Concluding our series on the epidemic in the church of spiritual immaturity, based on Terry Wardle’s book, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power, we look at how Jesus has given all of his followers the authority to act in his name. We’ll look at one example, from Mark 4.35-41. You can watch the message here, or the entire worship broadcast elsewhere on the channel.
This weekend, the church celebrates Pentecost, the occasion recorded in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit fell upon the gathered followers of Jesus, made manifest in tongues of fire and languages heretofore unknown.
The Holy Spirit was given to equip disciples to minister in the power and authority of Jesus after he ascended into heaven. Those first disciples had come to rely on Jesus during his ministry for the ability and the blessing to minister in his name. When he ascended into heaven, he promised them the Holy Spirit, so that they would not be left alone.
To this day, all who follow Jesus are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to undertake God’s mission in the world. And the first task of all disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples. The Great Commission, given at a resurrection appearance before Jesus ascended, promised that in his authority, Jesus’ followers would be given power to make disciples of all nations.
Pentecost reminds us that this is our primary aim as the church: making disciples.
If we are pouring our primary efforts into other things, no matter how noble they be, those efforts are misdirected.
Yes, the Holy Spirit came and still comes and sometimes manifests himself in signs and wonders, as well as in less flashy ways. But the principal purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming is to empower for making disciples.
And that starts with us, with our own formation in Christ, our own spiritual maturity.
If you want to celebrate Pentecost well, spend personal time with the Lord, and tell a friend about what Jesus has done for you. Be a disciple, and make a disciple.
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NLT).
Encouragement From the Word returns on June 4.
Yesterday was an important day in the Christian calendar, but because it always falls on a Thursday, many believers in western society ignore it, and that’s unfortunate.
It was Ascension Day.
It commemorates the ascension of Jesus, 40 days after he rose from the dead. And 40 days after Easter Sunday always falls on a Thursday. While we in North America don’t celebrate it widely (though many Anglicans, especially those whose parish churches are named “The Church of the Ascension”, will have special services for it), in much of western Europe, it’s still a public holiday.
Why does it matter? Why should we mark the ascension of Jesus?
It fulfills the promise he made to the disciples, even before he went to the cross. In John 14.28, Jesus told them, “I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am” (NLT).
Of course, the disciples didn’t understand this at the time, though everything became clear as time went on.
Jesus, in ascending to heaven, went to be with the Father, and began his promised role as our Intercessor. From that day forward, Jesus’ primary responsibility as the Second Person of the Trinity would be to pray for us.
Isn’t that amazing? Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne in heaven, interceding on our behalf. And it all began on that first Ascension Day.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, he lays our case before the throne of grace. Think of that every year, 40 days after Easter. And think of it every day as you pray in the powerful name of Jesus.
When I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, it takes something significant for me to “stop the scroll”. Reading a post a couple of weeks ago by an acquaintance, whom I met while on a mission trip to India several years ago, made me stop.
As you may know, India is having severe challenges with the virulent spread of the Coronavirus. Thousands of people each day are dying.
He said that the problem wasn’t that India didn’t have the resources to stop the spread of COVID-19; the problem is that there is a lack of value for human life.
Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but this is his nation and his culture he’s talking about. He understands it far better than I ever could. And this is a sad assessment indeed.
I fear it is not limited to India, nor to the issue of the pandemic.
It’s a deep pond we’d be wading into, filled with quicksand, were we to begin the journey; this is not the forum for such conversation. But you know the issues as well as I do: once-civilized societies are demonstrating a lack of value for human life, whether at its beginning, its end, or its middle.
How do we turn that around?
One simple step is for all of us – starting with followers of Jesus, but spreading to all of society – to treat every other person as Jesus would treat him or her. This doesn’t mean agreeing on everything; it doesn’t mean approving of everything; what it does mean is that each person has value because each person is made in God’s image.
Not every cultural or religious tradition grasps this, but as Christians, we do.
Let’s set the example.
“So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27, NLT).