God is unstoppable and what he is doing through the church and his followers is unstoppable. We’ve seen this already in the introduction to the Book of Acts. Now we will discover from the first chapter of Acts three contrasts that describe the unstoppable mission of the early church.
Not the end, but a new beginning.
Luke ends the Gospel with death and resurrection of Jesus, but that’s not the end of the story. The Book of Acts opens with Jesus alive and with the apostles (v.1-3). Jesus gave “proofs” and Luke wants this to bolster your confidence in Jesus.
If you live in Chad and put your neck on the line working for the embassy, NGO, school or mission, if you want to wade in social awkwardness for the sake of Christ you want to know that everything about Jesus is true. Luke helps us to have doubt.
The eleven apostles are on the cusp of something brand new. Jesus gathered them together over a meal to ask them to—wait (v.4a). Wait? That’s a strange thing to say as he’s about to leave. Do you find it difficult to wait? Most people hate waiting.
Living in Chad has likely taken a bite out of my desire for instant gratification. I’ve probably become a tad more patient and crazy. Daily I wait in lines, wait in traffic, wait for the emails to upload, wait for dinner to be done, wait for the rain to stop, wait for the dust to settle, wait for the sun to come up to charge solar batteries, wait for change at the little shop, wait for the next vacation, wait for our sicknesses to cease, wait for our neighbor or local friend to finally arrive, wait for them to believe, wait for prayers to be answered…
Jesus last earthly words were wait. Yet according to Jesus there was something worth waiting for—a gift (v.4b). The Holy Spirit was to be given. Jesus promised it (cf. John 14-16). It was a promise as old as the Old Testament. God promised to renew his people and give them a new Spirit cf. (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 11). The disciples stood on the cusp of this new beginning, this amazing gift—the Holy Spirit—God who would always dwell with them.
The Holy Spirit is one of the most under-appreciated, under-emphasized, underestimated, and misunderstood persons of the Godhood. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, his work, and his power there are a myriad of opinions (probably 50+ opinions here today). But. No matter your church background. No matter your theological opinion. No matter our difference we can all agree the Holy Spirit is God and he’s powerfully at work within the world, even today. (Amen!) God is not an absent landlord nor are we abandoned tenants.
The Book of Acts could be known as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit or the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. Sure Jesus and his resurrection continue to be a main emphasis in the book Acts, but throughout Acts you will see the Holy Spirit do a mighty work in the world, the church, and the people in whom he dwells. Also, this same Holy Spirit that dwelled in the apostles dwells in you today! That reality should wow you!
For a long time my relationship with God was academic and impersonal. I knew the Holy Spirit existed and that he dwelled in me and had moments of his power, but I missed the reality that he wanted a relationship with me. I was impatient with him. I didn’t know how to listen to him. I tried hard to live the Christian life without him and within my own strength. I was exhausted by rowing a boat rather than sailing in the power of the the Spirit. This image changed my identity. Rather than trying to control God, I sought to turn my sails in the direction of his leading.
The Holy Spirit is intensely relational. He dwells in you to be close to you, to help you, to guide you, to comfort you, to counsel, to empower you, to speak to you. Emmanuel—God very God—is in you. Maybe for you, today, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit is a new beginning.
Not about when, but how.
The apostles still didn’t understand why they had to wait (v.6). They thought now should be time for the Messiah to get busy restoring kingdom. They didn’t know God’s schedule or time table. They simply wanted to know when is all that was wrong in the world was going to be made right. It was a good question, but it wasn’t the right question.
Jesus answered and in the process he changed the when to how (vs.7-8). The how is how the kingdom will grow, how we’re to wait, and how God will use his followers. Jesus said, YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered. In other words, you will be participants in the advance of the gospel and you won’t be alone. In a matter of days people would flood into Jerusalem (v.5). The gospel would explode from there into the world. Jerusalem would become an epicenter of the earth shaking Holy Spirit and tremors of what happened would be felt to the end of the earth to every generation that has ever live, even 2,000 years after it began.
Jesus invites you into the how. YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered and YOU WILL never be alone.
Not watchers, but witnesses.
There is a comical moment that happens on the mountainside as Jesus ascends (vs.9-11). The apostles are gawking at the sky, “I think I can still see Jesus.” Two angels interrupt, “Stop staring. Don’t just stand there. He’s coming back you know.”
We each have different reactions to Jesus assignment. ___ I’m in! Where do we start? ___ I’m interested but unsure of where and how God could use me. ___ I don’t know many people who aren’t believers. ___ I’m still new to following Jesus; Someone else could do a better job. Jesus said, YOU WILL be my witnesses. It’s not optional. It’s not for the pastor, evangelist, or missionary type. Being a witness is not something these men chose to be, God chose it for them. It was hardwired into their new DNA as a follower of Jesus. Witnessing is not something they did, it was who they were. You will be witnesses.
Undoubtedly, the apostles were given special and supernatural power to do miracles like Jesus, but they were also given power to witness about the good news about Jesus. More often the word “power” in the Book of Acts refers to “courage” or “boldness”—risking the awkward conversation to talk about what they saw and heard from Jesus.
You stand in the same line as these apostles. You have seen and heard the same life-changing truth. You are empowered with the same power. In Luke 24, Jesus explains more fully what a “witness” does. A witness proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus to all nations. But Acts explains to us who a “witness” is. A witness is one empowered by the Holy Spirit with resurrection power.
Acts 1 has a peculiar conclusion. The disciple are gathered at a prayer meeting to replace Judas. It was sobering moment. Here was a disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas exchanged Jesus for a few silver coins, then filled with shame he spilled his guts. Why is this story here? Why does Luke include the disciples rolling dice to replace Judas? It shows God’s sovereignty and control over evil and unstoppable circumstance to bring about salvation for mankind and it shows that God will continue to call out witnesses to spread this good news globally.
We can be like people starring into the sky at Superman flying away wishing he’d come back to rescue us. Jesus will certainly come. His mission will end. Jesus didn’t leave us alone. You might not have kryptonite, but we have something better, Someone better—the Holy Spirit.
May you follow in the footsteps of those who first followed Jesus. You and I are witnesses to something bigger than you—Jesus. You have a power greater than what you could muster up yourselves—the Holy Spirit. You are part of something unstoppable—the expansion of the kingdom of God through the church.