Setting the Stage
Two weeks ago, we looked at the fact that sin is a disease that has impacted every human heart.
We saw that Jesus came and brought us the remedy for that disease by demonstrating God’s glory on the earth through his ministry, death, and resurrection.
Now, the hearts of those who follow Christ have been healed, and we have been restored into a right relationship with God.
I encouraged myself and you to look around and start noticing those around you who may not have that same hope that we have.
Today, we are beginning a new study that will take that idea even further.
We are going to spend some time over the next few months looking through how God took the early church and used it to take the message of the gospel around the world.
We are going to see how God took ordinary people and used them to do extraordinary things when they join him where he is at work.
One of the largest accounts in the book show how God can transform a life and turn someone from being a murderer to a missionary.
Although there are bunches of themes that run through this book, I want to center our study around this idea: Acts is a picture of the church taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Turn with me to Acts 1. Let’s cover some background info first.
In verse 1, we have the author, Luke, telling his audience, somebody named Theophilus, that this is part two of the story. Acts was written as a partner volume to Luke’s Gospel, where he started by recording all that Jesus did during his earthly ministry.
Here, Luke introduces Volume 2.
He sums up the details and jumps right into the story.
This morning, we are going to set the stage for a lot of what will happen. We are going to see how Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming next, since he was getting ready to go back to heaven.
What we are going to draw from this text this morning is this:
If we’re going to live out God’s plan, we need to be filled with his power and surrendered to his schedule.
That, in a nutshell, is what we can draw from this passage. If we are going to live out God’s plan, we need to be filled with his power and surrender to his schedule.
Read with me verses 4-8.
Let’s unpack these a little bit as we go through this message.
1) God's Plan.
1) God's Plan.
The first thing we need to look at is what Jesus was telling them they would be a part of.
Look back at verse 8...
Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses throughout the entire world.
Some have mistaken this passage to be applied just to the 11 men who were with Jesus at the time, but when you add in the rest of the teaching in the New Testament, you just can't make that argument.
We are all commanded to be his witnesses.
We over-complicate things when we talk about witnessing or being a witness.
What does it mean to be a witness? You tell what you saw, what you experienced, what you lived!
That's why John starts out the letter of 1 John with this:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Did you hear what he had spent the rest of his life testifying? What he saw and what he heard...what he looked at and touched.
Wouldn't it have been incredible to have been one of those men who could say that he had physically walked with Jesus? John could say, "When we had that last Passover meal, I sat next to him. I saw him walking on water and I saw him casting out demons--I know what I saw."
We may not have had the privilege of physically walking with Jesus, but we are still his witnesses.
Why? Because we have still seen and heard and lived life with him! We know what the Bible says and we have seen how He has worked in our lives and in the lives of others.
We know how we were sinners who desperately needed help! We know we were lost in our sin and couldn't be good enough to get to heaven, and yet God loved us so much that he would send his only son to pay the penalty for our sins and draw us into a relationship with God.
We can testify to the fact that he has changed us and transformed us.
You should be confident enough in what Jesus has done in your life that you would stand proudly in a courtroom and be a witness of the One who gave his life for you.
That's God's plan...that you and I be witnesses.
It is interesting, though, that Jesus makes this more specific. He told the disciples that they are to be his witnesses in five different places.
Many have looked at this and seen what I see, that this is giving us a mandate to be witnesses in all kinds of areas.
In fact, this verse hints at the pattern that the church will follow as it develops over the rest of this book. It is the closest thing we see to a “theme verse” for the book.
You could think of it like this:
Jerusalem is basically talking Montgomery County.
Judea would be the next segment, and for us, this probably encompasses the NRV, possibly even the state.
Samaria broadens it even further to the state or even the country as a whole. It involves reaching across cultural boundaries to witness to people who aren't like us.
Then, Jesus says that we are to be his witnesses even to the remotest part of the earth.
There is nowhere too far for us to go, and there is no person whose lifestyle and beliefs are so far gone that they don’t need to hear the message that Jesus loves them.
We, as a church, have the same responsibility that Jesus gave his disciples that day: take what we know, what we have seen, what we have heard, and tell the world about it.
What an awesome responsibility! What an incredible privilege!
By the way, you notice sometimes a change in the language that is used. They go from being Jesus' disciples to being called "the apostles".
What's the difference? A disciple is a learner. When Jesus was here, the emphasis was on them learning about him and who he was calling them to be.
An apostle is literally a "sent one"—think about the word "postal," like in "postal service". Just like you send a letter to tell someone something, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to teach.
Although these men were apostles in a different way than we are, we are still sent by God to be his witnesses in the world.
This is God's plan: for us to be witnesses right here in Christiansburg, in the New River Valley, in the state of Virginia, across America and around the globe!
Sounds pretty impossible, doesn't it? You may feel too shy or that you don't know enough to be his witness.
That's why we turn to the next element we find in this passage.
If we are going to fulfill God's plan to be His witnesses, we need...
2) God's Power.
2) God's Power.
It is interesting to study people God uses throughout church history.
You find a pretty amazing group of mutts. People who struggled with depression, who came from poor families and who died paupers. You have guys that talked to animals and all kinds of weird people.
In fact, Paul describes us this way:
Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence.
Yet, the one common element was this: God's power worked through them.
That's what Jesus was promising his disciples.
Look back at verse 5...
He told them to stay put and wait! That could possibly be the hardest part of all this! It's a lot more fun to go and to do, but he told them they had to wait.
When we get to chapter 2, we will talk more about this, but remember that Jesus had promised he would send another Comforter to them after he left.
We have been looking at these passages on Wednesday night in Prayer Meeting, but Jesus teaches us a lot about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. Here are some highlights:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
If we are going to live out God's plan of living on mission with him; of being a people who are all about him to our lost and dying friends as well as each other, then we have to realize that he has given us the greatest tool: Himself!
The Holy Spirit, who is God himself, is living within us.
Although we could spend days talking about the ins and outs of how the Spirit works in our daily lives, keep in mind that when we are talking about the Spirit, we are not talking about an "it". We are talking about a person.
When Jesus said he would send another comforter, he was talking about a person that he was sending. He wasn't just sending us his power; he was giving us himself!
So when we talk about the power we need to do what God has called us to do, to live on mission with him, we cannot do that on our own!
Do you realize how many thousands of people there are around us who are dying and don't know Jesus?
This is so much bigger than us! We cannot, under any circumstances, reach this area for Christ on our own!
According to God’s Word, the people we are talking to are spiritually dead, and no amount of persuasion can bring them to life.
Not only that, but we can't grow people up to be mature disciples on our own. We all get caught up in our pet peeves and issues.
No, if we are going to see God do the impossible, we have to have his power!
That's why Jesus told them that they needed to stick around, and that he would empower them.
They were fully surrendered to what God could do through them as he worked through his Spirit to do the impossible.
Here's a great verse for you to think about. Right after Paul prays that the believers in Ephesus would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, he says this:
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
God has a plan for your life that will blow your mind if you knew it. We are going to see that throughout this book.
He has a plan for your family that is greater than you could imagine.
And most especially, he has a plan for his church that goes far beyond our wildest dreams!
That plan isn't based on our righteousness or power; it's based on his! Remember, Jesus said,
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
Jesus said he would build his church, and the gates of hell itself couldn't stand against the onslaught of his people.
We're going to see that as we look at the book of Acts!
So here's the question: If God's plan is for us to reach our neighbors and the nations with the gospel, and the only way that we can be a part of that is through his Spirit within us, working and giving us power, then what are we going to do?
Are we going to try to find the smartest and best people to lead, or are we going to find those who are most willing to recognize their dependence?
Are we going to put limits on what can be accomplished by this church, or are we going to let God go far above and beyond all that we ask or think as we allow his Spirit to work in us?!
Let's not proceed with any plan or any adventure unless we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is in it; that his Holy Spirit is poised and ready to give His power in and through us.
So we can see, then, that just as Jesus told his disciples, if we are going to fulfill God's plan, we need his power.
However, there is a third element that comes out pretty strongly in this:
3) God's Schedule.
3) God's Schedule.
Look with me at verse 6 again.
The disciples were expecting that, at any moment, Jesus would set up his literal, earthly kingdom in Jerusalem.
They expected him to expel the Romans and set up shop over Israel.
That's what they were asking about. "Jesus, is this the time when you're finally going to deliver your people and rule and reign as the Messiah over Israel?"
What did Jesus tell them? "That's not something you need to know."
He told his disciples that the timing of all those things was set by God the Father, and then he went right on to tell them what their part of the plan was to be.
Interesting, isn't it? Just like he does throughout Scripture, God only told them enough to get them moving.
They couldn't concern themselves with when this was going to happen or whether that would come soon.
We find ourselves in a season where we plan in pencil because of the uncertainty around us. We don’t know when pandemic restrictions will be lightened and what opportunities will come up in the next few months.
What a great time to rest in the knowledge that he has a plan that he is working out on his schedule!
However, there is an element of timing we find when we read verses 9-11. Look at it...
When the disciples were just standing around, staring and waiting, the angels said, "Guys, what are you looking for? Don't worry; he's coming back just like He left."
So what does that have to do with timing? These verses, when you put them together, tell us that God the Father has fixed a certain date and time when Jesus is coming back.
We don't know it, and we're not going to know it. In fact, Jesus is pretty much telling us not to get too caught up in figuring it out.
Instead, he tells us to work; to live out his plan; to seek and strive to draw a lost world to himself through the power that the Holy Spirit provides as he lives within us and works through us.
We don't know how much time we have left, but we do know that there is coming a time when it will all be over.
Ever wonder why God hasn't come back yet? It's been almost 2,000 years since that promise was made; where is He?
He is waiting for his plan to be finished:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
He hasn't come back, in part, because he's giving more time for people to come to him!
Let's work, then, to live out our part of the plan! Whether he waits another 10 minutes or another 10,000 years, let's actively work and serve and grow and strive and share so that the in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even the remotest part of the earth will hear so we can stand before God and say, "By the power you supplied, you have fulfilled your plan in me in your timing."
We are going to see the church on fire, taking the gospel to the ends of the world as we look through Acts.
Jesus got the kindling ready when he told them they had a part to play in God's plan of redemption. He told them they could only do it as they allowed God to equip them with power through his Spirit, and that they were to obey until that time when they saw him again, whenever that might be.
Are you willing to do the same as an individual? Are you willing to attack your week at work with the understanding that you are fulfilling God's plan through his power in his timing?
Are you willing to look at what God is calling us to do as a church as being involved in His plan through His power and His timing?
God can do the impossible through this body (and he already has!). Let's commit afresh and anew that, as we study his word together, we will respond and obey so that he will receive all the glory through his church that meets here today.