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Where is Jesus now, and why is the answer so important

Back to all sermons Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Date: June 17, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Scripture: Acts 1:1–1:26

This morning, I am beginning a new sermon series. I will be going through the book of Acts, the story of the early church. Before we dive in, let me answer some basic introductory questions. First of all, who wrote Acts? Acts was written by a man named Luke, who is responsible for writing both Luke and Acts. In fact, you can view Luke-Acts as a single continuous work.

 

Who was Luke? Luke was an educated doctor. He writes in good literary Greek.

 

Colossians 4:14 - Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.

 

He was also a travelling companion of Paul (a section of Acts goes from “they” to “we” when Luke gets involved).

 

If it wasn’t Luke who wrote these books, it’s difficult to explain how the tradition connecting his name with those documents arose, since he is otherwise an insignificant figure in the early church.

 

When you read the intro to Luke and to Acts, you see that Luke claims to be writing accurate history.

 

Luke 1:1-4 - Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

 

Acts 1:1-2 - In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 

 

What do you learn from these introductions? First of all, others have written the history. He is not the first. We believe at least Mark and Matthew’s gospels were written before Luke wrote his. Secondly, what he is writing comes from the eyewitnesses, the apostles and others who knew Jesus. Thirdly, he claims to have investigated it himself. Unlike Mark, who writes Peter’s perspective, Luke’s writings obviously contain information from other sources, because there are long sections from people like Mary, Phillip, Stephen, and Cornelius.

 

And lastly, Luke says that he is writing an orderly account so that you might know the facts. This is not “once upon a time in the magical land of Israel.”

 

Who is he writing to? He is writing to Theophilus – probably a Roman official, judging by the fact that he is called “Most excellent”.

 

When did he write? Probably mid-60’s to early 80’s. He chronicles the time period from 30-60 AD, ending abruptly with events that should be dated around the early 60’s. He shows no knowledge of the Jewish revolt and destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. No allusion to the Neronian persecution or the execution of Paul.

 

How do you read it? Narrative history. Take what he writes as descriptive, not prescriptive, unless we are explicitly told we must do something. For example:

 

Acts 19:11-12 - God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,  12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

 

Pay attention to patterns. Look for clear approval or disapproval.

 

Let’s read it:

 

Acts 1:1-26 - In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."  12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.  13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.  15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)  16 and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus--  17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."  18 (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.  19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  20 "For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "'May another take his place of leadership.'  21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."  23 So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.  24 Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen  25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs."  26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

 

I want to look closely this morning at the central aspect of this passage, which is what is known as the Ascension. In v. 9, we read that Jesus is taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Jesus, who has died and risen from the dead and spent 40 days with them, leaves in a glory cloud to heaven. I want to help us understand the rest of this chapter by discussing three things that are significant about the ascension. Why is the ascension so important for us?

 

  • Divine Intimacy

 

3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 

 

After rising again, Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples. Those must have been incredibly intimate times. But then he left them again. How can that be a good thing? Consider how he explained his departure in John 14:

 

John 14:12-17 - I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--  17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

 

He is going to send them the Holy Spirit. If he stayed, he would be present in one place. But because he has ascended, he can now be present through the Holy Spirit to every believer.

 

1 Corinthians 3:16 - Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?

 

Amazing. Instead of having to go to find God in the temple or church, or go to find Jesus in person, now God will take up residence in every believer by His Holy Spirit. Now that is intimacy. This is what was prophesied in Ezekiel:

 

Ezekiel 36:26-28 - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

 

Because of the Ascension, Jesus is available through the Holy Spirit to every believer for loving communication and fellowship.

 

Romans 8:15-16 - For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."  16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

 

And because He has ascended, He is preparing a place for us, so that one day he will return to take us to be with him.

 

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

 

John 14:1-3 - "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 

  • Divine authority

 

6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 

The disciples want to know if he has returned to establish Israel. Remember that they believed the Messiah would be a political figure. They are still thinking of a national kingdom, a political kingdom, an immediate kingdom. And he tells them no – he’s come for something much bigger. His kingdom is spiritual, international, and gradual in its expansion. The kingdom is the reign of God. They need to wait for the Holy Spirit, and then they need to go and make disciples until he returns.

 

In the ascension, Jesus has taken his place as the new king and head of the human race. He is sovereign over everything.

 

1 Peter 3:21-22 - It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

 

He is directing everything for the benefit of His church, and so you can have peace knowing that he is always working for good.

 

Romans 8:28-29 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 

As our friend Ray Labbe used to say whenever we asked him how he was doing, “Is Jesus on the throne? Then I must be okay.” Jesus is on the throne, and He is reigning over His kingdom. But we continue to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. The kingdom has not yet reached its fullness, and will not until Jesus comes again. On that day:

 

Revelation 11:15-17 - The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever."  16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,  17 saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.

 

Jesus’ prayer in the Lord’s Prayer will be answered – when Jesus returns a second time, God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus will return, evil will be judged and destroyed once and for all, every enemy will be destroyed, ending with death, and those who belong to Jesus will live with him and reign with him in an everlasting kingdom of love, peace, and justice.  And He shall reign forever and ever.

 

  • Divine advocacy

 

He is at the right hand of the father, interceding for us. He is our advocate, our lawyer. When you have a good lawyer, then you are good. We are in Him. He has taken all the punishment, and so we go free. There is no punishment left for us. The father sees Him when He looks at us.

 

Hebrews 10:11-14 - Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,  14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

 

He is our advocate, and we need not fear:

 

1 John 2:1-2 - My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

Look how bold the disciples become. They know that Jesus has ascended, and they no longer fear death or anyone. And so we can go and be his witnesses, preaching the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and calling people to repentance and prayer

 

Luke 24:46-48 - He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.

 

Pray to Jesus, ascended to the right hand of the father. Pray that his kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. Be his witnesses until he comes again.