When we are reading scripture, I think its helpful to imagine oneself being on the ground in the story. Like the story when the disciples are sitting on the boat, I imagine myself walking on the water with Jesus towards the boat. I don’t think Jesus was floating above the water in some trance, I reckon He was thinking to Himself, “Any moment now they are going to see me and they are going to lose their minds!” Next moment He hears a scream, “Aha, they saw me!” And because Thomas is a doubtful guy, he is saying that he can believe his eyes and Peter is going to try do something crazy like walk out on the water towards Him.
I think Jesus was incredibly real. He wasn’t some spooky weirdo, he wasn’t some two dimensional pasty faced guy with a halo, that’s not Jesus.
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.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
We try doing this to God sometimes. We think to ourselves, “If I gang up on God, I’ll chat to my wife and we all gather around God we can put enough pressure on Him to do our thing.” But look at how Jesus responds to the pressure. He says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
This is an interesting text because when I go to God, the one thing I want Him to do for me is the one thing He doesn’t do and the two things I don’t trust Him for are the two things He has promised me. I want God to tell me what the future is going to look like. I want to know where I am going to fit in. I want to know what my life is going to be like. So the disciples put the pressure on Jesus, “Is this the moment when you are going to do this?” and Jesus is just like, “Its not for you to know the times and seasons.”
The funny thing is that the two things I do doubt God in sometimes are:
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth
I think we see this more of a suggestion than a command.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you
Our misguided, faithless sad interpretation can often be that we might receive power just in case we ever need to be His witness. But we can mistakenly that this power only comes if I have done enough stuff for Jesus, if I’ve had my quiet time, prayed enough, whatever religious hoop I’ve created to jump through to earn His favour. We find ourselves trying to bargain with God and earn His power but Jesus says that these two things are assured.
Number one, you are going to receive power and number two, you are going to be my witnesses. And so we need to settle this issue today, God is going to send us out. When we look at gifts, what are they designed for?
They are designed to be
No one prepares a gift and then hides it in the cupboard without the intention of one day giving it. However if we are ashamed of the gift we can try and hide it and hope it is never noticed. It is not for me to know the times or seasons but Jesus is going to send me into all the world to be His witness and I will go with power.
As I speak to people about gifting and calling, it seems to be an issue for many. Many are constantly asking what their calling is and what God has for them. Its quite simple actually, each of us have exactly the same calling. Its this: Go into all the world and be my witnesses.
It’s not hard. The tricky part is not what the calling is but rather how we accomplish it. That’s the hard part, that’s what can be confusing because all of us are differently wired. So we understand that God wants to send us out, now the big question is how is that going to happen?
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Now on this issue of gifting, what has fascinated me, is to see how the view in the Church has changed through the years. Back in the 80’s or the late 70’s, there was a big emphasis on gifting. There seemed to be these supermen of God, they did everything bar wear the superman costume and the cape and the undies on the outside. They were awesome, they were the men of power, they would walk into the room and everything started glowing, he was the man of the moment. They had very mature gifting but infant characters and so their foundations were rotten. They were setup by people on these huge pedestals but then they would wipe out morally, financially or personally. When the testing came they couldn’t stand and they fell and took their churches with them.
And now it seems to me that there has been a reversal, a knee-jerk reaction in the church, and now everyone is so concerned about having maturity of character at the expense of gifting. I have to be perfect, I have to have every facet of my life nailed down but we don’t talk about gifting anymore. Because we have come to believe that it is not about that, it’s about your heart.
A church that has all gifting and no character is a time bomb waiting to go off. But a church that has all character and no gifting is going nowhere and accomplishing nothing for Jesus because this text tells us that the gifts exist to mature the body for acts of service. You walk into a church and it’s a nursery full of baby Christians but then you walk back in two years later and it’s the same age babies only now there are more of them and we con ourselves into believing it is growth! Some babies have rolled away in the pram but no-one noticed, as long as they were replaced by other babies.
Until we understand that God has very specifically given gifts to the church to mature the saints, we will remain immature and one-dimensional. God doesn’t need us but He certainly wants to use us. I would go so far as to say that while God doesn’t need us, the church most certainly does. I don’t get to hide away and not function, its not humility, its selfishness and immaturity.
Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory had the following to say about gifts:
The entire institution of gift giving make no sense. Let’s say that I go out, and I spend 50 dollars on you, it’s a laborious activity, because I have to imagine what you need, where as you know what you need. Now I could simplify things, just give you the 50 dollars directly, and you could give me 50 dollars on my birthday, and so on, until one of us dies, leaving the other one old and 50 dollars richer. And I ask, is it worth it?
That’s the thing about gifts, if they are not wanted or accepted they lose all sense of meaning. We live in a world that says, “I know what I want and you know what you want so why even try”, a world that has lost the understanding of community and relationship and in this world gifts no longer seem to make sense. But God has created us to function with one another and when we know each other then we can be the gifts to each other that He has intended.
My daughter Amber and I enjoy doing puzzles together. When she opens a 1000 piece puzzle, it’s a bit intimidating for her upfront. There are all these tiny pieces, where do you start? If there is a little 50 piece puzzle she would much prefer it because it is not nearly as intimidating as the 1000 piece puzzle. She does doesn’t know how to access the 1000 piece puzzle. But then we sit together and we begin to work it out and as a family we start to put it together.
That 1000 piece puzzle becomes way more dear to her than the 50 piece puzzle because she has had to work at it and work at it in community. People in the church are a lot like that. When we meet some people, they are like 50 piece puzzles, easy to get on with, you just click with them, all the pieces just click into place. Other people we meet are more difficult, you don’t even know where the edges are. But when we stick at it and realize we are given as gifts to each other, its amazing how dear those relationships turn out to be because we have worked at it.
It is God’s nature to give good gifts. That is His very nature. We need to settle it because it influences much of how we interact with those around us and how we approach Him.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
So we have to understand this foundational truth that when He looks at you, He is wanting to bless you. He wants to give us gifts but the gifts He wants to give us are people. Because if God really loves you, He doesn’t just give you stuff, He gives you people. That’s the real gift from the heart of God.
And He models this for us by first giving us His son Jesus. The concept of, “I found Jesus,” is a dangerous trap because if you found Jesus, You better hold onto Him and not lose Him.
The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Underneath, not above. Not like those awful monkey bars that we had to do at school that you held onto as long as you could and then eventually fell into the dirt. God’s arm is not above us like some monkey bar that we are holding onto. Scripture says that His arms are beneath us, that means that when I fall and I am weak, I fall into His arms. I didn’t find Him, He came and hunted me down, the bloodhound of heaven. He comes and finds us in our weakness, and when I understand that He was given as a gift to me that I needn’t perish but that I might have eternal life, how can I not do the same for others. I to have been sent out, it is the nature of God to go and so I now am also going to be a bloodhound, in the image of Jesus, to reach those who are in darkness.
We have just been through the Christmas season and Matthew chapter one outlines the story of Jesus’ birth. In verse 20 Joseph is considering separating from Mary but because He is an honorable man, he doesn’t want to do it publicly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Now if you will bear with me for a second, I’m not doing a fancy word study here, I just want to look at this text on the surface. God told Joseph to call the child Jesus. But the people called Him Immanuel. Immanuel means ‘God with us’ and is based on observation of fact. But the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’.
And this is the central point this morning, God has given each one of us a name. That name is not based on what we do or on observation. Jesus was called Immanuel but that was based on observation, He was ‘God with us’. But it contained no purpose, it was just an observation of fact. And so for you, it doesn’t matter what people have labeled you up to this point, you may have been called lazy, successful, boring, its all based on observation.
Perhaps the observation is true right now but God has given you a name not based on observation, its based on His purpose for Your life. Jesus means ‘God saves’. So what is the thing God has created you to do, what is the purpose for which you were created? He has given you a name that is specific to you, He has given you a gift and that is what you are to the world.
So practically, how do I know what my ‘thing’ is, what my gift is?
Gifts are wrapped and prepared
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The moment you were born Jesus began wrapping and preparing the gift that you are the world. There was a moment when we came to faith in Jesus and in a sense that gift was unwrapped because until we have a living vital relationship with Him, we aren’t and cant be a gift to anyone. We are Jesus people, Bible people, salvation through Him alone but God has been at work in you since you were born.
Part of this good work that He has prepared us for is our unique spheres and context we live out lives in. God is preparing a gift in us for the sake of others.
Gifts are given
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
We don’t sit isolated dispensing information but we share our lives with one another. I come from a small town called Mooi River, we just got our first KFC. And in that small community we saw God do an incredible work where He knitted hearts together as the church grew in influence and love. I refuse to believe that the same is not possible in Johannesburg. I don’t care what people label this place, the big city, etc, it does not mean that the basic human heart is any different. People are just as desperate for community, just as lonely and their hearts are crying out for love. And we cant hide behind, “They look fine”, we all look fine, it’s the game we play, it’s the mask we so carefully cultivate. But when it all comes crashing down, I believe God will open doors to us as a church where we build and honest sense of community where gifts are given.
So there is a name and an intent that God has for each one of us.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.
The pressure we all feel as a gift is, “What do I do, what do I say?” Its as simple as this, begin to do and say all that Jesus Christ did. Walk closely with Him and let Him do what He wants to do, stop resisting Him because its His story we are writing. All that He is saying, some of us aren’t so comfortable to speak when opportunity knocks, speak about Him. Others of us are great at speaking but we don’t really like doing very much. Being a gift means that we both do and say, just as Jesus has shown us how. We don’t have to speak perfect, we speak faulty but faulty forgiven.
This is my mistake but this is how Jesus saved me, this is my weakness but this is how Jesus makes me strong.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
When God the Father sees us in our situation, He has given us His son Jesus and He also wants to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit to equip us ad enable us to do all things. Before the church was allowed to go out and fulfill the great commission they were told to sit in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some of us are so quick to running out wanting to do all kinds of things for Jesus, but He wants us to rely and be empowered by Him.
So today, God has given you a name. It is not defined by what others see, it is based on His purpose for you. He wants to unwrap that gift through a living relationship with His son Jesus and then empower that gift through His Holy Spirit to a lost world come home.