What Jesus Continues To Do
July 7, 2002 / Rev. Bryn MacPhail
As your newly inducted minister, I find myself being asked, with great frequency, about my ‘vision’ for church ministry. This is a very understandable inquiry.
Surely, many of you are wondering, ‘What direction is this young man going to take us in? And, if we do go in a different direction, what will be asked of me?’
I confess to you, that I do hold many ideas concerning what constitutes good ministry. Yet, I am reluctant to call these ideas ‘Bryn MacPhail’s Vision For Ministry’.
My approach to ministry is very simple. In fact, someone was kind enough to record my approach to ministry by making a lovely banner and hanging it on our sanctuary wall: Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone.
I concur with Martin Luther, who said, “I taught, I preached, and I wrote, God’s Word. Otherwise, I did nothing.” I agree with the minister who said “the only tradition we must have is the tradition of subordinating ourselves to the Word of God.”
The only vision for ministry at St. Giles Kingsway that we should be attentive to is the vision of church ministry given in the Bible. And, arguably, the most explicit vision for how church ministry should be done is found in the Book of Acts.
In the Book of Acts, we are given glimpses into the life of the early Church. In this book, we will see their habits, their challenges, their fears, and their joys.
By way of introduction, I draw your attention to name given to this book of the Bible: The Acts of the Apostles. I find this title to be somewhat misleading. Most of the apostles are never heard of in this book. There are, at most, 3 or 4 who play a prominent role in Luke’s recording of early church history.
When I led Bible studies on Acts, I used to quiz the group every few weeks by asking them, ‘Who is the main character in the book of Acts?’ Depending on what chapter we were on, some would answer ‘Peter’, and some would answer ‘Paul’. Humanly speaking, either of those were decent answers. But what the group soon learned, however, was that there was one main character Who was a constant in the book of Acts, and that was the Holy Spirit.
Luke begins this book by telling us about his previous work, the gospel bearing his name, writing, “The first account I composed Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach”. And what we soon find out is that Acts is a continuation of that first work. While the Gospel of Luke is about what Jesus began to do and teach, Acts is about what Jesus continues to do through the Holy Spirit.
It is not so much the Acts of the Apostles then, as it is the Acts of Jesus Christ through His Spirit-filled disciples.
At this point, someone may object, or someone may ask, “In what sense is the work of Christ not yet complete?” This is a valid question since our Lord, in His final moment on the cross, exclaimed, “It is finished!”(John 19:30).
How then do we reconcile, “It is finished” with Luke’s statement, “all that Jesus began to do and teach”? Is there a contradiction here? Certainly not. It is one thing to compound a medicine; it is another thing to administer it. It is one thing to unveil a truth; it is another thing to unfold its applications.
The work of Christ was completed on the cross in respect to the sufficiency of the work. However, the work of Christ on the cross was incomplete in respect to the application of the work. The sinless life of Jesus, and His atoning death, formed a perfect medicinal compound for the soul. The medicine was perfect and complete, sufficient in every way—there was no need to add to it, but there remained an urgency to administer it.
The Book of Acts then, is about the administration of the medicine of the Gospel. Luke is not concerned about adding to its content; he is concerned about promoting and advancing its scope.
The Book of Acts is not simply an account about the establishment of the Church, but it is, more precisely, about the expansion of the Church.
What this means for us at St. Giles Kingsway is that we must not resign ourselves to simply being a well established church. Christ’s vision for the Church is that we would be always growing. I think it is fitting that the Church is also called Christ’s Body. We would think it a very strange thing if, after being born, a baby failed to grow. Growth is a sign of good health. The same can be said of the Church—healthy churches are growing churches.
So how do we do this? What is the key to church growth? Or, perhaps a better question to ask is, “How does Jesus Christ characterize a healthy church?”
A healthy church is a church that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the key to every success. We cannot rightly pray, we cannot rightly teach, we cannot rightly evangelize, unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is precisely why Jesus commanded the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. After telling them to remain in Jerusalem, Jesus promises, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit”(1:5).
This commandment to be temporarily inactive appears, to me, to be very significant. You would have thought that these individuals were in a perfect position to carry on the ministry of Jesus. They had been with Jesus for 3 years; they had heard all His discourses; they had seen all His miracles; they had engaged Him in personal conversations. They had witnessed His Crucifixion and His burial, and above all, they were witnesses to His Resurrection.
You would have thought that this group of followers was in a perfect position to go out and preach, but they were not. Before they could be effective witnesses for Jesus they needed the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, friends, if the Holy Spirit’s enabling power was necessary for the first disciples, how much more is it necessary for us doing ministry today?
Luke makes it clear that Jesus did not want the disciples to attempt any ministry until they had been made fit to do ministry. The same can be said of us. Sometimes we, in the church, are so desperate to see something get done that we gather volunteers without ever discerning whether they are actually fit to do the ministry before them.
And, by fit, I do not mean naturally gifted. Judge me by my natural gifts and I am among the most unfit to ever fill this pulpit! When I talk about fitness for ministry, I am talking about the fitness made possible by the Spirit of Christ.
We learned this last Sunday; before we can effectively serve Christ, He must first serve us. And this is precisely the message of the Book of Acts: before there can be any effective ministry, there must first be Christ’s Spirit empowering our efforts.
After correcting the disciples regarding the nature of His kingdom, Jesus makes a promise to His disciples that we must claim for ourselves. Jesus promises them, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”(1:8).
The word Jesus uses here is very significant. When Jesus tells the disciples that they shall receive “power”, we might be tempted to ask, ‘What kind of power is being promised here?’--Because there are different types of power. We can talk about how the wind is powerful, and we can talk about how a person, like President Bush, is a powerful. The latter example of power has more to do with authority than it does with possessing extreme force.
Well, the word Jesus uses is the word, dynamis. The Greek word dynamis entered the English language in the late 19th Century when the Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel made an important discovery. Nobel discovered a power stronger than anything the world had known up to that time. Nobel then asked a friend, who was a Greek scholar, what the word for “explosive power” was in Greek. His friend answered, “Dynamis.”
Nobel said, “Well, I am going to call my discovery by that name.” So he called his explosive power “dynamite” (Boice, Acts, 25).
Friends, it is no small thing that Jesus promises when He says that we will receive power from His Holy Spirit.
And what shall we do when we receive this power? Jesus says that this power will enable us to be effective witnesses for the Christian faith (1:8).
What should be our vision for ministry at St. Giles Kingsway? How about this: Our vision at St. Giles Kingsway is to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ. And to fulfill this vision, we are committed to relying on the Spirit of God.
Notice that Jesus does not simply give us a command and then leave us. No, He commands us to be His witnesses and then He promises us the power to carry out the command.
Let us go forth in His name, let us go forth in His power, and let us tell others about what the gospel of Christ means for them. Amen.