The Holy Spirit was not sent at Pentecost to lead us away from this world but to send us out into it. He was sent to indwell sinful creatures and unite them to Christ’s glorified flesh as a deposit of their final redemption, the resurrection of the body.—Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, 63
At my church every worship service ends with a blessing as the minister sends us back into the world. It’s nothing unusual. Most churches end with some form of blessing. Some churches, drawing on the church’s Latin heritage, call this blessing a benediction. Other churches just call it a blessing. And some churches give blessings and don’t have a word for it in the bulletin. One of my favorite blessings comes from the Book of Common Prayer’s morning service. It draws upon Romans 15:13,
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 102)
Living in the world for the sake of the world requires a God of hope. I need a God of hope. I need a God who promises to be with me, to fill me with joy and peace.
This strange practice of blessing people on the way out of church is a deep and important Biblical practice. It’s an act of sending God’s people out among the world for the sake of the world. In a sense, after worship, God sends his people back in to the world to bear witness to his kingdom. This reflects Matthew 28, in which Jesus commissioned his apostles to make disciples of all the nations, and before they go, Jesus promises that he will be with them. Luke explains Jesus’ last meeting with his disciples with some different details:
Then he [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49)
Acts 2 develops this further. They had met with Jesus and watched him ascend. He had instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit, and in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came and turned the cowardly disciples, who had abandoned Jesus on the night he was betrayed, into bold, courageous witness to his kingdom. This Holy Spirit came as the God who replaced their fear with confidence, their sorrow with joy, and their doubts with faith, and this same Holy Spirit is with us today. Like the early church, God has called us to be his witnesses in three ways.
1. God calls you to bear witness to his kingdom.
God desires each one of us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us, inside and outside the church (Col 3:16; 1 Peter 3:15; Rom. 12:6–8). This doesn’t require us to preach on street corners or go door-to-door. But God wants us to talk about Jesus with the people around us.
God wants us to remind Christians of his mercy. Jesus wants us to tell our family and friends about him. The Holy Spirit moves us to give a defense to anyone who asks about our faith and hope, even our enemies. And we each bear witness to Jesus according to our gifts and abilities. Some of us know the Bible better than others. Some of us are better speakers than others. Some of us seem to have more time or opportunity than others. But we each have words to speak about what Jesus has done for the salvation of the world.
2. God calls you to demonstrate the compassion of his kingdom.
All through the Book of Acts, the early church demonstrates the compassion of the kingdom of God. Acts 2:42-47 gives a nice portrait of the early church's life. After Peter’s sermon, almost as a crowning to his preaching, Luke describes the results of his preaching and the kind of life through which his preaching arose. It was a life of compassion and mercy. It was a life of sharing. It was a life submitted to the merciful rule of Jesus Christ. Luke says,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Christians are not supposed to spend their days hiding in a corner among themselves or tucked away in a commune living without possessions. Instead, God has called every Christian to demonstrate the compassion of the kingdom through caring for the poor, serving the sick, working ordinary jobs that contribute to the well-being of society, and sharing the burdens of those around them, joys and sorrows, faith and doubt, hope and despair. And each Christian has been given unique gifts, abilities, and circumstances to aid them in their service and compassionate care (Eph. 4:1–3; Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:9–15; Heb. 10:34; Eph. 2.10; 1 Thess. 4:9–12; Rom. 12:6–8)
In this calling to bear witness to the kingdom and to demonstrate the compassion of the kingdom, we need to be aware of the dangers. And the greatest danger to bold, courageous, missional living is fear, fear that the culture might persecute us, or that someone may not like us, or that we might get our hands too dirty hanging out with the wrong people.
3. God calls us not to fear persecution or worldly disfavor.
Jesus wasn’t afraid of persecution. Jesus wasn’t afraid that people wouldn’t like him. And Jesus definitely wasn’t afraid that people might misunderstand his mercy, that people would think he was affirming sin.
Not only does Jesus say, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28) but he tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus overcame the world and, therefore, we can boldly bear witness to his kingdom and demonstrate real compassion to our enemies.
We have a God of hope who promises to be with us, to fill us with joy and peace. Consider “the descent of the Son from glory to poverty and of the Spirit from the age to come into this present evil, saving and sealing us through the worldly means of human language, bread and wine, and the fellowship of other sinners” (Michael Horton Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, 63). This Sunday, when you are sent out into the world with a blessing and a call to live for the sake of the world, know that God is with you, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will work through you.