Keys to the Kingdom
Week 7: Advancing the Kingdom
INTRO: My friend J.D. Walt told a story last week about writing a letter one time to the celebrated author, Max Lucado, inviting him to preach a Good Friday service. He really didn’t expect to get a response, yet alone a handwritten note. Max declined the invitation, but it is the WAY in which he did so that impressed J.D. Here’s what Lucado wrote: “Life is like a book, filled with many chapters. Blessed is the person who knows the chapter and page in which they presently live. I am living in the chapter of family and as a result I am not taking outside speaking engagements at this time.”
If life is indeed like a book and we are moving through the chapters, and I agree with Lucado and Walt that it is, then we must be headed somewhere. We can’t just be going in circles year after year. Both individually and as a church, we have a trajectory, don’t we? We have been given this one life to live…this ONE SHOT to be the citizens of God’s Kingdom while we live our little 5-second life before our time has gone.
Not only that, and we’ve affirmed this truth many timesà Jesus is ALIVE and He is coming back! There must be something in us that senses this urgent call to live into the truths of this Book. It is indeed worthy of our highest focus and deepest attention. Who knows, NOW may be the time of his APPEARING. But even if not, should we not live as if it is?
And while we do, should we not be soaking up all that God has for us in this book? A word of caution: Don’t fall victim to the trite and arrogant question of how this book is “relevant” to your life. This book is without doubt, the most relevant book in the history of the human race. Instead, why don’t we ask ourselves how our lives can become relevant to the story the Bible reveals.
As Walt rightly puts it, time had a beginning and time will come to an end. The Bible faithfully reveals this story from beginning to end…like a book with several chapters. Let’s rehearse the storyline:
Act 1) Creation
Act 2) Sin, the Fall, and Devastation.
Act 3) Israel—the people of God.
Act 4) Jesus
Act 5) The Age of the Spirit in the Church
Act 6) Christ’s Return and New Creation
The Book of Acts tells the story of the beginning advancement of God’s work in the world through the church. If we dare to fully embrace the life and movement of the Holy Spirit in the early church found in the book of Acts, then we also must fully grasp the chapter and page of the big story in which we presently live?
The opening verses of the book of Acts begins with the Ascension of Jesus, which Walt says takes us right up to the close of Act 4 (Jesus on earth) and into the ten-day intermission before the curtain rises on what may be called the final Act before the end of the story…before the New Heaven and New Earth with the return of Christ.
In the opening of this act we find our heroes gathering in an upper room for prayer. Let’s rest here in this moment with these believers. Listen to Acts 1:14: They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Nestled in this text is a Greek word, proskatereo which means extreme focus, an undividedness of attention, a singularity of mind, a devotedness of heart. It is what Walt says is a confidence of holy desperation.
Friends, I think this is the KEY to the whole thing. I might even be so bold as to so say that if it were not for the desperate prayers of a band of brothers and sisters, we may not have seen Pentecost in the way we did. A singularity of mind by these followers created a space for the Holy Spirit to move.
Now, let’s move on and rehearse the events of that epic day.
It’s Pentecost… a Jewish festival also known as Shavout. That word means “weeks,” a two-day holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks. It marks the all-important wheat harvest in Israel (Exodus 34:22).
According to Acts 2, Jews from sixteen geographical regions around the Mediterranean basin traveled to Jerusalem for the festival. These are some of the Jews who had been scattered by the Exile 400 years earlier but never returned to Jerusalem when the decree was issued making it possible to do so.
On the day of the Jewish Festival of Pentecost (the 50th Day after Passover and the tenth day after the ascension of Jesus), the Holy Spirit inspires and empowers the disciples of Jesus to boldly witness to the news of the resurrection of Jesus and its cosmic meaning to the pilgrims from every nation: “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The sound of wind and the sight of tongues of fire that appeared among those present accompanied the Holy Spirit’s arrival. In the Old Testament, fire often appears as a symbol of God’s presence. Moses saw a burning bush. The presence of God was in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Fire consumed the burnt offering and even the altar on Mt. Carmel during the showdown with the prophets of Baal.
During Jewish Pentecost, women and girls light candles to usher in the holiday. Interestingly, when the Holy Spirit falls on those who are gathered, it seemed like tongues of fire resting on each of them. It would seem that God lighted each of the followers to usher in a new festival of harvest—the harvesting of souls for the Kingdom!
The Holy Spirit’s activity caused each person present to speak in foreign languages that they had never studied (verse 4). Those languages were heard and understood by the devout Jews in the crowd outside the upper room. Genesis 11:1-9 provides an explanation for the original confusion of languages with the Tower of Babel; this passage hints at God’s plans to abolish everything that divides us — even language.
When each one heard the followers of Christ speaking about God’s deeds of power in his or her native language, it was both a miracle and a blessing. It continues to be a miracle when people actually hear about the works of God in a language they can understand. Maybe there are people in our community who think differently, live differently, and speak differently who are waiting to hear the gospel in ways that speak to them. This leads me to ask: How can we be available to the Holy Spirit to empower us to communicate in new ways to those who desperately need to hear the Good News of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ?
Even though the crowd could understand what was being said, they had difficulty interpreting the meaning of the message. Some even supposed the Christians to be drunk. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter explained that the events of that day were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-31) and that salvation comes from calling on the name of the Lord (verse 21).
NOTE THIS SIGNIFICANCE: This was the first time that those who believed in Jesus’ resurrection had spoken openly about their beliefs or the way of salvation. This takes us where I think God is calling us to go this morning: the advancement of the Kingdom of God through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church—the body of Christ.
The Spirit is not a “what” but rather a “Who.” The Holy Spirit is a Person. Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has been associated with the dove, since it was like at dove that the Spirit fell upon Jesus when we rose from baptismal waters.
In reading from Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase, I learned that Celtic Christians have long associated the Wild Goose as the symbol for the Holy Spirit. They content (and I tend to agree with them) that the Holy Spirit cannot be contained as one might cage a small dove. Instead, the Spirit is more like the wild goose, who cannot be caged or tamed. I like that.
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Triune God. It is a very difficult thing indeed to attempt to explain the Trinity. Of all the creeds of the church fathers, perhaps the Creed of Athanasius offers the clearest explanation. Let me read a few excerpts for clarity’s sake: ..the catholic [universal and apostolic] faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated…The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal…So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord…And in this Trinity…none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
(Excerpts of the ATHANASIAN CREED)
Jesus described the ministry Holy Spirit before he ascended to Heaven, much of which can be found in John 15 and 16. Listen to a few of them:
- To testify about Jesus (15:26)
- To prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment (16:8-11)
- To guide believers to the truth (verse 13
- To glorify Jesus Christ (16:14)
- To declare the things of Christ to believers (16:15)
Jesus promised that the Advocate, or Holy Spirit, would come to us after Jesus’ departure (16:7). In the opening verses of Acts, Jesus again promises that the Holy Spirit would be “gifted” to the believers:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized you with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
And after being asked when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (they still didn’t quite get it!), Jesus says this: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Let’s review the condition of the early believers of Jesus BEFORE and AFTER Pentecost. BEFORE, they had been cowering behind closed doors and living in fear from both the Roman authorities and the Jewish establishment. AFTER the Holy Spirit filled the believers, they began to proclaim the Good News in the face of that same adversity.
They began to spill into the streets, proclaiming the works of God without shame and without fear. The only difference? The power of God residing in every believer. I think it is safe to say that the PRESENCE and POWER of the Holy Spirit is the single greatest reason for the advancement of the kingdom.
We read that after the Spirit filled them, Peter gave the sermon of his life, and the people were “cut to the heart,” asking what they must do. “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
There’s that word GIFT again. The Holy Spirit is a GIFT to us who believe. Repent, believe, be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. GIFT of the Spirit! There were 3,000 who took Peter up on that offer. It was indeed a great Harvest Festival!
APPLICATION. Now, let me ask a question? Is the Holy Spirit today the same Spirit we read about in the Bible? At Pentecost? Throughout Acts? Yes, I agree He is. Next question: If that’s true, then why does there seem to be a great disparity between what we read in the book of Acts and what we experience in and through the Church of Jesus Christ today? If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then what has changed?
I think the answer is US! Somewhere along the way we have reasoned ourselves out of Holy Spirit-empowered ministry. We have adopted the theological shifts in our paradigm that placed greater weight and value in personal experience and cultural relevance than biblical truth and audacious faith.
We value personal achievements. We trust what we can see and how we’ve experienced God in the past more than trusting the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in and through us. In a Western, industrialized, and free society, we don’t fear persecution for our beliefs. We don’t risk imprisonment or possible death for practicing our Christian faith or sharing the Good News with others. Maybe it is for this very reason that we have somehow lost the power to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or, maybe more accurately, we have ignored the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! We are unavailable to Him. Which gets us back to audacious PRAYER!
The advancement of the Kingdom is NOT about building projects, budgets, or church staffing. It’s not about potlucks, programs, or business meetings. It’s about advancing God’s kingdom. It’s about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It’s about helping people who are far from God find freedom, forgiveness, and new life in and through the Person of Jesus Christ. It’s about sowing seeds so that some (hopefully many) take root and bear fruit for the kingdom…meaning, they become committed life-long followers of Jesus Christ.
It takes Holy Spirit empowered followers of Jesus declaring the praises of God in church buildings, in coffee shops and diners, on street corners, in doctors’ offices, in breadlines and boardrooms; on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes it ALL to reach ALL different kinds of folks dispersed in ALL kinds of settings.
Which leads me to my final question: Where is the Spirit leading you? Recently one of our newer members came to me and said she felt a strong leading to start a recovery ministry at Byhalia UMC. Praise the Lord! There are all kinds of hang-ups, hurts, and habits that many of us need to be liberated from. Maybe that speaks to you. If so, come see me and I’ll put you in touch with Joyce. We are in the beginning stages.
Years ago, some had expressed a nudging to see us have a Christian Early Learning Center where we could pour the love and knowledge of Jesus into 3, 4, & 5-year-olds before they head off to elementary school. Byhalia UMC has the potential to make this a reality if some feel led to start it. If the Holy Spirit is nudging you that direction, come see me!
Maybe you’re waiting for someone to ask you about using your amazing singing voice, or your ability to play guitar, drums, keys, or some other instrument in our praise team. If you can do any of those things but thought you could never use your musical ability in worship, come see me!
Maybe you see the challenges that our youth today face and KNOW you have something to pour into them that would help them as they face those challenges. Maybe you would like to spend a bit more time hanging out with our youth. If that’s you, come see me!
You see, the kingdom of God advances because of the Holy Spirit advances THROUGH you and me. Many gifts…one Spirit. I don’t know what sort of Wild Goose Chase you and I might be on if we make ourselves available to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But I can say this with reasonable certainty: it won’t be in ways you have previously experienced or in ways you personally control or plan.
I can also say this with reasonable certainty: the Kingdom of God will advance in and through you and me to a greater extent than we ever thought possible if we would pray audacious prayers of faith and expect the Holy Spirit to move through us just as He did in the beginnings of the early church.