Written by Geoff Warne.
He dies. Shock. Dismay. Bewilderment…
He’s alive! Astonishment. Joy. Wondering…
He’s ascended. Questions. Apprehension. Waiting…
And then Pentecost. Power. Energy. Explosion.
The very thing that Jesus promised, now happens. God’s Holy Spirit starts to be poured into the lives of not just the special few but everybody. And immediately the Spirit does what Jesus said he would. He starts to remind Jesus’ followers of everything Jesus had said to them. Why? So they can say things like the Master said, and do things like the Master did. The saying and the doing are to go hand in hand because – as the disciples had seen – that’s how it was with Jesus and, more than anything else, they want to be like him.
starts at Pentecost. Jesus had gone around preaching and teaching the good news of the kingdom of God: that in him, God was now intervening decisively in human history. Jesus stayed local, so his audience was mainly the people of Israel, but he was clear that he expected his followers to go beyond that – to make disciples of all nations.
So in Acts 2 we read how on Pentecost Day the believers, filled with the Spirit, start to speak in other languages. Fifteen people groups are listed: very likely there were many more than fifteen languages. Peter, who doesn’t seem to have been particularly eloquent before but is now transformed by the Holy Spirit, steps forward and makes a speech declaring that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. People are deeply convicted. Three thousand people from among those fifteen nations become believers. God’s Spirit is active. God’s mission – to draw men and women worldwide back to him – continues. And the church is born.
also starts at Pentecost. When Jesus announced his ministry in Luke 4 he quoted some verses from the book of Isaiah that were actually about him. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach good news to the poor
’. The quote goes on to reveal the depth of Jesus’ concern for the prisoner, the blind person, the downtrodden. That becomes a key element of his ministry: healing, releasing, cleansing, restoring, and a deep concern for the poor and the marginalised. All done not from a sense of duty or compulsion but out of love. Indeed, Jesus is clear that ‘love one another’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ are to be the mark of his followers.
So in the same Pentecost chapter, Acts 2, we read what the new church begins to do. Some new Christians are in need, so others share their meals and their resources – sometimes selling their possessions in order to provide for others. Later we are told ‘there was no poverty among them’ and we read of special concern and action for the more at-risk people of the day: widows, orphans, immigrants, slaves, prisoners. Later still. Christians begin to question the structures and human systems that cause poverty and start to champion the cause of the poor and powerless.
What we see here is integral mission in practice. Saying and doing. Proclaiming the good news, and demonstrating what it means in practice. This is not a theory or a programme: it’s the natural result of following Jesus’ pattern of life, made possible by the Spirit living within us. And it continues – today – to result in changed lives and changed communities. I think of the villages on the other side of the mountain from The Leprosy Mission’s hospital in Nepal. Local staff tell me they were dark places but as people have come to know Jesus Christ, darkness has become light – a worshipping community devoted to improving livelihoods and conditions in the village. I think of the ‘Farming God’s Way’ project (pictured)
, which is transforming poor communities in Mozambique through a sustainable farming method, based on Biblical training and principles, to unlock the potential of the land and be good and faithful stewards of God’s creation. And I think of how The Leprosy Mission’s work in Sri Lanka has resulted in hundreds of church pastors and their congregations reaching out to befriend and include people affected by leprosy, in the name of Jesus, because that’s what Jesus did.
This is integral mission and it’s Pentecost: it’s the Spirit at work through Jesus’ followers. Through it we see the flowering of peace, love for the marginalised, justice and prosperity. A foretaste now of what God will one day bring to completion in the new heaven and earth over which Jesus Christ will reign.
Geoff Warne was General Director of The Leprosy Mission International from 2006 to 2016 and has been involved with The Leprosy Mission since 1981.