“It is so good to still have you with us Jesus. We thought we’d lost you but here you are in the flesh. Those three days without you felt like an eternity but now that you’ve been with us for about, how long has it been? A little over a month? We couldn’t imagine life without you and we are ready for what comes next. So, me and the guys were wondering when are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel? What was that, Jesus? You’re leaving?”
The most troubling thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ is not his death, not his burial, and not his resurrection. It’s his ascension.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Acts 1:4-9 (NIV)
Jesus prepared the disciples with his teachings and now they would soon receive the power to apply them. Life was good. The disciples were eating together and enjoying the presence of their resurrected Rabbi. What they did not understand was that to restore the kingdom to Israel they needed Jesus’ inner presence.
“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
– Jesus, The Gospel of John 16:7 (NIV)
The disciples could not remain as they were they needed to be changed from the inside out. They could not be content with staying as they were where they were because God was sending his Spirit to send them out as witnesses.
The disciples were like embers. They were like hot coals covered in grey ash, smoldering within a proverbial fire pit providing each other with the warmth of fellowship and the continual hope for liberation from oppression and a new tomorrow. Who could stop them now with an un-killable Messiah?
The disciples were ready to burn Rome or at least drive out their Roman oppressors but God was ready for them to catch fire with gospel.
The fire of the gospel would burn hot in Jerusalem but it would not stop there.
Watching the news, you may have seen the unbridled fires in California insatiably covering billions of forest acres with intense towering walls of flame. The smoke from those fires would place a haze over the Rockies visible from my office window. Wildfires have incredible coverage and impact.
So too the gospel and the kingdom of God!
Each wildfire started somewhere. They could have started with a match at a camp site or with lightning. Sometimes it’s hard to determine how wildfires start. Who did this? What did this?
The world changing gospel of Jesus Christ started somewhere, Jerusalem. It was started by someone, the Holy Spirit. From there it was only catching fire and that fire would cover large territories.
“To the ends of the earth.”
When we think about the church catching fire we can find ourselves jumping to the last part of verse 8. We skip over the spark, the match, the lightning strike. We emphasize what we consider the final destination, the peak of achievement, the far corners of known civilization, all the while overlooking our neighborhoods and our city.
The Holy Spirit’s power is first appropriated to your street.
God sends his Spirit for the life of your city.
He wants to fan the flame of witness in your local church.
If you only see Jesus going to the ends of the earth you may not be a witness for him at the end of your street.
Are you smoldering and ready to catch fire? When our churches catch fire Acts 1:8 burns hotter.
That fire has got to start somewhere to reach someone someplace. It can start with you and it can start with your church.
Holy Spirit, start a fire in us.
What’s at stake if our churches don’t catch fire? How can you turn from an ember to a towering wall of flame?
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