|Today’s Readings:||Genesis 1||Matthew 1||Ezra 1||Acts 1|
Thoughts on Acts 1:
Today marks the start of a brand new year. 2014. In the western world, we mark our dates according to the birth of Christ. But I think for me, the truly defining moment of history was not Jesus’ birth, but his resurrection. Don’t get me wrong – I believe 100% that Jesus’ birth – God become man!! – is vital. But what makes Jesus precious to me is his death and particularly his resurrection. For in the resurrection, God has confirmed that Jesus truly is his son. He has authenticated Jesus’ claims to being God. And he has demonstrated that death has been undone in the person of Jesus.
I think Luke recognises that it is the resurrection of Jesus that marks the turning point in history. His gospel finishes with the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and his history of the church begins with the same.
One of the things that I notice most about Acts 1 is how much the Holy Spirit is mentioned. In fact, with the return of Christ to heaven, the role of the Spirit comes to the fore. Which is as it should be. Jesus promised that he would be with us forever by his Spirit. So what do we learn in the first few verses of Acts about the Spirit?
Firstly, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is the gift of the Father. So what’s significant about the Spirit being a gift? Well, for one thing, it means that we cannot earn the Spirit. That might sound obvious, but I think its a big one for us – at least it is for me. If I think about it, the Spirit is the one who confirms our adoption as God’s children. It is by the Spirit that we can cry out Abba, Father. So, when I feel far away from God, I naturally assume that I need to work harder for God to appreciate me. I want to earn the gift of the Spirit. I feel – and this is horrible theology – that if I only work harder, pray more, read the bible more, go to church more, attend more bible studies, be seen to be more religious, even speak to others about Jesus – then God will notice and will send me the Holy Spirit.
And that theology stinks because it totally misses the point of who the Holy Spirit is. He’s not some abstract thing which is handed out to those who prove themselves worthy. No, the Spirit is given to all those who belong to Jesus Christ. By the Spirit, we brought into oneness with the person and work of Christ. His death becomes ours, his resurrection our hope and future. No amount of working can force God to love – force God to choose me – force God to go to great and expensive lengths to rescue me. God has already done that. God sent his Son Jesus who died and rose again for me. On the cross, Jesus said it: It is finished. It’s done. As soon as we turn to Jesus and trust in him as the Father’s Son – the king of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Father gives us his Spirit. A gift cannot be earned.
What’s more, God doesn’t give us the Spirit on a yo-yo string, waiting to yank it up the moment we no longer deserve it. That’s one of the big difference between life Anno Domini and life BC. When we turn our heart and mind and life over to Jesus, we receive the gift of the Spirit. Period. In the old testament, God would empower people with his spirit for a specific purpose. But the Spirit of God could be removed. When Saul rebelled against God, God removed himself from Saul. But in Christ, we need never fear having God remove himself from us. We are not just empowered by the Spirit, we are gifted the Spirit. God gives himself to us.
Our God is the God who gives himself. Jesus gave himself to save us and to reconcile us to himself once and for all. And God gives himself in the Spirit to us to direct our lives to himself, bringing to mind all that Jesus taught. By his Spirit, God is sanctifying us. When we fail, God doesn’t immediately remove himself from us. Because he has given himself to us, he urges us to repentance, prompting us by the Spirit to turn to him and seek him fully.
True, there is such a thing as grieving the Holy Spirit. But I think what I’m getting at here is that God giving himself to us in the Spirit speaks of God’s faithfulness and commitment to us. Wow. That’s incredible. I need to remind myself constantly that God loves *me* enough to give himself to me in Christ and in the indwelling Spirit.
And, if we have the Spirit in us, then we are united with Christ. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is now living within us. That’s what Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8 – that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them. Power to tell people everywhere about our Lord and Saviour.
Oh Lord, thank you so much that you have made a way for us to start afresh. Thank you for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thank you so much for raising Jesus to life. Please, keep the risen Jesus always in my mind. Keep me focused, I pray, on the fact that I have a future that is not determined on my past – but on that of Christ. Having said that, please help me as I start this year to seek after Jesus with every thought and word and deed.
Lord, in so many ways I have failed to do that over the last year. Please forgive me. Thank you that you have given me the Spirit. Please, this year as always – make me more like your son by your Spirit. Thank you that you have totally given yourself to me. Thank you that you will never forsake or abandon me. Thank you that I am yours. Thank you for the gift of yourself.