Finish the Mission: Empowered by the Spirit (part 5)
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT - a Spirit focus
In Acts 1:6-8 we find the final commission of Jesus. In verse 6 Jesus is asked, "Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?" It's as if the disciples were asking Jesus, "Lord, have you read the latest installment of Tim LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series?" Jesus' disciples seemed inordinately interested in the end times.
At their question, Jesus kindly admonishes them, saying, "It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority." They want to talk about the end times. Jesus wants to send them on a mission.
Churches are filled with people who are confused about the mission. It's evident when we consider what packs out a conference or what sermon series excites the people. For many churches today, when pastors address questions on the end times, the church fills up. If you pull out prophecy charts, some dragons with horns, and start naming names and decoding the numbers, you can pack out a conference.
Yet, Jesus says it's not for us to know. Jesus says "no" to the disciples' request to know the timing of God's plan, and he gives them something different entirely. He says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." These words cause a shift that takes place in the disciples' understanding of mission.
Luke's story of the church on mission in Acts begins with two revolutionary events. The first event focuses the mission of the church toward the nations and informs the disciples how the mission will be accomplished (Acts 1:8). The second creates the church and empowers it for its mission (Acts 2:1-11). When Jesus responds to his disciples' questions concerning when the kingdom of Israel will be restored (Acts 1:6), he is not trying to redirect their attention from eschatological speculation or from nationalistic hope in Israel's kingdom. Jesus says the kingdom will be established through the power of the Spirit, and the hope of Israel is fulfilled by God's mission being accomplished throughout the world.
We see a Trinitarian focus on the mission of God throughout Scripture. We see it in John 20:21:
"Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' After saying this, He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"
Perhaps you've gotten to this point in this chapter, and you have this nagging concern--"All right, Ed, you talk about us living sent. So I need a congregation full of people who will quit being spiritual consumers and actually become missional co-laborers." This sort of shift is in fact a tall order. We know statistically, from a study we conducted of seven thousand churches in Transformational Church, that the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission. They will come for a show, but they won't serve. So now you say, "You started with John 20:21. We are supposed to live as faithful missional co-laborers of the gospel, to live sent in our everyday lives. And then you tell me that now I've got to go to the nations, because, in context, the Great Commission cannot be understood apart from God sending his people to the nations. How in the world am I going to do all these things?"
Well, first, you can't do all of these things.
Second, remember the words of Jesus. He says, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you..." You can't accomplish any of those things in your own power and strength. If the posture of mission is one of sent-ness, then the promise of mission is power from the Holy Spirit. You might not be able to accomplish all of your new ministry goals tomorrow. But one thing you can do today is to say, "Here I am, Lord; send me. Spirit, empower us. You've empowered us to live sent to our neighbors and to the nations."
The Way Forward.
What should we do to focus on mission? I'd suggest that churches share Christ and serve the hurting locally, plant churches nationally, and adopt an unreached people group globally. I think you should lead your church to be a missional, missions-minded, gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered church.
They said at Babel, "Let us make a name for ourselves," so God scattered them. Their motivation was the exaltation of man's name. Israel was charged with a mission to bring the nations up to Jerusalem to praise God's name. In Acts, the followers of Jesus praised God's name. In Revelation the heavenly host praises the Lamb. I desire our churches to be able to stand before God and say:
"Here I am, Lord; send me. Cause me to live as an agent of your mission, to partner with others to spread your gospel to the nations, because we love the nations. Cause me to proclaim the gospel of repentance so that men and women might hear it all over the globe, by the power of your Spirit. In all these things, may we be a missional, missions-minded, gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered church."
When I look at the commissions of Jesus I see a people that are commissioned. We're all sent. We're all to be missional Christians. But we can't get past the Great Commission without seeing the nations, we can't get past Luke 24 without seeing the centrality of the gospel, and we can't leave the commissions of Jesus saying we can do it on our own. Spirit, give us your presence and your power.