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.Acts 1:8
We have our marching orders. Each one of us is called to share the good news of Jesus Christ. There is a sacred space we enter with God when we’re sharing that good news with someone. The Holy Spirit comes in power, gives us the words to say, and softens hearts to hear. But sometimes that same gospel is met with hostility. Sometimes we end up way outside our comfort zone. But the call remains.
The book of Acts is a document constructed on a three phase plan that Jesus set forth in Acts 1:8. The first phase was Jerusalem. There we see the disciples, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit, who then comes like a violent wind. The movement of the church begins as Peter preaches the gospel. His words carry supernatural power and 3,000 are saved.
The gospel being preached arouses hostility in the ruling class and the church is warned not to speak of Jesus in public. But in Acts 6 we’re introduced to Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit, and he just won’t quit preaching. He’s brought to trial and the council’s hostility escalates to his execution, instigated by a man named Saul, who then begins persecuting the church. Persecution scatters the believers. Adversity becomes the catalyst that propels the mission of the church into phase two.
Phase two, as Jesus predicted, would be Judea and Samaria. But the church hadn’t made the jump yet to preach the gospel to these local, yet ethnically and culturally different people. But now, while literally running for their lives, ordinary men and women boldly speak about God to the Samaritans and the Greeks. And as Luke writes in Acts 11, the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number of gentiles believed and turned to the Lord in Antioch.
But the emphasis of Jesus’ plan was for the church to get to phase 3, the ends of the earth. It takes a supernatural push, and we see Jesus knock Saul to the ground on the road to Damascus. Saul’s life takes a complete U-turn. He begins to preach the gospel, finally arriving in Antioch where the Holy Spirit sets him apart in Acts 13 and phase 3 begins – he and Barnabas are sent off to reach the very ends of the earth.
This week we’re kicking off a sermon series about this third phase of God’s plan, specifically focusing on the Holy Spirit empowered ministry of Saul (also known as the Apostle Paul) in Acts 13-28 and his call to reach the Gentiles.
Perhaps the most thrilling part of God’s plan is in this present moment. The Holy Spirit is still here with us, and we’re still in phase 3 of Jesus’ plan. God is still advancing the gospel and raising up more laborers for his harvest. But yet again the church faces adversity in this season of COVID-19 and political unrest. Could it be that God will use this trial as a catalyst to revive the church and spread the message of Jesus Christ further into the world?
We each have unique gifts and graces from God. He wants to strategically involve each of us as he reaches every person on the planet. Sometimes it will be challenging and it won’t feel natural. But we can believe in God’s ability to work as he sovereignly moves each of us to the places he wants us to go.
As we go, God will extend to others the same grace he showed us on the cross. And you may be surprised to find that as you communicate the gospel message, you also will be refreshed and empowered by God’s Spirit. The message that Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who would believe is like a cup of cool water in the desert. And it refreshes and energizes not only the recipient, but the giver.
Holy Spirit, come like a rushing wind, and advance your kingdom through us, to each one.