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.
•Korea is 30 percent Christian, with over 3,000 churches in Seoul alone.
•The evangelical population of Brazil doubled from 1992 to 2002.
•Every day, 74,000 people across the globe come to Christ. 20,000 come to Jesus every day in Africa; the church there is growing four times faster than the general population. In 1960, five percent of southern Sudan was Christian; today it is 70 percent Christian.
•In China, 28,000 come to Christ every day. There are as many Christians in China as in North America.
The same Spirit who is doing all of that will empower you and me today.
Seek the Spirit
So what must we do to experience what they experienced? We must “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” We must seek the power of God to have the power of God. We must pray until we are empowered. We must study Scripture until we are led. We must worship until we meet Jesus. And that’s hard for most of us to do.
Some of us are too busy to pay the price necessary to experience the power of God. We’ve grown up in a self-sufficient culture which tells us that we can do whatever we put our minds to. And God will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves.
But for many of us, the problem is not just that we’re busy and self-reliant. Many of us have had a hard time with God. Many of us have been disappointed by him. He hasn’t answered our prayers when we wanted him to, or how we wanted him to. We’ve faced hurricanes on the ground and in our hearts. We’ve buried high school sophomores and wondered why. We’ve hurt and wondered where God was in the pain.
Here’s the word God has given me for us today: when you least want God is when you most need God. When you’re angry at him, or hurt by him, or discouraged by life, that’s when you most need his power. When you’re hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities, frightened by enemies waiting for you, that’s when you most need the Spirit of God. When it’s hardest is when you need him most.
Paul learned that fact when he prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh and couldn’t understand why he didn’t, then heard the voice of his Father: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 9:9). Paul comments: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
That’s how it works. When we trust the Spirit and seek the Spirit, we experience the Spirit. With all your questions and struggles and disappointment and pain, wait on God. Do you have an Upper Room? When last did you go there? When last did you pray and read Scripture and seek God until you heard from him?
I have a plaque on my desk given to me years ago by Janet, with words I can see every day: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Guaranteed.
Why do you need the power of God today? D. W. Whittle was a soldier in the United States Army during the Civil War. Listen to his story:
“When the Civil War broke out, I left my home in New England and came to Virginia as lieutenant of a company in a Massachusetts regiment. My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she arranged for me.
“We had many engagements, and I saw many sad sights, and in one of the battles I was knocked out, and that night my arm was amputated above the elbow. As I grew better, having a desire for something to read, I felt in my haversack, which I had been allowed to keep, and found the little Testament my mother had placed there.
“I read right through the book—Matthew, Mark, Luke, to Revelation. Every part was interesting to me; and I found to my surprise that I could understand it in a way that I never had before. When I had finished Revelation, I began at Matthew, and read it through again. And so for days I continued reading, and with continued interest; and still with no thought of becoming a Christian, I saw clearly from what I read the way of salvation through Christ.
“While in this state of mind, yet still with no purpose or plan to repent and accept the Saviour, I was awakened one midnight by the nurse, who said: ‘There is a boy in the other end of the ward, one of your men, who is dying. He has been begging me for the past hour to pray for him, or to get someone to pray for him, and I can’t stand it. I am a wicked man, and can’t pray, and I have come to get you.’
“‘Why,’ said I, ‘I can’t pray. I never prayed in my life. I am just as wicked as you are.’ ‘Can’t pray!’ said the nurse; ‘why, I thought sure from seeing you read the Testament that you were a praying man. And you are the only man in the ward that I have not heard curse. What shall I do? There is no one else for me to go to. I can’t go back there alone. Won’t you get up and come and see him at any rate?’
“Moved by his appeal, I arose from my cot, and went with him to the far comer of the room. A fair-haired boy of seventeen or eighteen lay there dying. There was a look of intense agony upon his face, as he fastened his eyes upon me and said:
“‘Oh, pray for me! Pray for me! I am dying. I was a good boy at home in Maine. My mother and father are members of the Church, and I went to Sunday School and tried to be a good boy. But since I became a soldier I have learned to be wicked. I drank, and swore, and gambled, and went with bad men. And now I am dying, and I am not fit to die! Oh, ask God to forgive me! Pray for me. Ask Christ to save me!’
“As I stood there and heard these pleadings, God said to my soul by His Spirit, just as plainly as if He had spoken in audible tones, ‘You know the way of salvation. Get right down on your knees and accept Christ, and pray for this boy.’
“I dropped upon my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine, as in a few broken words I confessed my sins, and asked God for Christ’s sake to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me, and that I was Christ’s child; I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet, and pressed my hand as I pleaded the promises. When I arose from my knees he was dead. A look of peace was upon his face, and I can but believe that God, who used him to bring me to my Saviour, used me to get his attention fixed upon Christ and to lead him to trust in His precious blood. I hope to meet him in Heaven.
“Many years have passed since that night in the Richmond Hospital, and I am still trusting and confessing the Lord Jesus Christ, and purpose by God’s grace to continue doing so until He calls me Home.”
D. W. Whittle later wrote the words of this famous hymn:
I know not why God’s wondrous grace, to me he hath made known;
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for his own.
I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart,
Nor how believing in his word wrought peace within my heart.
I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair,
Nor if I’ll walk the vale with him or meet him in the air.
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able
To keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.
Do you know that God will do this by the power of his Spirit? The Blackwell family does. On the day after Boogie died, a group of high school sophomores were gathered together. Pryor found about them and went to talk to them. He had been to Cuba on mission trips, where he learned to lead people in a salvation prayer. He felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to ask those gathered to get on their knees. He led them in a prayer of salvation, and two students trusted in Christ as their Savior. On the worst day of his life, the Spirit empowered him to do something which will last forever.
What the Spirit did with Pryor, and with D. W. Whittle, and with the first Christians, he is ready now to do with you. The next step is yours.