Allen Jackson - Transmitting God's Power - Highlights
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The foundation of our faith is a person. He's the chief cornerstone, we're taught. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. There is nothing that's more significant than that: no denomination, no congregation, no translation, no style of worship. Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. But once we've established that, there are some foundational teachings that are essential and if your foundation is not strong, when there is turmoil and turbulence and pressure against it, your faith will collapse. That's the reason they use the word "foundation". And so then the author of Hebrews introduces us to six teachings. Doctrines and teachings are really interchangeable. Teaching sounds a little less pretentious.
Six foundational teachings that are essential for the stability of our faith. And we've been looking at them. I hope to complete them in this session, good Lord willing. "The foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death," it's one; "faith in God," two; "instructions about baptisms," three; "the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so". The one we haven't talked about is the laying on of hands, and that's our target in this session. And I gave the title, "The Transmitting of God's Power," 'cause I really think that's the essence of it. Laying on of hands brings continuity to the body of Christ. It brings continuity between one generation and the next.
In fact, I would submit to you its principal function is to provide continuity in the body of Christ. It's an essential element in the history of God's people, from the early chapters of Genesis to the conclusion of the New Testament. There are some spiritual perspectives about specific functions and I'll just tag them. We'll look at them briefly, but it's about, we lay hands on one another to transmit blessings or spiritual authority or wisdom or the Holy Spirit or a spiritual gift or a ministry. Or secondly to commission a biblical way of commissioning a person for service in the body of Christ.
You see, the skeptics will say it's just a perfunctory public presentation. Oh, so with your opinion, you set aside the practice of Scripture? I've been in those institutions, and that hasn't always been the case. We serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There's clearly a momentum built, generation to generation. We've lost sight of this a little bit, because we've lost sight of some of the foundations. In laying on our hands, it's a way of endorsing or giving authority, it's a way of equipping or transmitting spiritual gifts or authority, enabling a person to carry out what God has called them to. We don't lay hands on one another to identify what we want to do or what we wanna become or what we think somebody should do, but to cooperate with what God has made evident.
I'll give you a couple of biblical examples. We can start in the Old Testament. Moses and Joshua, I think you know both characters. I tried to select some familiar narratives. So this is a far more predominant theme. We could spend a good bit of time on this but I tried to choose characters you would know so you will know the back story, at least in part, or the narrative in part. Moses and Joshua, or Moshua. Moses and Joshua, I think you know, right? Okay, well in Numbers 27, Moses is nearing the end of his journey and he knows it and he's concerned about the leader who will complete the journey. So "Moses said to the Lord, 'May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community.'" I love Moses's heart. "The God of the spirits of all mankind".
Folks, there's a spirit in every human being. The message we have, the hope that we hold out, is about so much more than time and what can be gained or lost in time. Your spirit is eternal. What is that destiny? The people that you know and you love and you work with and you care about, and you shop with. What is their destiny for eternity? We've gotten pretty casual about that. In fact, if evangelical's kind of the label that the seculars will put on that kind of a worldview and they speak of it derisively, with hatred, something to be limited, all sorts of bad things emerge from that kind of a worldview. It's not an anger of other people, it's not a condemnation of other people; it's a conviction that there is a God and that he can be known and that you don't wanna step out of time without knowing him. That's a loving message. "The God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD'S people will not be like sheep without a shepherd".
Throughout Scripture, one of the most desperate statements that can be made is to be a people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep do not do well without a shepherd. "So the LORD said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him.'" Words are important: "Give him some of your authority, Moses". There really has been nobody like Moses. Don't give him all of your authority, but give him some of your authority so the community will follow him.
"He is to stand before the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim and the Lord. And at his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before the priest and the whole assembly. And he laid his hands on him and he commissioned him, as the Lord instructed him through Moses".
I would submit to you this is a real transaction. It's not just a ceremony. It isn't just a ritual of endorsement. It's not like a swearing in, but there is a spiritual transfer that takes place. Joshua starts his life in the brick pits of Egypt. He's Moses's aide to camp. He's watched a lot and he's seen a lot, but he's being asked to complete a task that Moses couldn't. They can't afford for a leadership fail. And God's solution wasn't a training course. It wasn't a video review. He was capable. He gave Moses a flyover of the Promised Land. He said, "Lay your hands on him".
Deuteronomy 34, there's an interesting commentary on it. "Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses". The implication's clear: if Moses hadn't done that, Joshua's future would have been different. Is it possible we've left something out of our practice, that we've overlooked, that we've diminished it, we've said it wasn't that valuable? I left a passage out just because of time and the length of it, but when Jacob, Israel, is taken to Egypt to see Joseph, the son that he thought was dead, and he knows he's near the end of his life, he says, "I wanna bless your sons. Bring Manasseh and Ephraim to me. I wanna bless them. I want to put my hands on them".
If you remember the story, some of you will, the eldest son would usually be the inheritor. In an agricultural society, the eldest child typically was the one who would inherit because if you took the crop land and you divided it amongst 12 kids, it wouldn't take very many generations and everybody would starve. But when it was time for Jacob to pray, he crossed his hands and he put his right hand on the younger and his left hand on the elder, and Joseph tried to correct it and he said, "No, I didn't misunderstand, I'm not confused, it's not my eyesight nor my age. I have a blessing for both, but they're different". It's so clear in the text that there's an intentionality to it, a purposefulness to it. It's not just some random prayer, not some polite mumbling. Fathers, one of the most significant things you can do is a blessing on your children. We treat it so casually. I think of all the things we prioritize in front of it. It matters. It truly does.
In the New Testament the laying on of hands is used for a variety of things. I didn't bring you an inclusive list, but just to kind of open your thoughts. It's used in the context of praying for the sick. In Mark 16:17, it says: "You'll place your hands on sick people, and they will recover". James 5 and verse 14 says: "Is any one of you sick? He should call for the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord". I've said to you many times, "Do you believe in praying for the sick or going to the doctor"? Yes. Who said it was an either/or choice? We read that in verse 9. I think our, kind of our default question has to do with who's an elder. But I think there's a much more important question. The invitation to be ministered to is only extended to those who are part of the community of faith.
If you're an independent contractor, if you prefer a lone ranger faith, there's very little prescription provided for you in the Scripture. The book of Revelation, that remarkable revelation of the end of the age, it's a message that it's written to seven specific churches, of which the Lord says, "I know your deeds. I know your strengths and your weaknesses," and he provides a resolution to all the above. If you weren't a part of the seven churches, you weren't a recipient of the message.
Again, I think we have treated the privilege of being in community far too casually. I've said to you on a number of occasions in recent months that our faith had been distilled down to something around comfort and convenience, and we assimilated that into our imaginations of what was valuable and what was important because we didn't really attach a great deal of spiritual significance and we certainly didn't imagine there was much authority or much power invested in what we were doing. I mean, we didn't wanna go to hell, but beyond that, we had better resources, better economic resources, better health resources, better resources for our children, better futures for them apart from the things of God so we didn't really have to encourage them in the things of God. We didn't want 'em to be pagan, we didn't want them to be Muslim or Buddhist but, you know, we didn't want 'em to be, and I think God's begun to say to us, "There's a better way".
The New Testament assumes a believer will be in community. There's another role or function or outcome to the laying on of hands. It has to do with imparting the gifts of the Spirit of God. And again, that's not relevant if you don't need any power beyond yourself. If your contacts are sufficient and your resources are adequate and you can outwork it or outthink it or outorganize it, you're okay. But when you bump into something that you can't and we need a power greater than ourselves, how is that released? How is it communicated? How is it transmitted? It's a very important question. We asked that question about a virus. We asked it with great intentionality. We adjusted our whole lives and we changed our face coverings and our handwashing and our social habits and there's a power greater than a virus amongst us.
Do you think we could learn how to communicate, how to transmit it, how to welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives more completely? "When the apostles in Jerusalem," it's Acts 8, "heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit hadn't yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus". They'd been born again. Again, in the context of the book of Acts, we're invited into this notion of the new birth and Spirit baptism. And that idea is being pulled forward here in Acts chapter 8. "Peter and John placed their hands on 'em, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money. He said, 'Hey, I need that ability," but he recognized that the apostles placing their hands on them had enough of an impact that he imagined it could be monetized. We're not the first generation to wander into the weeds.
Acts chapter 9, different context, different story. This is Ananias. He's been sent by the Spirit of God to go pray for the persecutor of the believers in Jesus. He doesn't wanna go. But he ends up yielding to the assignment, "And Ananias went to the house and he entered it. He placed his hands on Saul, and he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'" If we did that in the current environment, the overwhelming temptation if we say, "Lord, I don't have to go see him. He's a wild man, he's crazy, he's angry, he's violent. I will fast and pray all day and I will pray from my living room. There's no distance of the Spirit".
And then I would quote him the 22 verses I know where they didn't go, which had no bearing whatsoever on the assignment that God had given to him. You go, you place your hands on him. It's not true in every case. I'm not trying to create a new behavior but I'm telling you there's a portion of what the Scripture invites us to that we have not made room for in our imagination. It took courage on Ananias's part to knock on that door and say, "I'm here, Paul. The Lord sent me to lay my hands on you and pray for you". He could have snapped irons on them.
See, I don't think we've understood the courage it takes to follow the Lord. We think we're courageous when we say, "Let's pray. Lord, bless my friend, amen, in Jesus's name. How about them Titans"? That's been our story. "You know, I don't talk about my faith at work. I could be sued". Oh, you mean, in a place where we're supposed to be tolerant of all perspectives, we have bowed to the threat of economic reprisal if we're so bold as to say, "I believe in Jesus"? When they coach our children on which gender they are today or that we should make decisions about one another based on our outward appearance or the corporate boardroom determines which cities or states they will punish based on worldviews that the citizens in that state embrace, and we're ashamed to say, "I believe in Jesus"?
Our problem is not the wicked and I'm not throwing stones at you. I'm the one that came up with "Let's pray". I put those little steps in there so you could slide that prayer in so nobody would notice. They wouldn't figure it out 'til you were gone. I think the good news of Acts 9 is anyone can be directed to lay hands on somebody and pray for 'em. There's not some subset. We lay hands on one another to commission servants in the church. In Acts chapter 6, the church is growing, it's changing rapidly. They can't keep up. They can't keep up with the new people coming, they can't keep up with the demands that are being made. Wouldn't that be wonderful? And all that's taking place right in the face of persecution, while they're threatening and they're putting 'em in jail. We're only a chapter away from our first martyr. And in the midst of all that turmoil and all that frustration and all that pushback, there's a rapidly changing dynamic, people coming to faith.
You see, I mistakenly thought that if a revival took place, there'd just be parades and happiness and joy and that's really not what the Bible says. "So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and they said, 'It really wouldn't be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.'" We're doing too much of that. "'Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We'll turn this responsibility over to them and we'll give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.' And the proposal pleased the whole group. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; and Philip," and somebody else and somebody else and somebody else and somebody from "Antioch, who was a convert to Judaism". In verse 6: "They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them". Look at verse 7: "So the word of God spread".
Did the Word of God spread because they'd made a management decision to share their responsibilities? Was this an outcome that came just from a delegatory decision? Well, I think that delegation probably had some impact upon it, but I think it's pretty clear, though, the words that are most frequently used and repeated have to do with the involvement of the Spirit. "Choose men that are full of the Spirit and the wisdom of the Spirit". Give them some responsibility. "They chose Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit". They presented these men to the apostles and they laid their hands on them and, remember, this is told to a group of people who, for the story of Moses and Joshua and Josiah and Joash and Elisha, that's their family story.
They're very familiar with that narrative. They're not borrowing a practice from somebody else. They understand this to have shaped generation after generation after generation, all the way back to when Jacob was praying for Joseph's kids in Egypt. Yeah, we need some people to wait tables. Bring 'em over here. We wanna pray for them. And then what's the outcome? "So the word of God spread. And the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and even a large number of priests became obedient to the faith".
They were ordaining helpers. The New Testament word for deacon just means a helper, a servant. Servers, they weren't handing out blocks of authority or grants of responsibility. They were saying, "We need some help. Will you serve? And we need the best amongst you, the brightest, the most qualified, but you're not gonna serve just because of your curriculum vitae or your résumé. You're going to serve because of the presence of the Spirit of God in your life".
And out of that list of seven servers that they anointed and caused the church to flourish, Stephen who's the first martyr and Philip becomes an evangelist. Talented people serving. Biblically, and I'm about out of time, but biblically, the pathway to promotion in the kingdom of God is through serving. It's not something heinous that we dreamt up to recruit people to do meaningless jobs. Again, we've drifted a long way away from a biblical perspective. We're too busy or too talented or too important or too something. Too busy with our own selfish pursuits. "My time and my calendar and my energy. It's what I wanna do".
Our topic today was "The Laying On of Hands: Transmitting God's Authority". I wanna make a couple of suggestions. Let's not process it right now in terms of who you would like to pray for you. Let's think about the opportunities invested in you. And when we think about praying for somebody else, don't think of it in terms of showmanship or drawing attention to yourself. You don't need to make an announcement that I'm about to lay hands on you. Sometimes you can join hands with somebody and say, "I'd like to say a prayer for you". Or you can take somebody's hand and say, you know, "I'd just like to bless your life". There are ways that you can transmit the intent of God into somebody's life and they're not really even conscious that you've done it. Don't make it about yourself or about ourselves. Let's intend to be a blessing to others. Lord, use us to bless your people in a way that pleases you, in Jesus's name, amen.