The Gospel Is in Our Hands

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by David Sibley

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  (Acts 1:6-9)

I often wonder what it would have been like to have been one of the apostles in the time between Jesus’ Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts is quite clear: right as the apostles were prepared for Jesus to do something big – to restore the kingdom to Israel, to kick out the Roman Empire, to rule as king – Jesus tells them that they know nothing, but assures them that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then… he ascends into heaven. The work of the gospel – which the disciples expected Jesus to complete in one fell swoop – is suddenly left in their hands, and their hands alone. They are given the promise that they will not be left comfortless – that the Holy Spirit will come – but yet still they remain – listening, talking, watching, hoping, praying.

With Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the focus shifts. Before that day, he was bodily present on earth; after the Ascension, the church itself is Jesus’ body in the world. That language we often hear about being the body of Christ – it isn’t a metaphor. It’s a reality. A reality that, ready or not, the apostles had to come to terms with – quite quickly. All Jesus did, all Jesus was to them, all the good news he proclaimed – they were suddenly to be.

The gospel is in our hands. That’s scary to think about, isn’t it? Something so precious, so life-giving, so life-changing – lies in the hands of a rag-tag bunch of people like you and me. Fallible, crazy, folks like Peter, who denied Jesus three times, like James and John who wanted to sit at his left and right hand. I suspect, after the ascension, Peter and James and John knew just how crazy a plan this was that the Lord had – Who, us? Witnesses! The gospel in our hands?

Suddenly, we can understand why the apostles must have prayed so urgently for the Holy Spirit to come. There was witness to give, work to do, disciples to make, the dead to raise, the sick to be healed, lives to be transformed. There is a witness to be given – to the very ends of the earth. They knew they couldn’t do their work alone. Just as we cannot do our work alone. So they watched – and prayed. Listened and talked. And hoped.

We sit on the eve of Pentecost, ourselves preparing to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in once again. We sit with the gospel in our hands, watching and praying day by day for that same Spirit that was poured out upon the apostles, to come into our lives, fill our hearts, stir our minds – and to send us out to set the world alight.

Consider your call to follow and witness to Jesus? Where do you long for the Holy Spirit to enliven your witness? Who is the community you keep around you to be faithful to Jesus? And how do you respond to the call to be the body of Christ to a wanting world?

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