Summary: As we wait for Jesus to return, let’s keep our eyes focussed on the ministry Jesus has given us, the ministry of sharing the gospel with others, of building his kingdom. Let’s continue to pray for the coming of his kingdom, to strategise about how to see
Today we begin a new series of sermons, looking at the first years of the Christian Church as they’re recorded for us in the book of Acts. We won’t cover the whole book this year, it’s far too long for that, but we will begin this year by looking at the first 11 chapters over the next few months. So today we begin with ch1.
If you were here last week, you may remember that Michael pointed out that Luke has written a 2 part history for us, showing how Jesus’ coming has changed the course of history, fulfilling the promises given by God in the Old Testament to bring renewal and salvation to his people. The first part of that history is in Luke’s gospel and now he continues his account in the books of Acts.
You can see it in v1: "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning."
Now, I discovered as I was preparing this sermon that the translators of the NRSV have made what I think is a serious omission in translating that verse. What Luke actually wrote was "All that Jesus began to do and to teach." He’s trying to get across a sense of incompleteness. He wants us to understand that although Jesus’ earthly ministry is complete, his work continues through the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit. In fact as you think about it, you realise that the name that’s popularly given to this book, "The Acts of the Apostles" is a misnomer. It should really be called "More Acts of Jesus" with the subtitle "Performed through his Apostles, empowered by his Spirit."
So that’s what we’re looking at as we explore this book of Acts: the ongoing deeds and teaching of Jesus as the message of the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth.
What’s more, having realised that, we see that in fact that work doesn’t even end with the book of Acts. In fact Acts doesn’t really finish does it? It’s like one of those books that are written as a series. The conclusion is left hanging. This is one of my pet hates. I hate reading a book and discovering that the story continues in another book that hasn’t even been written yet! Well, this story is like that. In fact it continues to be written, as we sang earlier, with each succeeding year, as the church continues to do Jesus’ work in the power of the Holy Spirit; as God continues to work his purpose out as the time of Jesus’ return draws nearer and nearer.
However in the meantime, history must intervene. Jesus’ earthly ministry must end. He told his disciples in John 16 that it was necessary for him to go away, so that the Holy Spirit might come upon them, to empower them to preach the gospel. And now the time has come for him to return to the Father. Interestingly Luke records this event twice: as the final event of his gospel and as the first event in the book of Acts. You see, this is the watershed event between Jesus’ former ministry and this new phase. This is the event that both terminates Jesus’ earthly ministry and inaugurates his heavenly ministry.
And so Luke takes up his story where he left off. Look at v2: what are these instructions he gives "through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen?" Well, Luke 24 tells us: there Jesus explains how the scriptures are clear that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem. It’s the same here: "Jesus presented himself to them alive by many convincing proofs." He instructs them, interestingly, by the Holy Spirit, even though the Holy Spirit has yet to be poured out on them, and he instructs them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that God has promised to them.
Now it can’t have been easy for those first disciples can it? They’d hung around Jesus for 3 or 4 years; they’d been expecting that he was going to restore Israel’s glory as a leading nation; then they’d seen him arrested and put to death, only to discover 3 days later that he’d risen again. And now, after all this time of waiting for his glory to be revealed nothing happens. He’s risen, he continues to appear to his followers, but for 6 weeks that’s all that happens. Then finally the time comes for Jesus to return to his father and again they’re told to wait.
Waiting is difficult isn’t it? I hate it. I hate getting to the movies too early and having to wait for something to show on the screen. Then I hate having to sit through all those ads and previews before the movie begins. We went to see the "Return of the King" while we were on holidays and we had a full 30 minutes of ads and previews before the movie began; and then half way through they stopped for an intermission - for another 20 minutes of ads! I hated it!