Series: Who We Are - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 12, 2019
This morning we’re beginning a study of the first 2 chapters of the Book of Acts looking at Who We Are as the church - as Creekside. Which is not a question, “Who are we?” But we're exploring the answer - this is who we are.
There’s a story about Albert Einstein. True or not. I don’t know. But it’s a great story. Maybe you’ve heard this?
Einstein was traveling on a train - the same train Einstein took every day going home from work. As the train went along the conductor came down the aisle punching the tickets of each passenger and he asked Einstein for his ticket.
Einstein reached into his coat pocket and couldn’t find his ticket. So he reached into another pocket - still no ticket. He looked in his shirt - his briefcase - the seat next to him - everyplace he could think of. No ticket.
Finally the conductor - who’s watching this - the conductor said, “That’s okay, Dr. Einstein, I know you ride this train everyday. We all know you. I can collect tomorrow. You don’t need a ticket.”
Einstein said, “Young man, I too know who I am. But without the ticket I don’t know where I’m going.” (1)
Which is so like where we can be as a congregation and as individuals making up that congregation. On the train - in the church - same train we’ve been on before - ride it almost every Sunday - doing the same routine - going along for the ride - but struggling to understand where we’re going and why. What it means to be on the train.
To quote Allistair Begg: The very heart of it all: The local church is one of the few places where you sit and sing, where you listen and learn, where you grow and serve with people who are different from us, with rich people and poorer people, young people, old people, black people, white people, yellow people, educated people, uneducated people, and the unifying factor in it all is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A church is not a homogeneous club of people like us with whom we would naturally like to go on vacation. Rather, it is a supernatural fellowship of people very unlike us in whom we are bound in Christ. (2)
We are a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound in Christ - called Creekside. Which we pray is not random but in obedience to God. Understanding the significance of that is where we’re going in the next few Sundays.
This morning - we’re focused on this truth - that we are witnesses.
Please join me at Acts 1 - verse 1. And if you’re able, please stand together as we come before the Word of God together. And would you read with me our passage for this morning.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. 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.
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; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. 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.”
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.
And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, whey 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.”
We’re going to break down these verses into three easier to digest sections. The first is verses 1 to 5 - which is Luke’s Introduction to the Book of Acts.
Two years ago - January 2017 - we began studying through the Bible - beginning at Genesis and Creation. With Adam - who representing all of us - Adam disobeying God - sins - so that each of us is born into sin and we just go on confirming Adam’s choice by our own sin.
We’ve been looking at what God is doing about that - our brokenness and sin and separation from God. God - Who loves us - how God is dealing with what separates us from Him. Redeeming and restoring us.
Moving through the Old Testament - we saw God at work - relentlessly - purposefully - intentionally - working through history. Working through promises and covenants and law and sacrifices and kingdoms and nations. Working through real people in real situations in real time - prophets and kings and queens and shepherds and ordinary people like us.
Which is the big picture of what God is doing that we need to hang on to. God working to restore what our sin has removed us from - the righteous relationship that God desires for us to have with Him.
All of which points forward to Jesus Christ.
Which is God’s redemptive work that Mark invited us into. Mark begins with the words “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
The gospel is about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is the big picture - Who and what God is doing to redeem and restore us to relationship with Him.
The gospel is that by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone we are saved. Those who believe the gospel, who by faith receive Jesus as their Savior, become children of God. (John 1:12)
Which Jesus - at the very beginning of His ministry - laid out and called people to respond to.
“The time is fulfilled - all of what’s in the Old Testament comes down to this - the kingdom of God is at hand - I’m here in the flesh and blood of humanity - repent and believe in the gospel.” Turn from your sin and turn to God - trust God for what He will do - has done - through Me. (Mark:1:15)
Acts is what comes next. How we fit into the big picture of what God is doing here and now.
Verse 1 invites us into all of that. The writer of Acts is… Luke. One of the reasons we know that is because Acts is volume two of a two volume set. The first book is the.. Gospel of Luke. Acts is volume two.
Luke is writing to Theophilus - who some have speculated that he was named Theophilus because when he was born they took one look at him and said, “That’s the awfulness baby we’ve ever seen.” Old joke.
Theo-philus means... “loved by God.” Theophilus was probably some high ranking official in Rome who’d come to saving faith in Jesus who getting pressured to live for Jesus - especially with the growing persecution in Rome.
Luke wrote Acts to be an encouragement to Theophilus. This is what it means to follow Jesus in the messed up world we live in. This is what it looks like in real time to be the church - a member of that supernatural fellowship.
Luke reminds Theophilus that in volume one - the Gospel of Luke - Luke dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up...
Which includes is the whole of Jesus’ ministry.
But specifically - here - Luke focuses on the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and His being taken up into heaven. Jesus “presenting Himself alive… by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
Jesus walking with disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus coming to the disciples where they’re hiding - cowering - mourning - hopeless. Thomas having his doubts removed. Hundreds if not thousands who witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Life transforming encounters with the living God.
All of which is not about establishing evidence for the resurrection which is an incontrovertible fact of history. It happened.
But all of those encounters with Jesus “until the day when He was taken up” are about bringing the reality of Jesus’s work on the cross - the empty tomb - His resurrection - the meaning of His being taken up - bringing that reality into the lives of His disciples. Into the reality of where we live our lives. Hugely encouraging for Theophilus - and us.
Point being that Jesus’ death and resurrection are about the saving work of the living Jesus touching us at the deepest need of our lives - forgiveness of sin and being made right in our relationship with God. His ascension into heaven is about hope - life - Jesus returning - our forever with God. God’s big picture - what God is doing and why.
Luke tells us that during those 40 days Jesus commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they’re baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Water baptism is like taking a shower with our rain coat on. An outward demonstration of what God has done inside us. Being baptized with the Holy Spirit is about the work God does inside us - spiritually - supernaturally.
When we come to salvation in Jesus it’s the Holy Spirit who brings about the rebirth of our spirit - literally baptizes us into the Body of Christ - the Church. It’s the Holy Spirit that indwells us and is changing us to be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit fills us and empowers us and gives us spiritual gifts to be used in ministry.
Some have suggested that title of Luke’s volume two should be: “The Working of the Holy Spirit Through The Acts of The Apostles.”
Acts is really an explanation of how God the Holy Spirit works - taking obscure men and women - people like us - in the day to day stuff of life - often messed up - and even in the midst of persecution and incredible adversity - how God takes this handful of Jews in Jerusalem - adds Gentiles - and uses them in His history encompassing - globe spanning - big picture - work of redeeming mankind.
Jesus commands His disciples: “Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes not too many days from now.”
Because there’s no way to be the Church - to live as a Christian - without the Holy Spirit working all that out within us. On our own - trying to be a Christian - is just crash and burn epic failure. Which we all have seen too much of.
“Wait” - not “Go” - because this is about what God will do - not us.
So, pulling all that together. Luke is writing Acts to encourage Theophilus with what it means to be a follower of Jesus in what comes next - as messed up as this world may be. Which is about the supernatural working of God within us and through us for His big picture gospel plan and purpose.
Let’s go on to verses 6 to 8 - which is about Focus. Focusing on being who we are in what God is doing.
Verse 6: So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
What would you ask someone who’d been dead for three days? And was alive again. What was it like? Did you see a light at the end of a tunnel? Why did you come back?
Jesus has been with the disciples for 40 days and it seems they’ve got this question that Jesus hasn’t answered yet. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Which is a legit question.
Like the rest of Israel they’d read the Hebrew Bible. They’d been brought up being taught in the synagogue. 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. Like all of Israel they’d waited for the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah.
The giving of the Holy Spirit was a part of the fulfillment of that promise. So now Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. So, this question, “Is it now?” is a very legitimate question.
But the question tells us that the disciples are still thinking about earthly kingdoms and about Israel’s 12 tribes and dealing with the “nutzoness” of the Roman Empire. Which - reading God’s promises - all that is in some ways right on. But it’s a very limited perspective of the Kingdom of God - of what God is doing.
Jesus’ answer - verses 7 and 8 - is about refocusing the disciples towards God and what God desires to do in them and through them. God’s work of redeeming mankind. A much larger picture.
Jesus starts off by telling them what they cannot know. But God does.
Times and seasons that God fixes in place - fits them where He wills for them to be in history - because God alone has the right and ability to establish times and seasons. God has authority to do as He wills with the history and the affairs of mankind.
Empires have come and gone and they will continue to come and go. The issues of man will grow in importance and fade into history. The one constant in the affairs of man is change.
But, God is immutable - without change. His word is eternal. His purposes are fixed.
In other words, what God has purposed to do as He unfolds human history is way above and beyond lemonade stands like the Roman Empire. Way above the limited influence of North Korea and some two bit terror organization. Way beyond the shameful political tug-of-war in Washington.
History - times and seasons - all that is a God thing not a people thing.
Meaning that what God calls us to be a part of - being the Church - isn’t about all the temporal stuff we get all “nutso” about but about God’s Kingdom - His purposes being accomplished by His authority according to what He wills and for His glory.
Then Jesus tells the disciples that the power they need to live out the purposes of God and His Kingdom - to be the Church - doesn’t come from them. But that power comes from God.
When the Holy Spirit has come upon you - because you waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon you - the Holy Spirit will empower you.
Focus point being - grab this: The plan and power is all coming from the sovereign God Who is at work here.
The purpose of which - bottom line focus verse 8 - is so that “you will be My witnesses.”
All that is so that you will be witnesses of Jesus - The Gospel. That’s the focus of it all. What it all comes down to. Witnessing of the salvation and life that God offers to us through the completed work of Jesus on the cross.
We know that within a very short time after Jesus had made this statement in Acts 1:8 - the Gospel had been carried throughout the Roman Empire. The working of the Holy Spirit through the acts of the apostles. Fast forward plus or minus 1900 years and the Gospel has come even here to the end of the earth - Merced.
Which would be a great city slogan. Wouldn’t it? Welcome to Merced - The End of the Earth - Terminus of The Train to Nowhere. Remember you heard that here first.
Hold on to this: We exist here - at the end of the earth - being the church - because God purposes and enables and empowers us to exist here to witness of Jesus.
That’s why were here. That’s what we need to be focused on doing.
Remember what Jesus said? “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:1-12)
In the context of when Jesus said that to His disciples Jesus was in the process of sending them out in groups of two - sending His disciples out into the harvest.
The issue isn’t the readiness of the harvest which is always ready for harvest. The issue’s always been the lack of harvesters. So pray for harvesters. But you all need to get out of the holy huddle and start harvesting yourselves. Pray... as you go.
You all are witnesses. And witnesses… witness. That’s what disciples of Jesus do.
Big picture: That’s why God has us here in Merced. Under His authority - empowered by His Spirit - to witness of Jesus Christ - the Gospel. God’s plan of dealing with our sin.
Verses 9 to 11 are about Urgency. The urgency of our witness.
Verse 9: And when He [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes [angels], 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.”
The question is there to bring the disciples back to earth. “Why are you still staring at the sky.” The prophetic statement is there to focus them on the what is yet to come. The same way Jesus went up He’s coming down. Jesus going up to heaven. Jesus is coming back from heaven.
Only the results will be way different.
When Israel returned from exile in Babylon they were surrounded by enemies. They were being discouraged to build up the defenses of Jerusalem. God called Zechariah to be a prophet of hope and encouragement in the midst of those troubled times.
In Zechariah 14, Zechariah is writing of future events which are yet to take place. Future history that we’re still waiting on today. Zechariah records these words given to him by God.
Zechariah 14:2: “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”
For Israel it’s a future time of war and atrocities. All of which doesn’t sound very hopeful or encouraging. But this is a prophecy about what God will do in the midst of what is hopeless and discouraging.
God goes on - Zechariah 14:3: Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when He fights on a day of battle. On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east - which is the exact same location where Jesus is talking with His disciple - the same exact location that He goes up from - and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west - which is what will happen when Jesus returns from heaven and steps down again on the Mount of Olives.
Verse 5: Then the Lord my God will come, and the holy one’s with Him.
Verse 7: And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord…
Verse 9: And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and His name one. Meaning God alone will be the One and only God worshiped. (Zechariah 14:2-9)
Jesus coming back down is not a baby born in a manger or the sacrifice crucified on a cross - but the Messiah - the King of Kings - the Lord of Lords - our judge and conqueror - descending back down from the sky - at the head of Heaven’s armies - coming to end the kingdoms of man - coming to claim His final - universal - everlasting kingdom.
When Jesus comes He’s going to touch down on the Mount of Olives - in Jerusalem - and it’s not going to be a soft landing. Judgment will come - division - people - some whom we know and love - apart from Jesus will enter into an eternity of torment and separation from God. Those who know Jesus as their Savior will enter into eternity with Him.
No matter what the circumstances - maybe hopeless and discouraging as they can be - we need to remember that the sovereign God is in control of what will happen. According to His plan and purposes there will come a day when He will intervene with final judgment. Jesus is returning.
Mark records Jesus - standing on the Mount of Olives - teaching about future history and His return. Jesus tells the disciples “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32,33)
What we cannot know. But what we are to be doing.
The times and seasons are fixed by the authority of the Father. The time of Jesus’ return is known only to the Father. Not Jesus. Not us.
We can almost see the Son next to Father impatiently asking, “Is it time?” When the Father says, “Go!” the Son is gone. The soon and immediate return of Jesus.
The doctrine theologians refer to as the immanent return of Jesus. Immediate. Instant. Catching people by surprise. When is Jesus coming back? Soon. How soon? Always to be expected... soon. Maybe now.
Today’s very special Mother’s Day lunch with mom at McDonald’s may never happen. Just saying. Jesus is coming back.
Let’s be clear. The urgency isn’t about us. Having less time today than yesterday to clarify our check lists of the prophetic events of future history.
The urgency is for those around us who are heading through life without Jesus - heading for Hell - eternally perishing without Jesus. The urgency is about our living out the big picture plan and purposes of the sovereign God as Holy Spirit empowered focused and faithful and obedient witnessing of Jesus. Even here in Merced.
Stop staring at the sky. Look at the harvest. Start harvesting. Jesus is coming back.
“You will be My witnesses.” That’s who we are. Witnesses of Jesus.
Processing all that…
Maybe we can relate to the urgent desperation of those around us. We live in a world which is very confused - fearful - anxious - where morality is relative - philosophy subjective - depression and emptiness bottomless - seemingly mental illness is growing - where families are coming apart - children are killing children - violence is normal - in a world where people are hungry for answers - where people are willing to follow after even the most bizarre notions that seem to offer hope.
But we need to be clear that God hasn’t called us out of death into life in Christ so that we can witness about some self help program or a better morality or a religious philosophy that offers a better way.
Let’s be clear: Without Christ - without a true repentance and life changing turning to God - by faith response to the Gospel - the people around us are spiritually dead in their sins and on a certain trajectory to hell.
That desperation is what makes our witness of the gospel so urgent.
What it means for us to “Serve The World” together.
Which we cannot take lightly. The desperate need of those around us - which urgently compels our response - which Jesus calls us to– to be His witnesses.
After His resurrection when Jesus appeared to His disciples, Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21b)
The word in Greek for “witness” - verse 8 - is “martus” - from which we get “martyr.” To be a martyr means choosing 100% plus commitment to testify regardless of the cost or consequences. Ridicule. Rejection. Even crucifixion and death.
The Father sent the Son into the world to die. So Jesus sends us to witness - martyr - of Him.
Witnessing of Jesus is not something that we can phone in or half-heartedly pursue or claim to be in favor of - even praying for - without actually going.
Put another way: If you say you’re a follower of Jesus and you’re not intentionally witnessing of Jesus then what exactly do you mean by being a follower of Jesus?
Followers of Jesus - His disciples - witness of Him. It’s who we are.
What does that look like?
We need to ordered our lives around sharing the gospel. To be intentional about the situations we seek out with readiness to share. Actually going into the harvest. That’s when witnessing really becomes a priority not just something we talk about or pray for.
Years ago someone coined the phrase “lifestyle evangelism.” Which meant that if we lived a good Christian lifestyle others would be attracted to that and so they would ask questions which would give us the opportunity to share the gospel.
Which is partially true. But way too often our lifestyles are not always exemplary attractive demonstrations of God’s work and His glory. And way too often people around us are left with some vague impression of spirituality and a religion that’s good for us but not necessarily for them.
And in reality, if lifestyle evangelism was Biblical Jesus never would have followed the Father’s will and come to us.
The love of God and the urgency of the gospel requires that we intentionally share it with others without waiting for them to come to us.
They need to know what God by His grace has done for them and that if they honestly repent of their sin and believe they will be saved. But they need to decide.
Following Jesus will probably not be easy. But it’s worth it. Forgiveness and what satisfies our souls is only found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Thabiti Anyabwile -
in his book “What is a Healthy Church Member?” gives a
list of strategies for organizing our lives around
witnessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Which are on
the screen and on the web site in the text of today’s
are just to get us imagining what’s possible.
1. Intentionally frequenting the same stores (cleaners, restaurants, etc.) with the aim of building relationships and familiarity with store personnel, and hopefully having gospel conversations.
2. Using vacations for short-term missions trips.
3. Volunteering in community organizations to influence for the gospel.
4. Hosting home discussions regarding religion and philosophy.
5. Inviting neighbors over for dinner or for holiday parties and talking with them about Christ.
6. Hosting Bible studies in the work place.
7. Joining neighborhood clubs (garden clubs, cycling clubs, etc.) to build relationships and further gospel opportunities.
8. Inviting friends to church and special religious events where the gospel is sure to be center stage.
Bottom Line: Being a witness of Jesus Christ isn’t a program we choose to participate in or some activity we put on our calendars or a class we sign up for. Being a witness of Jesus Christ is the reality of who we are individually and as the Church of Jesus Christ. Which means being resolved that all of our life will be lived in witness of Jesus wherever and however God chooses for us to live as His witness.
1. The Biblical Studies Foundation, Direction / Purpose, and Leadership, Spring 2003
2. Allistair Begg, Sermon: Membership Matters - Romans 12:1-10, September 6, 2015, truthforlife.org
3. Leadership, Summer 1998
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008)
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007)
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 5: Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.