In the final verse of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, the gospel writer asserts that those who heard these words of Jesus were “astonished”. It seems they found him not merely different but abundantly more than they had known—“he taught them as one having authority” (Mt 7:29).
What I have found to be true more than once is that a great deal of those (both then and now) who initially regard Jesus as “astonishing” or “amazing”, “transformative” and “fresh” turn out to be a crowd of a different sort. Somewhere along the line they are exposed (and often times we are too) for being a skeptical following utterly offended at his healings, righteously appalled at his dinning with sinners, and completely outraged by his claim to be the Messiah of God. Whether it’s the practical implication of Jesus’ words or the intimate weight of Jesus’ presence, sooner or later a certain reluctance arises in our soul—“the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 7:17). His authority is what we marvel over. His authority over us is what we ultimately resist.
What I have learned to accept over the course of seasons is that miraculous wonders and passionate sermons can not overcome a person’s will. The sovereignty of God does have its limits; Jesus can’t do everything. Even with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18) the most our Lord can do is invite us to follow him and weep for us when we don’t. The full admission of this is found not in his ministry efforts that follow this beloved Sermon on the Mount, but in the sermon itself. It is made clear for us in the parable of two different kinds of builder: one who builds on rock and one who builds on sand; one who is waked by solidarity and roused to action and one who remains cynically unmovable in the path of gathering rain—”everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man” (Mt 7:24).
A wise man is not seeking wisdom; he is looking for the Spirit of God to show him who is and how he ought to live. A wise man understands he’s in over his head and comes right out with it. He confesses sin. Jesus says, “I am here to help. I am the way you should live, and that is the truth” (Jn 14:6). We all know that to take Jesus at his word here means willful repentance and obedient faith. It has to be. Jesus did not come into the world to astonish us with good advice, but to pull us up out of sinking sand. It is the immense depth of his relentless love that presently allows us to choose his rescue or not, to grab his outstretched arm or remain indifferent. This is all he can do; he is righteousness and justice, the foundation of the world.
ACTS 2:1-15 — Declaring the wonders of God There is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15. And rightfully so; these verses describe the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Jesus predicted the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church, describing it as both the “promise of my Father” and “the gift of my Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). In the power of this promised gift, Jesus’ followers (Christians) would live, abide, and minister in the world until his return. And while there is much more to say concerning the empowerment of the Spirit and Spirit-filled/led living, the focus of this piece is to look at one of the most amazing observations of this Acts 2 passage which seems so readily overlooked—“we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11).
ACTS 2:1-15 — Scripture Passage v1) When the day of Pentecost came, the believers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. v5) Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. And when this sound rang out, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking his own language. Astounded and amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it then that each of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongue!” v11) Astounded and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Still, others mocked them and said, “These men are drunk!” But then Peter stood up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and addressed the crowd: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen carefully to my words. These men are not drunk as you suppose. It is only the third hour of the day! No, what you see and hear (what you are witnessing) is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: Quick Recap — What leads up to Acts 2. 1. What Jesus began to do. The author of Acts (the gospel writer Luke) first acknowledges “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up into heaven” (Acts 1:1). And what is important to note, right out of the gate, is the subtle directive of Jesus to his church that we will continue to minister as he did while he was still in the world. The gospels describe how Jesus began to minister the work and will of his Father in and around Palestine. Acts describes how from Jerusalem in Judea to the ends of the earth, the church (the body of Christ) will now continue that ministry—to witness God in the world. 2. But wait! Before we do anything in Jesus’ name, we must wait. Before we continue the ministry Jesus began while he was here in the flesh, we must first “wait for the gift of the Father… for you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:4, 1:8). What is equally important to note, right out of the gate, is the emphatic reminder that we do not minister the witness of Christ apart from the Holy Spirit. Jesus ministered the kingdom in the favor of his Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus (Christians), we too minister in the favor of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. 3. Now what? Now we witness Jesus. We witness Jesus in that we image him. We witness Jesus in that we reflect him. We witness Jesus in that we testify of our experience of him. “You are witnesses of these things” Jesus says, “and you will be My witnesses” (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). What this looks like at Pentecost the moment the Holy Spirit is poured out is often overlooked, buried under a tangle of debate about manifestation. Manifestations of the Spirit’s work among the church deserves careful study and good discussion, but perhaps not before we seriously undertake Jesus’ initial identifier: you are witness of me. We witness Jesus! We expose him so-to-speak. We image Jesus by our conduct. We reflect Jesus in our character. We testify of Jesus as our hope of life because He indeed lives! We declare his wonders on the earth.
ACTS 2:11 — Witness and the wonders of God As I said previous, the focus here is to look at one of the most amazing observations of the Acts 2 passage and briefly examine how it speaks so clearly to the issue of Christian witness. Quite simply, the scripture says: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). These words are not only clear but emphatic. They are stated clearly because they were so clearly witnessed. Something happened. Those who gathered saw something. Those who gathered heard something. A sign that we belong to Christ is that we declare the wonders of God. A sign that the righteousness of Christ has been established in our life, that the Spirit of God dwells in us, is we proclaim the wonders of God. The evidence of a baptism in the Holy Spirit or Spirit-filled/led life is that we testify to the wonders of God. Of anything else we know of Luke as author, historian, co-laborer of Paul, is that he is a meticulous note-taker. He seems to be showing us that of anything else that happened on the day of Pentecost, worship, praise, thanksgiving, declaration is an immediate response to the Spirit being poured out, an immediate response to our yielding to the Spirit’s lead. If this is true, then it follows that Christians will talk less and less about what’s wrong with the world and more and more about reconciling power of the resurrected Jesus. It follows that Christians will talk less and less about the difficulties of life and more and more about wonderful, mighty, enduring works of God! A sign of our Christian witness is we declare the wonders of God.
ACTS 2:11 — Tongues and so much displaced emphasis When I say there is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15, I am here referring to endless debates over the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). I am not here implying that such debate is senseless or fruitless; these scriptures are rich and provide a basis for doctrinal position. But I do suggest there is much displaced emphasis on disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues (vs) the message their tongue brings to bear. That is to say, the method of delivery over the content of their witness. Here is where we get lost in the weeds. Opposing schools of thought over-emphasize exactly how speaking in tongues was and is expressed. Differing camps over-emphasize what exactly the gift of tongues means for the Church’s ability to witness Christ effectively. Sadly, faith-filled churches and even whole denominations over-emphasize who aligns with who on what side of this issue. On the contrary, the real emphasis here is the content of our witness. What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God? Speaking in tongues is certainly a gift. A miraculous gift in fact. I can only imagine the sign and the wonder it was for those gathered around our Lord’s apostles on the day of Pentecost. But gifts and miracles, signs and wonders do not transform human hearts. The Spirit of God does. Only He can. That is the point.
ACTS 2:11 — Your testimony of the wonders of God The content of our witness is key! What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God, the wonders of God, the mighty works of God? Is there worship in our conduct, praise on our lips, thanksgiving in our hearts? What are we witnesses of in this ministry Jesus began so long ago? The term witness (martyra, gk.) used by Luke over and over again in the book of Acts directly implies first-hand testimony in the legal sense, the kind of implication applied by someone investigating a significant incident. Whatever did happen regarding the historical Jesus, surely someone must’ve seen or heard something. Over and over again, Luke calls to the figurative witness stand eye-witness testimony of the greatest miracle in all the earth: “that the Christ would suffer and be killed, and then rise from the dead on the third day, that in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations” (Luke 24:47). For those who declared this wonder of God throughout the first-century world, something really had happened. They had seen it. They had heard it. What they had seen and heard was nothing short of all they had ever hoped. Every one of them hoped to the very end, declaring the wonders of God in their own tongue. We too are witnesses! We image God on earth. We reflect Christ in relationship. We reveal life in the Spirit through genuine love and enduring hope. Each one of us has a story to tell, a first-hand account of the goodness of God. Do not hide your light under a bush. Declare the wonders of God with your testimony. Something’s happened in you; give it away and see what happens!
*[for martyra, gk. see also Luke 24:46, Acts 1:21, Acts 2:31, Acts 3:13, Acts 5:29, Acts 13:29]
I’ve had quite a bit of response this week on a piece I re-posted to Facebook from back in December 2015. I thought I’d share here too. Couple things to note.. First, although the piece does reference New Year resolutions, the overall gist is simply to encourage anyone whoever to keep moving forward, even in the simplest things. And second, I like to think the below list of possibilities are more about practical daily decisions vs ambitious annual achievements. I have no problem with either, except to say that I personally have more success with the former :)
WK 8 – Chapters 16-18 Discussion Questions 1. How does abuse affect some individuals’ ability to abide in community? 2. What is dissociative behavior and why is it important to be aware of this issue in the church? 3. How does spiritual abuse impact a person’s ability to trust the church or church leaders? 4. What should be done to help build trust with individuals who have experienced spiritual abuse? 5. Explain how Jesus went to the cross to identify with the sinned-against. 6. What are some powerful ways social media builds strong Christian community connections? 7. What are some key limitations of social media in building strong Christian communities. 8. What are some positive ways you use social media to build meaningful, healthy, Christian community? 9. What is the most challenging aspect of community for you? 10. What is the most exciting or hopeful aspect of community for you? 11. What are the biggest take-aways from reading this book? 12. How has this book helped you grow in your understanding of the importance of community and the church?
WK 7 – Chapters 15 Discussion Questions 1. Why is it important for churches to have a biblical theology of community 2. What are some ways the church can facilitate biblical community? 3. Why is it important for people to give up on the myth of the perfect church 4. Discuss the difference between knowing the truth and living the truth in community. 5. What are some ways your church can facilitate healthy Christian community 6. Spend some time meditating on how much of your scripture reading and devotional life is focused on individual versus community concerns. 7. What is God saying to you? Actually write down what you hear the Spirit of God telling you.
WK 6 – Chapters 13-14 Discussion Questions 1. What are the ways Jesus ministered through community? 2. Why did Jesus send out the disciples in pairs? 3. How did Jesus share ministry with the Father and the Holy Spirit? 4. What some ways the early church ministered through community? 5. Explain Barnabas’ role in launching Paul’s ministry? 6. Explain how the Scripture was formed through community and relational accountability? 7. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of modern day Christian communication (publishing/ social/ media/ conferences)?
WK 5 – Chapters 11-12 Discussion Questions 1. What is the Moses model of ministry? 2. Why might the Moses model of ministry not be helpful in identifying the mission, vision and values of a church or ministry? 3. What are some reason leaders are protective of the mission, vision and values of the church they serve? 4. What do you think is the healthiest way to discern the mission, vision and values of the church? 5. What are some ways Jesus discipled in and through community? 6. What are some of the community implications of Pentecost and the work of the Spirit in the church? 7. Why do think many people are willing to call Jesus their savior, but reluctant to serve him within the church? 8. Discuss discipleship a a product of daily living versus discipleship through church programs?