4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8, New King James Version)
We’re into this sermon on The Gospel Agenda. It’s a sermon given to me by God two years ago that the Lord told me to keep silent about until He told me to reveal it. Well, this election is the one God had in mind, and God told me days ago to go ahead and preach this sermon. It began as a sermon I believed I would audibly preach, but, with my allergies giving way and my throat glands swelling some, I just couldn’t deliver the message as an audible recording. So the Lord said, “Where you cannot audibly preach, write!” So that’s what I’ve done in these past 3 parts of the sermon: write to God’s glory.
And in Part 3, we started in our study of Acts 1:4-8 where we find the disciples inquiring about the political deliverance of the nation of Israel. As I said in Part 3, it was if, despite all the Lord had said and done, the “good stuff” was political deliverance. Yes, Jesus had given them plenty information about who He was, who His Father was, and the coming Kingdom, but it seems as though deliverance from Roman oppression was the only thing on their minds. And so, as Jesus prepares to leave earth, the disciples finally work up the courage to ask God when Israel would be a free, sovereign nation once again.
Think about it. Imagine if you take the day off or the week off during the Christmas season to spend with your child(ren). You do all the things you’ve wanted to do with your children all year that work has prevented. You play sports, drive around singing loudly in the car, go and see cousins and relatives you haven’t seen in a while, spend a day camping, fishing, playing basketball together, video games, or shopping around looking for some new wardrobe. Your child(ren) are getting older, and the time is coming to see them leave the household and go out on their own. And you, knowing that their high school graduation is right around the corner, want to take advantage of every moment. Next year this time, they’ll be living in college, on their own. They may not even make it home for Christmas next year. But instead of your child enjoying time with you, they ask you, “When are we gonna open presents?”
It’s not as if presents don’t matter. It’s not as if there’s something wrong with their excitement. The problem is that, instead of seeing the moment for what it is, instead of seeing the holiday for what it is, instead of appreciating this time with their parent(s) before graduating high school, they’re focusing on the material — presents. The current time with you is time they can never get back once it’s gone. Some day, they’ll look back and miss the time with you they rushed away just for a few presents. But in the here and now, they can’t see how precious the time together is.
The disciples were waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. They were told to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit that was to be given to them. And so, here we find them waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. And in the midst of what would be the start of the beginning of church history as we know it today, the disciples still couldn’t “seize the day” and understand the moment. They just didn’t get it. This awesome Holy Spirit power was soon to be given to them to do the work of the ministry, to be a part of God’s glorious Gospel Agenda, and they still had mental energy to think about political deliverance from the Romans. It’s like getting a tour of a state-of-the-art mansion with all the technology one could ever need while still mourning the closing down of the old Blockbuster Video Store. It isn’t that Blockbuster isn’t worth thinking about; rather, it’s that something greater is here, in the moment, and Blockbuster pales in comparison to it.
That’s what the disciples weren’t grasping: that the Holy Spirit power they’d receive would be better than anything they’d ever been given, than any gift ever, and that it should’ve been celebrated by them. We don’t read them singing, dancing, or jumping for joy. Rather, we read them as if they were saying, “Ok, Jesus, this Holy Spirit power is good and all…but what about our deliverance? When’s our freedom gonna come?” Little did they know that to have the Holy Spirit power WAS freedom! To have the Holy Spirit power IS freedom!
Jesus’ response is worth our time and focus. He says to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, “what God does with the authority He alone possesses (“His own authority”) is not for you to worry about. It shouldn’t be your concern.” Jesus doesn’t say that God would never free Israel; what He says, however, is that, whenever God chooses to do so is God’s own prerogative. The Jews shouldn’t be worried about that. And the reason why? Because they’re part of something greater, the Gospel Agenda:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Gospel Agenda is all about the Holy Spirit giving power to Jesus’ disciples, who will be His witnesses and testify of who He is in every part of the earth, all over the world. The Gospel Agenda, then, is God’s plan for His disciples, not political freedom.
The Gospel agenda and voting: what does one have to do with the other?
Here’s a great question. “Okay,” you say. “I get what you’re saying: the Gospel Agenda is greater than the political agenda. But how does that pertain to voting?”
The answer deserves some unpacking. Voting is part of the political agenda of our world and particularly the US. Americans vote for the political changes they want to see in their country. And evangelical Christians, many of whom vote Republican without fail, are very good at voting. They vote religiously in the same way they attend the annual Homecoming every year. They do so not merely because they believe their vote is part of being a good citizen, but because they believe it’s part of being a good Christian. For evangelical Christians who are Republican, voting is part of not just their civic duty but also their spiritual duty. They don’t read “Thou shalt not abstain from voting” in their Bibles, but they live as though voting is the eleventh commandment. To them, abstaining from the vote is sacrilege and an abomination to God Almighty.
Remember what I’ve said earlier? Their commitment to voting as spiritual explains why they vote in leaders who are anti-abortion (or pro-life) and anti-homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They believe that, if they vote, they should vote “in accordance with God’s Word.” They see voting as having a spiritual component, much in the same way they see marriage as having one. Now I agree with marriage: God certainly created marriage and it is a holy union. But marriage is an institution of God. Politics, on the other hand, is not. I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where God cared to play “political footsie” with the Pharisees. And so, politics isn’t divinely ordained, even though government is (Romans 13 about “the powers that be” and “paying taxes”). God designed government for stability, law and order, but we humans, being depraved and holding different views about God’s institution, seek to debate about it. And thus, politics is how we think about government. But how we think about government, and government itself, are two different things.
And unfortunately, Republican-minded Christians think just like the Jews.
Here in 2020, they find the world is in a mess. America is in a mess. And they long for the perfect paradise of Heaven that God will bring to this earth. Where they stray however is that, like the Jews, they see the spiritual as aiding the political instead of seeing the spiritual separate and distinct from the political. The Jews believed that all Jesus did was building up to their deliverance from Roman oppression, but that was a huge misunderstanding of all He did. If all Jesus came to do was free them from Roman oppression, He didn’t need to die on a cross for that! Why would He come and give His life for the world, and put His life at risk by defying Caesar just to lead them into a military war and “break the yoke” of the Romans off their proverbial backs? And when did Jesus ever mention anything about freeing them from political oppression? Apparently, when Jesus read from the scroll in the temple as a young man that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to “proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18-19), the Jews took it literally, politically.
They believe that through the political, they’ll “vote in the Kingdom.” That is, the Kingdom of God will arrive through voting, the political process. Through picking Christian leaders for President, Vice President, Senator, House Representative, Governor, etc., they’ll usher in God’s Government that is eternal. But the Lord didn’t tell the Jews nor us to “go and make Republican voters”. He told us to be His witnesses, to go and make disciples. And He didn’t tell us to “wait for voting power from on high,” but to wait for Holy Spirit power from on high. That Holy Spirit power will empower us to tell a message to those who will refuse to hear it, to show the skeptical that God is real, and strengthen us when the rejection of Jesus can be all too discouraging and wear down morale.
Like the Jews, the Lord is telling us to focus on The Gospel Agenda, but, like the Jews, we’re choosing to focus on the wrong thing and go about it our way. This is why evangelical Christians spend more time focusing on politics, political news, and voting (for Republicans) than they do witnessing. Instead of telling the lost about Jesus, they’d rather vote in Republicans (Christians) who will then pass legislation that forces the lost to live godly. But forcing the lost to live godly doesn’t make them godly. Passing legislation against same-sex marriage because you believe God made marriage between a male and a female won’t transform someone into thinking that marriage is heterosexual. Telling two consenting men (or two consenting women) they can’t be together, and only recognizing marriage as heterosexual (between two people of the opposite gender) won’t make someone accept that within his or her heart and mind.
But it works if you think that you’re ushering in God’s Kingdom on earth through the vote. It makes sense if you think that the President is the Savior and that the vote replaces the Gospel (that is, instead of witnessing to the lost, vote out lost people and vote in Christians). And Republicans say they don’t think the President is the Savior, but that’s how they act. When they see what Donald Trump has done and still vote him in, they do so because they think he’ll save our economy. And with his Bible photo-op and teargassing of innocent protestors, and his claims that Christians deserve more political protections, he’s catering to his base.
And evangelical Christians say that they voted for Trump because he’s pro-life (anti-abortion), anti-same-sex marriage and pro-Christian in his policies (moving the US Embassy back to Israel, etc.), but overlook his statements about how a rally full of Caucasians have “good genes” as compared to the rest of Americans and mentioned the “racehorse theory” about how breeding with good genes leads to good genes.
It’s interesting to think about, but the “Jews” in this case, Republican Christians, vote for a “Savior” who they think will make their situation better on earth and usher in the Gospel. And yet, Jesus told them (and all who believe) to go into the world and make disciples, to take the Holy Spirit power He’s given them and go in the world and “be My witnesses,” as we read in Acts 1:8. So the Lord says “go and preach and teach,” while Republican Christians vote, and vote, and vote, and pass laws.
Something tells me that, like the Jews asking about political freedom, they’re too caught up in their political situation to see their God-given mission. Those at the Tower of Babel who refused to scatter were forced to when they disobeyed God. There is no blessing, no goal achieved, in disobedience. Only obedience brings blessing.