The Power We Should Receive
1. Before the risen Christ went up to heaven he said the following to his apostles, "When the Holy Spirit falls upon you, you will receive power. And you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but in all Judea and Samaria, and also unto the ends of the earth," (1:8). This is the message which is given to us in our worship service today on Pentecost Sunday or The Descent Of The Holy Spirit Sunday.
2. "You will be my witnesses." After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his apostles during a forty day period and showed them that he was alive. Christ also went on next to send his apostles into the world. The apostles did not only see Christ face to face but were sent out to give witness of the resurrection of Christ and the reality of his rule. They were not only saved by Christ, but they were sent out to give witness of the salvation that comes through Christ and to bring [his] salvation to the ends of the earth. The church even still carries the witness of the resurrection of Christ and exists in the world. Christians not only believe in Christ and don't stop at being saved by Christ but exist in the world to live with the risen Christ and to give witness of Christ.
3. "You will be my witness." How do we become his witnesses? The Lord said, "When the Holy Spirit falls upon you, you will receive power." Encountering the risen Christ must certainly have been a deeply spiritual experience for the apostles. But, they didn't become Christ's witnesses by those experiences. To become a witness for Christ they had to receive power from God.
4. Well, do we really believe we it? Do we really believe we need power like that? I believe the problem in our churches today is not in our weaknesses but in our strengths. We have too much [worldly] power. So we do not feel we need power [from above] and we do not seek for it either. As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday today, we need to keep in mind that we definitely need power from above to witness to the resurrection of Christ and to his rule in this world. Yes, Christians need power from on high to be witnesses of Christ.
The Power To Do A Supernatural Work
5. In the context within the book of The Acts Of The Apostles, this unique meaning of power is clear. It is the power to do supernatural works. This word for "power," when in the plural, is normally translated "miracles" in the New Interconfessional Version. It stands for the numerous miracles done by Jesus and then later by his apostles. "When the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you will receive power." The manifestation of that power is first depicted at the miracles that the apostles did.
6. When we read Acts we see that the manifestation of this supernatural power used to have an important meaning for preaching in the primitive church. It was certainly a human being giving out the words. It was people who walked around on this earth and who gave witness to Christ with their words. But, when the many miracles are depicted in the works of the apostles, or as it is in the work of the church, ultimately they are really showing forth manifestations of the power of God. The progress in the work of preaching which is described in the Bible was not accomplished by elaborate tactics, effective evangelistic speakers, functional organizations, or by the presence of skilful people who could do all these things. Therefore, it was fundamentally not an issue at all of did the apostles and the other Christians have any natural skills and abilities. Their works obviously exceeded their innate abilities. Thus, the Jewish authorities were surprised as they knew that Peter, John, and the others with them were "unlearned, average men."
7. Actually, when we only think of the church as a simple group of people, and think that it all depends on what people do, then both the work of the church and our lives as Christians will fall into a choke hold. When we don't believe that God's work goes past our limits, we won't expect anything substantial anymore. - Because it won't be much more than what we can do in our ability and our human strength. We must not forget that no matter when, the manifestation of the power of God is first being communicated to us as a miracle of God. Of course, when one speaks on the manifestation of God's power, in the situation of modern Japan, there is still room for debate on whether or not we ought to emphasize, for example, the supernatural healing of disease. Perhaps doing so may invite unnecessary confusion between us and the various new cultic religious groups that have emerged since WWII who regard salvation as physical healing. Either way though then, the next point can't be overemphasized, which is that, to witness for Christ means something more than our using our own natural skills. We need his power. We need the power from above.
Power To Conquer Fear
8. So now, let's consider a few more things in line with the description given in Acts on this "power."
9. Second, we might say that "power" means the power to conquer fear. That's God's power to make us stand before others as witnesses and to have us speak courageously.
10. "You will be my witnesses." A witness testifies to the resurrection of Christ. In other words, a person testifies to the crucified Christ and that God raised him from the dead. That means that we make clear that people are in rebellion against God. We are to clearly show that people must repent before God. At the same time we are also to tell people whom they ought to obey. We are to state openly that this crucified man [Jesus] is the true king and is the real Lord to whom people should be obedient. We are to state that believing in him and being obedient to him is where salvation truly lies.
11. This message is a salvation message for those who admit their sins and bow their knees before Christ. But, for those who take themselves as righteous and see themselves as absolute this turns out being a truly hard message to accept. Especially when the authorities in society absolutize themselves and would even try to control the consciences of Christians in their faith, the message that there is a true king becomes bad for business. Therefore, they would try to seal up that testimony with their power [and authority]. However, to be a witness for Christ means also to witness of Christ even in places like the above.
12. Peter and John were actually commanded to "not speak and teach in the name of Jesus at all" when in the High Court of Jerusalem. They were forbidden to be witnesses for Christ. However, they answered with , "Please consider whether it is right before God to not obey God and to obey you, or to obey God and not obey you. We can't help but speak what we have seen and heard," (4:19-20).
13. So, we see how that these words from Peter and John are not words that have come out of their own innate strength. - Because in the first scroll of the gospel that Luke wrote we are told of the figure of the disciples as they forsook Jesus and scattered off, and about the figure of Peter who denied Jesus three times. What in the world happened to them? They had an encounter with the risen Christ. And - the descent of the Holy Spirit [took place]. Just as Christ promised, power from above was given.
14. There may be situations to be witnesses for Christ when we, for example, may get confrontational with state authorities as they had done. Or maybe there won't be. But either way, we will need courage, as you might expect, because when we declare that Jesus is the Christ and that he is the Lord we are supposed to obey, we declare it in a world which does not accept Christ. Isn't that how it really is? We certainly have need of God's power to conquer our fears.
The Power To Break Down The Walls Of Division
15. Third, we could say that the power given by the Holy Spirit is the power to break down walls of separation.
16. Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but in all Judea and Samaria, and also unto the ends of the earth." The Book Of Acts tells us in accordance with Jesus' words the extent to which the gospel was given forth beginning from Jerusalem and going to Judea and Samaria, even as far as Rome. It was a truly rough road. But that difficulty did not come simply from the fact that there were people in existence who were against the gospel. What was hindering the witness of Christ from being delivered unto the ends of the earth was none other than the walls of division that they themselves had constructed.
17. In Samaria there were the Samaritans who had never harmoniously blended in with the Jews. And at the ends of the earth there were the Gentiles. But, the apostles had no desire at all, at the first, to tell of Christ to anyone except to Jews. They could not have conceived of a church where there were Samaritans or a church which had Gentiles. The Book Of Acts tells us frankly that it was quite impossible for this wall of separation, especially for the wall dividing the Jews and the Gentiles to be destroyed. Ultimately it was only destroyed through the power of the Holy Spirit.
18. "You will be my witnesses unto the ends of the earth." The church is in existence here now precisely because these words have been fulfilled. We, as Gentile Christians, are in existence here because the Holy Spirit has broken the wall of separation for us. And now we are given the same message that "You will be my witnesses unto the ends of the earth." Since that is so, we too must assume that we will have encounters with other people completely different from us. - Because it is "unto the ends of the earth."
19. But, whatever we might say about it, in actual fact, in real life we feel terribly awkward in just trying to be accepting of the small differences between us and our next door neighbors. We form our cozy churches with people just like us and we want to spend [time] there all snug and warm. We forget to move to "Be my witnesses unto the ends of the earth" and want it that way. Because we are like that, we need his power all the more. We are in need of the power of the Holy Spirit to bust down for us the walls of separation that we construct.