only did He command them to go from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria, but even to the ends of the earth. He commanded them to go far beyond their comfort zones even to the Gentiles.
As we consider where Jesus commands His followers to go as witnesses, we must go to our Jerusalem and Judea: our own families, friends, communities, and states; the places where we are most comfortable. We must go to our Samaria: the people close to us, but unlike us. There are more and more people immigrating from country to country in our day and time. We can hear multiple languages in the grocery store in most modest sized towns. These people are close by, but outside of our comfort zones. We are obligated to go to them, since Jesus has brought them to us!
We are also commanded to go to the uttermost parts of the earth; all the nations. Consider carefully the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Notice that the Great Commission is not a command to make disciples of as many people as possible. That is great if you are doing that, but it is not specifically what Jesus commands in this text. The Great Commission is not even a command to take the gospel to someone on foreign soil. That is a great thing to do, but it is not specifically what Jesus commands in this text. What Jesus specifically command His followers to do in Matthew 28 is to make disciple of all the nations, literally peoples or people groups. This is a commission to get the gospel, not to as many people as possible, but to as many people groups as possible. We must make it our goal to get the gospel to every people group on the earth.
Consider that there are roughly 6000 unreached people groups on earth totaling more than 2 billion people. Don’t think that your lost friend, co-worker, or neighbor classifies as unreached. Unreached does not mean unsaved. There are unsaved people everywhere! Unreached means that they have little to no access to the gospel. Your neighbor, friend, and co-worker have access to the gospel because you are their neighbor, friend, or co-worker.
Consider that there are between 1200 and 3000 unreached, unengaged people groups. This means that these people groups have no gospel witness. They have no missionary, no preacher, no church, and no access to the gospel. They likely have never heard the Name of Jesus, and definitely have never understood the gospel. This leads to an obvious and powerful question that someone once asked: “Does anyone deserve to hear the gospel twice, as long as there are those who have never heard it once?” What is it going to take for the concept of unreached and unengaged people to become intolerable to us? We are obligated to lay our lives down, our families down, and our churches down…to do whatever we need to do to get the gospel to the ends of the earth!
We must assume responsibility for more than just our immediate area or we go from Acts 1:8 Christians to Acts 8:1 Christians. In Acts 1:8 Jesus commands His followers to go from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. The power of the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2 and some 3000 people were converted. The church exploded with growth. By Act 5 they are some 5000 people following Christ in Jerusalem. The church has grown so significantly that they select seven deacons to help serve the needy among the believers. In Acts 7, one of those deacons preaches ad message on the street that ends with him being stoned to death. Then we read in Acts 8:1, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The obvious question is, why were they not already in the regions of Judea and Samaria? Well, God was powerfully working in Jerusalem. The church was growing and thriving. There was work still to be done. But, Jesus’ command still should have taken precedence over all the practical and pragmatic responses. They should have been aggressively going and getting the gospel out. If they would not willingly go, God would scatter them with persecution and suffering. Whatever it took, Jesus would get His gospel out and He still will today. If we refuse to embrace Acts 1:8, we should not be surprised if Jesus introduces us to Acts 8:1.
“But you will 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.” Acts 1:8
As we introduce our study of Acts 1:8 we are going to answer 6 questions from 20,000 feet, so to speak: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Yesterday we answered, who. Today, we will answer, what and when.
The second question we need to answer it, “what?” What are you and I to be and do if this command is for us? The answer to this question, is witnesses. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” What is a witness? The definition that I have developed for the purpose of this study is two-sided.
On one hand, a witness is one who has a personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ. This raises a serious question. Are we witnesses? Or are we advocates? A witness is one who has personal knowledge of something. They are the ones sitting on the witness stand in the court room testifying to what they have seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, and felt with their hands, and experienced personally. Advocates, on the other hand, are more like the lawyers. They can pull together the facts and the testimonies and put them into a logical presentation in an effort to convince the judge and the jury that their position is correct. We need advocates. We need advocates to make good argument and to convince skeptics that the claims of Christ and His Word are legitimate claims. Advocates however, do not change the world. Witnesses change the world. We find in Acts 4:13 that “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” They did not perceive that they were seminary trained or especially gifted. They just knew they had been with Jesus!
On one hand, witnesses are those who have had a personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ. On the other hand, a witness is one who is willing to lay down their lives and their all for Christ and His Great Commission. I think it is important to note as well, that the greek word translated witness here, and throughout the new testament is the word μάρτυρες (martyres) from the greek root μάρτυς. The word literally, and originally meant witness: an eye witness or ear witness. The word however, as you can probably tell, has been borrowed by the English language and is our word “martyr.” According to The American Dictionary of the English Language, the word martyr, in english, means “One who, by his death, bears witness to the truth of the gospel.” The word used in Acts 1:8 for witness has now become synonyms with dying for one’s faith. This was because the witnesses “martyres” of the NT so often were put to death for their witness. Putting both sides of this definition together we can see that a witness is one who has such personal experience with, knowledge of, and relationship with Christ that they are willing to lay down their lives and their all for Christ and His Great Commission.
The next question, we must answer is, when? When should we, as Christ’s followers, be true witnesses? The answer to when is when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
We are the product of our culture and as a product of our culture, we have been ingrained with the American spirit. As the American dream goes, we can do anything we set our minds to accomplish. I fear that we in the 21st century American church are so capable, so skilled, so resourced, and so diligent that we never really practically need God. We need the power of the Holy Spirit whether we recognize it or not.
Now, let’s think about this. This power comes from (with / through) the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, you WILL, not may, but WILL receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. He does not say you will receive salvation. We know that when we are saved the Holy Spirit comes to set up residence in our hearts. He indwells all of His children. The Holy Spirit is present in the lives of all believers. What Jesus is referring to here seems to be different however. He says, that when the Holy Spirit comes upon His followers, in this way, that power will come as well. He says you will receive power. This is an emphatic statement that Jesus makes. There are no if’s, ands, or buts. Have we ever really experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives or is He just someone that we talk about?
This power, that Jesus was referencing was not present in their lives. Jesus said, you WILL receive power. This means that they did not already have this power. These people had walked with Jesus for 3 years. They had seen Him crucified, buried, resurrected and working miracles. They had left everything to follow Him. He had even breathed on them and said, receive the Spirit (John 20:22), yet they did not have this power. Some of us have known God, followed God, and believe, but do not have power and we don’t even recognize it. We can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even (by all indications) successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent. Maybe before there is any hope of us receiving this power, we must admit that we don’t have it and that we need it.
This power was essential to the mission. This power was so essential to the mission that Jesus told them not to do ANYTHING until they received it. In Luke 24:49 He said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” Again in Acts 1:4 we read, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me.” I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes! If I were there, I would have led the believers in prayer for a few minutes and then reminded them all that there is a Gospel to proclaim! There is a world to reach! We must get busy! But Jesus said, wait. I wonder how many people went to hell as they waited? Do we think Jesus did not know that while they were praying and waiting in Jerusalem that souls were slipping into eternity lost? Jesus knew that people were dying without hearing the gospel message, but He also knew that without the power of the Holy Spirit, their witness would be powerless. Jesus wanted them to believe and embrace the fact that apart from Him we can do nothing.
This power is needed by us today. This power, this presence of the Holy Spirit, is something that we should be pursuing and pleading for. Paul instructs the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Literally, the greek reads, let us be continually being filled with the Spirit. This is not a one dose and your done kind of deal. We need more. If I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know the Father more and experience him in greater ways?” I would assume that virtually every one of them would say absolutely! If I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know Jesus more and experience him in greater ways?” I would assume that virtually every one of them would say absolutely! But if I were to ask the majority of Western believers at any given moment, “Do you want to know the Holy Spirit more and experience him in greater ways?” at least a portion of those individuals would respond, “I already have him.” The power of the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Jesus in Acts 2 at Pentecost. This was not a one time event however. We read again in Acts 4:31 that “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Where is this power of the Holy Spirit that we read about in Acts? With this power, Peter preaches 1 sermon and 3000 are saved at Pentecost. Today we preach 3000 sermons and rejoice if 1 is saved. With this power this small band of believers were accused of disturbing an entire city (Acts 16:20)! When was the last time you heard of a church’s witness being so powerful and bold that they disrupted their city block, much less an entire city! These believer, with the power of the Holy Spirit were accused of turning the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6)! Oh how desperately we need this power today! Who? You and me! What? Witnesses! When? When the Holy Spirit has empowered us and emboldened us to be His witnesses.
“But you will 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.” Acts 1:8
It will take great risk in order to fulfill the great commission. The last frontier of missions, filled with unreached and unengaged peoples, is still before us because it is a hazardous, difficult, uncomfortable frontier. Obviously risk will be involved in getting the gospel to these riskiest places. As we introduce our study of Acts 1:8 we are going to answer 6 questions from 20,000 feet, so to speak: who, what, when, where, how, and why. We will then spend the remainder of our study digging in to each of those six questions one by one. For now, let us get the 20,000 feet view.
The first question we want to ask is, “who”. The answer to who is simply, you and me. Jesus said, “You shall receive power.” Obviously, He is speaking directly to His disciples and followers on Mount Olivet. Obviously, He is speaking directly to His first century followers. However, He is speaking indirectly to all of His followers throughout Christian history. If we can not take the words that Jesus directly spoke to His followers and apply them to all of His followers, then we have a problem with the whole New Testament!
The fact of the matter is, Christ has not reserved this commission for preachers, pastors, and evangelists. He has not reserved this command for missionaries or for some elite group of believers. This is a privilege for all of his followers. Jesus has made it clear, if we are His followers then this is for us. He gave us this great commission in all four gospels and here in the book of Acts. He said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In Mark 16:15 He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Again in Luke’s gospel in the chapter 24 and verses 46-47 He said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” In John 20:21 He said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And finally, here in Acts 1:8.
We cannot brush this off or pass this off. We cannot excuse ourselves. Not only do we have the commands from Christ from above; we have been called from all around. Somewhere between 1200 and 3000 unreached and unengaged people groups are joining with the Macedonian man who came to Paul in a vision saying, “come over here and help us” (Acts 16:9). They are crying out to the established churches in the west and around the world saying, come and help us! We have been called from above, from around, and even from below. Multitudes of souls who have stepped into a Christ-less eternity are joining with the rich man who appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they could avoid “this place” (Luke 16:27-28). Finally, if we are true believers, and the Holy Spirit of God is within us, we are compelled from within. With Paul, we cry, “woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Jim Elliot shared the clarity of the call when he wrote, “Consider the call from the Throne above, “Go ye,” and from round about, “Come over and help us,” and even the call from the damned souls below, Send Lazarus to my brothers, that they come not to this place.” Impelled, then, by these voices, I dare not stay home while Quichuas perish. So what if the well-fed church in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the Prophets, and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers. American believers have sold their lives to the service of Mammon, and God has His rightful way of dealing with those who succumb to the spirit of Laodicea.”
We have, for the most part, reduced missions to a calling. It is not a calling. It is a command! We have reduced missions to a program in the church. Missions is not a program in the church. It is the program of the church. The answer to who, is you. This commission is for every follower of Jesus. Stay tuned tomorrow for the answer to the next question...."what?"
You can watch the Message in the video below
I would hope that you have noticed by now that, though Mission Surge is a 501c3 non profit ministry, we do not do much talking or blogging about money...especially for our own work. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and if He see's fit to provide funds, He does. Of course, He does it through His people. For this reason I want to say thank you to those who have financially supported, are supporting, or one day will support this ministry.
As I have mentioned before, we have a good number of missionaries that we are connected with who can always use help for housing, transportation, resources for ministry, and often large projects. I don't keep any money that comes in to Mission Surge. It is all used to provide resources and to provide for those serving the Lord overseas. Thank you for those of who have given, are giving, and will give. Your gifts from 2015-2017 made it possible for Mission Surge to provide salary and support to two indigenous missionary families in Italy. Since then Entrusted Word Ministries has been handling all of this support. I wanted you to know however that your giving made it possible for us to bless both of these missionary families with sizeable donations this week. Thank you for making that possible! This was a surprise to them and a great blessing, and that is possible because people give. I Thank you! And they thank you. To learn more about the work in Italy you can click below. Thanks!
I have some friends who are serving in PNG among an unreached, unengaged people group. These people were unreached and unengaged for a reason...they were extremely hard to get to. This family of 4 has to trek with all the supplies they can physically carry via prop plane, on foot long distance, and then by boat to get to their hut among the people they are seeking to reach. They desperately need to get an air strip built for the sake of their health, their ministry, and for the good of the people they are reaching out to. The airstrip will cost roughly $15,000. You can read more about their work, and their needs at the link below. You can give directly to them via their blog/website, or if you choose to give through Mission Surge, you can do so as well. Just make a note that it is designated to PNG.
You can watch the Message in the video below
Nehemiah, as the cupbearer for the King of Persia, was confined to the capitol of the Persian kingdom. One of his brothers, and some other men from Judah, came to report to Nehemiah on the state of the Jews and the city of Jerusalem. Their report was not what Nehemiah had hoped to hear. The men reported that the remnant who survived the captivity were in great distress and reproach, the wall of the city was broken down, and its gates were burned with fire. The vulnerability of the city could lead to another destruction of the newly rebuilt temple! Nehemiah was deeply concerned abut the people and the city. He saw the need, felt compassion, and took action: he prayed. This is exactly what Jesus did in His ministry as well (Matthew 9:36-38).
Nehemiah’s prayer is one of Scriptures most moving confessions and intercessions before God (v4-7). He fasted and prayed literally day and night on behalf of the Jews, confessing their sin. It is possible that he believed that the sins of the returnees (Ezra 9-10) had prompted God to withhold his favor from the Jews. He confesses that the people of God had acted corruptly and had failed to keep the commandments, statues, and ordinances of God. The emotion which flows from Nehemiah’s prayer is evident of what it means to truly confess our sin. Confession is more than simply admitting that we have sinned. Many of us confess our sin with no real determination to forsake our sin. We might feel bad for our sin, or the consequences of our sin, so we make confession to God. But our appetite is still for the things of the world, so we go right back to it (Proverbs 26:11). True confession is to see our sin as God sees it and therefore forsake it (Proverbs 28:13). This is the type of confession Nehemiah offers, and the type of confession we must offer if we expect God to be faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from our sins (1 John 1:9).
In his prayer, Nehemiah turns to, and appeals to, God’s Word (v8-11). He says, remember the word you gave to Moses, Lord! Nehemiah was not reminding the all-knowing God of anything. He was simply pleading with Him to act upon His promise that He would restore those who returned to Him and who were obedient to Him (Lev. 26:39-42, Deut. 4:29-31, Deut. 30:2-3). Nehemiah was looking to God’s Word, appealing to God with His Word, and declaring His faith in God’s faithfulness and power to deliver His people. God had brought them out of bondage once before and He could do it again by His great power and strong hand (v10). Nehemiah pleaded with God to hear his prayer by giving him favor with the king. God gave a Jewish Joseph favor with a Gentile Pharaoh in order to deliver His people from famine. He gave a Jewish Daniel favor with Gentile Cyrus to deliver them from Babylonian captivity. He gave a Jewish Esther favor with a Gentile Ahasuerus to deliver the Jews from Haman’s plot to annihilate them. As we will see, God used this relationship between a Gentile king and Jewish cupbearer to deliver his people yet again. We see the mystery of prayer as God sovereignly works through those who are His people, and even those who are not, to bring about His will. Let us pray with this assurance today!
During Malachi’s day, the people of God were under the dominion of the Persians. This was a time when God’s people were doubting His love for them, treating one another treacherously, and even questioning God’s justice. They were going through the motions of their religion, half-heartedly at best. In the midst of this spiritual drought, God sends Malachi to call them to repentance. One of the issues Malachi dealt with was their robbing of God.
The Lord tells the people through Malachi, return to me and I will return to you (v7). This leads to the obvious question: How shall we return? He answers that they should return by bringing the whole tithe, into the storehouse (8-10). The word tithe is a translation of the Hebrew “tenth part.” They were robbing God of the tithe that He required of them. He also points out the fact that they had been withholding the offerings. The burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering, and guilt offering are offerings that the people were expected to give (Leviticus 1-7). Combined with the tithe, the total offerings expected from the people equalled roughly 23 percent of their income. In essence, God is saying through Malachi, release back to me what I have given to You. Don’t clench your hand. Release, not just the tithe, but the offerings as well. Release all 23 percent to me. Anything less is robbery.
In light of this, let us consider what the New Testament teaches concerning giving? The Jews who made up the first church knew about the tithe and the offerings (Matt 23:23, Luke 18:9-12). Out of those first century Jews came the first church. We saw how they stewarded their property in a recent lesson on Acts 2. They surrendered everything to God (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-37). This sounds a lot like what Jesus told the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23). Giving a tithe and offering, even if it is 23 percent is insufficient. God wants everything. As we look at how the New Testament believers applied the Old Testament to their stewardship, we see grace never expects less; it always demands more. Release to God ALL that He has given you and watch Him use it for His glory.
God said, test me in this and see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour out on you a blessing until it overflows (v10b-11). The words “windows of heaven” are the same words used in Genesis 7:11 to describe God opening the sky to release the floodwaters that covered the earth. Open up to me the resources I have given you and I will bless you abundantly. This is a promise. Sow bountifully and reap bountifully. But why? To get rich? No, but that you might have an abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:6-10). Return to God, release all to Him, and you will receive seed from Him for sowing so that you can see an increase in the harvest. Notice the end result. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land” (v12). As believers, we make every gift of God to us available to Him. We release it all back to Him so that He might use whatever He chooses to pour out His blessings on the nations through us for His glory. This is our responsibility before our gracious God.
You can watch the Message in the video below
Think about it. God fills every place in heaven and on earth. He is omnipresent. Our homes, our lands, our states, our nations…our world. Even in the darkest homes, the most “godless” cities, and the most barren and backward lands, God is present. No place can be imagined where God does not exist. He is there. There is nowhere that we can escape His presence.
In the words of the Psalmist, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” Psalm 139:1-12
Like the sun always shines, God is always present. Sometimes the earth turns toward the sun and sees its light. Sometimes the earth turns away from the sun and is left in darkness, but the sun is still in its place. The sun is still shining. Sometimes we are drawn toward the light of God by the gravitational pull of His special and spiritual influences…by exciting and supporting grace…and we think God has moved. God drawing near to us is not so much God coming to us, but God drawing us to Him. He is always everywhere. We need to get close to Him, feel His warmth, bask in His light. Oh that God would draw us to Himself in a special way today!
Sometimes the sun’s light and warmth is obscured by the clouds. Sometimes God’s light and presence is obscured by the clouds of this world: the flesh, trials, tests, and temptations, but God is there! Omnipresent. Immutable. Everywhere. Always. Draw near to Him today.