Charting a Course for the Church (Sermon on Acts 1:1-11)


Charting a Course for the Church

Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is a joy to share with you God’s Word.

COMPASSWhat is this? It is a compass. They are super neat. A magnet in some water and it points north. If you have a map and can get your bearings to where you are. I have talked with Dan Todd about taking an orienteering course. We both think learning how to use one would be fun. If you don’t know how to use one of these, they are interesting but useless.

ORIENTING ACTSSimilarly, Acts 1:1-11 orients us to the purpose of the church, and it’s leadership. Without understanding that, it is pointless. The author points us to this direction through the Apostles confusion as Jesus departs. Jesus tells them a final time he is leaving and leaves. Saying goodbye is hard. Jesus left them before to pray. They left him to die. Now he floats up to heaven, and the Apostles are left gawking. The future leaders of the church don’t know everything, but that is okay, God has a plan to build the church, and he is not done.

READINGIf you have your Bibles, turn to Acts chapter 1 verse 1. I have asked D.H. to read for us. At Sawyer, we have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s word. Would you stand with me, if you are able?

TEXT1 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.”

PRAYERThank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, I desperately need you. Your word has power; mine does not. I am a pebble, and my words are a breath, make a ripple effect in these moments that the gospel would go forward with boldness and power and clarity. Enlighten our minds, strengthen our convictions, and equip our lives Holy Spirit. Please help us and lead us. Build us up that our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, friends, and family members may come to know you, who came, lived, died, and rose victoriously. May you get glory and majesty through the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts. AMEN. You may be seated.

INTRODUCTION - WHOLuke wrote the book of Acts. Who was he? Well, he was the most prolific author in the New Testament. Did you know that? He wrote more than Paul, with about 38,000 words. Paul only wrote 34,000. John, the Apostle, wrote 28,000 words. As much as Luke wrote, we know very little about him. You can tell he was a companion to Paul, reading Acts. In Paul’s letters, he refers to his friendship with Luke. For example, in Colossians 4:14 Paul sent a greeting from his “beloved physician Luke.” In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul reported that only Luke was with him in Prison. Likely Luke was a Gentile, making him the only Gentile biblical author. Luke relies heavily upon Mark’s gospel and eyewitness accounts for his first book, the gospel of Luke. Luke is one of his own eyewitnesses in Acts. We see this as he shifts from talking about Peter and the Apostles and the early church to describing things in the first person. We can date Acts based on what he wrote and did not write. For example, Rome destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. That was monumental in the history of Israel, yet it was never mentioned or referred to in Acts. Therefore, Luke was written before 70 AD. Peter, the Apostle, was killed around 67-68 AD in Rome. Peter appears in 11 of the 28 chapters. However, Luke never mentions his death. In Acts 7 a godly man, Stephen, full the Holy Spirit was put on trial for his faith and stoned to death. That happened in the mid 30’s AD. In Acts chapter 12 the first Apostle was killed for his faith, James. That occurred around the mid 40’s AD. Why not mention Peter’s death in 67-68 AD? Well, I think that is because it hadn’t happened. So Acts must have been written before 67-68 AD. The last chapter of Acts tells of Paul going to prison in Rome for two years. We know he was in prison around 62 AD. Most think he died around 64-67 AD. Like Peter, Paul is a significant character in Acts, and you would think his death would be mentioned, it is not. Consequently, Acts was completed shortly after Paul’s two-year stint in prison but before his death around 64 AD.

INTRODUCTION - WHOM Who is the book for? Luke writes to Theophilus. Theophilus was the same man who dedicated his biography of Jesus to. Theophilus means “beloved of God” and “friend of God” and “dear to God.” It was a common name. Some think it might have been the son-in-law to the High Priest who oversaw Jesus’ death, Caiaphas. His name was Theophilus. Some speculate he could have been a relative of the Caesar Domitian. There were other Theophilus’. Other scholars suggest that Theophilus could have been an honorary title.,, Regardless of whom it was written originally to, we know this, God preserved this book for us today.

What was Luke writing about? Go to verse 1 of chapter 1. He reminds the readers that his first book concerned, “all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up.” What was Jesus doing and teaching? He was giving instructions to his chosen disciples, speaking of the Kingdom of God, doing miracles authenticating his claims, and ultimately going to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

JESUS’ FINAL COMMAND Luke reports that Jesus concluded his message to the Apostles with two final commands. What were they? Look at verse 4.
  1. Not depart from Jerusalem
  2. Wait for the one promised from the Father
Not depart and wait. That is a summary by Luke of his first book and brings us to the sequel, Acts. What is this about? It is about the story of the birth of the church.

The disciples heard Jesus’ command and teaching on the kingdom and ask in verse 6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” That is how they viewed the church. The concept of kingdom kindled a longing for the good old days of the heightened power of yesteryear. Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom. Luke uses the word 46 times in his biography of Jesus and eight times in Acts. As we begin to hear of the beginning of the church, we see Jesus adjusts leaderships understanding of timing and scope of the kingdom. They were thinking of an earthly kingdom. They thought it was a physical one like Rome, Greece, Egypt or, Israel. People pictured the Messiah ascending not into heaven but on a throne-like David, Caesar, or Pharaoh. The scriptures do talk about a successor to King David’s throne in 2 Samuel 7.
11...the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:11-14)

I was reading in my bible today an recognized that Luke 22 also demonstrates how the disciples could have been confused.
24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus said they would have thrones and a kingdom. There will be eating and drinking. It sounds pretty earthly. So what is Jesus talking about? How does Jesus respond to their sense of kingdom?

JESUS’ RESPONSEGo to verse 7.
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
Jesus zeroes in on their question of “when.” In regards to time and only God knows. Jesus says they won’t know the times or seasons. He has taught this before.
40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)
11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)

They had expectations. The future things weren’t going to line up the way they expect or supposed. I think they approached these days kind of how we might with a compass or navigation device that is unfamiliar.

Do you know what that is? It is called a sextant. You can pick it up from Harbor Freight for $20. I have no idea how to use it, but they are helpful in sailing if you do. Old Testament prophecy was probably like one of these tools. Some may have understood what was going on; for most, God was moving mysteriously. Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” So is that it? That is the beginning of the church and the kingdom, just wait for it? No. Jesus is not done. They asked about timing but also about scope. Jesus pushes back on their perspective. They asked, “Lord will you at this time restore the Kingdom of Israel?” Jesus responded,
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.”

OUTLINE The word “but” contrasts the previous thought. Jesus confronts their myopic ethnocentric kingdom perspective. They think Israel when Jesus says the kingdom of God. Jesus thinks bigger than that. Their listening skills remind me of my own, unfortunately. My wife will be saying something, and I think she is saying one thing. I start responding to her, and she says that is not what she meant. Then she will try communicating again, and I get it wrong still, and we go back and forth. It is not her; I do this with other people.

In the same way, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God when the Apostles say the Kingdom of Israel. The Apostles are not entirely on the same page. So verse 7 and 8 help bring them inline. Jesus subtly adjusts their perspective by moving from when to where. His response in verse 8 offers a picture of the early church’s leadership and direction.

  1. The Holy Spirit will come upon you
  2. You will receive power
  3. You will be my witnesses
This is the picture of the early church.
  1. The Holy Spirit will come upon you
  2. You will receive power
  3. You will be my witnesses
HOLY SPIRITI think the Holy Spirit gets a bad rap by false teachers in our day. He can be like the odd uncle, not talked about and awkward. We know from the rest of scripture that the Holy Spirit is a person. He is distinct from Jesus and the Father. For example, at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove while the Father spoke a blessing on him. The last command Jesus gave, in Matthew, he instructed the disciples to baptize in three names: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They were equal. The Holy Spirit was in the beginning hovering over the waters in Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit will be there at the end and is in the last chapter of the Bible calling for the return of Christ (22:17). The Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from the Son and the Father. We can grieve and blaspheme him. The Holy Spirit’s can be full of joy (1 Thes. 1:6). The Holy Spirit is active. He speaks, leads, and guides. Even in these verses, the Holy Spirit speaks through Jesus before he goes to the Father. The Holy Spirit is God just as the Father is God and just as the Son is God. Mysteriously God is one and three persons. Here in verse 8; Jesus says the promise of the Spirit will come upon them. The third person of the Godhead will come upon the Apostles. With the Spirit comes something else: power.

That brings me to the second point here in verse 8, we get a picture of the birth of the church with the Spirit and power. Luke’s readers will remember Jesus himself received power from the Spirit. In verse 2 Luke says that Jesus gave the commands to the Apostles through the Spirit. The Apostles, Paul, and disciples received power through the Spirit as the readers discover in Acts. What did that power look like? The Holy Spirit does at least four things in Acts.
  • He empowers healing - Luke 5:17, 6:19, 8:46, 9:1, Acts 4:7, 10:38
  • He empowers casting out demons - 9:1, 10:38
  • He empowers testimony about Jesus - Acts 4:33
  • He empowers signs and wonders - Acts 6:8
Wouldn’t it have been amazing to see that power in the Apostles’ day? I think it would. What would it be like to see a disabled man walk, a demon cast out, or some other sign and wonder? The disciples experienced that power, but it was not about magnifying themselves. They didn’t get power to grow rich and famous. They were not flying private jets, lounging in castles, and eating the delicacies. They suffered. God’s power had a purpose, and it was not exalting man but God. God’s power propelled witness. That is the third part of this portrait of the early church. The good news would spread beyond Israel to the whole world.

Verse 8 outlines Acts geographically with four places. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth. Chapters 1-7 deals with the gospel going from Jerusalem to Judea. Chapters 8-12 deals with the good news going from Judea to Samaria. Finally, chapters 13 through 28 the gospel moves from Judea to Samaria to the end of the known world.

ENDING Acts 1:1-11 concludes with Jesus taken up into heaven. The disciples seem to be in shock. What just happened? It reminds me of the Lord of the Rings beginning with Bilbo Baggins celebration of his 111th birthday speech, slipping his ring on, and disappearing. It certainly is reminiscent of the prophet Elijah and Enoch going up to heaven. They are there one moment and gone the next. We read in verse 10 two men in white robes appear and ask what they are looking at. If you were reading Luke and Acts where have we heard about two men like this prior to this? How about Jesus’ tomb? Luke 24 verse 1.
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [the women followed Jesus] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Like the resurrection account, the angelic encounter begins with a question. Acts 1:11 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.”
How do you think Theopholis and the first readers would react to this? I think they would be encouraged. In a world of authoritarian dictators and totalitarian rulers, the primary textbook for the church begins with leaders who get the kingdom wrong and don’t have all the answers. Why would the guardians of the faith allow this narrative to spread about them? Why preserve a narrative account that paints them in a bad light? Because first, it is true. Secondly, they were humble. Thirdly, they knew who was in charge, God not them. The leaders of the early church were teachable and not limited by the cult of personality. It was easy then and today to idolize leaders when things go well. They were more like us than we typically admit. Here you have the Apostles confused and a bit forgetful. Jesus already had told them he was leaving. That humility in the leadership would have been an encouragement to the church and a reminder that God is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, not man.

These verses end with a cliffhanger. Like a sitcom, “Come back next week for the conclusion to the Promise of the Father. Will, the Spirit come? What will that power look like? What happens next?” That is how it feels. 

WHY? Before we wrap up this morning, what difference do these verses make for us today? Why did Luke include verses 1-11? I see four reasons.
First, I think they help transition us from Luke to Acts.
Second, Luke charts a course for the rest of the book with these verses.
Third, it sets the stage to see God as the leader of the church.
Finally, Luke charts course for the church moving forward.

APPLICATION If Acts 1:1-11 was written to help guide the church’s direction, what difference does it make for us today? What is Sawyer’s direction? Over the years I have heard people ask what are we about? Why do we exist? What is our vision or mission? We as elders worked out several years ago a statement. There are a variety of ways to say it. Look at your bulletin. It has the vision statement in the third sentence inside on the left. What does it say? 

Let’s say it together.
Our church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ by spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.
That is a mouthful and powerful. However, left unexplained it is meaningless like a compass or sextant that we don’t know how to use. What do we mean by a disciple? Are you a disciple? Am I a disciple? How do I know I am a disciple? Acts 1:8 helps define the church and discipleship.

LIKE USIf you are a disciple, Acts 1:8 points to the Holy Spirit being on the disciple. You will have the Spirit if you are a disciple. What does that mean? How do we know we have the Spirit? Romans chapter 8 verse 9 says this,
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)

So to have the Spirit, one must belong to Christ.

HOW DO WE BELONG TO CHRIST? That begs another question, “How do we know we belong to Christ?” Galatians 2:20 helps. It says,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul as an example, help us understand what it means to belong to Christ. If you have faith in Jesus, that he came, lived, died and rose for your sins, then you belong to Christ. Consequently, Jesus lives in you in a spiritual sense and your sinful self was crucified. That belief or faith is more than just information; it is an allegiance. Our wills and hearts pair with God’s. We turn from our sinful default desires and words and actions to God’s. If that has happened to you, you belong to Jesus and have the Spirit of God dwelling in you, the creator of the universe dwells in you! The Bible says so, no matter how you feel. Galatians chapter 4 verse 6 agrees,
6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

God who created the Victoria Falls, the Pyrenees mountains, cumulonimbus clouds, and the DNA strands put himself into His children. He knows every hair on your head and cares about you by grace through faith. If that is the case for you, Acts 1:8 applies to you as well as the Apostles. You have God’s Spirit and strength. To do what? Miracles? Possibly. I think if that is all you are looking for you will be disappointed. Acts and Luke don’t exhaust the work of the Spirit. Miracles would be the work of the Spirit, but much of the Spirit’s work goes unnoticed. Jesus tells his followers that he is leaving and he has this to say about the Spirit’s future role in their lives and I believe ours as well. Not once did he mention miracles. (John 15:7-13)
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment….13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Jesus was teaching the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin but also helps the believer understand truth and reality. Throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit also,
  • Equips disciples to serve
  • Empowers disciples to resist evil
  • And bears fruit in the disciples
Again we see the power of the Spirit in convicting the world of sin.

The Spirit helps the believer understand and communicate truth. Maybe you have experienced that. God equips us to communicate in formal teaching settings and informal settings like a picnic. That is God.

The Spirit also equips disciples to serve. All of us who call ourselves Christians, are built to serve. God creates us for good works (Eph. 2:10). We are called to serve and function as a body and family of faith. How are you gifted and serving? Maybe you have interests and abilities helpful for the building up of the spiritual community. What does it look like on Sunday to serve? How about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday? Maybe you don’t know where to start, so you start somewhere. Try serving in ways that you haven’t and see the Spirit at work. He opens opportunities and gifts abilities for his glory.

The Spirit also empowers us to resist evil. We live in a perverse world. God has more power and beauty than a billionaire and a sunset. We have the ability, if we are followers of Jesus, to say no to sin, to fight, and to win. I am not saying we can be perfect in this life. We can have some victory. I say that because of Romans 6. Paul writes, 
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members [of your body] to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
God gives you the power to say no to sin.

Lastly, but not exhaustively, the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you really are seeing these fruits, you are seeing the Spirit at work.

If you never see this power in you, why do you think that is?

That brings me to another objection. How do we know this power is not manufactured or a human construct? Non-Christians certainly experience conviction, are gifted, and can be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. Even supernatural miracles can be counterfeited. How do we really know what is the Spirit and what isn’t? That is a good question. I think in some sense, God knows and we won’t. We have ambiguity again. We do know this because the Bible teaches it. If you are truly repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, then the fruit of faith indicates the root of the Spirit. If the Spirit is truly there, I think some of His power will be there. Often, it is those who are concerned about their salvation that are in better shape than those who don’t think about it at all and assume they are fine because they are “good” people. God’s people have God’s Spirit and God’s Spirit grants God’s power.

WITNESSESVerse 8 has one more nugget for us today. These disciples would become witnesses. Throughout Acts followers of Jesus became witnesses. They testified to what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do. That testimony was not just for the Apostles. It was for all believers together. We can’t go to the ends of the earth alone, but we can together. 

BUCKETThe good news without sharing it reminds me of a bucket of water I use at my house. I love our water. It is some of the best in the world, refreshing, cold, clean, and wonderful. I have a leaky garden spigot connection so every summer I put the bucket under there to catch the water. This summer the bucket had been sitting there for some time, and one day I found chipmunk had jumped in and died. Other times I looked to see mosquito larvae squirming in the water and beetles floating and files struggling to get out in that water. If you came over to my house in July. It is hot, you were thirsty, and sweaty and asked me for a drink, would you take it out of that bucket? No way! That water was meant to feed my lawn or garden, not just sit there and be ruined.

In the same way, God pours out on us His Spirit for a purpose. He empowers us to witness in the various ways we can. The gospel should not stop with us.

NEIGHBORLast week I was convicted of my need to talk more openly about my faith with my neighbor. He is dying of cancer. I have been over to his house a couple of times recently. We have talked about faith and God’s love. Last time I remember him talking to himself like he was basically a good person, which seemed to explain God’s love. I felt I could follow up on that conversation in the hospital before he went on hospice. Monday came around, and I called on him. His significant other, sister and nephew were in his room. After catching up, I asked if I could talk discuss spiritual stuff with him. You may think it is easy for me, a pastor, to share my faith. I was so nervous to talk to my neighbor. I sent texts to my life group to pray for me. He said sure. I brought up our past conversation and Christian hope. He agreed with me. However, when talking about forgiveness, he struggled again. He wasn’t so sure God could forgive sin. So we talked more about Jesus and what he did in dying on the cross for our sins. I felt like my neighbor was a natural relationship I had developed for six years. He is dying, and I could go to him and share the good news with him. I bring that up because my conviction is that we too are witnesses to what God has done for us. We have neighbors, co-workers, classmates, friends, family members that we can share our homes, lives, time, and convictions with. Maybe God is calling you to share the gospel with your children in fresh ways this week. Perhaps you can share your faith with your grandchildren this week through reading a Bible story to them as you babysit. Maybe you can minister to someone by just asking what is new with them and building a friendship. Maybe your testimony will be one of care. Jesus said it this way,
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

The word witness comes from the word martyr. Martyrs suffered and died. Our witness is a laying down of our lives for God. You may witness in action or deed. God calls us to take up our cross and follow him. What are you doing with your witness? God has given you disciples his Spirit and power for a purpose, to witness.

NOT FOLLOWERMaybe all this talk about witnessing and power, and Spirit leads you to wonder if you are a follower. Well, praise God! Many never get to that point of self-examination. They think everything is fine and dandy. Praise God for self-awareness. Praise God because you don’t have to remain the way you came! If you repent of your sins and believe in your heart that Jesus was whom he said he was, you will be saved and join the ranks of us on this adventure. Humble yourself and own up for what you have done and not done, what you have said and not said. Take responsibility and embrace an honest assessment of yourself. We are often not as good as we think nor as in control as we like. We are needy people. What do we need? God. That is why he came and died and rose. If we truly believe that, then he truly will give us his Spirit. If he truly gives us his Spirit, then we will truly have his power. If we truly have his power, then we cannot help but be witnesses. He will give us the words to say and the opportunities to say it. We don’t have to worry, just be faithful. As we keep reading look for ways that you in your own world can be a witness, filled with God’s power, through the Spirit.

Let’s pray.

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