Faithlife
Faithlife

Christ in New Beginnings

Acts 1-5  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jesus is reigning over his church, giving it power by his Holy Spirit which he has given us to make it worthy of God's Kingdom

Notes & Transcripts

New Beginning

There is often a part of our life where we have to go through a hard slog and then as we come out the other side and we essentially face a new beginning. As we face that beginning things are different and it can take a bit to get used to the new setting.
I can think of a few times in my life where this has happened to me.
One such example was when I finished university when I studied engineering.
For 5 years I was constantly faced with weekly deadlines to meet, lectures to sit through (some interesting, some… well, not so much) and group assignments to work on.
With the exception of the Christmas and mid-year breaks, I constantly felt like I had something hanging over me, giving me a guilty feeling because I should have done it long before.
But then the day came. I had one more exam to sit. The allowed time passed, the exam supervisor said, “pens down”, and that was it - I was done.
I’d been waiting for this day for years - and now a new world awaited me.
A world that runs by different rules.
As I reflect on the difference between uni and work, it’s not that one is easier or harder than the other, they just both were different.
In some ways there was some similarity. I was still given assignments (although we didn’t call them that). I still had to do group work, although this was called collaborating. I still had deadlines.
But it was different. I didn’t get a score when I was done, and if I missed a deadline, the consequences were different.

New beginning for apostles

Now as I turn to , we find the remaining 11 apostles facing a new beginning, where they face a similar situation of a mix of similarity and differences.
They have just spent the last three or so years walking around with none other than Jesus Christ himself. They saw first hand the inauguration of the new kingdom that he was initiating. They saw him forgiving sins, healing the sick, comforting the hurting and freeing the oppressed. They had the greatest masterclass one could ever imagine.
But then the day came - a day that Jesus had actually told them about, but yet I think it still came as a shock to them.
It was the day that Jesus finally left them. Jesus had died and come back to life, and then appeared to many of the believers, but it came time to end this phase of his ministry, and so he ascended into heaven.
I’m going to explore this moment shortly, but for now, just try to imagine what it must have been like for these disciples as they now imagine what life is going to be like now.
The three years with Jesus would have changed everything for them. Their lives are now going to be shaped by what they have gone through, but how are they going to do it without Jesus?
The issue that is going to come for them is: how do you do the Christian life without Jesus physically present?

The Big Questions...

For us, we obviously have never had the privilege of having Jesus physically with us like the disciples, yet for people who want to honour Jesus with our lives, there is essentially a similar problem for us: how do we do the Christian life without Jesus with us?
We readily enough talk about Jesus living in our hearts - but what does this actually mean? And what does it look like in practice?
Well, as we explore today, this is what I want to look at.

Into the passage

Well let’s dive in and explore the chapter.
It starts with an introduction that is remarkably similar to the start of Luke’s gospel. Well, the accepted view is that is because Luke was the author of both Luke and Acts, with Acts essentially being the second in his volume of works.
One thing that is clear in these opening verses of both Luke and Acts, is that this author is concerned with historical accuracy so that we can have confidence in what we believe - something that we as believers can be eternally thankful for.
In Acts, he is quick to remind us that Jesus did not stay dead in the tomb, but that indeed he arose again - a point that is not just an incidental fact but fundamental to what is going to happen next - because it is the risen Lord Jesus that allows the subsequent events to happen.

Kingdom restoration

When we get to verse 6, we start to get an understanding of what is going on in the minds of the apostles as the face this new beginning.
They ask the question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Now, it is sometimes portrayed that in asking this question, the disciples have missed the point, and to some degree, it is true that they are off track, but it’s also not entirely true.
You see, the question essentially presupposes an Old Testament view of the kingdom of Israel. While they don’t spell it out this clearly, it would seem they are anticipating that Israel will now once again be restored like it was in the glory days of the likes of King David and Solomon.
In other words, a physical kingdom that is surrounded by a wall, with a physical king in place to rule.

Corrected understanding of kingdom

Now exactly how these disciples anticipated the kingdom, their question does seem to imply that they are a bit off track but not entirely - which is why Jesus answers in a slightly cryptic way. You see he starts by telling them that the times and dates should not be their concern, rather their concern should be on the one who will give them the power to grow this different look kingdom.
In other words, Jesus is saying to not worry about making some preformed ideas about what the kingdom should look like, rather just be prepared to tell others about what Jesus has done.
In fact Jesus essentially gives them the blue print for their witnessing - start in Jerusalem, the epicentre of it all. Then move to the surrounding Judean area. Next move further afield, to the land of the Samaritans, and then finally take it to the ends of the earth.
If you follow the broader picture of what happens in the book of Acts, it is this exact blue print that is followed. The first seven chapter concern the spread throughout Jerusalem. Chapter 8 to 12 concern the spread throughout Judea and then Samaria. And finally from chapters 13 onwards it goes truly global with Paul the missionary spreading the news far and wide.

A correction for us

But back to the issue at hand, what we are seeing is that Jesus answers the question of the kingdom restoration by talking about being witnesses.
Now, while we might not go down the same way thinking of the apostles on this matter, the corrective Jesus gives them is actually a really good corrective for us.
You see, we’re not expecting a restoration of Israel in the same manner as it was in King David’s day, but we certainly do come with expectation of what God should be doing now. What your expectations are might vary from one person to the next.
For some of you, your expectation may be to see the church regain the position it once had in society. For some of you it might be an expectation that Jesus speeds his return. Or maybe you have another expectation.
Whatever it is, what we see Jesus doing in verses 7 and 8 is to refocus our attention on what is important. You see, it’s not about dates and times, or may I add to that, buildings and programs. What is important is that we spread the love of Jesus to all around us.
He uses the word witnessing, which we often baulk at because we know it is code word for evangelism - and that’s just plain scary isn’t it?
But rather than getting scared by such words, think of it in terms of providing hope to those who desperately need some hope in their lives, or providing comfort to those who are hurting.
There is so much need in the world around us, both near and far, and we don’t need to go to a full on evangelistic course to know how to help, we just need to be ready to listen and share some of the hope that Jesus has given us.
As Christians we have a great tendency to over complicate things.
In part, I think this is why when I asked the question earlier of what it means to serve Jesus when he isn’t physically present, we struggle so much.

Paring things back

You see, part of our tendency is to see serving Jesus in quite concrete terms. If we are to serve Jesus then we need to do this that and the other thing. Sometimes however, these specific things have less to do with serving Jesus and more to do with our own preconceived ideas - some of which are better than others.
So I believe we are in great need of paring things back and just letting the love of Jesus shine through. Of course there will be buildings and programs that still happen, (that’s just the nature of how things work), but these should never become the focus rather, then focus should be on Jesus.

The Holy Spirit

Now while we are in verse 8, there is part of this phrase which I haven’t yet focussed on, but is actually vitally important to understanding this chapter, and indeed the whole book of Acts.
You see, verse 8 starts by saying - “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”
In fact, I’m going to suggest that this part of the verse is the key to understanding the issue I’ve raised today.
If you want to know anything about serving Jesus who isn’t physically present with us, then you need to know about the Holy Spirit.
That is because the Holy Spirit is the one that was sent by Jesus to be the one that would help, comfort and guide us through this time.
You see, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, only ever planned on having an earthly ministry for a set period of time, but as he left, he never intended that we do it alone, rather he would send the Holy Spirit for us.
Before when I mentioned that it is time we pare things back and just let the love of Jesus shine through, this is never to be done in some haphazzard way with no thoughts or cares placed in the way, rather it is done with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The ascension

Following this exchange between Jesus and the 11 disciples, we then read in verse 9 that before their very eyes, Jesus ascended into the clouds, with the disciples being stuck in their skyward gaze.
In verse 10, we’re snapped out of that gaze by two men dressed in white - quite obviously two angels come to provide perspective to these disciples.
And it is at this point that we get a clear reminder that though Jesus is physically gone from us now, that will not always be the case.
These angels say to the apostles - “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into haven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”.
Now this is a beautiful promise to us because when Jesus comes, everything will be different. All the pains and hurts you current feel, both physically and emotionally, will be gone. It will be like nothing we have ever experienced before.
We will no longer be living by faith, but the new reality will be before our very eyes and it will be undeniable.
When this day happens, the question of how we serve a Lord who is not physically present will be a question long forgotten because we will see him with our very eyes.
But that day still remains in the future, and as Jesus reminded us in verse 7, it is not about dates or times that we should concern ourselves with.
Therefore we still live in the preset day and we need to know how to live in it.

Ministry in this age

Well, this first half of this first chapter has laid some good ground work for us. As we saw the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we learnt that rather than being concerned about our preconceived ideas of how things should go from now, instead we should allow the Holy Spirit guide us, and allow Him to grow his kingdom on earth.
In the second half, we are then essentially given an example of this in practice.
Now, what’s actually interesting about this account is that if you know the book of Acts, then you’ll know that the giving of the Holy Spirit occurs in chapter 2, therefore this is occuring before that.
But what I believe is clear is that by no means represents the first time the Holy Spirit does anything on earth, but rather the time in which the Spirit makes himself known amongst a large number of people for the purposes of starting the church. Therefore, while this event I’m about to look at comes before this time, it is not fair to presuppose that the Holy Spirit is not involved, in fact, I think it is safe to say that this is an example of the Holy Spirit in action with his chosen people.

Choosing a new apostle

The occasion I’m talking about, is the occasion of choosing a new 12th apostle.
In verse 12 we’re told that the 11 remaining apostle come together. Now, I dare say you are aware of the Easter story and what happens to Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver before meeting his end - an end that we’re reminded about in verses 18 and 19 of this chapter.
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Now there is one verse here that is really easy to just jump over but is actually quite crucial, and that is verse 14. You see, as the remaining apostles gathered together, along with some other believers, we’re told that the joined together constantly in prayer.
Now this word ‘constantly’ certainly indicates that this was not just a one off - ‘oh, we should pray’, but rather something that characterised what they were doing.
But the rest of this passage should be read in the knowledge that what they are doing is covered in prayer.
You see, it is during this time of prayerfulness, that Peter, the effective leader of the group, stands up amongst the believers, (who were told numbers about 120 at this point), and starts talking about the replacement for Judas.
Now I don’t actually want to get too caught up in the specifics of the need to have a new apostle. It’s fascinating to consider, but actually not my main point now.
Rather I want to see this as an example of the messy-ness of ministry and an example of how we should go through it.
Or to bring it back to my earlier question, an example of how we can serve Jesus when he is no longer physically present.
You see, I’ve already mentioned that it starts with prayer, but then Peter directs them to the Scriptures.
Now he picks out two verses to support what he has to say. Now, you of course always have to be careful whenever you pluck verses from Scripture to support a case, because verses out of context can lead you very much astray.
But in this case, there are a few things Peter is doing to make sure his verses are not out of order.
Firstly, as already discussed it was covered in prayer - and I’d add that I believe the Holy Spirit is also present in guiding his use of it.
But secondly, and something that is not as obvious to us at first reading, he is actually quoting from a Psalm that Jesus himself quoted from to describe what he went through. In other words, he is taking the context from Jesus, which is always a safe bet.
The point I want to make with this brief look at this example, is that even with Jesus physically gone, we can still be totally dependent on him to take us through. In fact, we need to be totally dependent on him otherwise whatever we are doing will fail.
We can talk about all sorts of different ways in which we can do ministry, and for practical purposes, we need to have those conversations, but all of our ministry has to be led by the Spirit, because at the end of the day, this is how we are going to be dependent on Christ.
Unfortunately, it can become very easy to make our focus on the practicalities to the point that meeting these practical needs is our main aim.
Our focus quickly becomes about what we are doing and how we can improve. Once we start thinking like this, with Christ not even in the picture, we are going to go way off track.
The key is prayer, and without it we will be lost. We cannot do ministry without it.
By the end of the chapter, we see two men nominated to replace Judas. And in verse 24, we’re again reminded that they prayed.
Interestingly, verse 26 tells us they then used lots to decide who would be chosen - which just so happens to be the last time in the bible in which we see lots being used to decide something. To be honest, I don’t think the actual method of choosing is actually important, what is important is that the Holy Spirit was part of the process.
And so we see Matthias being the twelfth apostle. Interestingly, Matthias isn’t actually mentioned again throughout the book of Acts, and so we can wonder why we needed to see this little exchange, but I believe it was to show us that even in the midst of messy situations, and without Jesus around, we can still be dependent on Jesus to get us through.

Conclusion

As a church, we are now coming to a new year, but more than that, I think we can see exciting times ahead of us now.
In some ways, we are facing some of our own new beginnings. But as we move forward, it is very important that we remember that Jesus is still the head of our church, and that we must above all else be dependent on him.
This means as a church we must be prayerful in all we do and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through whatever may come.
Lets pray...
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