More than once Jesus told his disciples that He had come to serve and that, eventually, He would suffer and die (Mark 8.31; 9:30, 31; Matt. 17:12, 22, 23; Luke 24:7). As that time approached, Jesus assured his disciples that God would help them to complete His mission–to do even greater things than He had accomplished. To that end, they would not be “sent into the world” alone by themselves. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14.26. In his gospel, Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ ministry led, empowered, and protected by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was comforted. Jesus spoke, taught, and preached by the Holy Spirit. Jesus performed miracles by the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus lived, died, and rose again by the Holy Spirit.
So, it makes sense that, Jesus gave his final commands through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.2). By the Spirit He had already charged His disciples with the Great Commission to “GO”. Before they “WENT” anywhere, Jesus told them they had to WAIT. He ordered them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. He didn’t say how long to wait. He told them not to move until God did. This must have been strange to hear and, perhaps, even harder to do. Having spent 40 amazing days learning from and fellowshipping with a resurrected Jesus, its safe to assume they felt like they could take on the world! The truth was, without the Spirit of God, they were powerless to do what God had commanded. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1.8. If we move without the Spirit of God, we move without the power of God (It is equally tragic–or worse–to wait or remain in active, when we have received the power of God to move).
In Acts 2, the Spirit does come, the apostles are filled, and they do receive power. But the power is given toward a particular end. They are not empowered simply to be wise, to be good, or to be moral. God sends His Spirit to empower them to be witnesses. Salvation through faith leads to proclamation through the Spirit. According to Jesus in the Gospels, the Spirit is sent to teach and help. According to Jesus in Acts, we are taught to be witnesses and helped as we witness. Empowered by the Spirit then, the disciples are equipped to fulfill their mission beginning in Jerusalem and extending to the ends of the earth (at that time Rome). The book of Acts proves this is just what they do . Act 1 begins with Peter in Jerusalem and Acts 28 ends with Paul in Rome.
And in between Acts 1 and Acts 28, we see how the Spirit grows a frightened group of disciples into bold witnesses to the Resurrection. Even a cursory survey of the book of Acts reveals the Spirit actively empowering their mission. The Spirit speaks to them. The Spirit reveals through them. The Spirit falls on them. The Spirit leads them. The Spirit commissions them. The Spirit empowers them. The Spirit constrains them. With every new chapter, the Spirit seems to empower in a new way. All that to say, we cannot, should not, and will not (even if we tried) make disciples or plant churches without the Holy Spirit. Strategies, people, money, and even opportunity can inspire us, but only the Spirit of God can empower us. We must WAIT for the Spirit if we are to “go” in the Spirit. When we know the Spirit is telling us to go, we can run with unrestrained courage. But the Spirit doesn’t always speak when we want Him to. He is not like a teenager with unlimited cell minutes. In other And, to add to the confusion, according to 1John 4.1, there are a lot of “spirits” telling us to go and do a lot of things. But these Spirits must be tested by the Word of God and this takes time.
Not only does the Spirit NOT speak when we want Him to, He often doesn’t say what we want to hear. We assume the Spirit will only say what we want to hear, or will only lead us down paths of prosperity and earthly joy. If the Book of Acts gives us some sort of insight into how the Spirit leads, sometimes ( a lot of the times) the Spirit will lead his disciples into discomfort and affliction.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20.22-24
The point of all of this is two-fold. 1) Any mission without the Spirit of God is not the mission of God. 2) The heart of the misssion of God is to witness to the cross of Jesus Christ. So, by His Spirit, God will lead his people into comfort or discomfort, pleasure or pain, prosperity or poverty, if it means His people will be greater witnesses to the gospel of grace. And, by His Spirit, His people will follow.