INTRO – Lots of tragedy this last week – whether we’re talking about the death of young Jerry Brown – a Dallas Cowboy football player who made the mistake of driving home from a bar with his drunk best friend very early last Sunday morning; an alleged murder due to a suicide pact of one of our own long time residents in Los Osos on Monday night; a senseless shooting in a crowded mall in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday where 3 people were killed including the shooter; and what can we say about the 2nd worst mass shooting in U.S. history that happened Friday morning?
Did you know by the way that there are an average of 6,744 deaths per day in the U.S. ?? Many of those are tragedies as well, but most of us will never know or hear about them.
Combine these tragedies to the ongoing inability of our Government leaders in Washington D.C. to lead us out of this debt crisis; Unpredictable North Korea heightening the dangers of a nuclear war breaking out; Syria and Egypt’s chaos; and all of this happening when our days are getting darker or hours of light decreasing; and our weather in general getting colder and gloomier – – well I would say we are ripe for widespread depression and hopelessness.
I would love to think that Christ’s church is above all of that. But various signs point to the contrary.
So in light of all of that, I want to share with you this morning – five reasons why I believe we ought to be full of faith and expectation that our God is going to break into this dire situation and fulfill His purposes on the earth through us before He returns. And all five of these wonderful truths are found in Acts 1:1-8.
I. Jesus is still – revealing Himself – still giving orders to His disciples, and still calling the shots for His church. (vs. 1-3) We don’t know for sure how Dr. Luke came to Christ. Some believe Paul and Barnabus had a hand in it while they ministered in Antioch. Luke was not one of Jesus’s original disciples. But he was powerfully impacted by the good news of Jesus Christ, to the point where he did painstaking research to write the gospel of Luke, and then went through that whole process again to write the book of Acts – a process by the way that took him away from his business for hours and probably days at a time, and which therefore somehow had to be financed – – which very possibly is where Theophilus – the gov’t official came in. Jesus Christ promised the 12 that He would build His church, and that nothing would stand against it. And key to the success of His building of this people He chose to call the church was two individuals that He saved and apprehended – – Dr. Luke and most excellent Theophilus.
But before either of these guys came around, He had some unfinished business with His 12 disciples and those who were closely connected to them. After Jesus rose from the dead, He delayed ascending to sit at the right hand of the Father for 40 days. He knew the 12 or actually 11 were still pretty fragile; and still lacking in some key convictions. So for 40 more days – Jesus stuck around and continued to meet with them – – proving beyond any shadow of doubt that He was indeed the risen and long awaited Messiah and King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And taking every opportunity to deepen their understanding of the kingdom of God; what it is – – how it functions – – and how to see their lives and callings through that lens.
I want to say this morning that Jesus still has His Lukes and Theophilus’s. He is still as able today to convince people of His uniqueness, deity and supremacy as He was then; and He lives to do that. While we may have times where we just kind of veg and fall into spiritual paralysis as we come against all of these negative forces I mentioned in my introduction- – He is as active and forceful and purposeful and passionate as ever – building His church; nudging us out of our comfort zones; deepening the revelation of His person and kingdom to His disciples; and raising up servant leaders to lead His people forward.
The second reason why I believe we need to be full of faith and expectation that He is going to do some wonderful things through His church before He returns is:
II. Jesus is still gathering His people (vs.4) Had His apostles not been willing to gather together and forgive each other for abandoning Jesus in His suffering, and especially forgiving Peter for denying Jesus three times after he vowed he would never do such a thing, the early church would have never been born, much less thrived in its infancy. Had they not been willing to chance persecution, arrests and even death by sticking around in Jerusalem, … well Praise God – they were willing and the whole known world eventually knew about this group called the Way or as others referred to them – Christians.
For those of you who read through the paper I wrote recently on Christian community , you know God has always been about producing or forming a people through whom He could manifest Himself to the world. Our fleshly tendency is to scatter or to isolate. But Jesus Christ is heaven bent against letting that happen. He works tirelessly to convince His people that they are far better off and far more powerful together than they are separate, and that therefore the death to self we have to experience to stay together is worth it. He makes us make phone calls that we don’t want to make ,and commit to small group meetings that we would rather skip. And He works tirelessly to develop in us the kind of relational skills and attitudes that are necessary to enable us to live in unity and love with the people that He has joined us to. Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian will submit to His prodding to gather as a lifestyle with the saints. But many will. And many have!
Thirdly, III. Jesus is still revealing and clarifying and expanding and spotlighting His kingdom (vs. 3, 6, 7) For a 40 day period after His resurrection and before His ascension – Jesus Christ met many times with His disciples – instructing them about one primary topic – the kingdom of God. This would be their centering point for everything that was to come. The kingdom of God was to become their present reality; their grid through which they processed life. King Jesus was to become their only Lord and Master. His kingdom was to be their experience in every sphere and jurisdiction. While they would not always be with their brothers and sisters that made up the early church; they would never be apart from or outside of the kingdom of God as long as they submitted to its King. Because King Jesus is Lord over all and cares about every individual, family, congregation, governmental body, community, city, nation, business, school, etc., and wants to reveal Himself and His will and way in each of those spheres,….. His disciples must learn to live and walk in that awareness, and allow Him to manifest His kingship and kingdom through them.
Many Christian leaders have bemoaned the fact over the years that believers tend to compartmentalize their Christianity. That is – when they are at a church meeting – they are aware of the presence of God and want to please Him. But when they are home or at work or at school – they tend to leave Him back in the church meeting or church environment. The answer to that is the all encompassing kingdom of God. 25 years ago – you hardly ever heard Christian leaders speak of the kingdom of God as a present reality. Today that has radically changed across denominational lines; and thus is clearly a result – not of any church program or organized effort, but rather of the King Himself – revealing His kingdom to His disciples and teaching them to operate in it; and see their lives and ministries through it.
The fourth reason why we ought to be full of faith and expectation that our God isn’t finished with us yet, and isn’t threatened or hindered by the forces of evil on this planet is
IV. Jesus is still clarifying and strengthening our calling as His witnesses to the ends of the earth (vs. 6-8) I really believe ADD or attention deficit disorder started with the 12 disciples. Jesus had just spent 3 and a half years teaching them about the kingdom of God – – took a break to be crucified and rise from the dead – and then spent 40 more days trying to hammer this reality home. And judging from what we know about His teachings on the kingdom of God – – little of this had to do with future events. Most of it had to do with His presence and government and activity and agenda on earth in the now. And how He accomplishes His purposes on the earth in the now through His disciples. When He gathered them together His primary purpose was to order them to stay put and to stay together in Jerusalem and to wait for what the Father had promised for them so that they could fulfill their purpose on the earth in the now. And yet after all of that His disciples ask Him “is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
There is something about our fallen state that causes us to want Him to do everything Himself; and to deliver us from all discomfort and hardship. There is something about our fallen state that causes us to be focused on things we cannot fully understand and certainly cannot control (like end time events) and not be focused at all on our mission on the earth in the now. Does the Father have a timeline for future events? Absolutely! Is His primary concern that we know that timeline? Not according to this passage (and many others). Rather He has left us on this planet to fulfill our mission as His witnesses – starting in our own families and neighborhoods and at our jobs and schools; and in our cities and then doing whatever He enables and leads us to do to make sure He becomes known and worshipped among every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Jesus lovingly but firmly corrected their focus and orientation then. And He is lovingly but firmly doing it among His disciples today. It must be done. We just naturally go there – – that is – to seemingly spiritual things that are actually distractions such as preoccupation with timelines – – or theological controversies – – when there are people all around us who do not even know who Jesus is.
And that leads me to my fifth and final reason why we ought to be full of faith and expectation that He is going to accomplish His purposes through us -regardless of the obstacles and challenges to that.
V. The Holy Spirit is greater than all of our weaknesses, distractions, obstacles and enemies (vs. 8) The Father has the timeline. He’s chosen to keep that to Himself. But the Holy Spirit has the power. And Jesus Christ wanted His disciples to know that He is very liberal in making that power available to them. They probably were a little disappointed when Jesus had to correct them on their preoccupation with times and epochs. But He was quick to promise them something far better than knowledge of end time events – and that was His infinite power for fulfilling their mission.
The Father and the Son want us to be infused with more and more of this power – so that we can overcome spiritual ADD; and thus be used by Him to make Jesus known to the world.
Folks there is something far greater and more precious than full and complete understanding of the end times timeline; and that is the experience of the raw power of God to achieve and fulfill our mission as His witnesses – as we learn to walk by and depend on and submit to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
Thursday morning Jim Hamann called me, and after a fairly long conversation he asked me how he could pray for me; and without having to think about it – what came out of my mouth was – pray that I will grow in the power of God – – walking and living and ministering in the power of God. Words are cheap. Power brings down strongholds and opens blind eyes and heals the sick and casts out demons.
One great danger we – who have known the Lord for a long time – must beware of as we go through this series on the book of Acts is our tendency to think the early disciples and apostles had a distinct advantage over us because they actually walked with Jesus and were discipled by Him face to face. I say this because when you read the book of Acts and you look at our present day church – especially in the U.S. – it becomes readily apparent that they walked in a reality of God and His presence and power that we on the most part do not. Once you realize that – then one can either explain away our lack; or we can by faith fully pursue and expect that we will walk in this same power and experience – sooner or later. Let me give you four quick reasons why I believe we did not miss out by not having 3 and a half years face to face with Jesus.
1. Jesus was limited by time, space and body. He could only be in one place at one time. Whereas each of us is being discipled by Jesus via the Holy Spirit who is with us 24/7 with Jesus interceding for us 24/7 at the right hand of the Father
2. We have 2,000 yrs of church history to learn from. The early church didn’t have the lives of Fenelon, or Martin Luther, or George Whitefield, or Susanna Wesley, or Jackie Pullinger or thousands of others that we have been able to learn from thanks to recorded history books and articles, and now websites.
3. We have amazing resources at our fingertips to help us read and understand the scriptures. (reference books and online tools)
4. We have the scriptures (they didn’t have the New Testament at all; and sometimes perhaps not even full access to the old)
Allow me to leave you with one final thought and then I want us to pray some together.
Jesus promises or states “You shall be My witnesses” In vs. 8.