So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
It is critical, before setting out on your journey as a cross-cultural gospel witness, that you are persuaded. If you are not convinced, you will not sustain. There must needs be a deep persuasion that God has a great plan, that each child has a part to play, that all of Scripture and all of history point to the sovereign inexorability of the Lordship of Christ among all peoples. Certainty in this matter leads, not to arrogance, but rather to resilience, determined plodding, purposeful living. The fruit of such persuasion is a seeking first of the kingdom, a willingness to sacrifice and risk and suffer. “I am persuaded,” says Paul, “ that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39). To be persuaded is to be imperturbably whole hearted in devotion and single minded in obedience. Once the treasure in the field is glimpsed, everything one has can be joyfully sold.
Persuaded that the Father has a plan (verse 7)
In Acts 1, before his ascension, Jesus affirms to the disciples that the Father has a plan. He makes it clear that, although mortal men are not privileged to know the times or seasons that have been fixed, there are, nevertheless, fixed times and seasons. God, who knows the end from the beginning, has timetabled all things according to his own desire and will. Nothing happens without his say-so. All things, whether cosmic, political or personal, are the work of one author, are movements in one symphony, are episodes in one story.
An unshakeable confidence in the sovereignty of God, friends, is great foundation for a missional life. To know that He is in control, and to know He that is in control, delivers us from fear. We know that fruitfulness ultimately rests in his hands. We know that at the end of our faith is still grace, that underneath are the everlasting arms, that our times are in his hands. Ours, then, is a joyful surrender, an excited obedience, a restful trust.
Persuaded personally (“but you…”) (verse 8)
Jesus does then personalise his answer. He tells the disciples that, though they may not be privy to detailed information about God’s strategy, still they will receive power by the Spirit, and they will be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
To be persuaded that God has a great plan is to be persuaded that his chosen ones, all his redeemed, each have the honour of a personal role. Each one, throughout all ages and across all nations, has a unique, particular contribution, a responsibility to witness, an opportunity to contribute. Yes, the Father has a plan, and it is worked out through the lives of all of his children.
To be persuaded, even without a personal supernatural call or vision from heaven, is be absolutely convinced that you are not a child of God by accident, that you were imagined, created, placed and timed to perfection, ‘his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Persuaded about uncertainty (“it is not for you to know…”) (verse 7)
Persuaded does not mean arrogant. It does not mean cocky. It does not mean indestructible, or exempt from suffering, or straightforward. It does not mean you are God’s gift to the world, or more special than your sister or brother. The disciples were mistaken about how God was going to work (“will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”). Very, very mistaken. Imprisoned within their own ethnic story and prejudices, as are we all. Theologically miles off the mark, as are we all.
Persuaded does not mean dogmatic, does not mean brittle and inflexible, dos not mean unfeeling or un-open to persuasion. Jesus makes it clear that, though we be wrong on many of the details, limited by our puny brains, our partial revelation, our ever-narrowing traditions, yet even so are we persuaded of his sovereignty, and of our part to play.
Persuaded, but still lots of space for mystery, for darkness, for surprise, for pain, for enigma. We need to know, right at the beginning of our journey, that there are many things we will never understand, a gap bridged only by trust in a loving Father.
Yes, postmodernism helps us to soften our certainty, to interrogate our blind spots, to critique our cultural and national narratives which are so often indistinguishably entwined and aligned with the great narrative of Scripture. But postmodernism does not, must not, actually can not undermine our persuaded-ness.
Persuaded that the Holy Spirit is with you (verse 8)
The one thing Jesus is determined, at this point, to secure for his disciples is a relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit is at work, obedience will follow. Where the Spirit leads, his willing disciples walk. In him is power, not just power of healings and miracles, but power to obey when it is hard, power to resit the Evil One, power to smash faulty narratives and prejudices, power to transform and lead the Church into all truth. Only with the power of the Spirit are these things possible, and without him is nothing possible. Through him, however, nothing will be impossible.
This introduces a necessary note of devotion; if we are persuaded of the presence and power of the Spirit, then we will pray. We will pray in the Spirit, we will pray all night and all day seeking the Lord and his power. The mission journey is born in prayer, often achieved in prayer before a willing witness ever embarks on ship or plane.
How about you?
Are you persuaded that the Father has a great, unstoppable plan?
Are you persuaded that each one of his children has a part to play in this plan? How does that make you feel?
Why does such persuasion not make the Christian arrogant? What is it that keeps us humble?
What is your experience of the Holy Spirit? What more are you praying for in your relationship with him?