We're committed to the Great Commission, but there are so many obstacles, and the church is genuinely weak. Even when our sin doesn't hamper us, we lack manpower and money. How can we expect to complete our mission? We can'tnot, at least, if we rely on ourselves.
But Acts 1 points us outside ourselves: "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen" (vss. 1-2). The "first book" is the gospel of Luke (cf. Luke 1:1-4). It relates what "Jesus began to do and teach," in his humiliation. By "his suffering" (Acts 1:3), Christ accomplished his people's redemption. And so God highly exalted him. Acts relates what Jesus continued to do and teach, in his exaltation. The exalted Christ himself carries on his work, and in doing so he uses his church as his body (his feet, his hands, his voice). This is the real power behind missions! Each step in his exaltation gives his church a reason to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God.
First, Jesus Christ rose from the dead: "To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs" (vs. 3). This is at the heart of the Christian faith: our Savior is alive! Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead. Jesus lives!
Second, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven: "And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (vs. 9). Our living Savior is at the right hand of the Father, ever serving as our great Prophet, Priest, and King.
Third, Jesus Christ poured out his Holy Spirit in fullness: "To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'" (vss. 3-5).
What did Jesus teach during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension? He taught about the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit. These aren't two distinct topics; they're two aspects of the same topic. The Old Testament predicted that God would establish his messianic kingdom, and one feature of this kingdom would be a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the apostles misunderstood: "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' " (vs. 6). The apostles expected an earthly, political kingdom.
But Jesus graciously adjusted their expectationsand ours: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (vs. 8). Jesus didn't promise earthly power; he promised spiritual power. Political, economic, technological, and military power is too weak to advance God's kingdom. You see, his kingdom is not of this world; it's Christ's rule from heaven. He rules in human hearts. He rules through the agency of his Holy Spirit, who works by and with the Word. Therefore, he advances his kingdom by using witnesses (vs. 8; cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5).
The apostles hoped that Christ would make their nation great. But Jesus replied that the Holy Spirit would empower them to bear witness "to the end of the earth," to all nations. His kingdom has an international scope and a missionary aim. But the apostles were impatient. They asked, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (vs. 6). Jesus told them not to speculate. "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (vs. 7). Mind your own business. The timetable is God's business. Meanwhile, until the Second Coming, our business is to keep spreading the gospel across ever-expanding vistas.
Then Jesus ascended to heaven. But he left us with a great hope, a fourth reason to expect and attempt great things: Jesus Christ is coming again: "And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (vss. 10-11). Christ is coming again! He's coming to judge the living and the dead. He's coming to complete his saving work and to usher in eternity.
Pursue the Great Commission, and note that our Lord does not call us to do so in our own strength. Rely, not on human resources, but on the real power behind missions! Rely on Jesus Christ, our living Savior and Lord!
The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education and the editor of New Horizons. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2003.