"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." -Acts 1:8
Here the Lord Jesus promises power to His disciples. The purpose of this power was to equip them in order that they may be effective witnesses of the things they saw and heard as they testify to the Gospel of the grace of God to the ends of the earth. The Great Commission is in view, and the instruments of fulfilling it are those who have been bought by the blood and regenerated by the Spirit. Knowing that such an incredible mission is impossible by human means, God ordained that His people would receive a divine enablement and equipping of power in order to carry out the marching orders. As they would go and preach, they wouldn’t be alone. God Himself would be with them in the Person of His Spirit, demonstrating His power to confirm the Word, and bringing converting conviction and effectual grace to the hearts of His elect through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The power of the Holy Spirit was not limited solely to the Apostles any more than the Great Commission was limited solely to them. The power goes as a promise together with the commission. Although the frequency and potency of miraculous signs and wonders was required to be greater during the Apostolic era in order to establish the church on earth and complete the canon of Holy Scripture, thus giving the original Apostles an authority unequaled since their day (see 2 Cor. 12:11-12), we can still be partakers of the same Holy Spirit that they were, and not only can we be, but in order to effectively fulfill the Great Commission, we must be. We cannot fulfill the mission Christ commanded unless we have the power He promised.
Now this brings us to an awareness of our great necessity. Though we see one thing in the Word of God, many times we see something completely different in our experience, and the fault is not with God but it is with us. Why don’t we walk in this power, and why doesn’t God back up our preaching with heavy heart-crushing conviction, trails of conversions, and long-lasting fruit for His glory? We can make excuses until Christ comes back, but it’s time to own at least some of the blame for ourselves and get serious about what God is serious about, that is, in finishing the task of preaching the Gospel to every creature.
So what’s the cause of our widespread lack of power? Is it not the great lack of obedient and wholehearted, reckless abandon, daring faith, and burning devotion to Christ? Is it not the complacency and divided interests of many of Christ’s followers? Is it not the shortsightedness of those who can’t see past their own agendas and religious calendars? I’m convinced that we don’t see the power we should because we’re content to rest in the fact that we know we’re on our way to Heaven but we refuse to be discontent in a healthy way over our own lack of radical pursuing after Christ. We don’t thirst after Him with the intensity we should, like the deer that pants for streams of water (Psa. 42:1).
One of the great needs of our day is that the personal devotion, passion, and commitment of believers to Christ would greatly increase. Spiritual fervency is at an all time low among the people of God in this Laodicean age. The desperate lack of God-wrought demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s power in our midst is a sad evidence of the fact that many of those who identify themselves as followers of Christ lack a real power with God, that is, they lack the personal intimacy with God that the Bible clearly calls us to have. And it is because they lack such intimate communion with God that they also lack the demonstration in their midst of the reality of the Kingdom of God.
Many circles are crying out for corporate revival to come down upon them from on high, thinking that if they praise hard enough, or pray hard enough, or preach hard enough, or cry hard enough, that the Holy Spirit must of necessity come down. But it is in these same circles that “respectable sins” (which they conveniently call “Christian liberty”) are tolerated which cause a barrier to separate them from the experiential reality of genuine Holy Spirit demonstration and power. Though the outside of the cup is clean, we often prefer our own agenda over God’s revealed will; our own convenience over His commands; our own comfort over His glory. And then we turn around and cry about it, casting blame upon God for not giving us the blessings promised in His Word to those who obey Him!
Yet if our hearts are not consumed with a passion for radical obedience to the whole testimony of the Word of God then the Spirit of God has no business in giving us more power. After all, what do we need more power for? –To utter half-hearted prayers? To read the Bible with a lazy disposition? To fall asleep during the sermon on Sunday morning? To watch sports? To spend all our free time socializing in idle, worthless talk? To go to the movies and entertain the fleshly mind? To play the game of spectator Churchianity as we watch the pastor obey Jesus while we applaud him for doing what we ourselves should be doing? What need does the Holy Spirit have to clothe us with power from on high if we’re not abandoned to obeying His will in everything?
I once heard a story of a Chinese Christian who came to the United States for a visit. He was from the underground, persecuted church of China. Thinking that America was the spiritual leader of the world as a Christian nation, he was greatly disappointed by his visit. Finally, he was eventually asked, “What impressed you the most about the American church?” His response: “The great things Americans can accomplish without God.” Oh, that God would have mercy on our poor, ignorant souls! That he would use the mouths of such “foolish things of this world” to confound the so-called “wise” and “mighty”. The underground house church movement of China has experienced tremendous revivals in recent years while the American church continues to sleep on. Persecution, tribulation, and hardship for the name of Christ has a way of shaking sleepy Christians and causing the people of God to become deadly serious about their mission as ambassadors of Christ. After all, why flirt with the harlotry of lukewarm living and worldliness if at every moment your life is in danger because of your confession of faith! If God won’t give the American church another Great Awakening, then perhaps the next best thing He can do in His mercy is give it a great shaking!
Wake up, brethren! We claim to want the glorious presence of God in our midst as was present in the church of the book of Acts, but the truth is that we want the blessings of the early church without the sufferings of the early church! We want the resurrection power of the early church without the deep work of the cross like the early church! We want to be exalted with Christ in glorious triumph over the powers of darkness like the early church but we utterly refuse to allow everything of the natural man to go down into the grave with Christ, as did the early church! We want the same measure of grace as the early church but we refuse to confess our weakness and helplessness in the humility of the early church! But we will never experience the glorious things that they experienced in the book of Acts until we first begin to do what they did to position themselves to experience such things.
It’s not sufficient to say that the book of Acts was a transitional book and that what God did there, He won’t do today. While there’s partial truth in the transitional, historical sense of Acts, the truth is that we’ve never done what the early Christians did in order to experience what they experienced! Pentecost came down with a booming clap of thunder and a mighty rushing wind, and with tongues of fire resting upon the early disciples to be witnesses to the risen Lord with the power of Heaven upon them, but it didn’t just come out of nowhere, unexpectedly! That glorious day was birthed in ten days of earnest, desperate, expectant prayer! 120 souls gathered together saying, “We’re desperate for the power Christ promised us, and we’re going to seek the face of God in desperation, not moving from this place, until He hears from Heaven and sends down the promise!” They recognized their weakness, their insufficiency, and desperately cried out for ability from God to carry out the Great Commission. And when Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father glorified, having finished sprinkling the heavenly tabernacle’s Holy Place with His own blood, He sent down the promised power of the Holy Spirit in answer to the faith-filled earnest prayers of His people. And then with tongues of fire, they set the hearts of multitudes ablaze and changed the course of history forever with the simple, foolish message of “Christ crucified”. They plundered the gates of Hell and carried the spoil of rescued souls to the feet of the blessed Lamb who was slain, proclaiming in victory, “Here, Lord, is the travail of your soul, that You may be satisfied!” (see Isaiah 53:11)
The apostle Paul said, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thes. 1:5 ESV). When Paul preached, it wasn’t just persuasive arguments that he used, but he spoke with the Holy Spirit giving unction behind his every word, the life-giving truth of the Gospel flowing out of his innermost being like rivers of living water. His words were like sharp arrows that pierced the hearts of his hearers, wounding them with deep conviction over their sinful condition, and causing them to flee to Christ as their only refuge of salvation. He walked in the power of Acts 1:8 as a way of life, and the Gospel exploded and destroyed strongholds of the devil wherever he went. That’s why it wasn’t just among the Thessalonians that such power attended the Gospel when they heard and believed, but also among the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:4-5) and the Ephesians (Acts 19), and in fact, everywhere Paul preached (Rom 15:19).
I’m not talking about miracles, signs and wonders. –Of course those followed the Apostles' preaching in a unique way to confirm them as the hand-picked representatives of Christ to the world, and no doubt they are a part of what Paul had in mind when he speaks of the “demonstration of the Spirit” to confirm the Word. However, we must not limit these texts which speak of such Holy Spirit power only to the signs and wonders of Apostolic confirmation. Certainly, the chief result of the power of God being upon them was the deep conviction that struck the hearts of men like bolts of lightning wherever the heavens were opened by the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit came into the world for that chief purpose, to give a divine weightiness, a holy gravity to the message preached and to convict the hearts of men (John 16:8); and no doubt, He is still here in the world, His power being promised to all believers for the purpose of glorifying Christ in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
The problem with much of today’s preaching, even good, solid doctrinal preaching, is that there is many times an embarrassing lack of power upon it, because the preacher didn’t birth his message in the anguish of travailing prayer for souls. Though he speaks with doctrinal preciseness, there is a lack of “gravity” upon his words, a lack of heavenly weightiness, a lack of divine authority, a lack of urgency and a lack of holy passion behind his arguments. Oh, we desperately need doctrinal precision in these last days of the blowing waves of every wind of doctrine and shifting sands of apostate teachings, and we need to revive the historic faith of the sovereignty of Almighty God according to the sound exegesis of the Biblical text –but my dear brethren, just the right interpretation alone isn’t enough if the Holy Spirit isn’t saturating the spoken Word to drive it home to the hearts of men and convincing them inwardly of the power of the truth that is spoken outwardly!
Peter and John were unlearned fishermen! Yet they shook the world for Christ! They had a boldness that only the Holy Spirit could produce. Even their most bitter enemies, the most unbelieving skeptical religious leaders who crucified Jesus, took notice that there was something upon them that wasn’t natural, humanly, or normal (see Acts 4:13). They spoke with the authority of the Almighty behind their speech, and confounded the “wisdom of the wise”. This is what we need today. Instead of making excuses we need to go before God and make confessions. We need to pour out our hearts before Him confessing our fleshly confidences, our divided interests, our secret heart sins and our trust in the chariots of Egypt. We need to confess our desperate lack of power and our urgent need for His blessing upon our labors and seek Him like there’s no tomorrow, that He would pour out His Spirit upon us so we can be conduits of His grace and power to the world around us.
The remedy to our catastrophic problem is the cross of Jesus Christ. We can’t walk in the fullness of the power of His resurrection until we fully embrace and identify ourselves with the death of the cross. Our carnal, earthly interests need to be mortified and killed if Christ’s holy, heavenly interests in the Gospel are to live and thrive through us. There are no shortcuts here.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is the life of the apostle Paul. He put his flesh to the cross so that the resurrection life of Christ could be imparted to the souls he ministered to. The cross had its thorough work in him, and because of that, God was able to work so powerfully through him. Identifying himself with the cross was his constant obsession (perhaps “obsession” isn’t even a strong enough word). He said, “For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor .4:11-12). All through Paul’s ministry, we read of the countless sufferings he endured, not for sufferings’ sake, not in some kind of monastic asceticism, but for the sake of spreading the Gospel. He was a dead man –dead to self, dead to the world, dead to the passing pleasures of sin for a season, but gloriously alive to God. Though his feet treaded down the dust of the earth in his journeys from city to city, and though his voice traveled across nations, his heart and soul were seated with Christ in triumph in the heavenlies. Though his body would be in jail, his heart would be enraptured in heavenly communion with the Most High. He had no agenda of his own, but his only passion was to carry the message of the cross to the world, to see souls saved, and to see the saints firmly established in the faith. His ministry slogan was: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:10-12a).
The cross needs to have it’s thorough work in every aspect of our lives. And perhaps the area in which the true children of God need to most bear the cross is in the “good things” that are robbing us from walking in God’s perfect will. Our God is a jealous God. His name is jealous (Ex. 34:14). He wants us to give Him glory. What is it that’s holding you back from whole-hearted commitment to His service? Pluck it out and cut it off! Let’s get serious about serving the One who left all to come down to earth and shed His royal blood. There’s no price to pay too high, no hardship too tough, no commitment sufficient enough, to properly recompense the glorious Savior who plucked us like brands from the fire. He’s worthy! Let’s take up the cross, soldiers of Christ, and march forth in the triumph of the cross, shouting “Bow down, oh inhabitants of the earth, to the Name that is above every name!” Time is wasting, souls are perishing, angels are watching, the end is approaching, but the church is sleeping! WAKE UP SLEEPY CHRISTIANS!!!