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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Acts part 2:Spiritual stargazing

Building a right foundation part 2

Acts 1:1-11

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 baptised with water, but you will be baptised 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, 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.”

English Standard Version

In our first study in Acts we saw that Luke was the author and that he was a superb historian. The account was written for his friend Theophilus which simply means “lover of God.” As scripture it was inspired by God's holy Spirit therefore it is intended for all lovers of God. We also found that the purpose of writing was to inform Theophilus of the way in which Christ is now building His church through the agency of the the Holy Spirit.
It is amazing how easily we Christians can be distracted from our purpose. The passage that we have before us has some of the most amazing things happening. There is first of all the proof that Jesus is alive. Followed by the promise of Jesus that God will immerse or baptise His people by His Spirit. Jesus also promised that the new era of the church was about to come. This was not an unexpected event but it was to be the fulfilment of the Father's promise to His people. Finally there are mistakes made by the people of God who were intent on looking for things other than what had been promised and which would soon take the world by storm.

Luke in his opening paragraph reminds his readers of his gospel which speaks of the life, death and resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus and ends with His ascension into heaven. His gospel account concerning this event has a few details that are excluded but which Luke now opens up a little more. The work of the Holy Spirit was now about to come to the fore and the Apostles are about to take centre stage. During these 40 days Jesus went to great efforts to prove that He was actually humanly alive. The Kingdom of God is about to find it's fulfilment in a universal people who belong to God by faith in Christ alone.
Read once again Luke 24:50-53.
Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While he blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Acts 1:1-3

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.

Today we will consider that:
  • Jesus is alive but His parting instruction was that the disciples were to:
  • Wait for the Father's promised gift but the disciples needed to learn to:
  • Look in the right direction.

Jesus is alive:

To Luke this is without question, it is absolute therefore he simply states that Jesus proved Himself to be alive many over a period of 40 days. On the day of this account as fully human Jesus entered into heaven. The significance of this comes later when we consider the role of the Son of God who sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding on our behalf. But for now His ascension is the seal of His completed ministry amongst sinful mankind. The work of redemption had been completed and the New Covenant was about to be fulfilled. The age of the Son had brought about salvation for all believing people; past, present and future. From that time on the age of the Spirit was in place hence we now live in the day of the Spirit. The sacrifice of Jesus saves and gathers a people but now the Holy Spirit is about to unify that people into the church. God's people from this time on are to be the new Jews or a people of praise (Jew means praise!). The church is to be the new Jerusalem or the fulfilment of what Jerusalem pointed to which was the place where God dwells with His people. The church is now the temple of the Holy Spirit where God is pleased to be with His people. The Spirit is now gathering and equipping born again Christians to be the Church.
All that is to follow in Luke's account depends completely upon the fact that Jesus is alive, if that were not true then the whole of Christianity is the worst deception ever imagined. But

Jesus is alive!
That is equally true today, Jesus who never ever changes (Heb 13:8) is alive today and He is in heaven. It is He who is building His church and by the Holy Spirit whom He has sent and who is just like Him. The Holy Spirit is God in exactly the same way that Jesus is God. This is a vitally important point to remember as we continue our studies through Acts; it will certainly make many of the difficult passages more easy to understand.

God the Father has chosen a people for Himself, Jesus has been the sacrifice that is sufficient for them to be in fellowship with God. The is accomplished by the removal of our sin and replaced by righteousness from Christ. Christ is our substitute who died in our place as if he were a sinner and not us. The result being that when God now sees us as righteous and therefore we can enter freely into His presence. Salvation is directed from heaven and is sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. To some that might sound terribly complicated but it is really a very simple process.

It is a bit like a family who together buys a special present for a friend. Mum may choose the gift, Dad may pay and the son might write the message and deliver it. (Do not read too much into an illustration by the varying gender choices.) The point is that the present is from the family, each member has their own particular role but that does not prevent it being a gift from the family who are as one.

God who is perfectly One but of three persons (similar to that family) has ordained it that our Heavenly Father has chosen, our Saviour Jesus paid the price and the Holy Spirit continues to enable all whom the Father has chosen.

The big issue of the time was how God would exchange the Old Covenant ways and bring in the New Covenant church. There was clearly going to be a crossover from the old to the new in which things happened that were unique for that period but that is for the weeks to come.
The truth of the matter is that God has chosen a people from before the foundation of the world which is the church. Jesus has been the sacrifice which makes salvation possible for all who will repent and believe. Luke was recording Jesus being alive has ascended into heaven and that the gift of the Holy Spirit was about to come.
If want to try to really understand this then we will have to consider from how God always works to see what we might expect in this new age to come. God has always authenticated a new age with miraculous works. Creation is the first miracle of God where all that is was made out of nothing. Why did He create? For His purposes and for our benefit. His purposes are that he might have a people for Himself. The whole of creation authenticates His purpose for mankind.
Another new age was when God's people were rescued from slavery and moved into a land of their own. The exodus was brought about through miraculous means and the whole process of actually getting into Canaan was one miracle after another.

The age of the prophets was authenticated by Elijah and Elisha performing miracles and of course the coming of Jesus is proven by many miracles. The virgin birth, and all of the miracles that Jesus performed Himself.
The point that I am making is that we shouldn't be surprised that this new age begins with signs and wonders from heaven. Many things happened at that time which were proofs that this was a work of God. They not necessarily prescriptive of what ought to be an ongoing situation. Again we will consider that much more in the weeks to come.
But before we look at that we follow on to the next point:

Wait for the gift to come:

The family that we spoke of earlier had chosen to give a gift to somebody and all that the person had to do was wait for the delivery. I hate it when I get a message that tells me that something will arrive between the hours of whatever and whatever. All that I can do is wait and rely on the deliverer to bring my goods. Jesus told his disciples to wait patiently for the Promised One. The instruction comes with more information. John when he came had baptised with water which was a sign of belonging and being completely immersed in the faith. Now the Promised Gift will be the fulfilment of what that pointed to. There was about to be a baptism of God and from that time on there would be an outpouring of God's Spirit on all of His people.
God was about come upon His people in the person and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Remember the first day of creation when the Holy Spirit of God hovered over the earth and then life came into being. In a similar way it was the Holy Spirit of God who came upon Mary and overshadowed her and the life of God the Son was implanted into a virgin. (Luke 1:35) God works in the same way here, the Holy Spirit is about to hover over the small group of believers and the church will be born.
A new life was coming into being.

But before it was to happen the believers had to wait for God's gift to come, in God's way and time. Jesus was then taken up in a cloud and is ascended into heaven. There are so many references in this as to how God has worked previously but especially in the way that He guided the Israelites through the desert by His Spirit from within the cloud of smoke.

Notice that the promise made comes with instructions from Jesus. These are vital for our understanding of the rest of the book of Acts. Whenever the Spirit of God comes there are accompanying expectations. The church are about to be empowered to be witnesses of Jesus wherever they are, but they must patiently wait for it to happen according to God's perfect timing. The time is fixed by God the Father and is under His sovereign control.

This is always God's principle. We heard last week how there are no surprises to God because He is perfectly in control of all things. This is equally true for us here today, God is not surprised by what we experience either as individual believers or together as the church. God's tapestry is being woven constantly and we are a part of it. He has planned many thing that will involve us, all of them will come to fruition and all we have to do is wait for His perfect timing and it will happen. This does not mean that we become spiritual fatalists because we do have a role to play. The disciples were called to be still and wait but after that they were to be full on in the work of God. There is a time for us all to be still and to wait, I believe that this summer period is a time for prayer and seeking God's direction for our future. We need to hear His voice and His commissioning as we appoint elders and as the leadership team begins to work together for the building of our fellowship here. After that then we will need to be fully active in the work that God has commissioned for us from now on.

But until such a time we must be still and wait!

Look in the right direction:
Notice that the disciples were guilty of what I call spiritual stargazing. It is perfectly understandable and I am sure that we would be equally as guilty. They were watching the amazing sight of their Lord and Saviour rising up into the heavens and disappearing into the cloud. Their gaze remained at the place that they last saw Jesus, they were hanging on to the experience. It was at this point that they were visited by two men dressed in white robes. These are messengers of God or angels as we know them best. God had a word for them which was significant for the future: “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.”

Just consider for a moment what they were saying.
  • What are you looking for?
  • Jesus is in heaven.
  • Jesus will return.

There are three lessons in this for us:
  1. Do not look longingly for what has gone before.
  2. Live in the here and now.
  3. Keep your eyes to the future.
Our purpose is not to continually live in past blessings but to live in the here and now. Jesus will return one day, He will come down in much the same way as He went up and that will be a spectacular event. But in between His ascension and His second coming is the age of the Spirit when we are to follow His leading and to live in His power and to work the works that He directs. His work is always to bring the glory of Jesus into this world and so He empowers the church to gloriously and effectively to declare the gospel.
That is basically what Acts is all about, how the Holy Spirit directs and helps and empowers the church to declare the glory of Jesus. It is not about how we might be thrilled by His gifting etc.
We should not be about the business of desiring the past or looking into into future things. We live for today, this is the day that the Lord has made for us. Let us be glad and rejoice in it as wall as seeking His glory in and through all that we do.

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