The Spirit Wants the World for Christ
And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.
I see four clear lessons for us in Acts 1:8.
- The Spirit wants the world for Christ.
- The Spirit uses disciples to reach the world.
- The Spirit gives power for worldwide witness.
- Therefore, let us earnestly seek his power to reach those without the gospel.
1. The Spirit Wants the World for Christ
First, the Spirit wants the world for Christ. I learn this truth from the way the two halves of verse 8 relate. The first half says, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." The second half says, "and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth." How could Jesus be so sure the disciples would press on to the end of the earth with their witness to Christ? Answer: because he was going to send his Holy Spirit upon them with power. But why does the coming of the Spirit guarantee that the disciples will press on to the end of the earth? There is only one answer: the Spirit wants the world for Christ. The Spirit's all-consuming passion is to exalt Christ to the end of the earth. If this were not so, then his coming would be no guarantee or compelling incentive for us to press on to the end of the world. But this is the passion of the Holy Spirit. That's why Jesus can point us with assurance to the ends of the earth with a Christ-exalting witness.
God's Purpose in All He Does
We need to remember two things about this first point. 1) The reason the Spirit has a white-hot passion to empower us to the ends of the earth with a witness about Christ is that God's overarching purpose from beginning to end has been to glorify himself in the whole world. This great purpose runs through the whole Bible. Numbers 14:21 and Habakkuk 2:14, "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." Joshua 4:24, God brought his people into Canaan "so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty" (cf. 1 Samuel 17:46). David commanded us in Psalm 96:1–3, "Sing to the Lord all the earth . . . Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!" Isaiah 49:6 gives God's word to his servant, "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Jesus himself said, "Go make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). "This gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations" (Mark 13:10). And this does not just mean political nation because Revelation 5:9–10 pictures the final consummation like this: "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." So the first thing to remember about this first point is that the Spirit wants the world for Christ because this has been the purpose of God from the beginning of creation and will be until the end of the age.
Not Yet Complete
2) The second thing to remember is that the purpose of God and the passion of the Spirit are not yet completed. We might question why, but Jesus' answer will always be, "It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority." The great danger we face in the American church is the illusion that the purpose of God is complete, that the world has been evangelized. One of the most startling discoveries of the early 1970's was that about five-sixths of the world's non-Christians can only be reached by cross-cultural missionaries. They are found in people groups where there is no indigenous church to reach them. The US Center for World Missions isolates over 16,000 such people groups. But we don't feel the dreadful force of this state of affairs because we don't look beyond America. Here there is one (so-called) evangelical for every three adults. There is one vocational Christian worker for every 296 people and there is one church for every 800 people. But in India there is one Christian church for every 8,000 people, one Christian worker for every 4,500 people, and one evangelical for every 173 people.
Oswald Smith used to ask, "What would you do if you saw ten men lifting a log; and if nine were on one end and one on the other?" There are 190 countries in the world with proportionately fewer Christian workers than we have. Of these, 45 have fewer than one-tenth as many Christian workers in relation to their population as we have. Yet year in and year out we send men and women to the wrong end of the log. The simple fact is that the deployment of Christian troops in the world is proof that the church in America does not yet have a wartime mentality. It is as though during WWII we drafted one million men and then sent 600 to fight Hitler and 999,400 to Norfolk.
The Spirit wants the world for Christ; the goal is not reached; therefore it is time for Bethlehem to move dramatically with the Spirit in world evangelization.
2. The Spirit Uses Disciples to Reach the World
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about specifics there are two other points from the text. One is that the Spirit uses disciples to reach the world. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses." One of the dangers of Arminianism is that it teaches men to usurp the place of God in conversion. One of the dangers of Calvinism is that it leads some to deny the place of man in evangelism. If the book of Acts teaches anything, it teaches that the Holy Spirit wills to reach the end of the earth through us. Until Christian disciples carry the message of Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins to unreached peoples, they will remain in darkness and rebellion (Acts 26:18). There is no salvation without the witness of a man or woman to Jesus Christ. You and I are an indispensable link in the chain of redemption. (See how the Spirit deploys people in Acts 8:29, 39; 9:17, 31; 10:19–20; 11:12; 13:4; 16:6–9; 19:21.) That's the second lesson: the Spirit uses disciples to reach the world.
3. The Spirit Gives Power for World-Wide Witness
But the third lesson is just as important. The Spirit gives power for world-wide witness. People are indispensable in world missions, but people alone are useless in world missions. We must have power. Jesus said, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses." Without the power of the Spirit we languish in fruitlessness. In Luke 24:49 Jesus said, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
What does this mean practically for us today? Does it mean we have to feel powerful before we obey God's call to missions or to witness? The problem with this is that several times in Acts the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit just as they were given opportunity to speak (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9). The muzzle gets hot when it is fired. When you open your mouth, he will fill it.
How, then, do we wait for power? We wait until we are sure that "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). We wait until we are sure that "the word of the cross is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24). We wait until we know the Spirit dwells in us. The power of the Spirit is unleashed in our lives when we put our confidence in the word of the cross, pray for the Spirit's help, and obey the command to go and to witness. The power is latent in every believer, because the gospel is believed and the Spirit is present. But the experience of that power will only come when we seek it with all our heart and open our mouths in witness.
4. Make the Passion of the Spirit Your Passion
Which brings us to the final challenge: Let us earnestly seek the power of the Spirit to reach people without the gospel. That is, let us seek to make the passion of the Spirit the passion of our heart. Next Sunday is Pentecost—seven weeks since Resurrection Day. That means that this week leading up to next Sunday corresponds to the days when the disciples were waiting for the outpouring of God's Spirit. Acts 1:14 says, "With one accord they devoted themselves to prayer." Around the world this week Christians are devoting themselves to prayer for a fresh outpouring of God's power for a new surge in world evangelization. That's what I want us to do.
World Mission and Bethlehem Baptist Church
Tonight we will commission by prayer the 24 people who are going to the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena, and some of our short-term missionaries who will go out from us.
Wednesday we will focus this week on missions and our longing for the power of God's Spirit.
Friday at 7:00 PM at my home we will have Missions at the Manse II. This is for any and all of you who are considering the possibility of short-term or vocational ministry here or mission work overseas. Noël and I are praying every night for the 90 who were there last time. We would love to add your name. But beware, we are aiming at some pretty radical commitment in our prayers.
At 10 PM on Friday we will begin our mid-year all-night prayer meeting in the Junior Room. We did this during prayer week for the past two years and about a hundred people joined in. An all night labor in prayer is a sleep-fast that says to God, "We mean it! We want you in power. Cleanse us. Fill us. Send us. We are not content with a peacetime mentality. We will not lay down our weapons for the summer. We know the Spirit wants the world for Christ. We want what he wants. Come, Holy Spirit, and give us power as we pray and worship all night on Friday."
Then on Sunday evening next week we will have the Festival of the Spirit to celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and what he is going to do among us. It will be unlike anything you've experienced before.
Wednesday a week ago the deacons voted unanimously to endorse the goal of "90 by '90," the goal that in the six years from January 1984 to January 1990, we will send out 90 members of BBC in vocational or short-term ministry at home or missions abroad. Christ has given us a clear mandate: "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." The power of the Holy Spirit is promised to all who want to reach the world for Christ. The goal of "90 by '90" will give everyone who goes and stays something specific to plan for, pray for, recruit for, train for, give for. We will not be vague. The challenge is before us. I believe it is of the Spirit—who wants the world for Christ, uses disciples to reach the world, and gives power for world-wide evangelization.