May 28, 2017
Seventh Sunday of Easter
With One Mind
Swiss Chalet has a new commercial for their Crispy Chicken special. It is funny to watch as one lone customer, taking a bite says, "This is SO good, I have to tell everyone…immediately!” Then we see him scooting down the street in his Chalet booth handing out chicken to everyone!
The image captures the simplicity of our opportunity to hold Jesus out to the people around us. Who doesn’t love a good meal of chicken? Who wouldn't be as excited to get an answer to life’s purpose?
Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life: 2002 launch; January 2003 sold 500,000 copies. In March over 1,000,000 copies. 2005 it sold over 20 million copies and as of 2014 was recorded at 32 million sales and climbing. ( https://www.challies.com/articles/the-bestsellers-the-purpose-driven-life)
People want purpose.
Acts 1 – an amazing story with purpose woven through the whole story! It’s a story of God’s faithfulness and power, his love for his people, and the people’s conviction about the story is so strong that they can’t help themselves about talking about Jesus and offering him to the people saying, “You’ve got to try this!”
Prior to Acts 1 the disciples’ adrenaline was off the charts as they watched their Messiah perform impossible feats of healing. They were astounded as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a statement of Kingship about to be established. Heads were going to spin and Jesus’ followers were positioned for greatness and power. Five days of festivities leading up to the Passover celebration turned into a nightmare as their hopes hung butchered on a cross. Some went fishing; others tried to occupy their minds with other things. Everyone kept their doors closed for fear of what might happen next. When people are on a rampage there’s no telling how far they’ll go. One writer referred to the hostility as “a murderous mood”. (New Testament Chronology. Kenneth Frank Doig. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
Then, like hitting a brick wall, everything spun around again – stories that Mary saw Jesus – alive! Then Peter and John got involved. Others told stories of Jesus appearing to them, confirming he wasn’t dead! Mostly he appeared to ones and twos, small groups. Then he came to the 11 disciples – they chatted, chuckled and dared to believe again; hope again. In one account he appeared to 500 people at one time!
These 45 days from donkey to hillside ascension, would never be matched in human history again as human emotion swung from highs to lows, from exhilarating hope to depressing despair and optimism again.
This brings us to Acts 1. Jesus’ appearance here would be the last physical manifestation that would happen.
HE FIRST UNVEILS A GIFT that will be critical to the disciples’ success and survival in the days to come – 1:5, 8…
- They weren’t to leave Jerusalem until the HS came on them. (Verses 4 and 8…) What does it mean to say “they were baptized with the Holy Spirit”? Varied interpretations range from it being an initiation into the Church; regeneration (perfection in Christ); confirmation. Another possibility: transformation (illustration: transformer – the same object but different shape, purpose).
- Jesus’ followers needed something profound if they were to be different, see different – if they were to face what is to come with their mission of being witnesses of Jesus.
The timing of this gift is an interesting consideration. The Spirit came when “they were joined together in one place”. (Verse 14; 2:1 – prayer likely implied). “Joined together” language is not simply a suggestion that they occupied the same space but more than that, they were of the same mind. Would the Holy Spirit have come if they were all at work that day? Would he have come if they had not been in one place, praying? He could have for sure; but it seems significant that when they were together, united in prayer and purpose, when they were with one mind, the Holy Spirit came. There is a message to us in how these events unfolded.
So while they were prayerful and together, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Until now they spent a lot of time clustered and huddled behind closed doors and in the confines of small rooms. There was a lot of fear and understandably so. But through their prayerful, with one mind united experience, the Holy Spirit came on them, He TRANSFORMED them or baptized them. In these moments of transforming experience, they changed. There was a surge of something that swept over them. It was the POWER promised. The first evidence of power was courage; courage to speak of Jesus; courage to declare their allegiance to His claims as God’s Son.
This courage was essential to moving forward. When Jesus returned to God, the disciples would have the full responsibility of THE MISSION.
- They received the HS and they received power first;
- Following that Jesus informs them, “you will be my witnesses…” (1:8b). There wasn’t another plan. There wasn’t another way. This is it!
What was the witness message? Plays out in chapter 2:
- Scripture was fulfilled by the pouring out of the HS on the people (2:17ff)
- Witness to Jesus being “accredited [indorsed] by God” (2:22)
- Jesus is God’s Son, the long-awaited and promised Messiah (2:31)
- Jesus now sits with God in glory (2:33)
- Challenged the people to change the direction of their lives by including God in their plans (2:38)
What they witnessed about was not a theology position or a church doctrine. Their witness was based on a relationship, not religion; a person, not a place or institution:
- Peter from coward to curator of the gospel! (2:5 – “every nation under heaven” – thousands of people). From denying Jesus amongst a few motely people in a courtyard to standing in front of thousands!
- Lame Beggar healed (ch3) went jumping, leaping and praising God!
- The people’s witnessing was anchored in their stories and personal experience of change.
What’s Your Story?
The Scriptures continue after Jesus’ ascension in Acts to the rest of the NT to review God’s work in people’s lives as He brought about healing and wholeness through people’s suffering and the grind of daily life. The disciples mission was one of helping people recognize God’s activity around them and through their situations. It is hard to see what you don’t understand when your worldview did not include room for the Supernatural. And sometimes the activity of God is overshadowed by the strength of the negative and the darkness of people’s stories instead of being grounded in the fact and faithfulness of God’s redeeming grace even though lots of bad stuff is happening. People need help understanding life in terms of how God fits into the picture. They need help with that; they need people who will witness to them about Jesus and the Grand Design of life and how all of the things they encounter can have meaning and value.
The disciples did not understand on day one the magnitude of THE MISSION given them and the cost of faithfully carrying out that mission. During the early years of witnessing about Jesus there was much persecution and execution. Stephen was stoned just 60 days after the resurrection. Peter’s epistles were written 30 years after Jesus’s resurrection and little had changed in three decades. Peter speaks in his writing about the INSULTS AND SUFFERING the people were encountering and would continue to experience.
- 1 Peter 4:12-16
- Insulted because of his name, the outcome of their witness
Peter teaches that they shouldn’t be surprised when insulted for Christ; to look beyond the immediate and see the bigger picture of the glory to come! He muses how suffering will come so why not suffer for being Christian and in that he charged the people not to be ashamed of that “but praise God that you bear that name.” (v17)
It was good advice. They couldn’t have imagined how long the insults and suffering would continue. Jesus’ ascension occurred around AD 30. Thirty years after Peter wrote his epistles, another 25 years went by ( https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt02.cfm) when John wrote his gospel. So now we’re 85 years out from the ascension of Jesus. The insults and suffering didn’t “let up” even then but they learned something. They learned the incredible value of Jesus’s prayer for them as recorded by John. They didn’t know the full value of it at the time, but they knew now. John remembers and looks back on Jesus/ prayer for their PROTECTION.
- John 17:11…
- Jesus prayed for the disciples; not the world, not salvation of Israel but for the small cluster of people who were with him in the three years of his earthly ministry. In the course of his praying – for their protection – Jesus prays, “protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me…” Translated another way it reads, “keep them faithful to your name”. The name for which they would be faithful is the same name that would keep them strong in the fire.
They were not naïve. The disciples never equated protection with insulation from pain and suffering. Jesus’ prayer that God protect them by the power of his name never led them to conclude they wouldn’t face hard times or even death. The “keeping” was with the bigger picture in view; the Grand Finale of God’s Kingdom established. They had lived waiting for God to establish his Kingdom in the world but when their eyes were opened to the eternal view, everything changed!
Our worldview shapes our praying. The decision to pray for good outcomes and favourable circumstances versus praying that we will be faithful even if we’re to die for this message, is determined by our view of things. It is based on whether or not we see the bigger picture. It depends on what our focus is about, if it’s about holding on to our Western entitlement and post-modern perks or if our focus is bigger than that.
The challenge today is seeking to understand what it means in our context to be Jesus’ witnesses. It was theologian and bible scholar Dr. William Barclay who said witness in this text is characterised by three things: first, a witness knows what is true. A witness “cannot give in evidence a carried story; it must be his own personal experience. A witness does not say, “I think so”; he says, “I know”. Second, a real witness is one not of words but deeds. The behaviour of a witness is so powerful that others are compelled to follow even though a word hasn’t been said of it. And three, the Greek word for witness is the same "martus" from which we get our English word martyr. To be a witness is to be ready to loyal to it no matter the cost. (Barclay, Dr. William. The Daily Study Bible, The Acts. Pgs. 12-13)
Life is hard, there’s no arguing that. Every story has streams of broken relationships and painful experiences; of exhaustion and struggling to get through. However, there’s more to the story! There is the God-element of the story! We have the wonderful opportunity to witness to that, to witness about Him!
The disciples of Jesus day had the benefit of being eye-witnesses of his resurrection. It’s pretty hard to deny something that you witnessed first-hand. It’s different for us. One source reminds us that “those living 2000 years later are operating in faith.” One could say we have a disadvantage. But we mustn’t become defeated by that! We can trust the eye-witness accounts of more than 500 people!
Furthermore, God gifts us with the resources to be his witnesses in our time! We have his promised presence through the Holy Spirit and we have the gift of power necessary to rise above feelings and live a life of faith, confidence and courage!
In our story and journey, we need to assess the value of personal prayer. Prayer is foundational to the success of the witness accounts of Scripture and just as foundational to our own success. Prayer is about relationship and if we will be the witnesses of Jesus, we too must have a personal experience of God through Christ that takes us past “I think” to “I know”.
Further to this, prayer needs to be evaluated for its collective, corporate value and function, as well as our private disciplines of prayer. It is where the ONE MIND takes place. 10 people in 10 different places have 10 different minds running after 1,000 different concerns. But when we collectively, as ONE MIND assemble for worship and prayer, everything channels into perspective when the profound mystery of God takes hold of our worldviews and transforms our understanding.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that knowing Christ and following the Lord is some kind of ticket to back stage and getting around the lineup of life. There are too many stories that start with “Where was God when?” We somehow translate our relationship with God as being characterised by easier times and soft landings. Insults and suffering will likely follow us because we follow Him.
Having said that, we mustn’t forget that the protection God gave his disciples because they stayed true as his witnesses, is promised to us too! He will not fail us!
“We are witnesses for Jesus
In the home and in the mart,
Where the cares of life and fashion
Crowd the Saviour from the heart;
When we urge his claims with wisdom
Many choose the better part”
(Song 937:3 The Salvation Army Songbook)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses
Tell everyone … immediately!