Acts of the Apostles
NT Reading: Acts 1:1-11
That Important Man Jesus
Luke wrote two books – and both were books of history, the fruit of carefully carried out historical research. The central theme in the two books is the same, for both are focused upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Down through the years many books have been written about Jesus but what makes Luke’s books stand out is that they are among the limited number of books inspired (or breathed out) by the Holy Spirit. This means that they are no ordinary books: they are divinely inspired, God is their ultimate author.
Yes, Luke did his research: he visited some of those who knew Jesus and he got their eye witness accounts. He then ordered the material he collected and presented it as a single coherent and readable account. His work did not consist merely of some amalgam of isolated interviews. Luke was not unique in this as others had tried to do this before him and in fact it was their endeavours that encouraged Luke give it to go too.
Luke was then guided and led by the Spirit of God to write first his gospel narrative of Jesus’ earthly ministry and then to complete it with his account of Jesus and his ongoing work carried out through his Spirit energised and enabled followers.
And it is to this second book we now turn.
In the opening verses Luke reminds his friend Theophilus, for whom he is writing, of the subject matter of his earlier book. It was a book that above all else spoke about Jesus:
- What he did and
- What he taught
He reminds Theophilus that Jesus had been made to suffer, that he had been put to death, but that now he was alive again! And this was no figment of Luke’s literary imagination –Jesus had stayed around on earth after his resurrection for nearly six weeks during which time he had provided his followers with many proofs that he was really and truly alive. He had given them easily enough proof to completely satisfy them that the one they had seen being nailed to a cross across and lifted up to die was no longer dead but was alive again and now so with the power of an indestructible life!
During that six week period Jesus had not been content to merely put in a series of brief guest appearances as it were but he had continued to teach his followers. It was during this time that he issued his final commands before leaving earth to return to heaven. And there in heaven far from being remote and indifferent to what was happening to his followers he would continue to represent and support his people as well as to oversee their efforts to carry out the mission that he had now entrusted to them.
Someone might respond by saying well that’s all very well but the Bible was written such a long time ago. Is it really worth the time and effort to study this 2000 year old book?
Well let me tell you with a resounding “yes” that this book is special and it tells us a message that it just as relevant to us today as it was on the very first day it was written before the ink had dried on the parchment. And here is the reason why. It is because this book tells us that there is a man, a real man, who has experienced death, a real and brutal death at that and not some sort of mystical near-death-experience. It doesn’t tell us of a man who survived a prolonged coma but of a man whose physical life was really brought to an end and yet this man now lives. More than that this book tells us that he now lives not on earth but in heaven having ascended there in full sight of a group of his followers who were absolutely amazed by what they saw.
Who else do you know who has done anything approaching this?
Small wonder that Luke wanted Theophilus (“the awful us”) to know the whole story.
Here is a man you can go to when suffering comes your way; here is a man you can turn to when death approaches. Here is a man, the only man who can welcome you into heaven –and as he welcomed the martyr Stephen he’ll welcome you too for this man, whose name is Jesus, is the Saviour of the world.
What do the opinions of others matter when it comes to this man? compared to what he did and compared to what he taught? Why should we listen to the media personalities or the opinion-formers, why should we follow the influences of our day when none of them can come close to this man? Which of them has suffered and died for your sins? Which of them has conquered death and which of them is able to guarantee your internal security? I’ll tell you – none of them. Why then should we allow ourselves to be impressed by the passing, fading glory of men and women when there is a man, a real man, who has ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven and where he ever lives to make intercession for his people?
Luke’s second book proclaims loudly the same theme that was proclaimed in his first: it proclaims Jesus Christ to all who pass by. Will you hear what he has to say? Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God before he ascended to the Father and Luke’s second volume traces the development of that Kingdom as Jesus kept his promises to build his church.
Can you afford to ignore this man? You can, I suppose, if you know of another who has done what Jesus has so successfully and generously done but I don’t know of such a one and the whole of the Bible tells you plainly that there is no one like Jesus. His is the only name given to us under heaven by which me must be saved.
Acts 4:12 (CEV)“Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.”
You could perhaps afford to ignore Jesus if you knew yourself to be perfect in God’s sight with not even the stain of one was seen in your life to block to copy book. Then you would need no Saviour but you know yourself too well, I think, to really believe that. Yes, you may like to protest to others that you’ve done your best and that you’re good enough for God but have you never spoken one harsh word, one unloving word? Have you never spoken one little lie, never deliberately misled or another allowed another to be misled, never failed to help when the need and opportunity presented itself? And what of promises you’ve made – sometimes even promises made to God – have you always followed through on them?
If our own death was to mark the end of our existence then I suppose you could decide that it was safe to ignore this man. After all if annihilation follows death why worry? But annihilation is not the end for which you are destined. You have been created in God’s image and you have been given a never-dying soul and if you were to enter eternity without this man Jesus Christ looking out for you then the eternity you will enter will be an awful on characterised by him nothing but sorrow and vain regret. This is what the Bible describes as everlasting destruction, hell.
So think about this man now and do so while it is yet the day of salvation. As will walk through some of this book together we’ll see how this risen and ascended Jesus proved to be good news, wonderful news, to the many who heard him and who believed in him. And by God’s grace, his unmerited favour, may we find for ourselves that Jesus is the best news we’ve ever heard.
Well now let’s begin by looking at how Luke set the scene for this book. He turns our attention directly to Jesus.
The Risen Lord Gave A Mission To His Followers
For the precise details of this mission you’ll have to back up to the end of Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:46-48) But we are left in doubt that it is this mission that provides the immediate backdrop to the opening verses of Acts.
In his opening verses Luke describes something of a waiting period. The Jesus in question is clearly identified – this is the same man who occupied the central place in Luke’s gospel and then Luke goes on to remind Theophilus of the promises Jesus had made to his followers.
This risen Lord promised to send what the Father had already promised – the Holy Spirit. This divine person would come and with his coming he would equip, enable and accompany Jesus’ followers as they set about the task entrusted to them. And this coming of the Holy Spirit as the promise of the Father had already been revealed by Jesus in some of the earlier teaching he had given his followers.
Yet the Spirit would not be able to come in the fullness intended while Jesus remained on the earth. He would only be sent when Jesus took his place at the right hand of the Father and thus we are brought to necessity of the ascension, that wonderful and extraordinary event when the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven.
I wonder whether you are ever tempted to think that you need to have all the answers to all of your questions before you can start to follow Jesus? Well, think again! Just take a look at these highly favoured followers. These were the very ones who had recently been enjoying a series of multiple encounters with the risen Lord Jesus, these were the very ones who were privileged to be shown the many convincing proofs that Jesus was really alive, the conqueror of death itself. What remarkable experiences they had known and yet they certainly had by no means got all the answers right yet for we find them asking some completely inappropriate and wrong questions.
Jesus’ disciples knew that his victory over death introduced a significant new phase of God’s plan of salvation and they were curious to know just how the future was going to pan out. They wanted to know how God had organized all his diary details and they were rebuked by Jesus for allowing their curiosity to cause them to look in the wrong direction.
What do I mean by that? Well, they ought to be thinking about their mission. They ought to be reflecting upon the wonderful message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins that they would soon be preaching. This message was only possible because Jesus had laid down his life for his sheep. He had died in their place that they might be forgiven. His victory meant that he could set men and women, the spiritual captives of sin, free and give them a new life. This is what they ought to have been eagerly thinking about. With that ministry in view they ought to have turned their thoughts to the fulfilment of the wonderful promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them, but no, they were not focusing on these things at all.
And so they asked the wrong question focusing upon an altogether too limited vision. It was the wrong question and merited a rebuke but after the rebuke came words of comfort and encouragement from the lips of the Saviour as he repeated the promise and reminded them of the high nature of their calling. His words pointed ahead too to the successful accomplishment of that calling.
What reasons they had to be thrilled with this man Jesus Christ! And these same reasons ought to thrill us as well!
And then he went!!
Jesus Returns to Heaven
It must have been a shock to the system of his followers – one moment Jesus was talking with them as he had done many times over the preceding weeks and the next he was lifted up from the earth until a cloud hid him from their view. If they had grown accustomed during those weeks to Jesus’ sudden arrivals and departures this was something very different! In fact it signalled a whole new situation. The risen Jesus who had continued to walk on the earth was about to do so no longer – he was now returning to heaven where he would sit enthroned and the right hand of the Father.
He went personally and physically. The disciples’ watched him as he went and they saw him go. Even after he had disappeared from their view they continued looking upwards to where he had been. It was a very understandable thing to do; after all, this event was unique, and yet it was also an inappropriate thing for those disciples to do. Jesus had told them he was going and he had explained the necessity of his going. What the disciples’ needed to do now was to return to Jerusalem and await the promised Spirit who would empower them for the next phase of the Christian era – expansive gospel mission.
While they were still gazing heavenwards the disciples’ were brought back to earth by two men in white robes who questioned them and added some great words of encouragement. Yes, Jesus had gone but the day would come when he would return personally and physically to this earth again and then men and women would see him just as these disciples’ had just seen him leave.
We live in these in-between-times, the times of world mission. The Spirit did come and immediately after the gospel began to be preached in Jerusalem. Sometime later persecution would drive Christians further afield and both Samaritans and the Gentiles would hear the same gospel. In time a group of islands off the northwest corner of the continent of Europe would hear and people like us would believe as we too heard the same good news of sins forgiven, peace with God and a glorious hope of heaven.
Because it was all true! The Christian gospel is not a philosophy but it is a message that focuses upon a real person who did everything that was necessary for sinners to be freely reconciled to a Holy God.
Jesus was, and is, real and alive. Even today he is actively forgiving sinners their sins as they turn to him in repentance and faith. Have you heard this message of good news? Have you understood what it is all about? And what have you done with this message? Have you responded to it calling out to the Saviour to save you? The Christian gospel is wonderfully good news but it will only ever be effectively so in your life when you turn in repentance and faith and believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World.
Well the Spirit came and the proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus got off to a flying start on the Day of Pentecost. 3,000 converted after just one sermon. And yes sometimes the work leaps forward like that – these are the times of the great awakenings and revivals. At other times progress slows down and decline seems to certain – we can even be tempted to wonder whether it is all coming to an end. But it isn’t and it doesn’t because, as this Book of Acts describes, the expansion of the church is the work that Jesus continues to bring about by his Spirit-empowered followers. God has his plan and God does not lie. Have you found your place in this plan yet?
Come to Christ!