(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
You may remember last week, on Ascension Sunday, that we looked at how Luke painted the picture of Jesus Ascension in a way that would remind his readers of Elijah’s ascension. In giving an orderly account of what the apostles taught to Theophilus, it therefore appears that the apostles taught the ascension this way also. We noticed some very clear parallels.
Elisha asked for the Elijah’s spirit (so that
he could continue ministry in the spirit and power of Elijah - a double
portion is an inheritance of a first born son)
Jesus promised clothing
Luke draws this interesting parallel to teach us that we are to continue in the power and the spirit of Jesus with the Holy Spirit that we receive as our inheritance as sons and daughters who inherit equally the double portion of the first born. And we closed with noticing one further parallel - Jesus, like Elijah called for complete commitment from us, for to continue their ministry in the power of the Spirit is a difficult thing requiring a Elisha "I will never leave you!" kind of commitment.
On this Pentecost morning we want to ask the question: What does it mean for us, in our everyday lives, to be clothed with power from on high?
To answer that question, lets start with a little cultural anthropology especially as it applies to clothing. Clothing is call material culture - that means that it is a way that culture takes on physical form on every one of us. Clothing both hides and reveals.
Let me use you as an illustration (not in the same order as on the slide). Your clothing this morning reveals your modesty. It hides what you think others should not notice, especially in the context of church. You might wear different clothing on the beech, here, in the presence of God and his people, you dress modestly. As it hides, clothing has almost moral qualities.
Yet you subconsciously or intentionally choose clothing that reveals who you are. It reveals your gender (we all recognize cross dressing as some form of distortion), it reveals you age (we don’t see many elderly in runners with embedded wheels and light emitting diodes no matter how young they might feel), it reveals your culture and your position within that culture (so we notice that those who perceive themselves or are perceived as leaders often wear suits. My self perception is that I am a servant before I am a leader, and so I only wear a suit if you expect me to. When I discovered that you as a congregation are comfortable with casual dress clothing on a pastor, I was eager to change. But I would be reluctant to wear worn out blue jeans up here, I am after all, still a leader.) You notice everywhere in cultures that clothing says things about power and status, Generals wear stars and medals, common soldiers have few if any adornments.
Even when a person bringing a message comes to our front door, we expect them to either wear or carry some form of identification. We do not expect the gasman to wear rags.
Clothing is tied to the rituals of culture, and so those involved in ceremony, like a wedding will wear very different clothing, maybe a piece of clothing that will be worn only once in their lives. Clothing reveals who you are within the context and event you are living.
Let me in just a few minutes tie some of those themes to the scripture and the way clothing is referred to in the scriptures.
In scripture, captives and slaves were naked or near naked. So the Gaderene Demoniac suffering from being possessed by a legion of demons was naked, but the prodical son, when he returned from his slavery in a foreign land was given the best robe in the house and new sandals to wear because he was a son again. The clothing revealed his status in the context of the fathers family.
So to, when we receive the clothing of the Spirit, it is a sign of our status, our relationship and identity as sons of God. The presence of spiritual power in our lives reveals to others that we have received an inheritance, our double portion, for we are the children of God and by that Spirit we cry out Abba, father. Not only is being clothed with power from on high a sign of being a inheriting child of God, the spirit of power is also a demonstration of divine favor that may cause envy and pain. Remember Joseph’s many coloured coat! Remember when Benjamin went to Egypt, he received from the ruler of Egypt way more clothing than his brothers did. That is care, love, favoritism demonstrated. But remember Joseph! Had it not been for the plan of God to take evil and turn it to good, that many coloured coat could have cost him his life. To bear the spirit is a difficult thing, requiring a Elisha kind of commitment.
Make this practical - can others sense in your life that there is something different about you - that you belong to God both in your life and even in death, in your joys and in your struggles?
Do they sense that you have the favour of God on your life? (1 Peter 4:12, 13 in context of talking about suffering and trials - If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.)
To be clothed with the Spirit demonstrates that we are emissaries, messengers of the kingdom. When the Spirit of Pentecost was poured out, people were shocked at what they saw. This was a uniform they had not seen before. But the message was clear. The power of the Spirit demonstrated that Jesus was both Lord and Christ, a kingdom was being established and the disciples were the ambassadors with the message. But at the same time they were coming as ambassadors of a conquering kingdom into hostile territory - make peace with God while the opportunity is here.
Their message was not well received by those who had no interest in an new kingdom, a new ruler, and so Paul says in the very same letter in which he talks about being ambassadors with the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians), he also says: "To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."
Have you sensed that others will have nothing to do with you, avoid you, because of your faith, because of the message that you carry in your life, in your speech, in your actions? To bear the spirit of power can be a difficult thing that takes an Elisha kind of taking up our cross and following commitment.
In the scriptures, clothing also has a moral revealing quality. To be clothed with power from on high transforms our lives from following an old nature that leads to sin and destruction, to a new nature that is the character of Christ. Paul makes it clear that to be clothed with the power from on high is to be clothed in the character of Christ - it has a moral and behavioural dimension that reveals Christ is in us.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 - notice inheritance and sonship theme)
In Romans 13:14, Paul tells us to cloth ourselves with Christ, in Colossians 3 he instructs us to cloth ourselves with the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and the forgiveness of Christ.
The spirit of power that is visible on the outside is to reveal the moral and ethical realities of what has happened to us on the inside. Just like your clothing is the public face that reveals who you are, so to our spiritual clothing is the character of Christ lived out every day. So Paul calls the moral effect of being clothed by the spirit of power fruit - characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Bearing that kind of character takes commitment because sometimes it means that we do not win in conflict settings, sometimes it might mean that we forgo our rights and our opinions for the well being of community, of others. That kind of character turns us into servants for the common good and foot-washing leaders. Does your life carry the ethical dimension of being clothed with power from on high?
One last dimension, and I will focus on this as quickly as I can. In the scriptures, clothing also clearly had a ceremonial dimension. You might remember that prophets wore prophetic clothing, so the mantle of Elijah was all harry and rough, as was the clothing of John the baptist. Not something you would wear in the city, ideal clothing however for living in the desert. The Old Testament however becomes very interesting when it comes to the clothing of priests. They were not allowed to wear wool because it would carry their body odour from sweat (Ezekiel 44:17,18) although in their history, unfaithful priests did so (Ezekiel 34). They were only allowed to wear flax linen, as they served in the tabernacle or the temple - if they wore something else they would die (Exodus28:42,43).
Now flax linen is very vulnerable to wrinkles. Notice however the New Testament. Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Without wrinkle, spotless and clean - holy and blameless, that was Christ’s work for the church.
When history comes to an end, and we celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and his bride the church, Revelation 19 says
This morning we are invited to come to the Lord’s table, a meal that anticipates that final meal, where we will be dressed in white, without spot or wrinkle.
Even now as we come to participate, the question must be asked, how you been clothed with power from on high? A clothing which demonstrates to others that through the death and resurrection of Christ, you have become a forgiven inheriting child of God, an ambassador for the kingdom, a person clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in perfect linen garments he came to provide. You see, everyone of us in Christ is a priest, Revelation 5 tells us that we are priests to our God having an intercessory role to this world. But that is another topic that we will deal with in the future.
Have you been clothed with power from on high? Come then
to the joyful feast.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.