Should we give up on the church? In this message from Zechariah 4, Mike Kelsey encourages us to consider the purpose God has for the church and the power he supplies to it. The church is the place where God has designed believers to flourish and grow.
1. God still has a purpose for his church.
2. God is the one who supplies power to his church.
It’s joy to be together in God’s Word where we will be in Zechariah 4 today. But first, many of you know that we had a team from all our different campuses across the DC Metro area in the Dominican Republic this week. Praise God, they got back safely. I heard some funny stories, but I also heard some amazing stories as well. So I want to celebrate a little bit of what God did.
We had 191 people on that trip, representing all ages. I think the youngest was six and the oldest was 71. We had a medical team that treated 738 patients over four days. Seven pastors from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic received biblical and theological training over the course of the week. We had about 312 one-on-one gospel conversations. About 3,500 people heard the gospel clearly and we had 128 people who indicated that they made a spiritual decision.
Needless to say, God was at work this past week. Praise God! Thank you for your prayers and financial support. For those of you who were on the trip and who are here, you get an extra reward in heaven. I heard that some of your flights got delayed, so I’m sure you’re tired. But praise the Lord that He can use us, not just here, but around the world. And praise the Lord that we get to see what He’s already doing through brothers and sisters in Christ in different parts of the world.
As I mentioned, we’ll be in Zechariah 4. As you may know, the books of the Bible are organized by category and not necessarily by chronology. Zechariah is included in the section that contains the “Minor Prophets.” They’re not minor in significance only in length when compared to the “Major Prophets” such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. Zechariah is actually one of the longer books in the Minor Prophets section. Zechariah was ministering right at the beginning of the time we’ve been reading about in Ezra and Nehemiah. For those of you who have not been following along with us in the Bible Reading Plan, let me bring you up to speed on where we are in Old Testament history so you’ll understand how all this fits together. Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern Kingdom, where God’s people were, and the temple was located in Jerusalem. Why is that important? It wasn’t just that the people needed a place to meet; it represented the presence of God. He wasn’t just reigning in heaven; He was also ruling in the midst of His covenant people. The temple symbolized the reality that God had established His earthly headquarters in Jerusalem.
Then as we’ve read, God’s people drifted into disobedience and idolatry so just as He promised, God eventually brought judgment on them—and it was absolutely devastating. The Babylonians infiltrated Jerusalem and completely destroyed it. They tore down the temple and scattered the Israelites throughout Babylon. Yet God was still committed to His people and promised to eventually bring them back to Jerusalem.
Many years later, the Persians came to power Then in 538 B.C., just as God prophesied in Isaiah 45 and in Jeremiah, King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. As a sidebar, most of the Israelites decided to stay in Babylon where they were comfortable. But a man named Zerubbabel led a caravan of about 50,000 exiles—referred to as a “remnant” of people—back to Jerusalem.
If this was 2019, this would have been headline news all over the world. Social media would have been popping with #weback. They were back home in Jerusalem. Everyone would have been wondering what would happen next. They started to rebuild the temple, but because there was opposition, over time they became complacent and gave up. The prophet Haggai spoke into this situation, but 16 years later the temple was still not rebuilt. There was only a foundation. There was no temple. The city had no walls. There was no military. Their reputation among the nations was suffering. Needless to say, their situation became an international embarrassment.
Zechariah 4 Looks Back On The Church’s Reputation
This context is relevant to us as well. Let’s be honest: the church doesn’t have the best reputation in our culture today either. Some of you are visiting today, not because you love the church, but because you were invited or dragged here, or because you decided to give this Christianity thing one last try. But the church doesn’t have the best reputation in our culture—specifically, I think, among the emerging generations. You may have seen or heard the research about the Millennials leaving the church, or about Generation Z being the most irreligious generation in American culture so far.
I grew up in church, but when I went away to college at the University of Maryland, I wasn’t really walking with the Lord. Still, I had some level of respect for the church and stayed somewhat connected to it. Then as a sophomore, I was born again and began to walk with Jesus—and now I’m on fire for Him. I’m full in and fully devoted to following Him. I loved Jesus before, but I still had my doubts about the church. For me personally, the church was irrelevant. It was too traditional to really connect with the friends I was trying to reach with the gospel. It seemed outdated and didn’t really matter. Rather, what mattered was my private relationship with Jesus and my cool Christian friends. We were going to take over the world for the gospel. There are many people—probably many of you here—who might feel as though the church doesn’t really matter that much today. When people in our society—even in the emerging generations— think about the church, they don’t think about it in a positive way. Not only do they think about the church as irrelevant, but many people think about the church as embroiled in a political agenda, as hateful, as disconnected from what’s happening in the world. Many people wonder if the church still matters today. Should we give up on the church? We’re not giving up on Jesus, but should we give up on the church? Maybe the better question is this: “Has God given up on His church?”
Maybe the question you’re asking today is not so much about the church, but rather a more personal question. Maybe you’re not asking, “Has God given up on His church?” Maybe you’re asking, “Has God given up on me? Just like the Israelites of that day, who were suffering the consequences of their disobedience, I got some consequences of my disobedience. Has God given up on me?” If we were taking a quiz, you would probably mark the right answer. Of course, God hasn’t given up on you. But deep down, we often look at ourselves with disappointment and maybe even disgust. We secretly wonder if God looks at us the way we look at ourselves.
Maybe it isn’t you, but maybe you know somebody who’s made a mess of their life. Maybe it’s not you or someone you know whose life is ruined because of their sinful choices. Maybe you’re living in the rubble of someone else’s sinful or foolish choices.
The Israelites were in Babylonian captivity for 70 years. Do you know what that means? Think about how many people were born in Babylon—not because of their choices, but because they were forced to live the consequences of a previous generation.
Whether you’re thinking about your own life or the life of someone you love or the life and relevance of the church, do you sometimes wonder, “Should we just give up?” That’s what this small group of exiles was wrestling with, but then the Lord spoke through a prophet named Zechariah. The name “Zechariah” means “The Lord has remembered.”
The first section of Zechariah is organized around eight visions that work like concentric circles. In the center of those eight visions are the fourth and fifth visions, which contain God’s message to His appointed leaders. In chapter three we see God’s message to His leader Joshua, the high priest. In chapter four, where we’ll be today, is God’s message to the appointed leader Zerubbabel, who was the governor of Judah who brought the people back to Jerusalem.
Before we read this word from the Lord through Zechariah, let me pray, then we’ll read verses 1- 14.
Father, as we read these verses and unpack them this morning, we pray that You would speak to our hearts. I need You today to do what I am not able to do in my own strength. Would You minister hope to our hearts, as we think about Your church and as we think about our lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Zechariah 4 is the fifth vision Zechariah receives. Let me warn you—this is going to be confusing.
And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
“These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth.”
Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?” He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
Zechariah 4 Reminds Us That God Still Has A Purpose for His Church
Here’s the first thing I want you to see from this vision: God still has a purpose for His church and God still has a purpose for you. Look at verse two: “And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’” Zechariah said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of god, with a bowl on top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.” Now, don’t get lost in the details yet. You’re thinking, “Too late.” We’ll look at all the details a little later, but so far the point is that God is showing Zechariah a vision of a lampstand.
Why would God be showing Zechariah a lampstand? Well, Zechariah and the ancient Jews would immediately have understood what that meant. The lampstand was a critical piece of furniture throughout Old Testament history. When the Israelites were in the wilderness after God rescued them out of Egypt, God gave Moses instructions for the tabernacle. That was the place where God would dwell among His people in the wilderness. What did God tell Moses to put inside the tabernacle? Look at Exodus 25:31 and 37. God told Moses, “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold…You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.” That was the purpose of the lamps.
Later, as the people of Israel became more established, King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. God also commanded him to include a golden lampstand, as we see in 1 Kings 7. But remember that in Zechariah’s time, Jerusalem had been destroyed, all the temple furniture had been confiscated and carried away into Babylon. In other words, the light of the temple had gone out. Yet now God was giving Zechariah a vision of this elaborate lampstand with seven lamps on it. Each of those seven lamps had seven lips, which were like spouts. Each of the lamps would therefore burn seven flames, which means there were 49 flames altogether.
As we look at the symbolism of the lampstand throughout the Bible, we know that it represented the presence of God made known through His people. In other words, it represented God revealing Himself through His people. Just like the purpose of a lampstand is to shine light so people can see, God’s purpose for Israel was to use them to show the world Who He was. We read in Isaiah 42:6—7 what God says to His people Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Israel was called by God to be His light to the nations, revealing Who He is to the world. Listen, this world needs light. Apart from Christ, we live in darkness. Apart from Christ, you live in darkness. Before I was a follower of Jesus and had been born again by Jesus Christ, I was living in darkness. Yes, we enjoy some of the intellectual benefits of the Enlightenment. But all we understand as modern-day people is lived out under the shadow of our moral and spiritual darkness.
That’s why even our intelligence and all our modern advancements can end up being used for evil. Apart from Christ, we live in darkness. We can’t see the world as it really is. We can’t understand ourselves as we truly are. We cannot accurately understand and relate to the God Who made us. That’s why God sent Jesus. It was like humanity was down in the bottom of a deep well and God lowered a lamp. In John 8:12, Jesus describes Himself as “the light of the world.” He says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We know John 3:16, but let’s keep reading through verse 18:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So God sent Jesus. God Himself came in human flesh. He came, not to condemn the world; rather, He came on a mission with the desire to save the world. How did the world respond to Jesus? John 3:19 tells us, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” They didn’t want to change. They didn’t want to truly understand their life and their lifestyle in light of God’s truth and His Word. They wanted to cling to their own way of living and their own sin. They didn’t want to change or be changed, so they rejected their Messiah. We’ve all done the very same thing.
The light has come in Jesus. The light has been proclaimed through the gospel, but you and I have turned away from the light. We have said, “I would rather live in darkness. I would rather continue to live in my own sin, in rebellion against God” and we deserve God’s judgment for that. That’s the role we play. We’ve said, “We love the darkness.”
But Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that there’s something else going on: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” Satan keeps us in bondage to darkness and we embrace that darkness because we love it. That’s our spiritual condition apart from Jesus. That’s the spiritual condition of those around us apart from Jesus. This world needs light because we need to be freed. We need to be rescued out of darkness. We need to be shown that the darkness is not the way to live and that our true fulfillment will come as we step into the light of God’s truth, embracing the light of the world Who is Jesus Christ.
That is C.S. Lewis’ testimony. Lewis was the prolific writer who became a follower of Jesus Christ. He described his conversion this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” That’s what it feels like to be born again. It feels like your eyes are being opened for the first time. It feels like you’ve been living your whole life seeing yourself and the world. You’ve had thoughts about God, but when the light of the gospel shines into your life, you begin to see everything through its light and it feels like you’re seeing for the very first time.
God Should Be Embraced
I want to say if you have never embraced Jesus, if you’ve never truly surrendered and submitted yourself to the light of the truth of the gospel, if you know you are a sinner who deserves the judgment of God, God is an amazing Savior. He sent Jesus to die on the cross in your place, for your sin and He raised Jesus from the grave. He did this so that through Jesus He might reveal the way to be reconciled to Him. If you’ve never truly embraced the gospel, turned from your sin and fully trusted in Jesus, this is the time for you to do that. The light is shining into your life, calling you to embrace salvation through Jesus Christ.
God the Father sent Jesus, then Jesus sends us. That’s what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 2:9. He said about the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Why did God save you and me? Why did He pull us together as the church? He did that so that “you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In John 3, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” But in Matthew 5:14—16 He passed that mission on to His church:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
God still has a purpose for the church. What is it? It’s to be light, to make His presence known in the world.
Some of you here are like me, not just in the younger generations. Some of you are like I was. You have your doubts about the church and to some degree maybe rightfully so. Throughout history we’ve done some things in the church that have damaged our reputation. But even though the church may not always appear beautiful or relevant, the church is still God’s primary means for revealing His glory to the world.
Even though the church has gotten it wrong at different points throughout history, generally speaking, the church has still been a light in very practical ways. If I had more time I would walk you through that. Think about our modern-day higher education system and hospitals. Think about what the doctrine of the image of God has done for women around the world, for slaves, for those with special needs and disabilities, and for the unborn or newborn, opposing not just abortion but all forms of infanticide around the world. Historically, the church has been a light in the world, even with all of its flaws.
Zechariah 4 Explains The Church’s Purpose
The church is designed to be God’s visual aid, so that the watching world will learn about Him and come to know Him. That’s the purpose for the church and that’s God’s purpose for you. God has placed you here for a purpose. God has placed you to be a light where you are, so that through you, with all of your flaws, He might reveal Who He is to the people around you. The primary reason you should join a local church is so you can partner with other brothers and sisters in Christ in order to shine the light of God’s presence into dark places by declaring the gospel and then demonstrating the gospel in practical ways. This is why we as the church will always obsess about reaching people who have not heard or who have not yet trusted the gospel. We glorify God by making disciples and multiplying churches. As I was preparing this week, I kept thinking to myself, “They’ve heard this a thousand times.” I mean, haven’t we? We’ve heard this a thousand times. You didn’t need me to come tell you today— especially if you’ve grown up in church—that the church is the light of the world. We know we’re supposed to be light. That’s what we’re called to be. I think if we’re honest, part of the problem is that we often don’t want to shine. In our neighborhoods, in our families, in our offices and with our colleagues, with our friends in our school, among the nations through missions—so often we don’t want to shine.
Nobody is going to confess that in their discipleship group. And deep down, I think that’s part of the problem. So often we just don’t want to shine, because to shine is to be in contrast to the darkness. Sometimes it’s awkward to shine. Have you ever been in a good deep sleep when someone walks in and turns on the lights? Nobody jumps out of bed and gives that person a hug. Nobody says, “Thank you for burning my eyes out.” It doesn’t feel good. People don’t respond well. It’s awkward to shine.
It’s not that we run around being jerks, but the way we live will often be in contrast to the world around us. When we open our mouths to speak the truth of God’s Word and the gospel, sometimes it’s going to be awkward, even when we prayerfully speak it with gentleness, compassion, humility and love—. Sometimes we just don’t want to be light. Sometimes we don’t even have confidence that we can be light.
You may feel that way today. You may feel that way about the church. You may feel like the church is a lost cause. You may feel that way about yourself. “I’m totally inadequate. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not even a people person. My family isn’t the model family. My background wasn’t the model background. I haven’t been to seminary. I don’t know as much theology as other people do. I’m not a preacher—I’m an engineer.” All of these reasons can make us feel inadequate and we aren’t confident that we can actually be a light.
Listen, you’re in good company, because Israel felt that way too. That’s exactly what the people in Zechariah’s day were feeling. They had given up on building the temple because opposition had set in. They had grown complacent. Sixteen years had gone by and there was still no temple. They’re wondering how it would ever happen. “We’re weak. We’re small. We have no temple, no military, no walls.”
God Is the One Who Supplies Power to His Church.
This is where we begin to understand how life with God works. God’s power is not limited by your weakness; His power is put on display through your weakness. Let me say that again, because that’s good news for you. Let me speak for myself. It’s good news for me, because God’s power is not limited by my weakness; God’s power is put on display through my weakness. He still has a purpose for His church and for us, because God is the One Who supplies power to His church. Go back to the vision God gave Zechariah. We’ve already seen this a vision of a lampstand, but what’s the rest of the stuff? Scholars debate all the specific details, but the overall picture is clear. Let’s try to put the rest of the picture together. We’ve already seen the lampstand with seven lamps. The question this vision answers is how do these lamps stay lit? In other words, how will Israel fulfill its purpose?
In the tabernacle and the temple, the priests had to keep the lamps lit manually. They used olive oil to saturate the wicks and had to keep trimming the wicks and replenishing the oil. But look at what God shows Zechariah. In verse two, the lamps are lit by olive oil that’s stored in a bowl. The bowl is kind of like a reservoir, like a propane tank, holding the fuel necessary to light the lamps. But where is the oil coming from?
Zechariah 4:12 shows us that the oil is automatically being piped in from two olive trees. You say, “This is why I don’t read the Old Testament.” Hold on. Let’s put the picture together. Oil is flowing down from these two olive trees, through the golden pipes and into the bowl. The bowl releases the oil to each of the seven lamps. Now, you may not understand how all these details work, but the point is clear. What’s the point? This candelabra is automatically supplied with the oil it needs to shine. It has an unlimited supply of the power it needs to fulfill its purpose.
Think about the message God is giving Zechariah and remember the context. At this point, the Israelites are the laughingstock of the known world. Most of them are still in Babylon—by choice, settling for slavery, comfortable in captivity. But this little remnant of God’s people is back home in Jerusalem, struggling. No walls, no military, no temple. They’re not looking much like a beaming lampstand. I’m sure everybody began to doubt. Just like we often have a tendency to doubt the church today. doubting ourselves and our role in the church, they’re doubting and asking, “Will we ever be the people God made us to be? Will the temple ever be what it was in previous generations? Should we just give up?”
Then God gives Zechariah this vision. In verses seven through ten, Zechariah prophesies that despite all the obstacles and opposition, the temple will one day be rebuilt. Zerubbabel will lead God’s people to finish the job. How will God do it? Verse six—this is the central message of the vision and by far the most well-known verse, maybe the only known verse—of the book of Zechariah. Look at what the angel told Zechariah: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power…” How am I going to fulfill my purposes? “…By my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
The Lord of Hosts, the God Who commands and controls angel armies, says to Zerubbabel, “How am I going to do it? How is Israel going to fulfill its purpose? I’m going to do it by My Spirit. I’m going to accomplish it by My Spirit.” This is how God has always worked throughout history. God accomplishes His work by His Spirit through His Son. If we’re not careful, we can begin to believe that this power comes from some other source, but it does not. It comes by the Spirit of God. In their day, God raised up two leaders, anointed by His Spirit. That’s what’s happening in verses 12 and 13. These two olive branches are coming out of the tree. Just like you and me, Zechariah is confused. “What do these mean?” And the angel says in verse 14, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
God had raised up two people. We see this in Zechariah 3 and 4: Joshua the high priest and a ruler named Zerubbabel. Both of these men were anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead God’s people in accomplishing God’s purposes. The beauty, as we read through Zechariah, is that of all the Old Testament prophetic books, he has the most references to the Messiah. This priest and ruler ultimately point to the Priest and King to come—the Messiah. Jesus Christ was a King Who was also a Priest. He wasn’t a king who would offer sacrifices like a priest, but rather He was a King Who would Himself become the sacrifice.
When we flip through the pages of the New Testament, we see Jesus as the Messiah coming with a mission to build a temple, but not a temple made of bricks and mortar, nor built with human hands. This temple would be the people of God. Jesus lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wasn’t that what we see as He was about to begin His ministry? After He was baptized, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission for which God had sent Him. Then Jesus turned and gave His church the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. He told His disciples what He was going to do in John 16:7: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
Let’s pause here for a second. Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Now, I don’t know what your personality is like, but my personality is such that I would have gently raised my hand and said, “Hold on one second, Jesus. I slightly disagree. What do you mean? You are the Messiah. You are the Rabbi. You’re the One Who’s performed all these miracles. What do you mean, it is better that You go away?”
Jesus tells them, “It’s better that I go away, because I’m going to send the Holy Spirit.” Here’s why that’s good news. When they had Jesus with them, they had an example of how to live out God’s purposes. Then Jesus went to the cross and died in their place and in our place for our sins, because we don’t live up to His example. But Jesus didn’t just come to give an example or even to provide forgiveness for when we fall short of the example. Jesus came so that we would have power to follow His example.
Jesus said, “I don’t want you to just see what it’s like to live out My purposes; I want to give you the power to do it.” That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus tells them in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus said, “I’m going to give you power because I know you’re weak.” The disciples were not made up of first-round draft picks. They were weak. They were not qualified. In fact, they were cowards when Jesus died.
But Jesus rose from the grave and spent time with them. He told them, “I want you to go to this upper room, where you’re going to receive the new covenant promise that generations of My people have been waiting for.” He sent His Spirit in Acts 2, then all of a sudden, these cowards are turned into bold, courageous evangelists. The gospel started with this small fledgling community in Jerusalem and it spread throughout the known world. That’s precisely what the Apostle Paul said God is up to in Ephesians 2:20—22. “In him,” in Christ, “you,” talking to the church, “are also being built together into a dwelling place,” a temple, “for God.” How? “By the Spirit.”
Zechariah 4 Shares How God Impacts Our Lives
God is the One Who supplies His church with the power they need to fulfill its purposes. He’s going to do it—and He is doing it. So when we ask ourselves, “Should we give up on the church?” it really is the wrong question. The question should be, “Has God given up on His church?” He has not. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus continually supplies the church with the power it needs which is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill His purposes.
Listen, this is so good for you and me, because God wants us to live a supernatural life. Not necessarily a sensational life, but a supernatural life. In other words, He wants you to live in ways that are not possible in your own natural strength. That’s what you’re made for. That’s what He redeemed you for. Remember, His power is not limited by your weakness; His power is put on display through your weakness. God calls you to live in a way that is impossible in your own natural strength.
You might say, “Well, that’s nice, but how do I experience the power of the Holy Spirit?” One woman in our church came up to me last Sunday and said, “I don’t feel the Spirit.” I think that’s a very common frustration in the church today. You believe you have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but you don’t feel like you actually experience the power of the Holy Spirit. You ask, “How do I experience that power? Do I have to go on a retreat? Is there some incantation I need to recite? Do I need some pastor to lay hands on me? How do I experience the power of the Holy Spirit?”
Let me just say—and I hope this is good news for you, because it’s a little bit more simple than we sometimes make it—first of all, you experience the power of the Holy Spirit by being born again. When you turn from your sin, believe the gospel and put your trust in Jesus, He promises that as a follower of His—at the moment of conversion—you are given the gift of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But how do you experience that power in your day to day life?
Think of it this way. Some of you drive really nice cars with V-8 engines and might even be into racing. You might have nitro tanks or some other super charger connected to your car. But now you’re in the Beltway fast lane but are only driving 47 miles an hour. Now others of us are been behind those people. We’re looking at a Porsche in front of our Camry and wondering, “Why do they even have that car?”
I want you to imagine having a race car that has been souped up, fully equipped to be on the road. It’s designed to race. But the driver gets in the car, is on a decline and decides he doesn’t need to put his foot on the gas. He’ll just coast. I think some of us have been given the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, but we’re just coasting. We’re coasting through the Christian life. We experience some movement by just coasting. We can even start to pick up some speed. Listen, you can even coast your way into heaven.
Here’s the question, though. Why would you want to? You can experience some type of movement by coasting, but you will never fully experience what you were designed to be by coasting. All the driver has to do to fully experience what that car was designed to do is put his foot on the gas. As the driver, you don’t supply the power. You’re not racing to the finish line to somehow get to the power. No. The power is there.
Let’s return to the question, “How do I experience the power of the Holy Spirit?” It is actually simple. Obey God’s Word. If you want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, obey God’s Word. If we were talking one on one, I would spend more time with you helping you unpack what that looks like in your life. But in general, if you want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, it is very simple. Look at your life, and ask yourself, “Am I fully obeying God? Have I made God’s priorities my priorities? Or am I just coasting, just being casually carried along by the drift of this world?”
If you are in Christ and ant to experience the full power of the Holy Spirit, you have the power of the Holy Spirit. God is waiting on you and inviting you to lean into His power by doing the things the Spirit empowers you to do, by fully devoting yourself to the life God has called you to live. What is that life? It’s the life of being a light that shines, a light that God uses to reveal Himself to the world. That’s God’s purpose today for the church and it’s God’s purpose for you.
God’s purpose for us is that we would joyfully, willingly and sacrificially allow Him to place us in dark places where the gospel needs to be declared and demonstrated. We are to do this, trusting that He wants to put His power on display through our weakness. We are not capable in and of ourselves to do this, but God is. He has given us His Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave. He wants to use us in 2019 in the DC metropolitan area and all around the world for His glory. He’s just waiting for us.
The book of Zechariah starts with these words in 1:1—3:
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, “The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”
All God was saying is this: “Return to Me. I’m not done with My people. I’m not done with My church. I’m not done with you. I’m inviting you. Just return to Me and let Me use you.” Before I pray and we respond, I want to end with one of my favorite quotes from a pastor named Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones who ministered in London. He wrote a book on revival in which he wrote this about the mission of the church:
Our problem is getting to a place where we realize how absolutely impotent we are. At first we persist in thinking that we can set the situation right. We think if we just write a new book, preach some better sermons, start some new mission works, adopt a new program, this will stem the tide of the enemy. But we come to realize at long last that it’s not working.
Then we remember the promise that when the enemy comes in like a flood, it is the Lord Who will raise up a standard against him. So we throw ourselves upon the mercy of God. It’s not so much an organized prayer emphasis as it is an act of desperation. Then and only then, at that moment of desperation, the power of the Holy Spirit comes flooding upon us and into us. He does in a moment what incremental organization can hardly accomplish in half a century.
I love that quote, because it reminds me that God is the One Who supplies the power. God is the One Who does the work. God is the One Who accomplishes His purposes. He invites us to return and depend and lean on Him.
Let me pray for us.
Father, we need You. We need You corporately as a local church and we need You as the broader body of Christ. We need the power of Your Holy Spirit to change us, cleanse us, empower us, make us effective as the light of the world, make us effective in spreading the gospel and make us effective at meeting urgent physical and spiritual needs here and around the world. God, we need Your power. We need Your strength. We need Your help. We need You personally and individually in our own lives.
We are so aware of our weaknesses and failures. Sometimes we wonder if we should give up, or if You have given up on us. We need to be reminded that as long as we have breath in our lungs, we have an opportunity to return to You, to be restored and to be used by You for Your glorious purposes. So God, give us hope. Give us confidence. Use us for the glory of Your beautiful name, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.