God's Plan for the Church

Glory to God!
God's Plan for the Church

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost was the first harvest feast of the year. This is when Jews would offer the Lord the firstfruits of their wheat harvest. According to Leviticus 23:15-21, one of the things they would do at Pentecost was wave two loaves of wheat bread made with leaven before the Lord. This symbolized their sacrifice to Him. However, it wasn't acceptable unless they offered an unblemished male lamb as a burnt offering. Can you see the symbolism here?

For 1,400 years, Pentecost was a symbol pointing to our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All God's people, Jew and Gentile, would be united through Christ and His resurrection.

Thousands of years earlier, God called Israel to be His people. But this would no longer be exclusive to the Israelites and a few Gentile converts. Instead, Jews and Gentiles would be on equal footing. In Ephesians 3, we learn the two loaves of bread symbolized the unification of Jews and Gentiles through faith in the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The leaven symbolized the resurrection, which brings all peoples together, no matter how different we are. God's plan was always to build the church, made up of all peoples from around the world. We worship and act different, and all that's okay. Diversity in God's church is not only beautiful, it's biblical.

God's church isn't about individual happiness. It should never be about what I feel is right, how I like to do things, how I feel things should be done. Because when we become me-focused, we're no longer gospel-focused. If we're not gospel-focused, the roots of division can go deep within the church. If division takes hold, we cannot effectively build His kingdom.

The Gospel for All Nations

Acts 2: 9-11 lists, "Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians"

People from the nations that surrounded Israel were in Jerusalem. They heard the apostles declare the glory of the Lord in their own language.

In Acts 2:5, Luke referred to "devout men from every nation under heaven." What was, and is, the biggest barrier to reaching the peoples of the world with the gospel? Their various languages.

The special outpouring of the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus's followers to speak in languages they'd never learned meant that those in Jerusalem could hear the gospel and then return to their homes and share the truth with family, friends, and others.

We can see how Revelation 5:9 was already beginning to manifest. People will come to know the Lord "from every tribe and language and people and nation."

The purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel to all people of all nations, and we cannot rest until all have heard the good news about Jesus Christ. This is a huge undertaking. How is it possible we could achieve such a thing? That's why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is not some sort of mystical force. He is God Himself. He's the third part of the triune Godhead.

The Holy Spirit:
- Teaches us God's Word (John 14:26).
- Convicts the world of sin (John 16:7-8).
- Dwells within believers (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- Empowers believers (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
- Guides us to all truth (John 16:13).
- Gives believers spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
- Seals eternal life for the believer (Ephesians 1:13).
- Intercedes in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27).
- Gives us a new heart, enabling us to believe (Romans 8:10-11).
- Sanctifies us to bear good fruit (Galatians 5:16-25).

Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit regenerated and empowered God's people to serve the Lord but did not permanently indwell believers (Psalm 51:11; Luke 11:13). Yet, in the upper room, Jesus told His disciples He was sending the Holy Spirit to be with them forever.

"You know Him because He abides with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17).

At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, He took up permanent residence in believers, just as Jesus promised. When the Spirit changes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, we become united with Christ and other believers. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Now, even though we've been sealed by the Holy Spirit, have Him dwelling within us, and are identified by God's Spirit, we're commanded to be continually filled with the Spirit. Imagine every one of us is a bucket. The moment we're saved, we're filled with the Spirit. But because of our sin nature, there are countless holes in the bucket. We can only fulfill the Great Commission and endure suffering by being consistently filled with the Holy Spirit.

What do we need to do in order to be filled with the Spirit? We must continually confess our sins before the Lord and deny ourselves. We must be praying to God confessing the sins we know about, and asking Him to reveal to us sins we didn't know were there. We must be fully dependent on the Lord, asking for His help in all things. Paul calls this "walking in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16). But Paul also says we're filled with the Spirit when the word of Christ richly dwells in us (Col. 3:16; see Eph. 5:18 and context). Meaning, we're filled with the Spirit through reading and confessing God's Word.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by three things:

The sound of a violent rushing wind

Visible tongues of fire resting on each believer who was gathered there

The miracle of speaking in foreign languages that none of the disciples knew previously

Each of these symbols tells us something about Holy Spirit.

We can't see the wind, but we can see what changes it makes. We are told what the Holy Spirit accomplished at Pentecost. He is also referred to as the wind in Ezekiel 37:9-14. John 3:8 says, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

The Holy Spirit is not someone we can see, feel, predict, or control. Yet, He is responsible for saving sinners and empowering them to fulfill the Great Commission.

Fire provides heat and light. Hebrews 12:29 refers to God as "a consuming fire," but He also guides us where we need to go. He spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He appeared as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites in the wilderness at night. At Pentecost, the Spirit appeared as tongues of fire that rested on the disciples. This is a symbol of God's power. God's Word enters our lives like a consuming fire, purifying us, giving us new life, instructing us where to go.

Jesus's followers hadn't learned the tongues (languages) the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak. The purpose of this gift was to confirm the testimony of the apostles. How do we know this to be

Hebrews 2:3-4 says, "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."

The meaning of Pentecost was to authenticate the testimony of the apostles that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. Today, His church (all genuine believers in Jesus Christ), through the power of the Holy Spirit, are to bear witness to the nations for His glory.

God's Plan: To be Glorified

Verse 11 of Acts 2 says, "Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."

All the Jews who made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem heard of the mighty works of God. Among all these Jews, verse 5 tells us there were "devout men from every nation under heaven."

Among the thousands of people who heard of the mighty works of the Lord were God-fearing Jews, not just those who came because of tradition. They went to Jerusalem because they loved the Lord and wanted to celebrate His providential work in their lives. Shortly after hearing of God's mighty works, Peter stood up and preached the gospel. He led 3,000 souls to saving faith in Christ. The goal of the church is to glorify God through proclaiming the gospel.

In Revelation 5, John has a vision of all the nations worshiping before God's throne. In Revelation 21:4, when God makes all things new, it says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

No tears. No death. No mourning. No pain. No witnessing. No evangelism. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian church will have accomplished all God planned for her. All those chosen for salvation will worship around God's throne for all eternity.

As we go through the book of Acts, we're going to see two things take place: God accomplishing miracles through His church and people coming to saving faith. We're also going to see fierce opposition to the gospel.

Three thousand people were saved when they heard Peter proclaim the good news, but there were more than 3,000 people there. Many didn't believe. Instead, they mocked, ridiculed, and were in opposition to it. That same rejection happens today, and it's something we should expect as we strive to glorify our sovereign Lord.

One day, however, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

The purpose of Pentecost was to authenticate the testimony of the apostles that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and equipped His church with the power of the Holy Spirit, so they could share the gospel with all nations for His honor and glory.

We should ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do I strive to give God glory in all that I do? How often do I pray for God to reveal my sin? How often do I pray for Him to make me more like Jesus? How often do I pray for God to guide my words and actions?

- Do I desire to reach people for Christ? It's easy to say, "Yes, I want to reach the world for Jesus," while neglecting to reach out to our own community. It's great to have heart for world missions, but if we don't desire to reach the lost in our own community, our own next-door neighbors, we're not in line with God's will for His children.

- Do I ask the Holy Spirit to help me throughout the day? Am I trusting in my strength, knowledge, and abilities? Too often, we trust in ourselves far more than we do the Holy Spirit to help us every day.

- Do I long to see souls saved or am I content with things the way they are? If we're living life on spiritual cruise control, we're not in line with God's will for our lives. We're to be willing to submit all of who we are to Christ, so we can be used to reach people for Him.

God is glorified through the church when the church is gospel-focused. My prayer is that God will tear down any walls that hinder the gospel from reaching our communities. I pray He empowers His people, through His Spirit, to bring Him honor and glory as we proclaim to the world that Jesus saves.