Acts 1: Uncharted Territory
Being on mission with Jesus is both exciting and terrifying. It’s part of the misunderstanding that comes along with following Jesus into the world. We are typically great at getting people excited about stepping into the excitement of being on mission with Jesus. But when reality hits us and we begin to experience the uncertainty, the frustrations, the heartbreak, we begin to realize, there is actually a lot more uncharted territory in following Jesus than we thought. And the uncharted territory is more than just the physical uncertainty of the places we will go as we follow Jesus. Following Jesus on mission will take us to uncharted territory spiritually as well.
Churches are often great at getting their people excited for the uncertainty of where the mission of Jesus will take them. There is a sense of adventure in going to uncharted territory in the name of Jesus. As there should be. In college my wife and I went to Romania for a summer to be a part of a small missions effort in the capital city of Bucharest. We were a part of a larger group of nearly 100 students who committed to spending their summer going into uncharted territory (at least it was uncharted for us) like Kenya, Mozambique, Thailand, Romania, and others to be a part of building God’s kingdom in those places. We were told about the sense of adventure that we would go on. The great things we would see, wildlife, historical centers, etc. And just like most churches, our University did a great job helping us get excited about being on mission and going into uncharted territory around the world.
However, like most churches, our University missed how Jesus’ statement in Acts 1:8, that his followers would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the Ends of the Earth, was not just a formula for where being on mission would take them physically, but also where it would take them spiritually.
The “ends of the earth” in Jesus’ day meant something far different than it does today. People’s world was dramatically smaller for the simple reality that travel was much more limited. Certainly people knew that different countries existed and that there were places far beyond where they would ever go themselves. But the true “ends of the earth” as we know it, would have been something far less tangible for 1st Century people to grasp.
And so while there was certainly a difference in the way they would have understood “the ends of the earth,” to me the point of greater significance that Jesus was trying to make was that the mission he was sending them on would take them to the “ends of the earth” spiritually. In other words, they would be stretched and challenged in ways they never knew existed. And in fact, they were being asked to do something on such a high spiritual level that they would never be able to achieve on their own power and will. And Jesus knew that if left to their own abilities and strength, his followers would be crushed under the weight of what he was calling them into. Which is why before he tells them where the mission would take them he lets them know how they will achieve it. Which is a bit backward from the way we inspire people today.
Simon Sinek is a renowned speaker and teacher who has studied the way inspirational leaders get others to follow them. He says that many leaders attempt to inspire action by first telling you WHAT you are going to do, then telling you HOW you will do it, and then some will try to tell you the WHY behind what you are doing, but most don’t know the “why” themselves so are unable to help others see the “why.” He says, this formula for inspirational leadership always leaves people wanting more from you. And most of the time the thing trying to be created never gets off the ground because this way cripples people’s motivation or inspiration to follow.
Sinek says the way you inspire people to action is you start with the WHY. When people know why something needs to exist, there is almost nothing they won’t do to help it become reality. Once you establish the WHY you then move to the HOW. How will this thing, that we have determined is critical for us to build, be formed and built? Once you establish the HOW, you move to the WHAT. What will be formed by us participating in the HOW. Sinek claims that few leaders, companies, organizations, churches, institutions, operate with this model of visionary, inspirational leadership. We tend to inverse the process, starting with WHAT, then HOW, then few of us get to the WHY. And if people do actually get to the “why” it is typically too late to inspire people to action.
This is where the mastery of Jesus is seen. Because Jesus started with the WHY of his mission. In John 10 Jesus speaks to his people about why he came to earth to be with humanity. In vs. 10 he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus tells his followers that his sole purpose is in bringing life to humanity in a way that they have never had before him and will never experience apart from him. And so the mission of Jesus, which he then calls his people into throughout his life and ministry and then at the beginning of Acts, was to bring life to the lifeless, to bring life in abundance and power.
But bringing life to the lifeless, bringing life in abundance is an extremely spiritual endeavor. One that requires more of who we are than we are typically willing to give. It means going into the depths of people’s stories and embracing the messiness. It means loving when it feels impossible to love. It means stepping up and out against the things that deny people the ability to thrive and experience life in abundance. Which means taking a stand against abuse, hatred, racism, and countless other things we tend to be unsure about in our comfortable Christian worldview. Going to the ends of the earth with Jesus will test us in ways we have so rarely been tested. And Jesus knew that if left to our own ability we would pass on his mission rather than embrace it.
And so after Jesus gives us the WHY of his mission, to bring life in abundance, he tells us the HOW. In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The only way we are able to bring life in abundance is to have abundant life dwelling within us. And Jesus made it clear that it would be the Holy Spirit living in us that would carry us into the uncharted territory with power and purpose beyond what we could ever give on our own. It’s the spirit in us that makes us the thing we can’t become on our own, which is the very thing the world is desperate to have us live into. Because it’s the thing we can’t be on our own that will bring people life in ways they have never experienced before. When the mission of Jesus calls us into uncharted waters spiritually, the Spirit of God will be the one who keeps us grounded and helps us be what Jesus needs us to be.
And so once Jesus gave the HOW, the power of the Holy Spirit in us, he then said this is WHAT you will do. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the Ends of the Earth.
This one verse in Acts 1:8 is the foundation for everything going forward in Acts. It is what makes the rest of the stories make sense. And it is the thing that makes our story, of starting Missio Church, make sense and have purpose.