Dispersed Disciples (Luke 24:44-53)

Luke 24v44-53 seed spreader

When we moved into the manse after accepting the call to the congregation we serve, almost half of the backyard was dirt and nothing was growing in it. After some discussions about what we were going to do with the area, we decided to sow grass in it so our children could run around and play in the space.

I had never sown a lawn before, but I knew that I couldn’t just dump all the seed in a pile in the corner of the yard and expect the grass to spread across the dirt patch. Instead, I needed to spread the lawn seed over the whole area. To do that, I bought a seed spreader. This device has a small bucket which holds the seed and drops it into a spinner that spreads it around when its handle is turned. The purpose of this seed spreader is to disperse the seed evenly over the area so the grass can cover the whole patch of earth.

When Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:44-53) he told his disciples that they were going to be his witnesses to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. The way they were going to witness to him was by spreading the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection wherever they went. They were going to act like seed spreaders, bringing the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to people who needed the life Jesus was offering them. They weren’t going to just spread this good news over a patch in their back yard. Instead, they were going to spread it to all the people of the world in the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. This led to the second thing Jesus told them: to remain in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As we read the sequel to Luke’s gospel, the Book of Acts, we start to see how the disciples were able to spread the good news of Jesus beyond their own backyard. There were some individual evangelists such as Paul who played a significant part in spreading the gospel. Another way the gospel was spread was by the people from ‘every nation’ (Acts 2:5 NLT) who heard Peter’s Pentecost message and came to faith. When they returned to their homes from Jerusalem, they took the good news of Jesus with them and spread it in their hometowns as they shared it with others. A third way the disciples spread the gospel was when the early followers of Jesus were dispersed because of the persecution that happened after Steven was killed. In Acts 8:1 we read,

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (NLT)

In his creative power, God even used the persecution of his people to spread the good news of Jesus beyond Jerusalem so others could hear the gospel and find life through faith in him.

As we live with the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 virus, I can imagine that there might be some people who might focus on Jesus’ instructions in this reading to wait. Most of us are probably waiting for life to return to something like normal when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. We can also be waiting for church to return to what we were used to, for the doors of our church buildings to reopen, services to resume, and programs to begin again, pretty much like they were before the restrictions started.
I can understand why people are waiting for these things, but I also wonder if, in hearing Jesus tell his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, we are missing something important in the words Jesus spoke to his disciples.

Jesus told them to wait because they were going to receive the power of the Holy Spirit which they would need to spread the gospel to all nations. When we celebrate Pentecost next week, we can remember that we have already received the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus at his ascension that we can be hearing, then, is not so much to wait, but to witness.

We saw in Acts 8:1 that God can even use a crisis like persecution to spread the good news of Jesus to people who need to hear it. Ever since the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, I have been wondering if God is giving us an opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus to a hurting, fearful and broken world. With our doors closed, our programs stopped and the regular activity of the church put on hold for a period of time that could go on for months, suddenly many of us have much more time on our hands. Can we be using this time to have deeper conversations with family, friends, loved ones and others in person, online or by other means? Is God presenting us with opportunities to care for each other in Christ-like love and give witness to our faith in the life-giving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

Jesus never intended the gospel to be confined to buildings or religious observances held within four walls. Instead, as we listen to the words Jesus spoke to his disciples at his ascension, he commissions us to spread his good news wherever life takes us. As Jesus’ twenty-first century disciples, Jesus wants us to be his witnesses outside of our church buildings and empowers us to give a witness to his life-giving grace and love in our lives and in our relationships through the Holy Spirit. If we are just waiting for the doors of our buildings to re-open and services to resume, then we might miss what is really important in Jesus’ words. He calls and empowers us to be his witnesses by spreading the gospel beyond our backyard like seed spreaders, starting with our families, friends, and other people that we know. The gospel of Jesus is good news for all people! Our ascended King Jesus commissions us to spread his good news wherever we go in the world, to whomever we meet along the way.

Of course, gathering together as the family of God is important for our new life in Christ. We read that in Acts 2:42-47 and discussed it a couple of weeks ago. Is it possible that God wants to use this time to remind us that the place where we live out our faith is not just in our buildings, programs or other activities, but in our lives, relationships and communities outside of the church buildings? It is vitally important that we are not just waiting for the doors of our buildings to reopen or services to resume, but that we are witnesses to the love and life of Jesus everywhere we go.

Let’s use this time and the opportunities it presents us to spread the good news of Jesus wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, so the new life Jesus gives us through the gospel can cover the world.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Have you ever used a seed spreader? Why is it helpful or important? What might happen if you didn’t use one?
  • What is your reaction to Jesus’ disciples being like seed spreaders? Does the analogy work for you? How might you be like a seed spreader for Jesus in your life?
  • As we live with the COVID-19 restrictions, are you waiting for the doors of our buildings to reopen, programs to begin again or services to resume? Or are you looking for opportunities God might present to spread his grace, love and goodness into the lives of others? Maybe a bit of both? Explain why you answered that way…
  • Have you ever pictured yourself as a witness for Jesus? What is your reaction to thinking of yourself as a witness for Jesus?
  • Witnesses usually tell others about something they have experienced themselves. How have you witnessed the goodness, grace or love of Jesus in your life? Who is someone with whom you might be able to share your story?
  • What opportunities might God be giving you this week to be Jesus’ witness by trusting him and showing Christ-like love to someone else…?

You can find a video version of this message here.

God bless!

Dynamic Faith (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

ascension 06

The Apostle Luke gives us two versions of the story of Jesus’ ascension. One thing Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11 have in common is that both of them have Jesus promising his disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit. Christians celebrate the ascension of Jesus because he returned to the presence of his Father in order to be with his followers around the world and throughout time, and to give us power through his Spirit.

We can understand the word ‘power’ in a few different ways. Coming from Adelaide, a lot of people immediately think of one of our local Australian Football League teams, Port Adelaide Power. When many people of my generation and younger hear the word ‘power’ we often think of governments or other authority figures who use their ‘power’ for their own benefit or to control others. However, when the Bible talks about ‘power’ it means something different.

The New Testament word for ‘power’ is the same word from which we get our English words ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamo’ and ‘dynamite’. It means strength or an active force which makes things happen. When Jesus promised his followers that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, he was telling them that he would send them his Spirit to give them the ability or strength they would need in order to do the work he was sending them to do.

There is a lot we could discuss about the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, but right now I want to focus on the task Jesus gave to his disciples at his ascension. In both Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts, Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses. The Holy Spirit was to give them what they needed to witness to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and to bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people.

It is significant that Paul also uses the word for ‘power’ when he talks about what the gospel of Jesus can do in a person’s life. In Romans 1:16 he writes that the good news of Jesus is ‘the power of God at work’ (NLT). In the same way, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes that the message of the cross is ‘the very power of God’ (NLT) for all who are being saved. These passages tell us that the Holy Spirit uses the good news of Jesus to work the power of God in us so we can be Jesus’ witnesses to the world.

The idea of witnessing to Jesus can be scary for a lot of Christians for a range of reasons. There have been a lot of programs and campaigns developed to try to help churches be more effective in our witnessing. I’m wondering, though, based on what Jesus says in the ascension stories, whether being his witnesses might be a lot simpler that we might think it is.

If the gospel is the way God gives us the Holy Spirit’s power, then it seems to me that living in the good news of Jesus would give us Holy Spirit power to witness to what Jesus has done for us. For example, Jesus says in Luke’s gospel that we will bring the message of repentance and forgiveness to all nations. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to receive this forgiveness through faith, then the Spirit would also give us the power to forgive others in the same way. Witnessing to Jesus, then, means forgiving people who have wronged us in the Holy Spirit’s power just like God has forgiven us.

We can witness to Jesus in other ways, too. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to believe that God loves us for Jesus’s sake, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to love others in the way Jesus teaches. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s grace for us in Jesus, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to extend that same grace to others. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done for us, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to accept others in the same way. I could go on and on, going through each of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) or Paul’s definition of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) to show how the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s goodness and the power to display his goodness in our lives and in our relationships.

The ways in which we live our lives and treat other people are much more authentic and effective ways to witness to Jesus than preaching on a street corner or knocking on doors. There will be times when we will be asked to explain why we live in ways that are different to other people (see 1 Peter 3:15) but even then Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say (see Matthew 10:19; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11). We really don’t need to stress about being Jesus’ witnesses because the Holy Spirit will give us the power we need in whatever opportunities God might give to us.

I would encourage anyone who is intimidated by the possibility of witnessing to others to start with the gospel. Where do we need God’s grace in our lives? Are we looking for forgiveness or healing? Are we lacking love, acceptance, hope or something else in our lives? When we find what we need in Jesus, in his suffering and death for us, or in his resurrection from the dead, God encounters us through the gospel, giving us his Holy Spirit and the power we need to witness to Jesus, not as a theological idea but as our lived reality.

Obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about the power of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, but that’s for other times. As we celebrate the ascension of Jesus, it is good for us to remember that we are witnesses to his grace and love in the world. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to both believe in his grace and to live out his grace in all our relationships.

That can be a powerful witness.

More to think about:

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘power’? Does it usually mean something good for you or not? Explain why…
  • What comes to mind when you hear people talk about the ‘power of the Holy Spirit’? In what ways have people told you the Holy Spirit’s power is shown?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to witness to Jesus? Why is that?
  • What do you think about the idea that the way we live our lives can be a powerful witness to Jesus? Would you agree or disagree? Explain why…
  • Believing in the gospel does not come naturally for people, but we need the Holy Spirit’s power to believe. Would you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your thoughts.
  • Sometimes the most effective witness to Jesus we can give is how we treat people and by forgiving, loving, accepting and showing grace to them just like Jesus does to us. Do you agree that we need the Holy Spirit’s power to do that? Explain why…
  • To whom can you witness to Jesus by forgiving, loving, accepting or showing grace in some form to this week? Don’t forget to ask for the Holy Spirit’s power if/when it gets difficult…