Reviewed by Matthew J. McMains
The mission of Jesus for his followers. It is a topic that should be of the utmost importance for all who would profess faith in Christ. What is it that my Lord and Savior requires of me? And perhaps just as important, how can such be accomplished? These are the questions Azurdia tackles in his important work, Spirit Empowered Mission: Aligning the Church’s Mission with the Mission of Jesus.
Azurdia breaks divides his work into eight chapters, each based on a section of Scripture from Acts 1-2. Thus, his work provides a running commentary on the early chapters of Acts, interweaving faithful exegesis, practical application, and pastoral exhortation.
In his introduction, Azurdia discusses the centrifugal nature of the book of Acts, which describes the fact that in Acts Luke focuses his attention outward, away from the geographical center of Jerusalem which was prominent in his first volume. As he puts it, “the achievement of Jesus Christ is not to be confined to a geographical center. Rather, the entire world must realize that God’s son has brought salvation to the human race” (10). This is the crux of Jesus mission and precisely what Azurdia desires to reinforce in this book.
In this review I will give a brief summary and evaluation of each chapter. I will then conclude with some general observations of the work as a whole.
In Chapter 1, “The Apostolic Docudrama,” Azurdia further defines the mission of Jesus and the function of the book of Acts in relationship to Luke’s Gospel. While many factors seek to dissuade God’s people from the mission, the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed throughout the world must remain the Christian’s focus. In discussing Luke-Acts, Azurdia argues that Luke is a prequel to Acts and thus the latter is necessarily a book about the continued mission of the risen Christ (24).
In Chapter 2, the Final Words of First Importance, Azurdia argues that in Acts 1:1-11 Jesus directly answers the apostles question regarding the restoration of the kingdom. It will happen as the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they proclaim the risen Christ to all nations. Here Azurdia helpfully demonstrates that Jesus’ answer to the apostles is not a “radical reinterpretation of the common expectations of Israel’s restoration,” but it is a promise that such expectations are about to be realized. Here Azurdia demonstrates from texts in Ezekiel and Isaiah that the pouring out of the Spirit and the subsequent witness of the apostles to the ends of the earth is precisely what has been expected throughout salvation history.
In Chapter 3, Waiting, Azurdia discusses Acts 1:12-26. Here he focuses on the Christian’s task of waiting on the Lord. He points out that the disciples waited actively, both praying continually and obeying God’s commands, as they waited for the promise of Jesus to pour out his Spirit. The application is clear and compelling: do we as followers of Jesus wait actively on the Lord, or do we wait impatiently and begrudgingly? Particularly helpful in this chapter is the discussion of the importance of their being a twelfth apostle. The fact that Matthias is never again mention in the New Testament indicates that the name of the man is not so important as the number of apostles, pointing symbolically again to the restoration of Israel through the mission of Jesus which will be fulfilled through the Spirit empowered witness of the apostles.
In chapters 4-6 Azurdia unpacks the account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-41. He seeks to answer three questions: 1) what is Pentecost? (vv 1-13); 2) what does Pentecost mean? (vv 14-36); and 3) what response does Pentecost demand?
In Chapter 4 he helpfully argues that Pentecost is a unique event in church history that, while never to be repeated, has lasting benefits. It is “the fulfillment of God’s great last days promise” (92). Here Azurdia helpfully connects the powerful manifestations of the Spirit to Old Testament promises regarding the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s mission on the earth. Further, Azurdia continues to emphasize the outward nature of the mission of the church as see in the enabling of the apostles by the Spirit to communicate in the various languages of those present. He summarizes: “[Pentecost] reminds the church of God’s ancient promises and fulfillments, her unique mission in long-standing continuity with God’s intention for Israel, and of the provision of the Holy Spirit by whose potency she is equipped to engage it successfully.”
In chapter 5 Azurdia continues the discussion by asking, “What does Pentecost Mean?” Here we find a helpful exposition of the apostle Peter’s first sermon, which very simply defines Pentecost as the inauguration of the end. Pentecost means “Salvation from final judgment in King Jesus who is the Lord” (147). Helpful in this chapter is the discussion of Luke’s use of the term “prophecy”, the meaning of “the last days”, and the apocalyptic language of verses 19-20.
Finally, in chapter 6 Azurdia delves into the response demanded by Pentecost. The only proper response to Pentecost is desperation. The people cry out “what shall we do?” This leads to the only true comfort in light of such desperation, namely, the forgiveness of sins through repentance. Azurdia includes a helpful discussion regarding the relationship of baptism to the forgiveness of sins, arguing that the grammar indicates a subordinate relationship of baptism to repentance and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. While this is certainly possible, there are other New Testament texts which seem to closely link baptism with salvation. Perhaps a simple answer is that in the minds of the early church, the event of salvation and the accompanying sign came to be used interchangeably simply because the latter always accompanied the former.
In chapters 7 and 8 Azurdia concludes by discussing Acts 2:42-47 and its implications for the church. He discusses here five distinguishing acts of a “Spirit-revived community”: learning, sharing, eating (fellowship), and praying. The result of such activity is that God continually adds to their number, continuing to fulfill the mission of Christ on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To conclude, Art Azurdia’s Spirit Empowered Mission is a perfect follow up to his earlier book on the power of the Spirit in preaching. It is through the preaching of the gospel that hearts are changed, both initially unto salvation and further as they are compelled to be about the mission of Christ on earth. Both require the power of the Holy Spirit, and Azurdia reminds us of this in his work. This book is highly recommended, both as a careful exegesis of the first two chapters of Acts, and also as a challenging exhortation for the people of God to be about the mission of Christ upon this earth. Finally, it is a comforting reminder that we are not alone in this mission but that it is by the power of the Spirit that God’s purposes are accomplished. His followers, therefore, may rest confidently in this and boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ throughout the world.
Matthew J. McMains is a PhD candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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Spirit Empowered Mission: Aligning the Church’s Mission with the Mission of Jesus