This morning we get to start a new adventure together through the book of Acts. I have to be open with you—this wasn’t my first plan for the start of the new year. For a few months, I’ve been planning on starting the year by preaching a topical series on the Bible itself. I eventually wanted to preach through Acts, but my intention wasn’t to start until after Easter. Well, I can’t explain it, but for some reason, God wants us to start through Acts now. So that’s what we’re going to do. Miranda and I went to see Rogue One last week and one thing that struck us was that during the previews, almost all of the new movies that are coming out are sequels. Well, sequels are nothing new, because that’s what Acts is. It’s a sequel to the third book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke. Both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by a man named Luke. Considering how much he wrote, we really don’t know much about him. He was a physician, so that means he was highly educated. He was a traveling companion of Paul, so he was an eyewitness to many of the things he wrote about. Somewhere around chapter 12 he quits talking about “they” and starts talking about “we”. But here’s one of the most interesting things about Luke. Luke was a Gentile. Some scholars will debate that, but some scholars will debate just about anything. He was a Gentile who was travelling with Paul as God was using him to plant churches throughout the known Gentile world. Just the fact that the Holy Spirit of God was breathing His inerrant Word through a Gentile was a testament to the new thing He was doing and was going to do throughout the world. The church age had begun and because of Israel’s rebellion, the central focus of God’s mission had expanded to all believers gathered in local churches throughout the world. Dr. Luke wrote both of his books to a man named Theophilus. I told you that we don’t know a whole lot about Luke. We know less about Theophilus. That doesn’t stop commentators from speculating about him. They speculate that he’s anyone from the emperor’s nephew to the Bishop of Antioch to Paul’s defense attorney before Caesar in Rome. Here’s the reality—we just don’t know. Here’s what we know about Theophilus. His name means “friend of God.” It’s a Greek name, so he was almost certainly a Gentile. And Luke addresses him as “most excellent”. That was a title that was generally reserved for government officials or some other kind of really influential person. It’s likely that God was using the influence and resources of this government official to send Luke’s writings throughout the Roman Empire. However it happened, you can rest assured that even a highly placed government official was part of God’s mission. The book of Acts is 28 chapters long. Roughly the first half of the book up through chapter 12 deals with the birth and growth of the church in Jerusalem. The second half of the book deals with the birth and growth of churches throughout the rest of the known world. I’m calling this series “On Mission” because that captures the overall theme of the book. Throughout this series, we will see how God used unlikely people in unlikely places to send the good news of His kingdom around the world. We’ll see how He used a hypocritical coward to preach the first Christian sermon—and over 3000 were saved that day. We’ll also see how God used a murderous terrorist to plant churches throughout the known world. A coward, a murderer, a government official, a medical doctor, you and me. God is always on mission—and He uses all kinds of people to accomplish his mission, doesn’t He? Throughout this study, we’ll see how God is always calling us to be on mission—both as individuals and as a church. And we’ll see how the only qualification He requires is willingness. Because being on mission for God can only be accomplished in His power—not our own. So I’m excited for where God is going to take us through this series. I don’t know what he’s going to do or how he’s going to do it. But here’s what I do know—I know that I want us to go with Him. And I know that whatever ways he calls us to be on mission with Him, He’s going to give us the direction and the power and the tools and the resources. All we have to do is go where he leads us and do what he calls us to do. All he asks is faithful obedience. So make it a priority to come and stick with me every week of this study. And we’ll see that the same God who worked through Peter and Paul in this book is the same God who will work through you. He hasn’t changed a bit. He still has the same power and He’s still on the same mission. And I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do through us as we are on mission with Him.
The first 7 verses that we’re looking at this morning serve as an introduction to the book. Like most sequels, you have to have a quick synopsis of where you’ve been before you can move on with the story. I love Luke’s synopsis of his first book in verses 1-2:
In other words, the 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke are dealing with beginnings. He says in his first book, he dealt with all the things Jesus BEGAN to do and teach. Everything has to have a beginning, doesn’t it? Think about it—our life as a believer has to have a beginning, doesn’t it? For some of you who’ve been saved recently, you distinctly remember that beginning. For some of us who’ve been saved for a long time, you might not remember it so clearly. If you were saved at a really young age, you might not remember the beginnings of your faith at all. But no matter who you are, if you are a believer, you had to start at the beginning. In these first seven verses, Luke gives an overview of the beginnings of Christian faith. In our culture, it’s easy to get confused as to what it means to be a Christian. Some people think it means your momma or grandmother was a Christian—like it’s something that’s passed down through your gene pool. Some people think they’re a Christian because it’s the acceptable thing in our community—like it’s in the water we drink or something. Some people think they’re a Christian because they pray when they get in trouble or want something really bad. Some people think they’re a Christian because they came down front during a revival one time. Or they got wet in a baptistry after VBS one time. If you don’t hear anything else I say this morning, hear this—none of those things will save you. In God We Trust bumper stickers won’t save you. The way you vote won’t save you. How nice a person you are won’t save you. How hard you work won’t save you. None of those things are even the beginnings of salvation. Salvation is by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone, according to God’s Word alone, for His glory alone. We understand that, when we believe everything that Jesus did and taught, like these 2 verses say. So what did Jesus do and teach? As God the Son, He willingly emptied Himself of all of the glories of His heavenly position in the Trinity to come here in the flesh and walk with us. Isn’t that what we just celebrated at Christmas? But not only did Jesus come in the flesh, He lived His whole life without committing one single sin. He was the only person to ever walk the face of the earth who was completely perfect. Jesus taught us that everyone else has sinned—including you and me. And He also taught us that the wages of sin is death. And that God demands payment for our sin. But Jesus didn’t just teach us of our need for a Savior. He became our Savior when He paid our payment in full when He took our sins upon himself and hung on the cross to die. That’s what Jesus did. And he taught us to follow him. He taught us to trust him. He taught us to obey him. But not only are we required to believe everything that Jesus did and taught—in order to be saved, we need to believe that God raised Him from the dead and He is alive today. Look at verse 3:
If Jesus died and remained in the grave—as the perfect sinless Son of God, it would have been possible for Him to pay the price for our sins. It would have been possible for us to be forgiven and cleansed of our sins. But if we’re going to be saved, we need more than cleansing. We need more than just the bad stuff to be taken away. In order to have a relationship with God, we must be righteous. In other words, we must not only be not bad. We must also be positively good. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says that we must be just as perfect as God is. And then on top of that, 1 Peter 1:16 says that we must be just as holy as God is. Well, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, in our flesh, that’s completely impossible. As a matter of fact, the Bible says that no one is good and no one is righteous. That’s why, if we’re going to be saved, we must have the goodness and righteousness of somebody else credited to our account. And Jesus lives today to do exactly that. Here’s what happens when you get saved. All your sins—past, present and future sins—are taken off your account and credited to Jesus’ account. He already died to pay for them—so your account is permanently wiped clean of all badness. And at the same time, because Jesus rose again on the third day and lives today, all of his righteousness and holiness and goodness are credited to your account. So when God the Father looks at you, He sees the righteousness of His Son in whom he is well pleased. And all that happens at the moment of salvation. All that happens the moment you trust Jesus as your Lord and Master and Savior. All that happens when you believe all that Jesus did and taught. All that happens when you believe in His resurrection and all the proofs of it. And when that happens, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Look at verses 4-5:
Now remember the time in history that Luke is writing about. After Jesus was crucified on the cross and rose from the grave three days later, the Bible tells us that He stayed and taught His disciples for 40 days. He was physically with them during his 3 year ministry. And now, after the resurrection, he was physically with them for 40 days. But remember what He told them back in John 14? In verses 16-17, He made this promise to them. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Jesus told them that He wasn’t going to physically be with them any longer. But he wasn’t going to leave them as orphans. He was going to send His Spirit—the Holy Spirit of God to live in them. God with us came in the flesh in Jesus. And God continues to be with us in His Spirit who lives in us. At the time of our passage, that hadn’t happened yet. So they were living with the promise of who is already available to us. Don’t get confused by all the false teaching out there. The Bible clearly tells us that the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment that Jesus saves us. We don’t have to try to work up a second blessing. When Jesus saves us, we have all of the Holy Spirit we’re ever going to get. He takes up residence in us. But here’s the thing—we have all of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. But the question is—how much of us does He have? Growing in grace as a Christian means that we are continually surrendering more and more of ourselves to His control. Emptying ourselves. Yielding ourselves. Continually being molded and shaped and honed and grown by Him—all to make us more and more like Jesus every day. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. And we’re promised that gift at the moment of salvation. From the beginning on. The beginnings of our salvation are the same as the beginnings of this book. The cross, the resurrection and the promise. But there’s one more beginning that Luke points out in verses 6-7. Look there with me:
Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples gathered around Him one more time. They were so excited to be with him and it brought back to their memories all the things that they had learned from Scripture. They knew that the Bible had promised that the Messiah was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. They knew what the Bible prophesied and they were wanting it all to happen right now. But Jesus basically told them, “not yet.” You see—one of these days God is going to make all things right. He will bring justice where there is no justice. He will bring peace where there is no peace. He will bring fairness where there is no fairness. All the things we long for in our world today… all the times where we see good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good people… one day, God will make it right. He’s promised to. We just don’t know when it’s going to happen. But beginning belief says that we never lose hope. The beginnings of salvation not only believe in the cross and the resurrection and cling to the promise of the Holy Spirit—the beginnings of salvation also rejoices in the eager anticipation of Jesus’ return. Jesus is coming back. He’s coming back to make all things right. And He’s coming back to gather all believers to Himself. And He’s coming back to judge all those who’ve not trusted Him as Lord and Master and Savior. Because remember? All of us are bad—we’ve all sinned. That’s why we need the cross of Christ. And on top of that, none of us are good—there is none righteous, no not one. That’s why we need the resurrection of Christ. And none of us can do it on our own. That’s why we need the Spirit of Christ. And all of us long for justice and fairness and peace and unbroken love. That’s why we need the hope of Christ’s return. That’s the basics. As Luke said in verse 1, that’s all that Jesus began to do and teach. The question for you this morning is—has there ever been a time in your life where you began a relationship with Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your Lord and Master and Savior? Have you ever admitted the fact that you’re a sinner and can’t do anything to fix yourself? Have you ever trusted Jesus’ finished work on the cross on your behalf? Have you ever trusted Jesus to clothe you in His righteousness as your risen Lord? If you haven’t, then today is your day of salvation. It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. Do you know what that means? It means that, no matter how young or old you are, you’re not promised tomorrow. You’re given today—right now—that’s all we know. The only question is—will you trust him today?