This might seem an odd Advent text, a text more in keeping with Ascension. But as we remember the Lord’s life, we want to remember the beginning at the end, and the end at the beginning. In the blessing of Simeon, Mary was told that her heart would be pierced through, and here, when Jesus departed, He told them that they would be witnesses “unto me”—witnesses of the whole story, as we can tell from the story these men went out and told. When they served as these witnesses, they started with the Lord’s birth.
“And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:7-11).
Summary of the Text
When Jesus came to earth, the shepherds were on the ground, the angels were in the sky, and the Lord Jesus was in a manger. When He left this earth, the angels were on the ground, the future shepherds of the Church were on the ground, and the Lord Jesus was ascending into the sky.
The disciples asked when the kingdom was going to be established, and the Lord told them that it was not for them to know the times and seasons, which the Father kept in His own power (v. 7). At the same time, they were going to receive power when the Spirit was poured out upon them (v. 8). They were going to receive power, not talking points. When they received power, the gospel was going to spread in concentric circles outward, as when you throw a large rock in a pond—the splash was Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then out to the rest of the globe (v. 8). After He spoke this, He was taken up (v. 9). As the disciples were gazing skyward, two men in white appeared next to them (v. 10) and asked why they were doing that (v. 11). Jesus is going to come again, the same way that He left (v. 11).
You can take this passage as almost a table of contents for the book of Acts. The Spirit falls in the next chapter, in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12; 2:1ff). That initial splash reached the men of Judea (Acts 2:14). We see by the ninth chapter that there were churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). The rest of the book takes us out through the rest of the Roman world, with intimations of more to come after that—and here we are, on the other side of the world entirely.
Power and Place
The angels didn’t tell the disciples to hit the road as soon as Jesus left. They were to wait for His divine replacement, the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit of God, when He manifests Himself, is not shy and withdrawn. In the Christmas story, He overshadows Mary so that she conceives, and here He overshadows the 120 in the upper room in Jerusalem, so that the world might conceive. The power and Spirit of God came upon Mary (Luke 1:35), and the power and Spirit of God came upon the disciples (Acts 2:1-2).
Places don’t give you power. Power takes you places. Your spirituality is not a function of your GPS coordinates. The first place it takes you is right where you already are, the way you are. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that becoming a missionary will fix your problems—in many cases, it will only amplify them. Mission-heartedness will address your selfishness problem to the extent that such a heart gives itself away to people here. The power falls where you are first, you see the results of it there first, and then you take the show on the road. Power is in the drive train. Place is just the steering wheel.
The Church and Mission
The church does not do missions; the church is missions. So what is the assigned task? Think about this for a moment. Jesus did not say to go out into the world and get a representative sampling. He did not say to get a smidge from here and a smidge from there. He said to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). How discipled is discipled? Well, how wet is the ocean floor under the Pacific (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14)?
One of the dangers in sending out church planters and missionaries to Judea and Samaria is that this might make you think you can check Jerusalem off the list. But it doesn’t work this way.
You send out church planters and missionaries to establish a foothold or a beachhead in a new place as soon as you have consolidated a foothold or a beachhead in the old place. The fact that we are ministering in places like the Ivory Coast, or are involved in planting churches in other places in the Pacific Northwest does not mean that we have become a sending church in distinction from a mission church. We remain a mission church (as well as a sending church), and we must remain a mission church so long as a mission remains.
Resisting Mission Drift
Mission drift occurs in different ways. One of them is when the mission is redefined. Why are we here? What is the point? The point of the church is two-fold—birth and growth. But if we get our building (as we may in the foreseeable future), how easy would it be for the mission to change, and turn into “pay for upkeep on the building,” “keep attendance at acceptable levels,” and “become a community fixture?” No—building are staging areas for the next offensive. The mission is not done here until there are only three unbelievers left in town, and they are acting pretty worried.