Text: Acts 1:4-8
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Why do we come to Church? Someone asked me that question not too long ago. They were Christians, but they had a made a pretty significant transition from one denomination to another, and that changed a lot of what they understood about the Church. They weren’t looking for a moral reason, “Why do I have to go to Church?” It was more about what happens at Church. What do we go to Church for?
What do we expect to happen here? Your answer to this question will largely depend upon your upbringing and religious tradition. Our Charismatic brothers will say that they are coming to “get filled,” meaning that they expect the Holy Spirit to fill them in a new way. Our Bible Church brothers will say that they are coming to “be taught,” meaning they expect to learn something form the Scriptures. Our broad Evangelical brothers will say that they are coming to “be fed,” meaning they expect to have their souls comforted and encouraged. Each of these answers brings with it a set of connotations and expectations. Each of those answers has something going for them. I’m not saying that they are all wrong. But what do we think? What do we expect to happen in Church? What does the Bible say?
As we read the Scriptures between Easter and Pentecost, we see Jesus putting His Church together. There’s a big focus on how the apostles move from confused men trying to figure out what has happened to bold and confident ministers who go out and preach the gospel to all the earth.
In our text this morning, Acts 1, Jesus tells them that they should wait in Jerusalem until they are given power. This power is what is going to turn these people into the Church, and then they are going to go out and do all of the acts that they do in the rest of the book. What’s important about this power is that it is said to be the power of God. This is very very important and something we take for granted or perhaps forget entirely. The Church is the location where God says He is going to send His power.
Let’s think about this in terms of Easter and Pentecost. God has been saving the world through Jesus and His Resurrection. And the next logical assumption is the one that that apostles make. “Lord will you at this time to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s not a bad question, actually. The apostles aren’t totally wrong in asking it. They are actually tracking with the message. Does Jesus do what they think? Does He set up a kingdom with a throne and armies? No. He leaves. He ascends into heaven. And He leaves the Church.
But it isn’t just the Church in terms of people. God promises to send His power, through the Holy Spirit, into the Church, and the Church is going to go out and do the work of God. Where is God working His power today? The Church. That’s where it’s happening. And Jesus says that the Church is endued with power on high. So why do we come to Church, what do we expect to happen here? We come to Church to meet God. We come to Church to experience His power on earth. This is a big deal.
The Church is a Spiritual Kingdom
Now, right away there are few important points that we should go over. At the beginning of Acts 1, the apostles are expecting something like a worldly kingdom, a literal political power on earth. They understood the prophecies of the messiah in a basic way. He would lay claim to the throne of David and restore the old kingdom again, though He would take away its faults. This would be a political-military feat, as well as a religious one. But Jesus corrects that assumption, and says that it instead the kingdom is spiritual. He said this already to Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). It wasn’t worldly then, and it isn’t worldly now.
This isn’t some sort of national revival, and it will not use worldly weapons or tactics. Instead, the kingdom will come through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that what John the Baptist had predicted was about to come true. In “not many days from now,” the baptism of the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church.
This lets us know that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that happens to each individual Christian at certain points in their life. No, instead it was a historical event. It was the fulfillment of prophecy. When we get to Acts 2, we will see that Peter said it was a definitive fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. The baptism of the Holy Spirit meant that “the last days” were here and that big things were about to happen. This is what Jesus is promising as well. The Church was about to receive “power,” and this power would enable them to “be witnesses.” It would also carry them from Jerusalem, to all Judea and Samaria, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.
It’s also important at this point to note that Jesus hasn’t suddenly changed the plan on us. It isn’t that Old Testament was interested in a worldly kingdom of Israel and the restoration and salvation of the planet, but now the New Testament is interested in changing hearts and getting people to heaven. That’s a very popular misconception, but it is a very wrong one. A careful reading of the Old Testament will show that it was always interested in man’s heart. Moses had said in Deuteronomy 30, “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). And then there was David in the 51st Psalm, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17).
And the New Testament doesn’t relinquish the claims of the messiah to inherit a kingdom and even conquer the whole earth. After all, what does Jesus say in the Great Commission? “Go therefore and disciple the nations…” (Matt. 28:19). And part of the gospel message that is preached to the nations is that “Jesus is Lord” (Acts 2:36, 10:36; Philippians 2:11).
So we don’t see a new target or goal, and we don’t even get a new message. What we get is a new way for that message to be preached and that goal to be achieved. It will be carried out through the work of the Church, namely preaching the gospel, and the Church will be able to do this because it has divine power.
What is this power? This is a rich topic. When you do a key-word search for “power” in the New Testament, you get 131 results, most of which are about God’s power in some way. You see the “power” of God associated with healing sickness and the casting out of demons (Mark 3:15). The power of “the Most High” is what enables Mary to conceive Jesus in her womb (Luke 1:35). The power of God is even what raises Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1:4, 2 Cor. 13:4). So the basic point is this power is a divine attribute. It is God’s own power by which He does His work on earth. That is what Jesus promises to give the Church.
This power is what we should find in the Church. We should experience the power of God, the power by which He is bringing about His redemptive work in history. This power is associated with all that the “kingdom” is and does. Listen to how the Apostle Paul speaks about the “power” of God in the Church.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The power of God to salvation is the gospel of Christ. Paul also says, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5), and “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5). So the preaching of the gospel and the working of the apostles in the early church was characterized by a special divine power.
This power of God is even shown in the discipline of the Church:
Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness? …In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 4:18-20, 5:4-5)
The power of God is shown in the preaching of the gospel, and it is also shown in the less pleasant business of rebuking evil and even excommunication for those who refuse to repent.
All throughout the New Testament, the work of the Church is explained as the power of God working through His people (Eph. 3:20). This is the power that Jesus promised that the Church would receive at Pentecost, and it is the power which enables them to go out and bear witness. This power of God creates the Church. It moves the Church throughout the land and then the whole world. This power of God empowers the apostles to boldly proclaim the gospel and to carry out their work of evangelism (Acts 4:29-31). And we must have this power of God with us today if we are to do any of the work of the kingdom in the Church.
Divine Power in the Church
So what does this mean for us today? Many Christians assume that this means the power to work miracles. When we return to our study on 1st Corinthians, we will eventually treat the question of prophecy and speaking in tongues. I will save that discussion for then. Certainly those miraculous signs were one aspect of the “power” given to the Church. However, they weren’t the only aspects of that power. They weren’t even the primary aspects of it. The most common association with the power of God is the mere ability to preach the gospel and see results. The ability to go and give the message is the primary marker of the power of God in the Church.
So the first thing we need to understand and work to really belief is that the ordinary work of the Church should be full of divine power. This isn’t a matter of our enthusiasm. We don’t create the power of God in Church by being really pumped up, shouting, or putting on a great show. No, the power of God is promised to be given to us by His Spirit. We are supposed to believe that He does give it to us, and we should be expecting to meet God at Church.
As I said, this isn’t first and foremost a matter of our personal demeanor or self-expression at Church, though that will certainly be impacted at some point. This should be about our expectations and beliefs about what is happening at Church. Jesus has left the planet, and He has promised that His Holy Spirit will carry out the rest of the mission that He was previously doing. The Spirit will carry this out with the very power of God, and He will do so in and through the Church. That’s what is happening every Sunday. Every time we gather for worship, pray together, read the Scriptures, and celebrate the sacraments, we are participating in the power of God for the salvation of the world and the expansion of the kingdom of the messiah. Do you believe that? Do you think that God Himself is here right now and that He is at work?
The Church has power. We must trust God and His believe that His power is what actually makes things happen. We must be faithful and do what He command us, trusting that it will work. We must go, preach the gospel, and be the Church. That is how the kingdom of Christ will be manifest prior to His Second coming.
The reason that this isn’t satisfying, and the reason that we don’t believe it, is that it just seems so ordinary. After all, this is a small church. We know everything about everyone else. We know how the sausage gets made, as the old saying goes. We have business meetings and follows rules of procedure. We have to open up and close down. We make mistakes and sin against each other sometimes. The whole thing just seems like an ordinary worldly organization, doesn’t it?
But it isn’t. Or at least, that isn’t all it is. Yes, we are simultaneously just and sinners, and the visible church has its worldly aspects. But that isn’t what we are “for real.” That isn’t our core, and that isn’t what God says about us in His sight. No, God says that we are His people, filled with His power, and that we are doing greater works than Jesus did (John 14:12). If we look weak and lowly, that’s exactly the point. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:6-7). God desires His strength to be made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), in our weakness, and so that’s what He is doing through the Church.
The Church is the site of God’s power on earth now that Jesus has ascended to heaven. The Church is the location where God is “at work” saving sinners and recreating humanity. The Church is where the kingdom is, and that’s what we are doing right now.
We need to believe this. This should influence and inspire how we think about the church and how we think about our congregation. This should motivate how we treat others at church, but also how we consider our own activity at Church. God’s power is here. He is working through us. Won’t you join in? Won’t you be a part of God’s kingdom? Won’t you share in His power?
And this should also give us the confidence—boldness is actually the Biblical word—to continue doing the work of the Church and to take it on the offense. I say this a lot, but it’s so good I’m going to say it again. When Jesus says about the Church “The gates of Hell will not stand against you,” He is letting us know that the Church is on the attack. Gates are defensive tools, not offensive ones. That means that it is the Church that is on the move. It is the Church that is attacking Hell, and the fact that that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church means that the Church wins. This can happen because God gives His power to the Church, and so it is God’s power that is assaulting Hell. He chooses to use us, as His people, to do that.
It is because we believe that it is the power of God that we think everyone should have it. It is because we believe that it is the power of God that we think it is going to work. It is because we believe that it is the power of God that we are doing it at all. So go. Go and bear witness. Be the Church.
This power of God is God’s power. It doesn’t require any particularly worldly technique or strategy of human wisdom. Of course, we will all have to consider our callings and find the various opportunities in front of us. But the primary “strategy” is always the same. Bear witness. Preach the gospel. Worship Jesus. Live lives of holiness. That is the kingdom, and that is the power. God has chosen you to carry that out. He has chosen you to bear His power.
Let us pray.