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Temple Hills Baptist Church

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Jesus, Continued...

April 3, 2016 Speaker: Omar Johnson Series: Stand-Alone Messages

Topic: Stand-alone Messages Passage: Acts 1:1–1:11

Introduction

Last Sunday, many of the more than 2 billion people who at least self-identify as Christians, gathered in churches and in homes, in convention centers and in makeshift camps, celebrating, remembering, reflecting upon, or simply out of tradition talking about Jesus. Even here, we were pleasantly inconvenienced to have to add more seating during service as visitors and guests poured in. Easter Sunday seems to draw out the masses in religious observation. The devout, the doubter, the delusional and deceived, even the outright disbeliever often speaks in pious jargon during this time of the year. So I was somewhat surprised to receive an email Friday evening from a co-worker who’s been vocal in his opposition to religion and Christianity, asking about a work matter, and then signing off on his email, greeting me a "Happy Easter".

Now, sure there’s much talk about bunnies, and eggs, and candies associated with this time of the year, but the majority of the discussion surrounding Easter and the week leading up to it, revolve around Jesus. But have you ever noticed the somber tone with which Jesus is talked about? We talk as we would a great athlete whose promising career has been cut short by injury, or as we would of a charismatic activist whose inspiring life has been taken too soon by assassin. We speak of Jesus as someone great, whose life, great as it was, was far too short, far too long ago, and whose impact here and now is faint, at best. And after a week annually of focused reflection and commemoration of his life. Or perhaps, among us weekly as we gather to think about this man and his ministry, far too often we carry on the rest of our lives as if the story of Jesus is over. But friends, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection don't mark the end of an era, they mark the beginning of a new epoch in redemptive history. One that continues to this very day, that you and I are involved in, and that the Lord Jesus Himself is reigning over.

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Acts chapter 1, as the writer Luke helps us to see this reality. Acts chapter 1, verses 1-11.

[1] In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, [2] until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. [3] He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

[4] And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; [5] for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

[6] So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [7] He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. [8] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [9] And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [10] And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, [11] and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking 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.”

As we walk through this passage together, I want us to hang our thoughts on 3 points that the writer Luke points out in the text:

Point #1: The King’s Work Continues (1-3)
Point #2: The Kingdom is Expanding (4-8)
Point #3: The King is Coming Back (9-11)

Point #1: The King’s Work Continues (Verses 1-3)
Luke begins, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up.” Now this first book that’s referred to here is the gospel of Luke. In that book, Luke "dealt with...Jesus." Jesus is the main subject matter, the main character. Now we might expect that, since we generally associate the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John with telling the narrative of Jesus' life. But then again it's no stretch to say that all Scripture, every book of the Bible “deals with” Jesus. Jesus says in the book of John, “You search the Scripture, for in them you think you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about me.” So all of Scripture, in one way or another, whether by name or by reference, by picture or by embodiment, by prophecy or by recounting deals with this one person, this unique person, Jesus.

But Luke's first book, the gospel of Luke, is perhaps the most meticulous narrative of Jesus' life in all the Bible. There, Luke, a doctor by trade, writes to a man by the name of Theophilus, who seems to have commissioned Luke for the very purpose of investigating the claims about Jesus and reporting back to him. So in his introduction to this previous book Luke writes, "[1] 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, (Luke 1:1-3 ESV).

And so this first writing, this "orderly account" that Luke wrote concerning the life of Jesus, is what Luke is here referring to in verse 1 when he talks about the first book. But notice how Luke says that this first book, had a limited scope. He says "in the first book, O Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus "began" to do and teach." Now, again the gospel of Luke is a meticulous account. It details at length Jesus' miraculous birth, his perfectly sinless life, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his resurrection from the grave for the salvation of sinners. It's actually the longest book in the New Testament. But Luke says that those 24 chapters, 1,151 verses, 19,482 words were just the "beginning" of the story of Jesus, "all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up.”

If Luke was just what Jesus began to do and teach, then Acts is what Jesus continues to do and teach. Acts is the continuation of the story. Is the account of all Jesus is doing here and now. So we could re-title Luke's gospel "What Jesus began" and the book of Acts, "Jesus, continued". Its another epoch, another act in the docudrama of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

But the question must be asked, “how is Jesus continuing?” After all, Luke says that Jesus was “taken up”. And Luke's gospel ends with Jesus ascending into heaven. He’s no longer on earth. But notice how Luke immediately mentions those who still are. Luke could have just said, “in the first book I told you all about what Jesus began to do until he was taken up” and then jumped to the details and events that make up this current book, this 2nd volume. But he lingers for a while. He backtracks to the period of time before Jesus was taken up and describes what he was doing in the interim. Look at verse 2...yes, Jesus was taken up, but not before giving commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Again, Luke is a careful writer. He doesn’t waste words, or misplace phrases, or misrepresent the timing of events. Jesus, before being taken up, must give final instructions, final marching orders, final promises and assurances. And the recipients are the apostles, and notice how Luke carefully designates them as the apostles “whom he had chosen”. Can you sense the love of Jesus in that tender description? The apostles “whom he had chosen”. These that Jesus hand-picked from among the many disciples who followed him throughout his earthly ministry. Just days prior they had been hard-pressed in a trial they had not expected. One of those initially chosen, Judas, had betrayed Jesus. And all the rest had abandoned Him. But the risen Jesus does not abandon them. Saints, how sweet and comforting it is that our failures don't nullify God's faithfulness. That our faithlessness does not thwart God's plans. That God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Jesus comes to His disciples and talks about the work He would continue in and through them, the very work he chose them to do.

And how does Jesus come? Not as a beaten and battered prisoner who has escaped. Not as a shamed warrior who has been defeated. But as a victorious and conquering King! Luke notes in verse 3 that Jesus "presented Himself alive to them after His suffering." That word, "suffering", there, is where we get the word “passion" from. As modern-day listeners, we might immediately relate the word to Mel Gibson's graphic film, "The Passion of the Christ." But as gruesome and bloody as that film is in it’s depiction of Jesus' physical suffering, it offers just a small glimpse into the full "passion", the full "suffering" that Jesus endured. On the cross, Jesus took our guilt, took our shame, took our afflictions, He absorbed the wrath of God we deserved, and by His sinless life paid the full and final wages of our sin: death.

These disciples saw the Roman soldiers present the beaten and bloodied body of Jesus crucified before the crowd gathered at Calvary. They at least heard about, and perhaps saw, Herod present Jesus' dead body to Joseph of Arimathea to be buried. But now, Jesus presents Himself to them, ALIVE after His suffering. Vindicated, and victorious over sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave! He appears to them not once, but over a period of 40 days, and what is his main topic of conversation among them? The kingdom of God.

Now, this is not new teaching. In Luke's gospel, Luke constantly emphasizes Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God to his disciples.

In Luke 1:32-33, Luke records the angel Gabriel prophesying of Jesus to the virgin Mary saying "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In Luke 4:5-7, Satan tempts Jesus showing him all the kingdoms of the world at one time and saying to Jesus, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory...if you will worship me."

Later in that same chapter (4:43), after rejecting Satan's puny offer of the kingdoms of the world, Jesus tells his disciples, "I must preach the kingdom of God."

In Luke's version of the Beatitudes in chapter 6:20, he records Jesus proclaiming to the disciples, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

In Luke 9:27, Jesus tells his disciples that there were some standing with him who would not taste death until they saw the kingdom of God, and the proceeding verses tell of them seeing the Lord Jesus transfigured on a mountain, displaying his full glory.

In Luke's gospel, this concept of the kingdom of God shows up at least 45 times, with Jesus proclaiming himself, God in the flesh, to be King.

It's with this charge that the chief priests and the scribes accused him before Pontius Pilate: " [2] “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:2 ESV),

One verse later, Pilate looking at his beaten body and humble estate, mockingly asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" (Luke 23:3)

The rulers scoffed at him and the soldiers mocked him, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself", as his marred, unrecognizable body hang on the cross under the humiliating inscription, "This is the King of Jews" (Luke 23:37-38)

What kind of King is this? What kind of kingdom is this? This "King" was humiliated, ridiculed, and killed. His "Kingdom" seemingly as fictional as "Middle Earth" in one of the Lord of the Rings novels.

But here the risen Christ visits with his disciples and picks back up where he left off: talking about the kingdom of God. The implication is clear: The King is back, the King’s work continues, and the Kingdom is expanding!

Point #2: The Kingdom is Expanding (Verses 4-8)

Now this is probably as good a time as any to ask, “just what kind of kingdom is this?” As we’ll see shortly, the apostles certainly had their own assumptions. But it becomes clear that God’s kingdom does not look like the kingdoms of this world. That God’s kingdom, and the power of it, cannot be observed by the naked eye in terms of brute strength, or overpowering conquests, or political upheaval, but is set up and expands in a more subtle, yet far more powerful way.

We read in verses 4-8:

[4] And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; [5] for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

[6] So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [7] He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. [8] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Right after Luke records Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God, he hints at what kind of kingdom this is. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom or military kingdom on earth, but rather the present spiritual reign of Christ in His people. At this point in time, Christ’s reign on earth is a spiritual one. Now how do we come to that conclusion? Well, look at Jesus’ command in verse 4 for the apostles to remain in Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father”, then clarifying in verse 5 that this promise is the “Holy Spirit” — “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So in verse 3, Luke tells us that Jesus is speaking with the apostles about the kingdom of God, and in verses 4 and 5 Luke tells us that Jesus commands his apostles to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit.

What joins these two concepts together: the kingdom of God and the receipt of the Spirit? Well, it’s that small conjunction at the beginning of verse 4, “and”. “And while staying with them Jesus ordered them not to depart Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father.” While staying with them when? During the 40 days he appeared to them speaking about the kingdom of God. So the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Spirit are connected. The King, Jesus, would soon be taken up to heaven, but his kingdom would remain, because he was sending His Spirit to come down, to dwell and rule in the hearts of His people. To extend his reign on the earth.

It’s clear from the next verse that the apostles missed this connection. They were looking for a political kingdom, maybe the long-awaited overthrow of Roman rule in Jerusalem and the return of an earthly king on the throne. In verse 6 they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Perhaps they were looking back to the glory days of King David, or King Solomon, or looking forward to the fulfillment of the messianic promise of a King to rule in Jerusalem. In either case, their campaign slogan was, “Make Israel great again!”

They were looking for the restoration of a physical kingdom to Israel. Something they could see. But as Jesus had previously instructed, “the Kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.” Yes, there would be a real, physical rule by God on earth one day, but the timing of that was not for the disciples to know. In verse 7, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” In other words, “you don’t get to know when the type of kingdom you’re expecting will come”, but here is what you will get. Look at verse 8, “you will get power (here and now) when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

With all the talk of God’s kingdom, the apostles got excited. Oppression would be over, the King would redeem Israel and reign. They weren’t completely off. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “You idiots, you don’t understand anything about the kingdom!” No, he says that it just wasn’t time for the physical kingdom they anticipated. Tomorrow they’d wake up, and Roman guards would still occupy the city. Their version of April 15th would come, and they’d still have to pay taxes to Caesar. But, there was a real kingdom being restored, and there was a real oppression that would be ended. It might not look the way you think, but it’s coming. And how’s it going to come? It’s going to come when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you receive power. Power to do what? Not to found a new political party. Not to wage war or to plan a coup d’etat to overthrow King Herod. But to be my witnesses!

Great empires are often built through battles. Alexander the Great spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to Egypt into northwest India and modern-day Pakistan. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders. “Great” and impressive as he and his feats were, Alexander is dead, and his empire has crumbled. It could be seen, but it did not stand.

But Jesus’ kingdom expands in a different way. Not through swords and spears, tanks and rifles, or through bombs and missiles, but through the mouths of men and women like you and me, who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, testify of our resurrected Savior. The apostles were worried about a kingdom in Israel. Jesus pointed them to a kingdom that would spread from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the very ends of the world, through them. And to some extent, we see this playing out throughout the rest of the book of Acts.

By the end of verse 8 here, 11 apostles have been commissioned to be Christ’s witnesses. By the end of chapter 1, another is added, Matthias, bringing the number to 12. By the end of chapter 2, this promise of the Spirit has come, the apostles have testified about Christ, the church is born in Jerusalem, and 3,000 “witnesses” are added to it. By the end of chapter 4, the number has grown to 5,000. By the end of chapter 5, Luke records, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women”, by the end of chapter 8, the church is scattered and the gospel has spread to Samaria, and by the time we get to the end of the book, the testimony of Christ has stretched to Syria, to Greece, and all the way into Rome. Is Christ the King’s work continuing, and is his kingdom expanding? The book of Acts answers a resounding, “YES!”

The answer has not changed. Isn’t it a testimony to the power of God’s Spirit, working in God’s people, through the proclamation of God’s gospel that 2,000 years later, and 6,000 miles away, we gather this morning as a small outpost of the Kingdom of God; as the Temple Hills Baptist Church!
We’re about as far to the “ends of the earth” as the apostles could have imagined. And though they could not see Christ’s kingdom expanding this far, they believed God. They trusted God. They obeyed God. They opened their mouths and proclaimed the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. They made disciples of the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded them, including this command to be Christ’s witnesses to the end of the earth that they could not yet see! You see, faith trusts God to accomplish his purposes even beyond one’s own life, and beyond one’s own sight.

We’re recipients of such faithfulness aren’t we. Of the faithfulness of those who trusted Christ and in the provision of His Spirit to be His witnesses. Someone brought the gospel to this continent, someone brought the gospel to this country, someone brought the gospel to this region, someone brought the gospel to this state, someone brought the gospel to this city, someone brought the gospel to this community, someone brought the gospel to your home, someone brought the gospel to you. Who was it? Do you remember? Chances are, they weren’t that extraordinary, they weren’t some awesome evangelist or heady apologist, they didn’t have the answers to all the questions, and weren’t brimming with boldness as they spoke; they sinned like you do, struggled like you do, had nerves like you do, were afraid like you are. But they trusted Christ. They opened their mouths and bore witness about the King. And by the power of His Spirit He drew you to Himself, and expanded His rule over your life.

Saints, who will you take the gospel to? Christ is expanding His Kingdom. It’s through you and me, it’s through His people; its through His church.

That point becomes clear, in that after Jesus has given this command to his apostles to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, he leaves.

Verses 9-11 read,

[9] And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [10] And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, [11] and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking 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.”

You know, one of the more entertaining things as I read through Scripture are some of the questions that are asked. Here, for example, Jesus ascends into heaven, on a cloud, and these two angels ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” “Huh!! This man was just speaking to us. Then he got on a cloud. Then he went into the sky. Then we didn’t see him anymore. This is not normal!” But the answer we can almost hear is, “Neither is it permanent”. Jesus is coming back!

Point #3: The King is Coming Back (Verses 9-11)

So then, instead of looking up, you need to be looking around. He’s given you this task, to take this message, to testify of Him to the ends of the world. And as Jesus teaches in so many parables about His return, the question is, will you be found faithful when the King comes back.

So saints, look around. Who is it among us this morning with whom you can testify about the risen Christ? Who is it that you counsel or comfort or encourage or praise or admonish or entreat with the message of the cross this morning. Or lest you think the gospel is only for unbelievers!

Who is it that the Lord might be pleased to spread the reign of Christ through your witness this week? Which family member, or coworker, or neighbor? Which child, or classmate, or cashier, or waiter?

Which place might the Lord be leading you to go to testify of Him? Beijing or Jordan; the University of Maryland or Benjamin Stoddert Middle School? Princeton Estates or Gateway Square apartments? The Forestville Pregnancy Center or the Prince George’s County Correctional Facility?

Which people group might you bear witness to about Jesus? The Pashtun or Fulani? The Uyghur or the Yemeni? The Kurds or the Ansari?

Saints, we proclaim Christ because Christ the King is risen! That’s not our once-a-year mantra, that’s our day-by-day battle cry! As we, by the witness of our words and our lives, proclaim the kingdom of God, we trust that the gates of hell will not be able to withstand the power of His invasion! Christ’s kingdom is expanding and will one day be fully and finally realized when Christ returns. Though we may not know when, He is coming back. And that’s good news for those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus. That soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.

But for those of us who don’t know Christ, the fact that Christ the King is coming back is terrible news. Because he’s not coming to formally welcome You into his kingdom, but to permanently ban you from it. He’s not coming back as Your Savior, but as Your judge. You may hear me this morning talking of Christ as King, and His Kingdom expanding, and His imminent return and it all sounds rather unbelievable, pie in the sky, fantastical fiction. It could be that I’ve done a poor job of explaining this text. I’m quite aware of that possibility. But it could be that you’re spiritually dead, and you need God to give you new life. Jesus told a man by the name of Nicodemus that unless you are born again, you cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. Maybe you’re looking at life too much through your natural eyes, and you need God to give you spiritual eyes. You need God to give you faith to believe, to submit to, to trust in King Jesus for salvation. Ask him, he is more willing to give than you are willing to receive.

Let’s pray.

 

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