If you have been with us on a Sunday morning at All Nations Church recently, on our social media, or you have already read our first blog article, you will know that we are starting a new preaching and teaching series – “Adventures in Acts.” In his first blog, James brilliantly and briefly mapped out our course for the next few months. Together, we will be focusing on the main character and his mission in the earth – the Holy Spirit and how he enables us to be witnesses for Christ. So often called “The Acts of the Apostles”, we might better understand this book if we called it the “Activity of the Holy Spirit”, as it is he who organises and permeates all the recorded stories and events. And we might better understand how this book can speak to our lives today. The Book of Acts gives us permission to read its stories as our own, not because we can relate to a particular person, but because the same Holy Spirit that orchestrated the emergence of the early Church – that filled the 120 disciples at Pentecost, that filled Cornelius’ family, that enabled Stephen to preach the truth at risk of his life – lives in us and is still at work in the world today.
This will be essential to settle in our minds as we embark on our “Adventure in Acts”, because it is going to keep us from negative comparison and counting ourselves out.
In starting my own reading through the book of Acts, I was reminded of a youth conference I attended when in my early teens. Our youth leaders dragged us all out of bed for the early morning meeting because a particularly famous evangelist was speaking. His title was “Christian Superheroes”. I wasn’t particularly enthused about going. It sounded like he was going to tell lots of stories about amazing Christians who had done great things and I was inevitably going to feel guilty for not being more evangelistic. Now, if anyone could have done that, it was this man. He had spent most of his life travelling across Africa, preaching the Gospel, and over the course of his lifetime he had led hundreds of thousands of people to Christ! To be honest, I wish I had had a better attitude, because of course this man didn’t set out to make us feel guilty. I still thank God for him now, because he helped open my eyes to see that I had a part to play in God’s plan to save the world. Instead of telling stories of great heroes that no one could attain, this is what he said: “There is no such thing as a Christian Superhero! Only those who willingly offer themselves to be used by God.”
This is exactly what we find at the start of the Book of Acts. In Acts 1, Jesus spends 40 days teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God. These are no superheroes! We have read some of their stories already in the Gospels – fishermen, tradesmen, family, tax collectors. This is a motley crew, some of whom have very questionable pasts! But here is what unites them and prepares them for what is to come – a simple desire to obey their Lord. Just before Jesus ascends into heaven, the last words that he speaks in-person to his disciples, so we can assume they were carefully chosen, were these:
"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. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.” (Acts 1:4-8)
If anyone could have claimed the title of “superhero” it was the first disciples of Jesus, especially the apostles. They had lived, eaten, and travelled with Jesus. To them he had explained the stories he told the crowds. They had witnessed the details of his life, death and resurrection in great detail. They could tell you what he smelt like. His favourite colour. His feet washing technique. If anyone could say “We could be heroes!” and go witness for Christ by themselves it was this lot. But Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem. Why? Because even those who had walked the earth with him still needed the very thing that Jesus had made the end goal of his earthly ministry – the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Which is exactly what happened. In Acts 2, we read that the disciples, in obedience to Jesus, did wait in a home in Jerusalem, and those present in that room were filled with the Spirit and started speaking in other tongues. Then Peter stood up to preach the first ever gospel message. Those who heard and responded asked what they must do. Peter said that they must: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39) The baptism of the Holy Spirit was and remains the promise of God for ALL whom the Lord calls. In other words, as we read through the Book of Acts, we are reading stories not about superheroes but brothers and sisters who were just like us: filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore equipped to be Jesus’ witnesses.
So, let’s settle in our minds right now, that as we read through Acts together, we are not going to negatively compare or count ourselves out. Instead, let’s take encouragement from Peter, the simple fisherman, that the Holy Spirit enabled to preach the first Gospel message, as a result of which 3,000 people accepted Jesus as their Lord. Let’s be inspired by Lydia, the successful business woman, who not only opened her heart to the Gospel but her home for the church to meet in, using what she had for God’s Kingdom. Let’s take heart, that God can use a sheltered young man like Timothy, raised in the faith of his mother and grandmother, and take him across the world to risk life and limb to preach the Gospel with Paul, the once-persecutor of God’s Church. These were not superheroes. They were people like you and me, baptised in the Holy Spirit, with hearts willing to obey their Lord. That is all God requires for a life of adventure!