Our Evangelistic Mission
Passage: Acts 1:4-11
A couple of years ago, I read a fascinating book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. The author uses a number of stories from business and advertising among other things to demonstrate the tremendous role that habit plays in how we live our lives, and how we can take advantage of the power of habit in a variety of contexts from business to advertising, to teaching, and even to your daily routines. One of the chapters talks about building an efficient business, and it uses Southwest Airlines as an example. I’ve never flown with Southwest, but it seems like people either love or hate them, so this illustration may or may not resonate with you. Regardless, one simple step that Southwest has taken to make their business and decision making process more efficient is that they constantly drive home to their employees the slogan that Southwest Airlines is “the low-fare airline.” They want their employees to know that low-fares are at the center of who they are so that they make unified and efficient decisions. Therefore, rather than an employee taking a superior’s time with a question the goal is to help them solve the problem on their own by asking which option best fits our purpose of being the “low fare airline.” The point of the chapter is to note that a clear mission is very valuable to helping any organization remain unified and function well.
This principle is also true in a church. If we are trying to steer the ship in four different directions, it won’t go anywhere fast. But if we are all rowing in the same direction, we can make progress. That’s why we all must understand and be committed to the fact that “Life Point Baptist Church exists to glorify God by pointing unbelievers to new life in Christ (evangelism of the lost), and also by leading believers into a fuller life through Christ (Christian growth through discipleship). We spent the last two weeks talking about what it means that we are called to glorify God. Glorifying God means that everything we do must reflect back to God’s glory, and we can only glorify God as we accurately portray his character by obeying his will. This morning, I’d like to consider the next part of our mission statement. We glorify God by “pointing unbelievers to new life in Christ” through evangelism. To do that, I’d like to consider Acts 1:4–11.
Verse 3 states that after Jesus rose from the dead, he remained on earth for 40 days demonstrating very clearly that he had risen from the dead and preparing the disciples for life after his departure. Our text records Luke’s account of Christ’s final words to the disciples before his ascension. The fact that these are Christ’s final words makes them very significant. Based on how the Book of Acts develops, Luke intends for us to see these words as laying a vital foundation for the mission of the apostles and for all believers during this age. Because of that, we should take this text very seriously and make sure that our lives as individuals and as a church reflect Christ’s call.
Our text naturally divides into three sections that identify three new provisions for this age. First, Christians enjoy…
A New Power (vv. 4–5):
It seems that our text takes place in a couple of locations. Verses 6–11 take place on the Mt. of Olives, a short distance from Jerusalem. But vv. 4–5 probably took place inside the city limits shortly before Jesus and the disciples went to the mountain.
Jesus told the disciples that after his departure, they were to stay in Jerusalem until they received the “Promise of the Father” or as v. 6 says, baptism with the Spirit. To appreciate what Jesus is referring to, we need to read Joel 2:28–32. This passage ultimately looks forward to the Millennial Kingdom because aspects of it didn’t happen in Acts. In particular, vv. 30–31 haven’t happened. However, Jesus intended to give the Spirit to the apostles in fulfillment of this prophecy. This gift would be a significant event that would bring God’s purposes into a new age.
Promise of the Father: Verse 5 then explains what the promise is. It does so by contrasting the
“Promise of the Father”
or as v. 5 calls it “baptism with the Spirit” with John’s baptism. John the Baptist was called of God to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry. He did so by calling on Israel to repent and to prepare their hearts to receive their Messiah. John baptized those who responded positively to his ministry. It’s important to note that John’s baptism was not the same baptism we practice in the church. Rather, his baptism was grounded in common OT ritual. The Jews would occasionally baptize someone or literally dip them in water as a symbol of a repentant heart and a desire to by purified from sin. Similarly, John baptized a number of people who responded to his preaching to symbolize their readiness for the Messiah. In contrast, NT baptism symbolizes conversion, new life in Christ, and inclusion in the church. Returning to our text, Jesus contrasts the baptism of John with the baptism the apostles were about to receive. John’s baptism was with water, meaning that it was merely a physical act; however, the apostles were about to be baptized with the Holy Spirit meaning they were about to receive a spiritual gift. What exactly does it mean to be baptized with the Spirit?
Meaning of Spirit Baptism:
First of all, while Jesus states that John’s baptism was different, he implies that there is some similarity. Since John’s baptism symbolized cleansing, Spirit baptism involves a work of the Spirit to cleanse the heart so that he can live inside the believer. Because of that, Jesus is predicting that the Spirit will cleanse the hearts of the apostles and indwell them. It’s also clear that Jesus is talking about something that was new. Jesus implies that the Holy Spirit was going to indwell the apostles in a way he had not done before. And what is especially significant about Spirit baptism is that it is the means by which God gives spiritual gifts and enables Christians to serve through the church. Verse 8 states that because of Spirit baptism, the apostles would receive a new power. And 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 state that Spirit baptism continues to have the same significance for us. According to these verses, Spirit baptism places us into the body of Christ, and the remainder of the chapter is clear that it also equips us to serve in the church.
Significance of Spirit Baptism:
But what does this all have to do with our evangelistic mission? The significance of Spirit baptism is that it would give the apostles and all NT believers a new power to serve God in the church and to take the gospel to the world. And once this baptism takes place in chapter 2, we see immediate results. Think about how timid and spiritually weak the apostles were during Christ’s earthly ministry, and contrast that with their boldness and wisdom afterwards. They were changed because the Spirit gave them a new power. As we think about the task of evangelism, the gift of the Spirit is vitally important because evangelism is difficult. The gospel is a confrontational message that doesn’t sit well with people who are dead in sin. Jesus said in John 6:44 that no one will accept this message apart from a work of God. Spreading the gospel takes boldness, and thankfully the Spirit is there to help us be bold. He transformed the timid apostles who hid themselves during Christ’s trial and death into bold witnesses who were not afraid to die for proclaiming the truth. And the Spirit is there to help us also. If you are a child of God, you can be a bold witness because the Spirit lives in you. Because of that, look to him for help. Pray that God would make you bold and give you understanding to know how to present the truth. And then step out and trust him to be with you. Obey, and see him work through you.
Jesus promised us a new power. The second provision he left for his disciples was…
A New Mission (vv. 6–8):
With v. 6, the setting shifts to the Mt. of Olives and to the last moments before Jesus ascended to heaven.
The Disciples’ Question (v. 6):
The disciples knew their Old Testaments, they knew the prophecy of Joel 2, and they knew the significance of Jesus saying that he was going to give them the Spirit. Because of that, they asked Jesus if he was about to “restore the kingdom to Israel.” God had promised Israel many times throughout the OT that someday the Messiah would destroy Israel’s enemies and establish his throne in Jerusalem from which he would rule the nations. These promises were the great hope of the Israelite people, and the disciples looked forward to the day when Christ would establish his kingdom.
Jesus’ Initial Reply (v. 7):
Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples that their expectation is wrong. This kingdom is coming. One day, Jesus will set up the Millennial Kingdom after his second coming. But Jesus notes that God hasn’t revealed to mankind when the kingdom will be restored. Instead, Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on a new mission he had for them to accomplish.
Promise of Power (v. 8):
Verse 8 begins by reiterating the promise of v. 5 that very shortly the disciples would be baptized with the Spirit and receive power to fulfill Christ’s evangelistic mission. Again, I want to emphasize that God hasn’t left us alone to spread the gospel because evangelism is intimidating. But it’s not merely up to you to overcome your fears or to know how to navigate the questions and challenges that people may raise. And most importantly, it’s not up to you to change a heart or to make someone responsive. Jesus promises to give power to fulfill the mission.
The Task (v. 8):
The mission was to be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The idea behind “witness” is very similar to how we use the word today in a legal context. A witness is someone who affirms or verifies the truth. For example, suppose that you are involved in a traffic accident in which another driver runs a red light and hits you. A witness would affirm the truthfulness of your testimony by confirming to the court that you had the green light and that the other driver violated your right away. Similarly the apostles were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ perfect life, his teaching, his unjust crucifixion, and his resurrection. They saw these things, and the NT emphasizes in vv. 1–3 and in other places such as 1 Corinthians 15 that there was clear and undeniable proof that Jesus rose from the dead. Because of that, the apostles were to go out and testify to the world through their preaching and then through the record of the NT that these things were true and that life is available through Christ to all who believe. But this verse doesn’t just apply to the apostles because Jesus’ command is to take the gospel to the “ends of the earth” which 12 individuals couldn’t possibly do on their own. As well, Acts shows many other Christians being involved in fulfilling this mission. Jesus commissions all Christians to be witnesses of the gospel and to take this message to all people. In this context, Jesus says to take the message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. This list points to how the gospel would begin to spread. In a few days, the apostles would receive the Spirit, and 3,000 were saved in Jerusalem through Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. The gospel spread powerfully from there to the surrounding region. By Acts 8, it had spread to Samaria, and the remainder of the book describes how it began to go to the world. Jesus is clear that his will is that the gospel reaches all people in every corner of the earth.
That means that God wants the gospel to go to every person in our community. Jesus’ desire is that we openly and consistently take every opportunity to let the people of our community know that Jesus lives and that there is life in his name. And I want to emphasize that this task is at the center of what Jesus has called us to do. This was Jesus’ last command to his disciples; therefore, it was very significant to him, and it ought to be very significant to us. Evangelism must be a priority for every one who knows Christ. Is it a priority for you? Does your prayer life reflect the fact that you are burdened for souls? What are you doing to reach people with the gospel? Jesus doesn’t put evangelism at the bottom of our list. He puts it at the top, and all of us need to wrestle seriously with what that means for us. It ought to mean that you live your life each day with zeal to reach people with the gospel, that you are looking for opportunities, and that you pounce on them when they come. We also need to recognize what it means for our church. God’s will is that the church is always pushing outward aggressively seeking to reach others with the gospel. Because of that, we as a body must have a vision to reach our community, and this vision must drive how we function. It ought to be obvious to everyone watching that we are an evangelistic church. And from what I’ve seen so far, I believe this is an area where we are doing well though we always need to be pushed outward. One other implication we can’t miss is that God is concerned for the nations. It’s not merely his will that the gospel spread in our immediate area but that we are involved in seeing all people in every corner of the earth have access to the gospel and to a healthy church. Because of that, a healthy culture of evangelism isn’t solely working to reach a church’s community; it’s also working to take the gospel around the world into places where there is little if any gospel light. And I think this is an area where we have considerable room to grow as a church since we only support one foreign missionary and aren’t doing much else to take the gospel to the world. We need to pray about how we should be involved in foreign evangelism, and we need to become more active in seeing church planting movements established in needy areas.
Jesus has given the church a new mission to take the gospel to all people. Notice finally, that we have also received…
A New Hope (vv. 9–11)
Verse 9 describes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After Jesus gave his commission, he ascended upward and was taken into a cloud and ultimately out of the disciples’ sight. It’s hard to tell if the cloud is representative of God’s presence or if it just pictures the sky, but regardless, the disciples recognized the finality of what was happening. Jesus had left. He had gone to the Father’s right hand, and he had left them on earth to fulfill a huge mission. Verse 10 pictures them as standing in awe for a time. There stood 11 men who at this point were not all that impressive. Only 40 days prior, they had been completely confused about God’s plan and they had scattered in the face of opposition, and now Jesus had left them alone to begin world evangelism. They hadn’t yet received the Spirit, so I’m sure they were feeling a bit lost.
But as they stood in awe, two angels appeared among them, and they gave the disciples a minor rebuke. They asked why the disciples were standing around when Jesus had already told them that he was leaving and that they had a mission to fulfill while he was away. Their point was that this isn’t the time for relaxation or needless reflection. We know what we are supposed to do, and we need to go do it. The angels’ rebuke reflects the urgency that we are to have regarding spreading the gospel. We can’t sit on our hands; we need to be busy. But they follow the rebuke with a statement of great hope.
The disciples had just watched Jesus depart in the clouds, but the angels promised that Jesus will come in the clouds again. Only this time, Jesus will not come in humility as a suffering servant. This time, he will come as king to defeat evil and to establish the kingdom that the disciples asked about in v. 6. Jesus will reign over the world in righteousness and truth and the world will know that he is the Son of God, and all people will bow before him.
The angels assure the disciples of Jesus return for a couple of reasons. First, they needed to remember that Jesus hadn’t abandoned them or left them alone to fulfill the mission. No Jesus has only left for a time, and as he promised in Matthew 28:20, he will be with us to “the end of the age.” Second, they needed to remember that because Jesus is coming again, he will finish the mission he has given us. The mission will be successful. And we need to take these lessons to heart also. Jesus hasn’t abandoned us either. He is coming again, and he is right now personally involved in the mission of the church, which he is moving toward completion. Sometimes, we can look around our world and get very discouraged because we are focused on the wrong mission. This is 4th of July weekend, and it’s easy on weekends like this to look back with nostalgia on what our nation used to be, and to be discouraged about where it is going. We easily focus on preserving American culture, and that mission isn’t going so well. Because of that, we can feel as if God isn’t there or as if Christ’s mission is failing. But Jesus never promised to save America, but he did promise to be with us in fulfilling the Great Commission, and he did promise to build the church, and we can be confident that he will not fail to fulfill his promise. We should feel very confident in pursuing the evangelistic mission God has given us. Jesus is with us, and he is coming again. We have a great hope.
My challenge today that we should spread the gospel with urgency and hope. We should be urgent because this is the mission Jesus gave, and we should have hope because we have the Spirit’s power and because Jesus is coming again. This challenge has significance for us as individuals and as a church.
This text means that if you are a child of God, then you need to be involved in spreading the gospel. Jesus has commanded you to do so, and this was his final command before he left. But we ought to be motivated by more than just the fact that God commanded us to do this. We ought to be motivated by the fact that the gospel is a great message. It’s the best news ever told. It tells of God’s righteousness and justice but it also tells of his love and mercy. It’s a message that gives forgiveness, life, and hope. If we love our God and if we love people, we ought to be driven to tell them of the greatness of our God and that they can have a relationship with him if they will turn from their sin and be saved. We have a great story to tell, and we also have the strength to tell it. If you know Christ, the Spirit is there to give you boldness and wisdom. My challenge to each of us who know Christ is to spread the gospel with urgency and hope.
If you have never received that new life, I hope that you will talk to one of us today about how you can have a relationship with Christ. The gospel is the greatest news in the world. It brings forgiveness and eternal life, and it is available if you turn from your sin and put your faith in Christ. I pray that you will be saved today.
As a Church:
One of our top priorities as a church must be to reach people with the gospel. Thankfully, this church seems to have a healthy focus on evangelism. But this won’t remain without work. As churches grow older, they naturally become focused inward. They become comfortable with their size and their budget. And when the church gathers, people are focused on finding their friends and catching up rather than on finding someone new and making them feel at home. We all need to guard against that carefully. We must always recognize that Life Point Baptist Church exists to glorify God by pointing unbelievers to new life in Christ.