Lesson 3: Not humanly possible.
That I've titled the three blogs this week Discipleship 201 wasn't meant to diminish the life-long learning Jesus intended for his followers. My intention was to underscore the advanced learning the disciples received during the forty days they were with him after the resurrection. It's certain they later advanced to the 301 and 401 levels too, what they were taught by the Holy Spirit after his ascension, and the final classroom each of them attended, with the exception of John, when they experienced fellowship with Jesus' suffering. From another angle it was a personal confession. Discipleship 101 has been a fifty-five year course of study. Now I pray, like many others, to advance in my intimacy with him.
Many would find three or ten other lessons in their forty day fast-track. Perhaps my choice of these three are self-expressions too. In those forty days he taught them about the Kingdom of God, about obedient waiting, and now, the final lesson. After three years of preparing them to go, preach the gospel, work while there's daylight, and so many other action oriented commands and images, he told them to wait in Jerusalem. He wanted them to wait for "the promise of the Father" (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4 ESV) and promised they would "receive power when they Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8, ESV). They needed to learn that they were going to be involved in something not humanly possible. Those men had to learn that the mission he had called and prepared them to fulfill wasn't something mere humans could accomplish.
Teaching the Book of Acts in New Testament Survey at Charleston Southern University this semester has stretched Acts 1:8 in my mind as never before. To understand, even at the most basic level, how the men Jesus had chosen and prepared could navigate the scope of that world in such short order is truly supernatural. Doing some background study on the travel modes of the first century world and the lengths to which they extended the gospel by the end of Acts 28 raises my grasp of their need for power from on high. Surely God used mere humans. But, as the text of Acts affirms, they were equipped not only to proclaim the Good News with power but also to endure the rigors and trials of every day. And, all the opposition and resistance too.
It may also be an indictment of powerless churches and Christians today. Get real. We've got our systems, fabulous facilities, social media, wired worship centers, holograms, slick tag lines, live and on-line education, contextualization, mission statements and trips, instant messaging, and power packed coffee. But, the spiritual trend lines of our nation are in a down turn. Could, in fact, the reason that so many languish in Discipleship 101 be that we're always attempting to do what is not humanly possible with only what we bring to the process, which, though culturally impressive, isn't all that much? I mean, isn't Discipleship 101 about self denial, the lameness of our ingenuity and brain -power, the futility of human mechanics against principalities and powers, the reality that even our right stuff can't fix what is wrong in our world?
So, are we praying for Pentecost to happen in 2017, an outpouring of God's Spirit to lift his church into that realm of spiritual enterprise? Perhaps. But, you know what? If the people at Pew Research are anywhere close to being on-point with their numbers, 70.6 million of our citizens are already professing Christians (let's debate that number later). The truth is he's already living in us and we're already equipped by the Spirit for this work that is not humanly possible. It may be a lesson that we've not learned. And, that may be why so many of us are stuck in Discipleship 101.
Jesus taught them for forty days. They learned about the Kingdom of God, obediently waiting on God, and that the mission he gave us is something that is not humanly possible. These forty days I'm praying Paul's prayer about being strengthened with power through the Spirit---
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in
heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may
grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and
grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is
the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that
surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to
him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,
according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in
Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3: 14-21, ESV
Will you join me?