The Spirit of Mission
In this message series about the Holy Spirit called Living Under Influence we discussed how the Spirit is setting us free to live the life we were created for and how the Spirit is guiding us. In this blogpost we are going to discuss how the Holy Spirit is involved in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus mission and ministry was the Kingdom of God. He began his ministry with these words: “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15b). And through Jesus teaching, healings and other miracles, He demonstrated what this meant. The Kingdom of heaven came down to earth – and it was wonderful.
During the time of His ministry, He also trained up 12 followers as the future leaders of the church.
The mission and ministry of the Kingdom of God would only start with Jesus, but certainly not stop with Jesus. His mission was carried over to the church.
To understand this clearly, let’s look at a few passages around the Ascension of Jesus.
Matthew 28: 18-20 (NLT)
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus gives His mission and ministry over to the disciples. He was about to ascend into heaven, and with these words carries over the responsibility of the further expansion of the Kingdom of God. But, Jesus says, “I am with you always”. How? Through the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at how Luke describes the scene of the Ascension.
Acts 1:8-11 (NLT)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
So, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the disciples would receive the power to continue to carry out the mission of Jesus. Note those words of the angels: “someday He will return”. We now live in the in-between age, and this is also known as the age of the Spirit. In the time between the first and second coming of Christ, the Holy Spirit is given to all believers to enable them to continue to expand the Kingdom of God on the earth until Christ returns to make all things new.
And this makes all the difference! Jesus is sending us out to go and spread the Good News of the Kingdom, not in our own strength and wisdom and understanding – but full of the power of the Holy Spirit!
The final verses of the Gospel of Mark gives us even more information about what Jesus said before He went up to heaven.
Mark 16:15-20 (NLT)
And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.
The spreading of the Good News about Jesus Christ would not just happen through words, but those words would be accompanied by powerful, supernatural deeds as well! And so, when the disciples started on this mission, they saw a lot of miracles.
But please don’t miss out on one very important phrase here! Jesus says here: these miraculous signs will accompany those whole believe. The supernatural power of the Holy Spirit was not only for the disciples, it is for every single person that believes that Jesus Christ is Lord! That includes you and me as well! Through us, the Holy Spirit wants to do incredible miracles, to confirm the message that we always carry with us, which changed our lives.
We are invited to take part in worldwide, supernatural mission that makes a difference for eternity. Isn’t that exiting?
The Spirit of Mission
I don’t know what your experience is with the work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know how they handled this theologically and practically in the church you came from.
Maybe you come from a cessationist background. They believe that the supernatural power of the Spirit through believers has ceased with the disciples. I’m very sorry to tell you that I believe that this is a deeply mistaken view and not only the Bible but also church history and the everyday life of many believers proves otherwise.
Perhaps you come from a very charismatic background and you’ve seen some things that made you wonder if it’s really from God. I feel with you. Not everything that is ascribed to the Spirit really is from the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t make people weird. People that act weird and say it’s the Spirit, they were weird to begin with. The Spirit does make very average people do supernatural things though, making their witness of the Gospel more powerful. We’ll pick up the topic of spiritual gifts later on in this series, but let me look ahead just briefly.
The Holy Spirit makes very average people do supernatural things, empowering their witness of the Gospel.
The supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit always serves the spreading of the Gospel or the growth of the church. If it serves self-elevation, enrichment, manipulation or show – then it is not of God. This, and of course Biblical support are the two main tests.
Let’s look at a Bible example of how supernatural empowered mission works.
Acts 8:26-40 (NLT)
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.
The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
This is just a wonderful example of the Spirit’s involvement in mission. It is a Spirit-arranged and Spirit-led encounter. All that Philip has to do is to follow what the Holy Spirit already is doing. This is exactly what we are called to do as well.
The Holy Spirit is inviting us to be His partners in the mission and ministry of the Kingdom.
Jesus has sent us out on a mission to expand the Kingdom of God, to share the Good News about Him and to disciple people. We are not doing this in our own strength and wisdom though, but under the guidance and in the power of the Spirit. It is your sensitivity to the Spirit’s voice and your readiness to follow where He leads that will determine your effectiveness – not your determination or any natural ability.
From this story in Acts 8 of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, lets unfold how exactly the Spirit is working in mission, using everyday believers like you, me and Philip, to lead people to Christ.
It is your sensitivity to the Spirit’s voice and your readiness to follow where He leads that will determine your effectiveness.
1) The Holy Spirit prepares mission
It is clear that the Holy Spirit was already busy with the Ethiopian eunuch. He prepared him for this encounter. He was what the Jews called a God-fearing man with a special interest for the Jewish religion. In modern times we’d call him a seeker.
I believe that evangelism works best when you aim to connect to what the Holy Spirit is already doing in the other person. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly trying to get a foot in the door with people, pointing them to Jesus, connecting them to Christians and stirring hearts to long for more in life.
This is why it is so important to pray for the people around you that don’t know Jesus yet. Because through prayer we support the work of the Spirit in them, and we become more sensitive to understand what the Spirit is actually doing in them.
The problem is that, the not-yet-believer is not as eager to listen to the Spirit’s voice as we are. The Spirit is only ‘with’ them, not ‘in’ them. So they may dismiss the voice of the Spirit very quickly. That’s why the Spirit wants to partner up with you. He wants to use you to speak to them in such a way that it will be harder for them to dismiss it.
“Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you every day to people that need to hear from God.”
2) The Holy Spirit compels mission
The Holy Spirit was not only arranging the encounter we read about earlier from the side of the Ethiopian eunuch, but certainly also on Philip’s side. He followed the direction of the Holy Spirit to the chariot. It’s one thing to hear the voice of the Spirit, it’s another thing to also follow it. If you want to hear the Spirit speak, you need to pay attention and also follow His instructions. Then it will become clearer and stronger.
We need to ask ourselves two important questions:
1. Am I listening to the Holy Spirit?
If we are in a conversation, and while I’m talking to you, you are staring at your phone whatsapping with your friends – it’s very likely that I will disengage from that conversation. Are you really trying to hear the voice of the Spirit or are you too busy with other things?
2. Am I willing to follow where the Spirit leads?
There’s a lot of things that can get in the way of you actually following where He leads: pride, shame or indifference. Maybe what we first need to pray for is for the Spirit to uncover and diffuse anything within us that is still in the way for us to follow where He is guiding us to.
3) The Holy Spirit empowers mission
When you read through the book of Acts, you can see how the spreading of the Gospel is empowered by the work of the Spirit. Healing the sick, casting out demons, even dead people raised – these things happened in the ministry of the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Some people have suggested that the book of Acts should not be called “Acts of the apostles” but rather “Acts of the Holy Spirit”. I think the point of the whole book is that the two go hand in hand. When the apostles followed where the Spirit led and moved in the power of the Spirit, they became effective in reaching people with the Good News.
I don’t believe that the purpose of the book of Acts is to just tell us about great things that happened back then, but to inspire us to go out and see the Spirit at work in our own lives as well.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV) Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
God is involving you and me in His supernatural ministry! When is the last time you prayed for something that could only happen in a supernatural way? I long for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my life, my family, this church and in this city. What about you?