God’s Power for God’s Purpose
Power From Heaven! (Part 2)
Dr. Jim Denison
In late 1966, Herb Kelleher, John Parker, and Rollin King met at San Antonio’s St. Anthony Club to talk about the need for an air carrier in Texas. Their idea was simple: to connect Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The result is the most profitable airline in aviation history. But their cause was their real genius: to make air travel affordable for people who could not otherwise fly. That cause is the reason Southwest Airlines is still the leading low fare airline, and that cause is their passion and purpose for being. From the chief executive to baggage handlers, their cause is their corporation. They do nothing which does not fulfill this objective and purpose.
God’s people should be even more passionate about fulfilling his purpose for our lives and our church. But we are distracted by every other priority the world can manufacture. The members of your class are tempted by every definition of success imaginable. It is the typical pattern of fallen human beings to seek God’s help with our agendas, our dreams and goals. But he will honor and empower only that which accomplishes his will. No loving father could encourage his children to do that which is to their harm.
Our Father wants his will for our lives, because that will is for our best and his glory.
The first Christians learned at Pentecost that God’s power is intended to fulfill God’s purpose and no other. Let’s learn how to experience that same power as we fulfill that same purpose.
Seize the opportunity at hand (vs. 5-12)
Immediately upon experiencing the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the first Christians found themselves in one of the most exciting ministry opportunities described anywhere in Scripture. Jews from all over the Empire gathered each year in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost; the universal Roman roads and peace made such travel especially plausible in the first century of the Christian movement.
And so the disciples found themselves face to face with people groups from fifteen different countries or locales. The peoples listed in vs. 8-11 spanned the known world, from Rome to the west to the Parthian Empire and Arabia to the east. The first Christians would have spent years in travel to speak to the same people who were now gathered at their doorstep (v. 5).
Making things even easier, the crowd “came together” because they heard the sound of the Spirit’s movement upon the disciples (v. 6a), and “each one heard them speaking in his own language” (v. 6b). The work of the Spirit created an event through which the Spirit could work. Charles Finney, the 19th century revivalist, was right: “When the church is on fire, people will come from miles around to watch it burn.”
The gathering crowds were shocked. They knew the disciples to be Galileans (v. 7), people with their own distinct language and dialect. But now these “country folk,” never known for educational interest, had somehow learned the native dialects of each of the people gathered from across the world. The crowds’ astonishment knew no bounds: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (v. 11). And so they wondered to each other, “What does this mean?” (v. 12).
The language miracle of Pentecost was perhaps not primarily one which enabled the crowds to understand the speech of the disciples. Each of the groups listed would know the Aramaic which was native to Palestine; Greek was a common language understood across the world as well. Nowhere else do we find Paul or other missionaries unable to communicate God’s word because of language barriers, for the Aramaic and Greek they spoke was universally useful.
Rather, this was a work of the Spirit which made clear the miraculous nature of the Christian faith. The disciples could suddenly speak in the native dialects of the people, endearing themselves instantly to their audiences. They could build immediate emotional bridges and connections to the hearts of those they sought to win. And they could demonstrate an ability beyond the human, showing the divine nature of their message. Imagine that a bilingual American whose native language was Russian were to attend your class, and suddenly you could speak to her in her first language. This miracle would not be necessary to communicate the truth of Scripture so much as to demonstrate its divine nature through you.
The Spirit-filled disciples began to fulfill Acts 1:8 in the part of Jerusalem where they found themselves. You and I will always know someone who needs to know Jesus. There is a neighbor, colleague, or family member who represents our first mission field. Baptists have historically defined missions as crossing a cultural, language, or geographic barrier to share the gospel. But we are learning better: missions begins with the next lost person you meet.
Charles Spurgeon, the greatest of all Baptist preachers, was once speaking on personal evangelism. A fireman afterwards told Spurgeon that he didn’t know where to begin such ministry. Spurgeon asked the man if his captain was a believer; the fireman thought he probably was not. So Spurgeon concluded, “Begin today, with him.” Seize the opportunity at hand. Where will you begin this day? This week?
Anticipate reactions (vs. 12-41)
Human nature does not change, making the word of God perennially relevant. This fact also enables us to predict typical responses to that word. The first crowds to hear the gospel from Christian disciples demonstrated exactly the same reactions you and I can expect from those with whom we share the good news today.
Some will be confused (v. 12). The gospel will not be “good news” but “new news.” Only 2% of Americans are afraid they might go to hell; the vast majority thinks a Christian is a good person who believes in God. I do not know a single individual who has understood fully the Christian gospel and chosen to reject it. Typically our friends and neighbors refuse a pseudo-gospel, a message which convinces them that Christianity is about joining a church and practicing a religion. When we share the actual definition of a Christian, many will be confused and need help with understanding.