Summary: What God has in mind for us ahead is far greater than that which we have already experienced.
A Work in Progress: The Beginning of the Acts
September 20, 2009 Acts 1:1-11
Many of you know that during my June Sabbatical I began some courses at the University of Alberta, working on a Masters of Education degree. Among many other things, one of the implications is that during this September, for the first time in nine years, I started back to school just like many other students. I’m confident that you’ll be hearing more about some of that in the weeks to come, but part of what I’ve missed and am once again enjoying is the rhythm of starting, working hard, and completing. And then moving on.
I’m enjoying that rhythm again, but I also recognize how seldom that rhythm applies to “real life”. In “real life”, very few things start, work, and complete, and on we move to the next thing. In “real life”, it seems to me, little is ever truly finished. I think of the things that matter most to us, our relationships: we don’t often meet a friend, get close, and then stop it and move on to the next new friend. In fact, whenever those relationships end (which of course they sometimes do), it is an occasion for grief and pain. Even tangible projects, like our renovation, don’t really follow that nice clean rhythm I enjoy – they are, overall, continual works in progress.
Our spiritual lives are perhaps one of the easiest places to recognize this idea of a “work in progress”. We aren’t ever done… we can never close the book and say “ok, my spiritual life is complete… I’m good now! On to the next thing…”. And as we’ll see this morning, that has been true since the earliest followers of Jesus.
Intro to “The Beginning of the Acts”:
This morning I’m launching into a new series of sermons for us this fall, which I’ve titled, “The Beginning of the Acts”. Earlier this year we were studying the life and ministry of Jesus and what that means for us, through the summer we did some studies about identity in 1 Peter, and last week as we launched our fall ministries we studied Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples where He said four things: “peace”, “I am sending”, “receive the Holy Spirit”, and “go in authority”. The point that stuck out to me was how the filling of the Spirit was intended to empower the sending of the disciples – that is what the gift of the Holy Spirit really is for. So as I reflected on our journey, it seemed good to me, and I felt the prompting of the Spirit, that we invest our time this fall in following the story through, asking the questions “so what happened next?”, and seeing how God formed the church in those earliest of days. So over the next couple months we are going to walk through the first 5 chapters of Acts. Today we’ll start with Acts 1:1-11.
Acts 1:1-11 (NLT)
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 his crucifixion, 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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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!”
If you’re paying close attention to the text, you should have a few immediate questions. What former book? Who is this “Theophilus”? Who is the author here anyway, and where did this information come from?? We won’t spend a long time on these questions, but they help to get us oriented. This book of Acts is obviously part 2 or book 2, here is the introduction to book 1: “1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” This is the introduction to the gospel of Luke (1:1-4). We don’t know who “Theophilus” was, though the name is Greek so it is safe to assume that he was not Jewish, and so the books are written to people who did not necessarily have that Jewish heritage through which to understand Jesus. The author, Luke, clearly tells us that what follows in both Luke and Acts is a result of “careful investigation” from “eyewitnesses”. Book 1 followed Jesus’ ministry, book 2 describes for us what happened after Jesus rose from the dead. And that is where Luke begins here in Acts.