Series: Next Things: Acts 1,2,4 - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 11, 2003
Last Sunday we began looking at the Book of Acts - exploring the answer to the question, “Now What?” After the resurrection of Jesus Christ what comes next? The answer - what comes next - is the work of Jesus in and through His church over that last almost 2,000 years. Which is exciting. Each of us is a part of the answer. We are a part of what comes next - a part of what God is doing now.
What we started last Sunday was to look at the lives of the disciples in the days and weeks that followed the resurrection - seeing what took place in their lives. Seeing how what they went through relates to what we’re going through today - and how God desires to work in us and through us. We started with the message that we’re commissioned to share with others - the Gospel of Jesus - our resurrected - alive - Savior and Lord. And, we focused on how we’re to share that message - relying on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
Today we want to look at a tremendous promise that was made to the disciples and to us. Please turn with me to Acts 1:9-11 so that we can look at this promise together.
A wife said to her husband, “Henry, you promised me you’d be home at 3:00. It’s 8:00. Where were you? Why didn’t you keep your promise to me?”
“Well honey,” said the husband. “When we got to the eighth green poor old Fred just dropped dead out there.”
“I’m sure that was awful.” said the wife. “But, I still don’t understand why you didn’t keep your promise and come home by 3:00.”
“Well honey,” said the husband. “Once Fred dropped dead the game really slowed down. For the rest of the game it was hit the ball, drag Fred, hit the ball, drag Fred.”
Acts 1:9-11 - The Promise: And after He - Jesus - had said these things - these things meaning what Jesus told the disciples about witnessing about Him - what we looked at last week - after He said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Wouldn’t you have liked to have been there for this? Just to see the look on the disciples faces. After 3 years of following Jesus around - with all they had heard and seen Him do - the disciples never short on words - are finally speechless. Jesus was just talking with them and then He just sort of floats up into a cloud. There they are - mouths open - jaws on the ground - staring blankly at the sky. We can hear the silence.
Finally - mercifully - two angels come and break the silence with this promise. “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
That’s a tremendous promise - to the disciples - to each of us living out what comes next. Today, we want to consider together the implications of that promise for each one of us. To do that there are two important parts to this promise that we need to understand. The first is that Jesus left - He was “taken up.”
Someone has said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Have you heard that? Usually when someone leaves - especially if we care about that person - parting is a hard thing. We miss their physical presence and all that that means to us. At times we wish Jesus was right here. Do you ever wish that? That we could see Him and talk with Him face to face. But, on the other hand, there are blessings we enjoy because Jesus left. I'd like to hightlight two.
If you would, turn with me to John 14. In John 14 the final events leading to Jesus' crucifixion have been set in motion. Its Thursday evening. Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover Meal. Jesus is sharing about what is about to happen. Jesus speaks about leaving them. When the disciples hear that Jesus is leaving the disciples are confused. They have questions about the future - uncertainty about what will happen.
Today, many people are concerned about tomorrow. Will the war on terrorism become a global conflict? What will happen in Korea or Iran? What will happen to the economy? What will happen to my family? Will tomorrow bring sickness or health - joy or sorrow - death or life? Will I be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow when I’m barely able to manage today?
In John 14:1-3, Jesus speaks to His disciples: "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
That’s a blessing for us. Jesus tells His disciples - and us - with all the circumstances in and around your life - "Don't let your heart be troubled." You have a place in heaven with God and I'm coming back to take you there. In between, God is going to take care of you.
These are the words of Jesus - born in a manger - lived in our world of struggles and pain - uncertainties and questions - died on a cross - was buried - who triumphed over death - returned from death - and will return for us. "Believe in God believe also in Me."
A second blessing - because Jesus left - in John 16:7 - Jesus tells His disciples, “It’s to your advantage that I go away; if I don’t go away, the Helper - the Holy Sprit - will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Because Jesus left the Holy Spirit has come. When we come to salvation in Jesus Christ its the Holy Spirit - whom Jesus has sent - the Holy Spirit who brings about the rebirth of our spirit. Its the Holy Spirit that indwells us - is changing us to be more like Jesus - fills and empowers us for life - who helps us to pray even when we can’t - when the issues are too deep - too hard.
These are wonderful blessings. Even though Jesus is in heaven it doesn’t mean that we’re down here - somehow trying to get by - somehow to live the Christian life - struggling along on our own. That Jesus left means that we have a place to go and the God who will get us there. We can live waiting - trusting - encouraged - confident - victorious - strengthened - filled with His peace in this uncertain world.
The first part of this tremendous promise is that Jesus left. The second important part of the promise is that Jesus is coming back. Try that together, “Jesus is coming back.”
The angels told the disciples - standing on the Mount of Olives to the east of Jerusalem - “He will come back in the same way you saw Him leave.”
The Bekaa Valley in Lebanon is very similar to the San Joaquin Valley. Long valley - small towns - rural - farmland - hot. A few year ago - at a time when U.S. citizens weren’t suppose to be in Lebanon - I had the opportunity to stay with some friends in a little town called Ainjar which is in the Bekaa Valley. In Ainjar - even though it’s an Armenian village - many of the top military leaders from Syria have their vacation homes there. There are check points with Syrian and Lebanese soldiers. On occasion there was the sound of Israeli jets flying over head. In the peacefulness of that rural community a reminder of the volatility of the region.
Just this past week - looking at the news - the focus of world attention is again shifting back to Israel and Palestine. What will be the effects of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Would the Palestinians be considering peace if we hadn’t defeated Saddam Hussein? Would Syria be closing down terrorist operations - operations aimed at Israel? Will the “road map” for peace ever lead us anywhere?
Does it ever seem strange that the entire world is continually drawn back - over and over again - to focusing on this extremely small patch of rocky ground perched on the edge of the Mediterranean? Percentage wise - Palestine compared to all the world’s land masses - percentage wise this is very small piece of real estate. Compared to the world’s great peoples - the Jews really are not a large group of people. But once again, everyone is holding their breath to see what will happen in Jerusalem.
The prophet Zechariah lived in times like these - after Israel had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon - surrounded by enemies - the Jews were being encouraged to build up the defenses of Jerusalem. Zechariah is a prophet of hope and encouragement in troubled times.
In Zechariah 14, Zechariah - writing of future events which are yet to take place - Zechariah records these words - these words of God - Zechariah 14:2: “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem in battle, and the city will be captured, the house plundered, the women ravished and the half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city.”
Its a future time of war and atrocities - similar to what we may see in these days. These don’t really sound like words of hope and encouragement - do they? But, God goes on - Zechariah 14:3, Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on the day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from the east to the west... Verse 5 - Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! Verse 7 - For it will be a unique day which is known to the Lord… Verse 9 - And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one.
This is a powerful prophecy of the second coming of Jesus - not the 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 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 He comes He’s going to touch down where He went up - on the Mount of Olives - 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 around us we need to remember that the sovereign God is in control of what will happen. There will come a day when He will intervene with final judgment. Jesus is returning. Knowing that promise has some serious implications for our lives.
Imagine if the church were a museum. We are the patrons and the curators. Here, within these walls is preserved the historical record of the life of Jesus. Each Sunday we gather together to remember and discuss His historical significance. To learn from His teachings and example how we can live better - more “christian” lives. During the week a few of us meet to discuss His teachings in more detail. We sing songs that make us feel good. We say prayers that give us hope and comfort. On special days, like when we celebrate Jesus’ birth or His resurrection, we have guests who come to tour the museum. If this were true there might be some importance to our lives for this museum. But, what relevancy is there?
Its easy to believe in the birth of Jesus. At Christmas the world celebrates Jesus' birth - a baby of hope and love born in Bethlehem. Time Magazine - that bastion of conservative Christian theology - Time Magazine annually speaks of the birth of Jesus Christ as an historical fact. The other major religions of the world will agree that someone was born in that manger. The birth and life of Jesus accurately fulfilled hundreds of prophecies. As Christians, we believe that the child born it the manger was Jesus - the Savior of mankind. Its easy to believe in the birth of Jesus.
Believing in the resurrection of Jesus is harder. Generally, men don't rise from the dead. But, there were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection. All the apostles - with the exception of John - were martyred maintaining their testimony in the resurrection of Jesus. And, John died in exile for His faith. Millions - perhaps billions - of lives have been changed through a personal relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But the hardest to believe - its hardest to believe in the literal bodily return of Jesus Christ. As people care less and less about the true God of the Bible they care less and less about the return of Jesus Christ. Many - even in the church - do not believe that He is coming back. They philosophize about His return - and say that in "the spirit of Christ" - if we follow His teachings - that the age of peace will come - the Kingdom of God will be ushered in through the work of the Church in the world.
In Matthew 24 Jesus said that just like in the days of Noah - with the coming disaster of the flood - people will not understand what’s coming. Indifferent, many will hear that He’s coming and will not respond. (Matthew 24:37-41) They will be swept away by what’s coming.
But, the disciples - the followers of Jesus Christ who believe that He is ascended - who believe in the promise of His coming - us - what was said about His coming should challenged us to proclaim - to all who are willing to listen - the truth of Jesus Christ.
Please - we need to feel the desperation of those around us. Can you feel this? In a world which is very confused - fearful - anxious - where morality is relative - philosophy subjective - depression and emptiness bottomless - where families are coming apart - children are killing children - 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 - people need to know the truth of Jesus Christ. He is alive. He is coming. We can have a relationship with God now of forgiveness of our sins - a relationship of confidence and peace and strength and know with certainty the hope of living eternally with Him.
To proclaim His promise is not popular - not politically correct. Its not easy. Its divisive. Stand firm on this truth - by how we live our lives - by what we proclaim with our lips - and we’ll be ridiculed and rejected. But the message is crucial and it must be shared.
Christians are not curators of a museum. We’re called to live in the promise of His return. Not looking backward - staring blindly into heaven at what once was. But looking forward with joy - with confidence - Jesus is returning.
Which brings us to two questions. Questions prompted by the certain promise of His return.
Question number one. When He returns - will you join Him in eternity or will you spend eternity without Him? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you need to know. If you’ve never chosen to receive God’s love and forgiveness and salvation by accepting Jesus as your Savior - trusting Him as your Lord - you will spend eternity without Him.
Question number two. If you know He’s coming and all that that means, who do you need to tell?
_______________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.