In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. 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 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." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Before I draw out the main point of verse 8 I want you to see a similar text in Luke 24. You recall Luke, the physician, wrote a two volume work: the Gospel according to Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles. The end of the Gospel overlaps with the beginning of Acts. So some of the same things are reported.
In Luke 24:47 Jesus says to his disciples just before he ascends to heaven that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in my name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Then he says, very much like Acts 1:8, "You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you (i.e. the Holy Spirit), but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high."
Acts 1:8 says that they shall receive power from the Holy Spirit and shall be witnesses. Luke 24:48-49 says that they shall be witnesses and must wait for to be clothed with power from on high. Notice that in Acts 1:8 receiving power is what precedes and leads to being witnesses for Christ. And in Luke 24:48-49 they are to be witnesses but power from on high is so crucial they must wait for it in the city before they begin to launch out to the nations from Jerusalem.
So here is the main point that I think Jesus and Luke are teaching us: Special power is essential for an expanding witness to Christ.
Power Is Essential
The reason I say power is essential for witness is because in both Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8 Jesus says that power must come first—"You shall receive power ... and you shall be my witnesses." "You are my witnesses ... stay in the city, until you are clothed with power."
The Witness Is Expanding
The reason I say this power is essential for an expanding witness to Christ is because in both these texts Jesus is sending them from Jerusalem in ever-expanding circles until all the nations are evangelized. In Luke 24:47 he says, "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations beginning from Jerusalem—hence, an ever-expanding witness.
And in Acts 1:8 he says, "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth"—hence an ever expanding witness.
Jesus is not talking here of an occasional word of witness in our same circle of culture. He's talking about ever-expanding efforts to penetrate more and more of Satan's strongholds of unbelief. That's why I say special power is essential for an expanding witness to Christ.
The Power Must Be Special
The reason I say special power is essential is that it takes power just to become a Christian. But it takes another dimension of power to carry out an expanding witness to Christ.
These disciples were already Christians before they received this power that Jesus was promising here. In fact, they were remarkably lively Christians before this special power fell upon them at Pentecost and then fell upon them repeatedly through the book of Acts. What do you picture the disciples doing in the ten days between this final farewell and the day of Pentecost? Do you picture them as weak and totally powerless with no joy and no hope and no courage ‘till Pentecost?
If so, compare this picture with the one in Luke 24:50-53. "Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them he parted from them. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."
What were the disciples doing while they waited to be clothed with power from on high, while they waited to receive the special power of the Holy Spirit? Two things: Luke 24 tells us they were continually in the temple worshipping God with great joy; and Acts 1:13-14 tells us they met in an upper room and devoted themselves to prayer. So they were praying in their smaller assembly and they were joyfully worshipping and blessing God in the public temple.
Now all of that (prayer and great joy and blessing God) is evidence of God's power. These are things that do not happen without the work of God's power. Therefore, I conclude that what Jesus is telling them to wait for is a special power - something more than the ordinary experience of power that makes a person a Christian and makes him love worship and have joy and go to prayer.
So I say again, what Jesus wants to teach us in these verses is mainly this: Special power is essential for an expanding witness to Christ.
Voices Behind The Student Volunteer Movement
According to John R. Mott, Arthur T. Pierson, a Presbyterian minister, was responsible for sounding the trumpet that started the Student Volunteer Movement in missions a hundred years ago. In 1882 Pierson wrote in the Missionary Review that three things were needed to finish the Great Commission and evangelize the world: 1) the whole church needed to be involved; 2) evangelistic zeal was needed in the lives of believers; and 3) a baptism of the power of the Holy Spirit was needed.
On this last point he wrote, "To do this work in twenty years, we must get more Gospel, more vitality ... The church has money, brains, organizations, rivers of prayer and oceans of sermons, but she lacks in POWER." (Mission Frontiers, 10/8, August, 1988, Supplement, "The Crisis of Missions" Todd M. Johnson, p.6.)
In 1891 when the first International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, Pierson's friend A. J. Gordon gave the keynote address and entitled it "The Holy Spirit in Missions." He said, "Now dear friends ... all missionary success, at home or abroad, depends upon the Holy Ghost. I say it deliberately: the personal preparation of the Holy Spirit is the greatest need in our ministry in this country and in foreign fields." (Student Missions Power: Report of the First International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Pasadena: William Carey Library, n.d. p. 17)
And Gordon went on to give illustration after illustration from church history of how Christians had sought the outpouring of God's Spirit for their ministry and had been given a special power for expanding witness to Christ.
Modern Missions' Greatest Need
Now here we are in 1988, one hundred years later. Again a great movement of missionary activity is underway:
- We have a new vision of what it means to complete the Great Commission—namely, the new understanding of people groups that need to be reached before the end will come.
- We have quickly-increasing numbers of foreign missionaries: there are 262,000 foreign Christian missionaries of all kinds. The present growth rate indicates the number will be 400,000 by 2000.
- At least 20,000 non-Western missionaries, belonging to 380 different agencies, are now working in scores of countries. At the current rate of growth, the size of the non-Western missionary force will increase to 100,000 by the year 2000.
- Here at Bethlehem Noel and I have a list of 151 people that we pray for who have been to "Missions in the Manse" this year, and there are about 60 of our members who are consciously preparing for vocational missionary service.
- Thirty Bethel College students went to Urbana '84. But last December 300 went to Urbana '87.
But the words of Pierson and Gordon need to be sounded again! The great need of the hour is power. A special power from the Holy Spirit for expanding witness to Christ.
What the Power Produces
So let's take the remaining minutes we have and ask, why do we need this power? What would our witness look like if it came?
We need this power. We need it at Bethlehem. I need it. Our missionaries need it. And you need it, if you want your life to count for eternity. And the reason we need it is that without it our witness for Christ will lack deep conviction, self-denying courage, convincing wisdom, and converting effectiveness. Let me illustrate these four things from Scripture.
1. Deep conviction
When the Holy Spirit falls upon you in power your witness to Christ comes with deep conviction.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says, "Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."
When God clothes his witnesses with that special power from on high the effect is a deep certainty and confidence and conviction about Christ and the reality of his life and work. The power of God comes upon you, wraps you up as though in a garment of strength, and carries you with conviction and assurance through the hour of testimony.
Note: God can use your witness to win people to him even when you lack this special power. Laurel tells how her roommate was used by God to bring Laurel to Christ in college even though the roommate was quite a weak and worldly Christian. But an ever-expanding witness that reaches the city and the world will never come from that kind of weak and worldly Christian, or that kind of church.
First of all, then, we need power because we need deep and confident conviction when we speak for Christ. This comes when the power of the Holy Spirit falls on us and clothes us with reassuring strength.
2. Self-Denying Courage and Boldness
When the Holy Spirit falls upon you in power your witness to Christ comes with self-denying courage and boldness.
Acts 4:31 says, "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness."
And Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7-8, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord ... but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God."
Where does boldness come from? It comes from the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Where does courage to suffer for Christ come from? It comes from the power of God—the Spirit of power!
To reach this city and to reach the world with the gospel we must have courage and boldness that is willing to suffer for Christ. (David Barret estimates 310,000 people in 1988 will be killed for their Christian faith.) This kind of courage wells up in the heart when the special power of God's Spirit falls upon you. This is why martyrs have been able to sing in the flames—this is no ordinary power. And the need for it is great.
3. Convincing Wisdom
When the Holy Spirit falls upon you in power your witness to Christ comes with convincing wisdom, irresistible words.
In Acts 6:5 Luke tells us that Stephen was chosen as a deacon because he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Verse 8 says that he was full of grace and power and did great wonders and signs among the people. Then in verse 10 Luke tells us about Stephen's witness to Jews from Alexandria and Cilicia and Asia: "They could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke."
It doesn't matter how educated or intelligent you are, unless the Spirit comes upon you in power when you witness to Christ, people will be able to twist what you say to make it sound unacceptable and foolish. But if the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and you are clothed with heavenly wisdom, something supernatural will happen. Your words will carry an irresistible force. "They could not resist the wisdom and Spirit with which he spoke."
Note: this power does not always guarantee that hearers will be converted. These men were not converted but became all the more devious in their opposition when they couldn't resist Stephen in public.
We need special power in our witness so that our wisdom will be convincing and irresistible.
4. Converting Effectiveness
When the Holy Spirit falls upon you in power your witness to Christ comes with converting effectiveness. Not always, (as we just saw) but far more often than without the special power of the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 1:15-17 the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that his son, John the Baptist "will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just."
In Acts 11:24 it says that Barnabas "was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large company was added to the Lord."
We need the special power of the Spirit's fullness because the human heart is so hard to turn to God! Conversions are the work of God. Evangelism is a supernatural business or it is nothing of any eternal significance. We need special power if we want an expanding witness that actually converts sinners.
The Power Is from God
If Faith and David Jaeger and the Guinea team ever plant a thriving, expanding church in Guinea it will be because God came down and clothed them with special power.
If we ever see the Baptist General Conference ignite with evangelistic fervor it will be because God came down and clothed us with special power from on high.
If Bethlehem ever takes up the evangelistic challenge of downtown Minneapolis with deep conviction, and self-denying courage, and convincing wisdom, and converting effectiveness, it will be because we have received special power when the Holy Spirit has come upon us.
And what about you and me individually? Are we satisfied with our spiritual level of power in witness for Christ? I'm not. Are you? Do you have the deep conviction and self-denying courage and irresistible wisdom and converting effectiveness that God wants you to have in your witness for Christ? Have you become content with weakness and forgotten the amazing promise: "You shall receive power!"
What should we do? What should we do as individuals? What should we do as a church? As a conference? As a company of evangelicals in this city?
The answers to these questions are so crucial that I have decided to rearrange the sequence of messages and continue this one next Sunday morning. And I ask very earnestly that you would pray for me. And pray for yourself and for the church. Jesus is offering us so much more power than we have! He desires to do so much more through us for perishing sinners than he is doing now!
Pray with me this week that we would know how to seek this power in a way that pleases the Lord.