In the military you can do nothing without orders. You can’t travel. You can’t move into a home. You can’t get your children in school. Your spouse may not even be able to get a job! You’d be pretty aimless without orders.
But with your orders you have direction. You have empowerment. You have assurances.
When Jesus was with his disciples during the last days of his earthly ministry he gave his disciples some powerful mission orders. And with his orders he gave powerful assurances that they would have all the power required to carry them out.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But 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.” (Acts 1:4–8, ESV)
Jesus gave his disciples two orders.
(1) “not to depart from Jerusalem.” The other Gospels tell us how the disciples began to travel back to Galilee. Some of them even went back to their old fishing jobs. But Jesus had other plans for them. His plan was that they continue to do what he called them to do. There is no greater order for a disciple to carry out than to do what his master called him to do. There is no place for inserting our own agenda into his mission orders.
(2) “wait for the promise of the Father.” What was the promise? Jesus told them it was the Holy Spirit, the divine presence that would be with them always. Without the Holy Spirit they would be powerless. What does it look like to wait for the Holy Spirit? Later in the story Luke tells us that they “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). If we are to receive the power of the Holy Spirit we, too, must be united in prayer.
Jesus final words to his disciples are actually given as a promise.
(1) “you will receive power.” Power was the very thing required if the disciples were to carry out Jesus’ orders. No plan or agenda of theirs would have succeeded in accomplishing Jesus’ mission orders without the Holy Spirit. The most motivated and mobilized and strategized disciple is powerless without a mighty work of God. That is exactly what the disciples needed. Jesus promised them power, and the rest of the book of Acts confirms that they received it!
(2) “you will be my witnesses.” When we harmonize this verse with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, we may think of it solely as a command. But really it’s part of Jesus’ promise to his disciples. “You will be my witnesses.” The disciples were going to be witnesses of Jesus. That was a guarantee. They were going to be faithful witnesses or unfaithful. They were going to boldly proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and then call others to repentance and forgiveness (see Luke 24:46-48), or they were not.
The orders and promises of Jesus ring true for us, as well. Will we forsake our own agenda and be committed to his call on our lives as disciples? Will we begin among our own people, those in our own families and neighborhoods? Will we prayerfully depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission? Will we be a faithful witness to all Jesus did and said? We have received our mission orders. Are we willing to obey?