Waiting to find out what is going to happen next in your life can be very frustrating. Some time ago I was talking with a person who had a very difficult surgery. I asked what the most difficult part of the operation was for him. Without batting an eye he said, “Just waiting for the surgery to get started. It was a lot more difficult thinking about it than it was going actually through it and convalescing.”
The disciples had some of these same experiences in the period following Jesus’ resurrection. One day Peter got so concerned about his mental attitude that he just decided to go fishing. And a half dozen of the others decided to go with him. Not knowing what to do next, fifty days was a long time to wait.
God had told them that they were to be builders of His kingdom, but they had a lot of questions in connection with that statement. What would their specific role be? To whom would they go? Where were these people? Were they right there in Jerusalem? In Judea? Might they get out into Galilee? There was no update from God as to when all of this was to begin. But then, suddenly there seemed to be some marching orders.
Jesus had appeared to them during those forty days after the resurrection. He was there to convince them that he was alive. But now they were getting some action. In the first chapter of Acts, you can read words like these: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ÔDo not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (vs. 4ff).
“So when they met together, they asked him, ÔLord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
“He said to them, ÔIt is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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 in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'”
Matthew then picks up another part of the conversation: “And Jesus said unto them, ÔGo and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and lo, I am with you always unto the end of the age.'” Now they were beginning to get some concrete, specific directions. The mission was beginning to be very clear to them.
With this commissioning of the disciples, Jesus also ascended into Heaven.
As far as I am able to interpret, they were on the Mount of Olives, about three-fourths of a mile from downtown Jerusalem where they had their headquarters. In an exciting fashion, they did what the Lord told them to do. They walked back to the center of Jerusalem where they had to complete some unfinished business. They had to elect someone to take Judas’ place. The lot fell to a person by the name of Matthias.
They were now going to used by God. Notice what they had found out: They were going to reach people with the Gospel. Theirs would be a teaching and preaching ministry. They were to go out and tell people the story of Jesus Christ. They were to tell people that all are sinners, but Jesus Christ has come into this world, and by his suffering, death, and his glorious resurrection, he has paid the price for our sin. If we will repent of our sins, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and if we will entrust ourselves to him, he will grant us the forgiveness of all of our sins. That was the Gospel, and they were to proclaim it.
It was only a few days later that James and John, standing at the temple in Jerusalem, were put into prison, because they were preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ! “Jesus suffered and died for you, people! If you want to go to heaven, if you want to be restored into fellowship with God, then it is necessary for you to repent,” these two disciples said. “And you will be His forever.”
They had also found out they were going to get power. A few days earlier those men would not have had the courage to do that. But Jesus said to them, right before He ascended into heaven, “And I am going to be raised up, but you will receive power.” St. Paul put it so well: “You are going to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ, and I am going to make my appeal to this world through you. And (notice this) you are not only going to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, but you are going to go to the far corners of the earth. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone! Everyone. You will be my witnesses, not only in word, but also in deed.”
That was the mission given to the church 2,000 years ago, and it is still the primary mission of the Church. When we depart from that primary mission, we cease to function as Jesus Christ wanted us to do.
We have the mission, and we know specifically what we are to do. Yet, from time to time we depart from it and wonder if it is really true. We get some different interpretations of what Jesus Christ had really said. Then we have to have a reformation. There needs to be an ongoing reformation.
Early in the church, with the Church fathers like Ignatius and others like him, there were all kinds of heresies that surfaced. The constant conflict with these wrong teachings, led the leaders in the Church to formulate a brief summary of the essentials of the Christian faith. That is how the Apostles Creed came into being. It is not believed that it was necessarily written by the Apostles, but it was in that period of time, or shortly thereafter, that the Church had to collect a statement of essentials so that they could say, “This is what I must teach. This is what I must believe, if I want to be ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of the heavens and the earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and he sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
I thank God I belong to a church that uses that confessional statement on a regular basis, for therein are the essentials of the Christian faith. The mission of the congregation is to proclaim that word in its truth and in its purity. If it is not proclaimed, then the person who teaches contrary to it should be relieved of his/her teaching responsibilities. For what purpose? To help him with his own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that society may know what Christianity is truly all about.
We move along to the sixteenth century. Here again we find a bundle of heresies. Human beings had set aside the Word of God and said that it is possible to have the forgiveness of our sins by buying an indulgence. With the right amount of money one could buy their way into the Kingdom of God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It took the reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others who followed to say again and again, “Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”And that has not changed from the day that Jesus Christ walked among us on this earth. Whenever that primary teaching is disturbed in one way or another, that voice must be quieted.
There is a need for an ongoing reformation in the Church of Jesus Christ. For the heresies, or wrong teachings, continue to present themselves, and we depart from the Word of God. We are human beings. We need the Word of God and the confessions of the Church to tell us when our ideas are not Biblical.
I have a good friend, who at one time was a very evangelical Christian. Today he still believes that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. However, he believes that since He died for everyone, therefore everyone is saved. This heresy is what is know as christo-universalism.
That is not true. For the Word of God says clearly that only those who believe are saved. The price has been paid, no question about that. However, you and I, empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit, have to receive Jesus Christ.
If a pastor believes christo-universalism, he has little to talk about in the pulpit on Sunday morning. Everybody he is talking to is saved! What is the challenge?
We take this a bit further and say that if you have been baptized, you are saved. Jesus did say that we were to go and baptize. Baptism is his sacrament, and we thank God for baptism whereby we enter into the Kingdom of God. But we can walk away from God. When I used to preach to a couple thousand people on a Sunday morning, I knew full well that many of them who were baptized had walked away, and they needed to return to the Christian faith. They needed a conversion.
The mission of the Church is to bring people back to Jesus Christ. Any heresy that departs from it must be dealt with, and we haven’t been dealing with it very well in the last few generations. The results are that those churches in mainline Protestantism that put in their own interpretations on the Word of God have not shown very much growth.
I sometimes wonder what our children are hearing in Sunday school. There was a day when we had monthly Sunday school teachers meetings. We went over the lessons and the emphases for a given Sunday. Today we just beg people to come and teach. We have no understanding at all of what they are really teaching and what is going on in that classroom. There are no teachers’ meetings.
But here is the good news: Where it is still faithful to its marching orders, the Church is growing by leaps and bounds. It is dynamic!
God has given us marching orders. Teach, baptize, go and tell the world. That’s what the church on the corner is all about. That is what the cathedral churches are all about, and if they are proclaiming these truths, people are in the pews.
The writer of the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change, nor do His marching orders to the Church change. So the frustrated believers of those first forty days after the resurrection were beginning to get excited and organized. Ten days later at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday, the Church was empowered with the Holy Spirit, and it went out and did the work of the Lord.
No we can’t convert anybody, and we can’t build His Kingdom. But we can be the agents who go with the message. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, great things can happen. The Church is not dead as long as it holds dearly to the mission it has been given by Jesus Christ, our crucified, but risen Savior.