I’ve been reading the book of Acts a lot lately. It’s so good! I started reading it again when I was watching A.D. The Bible Continues with my boys. It combines scripture with history and does a fantastic job of bringing the book of Acts to life. It really had my kids wanting to know more about the disciples and what they accomplished, which, is mind blowingly (my made up adverb!) amazing. These 12 guys, (yes 12, for Peter quoted to his fellow brothers of Christ, that Psalms instructed them to find a replacement for Judas so they went and found Matthias) were ON FIRE for Christ and people by the thousands were hearing the words of Christ and giving their lives to him whenever just ONE of them spoke. In a course of a couple of days, the Christian population in Jerusalem went from 12 to thousands!!! These 12 guys are the reason why there are currently over two billion Christians in the world today. And yet, it is not enough. Not when the current world population is estimated to be over seven billion. Let me share with you why.
Acts picks up after the resurrection of Christ. Chapter one starts off recapping what Jesus was doing in the forty days since he resurrected. Acts 1 recounts about a time Jesus was eating with the disciples and what the dinner conversation was about. ” On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my father has promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John was baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5) The disciples, like children, want to know when this gift is coming. Jesus responds that it is not for them to know dates or times but to just be ready to receive the gift and go. Go where? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) And that’s what the disciples did. They went and hung out in Jerusalem as Jesus commanded and waited for the gift promised to them. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine what they must have been thinking and feeling? The Bible tells us it was a few days before the Lord delivered on that gift. How do you feel when you think you have something exciting coming your way, but day after day it doesn’t arrive? The mailbox remains empty. That awesome brown truck with the smile on the box doesn’t appear. Are you depleted, depressed, thinking maybe that gift, it ain’t a coming? Maybe you are cranky and mean. Or sad. They had to be sad. Here they were, missing Jesus, their closest friend, whom they finally understood was the Messiah spoken about in their scriptures, who promised he was sending this gift so they wouldn’t miss Him, and yet, here they were. Waiting. The Lord likes to do that, doesn’t he? Make us wait? But, it’s never in vain; our waiting. And neither was the disciples.
“Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4) Take a moment to picture that. Here, take a gander at the scene as portrayed in A.D.
Can you imagine? I am convinced that this is where that “on fire” or “burning desire” for Christ comes from. When you give your life over to Christ, when you fully admit you are a sinner in need of your Savior and repent, you are instantly filled with peace, but yet have the uncontrollable urge to tell everyone who he is and what he’s done. The same fire of the Holy Spirit that descended upon the disciples two thousand years ago, descended upon us. God, the Father and Son are in heaven preparing a way for us, while God, the Holy Spirit is with us. It’s the coolest feeling, isn’t it? That burning desire that fills us is what equips us to do the rest of what Acts 1, verse 8 commands us to do, to go and spread his word into all the nations.
If you read further into Acts 2, you would find out that the after the Holy Spirit came and filled the disciples with that burning desire to tell others about him, they immediately walked out their door and started to tell people about the resurrected Christ of the scriptures. That Jesus, the man they just crucified the month before, was the Messiah. The one they grew up hearing stories about. And people believed them and they repented. What is so cool about this is that the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost (not a coincidence!) and there were people of every surrounding nations in town to celebrate. Think about what you know about nations. Do they all speak the same language? No! Yet, when the disciples spoke, every person heard them in their own tongue and were amazed at the wonders of the Lord and repented. Thousands from different nations became followers of Christ. Like, hardcore, gave up everything, to follow Christ. “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship (fellowship is so important!), to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe…selling their possessions and goods, gave to anyone in need…praising God and enjoying favor of the people. And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
What do you do when you have good news? You share it with everyone you know. That’s what the disciples did, and the people they told went back to their own nation and told others, and the disciples eventually followed what Jesus told them to do: they left Jerusalem and split up and went to the ends of the earth as it was then, all over the Roman Empire, into all the nations. They didn’t just share with family and friends, or those in their community, they kept going. They spread the message of Jesus everywhere and until their last dying breath. They were on fire for him and filled with love by him and couldn’t help themselves but to share it with every single person they came in contact with, no matter the consequences.
And, boy, were there some consequences. Being a follower of Jesus Christ in the days following his resurrection was not exactly what most people would call a sane decision. You were killed, after you were tortured, before which you were ridiculed and mocked. That’s still true in some parts of the world today, but Christians in America, well, we have it pretty cushy, in the scheme of things, don’t we? We may be ridiculed or mocked, but we aren’t exactly facing death’s door. And yet, the disciples kept going, despite that threat, and many of them ended up dying horrific deaths. Did they have times of discouragement or defeat? Of course! They were merely human, after all.
You may be feeling this way with your relationship with the Lord. It’s there, you are going through the motions, but you just aren’t feeling it, not really. You are feeling discouraged and defeated yourself. That fire you first felt has dwindled to a mere puff of smoke. You’ve got some trouble. Trust me when I say, that you are not alone. Everyone feels that way at some point in their Christian life, even the most dedicated Christian that you know, whether it’s the super mom that sits next to you in church with the seemingly perfect children, the pastor in your pulpit or the famous Christian author or musician that you’ve read or saw in concert and love so much. It happens, that’s the nature of our flawed humanity.
Jesus didn’t say the disciples wouldn’t or that we wouldn’t have trouble. He actually guaranteed we would! “…In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33) Plain and simple. We will have trouble. The disciples knew it and they embraced it. Why? Because they loved Jesus and their love for Him was greater than the love for themselves. They knew their suffering wasn’t in vain. They knew and believed in what He promised them, even in times when their faith was waning, when times were hard. Look what James tells us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of any kinds, the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4) Think about this. The disciples had trials right up until they took their last breath. They were not complete until death, when they were in the presence of their Savior. We won’t be either. However, we can rest in the fact that scripture assures us our trials lead to perseverance, which leads to completeness in Him.
The trick is to not allow that moment of staleness in your relationship with the Lord lead to Satan grabbing ahold of you and causing a permanent break-up with Him. Like any relationship, you must invest in it for it to be fruitful. You invest in your relationship with the Lord by reading your Bible; every day. Praying; every day. Surrounding yourself with other believers; all the time. Remember, what I quoted from Acts earlier? Those first followers of Christ after the disciples, did all these things. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
Friends, I pray that if you are going through some trials, big or small, you take in account the testament of those original twelve disciples. Look at what was accomplished through them, despite those trials. Looked how God used them and their trials to give the disciples hope and joy in their sadness of Jesus leaving them. They knew Jesus, walked, talked and ate with Him, in the flesh. Yet, they suffered for him, joyfully; and because of their perseverance, two billion people know Jesus and death will not separate them from Him. Pray your way and persevere through your trials, asking Him to use you in your situation to further His love and His kingdom. Add to those numbers with your story. Surely, two billion is a lot, but not out of seven billion.
Grab your Bible, maybe turn to Acts, get on your knees and remember, he’s got your back!