The Promise of Power
May 16, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Luke 24:44-53 Acts 1:1-11 Ephesians 1:15-23
Whether it’s Jesus or Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman or Fidel Castro, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, there is a common theme that revolves around many of their followers and closest associates. And that theme is often the promise, explicitly stated or dubiously implied, that those followers and associates will be given some sort of power and authority because of their association with the person they are following. While many of those followers may be there because of their idealism, there are always some that are there because of the promise of power.
Of course, we know that Jesus was nothing like any earthly leader, but even so, scripture tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were expecting him to pursue earthly power and for them to benefit from it in some way. Or at least they did so untihol Jesus told them otherwise, but even then, they didn’t really understand what he was trying to tell them. It is at least in part, for that reason that they were so despondent after Jesus’ crucifixion. Any dreams they had of gaining earthly, political power died with Jesus on the cross.
But just because their dreams of political power died, doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have power to give them. There’s no question that Jesus wielded incredible power, it just that the disciples had to understand that power, and the purpose of that power, in an entirely different way than they had before. Luke tells us that Jesus began to prepare the disciples for a transfer of power after his resurrection, and shortly before his return to heaven. First, we read this story in Luke 24:44-53 where Jesus gives his disciples some last-minute instructions:
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
The next to the last thing that Jesus did before he left this earth and returned to heaven, was to promise his disciples that he was “going to send you what my Father has promised.” And so, they stayed in town, they stayed together, and they continued to worship daily in the temple. Clearly, Jesus was reminding them of a promise of God that they had discussed before and it must have been a discussion that they all remembered. But since we didn’t live with them for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, we aren’t quite as clear about which promise Jesus was referring. But the good news for us, is that Luke knew that. Luke knew that when he was describing these events to people who were less intimately familiar with the disciples that more details would be needed. And that is exactly what he does when he writes to his friend Theophilus and describes these same events in Acts 1:1-11 where he says:
1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 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. 5 For John baptized withwater, but in a few days, you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
And in this retelling, we can see details about that earlier conversation. It is here that we see Jesus tell his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift that God had promised and Jesus says that if they wait, as he instructed, in a few days God would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and, when that spirit came, they would receive power so that, as witnesses, they could carry the message of what they had seen to their city, their state, their nation, and to the ends of the earth.
But still, what does that mean. What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit? And what does it mean to receive power when that happens? And what does any of that have to do with us twenty centuries later? And again, Paul provides some of those answers as he writes to the church in Ephesus where he says (Ephesians 1:15-23):
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
According to Paul, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives grants us wisdom, revelation, the ability to know God better, to know hope, and to have the power and mighty strength that God used in raising Jesus from the dead. The promise of power that we have as the followers of Jesus Christ is nothing like the power of politics, earthly kingdoms, and military might. It is far greater than any of those but pointed in an entirely different direction. Earthly power is the power to control and to enslave, but the power promised to us by Jesus is the power to rescue and free the lost and the enslaved. Moments before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that the purpose of God’s power, given to us by his Spirit, was to give us the tools that we need to carry his message of freedom, rescue, hope, and love to our city, our state, our nation, and to the ends of the earth.
This is the real promise of power.
Not control, but freedom. Not earthly wealth, but spiritual wealth. Not for personal benefit, but to give hope to the world.
It was this power that allowed the message of a small, largely uneducated group of followers, in a tiny country that was occupied by a hostile superpower, to grow and spread all over the known world. That power wasn’t limited to a handful of disciples but is given to every follower who puts their faith and trust in Jesus. And it is that same power which is given to us today.
The mission of the church has not changed.
The only question, is if we will use the power that we have been given.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2OgDGwhgWv0
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.