Summary: God honors his people with ambassadorships in his government.
Today we read the introduction of a letter written by the physician, Luke, to a dear friend. Since at least AD 300, the church has called this book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” because Dr. Luke tells the continuing story of the work of Jesus through his chosen and appointed messengers. But from around the eighteenth century, many pastors suggested that we call it, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles certainly were the instrument through whom God worked, but God was working!
When skeet shooting, you must have a gun; it is essential to the task. But without shotgun shells, the gun is useless. The ammunition is the action, the power, the force within the gun. So it is similar with man and God in the continuing work of the King. People are essential to the work—you are essential—because God has ordered that his kingdom spread through your ambassadorship; you are his representatives. But we are cold steel, dead and useless, unless and until the Holy Spirit fills our chambers and empowers our service. The analogy is imperfect, but the reality is close—we are both essential and useless, “jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2Corinthians 4.7). The power belongs to God, yet he honors us with an extraordinary privilege. With that honor ringing in our ears, let us hear how Jesus appointed the apostles and established the pattern for spreading the grace and truth of his kingdom. [Read Acts 1.1-11. Pray.]
At our Sabbath group, I asked each person to share their favorite verse or story from the Bible. Many wonderful passages were remembered, showing us (among other things) that God uses the whole of his word to touch the hearts of his people; he applies each according to his or her needs.
One of my favorites is in 2Corinthians 5: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Those words touch my heart for many reasons; this morning, however, I would draw your attention to the phrase: “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” Wow! If it were not in the Bible, we would think it heresy to give such honor to a human. An ambassador is a direct representative, one who speaks for another.
In the context Paul is discussing the work of the evangelist, so some might suspect that this applies to me (the pastor) but not to you. However, Peter says that God has made all Christians into a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Peter 2.9).
I agree with Dr. John MacArthur, who comments on that text: “The Greek word translated ‘proclaim’…means ‘to advertise’ or ‘to publish’ and refers to making something known that would otherwise be unknown. ‘Excellencies’ speak of powerful and heroic deeds. You are an ambassador of Christ, having the great privilege of proclaiming what God has done for his people…. It would be an honor to be an ambassador of the United States. But you have an even greater honor—to represent the power and capabilities of the living God…. What greater honor can there be?” (Drawing Near, Crossway, 1993).
This honor especially began to be applied in Acts 1. May we, today, more appreciate what God calls us to do, resulting in greater participation in the work. To get there, first, please realize that:
1. We Must Accept the Nature of the Kingdom (Acts 1.1-7)
The eleven apostles, hand-selected by the Lord, spent three years with him. After the resurrection, Jesus spent another 40 days with them, teaching about the Kingdom and the work of the Holy Spirit. I often feel confused about the ways in which God works; but surely we can expect these men to grasp what is happening. Instead, they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
John Calvin pastored in Geneva during the 1500s. He is important to us because he provided much of the theological firepower for the Presbyterian Church. Commenting on their question, John Calvin wrote: “Luke points out that the apostles were gathered together when this question was posed, to show us that it was not raised through the foolishness of one or two but through the concern of all. Yet their blindness is remarkable, that when they had been so fully and carefully instructed over a period of three years, they betrayed no less ignorance than if they had never heard a word. There are as many errors in this question as words.”