Friday, 15 May 2009

Acts of Power

Not only is the church given a message to proclaim – it is also given a mandate to display acts of power in the Name of Jesus. Let’s begin by looking at how the power of God is recorded in scripture. Genesis begins with the most understated display of God’s power – Creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.... And with this simple introduction we are brought into the presence a God who is so awesome in power that all He has to do is speak and things come into being. It is what the theologians called creating, ex nihilo, literally, out of nothing. Needless to say, God was not obliged to create the world. He was not constrained by anything within Himself or by anything outside of Himself. His only motive for creation was to share something of His own perfection. It was an act of love. He also preserves the world by the same almighty power that brought it into being, Heb 1.3.

I call it understated because it only occupies one chapter, two if you include the more detailed record of man creation in chapter two. No detailed scientific explanation is offered, that will be for future generations to try and figure out. The one thing that God wants us to know is that He is the originator of all things. He needs no help, no contribution and no advice. And in the mystery of creation we are told that, “His invisible attributes are clearly seen.....even His eternal power and Godhead”, Rom 1.20. The psalmist declares that, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows forth His handiwork”, Psalm 19.1-6. The voice of creation is a language that is universal and understood by all.

It is this power that is referred to over and over again when God is introduced, especially to those who don’t know Him; Abram to the King of Sodom, Gen 14.22; Jeremiah to wayward Israel, Jer 32.17 and Paul at Mars Hill, Acts 17.24. It is the first article of faith of The Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. So it has first place in both the Bible and the faith of the Church. At the end of sixth day, with the creation of man and woman, God designates His work as “very good”. I take this to be a reflection of His nature. He is good and therefore what He makes is good. Further, what He intends for those who occupy His creation is also good. All the trees in the garden where good for food, accept one and God warned Adam about it – His goodness did not leave him in ignorance. But with the entrance of sin came chaos and death. Within 6 chapters the world is finally judged with a flood and God begins again. Here is how Dr. Richard S. Hess Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow puts it:

The solution for mankind and the world could only be found in a new creation in which God would restore the lost order of the first creation with the same creative power with which the original creation was set into motion. This began to occur as God called and created a people in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. He ordered this people with His own laws and sought to guide them through history. The same word for creating the world is used in Isaiah (chapter 40ff) to describe the creation of God’s people and his re-creation of them after punishing them with temporary exile.

God’s power is not only demonstrated in creation, it is present in redemption. This is the word used in the Bible to describe how God went about freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It is picked up by the NT writers to describe our deliverance from the power of sin, Gal 3.13; Rev 5.9; Eph 1.7. It literally means; to buy back. He did this with awesome displays of power that left no-one in doubt as to who the God of Israel was. Each plague was a challenge to the gods of Egypt. One by one they fell until the Egyptians acknowledged the greatness of the God of Israel. This became a prototype of how He saves people today. He takes on the powers that enslave us and through Jesus they are nailed to His cross, Col 2.14-15. Their power is broken through His selfless sacrifice.

Paul exalts in this when he talks about the resurrection, Eph 1.19-23. He sees this as the greatest demonstration of God’s power, because it breaks the power of death, Heb 2.14-15. Death is a daily proof to the world that we live in a fallen and broken world. Yet, through the resurrection, Jesus is exalted to the highest place of honour and authority. In that place He now acts as head of the church. His authority is now extended through the church.

Let’s unpack this text in Ephesians; “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,” Think about that. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is working towards us who believe. We must have faith. That’s what it means to believe. They are the same word in the Greek. When we are in a place of faith then we are positioned to receive God’s power; power that is described as, exceeding, great and mighty. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus is that they would know this power in their lives, Eph 1.17-18.

It was while Paul was in Ephesus that Luke records all the unusual miracles that were worked through his ministry, Acts.19.11-12. Luke goes on to tell the story of the seven sons of Sceva who tried to copy Paul’s deliverance ministry. Though they failed, the outcome was that many believed and renounced their occult practices and turned to the Lord. Clearly this was a demonstration of the working of His mighty power.

This power is seen in the NT as the breaking in of the age to come, Heb 6.5. The age to come is when Jesus will reign as King and has put an end to all rule and authority, 1Cor 15.24-26. But we can taste and experience the power of the age to come now; for the Kingdom of God is, “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”, Rom 14.17. His reign is present now, in the Holy Spirit. This is why there are so many encouragements in the NT to be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5.18. And it is a repeatable experience. The same group who were filled in Acts 2 met for prayer in Acts 4 and were filled again, vs31. The outcome was bold witness.

In Eph 5.18 Paul uses the present continuous tense. We could better translate the verse by saying be, continually being filled. Further this is in the imperative mood. This means it is a command. You have to obey it or you are being disobedient. Just as we are commended to pray so we are commended to be filled with the Spirit. One last thing about the Greek here; it is in the passive voice. This means that we cannot fill ourselves. God has to do it. All we can do is position ourselves to be filled. That’s what they did in Jerusalem. They were with one accord and prayed. Again in Acts 4 they came together in unity and prayed. They asked God to act – and He did.

Let me encourage you to position yourself to receive a fresh filing of the Spirit. How will you know it has happened? There were the dramatic signs in Acts, earthquakes, shaking and prophecy. But Luke says the ultimate sign was their bold witness to the name of Jesus followed by acts of power, miracles, signs and wonders. Remember, the same power that conquered the grave lives in you. Let me focus on three things the power of God enables us to do.

He helps us to live righteously. Without the Holy Spirit we are powerless to overcome sin. It is only our new nature in Christ that can overcome the power of the enemy. In Rom 8.1, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death”. The power of the law of sin is superseded by the power of the Spirit. Planes don’t fly because gravity is suspended. They fly because planes are designed to take advantage of the law of aerodynamics. The new law supersedes the old one, and tons of metal remain in the air, despite gravity. So it is for us. We still have bodies of sin, prone to temptation. But we also have the life-giving power of God to draw upon. Our victory is always, through the Lord Jesus, Rom 8.37; 1Cor 15.57; 2Cor 2.14.

The book of Acts opens with Jesus final farewell to His disciples. They are told to wait, “for the promise of the Father”, Acts 1.4. He is of course referring to the Holy Spirit. They have already been commissioned to go in His Name, John 20.21; Matt 28.19-20. But before they are to begin their mission they need power. Notice that this power is in order to witness. It is missional. The Holy Spirit is not given to make us feel better, though that may be a by-product of being filled with His presence. He is given in order for the church to fulfil the great commission, witnessing to Jesus in every part of the world, with power and authority.

The Spirit empowers us to also do the works of Jesus. John 14.12, Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. Notice how Jesus connects the greater works with His return to the Father. This is because once seated at the right hand of God He poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. Now we too can do what He did. It is described by Jesus as greater because it is the whole church worldwide doing what Jesus did. It is no longer limited to one man and His few disciples. It is now a worldwide movement – the body of Christ.

As you begin to expect God to move through you, position yourself through prayer to receive a fresh filling. Don’t settle for anything less than your full inheritance. And remember, the power of God is most active at the circumference of the church; the place where the church is extending itself into new territory or reclaiming lost territory. If you want to taste and see God’s power in a manifest way, then be willing to visit a country where God is moving. Live as they do for a while. It will wean you from an overdependence on Western comfort and convenience that often stifles faith. It may even take you to a new place of expectation for what God can do through you - right where you live.