1. Good morning. As some of you know I spent 7 years of my life working in security and law enforcement in the Air Force. Besides meeting my wife during that time, one of the things I enjoyed the most about my time in the service was that I got to spend roughly five years living overseas in Europe. Italy and England are two countries I got to live in. Italy was my favorite place...probably for the food, but I'd have to say England was the most interesting, because the history and culture of their government is fascinating...and no, I didn't get to meet the Queen. This morning I'd like to share with you a quote I came across from one of their former Prime Ministers by the name of Harold Wilson. “He who resists change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” I'd be willing to bet money to say that Harold Wilson was right. I've also heard it said that the only constant in life is change...Now, obviously we know that only true constant is God, but the point is still valid, and probably the most common type of change that occurs in life is transition, and during my time in the Air Force, transition just about became my middle name. I had to transition from civilian life into military life; in Basic Training they transition you from being trainee int Airman; you transition in and out of each base you go to; you transition from one level of expertise in your job to another; you transition from the duties and responsibilities of one rank to that of another; and in my case I had to transition from being a Staff Sergeant, police patrolman and Law Enforcement Supervisor to being a college student, trying to transition, yet again, into a life of ministry.
2. What transitions have you made in your life? What transitions are you making now or are you maybe waiting for in near future? Change is constant, so how are you changing? What phase of life are you moving out of? What phase are you moving into? What's ending? What's beginning? Some of you are preparing your kids to graduate high school and move on to a career or college. Some of you are the high school seniors trying to figure out how you're going to make that transition...and I guarantee you that you and your parents are worried about different things. Some of you are getting used to living with another person... some of you are getting used to living life alone. What's your transition? Do you ever feel uncertain about it? Do you ever wonder what it'll really be like when the transition happens? Maybe there's no transition happening, so what you're looking for or waiting on is something still unknown to you. You're wondering how long it'll be until this time when life will be easier, or that day when the money won't be so tight. “If I could just get to next year...then things will be better...” or “if I could just finish this job and move on to something else, things will be better.” These are the same thoughts that I believe that Jesus' disciples were thinking as they were preparing for a major transition in their lives. In Acts chapter 1 we see this huge changeover take place. Jesus has completed His earthly ministry and was leaving his disciples to carry out His ministry without Him. Jesus has come, ministered for three years, healing the sick and raising the dead, fulfilling all the 613 Old Testament commandments. He's revealed Himself as the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, and has been betrayed, arrested, falsely accused of treason against the Roman Empire, tortured and killed, and now He's risen back from the dead proving His deity and accomplishing the task of Salvation for a fallen and wicked humanity. At the end of Matthew's Gospel we see Jesus giving His disciples the Great Commission, the command to make disciples of all nations, taking the Gospel into all the world. This is a time of great transition, and I want us to take a look at this passage and see if we can learn from this event how we are to handle the transitions in our own lives. The passage is Acts 1:4-8, although I'd like us to read from verse 1.
3.The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen...As many of you already know, Acts is really just part 2 of what was originally the one-volume Luke-Acts, written by Luke to this man named Theophilus, about whom we know virtually nothing. So Luke is explaining that the first half dealt with Jesus' earthly ministry, and this second half deals with Jesus' continuation of His ministry from heaven through the Church. Here in verse 2 it says He gave orders to the apostles...this is the event in Matthew 28, the Great Commission, which I already mentioned, the command to make disciples of all nations...Verse 3: To these He also presented Himself alive after his suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking to them of the things concerning the kingdom of God... This is what took place during the 40 days between when Jesus rose from the dead and when He left earth to return to the Father in heaven. He taught them about the kingdom of God, which we'll see come up again later on.
4.All right, let's look at verse 4. This is also seen at the end of Luke in chapter 24... Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me...” What is it that the Father promised that they have to wait for? The coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been active among God's people since the very beginning, but this new chapter of the Church Age ushers in a new function of the Holy Spirit, the in-dwelling of believers in Christ. The Spirit has always come on people in power, but had never took up residence in people, with the exception of John the Baptist who had the Spirit from before birth, which brings us to verse 5: for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
5.So what's going on here? What's with the different baptisms? Probably many of you already get this, but for the rest of us let's clear this up. I had to study and give myself a refresher course in baptism to understand this because it really can be confusing. Baptism is a symbolic event whereby one becomes associated or identified with the one calling for it. The word in Greek means to dip or to submerge, so we get this sense of identification by means of submersion. The illustration I was told when I learned this is that if you throw me out of a boat into the water, you could say that I am now associated or identified with the water. John's baptism was the first of its kind. Up until his time the only converts to Judaism had to undergo a public symbolic cleansing. John the Baptist's ministry was announcing the arrival of the Messiah to Israel, and by God's command he was commanding all Jews to be publicly baptized, symbolizing their repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. They were being “baptized into” John's ministry in preparation for the Messiah, the same way the Jews were “baptized into Moses,” identifying themselves with Moses as their leader sent from God. So what is baptism with the Holy Spirit? The identification of a person with the risen Christ and His ministry by having the Holy Spirit come and reside permanently within them. This is a spiritual event, not involving water...water baptism is a symbolic, public announcement. What really happens at physical baptism? You get wet. So the apostles had to become identified with the risen Jesus and His ministry to be effectively used in His ministry. The same is true today. The first obvious qualification for ministry is having the Holy Spirit.
6.Okay, so these disciples have followed Jesus for 3 years, been selected by Him as apostles, those commissioned to take the Gospel to the nations. They've seen Him arrested, killed, raised from the dead, and for the last 40 days He's been teaching them about the Kingdom of God. We now understand the Kingdom of God is whenever God's plan directly intervenes in the affairs of mankind. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 11:20, “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The kingdom of God is rooted in the later prophecies of the Old Testament, such as Micah 5:2, which portrays the Messiah, the future ruler of Israel as coming from Bethlehem, and Isaiah 9:6-7, which portrays the Messiah as a king of peace ruling over Israel on the throne of King David. Scripture paints the picture of the kingdom of God ultimately being fulfilled in Christ setting up a kingdom over the whole earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years. This is what Jesus has just spent 40 days teaching the apostles. If you were taught about a coming event by God Himself for 40 days, do you think you'd be apathetic? Or would you be excited with anticipation waiting for its coming? Especially if it's an exciting event like God reigning over the whole earth from Jerusalem. The apostles had to pumped. They had to be anxiously waiting for Jesus to establish His kingdom. Naturally, they would be asking Jesus about this. Let's look at verse 6.
7.So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel? The grammar of the verse indicates that this is something the apostles were continually asking. “Is it here yet? Is it here? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” I know how I'd react to my kids...let's look at Jesus' response in verse 7. It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has placed by His own authority. “What? Oh, come on! Just tell me already!! You mean to tell me you just spent forty days explaining the kingdom to us, and all that time you kept us wondering when it was going to happen, and now you're not even going to tell us?” Isn't that like, if you were a kid and your parents sat you down and said, “Now Michael, we want you to know that we're taking you on a vacation to Disneyland. We've got a week-long stay at the hotel there and you can ride all the rides and get all the snacks you want, and you can just go crazy for the whole week.” “Really??? When do we go???” And your parents look at each other, then back at you and...shrug shoulders and they say, “It's not for you to know the things we've made plans for.” “What??? Are you kidding?...”
8.Now, I have to say here that the apostle's question is pretty much universally recognized as being misguided. So what's misguided about it? Some will say that the apostles got the kingdom all wrong. They'll say they didn't understand that the kingdom is not to be taken literally, that the kingdom is Christ reigning in the hearts of believers. Is that how we're supposed to understand this? Other say that what the apostles got wrong was the timing of the kingdom. What's wrong with this question? Let's look again at Jesus' response: It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has placed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;”
9.Now, it is true that the disciples normally got the kingdom wrong. They typically were envisioning the prophecies being fulfilled in a national, political, Jewish theocracy. The problem with that view is that it leaves out everyone who isn't Jewish. This was a wrong view. Jesus' response here gives no indication that what the apostles were envisioning was inaccurate. Jesus was leaving. This was His last moment with His apostles, and if they misunderstood this Jesus had this one chance to finally set them straight. After 40 days of teaching on the kingdom and no correction, I remain unconvinced that they got this wrong. So what's the problem with their question? Should they not be looking forward to the restoration of the kingdom?
10.Let's look through verses 6, 7 and 8 and I want you to notice something. Verse 6: “Lord, is it at this time...,” verse 7: “It is not not for you to know times or epochs...,” verse 8: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you...” You notice all these time words...and not one word to actually describe the kingdom. Where the apostles went wrong was simply seeking to know something they didn't need to know. The Bible is very clear that no one but the Father knows when this event will take place. What Jesus is saying, essentially, is “Don't concern yourself with future events. Yes, it's coming, but that's not what you should be concerned about right now.”
11.but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. “Don't concern yourself with future events that are fixed in time and known only by the Father...but rather, concern yourselves with the task at hand, the command you've already received, to make disciples of all nations. Yes, the kingdom is coming, but that's not what's happening now. This is what's happening now: be my witnesses. It's like when I tell my 3 year old, “Olivia, we're going to the pool today,” and she comes running through the house to find her swimsuit and I have to stop her and say, “No, not right now. Yes, we're going to the pool, but first we're having lunch and then it's nap time, and then after that we'll go swimming.”
12. Finally, this last part of verse 8 shows us a geographical outline for the whole book of Acts: The Gospel is first taken to the Jews, is in the main rejected and the Church is persecuted, then the Gospel is taken out to the Gentiles as far out as Spain if the Apostle Paul made it that far.
The disciples had to wait before they could begin fulfilling Christ's commission to make disciples of all nations. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit so they could be empowered to carry out that task. They had to wait so that they could be aligned with the purpose and direction of Christ's ministry. I ask you: Has the Holy Spirit come? Does the Holy Spirit indwell and empower believers today? Then what is it that we have to wait for to begin fulfilling the Great Commission? Do you have something to wait for? No. Then don't wait for tomorrow to do today.
Don't wait for tomorrow to do today, because tomorrow is too late to do today. One of the hardest things to do in this life is the doing. I mean, it's so easy to just wait for next month or that job promotion, or that school semester... I heard a guy say recently that all diets begin Monday or tomorrow...but never today. It's so easy to let the transitions and the changes distract us from doing what God has for us to do today. We've all got lots of things going on, but meanwhile you've got someone you need to go to for forgiveness; you've got someone you need to forgive; you owe someone money; your behavior around that unsaved friend or coworker has needed to change for a long time now so that they see Christ in you rather than a mirror; you've got some words that you've needed to remove from your vocabulary for a while now, but you're stalling. Please don't misunderstand me here. I'm speaking to myself here. I probably need this message more than many of you...and I've been really convicted as I've been studying this passage, because I am guilty of so much spiritual procrastination... but I really want to challenge you to consider whether or not you're waiting to obey God. Is there something that God has revealed to you that you need to do or to be doing, but you're stalling? The Holy Spirit is what the Apostles had to wait for before they could carry out the task they were given. If you have the Holy Spirit you already have the power and ability to carry out the Great Commission...and every area of life I just mentioned is part of that effort. But don't think “I'll do better when...” You have to do it now. Don't wait for tomorrow to do today. Whatever your situation is, whatever transition you're going through or are getting ready for...you don't have to wait for that to take place before you obey God. Your transition may even be incredibly painful, but because it's the Holy Spirit empowering you, you don't have to wait for the pain to go away before you can be used effectively by God. You are just as useful to God today. I want to challenge everyone here...because I think everyone here can do this... to pray and think about at least one thing you know you need to do, or maybe you've known for a while that you need to do it...and here's the hard part... do it. Today. Don't wait for tomorrow. You know what needs to be done today.
Now, to refer back to the events in Acts, one of the most basic observations we make about this is that the Apostle's continuing Jesus' ministry on earth was a group event. The Holy Spirit waited until all the Apostles were in agreement and unity in the aim of following Christ. This principle that I'm sharing with you today is not only for us as individuals, but as the Church it is for all of us as a collective body. We are called to make disciples of all nations, and part of how we do that is discerning and affirming the leading of the Holy Spirit in the church, and being quick to obey the Spirit's leading. What I want to see is this church characterized as being quick to obey. Let's not wait for something special before we do as we ought. Finances have been tight for this church for some time now, but guess what...there's no special dollar amount that we need before we can effectively be used by God as the body of Christ in this community. We can be just as effective as any other church if we're seeking and following the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, being quick to obey. As one famous preacher has said, “The goal of the Christian is to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing today.” Not tomorrow...today. Not when the money is flowing and church attendance is up...but today. Not when staffing is good and the Sunday school class is full...but today. What is God doing today? Whatever it is, that's what we need to be about...not what's happening in the future or even tomorrow, but today. God ordains our time, and it's too valuable to put off doing something until tomorrow. We need to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing in us and through us as a Church today, and if we do that I believe we'll be unstoppable in reaching our community, and in the world. Jesus didn't end His earthly ministry when He left this world to return to heaven. Through the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit He is continuing that earthly ministry from heaven through us today. Let's be Christ to the world...today.