The Power You Need (Acts 1:1-11)
I. Prioritizing Power
Power is a good thing. Desiring power is not wrong. The main questions we must ask when it comes to power are, “Where is it from?”, “Why do I want it?”, and “How will I use it?”
When I talk about power, I'm not necessarily talking about position or authority. All of us need power, every day. And no, I'm not talking about power to charge your smartphone battery. I'm talking about the power to get up and go each day. The power to live life. Power to do good. Power to choose wisely. Power to endure. Our need for power should be acknowledged in connection with the reality and acknowledgment of our weaknesses.
But as with most things, the power we want is not always the power we need. Even if we set aside a sinful desire for power, a desire to use power for selfish gain or to hurt others, we often struggle to prioritize the power we actually need. For example, it's not wrong to want power to manage your child wisely. But what we need even more is the power to love our children unconditionally. Those who seek the latter and neglect the former usually cause harm and suffer harm as well.
So what about you? What about me? What kind of power do we actually need? Or we could ask, “What kind of power do we need most?” To answer that, let's look together at Acts chapter 1. This is from our reading this past Tuesday.
II. The Passage: “Wait for the Promise of the Father” (1:1-11)
Listen to how Luke begins his account of the early church...
In the first book, O Theophilus [that “first book” is our Gospel of Luke], I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;  for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
So the first thing I'd like to point out to you is the commonalities between the three parts that make up this passage. In each of these three sections (verses 1-3, verses 4-5, and verses 6-11), we find the same four elements present: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and talk about the kingdom of God.
That being said, I believe it's critical we recognize Luke's emphasis on the Holy Spirit in these verses. In fact, Acts itself is the NT book in which we find the clearest emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Paul might mention the Spirit a whopping 27 times in his letter to the Romans. But Luke more than doubles that here, with 56 references to the Holy Spirit. As some have rightly concluded, rather than Acts of the Apostles, this book really should be called Acts of the Spirit.
In light of that emphasis on the Holy Spirit, let me suggest that in verses 1-3 we are hearing about the apostles being commanded through the Spirit, in verses 4-5, about the apostle being baptized with the Spirit, and in verses 6-11, being empowered by the Spirit. Commanded through the Spirit, baptized with the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit. Let's keep these in mind as we look at those three sections, one at a time.
1. Commanded through the Spirit (vs. 1-3)
First of all, take a look at how, here in Acts 1, Luke summarizes the final thirteen verses of his Gospel. In Luke 24:36-49, the Gospel writer describes how Jesus not only “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs”, but also how “he had given commands” to his apostles; specifically, “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). While Acts 1:12 tells us that our passage takes place at the Mount of Olives, on the east side of Jerusalem, we know from the final verses of Matthew's Gospel that the resurrected Jesus had earlier met with his disciples on a mountain in northern Israel and similarly commissioned them to go “to all nations”.
But I want you to notice how Luke describes this charging or commissioning in Acts 1, verse 2. He tells us that Jesus commanded his apostles “through the Holy Spirit”. Now, why did Luke feel it was important to add that phrase? Some of you may remember how Luke's Gospel described Jesus applying the words of Isaiah 11 to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). In fact, the very first verse of Luke 4 tells us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit”. Similarly, in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus declares that he cast out demons “by the Spirit of God” (12:28).
So if Jesus is now commanding, or commissioning, them “through the Holy Spirit”, it may be that Luke wants to emphasize that fact precisely because he wants to say something about the continuity between the ministry of Jesus and the soon-to-be ministry of the apostles.
2. Baptized with the Spirit (vs. 4-5)
But look back if you would at what Jesus himself goes on to tell us in verses 4 and 5. He wants them to stay in Jerusalem in order to “wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the four Gospel accounts of the NT knows that this statement about a 'Holy Spirit baptism' is found on the lips of John the Baptist in every single one of these books: Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33. But what exactly does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?
I think we can say that if John's water baptism was an expression of repentance, the Spirit's baptism is an experience of merger or union. Merger with what or who? Merger with Jesus. Paul calls it being “baptized into Christ” in Gal. 3:27. Listen to how he explains it in I Cor. 12:13:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
So this Holy Spirit baptism unites us to Christ, and subsequently, to one another; so that all of us share spiritual nourishment from him through the Spirit. And this is exactly what we see in the very next chapter of Acts, when the Spirit powerfully makes himself known through the sound of a mighty wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak in foreign languages. Is that always how Spirit baptism manifests itself? No. Throughout the book of Acts, these kinds of visible manifest-ations occur with distinct groups in order to confirm that not only has the Spirit really come in actual history, but that all these groups really have received the same Spirit; and thus, the same merger or union with Christ.
3. Empowered by the Spirit (vs. 6-11)
But Acts 2 also records the fulfillment of another aspect of the Spirit's work, as declared by Jesus here in Acts chapter 1. The key verse here is 1:8... “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Ah! There it is! The promise of the Holy Spirit is the promise of power. When we receive Him we receive power. This is what we see in Acts 2 as Peter is empowered to boldly testify of Jesus before a crowd of thousands.
But as he indicates in 1:4, didn't Jesus already tell them this would be the case? John 16:7...
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Even before that, in John 15:26–27, Jesus told these same men that...
“...when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
Even earlier, in Luke 12:11–12, he spoke explicitly about the Spirit and their bearing witness...
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
But is this true for you and me as well? Do you want it to be? We need to be sensitive to the original context, don't we? That means acknowledging who is actually being addressed here. But Rom. 15:13 and Eph. 3:16 both talk explicitly about the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the believer. Eph. 1:15-20 also seems to connect the Spirit with power for the believer. In fact, there are many passages in the NT that talk about the Spirit's work in us, and many passages about God's power and strength at work in us. But are we empowered to be witnesses, as Jesus promised the apostles here? I believe we are. Let's think more about how that happens.
III. We the Witnesses
While the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and I Peter 4 remind us that God's Spirit has empowered and does empower others, apart from the Apostles, to bear witness to Christ through proclamation, we also know that Holy Spirit empowers us to bear witness in other ways. For example, in Galatians 5:22, Paul talks about fruit that the Spirit of God bears in our lives as followers of Jesus. The first example of such fruit that Paul mentions there is love. Now, think for a minute about how that connects with the words of Jesus in John 13:35... “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So Holy Spirit-empowered love to one another bears witness to our Lord, the Lord of love. If we go on to think about how that love inspires good works in us, another word from Jesus comes to mind: “You are the light of the world... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16) This is not a witness apart from knowledge, for in both John 13 and Matthew 5, those reacting to our love or loving works seem to connect the work of the Spirit back to both the Son and the Father.
Brothers and sisters, friends, what kind of power do we need most? The power we need most is not simply power to boldly share the gospel message (although it is that—and God knows we so often need boldness). No. What we need is bigger than that. It's more holistic than that. We need the kind of power that empowers us to live for and bear witness to Jesus Christ in all things. No matter the challenges you face this morning, whether out there or in here (inward), that's the power you and I need.
You see, though we can look for power in all the wrong places, for all the wrong reasons, God graciously offers us the only power that can truly change any and every circumstance. How? By changing us. And as we see here, that's exactly the power the Father promised and the Son confirmed: the power of the Spirit to transform our lives so that they reflect Jesus. And if you believe, then you have been baptized by this Spirit. That's how we become one with Christ.
But think about this: I mentioned to you earlier that in all three sections of this passage we find the same four elements present: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and talk about the kingdom of God. Now some of you may have noticed that there's actually no explicit mention of the kingdom of God in vs. 6-11. In v. 3 we learn during his resurrection appearances that Jesus was continuing to speak to his disciples about the kingdom. And in v. 6, it's clear the apostles are continuing to think about the kingdom. But where is the kingdom in that final set of verses?
The question posed by the apostles in verse 6 is a good question. However they pictured it, the restoration they're talking about there means the reign of Israel's Messiah over all the kingdoms of this earth. As Jesus indicates in verse 7, the fullness of that reign will only happen according to the Father's timetable. But... and here's how the kingdom is present in verses 6-11... the power to see that reign extended is the power of the Holy Spirit working through the witness of God's people. That's the kingdom of God: the reign of King Jesus, extending one heart at a time, through the church's gospel-centered ministry. Is He reigning over your heart this morning?
Power is a good thing. Desiring power is not wrong. But this is the power we need most. And receiving it begins with admitting your powerlessness as a sinner. Why did Jesus return to the Father? Because he had completed the glorious work that secured our redemption. A perfect man dying for sinners like us, then rising again, in power, to give us power for a new life, with God... for God. Let's come before Him this morning as powerless people, seeking the power we need most, whatever the challenge, whatever the change... that we might be his witnesses.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)
September 11, 2022The Heart Where Jesus is Knocking (Revelation 3:20)
September 4, 2022New Heavens, New Earth (II Peter 3:11-13)