by Jims | March 5th, 2010
I recently read, “God is Back” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. The introduction of this book describes the great riff that exists between European views of religion and American views of religion. The authors state that by the 20th Century nearly all intellectuals agreed that modern man had outgrown a need for God. The picture, at least in the introduction, presented is very bleak. However, in a time of such low moral, spiritual, political, and social woes, America has witnessed some of the great movements of God. Both the First and Second Great Awakenings exploded during seasons of corruption, immorality, and religious apathy. The Jesus Movement launched in one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. The depraved depths to which our nation has fallen may just be the perfect place for us to see a movement of God.
Acts 1:1-8 serves as a guide for our discussion. The foundation of the faith, which the disciples were called to herald, was not a foundation of uncertainty. Luke reminds his readers that Christianity is a faith built on demonstrable evidence, particularly the evidence that Jesus physically rose from the dead. I witnessed to a young man last week at a motorcycle shop. He believed in a higher power, but adamantly stated his disbelief in the “Christian God.” He said that no god could possibly know everything nor be all powerful. I asked, “What if what your god does not know negates everything he does know?” He looked at me with a blank stare that communicated loudly my lack of clarity. So I responded, “What if your god’s knowledge is fire, and what he does not know is water. What happens when the two meet?” His god would cease to exist and a god that can be conquered or eliminated is really not a god at all and certainly not one to whom you would give your life or devotion.
Verses 4-8 demonstrate the finite nature of man as well as the sovereignty of God. The disciples ask Jesus if He will restore the kingdom to Israel. It is a question that reflects the unchanged condition of their hearts. In Luke 22:24ff the disciples are seen quarreling over which one of them would be great in the Kingdom of God. Their question is again one that reveals their heart to rule, reign, and come into power. Jesus basically tells them in verse 7 that the time of Kingdom restoration is none of their business, but rest solely in the will of God. Then the shocker comes. Acts 1:8 has been molested in recent days as a catchy evangelism strategy. In reality, it is a correction of the disciples’ perception of Kingdom citizenship. They wanted to be great, but Jesus tells them that they will be His witnesses. Witness is a word from which comes our English word martyr. The disciples desired to be kings, but Jesus’ call was one in which they would suffer and die so that the nations of the world might hear the gospel and be saved. He even called them to be martyrs for the Samaritans, a people that the Jews despised.
The power to which Jesus refers in Acts 1:8 is not dynamite power as is often preached. Dynamite did not exist in the first century so it is erroneous to translate power into an image of which the disciples possessed no knowledge. Jesus used the word power to again correct the disciples’ perception of their role in the Kingdom. Their power would not be one of overseeing provinces and ruling on political matters, but rather one of heavenly ability to follow Christ all the way to the grave. Jesus prepared them for this mission in Luke 22:24ff by telling the disciples that true greatness is not found in ruling, but in serving. They would receive power to face a martyr’s death.
How similar are we to the disciples? The very structure of most Baptist churches is one that capitalizes on man’s sinful desire for greatness, yet minimizes the call of Christ to go to the dark and dangerous places and die for Jesus. Our corporate structures in Baptist life invite men to strive for positions of leadership and authority in which they can hide from the call of Christ. Acts 6 reveals three characteristics of men that are called to servant leadership in the church. One of those characteristics is that they be filled with the Holy Spirit. Although the filling of the Spirit has been reduced in most Christian circles as a means to make it through a stressful life, the disciples’ only point of reference of the filling of the Spirit was in the first chapters of Acts. They knew that the filling of the Spirit in a man was recognized by that man’s passion to give all so that others might hear the gospel. Oh to see that requirement serve as the chief rule by which we choose our leaders in Baptist life. What will it take for the church to recognize that men are not called great in the Kingdom by the size of their wallet, company, house or standing in the community, but rather by their power to endure suffering for cause of Christ?