Acts 1:1-11 (21 Oct 2013)
There are probably things you do or don’t do that leave you feeling guilty afterwards. The problem often is that you want to keep on behaving the same way but don’t like feeling guilty every time.
Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist? Surely any psychiatrist who is any good at his job could fix you up so you could do what you want without those feelings of guilt.
But then, you might really like feeling guilty all the time. In that case perhaps you should see a psychiatrist about that.
Perhaps some people never feel guilty about anything at all. That could be because they are perfect in every way, in which case they are deluded or it could be because they have no conscience at all. In both cases they also need psychiatric help.
You know, of course, that you only have to confess your failure to your heavenly Father and he will forgive you and wipe away that guilt. God is so very gracious. But you also know that this is not a licence to sin as much as you like so as to give God yet more opportunities to show his grace to you. If that’s your attitude to sin, confession and guilt the Bible says, “God forbid”.
In other words, we have that gracious access to forgiveness but the expectation is that we resist the temptation and do what our Father expects of us.
Then we read a passage like Acts 1:1-11 in which we are told of what is often called the “Great Commission”: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”.
These words are like those at the end of Luke’s gospel, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things”.
I don’t know about you, but I have hear sermons on these words designed to make me feel guilty, to make me feel that I have failed to do what my Lord told me to do in these verses.
There is the simple instruction in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Have I “gone”?
There’s the words, “you will be my witnesses”. The thing is that, as a Christian, I AM a witness to Jesus. Because I am a Christian I am a witness to Jesus. It’s inescapable. The question is, what sort of witness am I? People are going to look at me and come to an opinion about Jesus. Am I such a witness as to encourage people to accept Jesus, or to cause them to reject him?
This passage can easily make me feel guilty.
But it also offers encouragement.
The book of Acts starts by telling us that it is a follow-up to the writer’s previous book in which he wrote about what Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up into heaven. It is more than likely that Luke was the author of both the gospel with his name and also this book. What the Gospel books tell us and what Acts tell us are some facts.
They tell us the facts of Jesus birth, his teaching, of the miracles he performed, of his crucifixion and of his resurrection.
The last chapter of Luke gives details of Jesus having been killed and buried appearing to the women at the tomb. He met, conversed and ate with men on the road to Emmaus. He appeared to Simon and the Disciples and showed them that he was the same Jesus they had been with for years, with flesh and bones, hands and feet complete with the wounds of the crucifixion.
Over a period of 40 days he showed himself to more than 500 people at the same time, to James and, eventually to the Apostle Paul.
He gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive, having been dead.
The resurrection of Jesus is a fact. We accept it as a fact, firstly on the basis of the testimony of witnesses to the fact. Indeed, if Christ has not been raised we understand that our faith is useless; it is in vain. The historical record is trustworthy, reliable. To deny it is to discard a rational approach to history and historical documents.
This has to be the most unique, the most powerful of facts because of who it declares Jesus to be and the impact it has on our lives, our understanding of our own death and our expectations for eternity.
It makes us very different people to those who do not accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It inevitably makes us witnesses to that fact. With the weight of evidence on our side we can give confident testimony to the fact that Jesus lives.
Then the records tell us more. After his resurrection Jesus was taken bodily into heaven in the clear view of a crowd of people. At the same time they were told that he would, in God’s good time, return. When he does, we are told, he will return as judge and king.
Before he left them, Jesus told his followers that, in a few days, they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit. And they were. In Chapter 2 of Acts how this happened to the disciples and the difference it made to them is described.
Subsequently, as people committed themselves to Jesus as Saviour and Lord they, too, were filled with the Holy Spirit. The apostles taught in Acts and in the letters that this is a gift to all Christians.
If you know Jesus as Saviour and Lord then you have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This is another fact – with a benefit, because it is a confirmation to you of the fact that Jesus lives.
Did you know this?
Have you noticed?
1 Corinthians 2:11 describes us this way:
“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
You have surely noticed that no-one really understands you. But that’s fair, because you can’t really understand anyone else. Only your spirit within you really understands you. I don’t. I can’t. Only my spirit really understands me.
In the same way only the Spirit of God understands the mind of God.
The wonderful thing is that while we are limited in that we cannot communicate my spirit with yours there is no such limit to the communication between the Spirit of God and my spirit, nor between the Spirit of God and your spirit.
“14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
This is a fact that is breathtaking in its significance. The very Spirit of God, with all his authority and power in and with us, communicating Spirit to spirit.
It’s a fact that sometimes we ignore or forget or don’t notice because we don’t stop to listen. It is a testimony that comes to us at the very depths of our being: the very Spirit of Jesus communicates with our own spirit as he gives us the gift of faith, of assurance that we are the children of God and of the salvation and lordship of the risen Jesus.
So this passage in Acts 1 reminds us of facts of history, things we say we believe because we accept that they are facts. Things we summarise in The Creed: that Jesus lived, was crucified to take the penalty of our sin, was raised victorious, ascended into heaven from where he reigns as Lord and that he will return at the time our Father decrees. In the meantime he has sent his Holy Spirit to live in and with us.
Facts can change us
There are some things that don’t matter much to us. For example, if they changed the timetable for trains in Monte Carlo it would not change our lives. However, we can all think of things that have meant a lot and really caused changes to our lives.
However these facts about Jesus are inevitably life changing. They certainly changed the lives of the disciples at the time.
In Chapter 2 we read how the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples in such a dramatic fashion that people all around mocked them. This did not cause the disciples to keep quiet!
Peter stood up before the crowd and said,
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
I love this passage! Here Peter tells them that their most extreme attempt at rejecting Jesus resulted in them falling directly into God’s plan along with the ultimate humiliation of seeing Jesus raised from the dead to be the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Peter was so sure of the facts and so empowered by the Holy Spirit that he had no problem asserting those facts with complete confidence, even in the face of people who had, not long before, killed his Lord.
That’s the difference the facts made to the disciples and the difference they can make to us.
Do you know the facts of Jesus life, death, resurrection and inevitable return?
Do you know that they ARE facts, not just possibilities, wishful thinking or even myths?
If not, then please talk about it with someone who does know they are facts and can explain their confidence to you.
Do you know that the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send is in you and with you? If not, then that’s something else to talk about.
Go from here assured of these facts because if you are you will have no trouble with that Great Commission.
The thing is that when you have confidence in the facts about Jesus and learn to live knowing the assurance, even the power, that the Holy Spirit can give you then you will be his witnesses wherever you are.