God’s Power for God’s Purpose

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

Acts 1:8; 2:1-4

James C. Denison

These are some of the hardest days I can remember.

Hurricane disaster relief continues in Galveston and the Gulf Coast, where more than a thousand Baptist churches were destroyed or affected and millions of people are still displaced. The hurricane’s economic impact is currently estimated at $81 billion, and could rise to $100 billion.

Some economists are saying that we are going through the most tumultuous time for our economy since the Great Depression. No one knows what Wall Street will do on Monday, or how it will affect Main Street.

Closer to home, this past week was for many people the worst week of their lives. Tuesday night we learned of the death of Boogie Blackwell at the age of 16. More than 600 students came to a special worship service Wednesday night; more than a thousand came to the memorial service Friday afternoon. The grief many of us are feeling today is almost beyond description.

On a Sunday like this, what we need most is a word of encouragement from the Lord. We need to know that his power is sufficient for our pain, his hope for our despair, his comfort for our loss. I need to talk to you today about the power of God and how we can experience it today.

Our situation is not much different from that of the people in our text. They are 120, meeting in an upper room as they hide from the same authorities who have just executed their founder and leader. They are charged with evangelizing 25 million people in the harshest, most feared Empire the world has ever seen.

But the power of the Holy Spirit was greater than the power of Caesar and his legions. The power God gave them was greater than anything the enemy could do to them. What the Spirit did for them he is now ready to do for us. Let’s learn how.

Trust his power

You’ve heard the Great Commission all your life: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). But what you may not know is that a commandment preceded this commission and made it possible.

Just before his ascension, the resurrected Christ spoke these words to his disciples: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49).

And so they did.

When the logical thing was to flee Jerusalem for the safety of their homes and families in Galilee, they chose to “stay in the city.” When the safe thing was to abandon their commitment to Jesus and return to their old lives, they waited to be “clothed with power from on high” so they could continue to serve him.

Somehow they believed that the power of God was greater than the enemies of God. Somehow they believed that when they received the power of the Spirit they would indeed become Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And they were right.

Do you believe that the power of God is sufficient for the people of God to face any problems and win any victory? Think for a moment about the power they were waiting to receive.

Astronomers announced this week the first picture of a planet orbiting a star similar to our sun. The planet is eight times larger than Jupiter, orbiting 330 times further from its star than we orbit from our sun. And it’s just one planet orbiting one star within the 70 sextillion stars we can see with our telescopes—that’s 70 followed by 21 zeroes.

The particle accelerator in Geneva has been much in the news. It has taken 25 years to plan, $6 billion to build, and involved over 9,000 scientists from around the globe. They’re trying to learn why the Milky Way galaxy doesn’t unravel, or how gravity works, or why the universe is expanding. The accelerator is supposed to help us learn such basic facts, but a computer glitch has shut them down for now.

The simple fact is that all our advances in technology have not taught us how to make a single blade of living grass from scratch. But God knows. And Genesis says that when he made the universe, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The same Spirit of God they were waiting to receive. The same Spirit of God who will empower you and me today.

When the Spirit fell at Pentecost, every believer was “filled” or empowered. They all began to share the gospel in languages they had not yet learned. Peter preached—the same fisherman who had cowered before a serving girl and abandoned Jesus at the cross. Three thousand were saved and the church began its march across the Empire. How do we know that the Spirit can do today what he did in the lives of these first believers? Here’s what the Spirit is doing in the world today:

•Every day, 160,000 people hear the message of Christ for the first time.

•Fifteen years ago, there were about 100 prayer networks around the world. Today there are 4,000 networks involving an estimated 25 million intercessors.

•Since 1967 and the reunification of Jerusalem, more Jews have embraced Jesus as their Messiah than in all the years between AD 100 and 1967.

Voting for God

Voting For God

Matthew 17.1-8

James C. Denison

I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1976, and cannot ever remember one like this. A year ago, none of the candidates would have been expected to be here.

On the Democratic side we can vote for a man who was the offspring of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, raised by a single mother, now in his first term in the Senate. A year ago he trailed significantly in the polls. His running mate lost his wife in a tragic accident and nearly died of a brain aneurism, a year ago he dropped out of the presidential race.

On the Republican side we can vote for a man who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for nearly six years, suffering the effects of war wounds to this day. A year ago his campaign was nearly bankrupt and trailing in the polls. His running mate was unknown to national politics until ten days ago, and is a 44-year-old self-described “hockey mom.”

But if the candidates were speaking to us this morning, they would testify that their setbacks and challenges have molded and melded them, preparing them to lead our nation. On November 4 you will decide whose past has best prepared them for the future.

God has already cast his vote. He has made his choice, marked his ballot, and you won. He wants you to know that all you have experienced in your life to this day is but preparation for all he wants to do with your life now. On Summerset Sunday our congregation celebrates his blessings to our church family in recent months, and then we recommit ourselves to his call for the days ahead.

Now he wants you to do the same. He wants you to know that his call is worth your life, not just your Sunday mornings, that the biblical message is the true and only hope for our entire planet, the only way of salvation, the only answer to the deepest and most ultimate questions of life.

In addition, your Lord wants you to know that your past does not limit his future, that he has a plan to make your life more significant in his Kingdom than it has ever been. I can prove both assertions today from a single text. I can show you that God has cast his vote for you. Today you can return the favor.

How God prepared them

Travel with me to the Mount of Transfiguration, the most dramatic and shocking event in all of Jesus’ ministry prior to his resurrection. He walked on water, healed the sick, and raised the dead, but only here did he show his full heavenly glory to men. Only here, for this brief moment, did they see him as he truly was and is and ever shall be.

The text begins: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (v. 1).

These three would be the most significant leaders of Jesus’ movement. Peter would be the first to preach the gospel at Pentecost and open the church to the Gentiles; James will become the first martyr among the apostles; John would give the world the Fourth Gospel, his three letters, and the Revelation.

Jesus wants to equip them for their roles in the future of God’s Kingdom on earth, so he “led them up a high mountain by themselves.” This was most likely Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain in the region. It stands north of Galilee, in Gentile territory, but can be seen from the Dead Sea, more than 100 miles to the south.

He led them here so they could be “by themselves.” Jesus knew what they needed to know and experience if they were to fulfill his purpose for their lives and future. He knows what you need to know and experience as you fulfill his purpose for your life.

They needed proof of his divinity and the fact that he came to fulfill God’s Messianic promises and plan. So “he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (vs. 2-3).

“Transfigured” translates a word which means that his appearance changed but not his essence. He was the fully-divine Son of God clothed in human flesh, but for a moment he pulled back that veil to show them his true and full heavenly glory.

Then Moses appeared before them. Imagine this scene—the giver of their Law, the liberator of their people, the greatest leader their nation had ever known appears again, some 14 centuries after his death, to Galilean fishermen. With his coming they know that Jesus fulfills the Law in its entirety.

And they see Elijah, the first and greatest of their prophets. He had been caught up to God in a whirlwind some eight centuries earlier; now he appears again on earth with the One who fulfills every word of every revelation of the prophets of God.

Peter wants to stay right here, to pitch their tents and remain on the mountain, far from the terrors and tumult waiting below. But God was having none of it: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (v. 5).

Just as a cloud of divine glory covered Mt. Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments, and covered the completed Tabernacle and the completed Temple, so that cloud now overshadowed them. Through it God commanded these men, “Listen to him!” Literally in the Greek, “Hear you him!” He spoke it to Peter and to the others, and through them to us as well.

Understandably, “they fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (v. 6). But Jesus touched them and said literally, “Stop being afraid” (v. 7). And “when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus” (v. 8). Not Moses or Elijah. Not religious leaders, not rabbis or Pharisees or Sadducees or priests; not military conquerors or wealthy landowners or brilliant philosophers. Only Jesus.