The Last Great Commission
April 30, 2000 Acts 1:1-11
Have you ever been given a task to do that you weren't sure how to do?
Young Man or Woman: taxes, car repair, marriage, first job, military (silent observation w/o instruction onboard ship)
Child: going to school, school projects, helping father or mother
Mother and Father: raising a difficult child, having a difficult employment, bills
Older Person: know how if you can remember, or know how but can't
If you were successful at anything, you know that it took perseverance, observation, intelligence, time, effort, but the greatest thing you received – or could have received – was someone to show you patiently how to do it, someone to instruct you.
That didn't always happen, but it would have been nice if it did.
It is the same way in the church.
We have been given a task to do and we often seem reluctant and even refuse to do the things God prompts us to do because we don't know how or just think we can't.
We feel powerless.
Ministry: whether pastor or parishoner
The task we have been given is to testify about Jesus and bring believers into his kingdom.
It is a hard, even impossible task.
It is beyond us and our capability.
But Jesus commissioned us and we must believe that he wouldn't be so cruel or short-sighted as to give us something to do that was impossible.
Hard – yes – but not impossible.
How do we know that?
Because what he gave us was a co-mission.
A commission is something we have been authorized to do for another.
It is with their power and authority.
Essentially, they are with us in the task.
We are not alone because their power and authority are with us.
We can draw upon that power and authority to do what we have been given to do.
In the case of Jesus and his commission to us, that power and authority continues to instruct us in the task.
We will see in our passage this morning what he has given us to carry out the commission he has given us.
We commonly think of this as the Great Commission that we find in Mt. 28:19-20.
But all the gospels contain some form of the great commission.
And we find it as well in the book of Acts.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
(Matthew 28:19-20 NIVUS)
He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
(Mark 16:15 NIVUS)
46 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.
49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
(Luke 24:46-49 NIVUS)
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
(John 20:21 NIVUS)
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
(Acts 10:42 NIVUS)
What we have in our passage today are the last recorded words of Jesus before he was taken up to heaven, 40 days after his resurrection.
It is the Last Great Commission which we find in Acts 1:8.
It is what Jesus expects us to do before he returns.
And I'm sure the apostles felt just like you and I do when we are given a task to do that seems impossible.
We can find all kinds of excuses.
But Jesus had a plan that involves us.
Big Question: How do we know that we can carry out the task that Jesus gave us?
Unison Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke as well as the Book of Acts.
What do we know about him?
"Only Luke is with me." So wrote Paul late in life from a Roman prison, just one evidence of their close relationship.
Early tradition suggests that Luke was born a Greek in Antioch and became a physician before being converted and joining Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Troas on Paul's second missionary journey (early 50s). Luke was later shipwrecked with Paul on Malta and jailed with Paul in Rome.
He went to Greece around the time of Paul's death and from there wrote his two-volume history of Jesus and the early church. The second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, is mostly about Paul's missionary journeys, and in four passages, Luke includes himself in the story, using the pronoun "we" to narrate various events.
One second-century prologue to the Gospel of Luke claims:
"Having neither wife nor child, [Luke] served the Lord without distraction. He fell asleep in Boeotia, at the age of 84, full of the Holy Spirit."
Constantine the Great transported Luke's remains to Constantinople in 356, where they are said to be preserved in the Church of the Apostles.
-- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.
Luke wrote not only his gospel to his patron, Theophilus (meaning friend of God), but he also wrote the Book of Acts as a supplement to him.
Luke did not leave us with just the ministry of Jesus upon the earth, but continued to write about the profound after-effects of Jesus' ministry in the formation of the early church through the apostles.
We might consider Acts just an historical account about the beginning church, and Luke did intend it to be an historically accurate account.
Like his gospel, it covers a period of 33 years.
Both were written on scrolls that were a maximum of 33 feet long.
This in itself necessitated two books.
But Acts is much more instructive and meaningful than just history.
The two main themes of Acts are witnessing and the Holy Spirit.
Both these themes are tied directly to Christ.
They are what made his promise of the church actually work.
The disciples were emboldened to witness about his truth, and the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave them worked supernatural power to achieve it.
These twin themes have much for us to learn and apply even in today's church, and indeed they are the subjects and the power behind the 32 speeches that make up 25% of the narrative in Acts.
The outline for this witness in the book of Acts follows the geographical sequence given by Jesus in Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem – ch. 1 thru 7, all Judea and Samaria – ch. 8:1 to 11:18, to the ends of the earth – ch. 11:19 to the end).
We will find many other sub-themes in Acts that will instruct us besides the Priority of Evangelism and the Power of the Holy Spirit (Acts has also been called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit").
We will see the witness of Community Life,
the value of Teaching as part of the evangelistic process,
the power and priority of Prayer (14 of the first 15 chapters mention prayer),
the Breaking of Human Barriers as the gospel spreads across them to the ends of the earth,
the Place of Suffering necessary for the church to witness,
the Sovereignty of God even through that suffering,
the Jewish Reaction of the Gospel (it was these to whom it was first given, but they rejected it, and it was then taken to the Gentiles),
and the Defense of Christianity before the state.
How do these themes instruct us in the church today?
To our society that puts a premium on individuality and privacy, we have a church in Acts that presents a radical change by holding all things in common.
To our society that even seems to admire selfishness, we have a church that presents itself so committed to Christ that they are willing to sacrifice for the good of others.
To our society that defines truth as subjective and personal, we have a church that bases its life on objective truth about Christ that is held to be universally valid for the entire world.
To our society that denies the persuasive power of absolute truth, we have a church that holds fast to the Lordship of Christ in order to convert the world.
To our society that has pressed its love for specialization upon us, we have a church filled with people who are willing to do any task for the cause of Christ.
To our society that has pressed its love of self-preservation and improvement upon us, we have a church that sacrifices the best they have in order to reach the lost.
To our society that has pressed its love of technique upon us, we have a church that depended upon the Holy Spirit and gave top priority to prayer and moral purity.
To our society that has pressed its aversion about suffering upon us, we have a church that took on suffering as a basic ingredient of Christian discipleship.
It took Acts 8:1 to fulfill Acts 1:8.
If this sounds profound to you, it is!
What the church accomplished then, it can and must achieve today.
Everything they had is still in place for us.
And the task they began is not yet finished.
I. Cycle One
A. Narrative 1:1-3
Luke's Resumptive Preface
v. 1 We see an emphasis upon what Jesus began to do in Luke's gospel – here it is implied that the work of Jesus continues after he was taken up.
v. 2 We see in this verse four factors of Christian mission as stated in Acts: the witness mandate, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, the ascended Lord.
It was through the H. S. that Jesus spoke to his disciples after the resurrection.
In reference to these instructions we can note that the sound teaching of Jesus prepared his apostles for the revival that followed.
Whatever may happen during a revival, it is an established fact that it is in response to what has been done before a revival.
Theological awakening must precede spiritual awakening.
We must be faithful in teaching the Word if we expect the results of the Spirit which is revival.
v. 3 Over 40 days implies that the risen Lord showed himself at intervals, not continuously, and when he did he spoke about the kingdom of God.
The things Jesus taught over that time most likely referred to (1) validation and nature of his messiahship, (2) interpretation of the OT from the view of the resurrection, (3) the responsibility of the disciples to bear witness to what they had seen and heard.
The "many convincing proofs" shows that Christianity is based upon objective facts.
We know we can carry out the task Jesus gave us because he is alive and in heaven.
II. Cycle Two
A. Narrative 1:4-5
Jesus' Command to Wait for His Gift
v. 4 The occasion of eating shows the continuing fellowship that Jesus had with his disciples after his resurrection.
Jesus reiterated to the disciples the command he gave them in Luke 24:48-49.
This similarity shows continuity in Luke's work.
Waiting upon the Spirit is something every Christian must learn how to do.
Nathaniel Hawthorne described happiness as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you. And it's like that with the Spirit of God. He is not seized. He is received.
It is not surging ahead in our own power but in God's power.
It is only God's power that will be effective.
The disciples must wait until they receive power.
The ministry they are to do can only be fulfilled with the Spirit's power.
The fullness of the Spirit is essential for Christian life and ministry.
Near Rome, Italy, a mechanic started the propeller of a plane and accidentally turned on the fuel. The engines fired. To his amazement the plane ran along the ground, rose smoothly into the air, and went through what appeared to be a series of complicated maneuvers. It looked as if an expert pilot were in the cockpit. Then the wind caught the plane, overturned it, and threw it to the ground where it burst into flames. The apostles were much like that plane until the Holy Spirit took charge of their lives. They needed a pilot to guide them into all truth.
v. 5 This baptism of the H. S. would come in 10 days at Pentecost.
The objective facts of Christianity will now be augmented by the subjective experience of power in the Holy Spirit.
True Christianity is the effective integration of both objective and subjective elements.
This baptism of the Spirit that the disciples would experience was a special outpouring to begin the church age and may not be directly compared to what we experience today.
Our baptism of the Spirit is not the same as baptism into the body of Christ, the Church.
Our baptism of the Spirit takes place at conversion and is the resultant experience of the Spirit in the believer.
However, our baptism as believers can come in successive waves of experience as we progress in obedience and maturity.
Our life in the Spirit lifts us to continually higher levels of spiritual experience.
We grow in our knowledge of the Lord.
As we are empowered in the Spirit we are empowered in witness.
It is the fullness of God that continues to fill us.
It is possible to place sugar in water until the saturation point is reached. Then the water cannot absorb any more sugar. It is impossible, however, to reach a saturation point with regard to the Holy Spirit. Our need is so great. The resources are so unlimited.
Christians who are not experiencing an increasing measure of God's fullness should be considered stunted, or at least temporarily so.
I want to share with you a question by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who is certainly not known as a Pentecostal preacher. When he held the great pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London as the great preacher of Reformed theology, near the end of his life--and some say at the very pinnacle of his ministry--he asked his congregation a question. He said, "I want to talk to you today about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You may call it what you want, but I want to know, have you experienced the fullness of the Spirit? I know all of you listening to me come as I do from a Reformed background. But it's not good enough. I know that all of you would want to say to my question about the Holy Spirit, 'Well, we got it all at conversion; there's no need for any more experience.' Well," said Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "I have only one other question to ask you. If you got it all at conversion, where in God's name is it?"
Someone once said that 95% of what happens in many evangelical churches could be done without the Holy Spirit.
Whoever we are and whatever we do for God, our great desire should be to be filled with God's Sprit so that our work will spring from his resulting power.
We can never exhaust the fullness of God.
It often takes a crisis situation to help us step forward in our dependence upon the Spirit.
But with many it is a powerful continuing process.
We know we can carry out the task Jesus gave us because of the gift from heaven he promised us.
III. Cycle Three
A. Narrative 1:6-8
The Disciples' Confusion and Jesus' Explanation About the Nature of the Gift
v. 6 The word "restore" shows that the disciples were expecting a political and territorial kingdom.
The word "Israel" shows that they were expecting a national kingdom.
The words "at this time" shows that they were expecting its immediate establishment.
Gordon McLaughlin is a native New Zealander. That gives him the right to speak of his own nation. He has written a book about his homeland entitled The Passionless People. He calls modern New Zealand "a sterile society." Could that be said of some congregations? Are we a passionless people, or are we caught up in that grand passion that motivated Jesus Christ and all the saints that followed him?
v. 7 Christ rebukes the disciples' end-times inquisitiveness and their self-absorbed near-sightedness.
They still have a wrong mindset.
They are not yet thinking globally.
Billy Graham's Global Mission to 165 countries next March is the largest single outreach in the history of the Christian church and one of the most complex technical efforts ever attempted. According to industry experts, Global Mission is the biggest project ever attempted by satellite; even more complicated than the Olympics, due to the number of specific pathways created to reach many smaller reception centers.
In commenting on Global Mission, Billy Graham said, "The technology revolution has shrunk the world to a global village, with instant access to world news networks in even the most remote areas. It is time for the church to use this technology to make a worldwide statement that in the midst of chaos, emptiness and despair, there is hope in the person of Jesus Christ."
While Jesus is thinking about the "kingdom of God" and the "ends of the earth", they are thinking about their own nation.
We can still see these two errors of preoccupation with end-times speculation and nationalistic short-sightedness even in the church today.
His last command should be our first concern.
I can stand in front of the Lord and say I gave it my best shot," failed-prophet Edgar Whisenant said after Sept. 1, 1989, came and went without any evidence of a rapture. After running up a 0-for-2 record in rapture predicting, the retired NASA engineer who lives in a one-room shack outside Little Rock, Arkansas, says his job is now done. His book predicting this year's rapture sold only 30,000 copies in contrast to his book predicting the rapture last September, which sold 4.3 million.
How could so many believers fall for this age old problem of date setting that Jesus clearly warned about in Matthew 24:36?
v. 8 The word "but" shows that Jesus was presenting an alternative aspiration for the disciples.
The disciples were already witnesses, but what they needed was power to proclaim it – to be effective witnesses. Not political power but heavenly power.
Scientists have long believed that there were only four forces in nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the binding force of the atom, and the weak force of radioactive decay. Now they are debating the possibility of a fifth force. Christians have always believed in a fifth force. They believe in spiritual power.
If you combined the flow of all the rivers in the world, you would have to multiply that power by 100 to equal the force of the Gulf Stream, that current of water that flows through the Atlantic at a rate of 150 million cubic meters per second! Despite its enormous volume and force, the Gulf Stream is invisible even to those who are sailing on it. In the same way, there is often unseen power in words, in ideas, and especially in the gospel.
In the book Healing the Masculine Soul, Gordon Dalbey says that when Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Helper, he uses a Greek word, paraclete, that was an ancient warrior's term. "Greek soldiers went into battle in pairs," says Dalbey, "so when the enemy attacked, they could draw together back-to-back, covering each other's blind side. One's battle partner was the paraclete." Our Lord does not send us to fight the good fight alone. The Holy Spirit is our battle partner who covers our blind side and fights for our well being.
-- Tom Tripp, Colusa, California. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 2.
When we believe the witness of the apostles concerning what they had seen and heard, and entrust ourselves to Christ based on that witness, we too can experience the risen Lord through the indwelling Holy Spirit just as they did.
And we can witness just as they did.
The concept of witness is an important theme in Acts that appears some 39 times.
This passage shows us how important the Holy Spirit is to our understanding of mission and how important mission is to our understanding of the Holy Spirit.
The H.S. helps us to proclaim faith in Christ, and it is faith in Christ that gives us the H.S. to proclaim him.
Here Jesus gives the last great commission that stands as the theme for all of Acts and is his last word to all of us.
It is also to be the theme of the church.
The ends of the earth have not quite yet been reached.
Indeed there are places that have not yet heard the Name of Christ.
If we reduced our world into a village of 1,000 people, we would find 564 Asians, 210 Europeans, 80 South Americans, and 60 North Americans. There would be 300 Christians, 175 Muslims, 128 Hindus, 55 Buddhists, and 47 Animists. Obviously there is still plenty of work to be done by Christian missionaries.
Indeed there are places even in our own Jerusalem that have not been adequately reached.
We need more missionaries in the market place. The Church has overshot the target. We send missionaries to Pango Pango when we should be sending them to the south side of Chicago.
-- Personal Conversation, Paul Harvey, 6-22-95 in Chicago.
The church in Acts will be a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus' commission, acts on Jesus' behalf in extending his ministry, is guided and empowered by the same Spirit that directed Jesus' ministry, and follows a program whose goals for outreach have been set by Jesus himself from our own backyard to the ends of the earth.
In 1990, newspapers reported that all the city workers in Newport Beach, California, were sifting through two and one-half tons of trash, franticly looking for $42,500 mistakenly discarded at the Great American Bank and hauled away by garbage trucks. That's a significant loss of money, but it is only money. The loss of human lives and souls is infinitely more significant. Evangelism deserves our very best efforts.
It's almost impossible to see a rainbow and not point it out to someone else. It's the kind of thing that just must be shared. You see one and you want to tell someone about it. If you are by yourself and see one, it's frustrating. The gospel is such a beautiful expression of God's love that it just must be shared.
We know we can carry out the task Jesus gave us because of the power of the Holy Spirit to continue what he was doing and teaching.
IV. Cycle Four
A. Narrative 1:9-11
The Ascension and Return of Jesus
"Before their very eyes" implies another objective experience.
"Standing and looking" --- The disciples always seem to be one step behind the surprising moves of God.
"Men of Galilee" implies a perhaps disparaging and provincial label for the disciples.
It may have been a divine reminder that they had a worldwide task ahead of them.
At any rate Judas is not among them and he was the only one not from Galilee.
It is interesting that the only Judean among them was the betrayer.
The angels specifically state the abode of Jesus as heaven.
We know we can carry out the task Jesus gave us because he is coming back for his kingdom.
Big Question: How do we know we can carry out the task that Jesus gave us?
Big Answer: We know we can carry out the task Jesus gave us because he is alive in heaven, he will carry out his promise to give us the Holy Spirit, we will have power to continue doing and teaching what he did, and he is coming back for his kingdom.
To smooth this up: We know we can do what Jesus did because he gave us what he had and he is coming back for it.
Timeless Truth: We can do what Jesus did because he lives in us to continue doing what he did.
Christ's last great commission is our first great priority.
Is the job too big for us?
Not when we consider that he co-labors with us in the co-mission he gave us.
Let us depend upon the Holy Spirit in completing the work of Christ.
You will stand amazed at his power and insight and ability that are yours by faith.
The Hindu Kingdom of Nepal has been "saturated with the gospel" in the past five years, according to Luis Bush, International Director of AD 2000 and Beyond. There are 300,000-400,000 Christians worshipping in 2,000 churches in the tiny Himalayan country, Bush said. In 1991, Nepal had an estimated 560,000 Christians; in 1961 there were 25 known believers (NIRR 8/12/91). "We have experienced a supernatural visitation. There is just no other explanation," a Nepali church leader said at an AD 2000-sponsored conference in India last month.
During years of persecution, Christians "paid the price for our nation. Now it rightfully belongs to us," said Reshem Raj Poudel, a former Hindu priest who became a Christian in 1962. He has been arrested 22 times and served two years in jail for teaching about Christ. From 1961 to 1991, some 300-400 Christians were imprisoned for converting Hindus or baptizing converts. Although Hinduism remains the state religion, a 1991 constitution granted religious freedom and amnesty for all religious prisoners (NIRR 7/15/91). Proselytism still is forbidden.
-- National & International Religion Report, Feb 19, 1996, p. 4.
We have two Moody students whom God appears to be calling into missions.
Lisa will be sharing with us tonight and Dan looks forward to spending some time with us this summer as he completes school and then goes on to candidate training this fall with SIM for Ethiopia.
May God bless both of you and sharpen your vision and commitment to serve him in the power of the H.S.
And we must pray for them.
For the rest of us, we must take the opportunities God gives us.
We miss many of them because we are not looking for them.
In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election:
"On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. 'Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?' he asked.
" 'I most certainly do.'
" 'Well, does my church believe it?'
" 'They have it in their creeds.'
" 'They don't preach it,' he said. 'They don't tell us much about it. I'd like to know what you think.'
"I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. 'Only then,' I said, 'are we going to have permanent world peace.'
" 'Very interesting,' he said, looking away. 'We'll have to talk more about that someday.' And he drove on."
Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast.
"I had the flu," Graham remembers. "After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me.
" 'Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I'd like to see you for a minute.'
" 'Mr. President, I've got a fever,' I protested. 'Not only am I weak, but I don't want to give you this thing. Couldn't we wait and talk some other time?'
"It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat.
" 'Of course,' he said graciously."
But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, "His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment."
-- Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 3.
Dave the homeless guy and George's friend, Annibal.
But you don't have to be a pastor to witness.
There is a sense, of course, in which every Christian has an apostleship. We are all of us to be witnesses, no matter what our other calling, profession or labor. A generation ago there was a wealthy man in the midwest who was an outstanding Christian layman. People used to ask him what he did. He would reply, "I am a witness for Jesus Christ, but I pack pork to pay expenses." Your apostleship differs in degree but not in kind from the apostleship that was given by Christ to the disciples.
-- Donald Grey Barnhouse