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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 4, 2005
Commission and Ascension
Last week I sought to lay the foundation for our study of the book of Acts. We want to avoid the errors that others have fallen into because they failed to understand the overall purpose and structure of the book. When anyone studies a passage from any book of the Bible apart from either its historical or grammatical contexts they are in danger off developing doctrines that are in theological error. When that is done in relationship to an historical book like Acts, then the danger of theological error increases dramatically. We must be careful of using Acts as a foundation for theology since Luke was writing as an historian and not a theologian. Acts contains theological insights and examples, especially in its many recorded speeches, but we are to go to the Epistles for our theological foundations since that was their purpose and then interpret Acts accordingly.
Luke, the companion of Paul, completes his compilation of Acts just before A.D. 62, the year the Paul is released from his first Roman imprisonment. Verse 1 tell us he writing to a Greek man named Theophilus, (his name means “friend of God’), as a follow-up to “his first account” “about all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The gospel of Luke covered Jesus’ life from birth to Ascension. Luke made careful investigation of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and then reported his findings to Theophilus. Luke has been proven over and over again to be an excellent historian that can be trusted to be accurate and true. In the book of Acts, Luke continues this same work aided by his own personal observations with a focus on how the apostles carried out the orders that Jesus gave them by the Holy Spirit prior to His ascension In specific, it is a selective historical account of certain of the apostles, especially Peter (ch. 1-12) and Paul (ch.13-28) carrying out Jesus’ command to be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (vs. 8). In a real sense, Acts is a selective historical recording of the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit into the lives of the Apostles and through them to the world.
I also pointed out last week that Acts records the transition between the Old Covenant and dispensation of the law (period of time in which God operated through the Nation of Israel and the Mosaic Law) and the New Covenant and the dispensation of the church (period of time in which God is operating through the Church and the gospel message). We will see this theme further developed through the course of our study. The first transition is from Christ’s resurrection and His further instructions to His disciples to His ascension and sending the Holy Spirit to empower them to carry out their mission.
Resurrection Proofs (vs. 3)
In verse 3 Luke stresses the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. “To these He 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.” The resurrection is pivotal to the gospel message. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then there is not any good news, and we who have put our hope in Christ “are of all men most to be pitied.” Throughout Acts we will see emphasis placed on the resurrection of Jesus (it is specifically mentioned at least 25 times).
What are some of these many convincing proofs? Compiling the records from the Gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians 15 we find at least 10 personal appearances in the 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to His Ascension. He was seen by Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) and the other women at the tomb (Matt. 28:9,10); the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32); Peter in Jerusalem (Luke 24:34); the disciples in Jerusalem (first 10 together – John 20:19-23, then 11 together – John 20:24); by seven of the disciples fishing in Galilee (John 21:1-23), then by all 11 in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20); by five hundred at one time (1 Cor. 15:6); and by James, the brother of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:7). In some of these appearances he ate with them (Acts 10:40,41), even preparing the meal for them (John 21:13-15;), or invited them to physically touch Him (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:27). (Note: in Acts 1:4 sunalizovmeno” / sunalizomenos) translated as “gathered” or “assembled” may also be translated as “eating with” as in the NIV).
The greatest proof we have of Jesus’ resurrection is the confidence these disciples had in it being true. In Acts we find these men who had been so afraid transition into men that are fearless despite harsh persecution. We should keep it in the back of our minds while were reading of the boldness of these men in proclaiming the gospel that only a short time before all of them had run away except Peter and John when Jesus was arrested, and Peter then ran away when accused by a servant girl of knowing Jesus. All of these men kept hidden for fear of the Jews (John 20:19) until after Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to them, and after Pentecost even scourging could not keep them from publically proclaiming Jesus Christ (Acts 4). They were even accused of turning the world upside down with their teachings (Acts 17:6).
Verse 3 also points out that during this time before His ascension, Jesus was speaking to them of things concerning the kingdom of God. Jesus was giving them their final instructions before He went up to heaven and they were sent out to be His witnesses. Luke uses the phrase “kingdom of God” more than 30 times in his gospel account and seven times in Acts. God’s kingdom, that realm in which God rules, includes both His universal kingdom and His mediatorial kingdom. The universal kingdom is God’s sovereign rule of all of Creation. Ultimately, everything is included in the universal kingdom. The kingdom Luke is referring to here is the mediatorial kingdom.
This is God’ spiritual rule over His people through different mediators. From Adam to the Flood it was through individual conscience. Then it was through the establishment of human government and nations. God then selected one nation through which he made a series of covenants. First the Abrahamic covenant, then the Mosaic covenant, then the Davidic covenant of which Jesus Christ is the fulfilment in part already and in fullness in the future. In that transition period before its final fulfillment in the Christ’s millennial reign and the establishment of eternity, God is mediating His kingdom through His church which is made of all of the elect of God. These are all professing believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I phrase it that way because those that do not have the Holy Spirit have false professions of faith (Rom. 8:9). Those who make up the church are now a “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that [they] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [them] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Jesus was giving the disciples further instruction about the kingdom as it would exist in what is commonly referred to by theologians as the “church age” or the “dispensation of Grace.” This was hidden from view in the Old Testament.
Waiting for the Spirit (vs. 4,5)
Now after all of this the indications are that the disciples were eager to get started, but Jesus holds them back. This was not something they could do on their own. A prophecy made about Jesus at the beginning of His ministry had to be fulfilled first, for it would directly affect their ability to carry out Jesus’ instructions. Vs. 4 “And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” [He said,] “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
No one can be a part of God’s kingdom or carry out God’s instructions without the Holy Spirit. They were to wait in Jerusalem until what John the Baptist had said just before he baptized Jesus would be fulfilled. Matt. 3:11 records John saying, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (See also Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:31-33).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is different than the water baptism of repentance that John was performing. Water baptism and spirit baptism are contrasted with each other. The comment in Matthew even contrasts baptism with water with baptism with fire. John specifically says that his water baptism was for the purpose of repentance. It is important to understand the origin of John’s baptism.
Levitical law demanded that unclean things, including humans, were to be washed for ceremonial cleaning. Leviticus 15:13 even speaks of the person bathing in “running” water. This ceremonial cleansing later developed into Jewish proselyte baptism which was a sign that the convert had changed from a gentile to a Jewish orientation of following the God and laws of Israel. They were cleansed from their sinfulness as pagans and had turned to follow the God of Israel. The baptism of repentance practiced by John was rooted in this ceremony except it was directed for Jews to practice as a symbol of their repentance. Repentance was their recognition of and turning away from their sin to truly follow God. This action practical symbol of a person that heeded Moses call for the Israelites to “circumcise their hearts” and fear the Lord God, walk in His ways, love Him and serve Him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 10:12-16). This was the central message of both John and then Jesus in His early ministry for both called people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 cf. 4:17). This baptism of repentance was done in anticipation of the coming kingdom and was symbolic of the cleansing away of sin. The baptism itself did not take away sins, just as the Levitical ritual itself did not take away sins, but it symbolized the righteousness and cleansing given to the individual as they confessed their sins and placed their trust in God alone.
Christian water baptism arose out of this baptism of repentance. Paul actually comments on this transition from John’s baptism to Christian baptism in Acts 19:4 saying, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. In keeping with Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19, Christian water baptism is done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in identification with Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Paul makes this the most clear in his call to Christians to live in righteousness in Romans 6. Baptism symbolizes the Christian becoming united with Christ in both His death and in His resurrection. The old self was crucified that our body of sin might be done away with and we might live to God (6:1-11).
Baptism with the Holy Spirit is different than water baptism. Water baptism is an action taken by man symbolic of an inward change of mind and heart. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is an action of God. There verb here is in the passive tense. It is something that God brings upon and accomplishes in the individual that changes the spiritual dimension of the person. All humans are born dead in trespasses and sin, it is the Holy Spirit that regenerates and renews a person so that they are made alive in Christ and saved from their sins (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:1,5). The Holy Spirit then dwells in the believer (Rom. 8:9), makes them a part of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), and becomes the seal of God’s promise of redemption and inheritance (Eph. 1:13,14). The Holy Spirit also gives spiritual gifts to believers and empowers them to use those gifts in the service of the Lord for the common good of the rest of the body (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:4f). There were also specific promises that Jesus had made to His disciples concerning the Holy Spirit’s ministry to them after He departed. The Holy Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He said to them (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16:7-11) and guide them into all truth (vs. 13). All this would take place after Jesus departed and sent the Holy Spirit (16:7). And as I mentioned last week, prior to this baptism with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit would come and go upon a person. There was no permanence to His indwelling a person. After Baptism with the Holy Spirit began at Pentecost, which is recorded in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit’s ministry changed so that He would continually indwell the believer. Jesus had already taught this to His disciples (John 14:16,17).
Though the disciples were already followers of Jesus Christ, they needed to wait for this baptism with the Holy Spirit before they could carry out the rest of Jesus’ commands to them. This is the first transition we see in Acts going from the Old Covenant to New Covenant. So, they remained in Jerusalem and waited. Jesus said it would not be many days, and it was only a week following Jesus’ ascension before the Holy Spirit would come in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.
The Commission (6-8)
A Question About the Kingdom (vs. 6,7)
In verse 6 we find a question that developed among the disciples as they thought about what Jesus had just told them and its possible ramifications. “And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” This is actually a very logical question for them to ask. We must remember that they were actively looking for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. They knew well all the Old Testament prophecies concerning this. They knew the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7) included David’s greater son, the Messiah, would eventually establish Himself on David’s throne to rule. They also knew that there would come a time when the Son of Man would come and set up an everlasting dominion (Daniel 7). They would have remembered the various prophecies of various prophets about a future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were also aware that one of the events accompanying this restoration was the Holy Spirit being poured out on His people (Joel 2:28-32; Ezek. 36:22f). They would have considered the various teachings Jesus had given concerning a future kingdom including the parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13) and His warnings to be in readiness for the return of the Son of Man (Matt. 24,25; Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-37). They want to know if the coming of the Holy Spirit to baptize them would be the starting point for the various events that would then restore the kingdom to Israel. This is what they had hoped for from the time they first began to follow Jesus.
Jesus answer is not what they would have expected, but it is a good reminder to them and us to keep our priorities straight. “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
This is an intriguing answer because there are so many ways Jesus could have answered it. He could have just said, “no, not yet.” He could have said, “no, but it is the start of the last dispensation before the kingdom is restored” with some sort of explanation either brief or extensive. He could given even given a detailed explanation of all that would happen from that point to eternity. If they had been wrong in their expectation of a future restored Kingdom, we can be sure that Jesus would have corrected them. But there is no correction on their expectations. There is only a very mild rebuke that they were not to be concerned about the timing of the restoration of the kingdom. God would take care of that according to His own plan. They were to be focused on the priority at hand which was being His witnesses once they had received power when Holy Spirit would come upon them.
It is important to note that Jesus had previously given them specific details about signs concerning His Second Coming and the end of the age (Mt. 24; Luke 12; etc.). Jesus had also even admonished them to “be on the alert” (Mt. 24:42; 25:13; Mk13:33). Why then this response that it was not for them “to know times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority“?
The specific rebuke here was given to men that had previously shown they were out of balance in looking for the restoration of the Kingdom. They had been jealous of each other about what position they would have in that kingdom (Luke 22:24) with two of them even bringing their mother to talk to Jesus about giving them thrones on the right and left of Jesus (Matthew 20:20-24). This mild rebuke quickly put an end to any future squabbling among them about who would be the greatest in the kingdom.
Another consideration there is that time, (crovno” / chronos), is a general reference to time usually in reference to its course or span. From it we get our words “chronology,” the sequencing of events in time, and “chronometer,”which we usually refer to as a clock. The sense here in Acts 1:7 is spans of time. “Epochs” or “seasons,” (kairov” / kairos), carries the idea of a decisive moment or point. It encompasses the events and characteristics of period in which related events would occur. We use the words epoch, era or season to signify periods of time marked by certain characteristics. Summer is the season when it is hot. Winter is the season when it is cold. The “Victorian Era” refers the characteristics of English society during the reign of Queen Victoria. Putting the ideas of both crovno” / chronos and kairov” / kairos together here in Acts 1:7 we find that God has by His own authority fixed when the events of the future will take place, what will be the characteristics of future eras, and how long those eras will last. There are some general things that can be known about the future, but not the specifics. All of those belong to God just as the secret things have always belonged to God (Deut. 29:29). Jesus does not want His disciples to be concerned about those things, but rather to keep the priority of the commands He is giving to them to be His witnesses.
There is a good principle for us to apply in our own lives here. Sometimes it is easy to fall into majoring on the minors and spend a lot of time and energy on things that are relatively unimportant. Or, we seek to figure out things God has chosen not to reveal to us. That is not bad in itself necessarily for Proverbs 25:2 tells us that “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” But if that is being done to the neglect of the priorities that God has already given us, then you are in the wrong.
The Mission (vs. 8)
The mission that Jesus gave to the disciples was that after they received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them they were to be [His] witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. A witness is simply someone who reports what they have personally experienced. The apostles had lived with Jesus. They had heard Him with their own ears, seen Him their own eyes and touched with their own hands. They were to tell others about Jesus and what He taught about God. So many of the early Christians were put to death for their witness of Christ that the word for witness here, mavrturo” / marturos – martyr, came to mean one who is put to death because of their beliefs.
Last week I gave an over view of the book of Acts in how the apostles did this. Chapters 1:1-8:3 Witnesses in Jerusalem. The church is established and begins to grow. Chapters 8:4-12:25 Witnesses in Samaria & Judea. The church begins to spread out even in the midst of increasing persecution. Chapters 13:1-28:31 Witnesses to the Remotest Part of the Earth. The missionary journeys of Paul which took the gospel through Asia minor, Macedonia and Greece, and then all the way to Rome.
All Christians continue to have the same basic mission. We are to serve our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses in our own community, our surrounding communities and beyond.
The Ascension (vs. 9-11)
Rising to Heaven (vs. 9)
Jesus’ command for the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them and then to go be His witnesses was the last recorded instruction that He gave them. Verse 9 records Jesus’ ascension.“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” None of those present and no one today understands how this was done, but neither do we understand the resurrection body. We only know that it is physical, yet different since it can suddenly appear in a locked room (John 20:26). We do know that one day we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).
Jesus’ departure prepared the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Jesus’ return to heaven also marked the beginning of His current ministries of preparing a place in heaven for His followers (John 14:2,3) and making intercession with the Father for them (Heb. 7:25).
Promise of Return (vs. 10,11)
Verse 10 tells us the response of the amazed disciples and God’s promise to them.“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; 11 and 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.”
Have you ever watched a helium balloon float up into the sky and you just keep watching until you can’t see it and then you keep staring trying to still see it? That is what the disciples were doing here as they watched Jesus disappear into a cloud in the sky. They kept looking for one last glimpse. While they are looking two angels come and give this wonderful promise that still belongs to us. “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.” Jesus is coming back. That is the Christian’s joy, hope and motivation, but the non-Christian’s fear (Matt. 25:31-46).
Revelation 1:7 says “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.” Rev. 22:12-15 adds, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward [is] with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. That will mean blessings for the righteous, but judgement for the unrighteous.
For the Christian, this hope motivates us to holiness. Paul explained it this way in Titus 2:11-14. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
Jesus instructed His disciples to be alert for His return for they did not know the day or the hour when it would happen (Matt. 24:42,44; 25:13; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:39,40). The apostles called believers to be ready for the Lord’s return. In Romans 13:11-14 Paul said it was already the hour to awaken for salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is almost gone and the day is at hand so we are to lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the Lord Jesus Christ making no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. In 1 Cor. 1:7 and In Phil. 3:20,21 Paul tells us we should be eagerly waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our bodies. Peter says we are to be looking for and hastening the day of God (2 Peter 3:12). James 5:9 describes Him as a judge who is standing right at the door.
Are you looking for this blessed hope? Are you anticipating the Lord’s return? The apostles lived in expectation that Jesus would return in their life time, and though He has delayed, we are certainly closer to it now than they were then, and it could be while you live. Are you ready? What will Jesus find in your life when He returns? Are you pursuing holiness? Will His return bring you joy, shame or His condemnation? If it is not joy, then talk with me or one of our church leaders after the service and find out how you can anticipate the return of Jesus Christ with joy.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count the use of the following words: “Baptism,” “Kingdom,” Holy Spirit. Talk with your parents about the proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the theme and outline of Acts? Why did Luke write it? What proofs can you find for Jesus’ resurrection? What difference did the resurrection make in the lives of the disciples? Explain. What is the “Kingdom of God”? What is your relationship to it? Explain. What is the origin of John’s water baptism of repentance? What is the origin of Christian water baptism? How are they similar? How are they different? What is baptism with the Holy Spirit? What does it accomplish in the person? How is it different than water baptism? Why do the disciples have to wait for Spirit baptism before going out to make disciples? Why are the disciples concerned about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel? What were their expectations? Why does Jesus answer their question as He does? What does His answer tell us about their expectations? About priorities? How did Jesus ascend into heaven? How will He return? What hope does this give you? Are you looking for this blessed hope? How are you preparing for His return? Will His return bring to you joy, shame or judgement? If it is not joy, what needs to change in your life?
Sermon Notes – 8/28/05 a.m.
Commission and Ascension: Acts 1:3-11
Resurrection Proofs (vs. 3)
Jesus is Alive
Teaching About the Kingdom
Waiting for the Spirit (vs. 4,5)
Water Baptism of Repentance
Christian Water Baptism
Baptism with the Holy Spirit
The Commission (6-8)
A Question About the Kingdom (vs. 6,7)
The Mission (vs. 8)
The Ascension (vs. 9-11)
Rising to Heaven (vs. 9)
Promise of Return (vs. 10,11)
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