By Dick Koehneke
Superficial or Supernatural? (reflections on Ascension and Pentecost)
There were the apostles gathered with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They had just completed a 40-day intensive seminar on the kingdom of God, taught by the Son of God Himself. But they still didn’t get the message. They were expecting God’s kingdom to appear as a geopolitical entity with the Romans gone forever, Jesus on the throne, and the apostles as his cabinet, ruling over Israel as in the glory days of David and Solomon. Listen to their question: “Lord, are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ response essentially was: “None of your business. Wait for the Holy Spirit, and then you will be my witnesses throughout the world!” With that, as Harry Wendt says, he gave them the greatest object lesson any teacher has ever given to a group of students. He left them and ascended into heaven!
Think about what Jesus said to those disciples – what he says to us as his disciples today: “You shall be my witnesses! You are going to tell the truth about me in the courtroom of the world. In the face of all the lies that will be told about me, you will tell the world who I really am. I’m counting on you to be witnesses on my behalf – credible, faithful witnesses; and by the way, you do not have the right to remain silent. The life of the world depends on your testimony about me.” Then he says: “Wait for the Holy Spirit!”
What Jesus is saying is this: Don’t try to do this yourself! Don’t try to accomplish God’s work in mere human power. It can’t be done! You can’t do what God wants you do in the superficial power of self, but only by the supernatural power of the Spirit. Unlike the apostles on the Mount of Olives, we have the Holy Spirit. Thank God, the Spirit was given on Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension. How do you know you have the Holy Spirit living in you? If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you have the Holy Spirit. You could not have that faith if the Holy Spirit had not created it in you. Your faith in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit.
So now we have a choice. Which will it be? The superficial power of self, or the supernatural power of the Spirit of God?
There are three key reference points, key indicators that can tell you in which power you are operating. The first key reference point is that of EVENTS. If you are being guided and directed primarily by the events going on around you, if you are constantly reacting rather than initiating, if the news of the day and the actions of other people are pretty much dictating your decisions and actions, you are probably operating in the superficial power of self.
The second key indicator or reference point is that of EMOTIONS. If your internal feelings are your primary guide for decision-making, you are operating in the superficial power of self. If you hear yourself thinking or saying words like these — “I just felt like” — “It just seemed to me that” — “My feelings ran away with me, and I just couldn’t help myself” — look out! That’s self-talk, not Spirit-talk.
The third key indicator is that of EXPRESSIONS: sayings, proverbs, quotable quotes, words to live by. We all have them: words or phrases that guide us in decision-making. It’s like there are recordings that start to play in our heads. Here are some of those recordings, some expressions that come out of popular opinion, worldly wisdom, and the superficial power of self: “Look out for good old number one! Don’t get mad, get even! Everybody else is doing it, why not me?”
We need to play some new recordings. We need to get some new EXPRESSIONS from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. “Love one another as I have loved you. I, the Lord, will never leave you or forsake you. In everything God is at work for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” Those are the kinds of expressions we need to guide us in our decisions and actions — not popular opinion or worldly wisdom, but the powerful Word of the living God!
We need to get some new EMOTIONS from the Holy Spirit. The superficial power of self is all about anger, resentment, despair, envy, lust, greed, and all those other emotions and attitudes we know so well. The supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is all about love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness and gentleness, self-control and hope. Those are the kinds of emotions and attitudes we need to guide us in our decisions and actions.
There are some very important EVENTS that God wants to use to shape our thinking and decision-making: the conception and birth of his beloved Son Jesus Christ — the pure and sinless life of Jesus, lived on our behalf — the words and works of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the true character of God and of sinless humanity — the God-forsaken, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross, where the sin-debt of all humanity was paid, once and for all, including your debt and mine — the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his glorious ascension into heaven.
Because he ascended, Jesus Christ is no longer limited by time and space; he is with us always, in every circumstance, in every situation. You don’t have to travel to Israel to speak with him. He’s closer than your next heartbeat, nearer than your next breath. Since he is one of us, he knows our deepest needs; since is almighty God, he is able to help us in all our trials and temptations. He will come back in glory – perhaps today. He says, “I came to earth to take your place. I have gone to heaven to prepare your place. I will come again to take you to that place, to be with me forever.”
God’s Word says that the very same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him in the heavenly realms is at work in us to enable us to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives. (Read Ephesians 1 and rejoice!) We are no longer limited to the superficial power of self. We have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Why crawl when you can fly? Which will it be: superficial or supernatural?