This morning I’m excited to begin preaching through a new book of the Bible.
As most of you know, for the last four months we have been working through a sermon series following the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection – from Christmas to Easter.
And of course, if you were with us two weeks ago on Easter Sunday, you’ll recall how we concluded that series by reading through the details of Christ’s resurrection, his appearance to his disciples, and finally, His ascension back into heaven.
However, while those events did conclude the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, they certainly did not conclude the work of Jesus Christ here on earth.
Jesus would continue to accomplish the Father’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the disciples and the many others who would eventually come to faith over the next many years. Or to put it another way, Jesus would continue to bring about the kingdom of God working through his redeemed people – the Church.
And that’s what I want us to look at for the next little while. Specifically, I want us to read through the book of Acts.
Now most of you probably know this already, but the book of Acts is actually the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Luke, who happened to be a doctor and a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote both of these two books as a carefully researched account of the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus.
We see that right in the opening lines of Luke chapter 1. Luke begins that book by saying:
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
So here we see that the author Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke as a careful, historic account of the life & ministry of Jesus Christ – written for sake of this fellow Theophilus – so that he could be certain of the truth he was taught!
Then after writing this first book, Luke went on to write a second book – again for this same fellow Theophilus as a continuation of that story. Take a look at the opening lines of the book of Acts. It begins like this:
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven… Acts 1:1-2a
So just from those few opening words, we can see that the book of Acts is very clearly a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the story. And actually, even though the traditional title of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles” – it’s probably more accurate to call it “The continued Acts of Jesus” because it really is a continuation of all that Jesus began to do!
While the stories in the book of Acts certainly feature several of the Apostles, Jesus is the one key figure throughout! It’s all about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the Apostles and through the early church!
So while the Gospels tell us what Jesus began to do and teach – the book of Acts tell us what Jesus continued to do and teach – primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit.
And even beyond the book of Acts, Jesus continues to “do and teach” through the Holy Spirit even today!
While Jesus may not be physically present among us as he was 2000 years ago, He is still very alive and is very much at work in and through our lives – and that’s really what the book of Acts is all about. It’s how Jesus continued to bring about the Kingdom of God – working through the Apostles and all those who would eventually trust in Christ – empowering them by His Holy Spirit – just like what He continues to do even today!
And I think that’s partly why I’m so excited to go through this book with you over the next few months! We might find it difficult to relate to the some of the Gospel stories because we don’t have a physical Jesus walking and talking with us – we can’t watch him walk on water or see him touch the eyes of a blind man. But yet, we can have the exact same experience as those early disciples in Acts!
We can be filled with the Holy Spirit – empowered by God to boldly share about Christ and his kingdom! What Jesus did through those early disciples back then is exactly what he wants to do through us today!
So I’m totally excited to see what we can learn from this book over the next little while – and I trust that God will use this time to shape us and direct us and to show us how we can join Him in what he is already doing in our little town of Penhold!
Acts chapter 1, starting at verse 1:
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. 3 During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Acts 1:1-3
Let’s pause here for a minute. When you read through the resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke, you might conclude that Jesus rose from the grave, appeared to the disciples, and then ascended into heaven all on the same day. We read through Luke 24 on Easter Sunday, and that’s kinda how it all reads. But that account is really just concise summary of what happened over the course of several weeks.
We know that because here in Acts, Luke clarifies that there was 40 days between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension into heaven. And during that time, he appeared to the apostles several times and proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive! It wasn’t just appearing to those guys on the road to Emmaus or to the disciples in the upper room. Jesus appeared to many different people at many different times.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul states that Christ appeared to over 500 people during that time. He writes:
Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
1 Corinthians 15:3b-8
The point that both Paul and Luke are making here, is that there were many witness who personally saw the resurrected Jesus over a period of many days! It was not just one or two people who imagined seeing Jesus or had a dream that He was alive. But rather, many people saw and talked with him on many occasions – and as Luke says, Jesus proved to them in many ways that He was actually alive!
On Easter Sunday, we read how Jesus ate some fish when he appeared to them in the upper room – to show that he had a fully functioning body. John writes in his Gospel about how Jesus showed Thomas his nailed pierced hands and feet – and the spear wound in his side – to prove that it was really him.
And of course, these are just a few examples, but over the course of those 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus repeatedly appeared to the Apostles and to many others – and proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.
And this fact is the foundation for everything else that happens in the book of Acts. If Jesus had not truly been raised from the dead, the story would have ended there and none of us would have ever even heard of Jesus Christ. He would have been just another forgotten, nameless person in history.
But, as Jesus proved to his disciples and as Luke clearly describes for us, Jesus is the risen Saviour! He is alive today! He has defeated death and is King over all! His death & resurrection inaugurated a brand new era for the Kingdom of God.
And that’s why, at the end of verse 3, we read…
3 During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Acts 1:3
Of course, the kingdom of God is what Jesus had been preaching about throughout his entire ministry! So you would think that by now, the disciples would have a pretty good handle on what the kingdom of God was all about – but as we’re going to see in just a couple of verses, they still didn’t quite get it. They still had a national, political kingdom in mind – where Jesus would free Israel from the rule of the Romans and ultimately sit as the king on the throne in Jerusalem.
And indeed, there will yet be that day, where Christ will have ultimate rule over all the nations of the earth, but for now, the kingdom that Jesus was talking about was a kingdom where He ruled not over entire nations necessarily, but over individual hearts. Men, women, and children would each, individually choose to invite Jesus to be the king of their lives. God’s kingdom would grow one person at a time.
And by the way – if you’ve never personally invited Jesus to be your King, I’d really encourage you to consider doing that today! After all, could there be a better king than one who has conquered death and who offers that same victory to each one of us? The kingdom of God is unlike any other kingdom on earth – it’s marked by joy and peace and eternal life! And you have an open invitation to become part of that kingdom. But it’s up to you to accept Christ as your King or not. Will you choose to be part of the Kingdom of God?
But to get back to our passage, the disciple would certainly have a key part to play in that kingdom. And so when it says at the end of verse three that Jesus talked to them about the Kingdom of God after his resurrection, their role in the kingdom of God was certainly part of the conversation.
Take a look at verse 4:
4 Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Now this is another one of the things that makes the Kingdom of God unlike any other kingdom on earth! Our King is not far away in some remote castle or presidential palace. He’s not safely tucked away behind bullet-proof glass or barricaded behind armed security guards. He’s not even even an arm’s length away from us at anytime. But rather, He lives within each one of us through the person the Holy Spirit.
This is the gift that God the Father had promised to send to each one of Christ’s followers. The Holy Spirit – God Himself – would come and dwell within each person. As Jesus said, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” – they would be totally immersed in the Spirit of God.
And Jesus had told them about this earlier. If you flip back to John chapter 14, verse 16, we read how Jesus said to his disciples:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.
You see, while Christ was on earth, the disciples had the amazing privilege of being with God Himself. They could walk with him and talk with him – just like any other person. But once Christ left the earth, that privilege was actually extended and expanded. Now, not only would God be with them, but He would actually dwell within each one of them! From that point on, He would never leave them. They would have personal access to the King of all Creation at anytime and anyplace.
What’s more, that privilege would be extended to every person on the earth who would ever put their faith in Christ – and that includes you and I. Right now, in this moment, we can have the God who created the universe, dwelling within us – ready to lead us, guide us, and empower us to accomplish whatever it is that He wants us to accomplish!
And of course, we’re going to talk much more about this in the coming weeks, but for today, I just want to remind you what a privilege it is for us to be part of this kingdom of God – and to have the Holy Spirit of our King ever-present within us! That’s pretty amazing stuff!
But of course, at this point, I’m not sure the disciples fully comprehended what an amazing gift the Holy Spirit would be – they would just have to wait to experience it for themselves. And that’s why Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Father would send them this gift. The Holy Spirit would be essential to their further work in the kingdom of God – and we’ll see that when we get down to verse 8. But first, let’s look at verse 6 & 7. Verse 6 says…
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Acts 1:6
I mentioned earlier how the disciples were still thinking of the Kingdom of God as a national, political kingdom. They were still quite eager to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. And you might think that Jesus would be quite frustrated with them for still not getting it.
But interestingly, Jesus doesn’t reprimand them or even correct them for thinking this way. Instead, look at what Jesus says.
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8
There would be a time when Israel would be freed from oppression and the kingdom be restored, as the disciples were suggesting – but the dates and times for those events were not to be the disciple’s concern. God the Father would take care of all that. The disciples were to concern themselves with something else entirely!
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they would be witnesses for Christ – telling people everywhere about Jesus – from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth! That’s the task they were to be concerned about!
Their job was to invite people into the kingdom of God – by telling them all the things that Jesus said and did – giving witness to the fact that they saw Him live and die and rise again from the grave!
God would take care of all the kingdom details and He would choose the times and dates for all futures events – but the disciple’s job was simply to be witnesses for Christ – telling everyone what they had seen and heard.
And by the way, that’s our job too! Even though we weren’t eye-witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we too are to be his witnesses!
We may not have physically witnessed the acts of Christ, but because of the Holy Spirit living in us, we’ve personally experienced the work of Christ in our lives. We’ve experienced his love and his forgiveness, we know the joy and the peace He gives – and we all have our own personal testimony of how Christ has spoken to us and worked in our lives! We can testify to the truth of all that the Scriptures say about who Jesus is and what He has done!
And so our job, like those early disciples, is to be Christ’s witnesses – telling people everywhere about Him.
And actually, in Matthew’s gospel, we get an even more detailed job description. It says in Matthew 28:18…
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Our job is to invite people into the kingdom of God. To invite them to become disciples of Jesus – choosing Him to be their king – and then teaching them how to live in the Kingdom of God. And of course, we don’t do that alone! God’s Holy Spirit is with us always – and He desires nothing more than to help us accomplish that task of bring people into the kingdom of God!
And I think that’s so important for us to remember. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in just living life. Going to work. Feeding the kids. Paying the bills and occasionally taking some time to relax!
It’s so easy for us to forget about the one thing that God has called us to do – and that’s to make disciples!
And maybe that’s an over-simplification – but maybe it’s not!
I mean, think about it! We only have so many years on planet earth – what’s the most important things for us to do while we’re here?
In 10,000 years from now as we’re enjoy the goodness of God in heaven, what will we remember as our greatest accomplishments on earth?
That we planted a sweet orchard? That we had a big, beautiful house? That we rose to the top of our profession? That we went on a lot of great vacations?
Or will it be that we helped a someone (or a lot of someones) enter into the kingdom of God? That somehow we helped someone choose Jesus as their King – and as a result, they get to experience the goodness of God forever?
Is there anything we can do that’s more important than that?
I think Acts 1:8 makes it pretty clear….
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses… Acts 1:8a
What is it that is so important to God that He would send His Holy Spirit to dwell within you and empower you to accomplish? What exactly is the Holy Spirit empowering you to do? To become healthy, wealthy and successful? No… To be his witnesses!
That’s the main reason why God’s Spirit resides within you! He wants to empower you to be his witnesses! To makes disciples. To invite people into the kingdom of God.
So my question for you this morning is simply this: Are you doing that? Are you being a witness for Jesus? Are you making disciples? That is our purpose and mission in this life – both as individuals and together as a church. And so if we’re not doing that, then what the Sam are we doing with our lives?
Our window of opportunity is short! We don’t know how much time we have. Remember, times and dates are God’s department – our job is to be obedient to what He has asked us to do.
And actually, the last verses that we’re going to look at today make that point exactly. After Jesus gives them all these instructions, it says in verse 9…
9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
It’s almost a little comedic how the angels say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven?” In other words, don’t just stand there – do something! Do what Jesus just told you to do. Go Jerusalem, wait for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, and then go be his witnesses!
Of course, for us, we don’t have to worry about those first two parts – if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Saviour – we already have the gift of Holy Spirit within us – and so we can immediately go and start making disciples! Let’s not just stand around waiting for Christ to return! Because that will happen soon enough!
He will return from heaven in the same we the disciples saw him leave – and what a glorious day that will be! But until then, let’s remain faithful and do what He has asked us to do!
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about a master who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone. And you probably know the story – he leaves 5 bags of silver with one servant, 2 bags with another, and one bag to the third. And when he returns, he evaluates each servants work. I just love what the master says to the servants who faithfully carried out their master’s wishes. The master says in Matthew 25:23…
23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ Matthew 25:23
Isn’t that that you want to hear at the end of your life? When you stand before Christ and you give an account of your life – don’t you want Jesus to say to you, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
God has given us a great responsibility – to be his witness here on earth. To our friends, to our family, to our children, to our parents, to our neighbors, to anyone else we come in contact with. But he doesn’t send us in alone – he’s given us His Holy Spirit to empower us… I mean, think about that, God’s given us HIS POWER to carry this out! The same power that He used to create the universe and to raise Jesus from the dead! That power is available to us so that we can be his witnesses! What a gift! All that’s left for us to do, is to simply choose to be obedient. To faithfully be his witnesses – telling people about Him everywhere. In Penhold, in Red Deer, throughout Alberta, and to the ends of the earth!
So let’s be his faithful witnesses.