Acts is a wonderful history of the apostles and early church and we will dive into its riches, but first, by way of introduction, I want to preface our looking at these first few verses of Acts with reminding ourselves concerning the truths of the resurrection and how they apply to the beginning, and in fact the purpose of this book.
Two weeks ago we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and we looked at the implications of the resurrection to our lives. Resurrection is not something that comes easily to the postmodern world in which we live. If we cannot taste it, see it, feel it, touch it or smell it is is not real to us. What is incredible about the biblical account of the resurrection is that it is not just presented as mere information about something that happened. It is presented to us in the biblical text with proofs that would line up with the begging questions of our five senses. Why is this so important? It is important because the resurrection of Jesus is foundational not just for the message of the gospel but for the very mission of the church, and the hope which we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 15: (turn there with me)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(comment: while the benefits of the resurrection bring blessing in this life, freedom from sin, peace, assurance etc. it is not enough if it is merely temporal and not eternal. What do I mean? I mean that the unspeakable joy that comes to our lives knowing whom we are in Christ, does not diminish……it is eternal. We shall be happy in Christ both now and forevermore! A million years from now we shall still be satisfied in Jesus! Do not be swept away by temporal living! This is why we focused on the implications of the resurrection that we might seek that which is above, set our minds on it, be reminded that our lives are bound up with Christ not these bodies that shall be renewed. “When Christ who is our life appears we shall also appear with Him in glory.”)
Paul continues on, look with me at vs. 20:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (Psalm 110 a messianic Psalm prophesied this)
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
What is Paul’s point? Resurrection is foundational to the Christian, the Christian message and the Christian life!!!!
So you may be thinking, what does this have to do with the book of Acts? Everything! The books of Acts is just another faulty history account if Christ did not rise! In fact, the book of Acts is not merely the “acts” of the apostles but rather “the Acts of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.”
So, what we are going to be looking at in the book of Acts is foundational not just for an understanding of the early church, how they practiced and did life together, but more so about what the Resurrected life looks like. As we saw in Colossians 3:1-4 a couple of weeks ago, resurrection does not entail just our physical bodies one day at “The resurrection” of the dead, but in this sense we have been raised with Christ to spiritual life where we once were dead in trespasses and sins. The Resurrected life exemplified in the books of Acts through the early church full of the Holy Spirit, is is a life of sacrifice, martyrdom, cross bearing suffering with the face of Jesus constantly before them. He was and is their prize! Why do I say “is”? Because their joy is continually fulfilled as we speak for they are with Christ. So the question remains:
Who can endure such a life? The apostles did. Christians who have gone before us have, the persecuted church knows this in other lands today. Is it true of us? Are we willing to suffer with Christ as our greatest joy? Or do we get excited about the book of Acts and want to have a “New Testament Church” that flows in the blessings and joys of the Holy Spirit divorced from the very platter that these blessings are delivered upon: ….suffering.
But, let me encourage you if you are feeling depressed at this point…. The apostles connected their suffering with joy! Here are a few examples:
“Count it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith will produce patience” (James 1:2-3)
..”I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” (2 Cor. 7:4)
“…for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” ( 2 Cor. 8:2) (speaking of the attitude of the churches of Macedonia as their prepared a selfless gift to the poverty famine stricken church in Jerusalem.)
If we truly want to be a New Testament Church, it will not only reflect itself in passionate pursuit and response to the Lord Jesus but will also accompany a willingness to embrace suffering that Christ might be lifted up. This is what Paul meant when He stated in
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,…(Col. 1:24)
Now I didn’t say we would suffer, but that we would be willing. As Peter the apostle says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. “ (1 Peter 4:16)
May we learn to embrace personal suffering as the early church did as a privilege for the sake of Christ. There was a cross in it for Jesus and we as His people need to understand that there is a cross in it for us. You see the problem is a misunderstanding of the word “passion”. As in the “passion” of the Christ. We think to be passionate in our walks with the Lord means that we will have all the emotional highs that attend such a relationship with God and the deep feeling of connection that remains. Similar to the wonderful emotions that are wrapped up in the marriage relationship and yet times of difficulty and challenge come in waves or seasons. Do not misunderstand me, we are emotional beings and ought to have an emotional response to the Lord, in fact I worry about those who never shed a tear of thanksgiving or sorrow for their own depravity or a dropping countenance when they think of the masses of people around the world who have yet to hear the name of Christ. However, emotional passion is never enough!!!! It is not the engine but rather the caboose! Our emotions are responders to the Holy Spirit that encourages our faith and convictions that drive passion. Passion led Jesus to the cross, and passion calls us to bear our cross in following Jesus. As the apostles said in their epistles:
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Phil 1:29)
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. “1 Peter. 1:21
But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed… For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:14,17
“If any man will come after me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. Mat. 16:24
Do we want supreme joy in our walk with Christ? Are we identified with Him? I want that, do you? Paul wanted the Corinthians to know this, and Luke wanted Theophilus to know this, that is why he wrote about the life of Jesus, his works, death, resurrection and ascension in his first book the Gospel according to Luke. Now in the book of Acts, Luke is chronologically following the events to give an account to Theophilus.
If I were to ask who wrote the majority of the New Testament you might say Paul. While Paul wrote the majority of the books, or epistles represented in the New Testament text, it is indeed Luke who actually wrote more content. So who is Luke? Luke means “light giving” or “luminous” appropriate huh? Luke different from the original disciples of Jesus was a gentile and probably the brother of Titus. He was a physician as Paul even called him in Col 4:14 “the beloved Physician” He may have been wealthy as he seemed to rub shoulders with men of high rank. It is also significant to know he is a physician due to the fact that Luke is precise in how he writes not wanting to miss a thing and so write an “orderly account” of both the life of Jesus and the early church.
Now, who is Theophilus?
Theophilus was most likely a high ranking Roman official to whom Luke paid due reverence to, even though he was on friendly terms with him. This gentile nobleman is one of the disciples of Luke and the person to which 25% of the New Testament is written to. Theophilus was probably the given name or chosen name following his conversion as many changed their literal names as was appropriate reflecting their conversion. His name “theo” God “phileo” love means “lover of God, or loved by God” That is significant! He is a Roman / a Gentile – yes the gospel can reach them…in fact a major theme in the book of Acts is the gospel to the Jew and Gentile as we will see. No one is left out!
Let us turn back to our text in Acts 1. I want to walk us through this text in four points and then make some application:
- The Account (vs. 1-2)
- The Appearing (vs. 3-5)
- The Announcement (vs. 6-8)
- The Ascension (vs. 9-11)
Account (vs. 1-2) read it
Luke writes that he has dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…. Referring to his Gospel account but also that this story continues and therefore he continues to write him. Consider Luke 1:1-4
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
Notice Luke’s language concerning “eyewitnesses” and an “orderly account”. Luke is thorough in what he is trying to communicate to Theophilus. Vs. 2 communicates that his first book ended with the ascension of Jesus and “his commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.” what were the commands spoken of here? The great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations but before that was to happen they were to wait for the coming of the promise of the Father which was the Holy Spirit.
I love this because you see this throughout scripture. God foretells His wonderful plan and then says “wait”.
Like to Noah to build the Ark and then the flood would occur (100 years later) Job had to wait in his suffering until God’s purposes for him were fulfilled. Abraham “I will give you a promised son…. But he had to wait. Israel suffered under Egypt for 400 years waiting for God to act. David had to wait for God to place him into power while he ran from Saul for years, the prophets foretold the Messiah’s coming to earth and yet Israel and the world, waited. The disciples are being told to wait for the promise of the Spirit coming and we can identify because Jesus calls us to await His coming….. You think maybe Paul is onto something when he says that the fruit of the Spirit includes “patience”?
So, Luke’s intention is to continue this account. Not only does Luke seek to give an account in total, but also to remind Theophilus of Christ’s resurrection and his appearing to the disciples and others.
Appearing (vs. 3-5)read these verses
Jesus presents Himself alive after His suffering with many proofs. What would Luke mean concerning “proofs” here? Well how about:
- The empty tomb (Matt. 28:2-4)
- Appearance to Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9; John 20:14-18)
- The Roman Guards (Matt. 28:11-15)
- Appearance to Mary the Mother of James
- Appearance to Cleopa and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)
- Peter and John run to the tomb
- Appearance to Peter
- To the disciples without Thomas (Mark 16:13-14)
- To the disciples with Thomas (John 20:24-29)
- Thomas touches him
- Jesus eats with them
- To over 500 others (1 cor 15)
- For up to 40 days following the resurrection
- To Paul (Acts 9)
These were not mere visions, they conversed with him, stayed with him, ate with him and for long periods of time not just a few minutes. He spoke to them concerning the kingdom of God and it is in this context as the risen Christ that He instructs them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. They had been instructed about this in John 14. Jesus even gave them the reasons to wait in the sense that a spiritual baptism is what He intended to give them and not merely a baptism of repentance as John had performed with water. “Pentecost” implying 50 was the number of days from the feast of first fruits (part of the passover celebrations) to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would be given.
So, we understand that Luke wants to make an account of these things, he wants to chronicle events following Jesus’ appearing from the grave and now the announcement.
Announcement (vs. 6-8)read these verse
The disciples were still confused concerning the accomplishment of Jesus and His intention concerning the kingdom for they ask here, “ will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking of the physical reign of Christ as a political Messiah. How is it that He conquers death but not the Romans…..what is He up to? While we know the apostles eventually get this due to the rest of the New testament bearing witness to this fact, the coming of the Holy Spirit at pentecost sealed many things one of which was the understanding of the “here and not yet” aspect of the kingdom. Jesus responds to them as recorded by Luke, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father had fixed by His own authority.” In other words, it hasn’t been revealed to you. It won’t be. As Deut. 29:29 states, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”
So while He will not reveal these things to the disciples one thing He will reveal, His big announcement is that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and this power will be coupled with the very announcement that it is through their mouths that this gospel will spread. We will discuss the power of the Spirit in later weeks, but notice vs. 8, they shall be witnesses from Jerusalem (where they are at) to Judea (the region surrounding) to Samaria (a mixed race / gentiles) and to the ends of the earth (everyone). It is through them that this will happen, not on their own power, but the indwelling Spirit working in and through them to be co-laborers with God. Communicated through them, not the voices of angels, or through the overthrow of political powers or gaining control of the culture, but through the communication of the gospel witness to the ends of the earth……that is an announcement. Are we not the same? We pay attention to the world stage and care who is in power and we may even lose sleep over it, we await the glorious return of Jesus and all the consummation of end times yet we forget that what God is accomplishing in and through us is a setting apart of a people of God who are regenerated by His Spirit to accomplish a task and mission of communicating His glories in the world that they also might be saved from themselves and look fully into the face of Jesus Christ before whom every knee will bow, every nation admire, and the whole world will be put under His feet. Consider how Paul answers this “kingdom” question in 1 Cor 15:23-28
23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
So, while much would be accomplished through the disciples beginning at Jerusalem, much would be accomplished in through church history up until our present day as we eagerly await His return. It started with this announcement of the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the mission God gave the church in all ages to be His witnesses until He comes.
As Peter encourages us in 2 Peter 3:8-13,
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Luke has made this orderly account, he told Theophilus of Jesus’ appearing, sharing the announcement of the coming of the Holy Spirit in power upon these first century Christians who would take this gospel to the world and finally he shares the account of the ascension.
Ascension (vs. 9-11) read these verses
Notice vs. 9 that these eyewitnesses of the resurrection are also eyewitnesses of the ascension. They were looking on and he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While this was happening two men (angels) stood next to them in white robes. I like how the text says they stood next to them (paristēmi in greek) Not above them looking down but next to them. Reminds me of 1 Peter 1:3-12
“ 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
Church angels desire to see these things fulfilled as well. What do they say to the Disciples gathered? “Why do you look into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” While awaiting His return we are not to just stare at the sky, but be about His mission. The disciples did, vs. 11 we will pick up with next week. They went to Jerusalem as instructed.
We church have been awaiting His return for 2,000 years but He is not slack concerning His promise, not willing that any should perish but many come to repentance. Luke is spelling out this account of Christ’s appearing, announcement, and ascension.
How about you? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ in His death on your behalf, His resurrection from the grave, His ascension to the Father’s right hand where he is preparing a place for us? Are you willing to grasp this great gospel with the passion and joy found in its blessing but also the call to come and die with Him as you live out this mission? Christians are called to this. You are not your own, you were bought with a price, now glorify Him in your body and soul which are His. He has given you power through His Holy Spirit if you a regenerated by Him, empowered to take this message and be His witnesses and make disciples in your circle of influence whether down the street where you live or to the ends of the earth. Be done with temporal living, embrace suffering, look towards His coming, your joy depends on it. Lets pray.
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