Series: Next Things: Acts 1,2,4 - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 7, 2002
Please turn with me to Acts chapter one. As you’re turning - if you’ll bear with me a little bit - I’d like to begin with a story.
Two hunters from New Jersey are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing. The other whips out his cell phone and calls 911. He gasps out to the operator, “My friend is dead. What can I do?”
The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says, “Just take it easy. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There’s silence, then a gun shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says, “OK, now what?”
Now you say that’s a silly story. And, it is. But, the question is important. On this Sunday after Resurrection Sunday that’s the question we want to focus on. Now what? How we answer that question - having celebrated the resurrection - how we answer that question has consequences - for us - for others - consequences for today and for eternity.
Acts 1 - starting at verse 1: The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after he had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.
The writer here is Luke. The first account is the Gospel of Luke - the beginning - the record of the incarnation of Jesus - the beginning of His ministry. Acts goes on from there. That’s the answer to the question, “Now what?” What comes next is the work of Jesus in and through His church - through us.
Acts fills the gap between the Gospels and Paul’s letter to the Romans - it’s an explanation of how Jesus works - taking obscure men and women - people like you and me - and even in the midst of persecution and incredible adversity - takes this handful of Jews in Jerusalem and begins the transformation of the world. The last chapter of Acts - Acts 28 - ends with the Apostle Paul - a man who wasn’t even there at the beginning - the great evangelist Paul - renting a house in Rome and it just sort of ends there - leaving us hanging - waiting for the sequel.
Which is awesome. Because we’re that sequel - what comes next - Acts chapter 29 - or maybe after 2,000 years - Acts chapter 50 or so. What we want to look at in verses 3 to 8 is how we can be a part of what Jesus is doing in and through His church.
Verse 3: To these He - Jesus - also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
To be a part of what Jesus is doing next, first we need to be clear on what His message is. Luke begins as Jesus begins - with convincing proofs that He - Jesus - is alive.
Last Sunday - apparently unconvinced of the resurrection - about 50 people claiming to be representatives of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions came together at the Presidio to discuss “Inner Peace for Global Healing.” The so called “christian representative” said that “christians” support the idea of a “cosmic Christ” - that the inner peace so many people are looking for today can only come through acceptance and love.
Did Jesus die? Did Jesus rise from death?
Suzanne Marie Olsson - an American researcher based in New York - believes she has found the tomb of Jesus Christ in Kashmir, India - at the Muslim shrine of Rozabal. The idea is that Jesus survived the crucifixion and went on to live in India where He was married, had children, and lived to be 120 years old. Olsson wants to exhume the body and use DNA and carbon testing - compare it to her findings at the alleged tomb of Jesus’ mother Mary in Pakistan, and “resolve the raging controversy” she says, over the identity of the remains.
Every year - when we come together to celebrate the resurrection - there is list of those who claim the resurrection was a hoax. There is no evidence - no convincing proofs. But, there is convincing proof.
The Romans and Jews took tremendous security precautions to make sure that Jesus was dead and stayed dead and in the tomb - to protect against potential fraud and lies by the disciples of Jesus. The tomb was shut with a stone which would have taken several men considerable effort to move - an Imperial Seal was put on the grave - any tampering with this would have been easily noticed. A Roman guard - impartial to Hebrew religious politics - highly disciplined and skilled was placed to guard the tomb - if they failed at their duty they would be executed.
When Mary, John, Peter and others arrived on Sunday morning - the stone was rolled to the side - the tomb was empty. The burial clothes lay undisturbed - the body had disappeared from within them. A thief would have stolen the body - linen wrappings and all. Or, if the wrappings had been removed they would have been disturbed. Jesus left the tomb supernaturally.
Later - the women and the disciples saw - heard - ate with - and even touched Jesus. 500 brethren saw Jesus at one time. 50 days later Peter preached about Jesus’ resurrection and thousands gathered to hear Him - people who were in a position to know the facts about the resurrection. No one offered him a rebuttal. That silence is powerful. If the resurrection was a hoax - where was the out cry against the witnesses?
Chuck Colson - convicted in the Nixon Watergate scandal - responding to the question, “How do you know the disciples weren’t perpetrating a hoax?” Chuck Colson writes this: “Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States - the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, turned states evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, "to save his own skin" - and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on - two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody's life was at stake." (Chuck Colson, BreakPoint, 03.29.02)
The disciples - 12 ordinary men - gave their lives - were beaten, stoned, crucified, tortured. To their dying breath - everyone one of them testified to the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. “We saw Him. He spoke with us. He ate with us.” Not one came forward and claimed it was a hoax.
The silence of Jesus' enemies and the lack of historical evidence against the resurrection is almost as powerful as the evidence for the resurrection. Of all the theories offered to disprove the resurrection - all of these have been solidly discredited by one historical scholar after another. Not one shred of evidence has ever been given to support these claims - including the body of Jesus Christ.
Josephus - a Jewish historian - a man who was derfinately not a believer in Jesus Christ - writing shortly after the resurrection - Josephus writes this: “Now, there was about this time Jesus....He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold....” (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, Paragraph 3)
The Apostle Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Jesus is dead then we have no message - no Gospel - to share with others. Christianity is just another a religious system - a spiritual teaching - like all the others. We might as well believe in a "cosmic christ."
But, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a certain historical fact. Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead. But, Jesus lives. Our belief in the Divine power and authority of Jesus Christ is not an empty faith or wishful thinking. That means that we have the unique - powerful - victorious - life transforming - hope giving - guilt freeing - peace bringing - offer of forgiveness and salvation message that this world desperately needs to hear.
To be a part of what Jesus is doing next, we need to be clear on what His message is: He is alive! Second, we need to be clear on how Jesus wants us to share that message.
Verse 4: Gathering them together, He - Jesus - commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus commands His disciples to wait. “Stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes.” Why? Because if you try to go out and witness without the Holy Spirit you’ll mess everything up.
Water baptism is like taking a shower with your rain coat on. It’s a ritual - an outward act. But, it can’t touch the inside. The work of the Holy Spirit touches us inwardly. When we come to salvation in Jesus Christ it’s the Holy Spirit who brings about the rebirth of our spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that indwells us - is changing us to be more like Jesus - fills and empowers us - gives us spiritual gifts to be used in ministry. The Holy Spirit harmonizes the work of the Church - heals division - draws us together - binds us together.
That’s crucial. We cannot be truly effective as a Christian - as the church - if we’re not operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have what it takes. And, if we’re operating under our own power division - discord - and disaster will result. So, Jesus says, “Wait in Jerusalem a few days until the Holy Spirit comes.”
Verse 6: So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
The apostles were brought up and taught the Old Testament. They had waited for the Messiah. They understood that the Messiah would be the One who would establish God’s Kingdom on earth - the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people. The giving of the Holy Spirit was a part of the fulfillment of that promise. This question, “Is it now?” is a very legitimate question.
Verse 7: He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you
Too often a church feels that it has to program the work of God - to set up strategies - goals and objectives - structures and frameworks - timetables for ministry. But the Father - who administrates all these things through the Holy Spirit - the Father has authority over when and how He will establish His Kingdom and the work of the Kingdom in us and through us.
As individuals - as a church - we need to learn how to wait for the Holy Spirit. That means time together in prayer - not just the “congregational prayer” or a prayer by someone before a meeting. But focused time together in prayer. Waiting for the Holy Spirit means time together focused on Bible study - exploring how God works - examining the mind and wisdom of God. Discussing these things together. It means being together for worship - fellowship - service - actively seeing what God has done - what He is doing - what He may do. Then it may even mean taking risks and stepping out in faith. But, prayerfully, Biblically, together - following His direction.
Going on in verse 8 - when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [then] you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Within a very short time after Jesus had made this statement in Acts 1:8 - the Gospel had been carried throughout the Roman Empire - even to far off places like Armenia. In time the Gospel came here to the remotest part of the earth - San Francisco.
That might sound a little strange. But, except for someplace a few hundred miles west of here in the Pacific Ocean - there really isn’t a place that is more remote - farther away from Jerusalem - than San Francisco. Welcome to the remotest part of the earth.
I have friends who used to have this sign over their front door - so as they left their house - going out into the world - they would see this sign. It said, “You Are Now Entering The Mission Field.” We are the witnesses of His resurrection - right here in the Bay Area. Which is a challenge for us who are living in what comes next.
In Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, Thor Heyerdahl tells how he and a crew of five crossed the Pacific Ocean from South America to the South Pacific Islands on a crude raft of balsa logs bound together with hemp rope. During the three-month journey in 1947, they had little control of the direction of the raft and no way to stop its forward progress. They learned early in the voyage that anything dropped overboard was almost impossible to recover once it passed behind the raft.
Two months into the voyage and thousands of miles from land, Herman Watzinger lost his footing and went overboard. The raft, driven by a strong wind in heavy seas, moved ahead faster than he could swim. The remaining men were horrified for their friend. They tried to throw him a life belt on a rope, but the wind blew it back at them. In seconds, Herman was all but lost to their sight in the tumble of waves.
Suddenly Knute Haugland grabbed the life belt and dove into the water. He swam back to Herman and wrapped his arm around him, holding his exhausted friend and the rope while the men on the boat drew them back to the boat.
God has placed us in the mission field. How committed are we to being used by Him in what comes next? Are we willing to give our lives that others might be saved? Are we continually looking - prayerfully looking - for opportunities - to be led by the Holy Spirit - to be used by God - doing whatever it takes - to share His Gospel - the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that is offered to us because He lives?