The Power We Need

Last week, just after our family finished supper and was transitioning from the dining room into the den to play a board game, without warning the power went out. There was no wind. No severe weather. So, we took it in stride, lit some candles, and started the game. Several hours later, again without warning, the lights came back on. Even though playing by candlelight had been a memorable frontier-like experience, we celebrated the return of electricity.

Listen to the post here:

In this post, we are going to talk about power. Not electricity that generates light, heat, and keeps the refrigerator on, but the power that generates and sustains spiritual life—the power of the Holy Spirit.

This really is a relevant topic, because you may be suffering from a spiritual power outage. You are losing more battles with temptation than we are winning. God feels distant and your prayers empty. Your worship is cold and your heart, having grown cold and critical is easily angered. You may just feel lost.

If you are suffering from a spiritual power outage, you probably know it. I don’t need to convince you.

What I do want to convince you of is that the power can be restored. But there is a qualification. The power can be restored if you are willing to admit that you are spiritually helpless—powerless—apart from the regenerating, sustaining, and empowering grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

We find the promise of power in Acts 1:1-8. In these opening verses to the sequel to Luke’s gospel, he briefly describes the days following Jesus’ resurrection, where Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God. He also gave them a mission. However, before they were to launch the mission, they were to wait. It is the reason for their waiting that has specific application for us. Just before the ascension of Jesus, we read in Acts 1:1-8.

Acts 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In order to feel the magnitude of these last words of Jesus, we need to grasp that he was calling his disciples to fulfill an impossible mission.

An Impossible Mission

As Jesus tells them in verse 8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

To be a witness is to be an eye-witness—someone who sees something. Like a witness of a crime is called to testify in court, the apostles were to witness to the historical facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as the risen and reigning Christ. They were to say, “I saw it with my own eyes. I saw Jesus live. I saw him die. I saw him in physical, bodily form after his resurrection from the dead. I saw him ascend into heaven to reign. I witnessed these things personally and testify to the veracity of the facts concerning the person and the work of Jesus.”

Depending on the case, serving as a witness in court can take a tremendous amount of courage. When you get up on the stand, who is to prevent your reputation from being attacked. And what about the friends of the defendant? If it is an organized crime or gang-related case, maybe they’ll plan on tracking you down and shutting you up.

Like a mafia boss, the people who crucified Jesus would be just as committed to stopping the spread of the message concerning the resurrection of the one they had killed. In fact, when we examine the word “witness” a bit more closely, we discover that the word witness is translated from the Greek word martures, which is from the root martus, the word from which we get the English word martyr. History tells us that the word is fitting, as all but one of once cowardly apostles would die as courageous martyrs.

Jesus was telling his friends, “You are going to tell the world about me, and eventually they will kill you for it. But not before the wildfire of your testimony exceeds the opposition’s ability to control it.” The message of God’s mercy in Jesus, through their testimony, was going to extend to the very ends of the earth.

How would a rag-tag band of former cowards from a remote corner of Palestine launch a mission that would be the most globally impactful movement the world has ever known?

I wonder if the apostles felt a bit like the men and women who worked for NASA in the 1960s upon hearing that President Kennedy had given them a mission to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. To grasp the magnitude of that mission, we need to understand that NASA was nowhere close to having the technological knowledge or ability to fulfill the President’s challenge. In the same way that Kennedy had delivered what seemed to be mission impossible to NASA, Jesus had delivered mission impossible to the apostles.

Maybe you feel that way, too.  Providing for a family. Being a parent. Being the only believer where you work. Resisting the powerful hold of addiction. These can feel like impossible missions.

But just like the apostles’ mission was impossible for them, it was not impossible for God. That is the way it is with everything. We cannot save ourselves. But God can save. We cannot restore a broken marriage. But God can. We cannot bring home a wayward child. But God can. We cannot reach and change the heart of a neighbor or an enemy. But God can.

  • He can empower us to engage in a hard marriage conversation.
  • To repent to your kids.
  • To win the game with humility.
  • And to lose the game with humility.
  • He can empower us to deal with rejection, false accusations, and face a bad diagnosis.

Jesus had previously told his disciples, “Nothing is impossible with God.” In the same vein, Paul would later write to the Ephesian church, “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Ah-ha! That is the secret to the mission. It is not about what we are able to do but what God is able to do as he works in and through us. This is why Jesus gives the apostles a necessary command.

A Necessary Command

In view of their global mission, the apostles may have assumed time to be of the essence and expected Jesus to say, “Ready, set, go!” Instead, he says, “Ready, set, wait!” In verse five, Jesus says, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

The apostles had plenty of information. Loads of theological knowledge. They had been with Jesus for over three years and had just spent forty days with him in a Kingdom of God intensive.

Maybe they didn’t yet grasp the immensity of how hard their mission was going to be—the global scope and the degree of opposition. The impossibility of it may not have registered until they had some time to reflect on it. Having now witnessed the risen Christ in person, they may have been eager and rearing to get on with the mission. I don’t know.

What we do know is that they were not ready. They didn’t lack theological knowledge. They didn’t lack ministry experience. They lacked power. This is why Jesus tells them to wait. He wanted them to have a healthy sense of their weakness and inability so that they would rely not on themselves but on the gift the Father would give to empower them for life and ministry.

This same principle applies to us. I think about how often I have rushed decisions or take action without first having a healthy sense of my own weakness and inability and my desperate need for God’s enabling, empowering grace.

Whether loving well in marriage, listening effectively as a parent, preaching with Christ-honoring motives, leading a meeting with humility, repenting to someone on staff, and dealing with historic sin patterns that I deeply want to conquer, all is impossible apart from the enabling power of God.

Even the apostle Paul learned that weakness and inability was the counterintuitive pathway to power and ability. In 2 Corinthians 12 he tells about a time he was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, some kind of severe physical trial. He pleaded for God to heal him. But the Lord didn’t. On purpose. What? Why not? Because, Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

This power of God in Christ through the Spirit is a power than no one can earn, deserve, develop through practice, or conjure up with special words. It is a power that must be given and received, because as the apostles learned, it is… 

A Supernatural Power

In the first part of verse 8, Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” As a member of Triune God, the Holy Spirit is not only a power, he is a person.

In the gospel of John, Jesus calls the Spirit the parakletos, a Greek word that when translated literally means “one who is called alongside.” The word parakletos is translated in various English Bible versions as Helper, Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter. So, which is it? All the above. Each captures a facet of the Spirit’s ministry as the one who comes to indwell and empower.

But the one that most pointedly applies for our context of enabling grace in Acts 1 is the King James translation of paraclete as Comforter. But don’t think of Comforter in the sense of someone who gives you a shoulder to cry on. He does that, too. But when the King James translators chose Comforter in 1611, there were thinking of the Latin word cumforte, which is a combination of two Latin words cum, meaning with, and forte, meaning strength. We get fort, fortitude, and even forte’ from, well, forte.

The Holy Spirit as Comforter is God himself coming upon us as our strength, enabling us to do the impossible.

For the apostles, the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon them at the Jewish feast of Pentecost just ten days after this final encounter with Jesus,[1] an event that had been predicted by the prophet Joel, who recorded the word of the Lord, saying,

28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)

Taking place on Pentecost, we read in Acts 2 that the fulfillment of this prophecy was accompanied by a rushing of wind and what appeared to be tongues of fire resting upon the disciples as they supernaturally proclaimed the wonders of God in the native languages of those in attendance who had traveled from other nations.

While the manifestation of wind and tongues of fire were unique for such a redemptive-historical event and not intended to be repeated, the principle of enabling power for life and ministry through the enabling, indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit is the same today as it was then.

Surrendering to Grace

Charles Spurgeon was a famous preacher in London during the 19th century who led a church that welcomed thousands of worshippers each Sunday. In order to reach the pulpit in the sanctuary, Spurgeon had to ascend the stairs to the platform, which was high above ground level. It is said that for each step he took, he would utter under his breath, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

That refrain wasn’t only to remind himself of a theological affirmation, it was to convince him that the effectiveness of his preaching was not in his skill as an orator but was dependent fully upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to empower his words with supernatural force—power that could raise the spiritually dead to new life and awaken the coldest Christian’s heart. The refrain, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” was Spurgeon’s way of surrendering to grace—not just saving grace but ongoing empowering grace.

In verse 3, Luke records four words that indicate the centrality of grace not just for preachers but every Christian, saying, “After he had suffered.”

Those words recall the cross, where Jesus died as a sin-substitute, taking the blame for those of us who have committed treason against the King. I suppose a hallmark of Jesus’ discussion about the Kingdom is that the King himself had willingly suffered the death penalty for traitors so that the condemned but loved could be forgiven and restored to God as Father, without fear of retribution but confident of unrelenting affection and acceptance.

When we surrender to the saving grace of Jesus we are prepared to continue surrendering to enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, who is able to do in us what for us is impossible—for his glory alone.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what degree would say that power is on or out in your heart?
  2. How does it make you feel to know that the power can be restored?
  3. What is it that feels impossible in your life right now?
  4. Do you tend to wait before moving forward or do you rush in where fools fear to tread? How can understanding the necessity of the Spirit’s power help us be more deliberate about having an awareness of our inherent weakness and need for empowering grace?
  5. What difference does it make for you to know that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a force; a he and not an it?
  6. What might surrendering to grace look like in your life?

[1] Pentecost was one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals that took place in Jerusalem. Jews and Jewish proselytes from all over the Mediterranean world would travel to Jerusalem for these celebrations. The first is Passover, followed by Pentecost, and in the fall, The Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost celebrated the all-important first wheat harvest.