The Empowered Church on Mission
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Luke 24:47–49
Sermon from Luke 24:47, 49 & Acts by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: To the End of the Earth (Part 4 of 4)
Global Missions Emphasis Month
Delivered on Sunday, September 28, 2014
Let’s go to Luke 24 and look today at the empowered church on mission. That’s our topic: the empowered church on mission. And, Redeemer, hear this up front: I’m talking about you when I say the empowered church. If you claim Christ as your only hope for life, I’m about to tell you what the Spirit—who now lives in you—moves his people to do. So when you hear me describe the empowered church today, don’t say to yourself, “Oh yeah, that’s what they—the church people out there—do.” Say to yourself, “That’s what I am, that’s what we should look like.” God has given you a mission to accomplish with the Spirit’s enabling strength.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s read Luke 24:44-49. And then we’re going to bounce all over the place in Luke and Acts to flesh out what the Spirit empowers the church to do on mission. Verse 44,
44Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The disciples are standing at a crucial moment in God’s plan of redemption for the world. According to verses 46 and 47, all the Scriptures have anticipated these three things: that the Christ should suffer, that the Christ should rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. All of history revolves around these three events, and two of them the disciples just witnessed. The disciples witnessed Jesus suffer and die; and the disciples witnessed Jesus rise from the dead. And now, as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples are about to witness the forgiveness of sins proclaimed to all nations. In fact, Jesus is about to make them part of that proclamation to all nations.
But before that happens, Jesus makes it very clear that these disciples cannot handle the mission he’s calling them to. They need the Holy Spirit’s power. And we know Jesus is talking about the Spirit’s power, because in Luke’s second volume—the book of Acts—he tells us very plainly Jesus is talking about the Spirit. Acts 1:8, “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” (cf. 1:4)
Before that happens, you won’t have the power to be my witnesses. You won’t have the spiritual equipment you need for the mission. And more than that, nobody will believe you. The Spirit must come to awaken dead hearts to the resurrected Christ. So he tells them, “You stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
That’s got to happen first. That will be the signal that God is gathering the nations through the preaching of Jesus. That’s when the long-awaited age would finally come, when God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. That’s when the church would be empowered to bring salvation to the end of the earth. “Wait until you’re clothed with power from on high.” But once the Spirit comes and empowers the church, what is it he empowers them to do? I see four activities characterizing the Spirit-empowered church.
1. Empowered to Speak the Gospel
Number one, the Spirit empowers the church to speak the gospel. One of the connections Luke loves to make in his Gospel and Acts is this: having the Spirit and proclaiming Jesus always go together. Every time the Spirit fills somebody, they can’t help but say something about Jesus.
In Luke 1:41, Elizabeth is over six months pregnant; Mary comes to visit her (1:36-40). And the Bible tells us Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaims with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” You’re carrying my Lord, Mary (1:42-45)!
And then the same thing happens with Zechariah in 1:67. Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesies: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (1:68-69). He’s talking about Jesus.
The same is true of Simeon when he’s holding the baby Jesus in his arms. The Holy Spirit comes on him, and he says, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32).
We’re also told John the Baptist is filled with the Spirit; and what else does he do than proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:15-17; 3:3). He preaches the good news to people (3:18). And even Jesus—the Spirit anoints Jesus in 4:18, and what does he say? He says the Spirit has anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (4:18-19; cf. Isa 61:1-2; Luke 4:43).
Then we come to the end of Luke’s Gospel and see the same will be true of the church—when the Spirit comes on the church, the church will speak about Jesus: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations.” And then what happens after Pentecost when the Spirit comes? The church speaks about Jesus. Peter preaches Jesus in chapters 2, 3, and 4, along with John; all the apostles preach Jesus in 5:32; Stephen preaches Jesus in chapters 6 and 7; Philip preaches Jesus in 8:29; then Paul (9:17), then the Gentiles (10:46), then Barnabas (11:23), then Apollos (18:25, 28), and on and on the story goes.
The Spirit empowers the church to speak the gospel. He tells the world about Jesus, using our mouths, “We’re all guilty before our Maker. God’s judgment is coming. But Jesus was crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. Then God raised him from the dead with all authority and power. If you repent—if you turn away from your sinful sex and your love of money and your self-help philosophy to life and your false god and your arrogant attitudes at work—if you turn away from them to have Jesus, you will be saved from the wrath to come. Your guilt will be taken away forever.”
That’s what comes out of us when the Spirit comes in. So the question the Bible confronts us with is this: Can we honestly say we’re a Spirit-filled people, if no Jesus is coming out? I’m not saying you have to get up in a pulpit or go door to door to speak about Jesus. I also don’t want to limit speaking about Jesus to our interactions with lost people either; the church needs to hear about Jesus as well to be saved. What I’m saying is that if you’re a Christian, you’ll want to bring Jesus regularly to others, especially those without him.
You may have various obstacles to overcome in doing so, but the Spirit enables us to overcome those obstacles to help get Jesus to the nations. Everything we need for bold witness, faithful efforts, prayerful attitudes, humble speech, clear explanations of the gospel, broken-hearted pleas for people to turn to Christ—everything we need, the Spirit is able to provide.
In fact, if you want your witness to increase, one of the best things for you to do is ask the Lord every day to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
This is exactly what the early church did in their mission. A few of them get persecuted, they get together with the other believers, they’re all scared to keep doing this. Then they lift their voices to God in prayer saying, “Lord grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” And this is God’s answer: “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31; cf. Luke 12:11-12).
Have you got fears in speaking about Jesus to others? Your first response is not a better method—though that may help. It’s not more books—though they may help. It’s not even a Discipleship Hour class—though that is even helping some of you as we speak. Your first response is prayer for the Spirit. Dan tried to drive this into some of you the first week of that evangelism class. Evangelism is first and foremost about abiding in Christ. Same here: the Spirit empowers the church to speak the gospel.
So, would you please pray together at home and in your care groups that God would fill us with the Holy Spirit? You can go home and strategize all you want about how you’re going to be more committed to sharing the gospel. But unless the Spirit is filling you, you will get frustrated, have the wrong motives, and eventually burn out. Your starting place in speaking of Jesus to others is speaking to God about it. In fact, some of you efficient-make-it-happen types should just go home and sit with God for a while about this. Ask him for wisdom and insight into why you may not be sharing the gospel with others, or how you might share it even more. Then pray for the Spirit to enable you, trust him, and open your mouth as the Lord gives opportunity (Col 4:2-4).
And yes, that also means doing hard things like telling people to repent—that there’s no forgiveness promised to people who don’t repent from their sins. That may get our head chopped off like it did John the Baptist, but we tell them the whole message. We tell them how Jesus must effect their life if they’re to know his salvation. So, yes, that’s a hard thing. But this is what the Spirit helps us to speak.
2. Empowered to Strengthen Each Other
Number two, the Spirit empowers the church to strengthen each other. The Spirit gives us different gifts and abilities that we need for the mission. After the Spirit comes at Pentecost we observe disciples doing various activities that strengthen the church that then in turn serves the mission. The stronger the community, the more fervent their mission will be together.
This plays out in a variety of ways. For example, there are saints mentioned in Acts 2:45 who have material needs and the Spirit is moving others in the church to meet those needs by selling their possessions. In 6:3, this need arises for seven men to help serve tables, so that the apostles can keep teaching the word. These men, it says, must be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom”—to serve tables! Why? So that the teaching of the word isn’t neglected.
Then later in 15:28, everybody’s bent out of shape because they don’t know what to do with all these Gentiles coming to Christ or how to instruct them. And so the apostles come together with the elders and the church in Antioch to get matters lined out. They send a letter back to the Gentiles, and say you’re good to go, just don’t eat idol food or practice sexual immorality. But part of the letter says this: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.”
The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles and the elders and the church to make a decision for the sake of the Gentiles following Jesus. Spirit-led leaders working with a Spirit-led church to give Spirit-led instructions for the Spirit-led mission. Some of you have these gifts to think hard over difficult matters, and bring God’s word to bear on issues that help the church and the mission in the long-run.
In another place, we find a woman named Dorcas who is full of acts of charity; she makes clothes for folks (9:36). Hello all you ladies who’ve been helping with the dresses for the Haiti orphanage. Let’s pray your acts of charity toward these girls gives P* and L* greater opportunity to speak of Christ’s generosity toward us.
Barnabas at one point, comes and exhorts the church in Antioch to remain faithful to the Lord, “[because] he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (11:23). There are several men in this congregation who are that for me and for others. Later the Spirit’s work in the church produces joy among the people (13:52; cf. Rom 14:17). Some of you have a gift of bringing joy to our church body.
In 20:28, it’s the Holy Spirit who gives the church overseers to care for the saints, feeding them the word and protecting them from false teaching. Apollos is said to be a brother fervent in Spirit and an effective teacher (18:25, 27). Some of you’ve been gifted to teach, not merely for the sake of teaching, but for the sake of a church more equipped for mission. Pursue that with all the zeal God mightily inspires within you.
And I haven’t even mentioned all the various gifts listed in Rom 12:5-8 or 1 Cor 12-14 or 1 Pet 4:9-11. The point is this: all of us who possess the Spirit have a unique contribution to make for stronger saints in the mission God has given us. An important part of global missions is strengthening the saints where you are.
Some of you haven’t been called to move overseas, but to stay and send others. Your gifts are for people like Billy and Heather or Chris and Stephanie or Max and Laura, who need your prayers and your support.
In fact, I texted one of our brothers on the field this week in Central Asia, telling him some of the things we’d be talking about today regarding the empowered church. And he wrote back and said, “You know, as the church is empowered to do all these things, once missionaries get to the nations, they struggle in all these areas.”
They struggle with boldness to speak the gospel. They struggle to encourage teammates who are sometimes hard to work with. They need your prayers. They need a refreshing word of encouragement. They need you to come visit them and others of you to pay for teams to come visit them. What does Paul say in 1 Cor 16:17-18? “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit.” Some of you are gifted for this kind of regular encouragement of missionaries who go out.
Some of you have entrepreneurial skills in business, and you work diligently not just to provide for your household, but because you know it’s going to serve the mission financially. Some of you are teachers. Others of you are servants. A few of you compose music. Others of you are really gifted in evangelism—and by the way, if that’s you, I’d ask you to start praying now how you might take up the mantle of local evangelism when Dan leaves in a few months.
Whatever the case, each of you have gifts from the Spirit to strengthen the church for the mission. My charge to you is simply this: remain faithful with the gifts you’ve been given for this church. Pour yourself out in it for the benefit of others. And by doing so, we’ll all be stronger for the mission.
Some of you may be sitting around waiting on the Lord to send you somewhere else, and you’re missing the opportunities immediately in front of you. Yes, the Lord may be preparing you to go elsewhere—and we’re all for that—but right now he has you here. And we need you and your gifts. Your mission doesn’t begin when you land that pastoral position or that church planter role or that ministry spot in some other country; your mission is here right now! There are brothers and sisters that need you now; that need your counsel now; that need your critical thinking now; that need your prayers now; that need your service now.
Our global disciple-making will be furthered insofar as our local disciple-making remains strong. But the converse is also true. Our local disciple-making efforts will be strong insofar as they serve global disciple-making—which brings us to a third point about the Spirit empowering the church.
3. Empowered to Scatter to the Nations
Number three, the Spirit empowers the church to scatter to the nations. Again, Luke 24:47, “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” Acts 1:8, Jesus says when the Spirit comes, they’ll be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And then the rest of Acts reveals that work of the Spirit unfolding—the Lord adding to their number (2:47); the disciples increasing in Jerusalem (6:7); the church spreading throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria (9:31); then to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch (11:19); through Paul’s missions from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum (Rom 15:19); till we’re left hanging at the end of Acts with these words: “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28).
Point being, this is where the Spirit leads you and me to pick up where the early church left off. Some of you are familiar with the church planting network called Acts 29. It’s a fantastic reminder of where we all live as Christians. We’re all continuing the mission to the nations. This is where the Spirit compels his people to keep scattering in the onward march of the gospel.
Because here’s the thing: there will be a multitude of worshipers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation present at the throne on the last day. And the only way they’ll be present on the last day is if they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and believe.
The Spirit compels us to get the gospel to all nations, because there’s no other basis for anybody to be saved. They must hear of Jesus if they’re to have their sins forgiven. No forgiveness can be offered to anybody truthfully outside the name of Jesus Christ—“repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in his name.” That’s why Christ pours out the Spirit like he does after his death and resurrection, because he wants all peoples to know, “Forgiveness comes to the nations, because of what he did on the cross.”
People may object and say, “What about the innocent people who live in some remote village in some far off mountain range? Will they go to hell, too, if they don’t hear?” The answer is No, because innocent people don’t need their sins forgiven. But the Bible tells us that since Adam sinned, there are no innocent people. Everybody is guilty and everybody needs their sins forgiven if they’re to enjoy life with God. Only Jesus is innocent. But he was crucified for the guilty that they might stand before God as though innocent, cleared of all our sins. That’s why we scatter in Fort Worth and scatter to the nations. God intends to forgive people’s sins when they hear the name of Christ.
And knowing all we’ve been forgiven, how could we not scatter to tell others where forgiveness is found? So, if this is the pattern of the early church, to gather for strengthening each other and then to scatter on mission, how might we start looking more like that? Just some suggestions to you thinking and praying and strategizing together.
What would it look like for your care group to gather and scatter? Could you target a particular neighborhood, maybe even a couple of streets, and set goals to meet people of peace in order to share the gospel with them—perhaps even start a Bible study in their home? What would need to change in your schedule to make disciples of the people on that adopted street, or maybe even apartment complex? We’re either scattering to make disciples or we’re disobedient folks. So, what might that look like for your group? Pray about what your role will be in scattering to your neighbors.
Or maybe you and your family check out the website, peoplegroups.info, and explore where some of the unreached peoples hang out in your neighborhood—over 300 ethno-linguistic people groups live in DFW alone. And some of them are unreached, meaning less than 2% of them have an evangelical witness. Examine your surroundings. Maybe there’s a Mosque or a temple you might visit. Maybe there’s a particular apartment complex with refugees or an ethnic restaurant or grocery store you could frequent, in hopes of engaging people with the gospel.
Maybe you have an extra room in your house and it looks like hosting a foreign student in your home while they’re in college—using wisdom, of course, and putting appropriate measures of accountability in place. But maybe you’re in a position to minister in this way. Talk to Dan if that’s you.
Dusty Deevers moved to Oklahoma to preach the gospel and see if the Lord would raise up a healthy church in Elgin. He needs help. Might just one family consider joining them? It’s a small town feel. It would look like moving in, getting a job, and then praying and strategizing with the Deevers about how to best reach Elgin for Christ. But if you want to go, let me know.
If you’re compelled to move overseas one day—maybe even to reach one of the 304 unengaged peoples of the world, who have no active strategy to reach them with the gospel in place. Come talk to us as well and ask your care group to start praying intentionally for direction in this area. The Lord certainly gives passion to individuals to go, but the church plays a significant role in equipping you and evaluating when and where to send you—just like they did with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3; 16:10).
So those are some examples of how you might scatter on mission. Take them home with you. Pray about it. Read God’s word. Think strategically about scattering. Ask yourself, “What’s my contribution going to look like?” Moms, your contribution at this season may be raising up children who love Jesus and grasp his global purposes, and then being intentional with the opportunities God gives you—maybe at the park, or in the mall, or while shopping. Dads, do your wife and children have a love for God’s global purposes in Christ because the example you set, the things you talk about? May we not neglect one of the ways the Spirit empowers his people, namely, scattering us to speak the truth of forgiveness to others.
4. Suffer for Christ’s Sake
One last point: the Spirit also empowers the church to suffer for Christ’s sake. As I was reading through Luke and Acts, I couldn’t help but notice that whenever the Spirit fills someone, it doesn’t lead to health, wealth, and prosperity. Some of the most Spirit filled men are those who suffer the most. I’m thinking of men like John the Baptist and Stephen and Peter and Paul. At some point in the story, we’re told that each of these men are filled with the Spirit (Luke 1:15; Acts 4:8; 6:5; 9:17), and it’s not too much further that we read of them suffering greatly (Luke 9:9; Acts 5:40-41; 7:54-60; 9:23).
What becomes evident is that to be filled with the Spirit is actually to live like Christ in taking up a cross. You see, Christ himself was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:18); he even had the Spirit without measure, John’s Gospel tells us (John 3:34). And, out of love, he suffered and laid down his life for our sins. The same Spirit—the same Spirit of Christ—now lives in the church. And the Spirit fills the church, so that the church looks like Christ. In other words, we’re not empowered to escape suffering, we’re empowered to endure suffering for Christ’s sake. We’re empowered to follow Jesus on the Calvary road of self-sacrificial love, and that will bring us suffering.
The Spirit will lead us to deny ourselves certain pleasures in this life, and that will bring some measure of suffering. The Spirit will lead us to give our money sacrificially, so that we feel it when we help others, and that will bring suffering. The Spirit will lead us to speak of Jesus even when the setting means you’re going to look weird and unpopular, and that will bring suffering. The Spirit will lead you to be uncompromising in your social ethics—decisions about marriage, abortion, lying to employees or customers—and that will lead to suffering.
How does Peter say it? “Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14). The sufferings for Christ’s sake are proof that you’re real. They’re proof that the Spirit is giving you an unflinching commitment to Jesus even when the world is hostile to him and to his message and to the way he commands we live.
It’s at this point that we can take the theology of the prosperity teachers and flush it down the drain. Life in the Spirit is not some kind of triumphalism that lacks the agony of a cross. Life in the Spirit embraces the agony of a cross to see the lost world saved. Yes, some Christians will suffer more than others (e.g., John 21:18-23), but suffering for the sake of the gospel is every Christian’s calling—1 Pet 2:20, “For to this you’ve been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (cf. John 15:20; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim 3:12). It’s our calling; and it’s what the Spirit empowers us to endure in the mission (cf. Luke 12:11-12).
So let this last point sober you, on the one hand, when you pray for God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit will drive you into this sort of lifestyle, then count the cost in following Jesus. But on the other hand, let this point encourage you as well. When you suffer for Christ’s sake, you never have to guess whether you’re going to make it or not. The Spirit is totally capable of helping you endure it. God didn’t leave us to endure suffering on our own. He gave us the Spirit to make us faithful through it.
The Spirit empowers the church to speak the gospel, strengthen each other, scatter to the nations, and suffer for Christ’s sake. If none of these things characterize you, then I would ask that you to consider very seriously whether you have the Spirit at all. If not, turn away from your sins to Jesus. He will forgive you and save you and give you the same promise he gives all his disciples, the Holy Spirit.
Maybe a few of these things are true of you and others aren’t. Maybe some are weak while others are strong. Give thanks to God this morning for his Spirit in you, and then ask him to fill you with more of his power, that you might grow as a Christian and as a church. Then take every confidence that he will enable you to do these things in the mission and for the mission.