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Committed to Witness

Committed to Witness
7th March 2010

Committed to Witness

Passage: Acts 1:1 - 26

Acts 1
Committed to Witness

Previously …

Does anyone ever find there’s never anything you want to watch on TV?

You flick through, we’ve got more channels than ever now, but I just can’t find anything that I’d want to sit down and watch?
I know it’s kind of cool to say there’s nothing good on TV, like I’m more sophisticated than the next guy, like watching TV is beneath my highly cultivated tastes, But actually like to watch TV, I’d be quite happy to sit there and turn my brain to custard, it’s just not much on that appeals to me.
So what we do, or should I say, what I do, and Kathy just graciously tolerates, is just watch the few shows that I like on DVD, over and over again.
We’ve just started watching The West Wing for about the 6th time, and we’re just into season 2, so it won’t take us long to polish off all 7 seasons and then I’ll be back to complaining that there’s nothing for me to watch!
They’ve got a name for people like me, West Wing tragics, We’re called Wing Nuts, and my only consolation is that I reckon there are a few Wing Nuts here this morning, I’m pretty sure not the only one!

As with lots of other TV shows, at the beginning of each episode of The West Wing, one of the characters announces in voice-over “Previously on the West Wing” and then we’re shown a handful of clips from previous episodes.
And it’s not a random collection of clips, but scenes and dialogue from earlier episodes that form part of the storyline for this particular episode, so we get a glimpse of the issues and the stories that are going to feature in the next 40 minutes.
And so what I like to do, from that brief reminder of what’s gone on previously, is try and guess what this particular episode is going to be about!

As I said, I’m a West Wing tragic. And now that I’ve watched every episode about 6 times, that’s taken the guesswork out of it somewhat!
But the beginning of every episode of The West Wing, is quite similar to how the book of Acts begins.
In our Bibles, Acts is a separate book, like Genesis, or Mark, or Romans, But as you may know,  Acts is really Volume 2 of a 2 volume set. Luke’s gospel, his, biography, of Jesus, is Volume 1. Acts is Volume 2.
And Luke’s introduction to Acts, gives a brief overview of what’s happened in the story so far.

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.
We’re going to spend a number of weeks looking at Acts, so let’s make sure we understand what Luke has presented to us here, and the way to do that, is to take a look at the introduction in Luke’s gospel, because that sets up both part 1 and part 2.
If you’ve got a read church Bible, it’s on page 723
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.
There are a number of really interesting comments, just in those few verses,
Luke says many people have already written accounts, other accounts that we don’t know about,
He says the events of Jesus’ life happened “among us”, although Luke himself doesn’t seem to have been an eyewitnesses to them.
But there are 4 particularly significant statements that will help us understand the book of Acts.


Firstly, verse 1, the events Luke records in these 2 volumes aren’t just random, chance happenings, they are events that happened in fulfilment of what God had promised.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been, fulfilled among us,
Everything that God had said,
About knowing him,
About dwelling with his people,
About sin, forgiveness, sacrifice,
What it means to be God’s people, and how we get to be God’s people,
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ, 2 Corinthians 1:20
Theophilus, Luke’s first reader, we his, much later readers, can take great comfort in the fact that this account details the fulfillment of God’s plan. And that can be especially comforting when as we saw last week, some of these events, the crucifixion of Jesus, for example, look like they got away from God a bit. Surely that wasn’t how he planned it.
Nothing could be further from the truth,
The story of Jesus’ life, his ministry through the early church, is a story of God’s promises coming true.

It’s one thing for us to take that on board for the life of Jesus, but remember this introduction goes with both Luke and Acts, God fulfils his promises, through the church.

This is a group of people, through whom, and through being united with Christ, God fulfils his promises. I’m not going to unpack that for you, I’m just going to leave you with it as a thought!


The next thing Luke wants us to know about his account, is that it’s reliable.

Verse 3, what’s he done, he’s carefully investigated, everything from the beginning
The Greek word that Luke uses to describe his, thoroughness, means to read, to double-check, to cross reference, literally “to trace carefully”
Have you ever met someone who’s really into their family tree? And I don’t just mean, “hmm I wonder where my great grandparents lived”, I mean people who are really into it.
They “trace carefully”, they carefully investigate everything from the beginning. I know some people who are, completely into their family tree, and they’ve spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, “carefully investigating”, the history of their families.
Luke hasn’t included speculation,
He’s not just putting forward his own ideas, or taking a skeleton of truth and fleshing it out.

We can have great confidence, in the reliability of what Luke has recorded.


Thirdly, Luke and Acts are an orderly account. it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account

Now this doesn’t just mean that he starts at the beginning and finishes at the end, but that it’s logical.

He says “I haven’t told you everything, but I’ve included this, and this, and this, because together, they tell you something,
You don’t need to leave your brain at the door, to engage with this story, despite what Dawkins or Hitchens or whoever would have us believe

For certainty

And lastly then in verse 4, this little introduction concludes with Luke’s statement of purpose.  We know exactly why Luke bothered to sit down, to get two scrolls and write these book. It’s all so that this man, Theophilus, can be certain of the things he’s been taught.
it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, verse 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
We don’t know who Theophilus was, but, he’s heard something of the Christian message, and Luke want him to be able to have great confidence in that message.
The same goes for us. I suspect by the fact that you’re in this building, that you’ve heard something of the Christian message.
Well, as we spend the next 8 weeks looking at Acts,
That’s my hope and prayer for you. That in considering the work of the risen Lord Jesus in the very first weeks, and months, and years of the church,
That you might have great confidence in the message of Christ,
Great confidence in the sovereignty of God,
Great confidence in the promises of God.
I hope that gets us all on the same page, with Luke, as we come to the book of Acts.

It’s still about Jesus

So let me read the “previously” bit again,
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.

This is still about Jesus.

Luke is saying Jesus ministry didn’t finish with his death and resurrection, or even his ascension.
He’s saying, “I’m going to explain to you the continuing ministry of Jesus.
It was a man named Irenaeus, who was a bishop in France in the 2nd Century who first called this book “The Acts of the Apostles”.
It really should be called something like “Everything that Jesus continued to say and do after his ascension, through the church,  and by the power of the Holy Spirit!”
But of course that’s a bit of a mouthful, so we just call it “Acts”, but Jesus’ ministry continues.
So we know now, that this is going to be a story about Jesus,
We know it’s a continuation of the things that Jesus said and did during his life,
We know it’s an orderly account,
That it’s reliable,
Who know that God is fulfilling his promises, through these events.
Jesus is still leading and guiding his church,
Jesus is still speaking to his church,
Jesus is still drawing people to God.
As Augustine, a Christian leader in North Africa at the end of the 4th Century wrote, “Jesus departed, and behold he is here”

Acts is the story of the crucified and risen Jesus at work.
It’s so easy for us to think, “Oh, I wish Jesus would appear for us, physically, that would be much better than just having to read about him in the Bible and stuff.

But friends, we are no worse off because we live after Jesus’ ascension.

Jesus is still amongst us, and in fact we’re better off than those in Jesus’ time, because we have his Spirit with us always, and that’s a lesson the disciples are about to learn.
So let’s take a look at this opening section, and see how the message of Jesus continues to spread after his death and resurrection.

A question of priorities

And it seems that after everything, the disciples still haven’t really grasped Jesus’ mission.

When they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The great 16th Century Reformer John Calvin said of this verse “there are as many errors in the disciples question as there are words! which is perhaps a little bit harsh!
It’s not that they were completely ignorant, or had absolutely no reason to think that God’s kingdom might come in a completely new way.
Some of them, at least, had finally understood that Jesus was promised Messiah,
They’ve seen him suffer as they learned the Messiah must do,
He’s triumphed over death, and the great sign of the end of the world was that people would start coming back from the dead,
And they would have known that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was connected to the great Day of the Lord,
Maybe the end of all things is near!
It’s not that these things weren’t going to happen, but they weren’t going to happen quite like the disciples expected, and even then, the timing of God’s final actions in the world was not their concern.
Jesus says, “Your priority isn’t the when, I’ve got something much more important for you to invest in”
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.”
Number 1 priority:, Witness to Jesus.

Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the Earth.

Don’t worry about times, worry about how to use your time.
Is there still going to be a great last day, the final consequences of Christ’s victory over sin and death?

Absolutely! Jesus doesn’t deny any of that for a moment, in fact that expectation is even heightened here, because Jesus speaks not just in terms of the nation of Israel, but of the world.

No, let’s not water down the hope and longing for the day of Christ’s return,
But let’s make sure that we don’t get distracted by the details of that, and miss out on what Jesus says needs to be our priority until that point.
Because the priority that Jesus emphasises for his disciples, the task he entrusts to them, is initially to the 11 remaining disciples,
Then verse 15, there’s a hundred and 20 believers, this responsibility is passed on to them,
And then as the church grows, and we’ll see as we work our way through the book, the task of being Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the Earth, is a responsibility given to all of the church.
There are 22 instances of divine speech in the book of Acts, that is occasions where God the Father speaks, or Jesus, or an angel of the Lord, or a voice speaks from heaven. 22 times. Sixteen of those occasion are reminders to the church to keep on witnessing and reaching out to the ends of the earth!
Statistically, 73 percent of what God says directly to the church in Acts is about keeping them on this task.
It’s pretty clear that the church being a witness for Jesus is a big priority for God,
Not just the apostles,
Not just the leaders,
The church.

The regular people.
Which has got to mean something for us, doesn’t it?

If God is so determined, to use, the church, to be witnesses for Christ, we need to find a place within that
There are any number of things that can distract us from what God has said should be our priority.
I remember a conversation I had once with a lady in another church. She wasn’t someone who got caught up in mindless speculation about dates and times, She did really important work.

She cared for, and served as an advocate for, survivors of sexual abuse. And she was really good at it, a wonderfully compassionate lady.
But do you know what she told me? Because the need around her was so great, she told me that over time, her priorities had got all mixed up.
She was being a wonderful carer, but she’d forgotten about being a witness.
It’s not just the lunatic fringe who think that Jesus is coming back every other day, who need their priorities adjusted.
We who are involved in good, meaningful ministry, may also need to ask Jesus again “remind me of your priority your church”
And so by now, I hope the question is burning for you, what is it to be a witness for Jesus?

And the way we’ll answer that is by looking at what seem to be two essential parts of being a witness.
The power to witness and the words of witness.

The power to witness

Whatever it means to be Jesus’ witness, the disciples can’t begin it until they receive the gift that God has promised,  verse 4, Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised

And then once more, from verse 8 again, 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.
The power to witness comes from the Spirit of God.
I wonder, what do you think the disciples were expecting as they waited in Jerusalem?!
They would have known something of the way that the Spirit of God had empowered kings, and prophets and others in the Old Testament,
And they’d just spent the last 3 years with Jesus, he was full of the Spirit of God, so part of me wonders what they were expecting!
Because their situation is so different from ours isn’t it?

We don’t have to wait for the Holy Spirit to come! The Spirit is the gift of God to all believers, from Pentecost, from Acts chapter 2,
But the disciples are there when the day of promise, gives way to the day of fulfilment.  
It would be absolutely pointless to start this mission that Jesus had entrusted to them, without the Spirit of God.
The Spirit would give them strength, and boldness.

Some were given the ability to do miracles that pointed to Jesus’ defeat of sin and evil.

And what we see time and time again, is that Spirit would give these men words to speak,
Which is our last point:


When the Spirit comes on people, they testify to Jesus, it happens right through the book of Acts, Chapter 2, Peter at Pentecost, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapters 7 and 8, and so on, The witness the Spirit empowers, are words that speak of Jesus,
But we don’t even need to leave chapter 1 to find out about the words of witness.
End of the chapter, the disciples need someone who, verse 22 will become a witness with us of Jesus resurrection., and so in order to be able to witness to that, the person selected must 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.
What did they understand was their primary task? – To witness to the resurrection, that’s why the person chosen had to be an eyewitness of that!
Why not pick Joe Bloggs? If Joe Bloggs hadn’t personally encountered the resurrected Lord Jesus, he can’t fulfil the role of apostle, which is sharing that eyewitness testimony with others.
Generally speaking word apostle simply means “someone who is sent.” So if I was to send someone over to Kids’ Church to tell the leaders that it’s going to be a long sermon and they’d better have an extra 40 minutes of material prepared, that person who I sent next door would be, an apostle.
But Luke uses the word in a bit more defined sense, the apostles are those who were eye-witnesses of the risen Lord, and testify about him.
That’s the word of witness in the book of Acts. And we’ll see numerous examples of it over the coming weeks.

So what?

So what? What do we do with all of this?
Well, since it’s the Spirit of God who empowers the witness we read about in Acts, we know this is God’s Word. When Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, stands up in Jerusalem and talks about this Jesus as we’ll see next week, His words are inspired by God! He speaks God’s Word! You want to know what God thinks about Jesus! Read Acts chapter 2!
When Stephen, who we’re told, is “full of the Spirit” witnesses about Jesus and gives his defence of the Christian faith to the religious leaders. His summary of 2000 years of the history of God dealing with his people is, God’s Word!
You want to know how God thinks the people and events of the Old Testament point to Jesus?, Read Acts chapter 7.

This is God’s Word.
Acts is God’s Word for the church.
For the church today.

For this church, today
Acts chapter 1 says to us, Jesus still guides his church.
It says Jesus is involved in the life of his church.
It says to us, Jesus has a great priority for his church.
Luke says, through the church, God fulfils his promises,
Drawing people to himself,
Making himself known,
Saving people, from sin and death.
Is that what you think of this community? The people through whom God keeps his promises, because of the work of his son Jesus among us.

What a great message to have!