Sermon: The Unfinished Work of Christ (Acts 1:1-11)

The Unfinished Work of Jesus Christ

Acts 1:1-11

Introduction

As we begin our adventure together walking through the Book of Acts with Luke and the other Apostles, I wanted to take a few minutes to look at what Luke was trying to accomplish in writing his two volumes…Luke and Acts.

Title-

The title Acts or Acts of the Apostles was a later addition to Luke’s book.  In its original rendering it was not given a title.  Some have said that a more appropriate title might be The Acts of the Holy Spirit.  I believe, however, an even more fitting title would be The Further Acts of Jesus Christ.  I come to this based on the first verse of the Book.  Luke is relaying a reliable account of Jesus continuing the work that He began in The Gospel of Luke…1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  so the second book, namely, Acts is what Jesus continued to do and to teach through His apostles.
Time-

Most theologians give the Book of Acts a date between A.D. 62- which was the year Paul was released from Roman imprisonment and a late date of A.D. 96-based on the fact that Clement of Rome was familiar with the Book.[1]

I would give Acts an earlier date than 96, probably mid 60’s based on the issues of Paul’s returning to Jerusalem after each missionary Journey.  This would mean that Jerusalem would still be there to return home to.  So this would at least date Acts prior to A.D. 70.

Theme- The theme of the Book is seeing how Jesus’ command, Go into all the world and preach the Good News, beginning in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts, was accomplished.  One can literally use this command as the Table of Contents for the Book of Acts.  Jesus tells them, you will be My witnesses…it would happen!  Luke presents us with a travel log of the Great Commission.  He shows just how God’s will came to pass and also it encourages us to continue Jesus’ teaching and mission.

The setting at this point is the end of the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension back to Heaven.  We remember that in those forty days the disciples were shown repeatedly that Jesus was alive and that He wasn’t a spirit but has a glorified body.  He also taught them many things concerning Himself.  The bulk of His teaching during those days between resurrection and ascension were on the subject of the Kingdom of God.

Primary Claim of the Text

We must understand and proclaim the true Gospel of the Kingdom while guarding ourselves from distractions

Human Condition Met By the Text

The main reason I believe the Book of Acts is for us today and in the coming weeks is that like Theophilus, we too need to see that Jesus’ work is not finished.  He finished His redemptive work on the cross and even announced the fact before He died, It is finished.  However, His work of saving men, women, boys and girls is not finished.  The Kingdom of God began with the first coming of Christ but is not completed yet.  His followers must continue this work of sharing the Gospel with others.

The other issue we must always keep in mind is that before the disciples could carry the message of salvation to those who had not heard was that they needed an accurate understanding of the Gospel message themselves.  Many today are like the blind leading the blind.  We must know who Jesus is and what He has done before we can go and tell others.  If we say we don’t feel comfortable in sharing with others for whatever reason then we are a hindrance to the work of Christ and God’s Kingdom.  Jesus does not know of a disciple who will not carry forth His work.  If you have been a Christian for 6 months you should know enough about the Gospel to share it with others.

This is why it is so important for Husbands and Fathers to understand their role as leader of their homes.  Men, it is your responsibility to make sure every member of your family understands and is equipped to go and tell others.  We are given the responsibility and the task to equip our families.  Men you will give an account before God for your wives and children.   Our society is biblically illiterate and it is the fault of Fathers.  If Dads don’t know the truths of Scripture the family will not know them either.  However, just knowing them is not enough.  Fathers must share them with their wives and children.  Dads, you are to be the theologians of your home.  To fail in this is to fail as the head of your home.

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;
5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,
11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1. The Gospel to Affirm

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

 

Luke addresses this writing first and foremost to his friend who has further questions.  Theophilus means lover of God and his quest for truth is proof of his name.  In the Gospel of Luke, he is referred to as Most Excellent Theophilus, which lends itself to the belief that he was at some level, nobility or a political figure.  Luke uses the title Most Excellent to address other in Acts who are governors etc.

We must see that there is a Gospel to affirm.  It’s not whatever we formulate but it is an ancient message given by Jesus to His apostles.  This is the Gospel.  This ancient message cannot be toyed with or altered.  There is one and only one Gospel of Jesus Christ and we must know it and guard it so to keep it pure.

That’s why when we bring someone into membership at Grace Community Church, we ask them to share the Gospel in a minute or less, realizing that we are just getting a brief overview in one minute.

What is the Gospel???

All humans are sinners by birth and by deed.  We have inherited Adam’s sin nature and we also commit our own sins.

What are the consequences of this sin?

Romans 6:23 (ASV)
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Left to ourselves, all humans no matter how many good things they do are still sinners and will die an eternal death.

Jesus came to earth and lived as a human and did not sin.  He died on the cross so that by His death (which He did not earn as a wage) could be counted or accredited to us.

All who trust in Christ as the means that God uses to save lost sinners will be saved.  Jesus came from the Father and perfectly accomplished His mission to seek and save the lost.

Jesus did die according to the Scriptures and on the third day rose from the tomb, alive, according to the Scriptures.

John 17:3 (ESV)
3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
The reality is that if you know the Gospel, even briefly, you can tell others.

They had to understand the Gospel of the Kingdom…

Luke explains that there were many times during the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in which He appeared to His people…

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Luke affirms that there are many eyewitnesses of these events, all one needed to do was seek out one of them and ask…did Jesus really rise from the grave?  Did you really see Him walking around and did you really hear Him teach after He was murdered and after He rose?

The disciples had to believe that Jesus Christ was alive…

3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

If they are to preach the Kingdom of God like Jesus preached it, they needed to have complete confidence that He is alive.

They also needed a clear teaching about the Kingdom of God.  Luke tells us that during those forty days of Jesus teaching them after the resurrection that He taught them one subject…the Kingdom of God.  They needed a crash course on this Kingdom.  Jesus showed them from the OT just what the Kingdom is all about.

Just like the disciples, just having this knowledge is not enough.  We still need the Power to Go…

2. The Power to Go
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;
5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The power that they needed to be very bold and consistent in evangelism was the Holy Spirit.

Remember from Luke 24…

49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

What is this other promise of God that they were to wait for in Jerusalem?

Galatians 3:14 (ESV)
14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
God made a promise to Abraham that through him all the nations would receive a blessing.

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Because Paul identifies exactly what the promised blessing would be that Abraham received.  The OT prophecy given to Abraham was that through the death and resurrection of Jesus those among the Gentile nations who have faith in Christ would be blessed in that they would receive the Holy Spirit as well as believing Jews.

Jesus refers to another amazing account in verse 5.  He refers to John the Baptist.  John’s ministry was to get the people ready to hear the amazingly powerful authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ.  So, John would preach a very similar message and then he would do what Jesus would do, he would call on people to repent.  John would then teach them to live lives in accordance with the teaching of the Bible.  Next, John would baptize them.

Jesus’ ministry was similar but of course much more powerful.  He would preach the same message John preached…call on people to repent…call them to go and sin no more…Jesus didn’t baptize with water like John did.  John’s water baptism was a prophetic picture of the full Holy Spirit baptism Jesus would administer to His followers.  John’s baptism was called a baptism of repentance and pictured the real baptism, which would follow, coming from Jesus.

Mark 1:4-8 (ESV)
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The disciples were called to wait in Jerusalem until this Holy Spirit baptism took place.  This happened about ten days after the ascension.

Many believe Jesus’ mention of John the Baptist is a marker that when the Holy Spirit is poured out, baptized with, the New Testament or new covenant era of the church begins.  Now God will write His law on our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31).

3. A Weighty Misunderstanding

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
If there was one thing Jesus’ followers could not get straight was what He meant when He spoke and taught about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus meant one thing and they thought something else.

The Jews were always vividly conscious of being God’s chosen people.  They took that to mean they were destined for special privilege and for world-wide dominion…so the Jews began to look forward to a day when God would break directly into human history and establish that world sovereignty of which they dreamed.[2]

Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?

That’s what they asked.

Their misunderstanding had to do, again, with the type of Kingdom God was bringing about.

A. They were looking for a political kingdom

Notice that they use the verb, restore.  The real issue here is that the disciples were still thinking that God was going to restore Israel back to be a global superpower.  They thought that God’s plan was restore things back to the way they were during the time of David when Israel was the authority geographically and politically.  It would take the Holy Spirit working in the near future for them to overcome this idea.  It would take God working through the Gentiles before these Jews could get that straight.

B. They were looking for an ethnically restricted kingdom

Notice, they did not ask, are you going to restore the kingdom?  But, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel…literally, restore the kingdom to us Jews.  They were not forbidding Gentiles to come but they would have to come through their kingdom.  But they misunderstood.  God’s Kingdom is not the kingdom of Israel but a Kingdom of God.  One in which all people come and are accepted through the blood of Jesus Christ.

C. They were looking for a geographically restricted kingdom

Here, again, Gentiles are welcome to come to Jerusalem any time they want to.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t answer their question the way we might expect.  He did say, Really now, have we come to this point and you still don’t understand the nature of the Kingdom?  Notice also, Jesus did not deny the existence of an earthly kingdom.  There will some day be a literal earthly Kingdom when the Lord returns.  For them in the first century and for us and for all who live prior to the return of Christ, God’s Kingdom is spiritual. [3]

Luke 17:21 (ESV)
21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Some of their speculation is understandable.  They, no doubt, understood Ezekiel 36 and Joel 2 to be connected with the coming Kingdom.  Those texts talk about and connect the coming Kingdom with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so their question is not completely out of place.

There will be a time when God sets up a literal earthly Kingdom at the return of Christ.  So for now, Jesus had to steer them away from thinking that it was going to take place immediately.

Another reason they may have thought it was about to happen was what Jesus taught in Luke 17…

After all, Jesus told them that He had to be crucified first.

Luke 17:20-25 (ESV)
20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,
21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.
23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.
24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

They could be thinking that since the crucifixion had already taken place then perhaps now is the time for Israel to be the superpower.

They were still thinking Israel while God is thinking all tribes and tongues and nations…

That was their big mistake…in the question they ask, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?

The word translated restore is the Greek word apokathistémi

Definition: set up again, restore to its original position or condition; hence: I restore, give back.

A further definition: properly, restore back to original standing, i.e. that existed before a fall; re-establish, returning back to the (ultimate) ideal;

Their misunderstanding had to do with the fact that the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of King David and Solomon as glorious as it was, still was not God’s ultimate goal for His people.  God is going to restore His Kingdom and it is going to be far greater than any kingdom this world has ever known.  His purpose for sending Jesus Christ and His purpose in continuing Christ’s work through these Jewish disciples is to begin a new people a people not made up of Jew or Gentile but a new Israel…the Israel of God is not national Israel.  To restore this kingdom completely is to restore things back to pre-fall status.  Apokathistémi means to restore back to a pre-fall standing.  They thought that meant to restore the Kingdom of Israel, God intends something much greater.  He intends things to be back the way they were on planet earth prior to the fall.

God would use Jews to begin the mission.  These Jewish disciples needed help.  They needed to see things the way God saw them.  This would still take a little time.  What they needed was power to go and complete their mission.

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus’ response was, don’t worry about things that are forbidden for you to know such as timing and seasons of God’s realized earthly Kingdom.  You have work to do…get busy with what you know to be true and what you know to be your task.

John Calvin calls being caught up in the timing of these events A damnable curiosity.  When people get so caught up in thinking about the intricate details of eschatology they automatically loose focus on what they should be doing.  There is a sinful desire man has to search into things that are only for God to know.  Man’s desire is to know some deep secret of God’s that no one else knows.  His fallen desire is to be like God.  This always leads to heresy and a loss of the Gospel.  Study end-times as it’s clearly revealed in Scripture but be very cautious not to spend an overly amount of time speculating about this that are not intended for us to know.

That’s really what Jesus and the angels do in these next few verses.

4. Why Do You Stand Here Looking Up?

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,
11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

As Jesus finishes speaking about their task…He is lifted up into the sky and taken back to heaven.

While they are still looking up trying to get their last glimpse of Jesus, the two men, as Luke calls them speak.  These are angels as we can see from their shining white robes.  Perhaps these are the same angels the women saw in the tomb.  Jesus was announced to the world at His birth by angels and angels were there as He departed to God back to heaven.

Both Jesus and the angels remind the disciples that they have work to do.  Christianity is not a religion of theory and speculation.  They do not need to concern themselves with event that will take place in the future…but the time they need to redeem is the present.

Brothers and sister don’t get caught up in endless end-times speculation.  We must be concerned with the present.  Are you presently being a solid Gospel witness to your family and friends?  Are you obeying all the Bible tells you?

Don’t get caught gazing up into the sky daydreaming but get busy and do the work God has for you.  All of God’s plans will come to pass just as He has determined.

Primary Claim of the Text

We must understand and proclaim the true Gospel while guarding ourselves from distractions


[1] Acts, New Testament Commentary, Kistemaker, pg 21

[2] Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay pg 11

[3] Acts by James Boice

%d bloggers like this: