Fired Up

Portion of El Greco’s
“Pentecost” (c. 1600)

Being a disciple of Jesus in the first century was not easy! As we have discussed in previous posts, some of his teachings were very difficult to follow and some of his actions broke all of the rules of good behavior set by the Pharisees, who were respected by Jews in conservative religious circles.

When he touched lepers, recruited a hated tax collector into his inner circle of disciples, talked with a Samaritan woman, healed people on the Sabbath – these were all actions of an unusual teacher. This rabbi was challenging the religious establishment of his day, with all of their rules and prohibitions about not dealing with the outcasts in society or their neighboring Samaritans, and the disciples had to figure how to be faithful followers.

Then comes the Passover Feast when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowds cheer him and hail him as a political liberator. This seemed to be the time when Jesus would truly become the King of the Jews and together they would break the bonds of Roman oppression. But what does Jesus do? As we discussed in the last post, he withdraws from the crowd, loses all of this momentum, and winds up being arrested, tried and executed.

Before he died on the cross, Jesus promised to send his disciples a “Counselor” or “Helper” and he repeated this promise when he met them following his resurrection as they hid out of fear that they would also be arrested and punished. Of course the disciples were excited when they learned the news of Jesus’ resurrection, but they were still confused about his mission. On the day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, forty days after his resurrection, the disciples were still wondering when Jesus was going to “restore the Kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).

Let’s face it – the disciples were like us. Being a disciple of Jesus in the twenty-first century is also not easy. There are times when I am also confused about what God is doing in this world and how I am to follow his commands, times when I just don’t seem to get it. Having to suspend RAI’s undergraduate program after fourteen years is an example where I thought I was doing what God wanted me to do. Only now am I beginning to see that God’s plan may be much more significant than I understood it to be.

Things changed for the disciples ten days after Jesus’ ascension, when the promise of the “counselor” was fulfilled. At Pentecost, the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit” with dramatic results. No longer would they flee persecution as they had on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were now “fired up” and became fearless witnesses of the gospel of peace!

So What?
  • When facing difficult challenges, we need to remind ourselves that God has given us the power, the strength, to persevere — this is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We can’t make it on our own, but God does not leave us on our own. We have a promised “Helper” and this makes all the difference.
  • The change in the disciples after Pentecost is truly amazing. If you want to study this further, get the book by Professor Michael Green, Thirty Years That Changed the World. Here’s his summary: “Three crucial decades in world history. That is all it took. In the years between A.D. 33 and 64 a new movement was born. In those thirty years it got sufficient growth and credibility to become the largest religion the world has ever seen and to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people.”
  • If you have doubts about your faith or are confused about how to live as a follower of Jesus in our world, don’t be distressed. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, fear is. Doubt can eventually lead to a stronger faith, to a better understanding of God’s Word, if you ask God to help you as he promised through his Holy Spirit.

4 comments on “Fired Up”

  1. John Hays

    Would appreciate hearing more about how ” God’s plan may be much more significant than (you) understood it to be”

  2. JB's Reflections on Shalom

    Greetings, John! What I am wondering about now is this: Was our vision for an undergraduate faith-based liberal arts college in Russia too small? Does God have a bigger plan in mind for RAI? Was the first fourteen years of RACU/RAI just a prologue to something much more complex? I don’t know if I will know the answers to these questions in the near future — or whether I need to just keep moving ahead confident that God can do more than I can think or imagine. Or maybe we will try something bigger and it will fail. Hard to know sometimes, but I am trusting in God’s promises in Psalm 32:8. Shalom! JB

  3. Jerry

    Your post reminds me that with his entry into Jerusalem Jesus was enacting a key Jewish expectation of God’s coming kingdom–that Israel’s God would “return to Zion” to become king and thus rule in the way He always intended. And so it was. And yet, it was not what was expected. He did not become a king of national salvation but of worldwide redemption. He rules as He intended from the beginning, just as Joel and Ezekiel and others foresaw, turning peoples’ hearts from stone to flesh, writing his law on peoples’ hearts not just on their foreheads. Yes! “At Pentecost, the disciples were ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ with dramatic results.” Indeed. We now see his kingdom advancing not just in one nation but in all nations around the world. God’s plan was much more significant than 1st c. Jews (including Jesus’ own disciples) understood it to be (although their ancient prophets had pointed toward it). Who knows. Perhaps now, John, through RAI the vision and mission of RACU can penetrate more effectively Russia’s contemporary society. RAI may be able to touch many more lives through its “focused” programs than RACU ever would have through its liberal arts college frame. RAI may become one of the vessels through which the Lord pours out his Spirit “on all flesh” in Russia and beyond.

  4. JB's Reflections on Shalom

    Thanks, Jerry, but is precisely what I am thinking as well. Maybe there is a bigger plan, a larger vision that will unfold in the next year or two. Like the disciples, I may have been thinking “small ball.” Let’s see where the Lord leads now — I am ready, but trusting God for his leadership since the path is not yet clear to me. Discipleship can be really challenging, especially in times when the future horizon is hazy and hard to see. JB

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