Thursday, July 09, 2009
Acts 1 Eternal Impact
Some of my most interesting theological conversations take place on trains. “You’re pastor, aren’t you?” He asked one day. I try to be low key about being a member of the clergy, but people still figure it out. Nothing on me should have given me away...no Bible, no clerical collar. Maybe it was the glow on the hallo above my head. “Yes, I am a pastor,” I said, “I am the pastor of the Newcastle Baptist Tabernacle.” “That’s nice,” he said, as if he didn’t really care. “Listen, I have a question for you. The question is this: “Why doesn’t God fix things?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “I mean, look at our world. Every time I get petrol, it reminds me that we are at war in Iraq. That reminds me about Sept. 11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism. Add to that all the other wars, crime, racism, poverty, illnesses, and cancer and it just seems that everything is a real mess. I want to believe there is a God and that this God is good, but it’s really hard when things are in such a mess. So I want to know: “Why doesn’t God fix things?” That’s exactly where the apostles were in our text: They were asking the question:
WHEN IS GOD GOING TO FIX THINGS? (Acts 1:6) The people of Israel were living under terrible oppression. They were a vassal state under the control of the Roman Army. Their own leaders (Herod and crew) were corrupt. The legal system was a shambles. Their religious establishment had conspired with the Roman officials to crucify their now risen Lord. The economy was in bad shape. EVERYTHING WAS A MESS. Following Jesus’ resurrection they were sure he was now going to fix the mess. That’s explicitly referred to in their question: “Are you now going to restore the Kingdom?” All of us in this room at one time or another have asked the question: “Hey, Jesus when are you going to fix things?” You are sitting in the doctor’s office and he brings in the results of the exam and says: “You have cancer!” You are sitting across from your spouse who tells you the marriage is over. You are sitting in front of the coffin of a loved one whose body will soon be under the dirt. You are sitting in your boss’ office, a company you have served for over 20 years, and he says: “Clean out your desk. You’re history.” Sitting in those situations, like the apostles, you raise your hands toward heaven and ask: “Lord, when are you going to fix things?”
Jesus’ reply is both encouraging and discouraging.
First, Jesus encourages them by saying: “The kingdom is going to come, but we will never know the exact time.” God is going to come at some point and dry the tears from our eyes, heal all our diseases, and abolish death. Second, Jesus shares a word that’s a bit discouraging. The disciples were hoping for immediate action, an immediate resolution to their trials, troubles and tribulations. Yes, God is going to fix things, but his calendar and ours is different. None of us knows the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority. The only instruction Jesus gives them is to wait. They were READY TO ROLL! And Jesus’ says WAIT!
Someone has said the most hated word in the English language is NO! In my personal opinion, the most hated word is WAIT. It’s all about instant gratification. Let’s throw patience out the window and get on with the program.
This husband and wife were shopping in a department store. They had just purchased a piece of luggage and an eski. As the man was waiting for his wife to finish the rest of her shopping, he dragged the luggage and the cooler around with him to the shoe department. A clerk asked if he could be of assistance. “No, thank, you,” he said, “I’m just waiting for my wife.” At that point a man behind him said, “I’m waiting for my wife, too, but I never thought of bringing a lunch and an overnight bag with me.” Sometimes it comes to that! But do we miss the tone of Jesus’ voice when we read the word WAIT? Do we read this wrongly? You want God to fix everything? Well, you are just going to have to wait. Like when our kid is in the back seat asking why we haven’t gotten there yet and some what impatient ourselves, we yell: “Be patient, be patient don’t be in such a hurry.”
There’s another kind of waiting. It’s the waiting for an exciting event. Perhaps it’s the footy game. Or the birthday party. I think that’s what Jesus is saying here: Something very exciting is just around the corner. You could never imagine it, if you didn’t see it.
JUST WAIT AND SEE WHAT GOD IS GOING TO DO! The kingdom, in all its glory and power, is in God’s hand. We don’t know when that’s going to happen. But in the meantime get ready, because something very dynamic, powerful and wonderful is going to take place. So you see it’s the waiting for a great and wonderful event that’s just around the corner. Then Jesus tells them what the near future holds:
GOD IS GOING TO DO TWO UNPREDICTABLE THINGS!
God Is Going To Give You His Supernatural Power (Acts 1:8) You will receive power when the Holy Spirit Comes upon you.
Luke 24:45-48 “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Why are we promised this power? Because God is going to do something supernatural, something that human power can’t achieve, so he needs bodies, committed humans, who are filled with his Holy Spirit.
An elderly lady approached me after the service one Sunday and commented on the sermon: “That was a pretty good sermon.” Trying to be humble I said: “Thank you Helen, but it wasn’t me it was the Holy Spirit.” Without batting an eye she said: “Oh no, if it was the Holy Spirit it would have been a lot better than that.”
The Sunday School class was learning the Apostle’s Creed. Each child had been assigned a sentence to repeat. The first one said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The second child said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son.” When he had completed his sentence there was an embarrassing silence. Finally, one child piped up, “Teacher, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit isn’t here.”
I’m not sure that all of us believe in the Holy Spirit, much less the supernatural source of power he brings us. What does it mean to be under the power of the Holy Spirit?
A person who is filled with the Spirit is under His control and authority. When we put our faith in Christ, become born again, we are indwelt with the Spirit. The degree to which we submit to God is the degree to which our lives exemplify that power. If I’m filled with the Spirit how will I know it? Some identify it with feelings, noise and shouting.
Think of the difference between constructive power and destructive power. Destructive power is noisy: tornadoes, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. On the other hand, consider the powerful constructive forces of nature beginning with the most dynamic natural source of power in the universe…THE SUN! There would be no life on earth without the sun. The sun never makes any noise. You feel it, yes, but even when you don’t feel it, it is doing its work. Think of the power of nature in a seed. You plant it. It grows into a giant gum tree. How much noise does it make while it is in that growing process? None! The power is quiet, even unseen, but real. Jesus said spiritual power…the power of the Holy Spirit will be like that. Matthew 13:33: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Mark 4:26 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; 27 And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. 28 For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. 29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
The supernatural power of the spirit is real, but quiet, even unseen. For that reason the most important thing we bring to being under the control of the Holy Spirit is FAITH! Since the growth of the kingdom is God’s business, it needs God’s power. That’s why he promises us this supernatural power. Consider these characteristics of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
1. It is not ritual, but reality. Going through prescribed rituals can’t achieve it…water baptism, speaking in tongues, praising God, etc.
2. It is not external but internal. Luke 17:22: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
3. It is not a program, but power. Jesus did not say “wait for instructions on how to build, organize and program the growth of the church.” Acts is not the acts of the Apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. Now Christ comes to the mission itself that is given to his church.
Is it true what TIME magazine wrote of us several years ago:
“The evangelical tends to grow safe in his inner consolation, lapsing into passive acceptance of the evils of the outside world…preoccupied with serving self.”
Some years ago I read an article by Dr. J.I. Packer in which he describes "acedia” Acedia is an archaic English word meaning apathy or boredom. Acedia is to be without passion.
In John 7:37-39, it says, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”
That’s what I want! Do you?
I want “streams of living water to flow from within me.” By this Jesus meant the Spirit whom we would receive.
I want to be in daily living relationship with the Spirit.
I want the Holy Spirit of God to flow out through me in witness to the greatness and goodness of my God.
I want to care, truly care about my God’s glory and about people’s tragic destiny without Jesus.
And I want to live out that concern in some way; I may not be an evangelist but I am a witness.
I want to be intentionally available and obedient to the Holy Spirit.
Are we desperate for such a relationship with the living Holy Spirit of God?
Have we tried long enough to pump water from an empty well?
Listen to the words of an one hundred year old song:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King? All, all Thine own – soul, heart and strength, and mind!
I see Thy cross – there teach my heart to cling; O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love; One holy passion filling all my frame;
The baptism of the heav’n descended Dove – My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
OUR MISSION IS TO WITNESS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST
The Duke of Wellington, the Iron Duke of Wellington, who won the Battle of Waterloo, was asked by a fellow Englishman, "Do you think we ought to preach the gospel to the heathen?" And the Duke replied, "What are your marching orders?" If we have any marching orders that I can understand at all, they are that we are -- that we are responsible for the evangelization of the world.
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The word “witness” means essentially what it does in a court of law. A witness is someone who shares what he has seen, what he has heard, what he knows. There are three aspects of our witness about Jesus Christ.
WITNESSING ABOUT JESUS INCLUDES The vital facts about Christ
Notice the vital facts included in this text: Christ died for our sins. v. 3: “…after his suffering.” Not just that he died, but that he suffered with a purpose. His suffering was for the purpose of paying the debt we owed for our own sin. Wouldn’t it be nice if your bank called Monday morning and said: “We’ve decided to pay off what you have left on your house loan?” On the cross Jesus died for our sins…every one of them...past, present and future.
Christ arose from the grave. 3: “He gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.”
Three proofs of his resurrection:
a. v. 3: “He appeared to them over a period of forty days.” b. v. 3: “He spoke to them about the kingdom of God.” c. v. 4: “He ate with them.” Lodged together for a period of time.
Christ ascended into heaven.
v. 1: “In my former book Theophlus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until he was taken up to heaven.” v. 9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” He went up, out of their sight.
When pilots are trained to fly on instruments they wear infrared lenses that keep them from seeing out the windshield. When they take the glasses off they can see what the world looks like around them. It’s like we are wearing those infrared lenses now that keeps us from seeing the reality of another universe that exists right next to ours.
Christ is going to return. 11: “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” The basic facts of Jesus’ life…He died for us, He arose from the grave, and He ascended into heaven. In the not so distant future He is coming again. Now let’s look at the second way we witness about Christ.
WITNESSING ABOUT JESUS INCLUDES The vital facts about Christ
WITNESSING ABOUT JESUS INCLUDES The visible changes Christ has made in us
The authenticity of our witness arises out of the difference He has made in our lives. John 13:35: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another as I have loved you.” In the beginning of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus talks about attitudes that need to characterize our life, like humility, spiritual thirst, mercy, peace, etc. Then he says the following in Matthew 5:13, 14: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world...” A powerful aspect of our witness about Jesus comes out of the positive changes he has made in our character. Some depend solely upon their character...their good conduct…as their witness about Christ. Good character is not enough. One time a man’s boss died. This employee really admired him. He was a man of sterling character, but he never ever mentioned anything about his faith. So this employee was surprised when at his funeral he was extolled as a man who had a strong faith in Jesus Christ. This employee was shocked. He said: “You know I never accepted Christ in my life because I believed my boss was a great man and I never knew he had a relationship with Christ. If he could live that good of a live without faith, I figured I could to.
WITNESSING ABOUT JESUS INCLUDES The verbal testimony of Christ’s impact
Our personal testimony begins “BC” (Before Christ). b. We describe what life was like, the crises we went through. The next part of our personal testimony describes how we met Christ. “Through those steps we became believers…accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
The most important part of our testimony is how we came to faith in Christ. The last part of our personal testimony describes what life is like after we accept Christ. Prepare your testimony. Practice it on other Christians. Pray that God will give you opportunity to share and then be sensitive to the opportunity.
Every morning a Christian prayed this prayer: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is. One day he was on a bus sitting next to a big burly guy. The Christian was intimidated by the guy and was looking forward to getting to his destination. This big guy suddenly burst into tears and lamented: “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Won’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you show me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed: “Lord, is this a sign?” Are you looking for a sign to start witnessing?
Why do people come to church? The Institute of American Church Growth polled 4,000 people, asking them what influenced them to go to the church where they were eventually converted. Here are the facts: 2-3 % just walk in 2-3% came through the churches program 5-6% were attracted to the preacher 1-2%came out of a special need 1-2% were reached through visitation programs 4-5% came through a Sunday School class ½-1% came through a public evangelistic crusade 75-90% were converted through the influence of friends and relatives Vance Havner: “We do not have a secret to be hidden, but a story to be heralded. The gospel is not something you come to church to hear…it is something we go from church to tell. The need is great in our world and in our community for the good news of Jesus Christ. Who will you share that news with this week?
Jim Elliot, the missionary whose life and death God has used to stimulate thousands to become caring witnesses to God's love both here in America and around the world, wrote to his mother when he was still in college:
“I spent this afternoon with Ron at (and he names the family). They were most hospitable and were eager to be remembered to you all, especially you, mother... They have a nice home and belongings and two cute kiddies, but are so like the rest of us that it is again disheartening. We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth century does not reckon with. But we are 'harmless' and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, and conscientious objectors in the battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the cross. We are 'sideliners' - coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. O that God would make us dangerous." (from Shadow of the Almighty pg 79)
O that God would make us dangerous!