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You Will Be My Witnesses

Date: Sep. 8, 2013

Author: Michael Mark

Acts 1:1-11

Key Verse: Acts 1:8

“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.”

Welcome to the study of Acts! The theme for this series is called “The Unstoppable Gospel.” As we make our way through the book of Acts, we will see how the gospel makes its way starting in Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, into all the ends of the earth through the Acts of the Apostles. But as you’ll see in the coming weeks, the title of the book could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. We just finished the book of Nehemiah last week, and we saw in the last chapter that he had to come back to Jerusalem to make some final reforms. The Israelites had made oaths not to marry foreign people, to honor the Sabbath day and not to neglect the house of God. It wasn’t long since Nehemiah left that the Israelites broke all of their oaths and fell back into sin. Unless Nehemiah intervened, they would have destroyed all of their work and even themselves. The apostles, in contrast were able to live faithful to God until the end of their lives, and through their work they have established the church which has grown and survived to this day, and will survive to the end of time. Though 500 years apart – both groups of people were sinners. What made the difference? It was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was not absent in the Old Testament, and had inspired a few people, like the judges, prophets and perhaps even Nehemiah, but it was not given in the full measure it is now after the work of Jesus Christ. This promise was first given to the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,” but is available to all who believe in Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son.

Let’s begin now with verses 1 and 2, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” The author of the book of Acts is Luke, who was a medical doctor (Col 4:14), a close companion of the apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:11, Phn 1:24), and a fine historian and writer. He is also the author of Luke’s gospel, and Acts is actually a sequel to that book. The date this book was written was determined mainly by the last chapter, ch. 28, where Paul is in house arrest in Rome, so this book was written some time in the early 60s in the first century. This is important to note because Luke was a first hand eyewitness to most of the events in Acts. It was also close enough to the death of Christ that he could speak to living witnesses who interacted with Jesus Christ directly.

Here is what Luke writes in the beginning of Luke 1:1-4, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses to the servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Theophilus (which means “lover of God”), may have been an influential and wealthy person, since he is addressed as “most excellent,” but he is also a disciple of Christ. He may have heard about the birth of Christ, the chosen one of God. He may have heard of the miracles he performed, or the parables he told. He may have heard of his death and resurrection – and all of this is good news – but now Luke authenticates the certainty and the true history of these things through careful investigation, organization and documentation of the facts concerning the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Why is all this important, you might ask? Because it shows that the Bible is reliable, authentic and historic. We consider many of the texts in the Bible to be thousands of years old, and between all those years it might have dramatically changed – but evidence shows that this is not the case. For the Old Testament, the earliest Hebrew copy of the text dated around 800 AD. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they were dated to the time of Jesus. The Greek copy of the Old Testament was dated around 200 BC. In a span of almost 1000 years between the texts, 95% of the texts were identical with only minor variations. With the New Testament, some of the earliest manuscripts date back to 125 AD. Compared with other historic and important works, the Scriptures have by far the most manuscripts between the 2nd and 15th century AD (between the year 200 and up to 1500, before the printing press began). In that span of time, there were 10 manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. There were 7 copies of Plato’s works, the famous Classical Greek philosopher, and 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad, which was the “Scriptures” of ancient Greece. The time span between the date these were written to the earliest manuscripts found were at least 500 years apart.

The New Testament, by contrast, has 24,000 manuscripts, with a time span of no more than 50 years between the date of writing and the earliest found manuscript. James White, a contemporary theologian, states that even between the two most extremely different copies of the New Testament, the differences still do not alter the fundamental message of the Bible. (http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/bibleorg.html) 2 Tim 3:16 says all Scripture is God-breathed, and we can see clearly above all other works in the world, the Bible has been divinely preserved throughout history. It is the most accurate, reliable, verifiable, authentic historic book in the world. It truly is the Word of God. When you read the Bible, and when you read Acts, you can be sure you are reading something very close to what the actual author originally wrote.

You’ve seen how Luke took great care to write an orderly account, and documents firsthand, eyewitness facts. You’ve seen how the Bible is the most reliable book in the world. Now see how Jesus proves his resurrection to his disciples. Verse 3 says, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The suffering this verse mentions was Jesus’ crucifixion and death. His disciples witnessed his death. He was dead for sure, and they even wrapped him in linen cloth with 75 lbs of spices (John 19:39) and put him in a tomb. But here Jesus shows that he was alive! He showed them the marks on his hands and feet. He let Thomas put his hand into his side where the spear stabbed him. He ate with his disciples – and to be sure they weren’t hallucinating and that it wasn’t their imaginations, he appeared to them at different times over the course of 40 days. For more than a month Jesus again walked and talked with them. He appeared to more than 500 disciples at a mountain in Galilee (1 Cor 15:6). Everyone saw clearly that Jesus had risen from the dead!

The resurrection of Christ is one of (if not the most) important events in history. I Cor 15:14 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” and in v.17,19 Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, your faith is useless, coming to church is useless – and if you believe in Christ and he has not been raised from the dead, you are a bunch of the saddest people on earth! But thank God, but praise be to God that he did indeed raise Jesus from the dead. That means death has been put to death. Christ finished his work here on earth. He came to die for our sins, and by his resurrection, it was a sign that God accepted his offering, and the debt of sin had been fully paid. Then, in great glory, in great triumph, with a great earthquake – Jesus emerges from the tomb victorious, he is raised in glory. Through Christ, our sins are forgiven. Through Christ, we have hope in everlasting life. Through Christ we are saved from judgment and eternal condemnation, because he rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is the gospel! This is the good news! This is the good news to all the world – proclaim it from the rooftops: Christ Jesus has risen from the grave! Repent, and believe the good news! Come to Christ, all you sinners! The gospel is fundamental to the book of Acts, and we find it right here in the third verse. The gospel is the foundation of the church that Jesus Christ has built.

Also notice in v.3, that he talks about the kingdom of God. These were his final 40 days on earth, and knowing that – the kingdom of God was probably one of the most important things he spoke about, as it is mentioned here. Actually, Jesus had been speaking about the kingdom of God all through his ministry. Early in Luke’s gospel, after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and all kinds of sick people after that until daybreak – he left and said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. (Luke 4:43)” When Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10, he says, “Heal the sick who are [in the town] and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Through all this we can see that the kingdom of God is not of this world. The kingdom of God is heaven, and in heaven, God is King – and Jesus is the Son of God, so he is also King. Christ Jesus is not only our Savior, but he is also our Lord and King. Can you believe, the prince of heaven laid down his life for you? How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure! Right now, the kingdom of God is in a separate place we cannot see, but one day soon, the kingdom of God will come to earth, and all of God’s enemies will be driven out.

Now that we have the foundation of the gospel, and the message of the kingdom – what is it that makes is such an unstoppable force? Who or what will drive these forward? The Holy Spirit is the power to spread the gospel. Look at v.4-5, “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Most of the apostles were from the region of Galilee, about 70 miles north of Jerusalem. Jesus was telling them to stay in a place that might not have been safe for them, and it was far from home – but he told them to wait for the gift. It might probably be like telling us to go to Detroit, don’t do anything yet, but wait there for the gift. Well, it better be a pretty good gift! (Just kidding). Fortunately though, this gift is the best gift anyone can ever receive. I would go to Jerusalem for this gift too, but fortunately, we don’t have to. But the disciples did.

This gift was the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus mentioned it before in John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” Wow … normally depending on the gift, it can last from a few days to a few years – but this gift will last forever. And this gift isn’t just an object – it’s not a material object or a spiritual object – it’s a person, and more than that, the Holy Spirit is God himself. Wow what a gift! That’s why the apostles could have so much power. That’s why anyone can have power. The gift we receive from God is God himself – His Holy Spirit. 2 Cor 1:21-22 says, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Now this is the gift that keeps on giving! As if we could need more than the gift of God himself, this gift is also a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Usually you would pay 2 months rent on your first month as a deposit, guaranteeing that you will rent with that owner. The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will save you and bring you to heaven. He gives himself as a deposit. That’s something we can’t even offer anyone else (like our landlords). And notice that this is a gift. It is free, as gifts should be. Otherwise it’s not a gift. Also, there’s nothing we can do to earn a gift, otherwise, it would not be a gift either. It is only by the grace of God that he gives us this gift.

Jesus said to them, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This was something that the people in the Old Testament, like in Nehemiah’s day didn’t have. I’m not sure if the prophets had an outpouring of the spirit in this measure either – but here Jesus is comparing John’s baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The apostles understood that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, where they were fully immersed in water. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was similar, but different. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not a baptism of repentance, but of renewal, regeneration and rebirth. The idea though, is that when we are baptized by the Spirit, we are fully immersed in the Spirit, we are fully covered by the Spirit.

Now let’s look at v.6, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” The Jews historically have been awaiting a Messiah to restore their political kingdom and make it a superpower. The Jews today are still awaiting a Messiah, although they missed the true Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the apostles were asking for something Jesus did not encourage them to ask for. He even taught the Pharisees, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’(Luke 17:20-21).” Seeing the resurrected Christ and his power, they may have been excited and hopeful again. They may have thought “This is it, the kingdom is coming and we’re his top disciples!” They may have been looking forward to a time of wealth, honor, perhaps ease. They can finally get back at those Pharisees for harassing poor fisherman (joke). But this is not what the Lord intended. He did not intend for the kingdom to come to Israel now.

Jesus answered them in v.7, “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” There are secret things of God that are just not for us to know, and it is not right for us to try know them. Many people have erroneously tried to calculate the exact date Christ will come again, or the exact date of the end of the world, with costly consequences. In a well known story, a retired radio broadcaster predicted the world would end May 21, 2011. Many people sold their homes, gave up their life savings and prepared for Christ’s return. When May 22 came by, people had lost fortunes and were utterly humiliated. Some people have dabbled in the occult, trying to find out their future, and visit psychics and tarot card readers. The Bible carries strong warnings against spiritists and mediums, and also visiting them. Here’s what we do know. We know that the Father does have a set date and time. There will be a time when Christ comes again. We also know that God has set these things by his own authority. God is in control. The world will not surprise God. It will not suddenly break down and God will need to try to figure out what happened. He has set a time for everything, and everything will go according to his will.

The apostles were not to know the times and dates set by the Father, there was something far more important. Jesus corrects their understanding and tells them what they need in v.7-8. Can we all please read v.8 together: “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.” The apostle should not expect to enjoy worldly ease, wealth, riches or honor – but they would need to take part in building the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. They were to expect hardships, trials, afflictions, persecution and suffering. Who can endure this? It doesn’t sound like fun right? But that’s why they needed power. That’s why we need power. The Lord does and he will give us power and strength when we need it.

Here’s a preview of what the apostles did. On the day of Pentecost, 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles happened to be in one place. There was a sound like the blowing of a violent wind, and what seemed to be tongues of fire separated and rested on each of them. They began to speak in tongues, and people from every nation were able to hear them declare the wonders of God in their own native language. They stood there bewildered. They were scared, something strange was going one. Peter, the apostle who denied Jesus 3 times out of fear, was empowered with courage to speak the gospel and 3000 people were swept into the kingdom of God. They were given strength to oppose their enemies, as they told the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than human beings.” They were flogged, but they went away rejoicing because they were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for his name.

Again, Jesus says in v.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.” (This is the outline of the book of Acts: the apostles are in Jerusalem in Ch. 1-7, then are persecuted and spread to Judea and Samaria in Ch.8-12, and they are off to the ends of the earth in Ch. 13-28). Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.” The meaning here is that when the Holy Spirit comes on us, we become witnesses. It’s more a statement of fact, than a command. We witness Christ’s power in our own lives. We see the truth – that we are sinners, deep to the core, born in sin. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We see this world marred by the curse of sin. But we see Christ, who opens our eyes to the truth. Who came down to die so that our sins may be forgiven. We experience the forgiveness in our hearts and the freedom from sin. We are witnesses to Christ’s salvation.

We are witnesses to others – that Christ is Lord over our lives. We show it by living holy lives. We show it by our actions. We serve as witnesses when we testify to others and tell them about Christ. For all this we need the power of the Holy Spirit. There is a story in John of a man who was blind from birth, and Jesus healed him. The Pharisees were enraged because a healing took place on the Sabbath, and they questioned the man and his parents. The parents answered “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him, he is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who decided anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. So they summoned the man born blind, and questioned him, and hurled insults at him. So he said, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from god, he could do nothing.” Though the Holy Spirit was not sent yet, he was touched by Jesus – and what he witnessed he could not deny. His parents were afraid to witness, but because he witnessed what Jesus had done. He could not help but witness, and God gave him strength. We will need strength to witness, but the Holy Spirit will give us everything we need. The Holy Spirit will illuminate our minds, he will console our hearts, he will show us the things of God, so then it will be hard to deny God. Just like the blind man. He could not say “I don’t know who healed me,” because his eyes were open and definitely Jesus healed him.

After Jesus had said this what happened next? Can we all look at v.9, “After he had said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Jesus was taken up in a cloud. It was a glorious scene. He had appeared to the disciples over the course of 40 days, and within these 40 days he kind of came and went. Sometimes he appeared in a room and then he disappeared. But he just appeared and vanished. Sometimes he would walk into a room, and leave. But this time our Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up from the ground. I don’t know if he was lifted up on his own accord or if he was lifted by angels. In the beginning of Luke, the angels came and announced his birth and sang. It’s possible that the angels would also celebrate his ascension into heaven. And what else? A cloud just enveloped him, surrounded him. When he was visiting his disciples for the other 40 days a cloud didn’t just come around him and he disappeared, but this time a cloud enveloped him and he disappeared before their sight.

It was an amazing sight, it was a glorious sight! How did the disciples react to this? Look at v. 10 “They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.” Now what is the significance of Jesus’ ascension? His disciples saw him go up. The significance of Jesus ascension proves that everything that Jesus taught was true: that he was sent by God, that he is the Son of God, and that he is returning to the Father just as he told his disciples. His ascension proves that Jesus is God and that he is our Lord and our King. He told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matt 28:18)” So he ascended to sit at the right hand of God, and he continues his work to this day. Jesus is living and he continues to build his church to this day.   What else makes his ascension significant? That he is our Mediator, he is our High Priest. Jesus lives forever to pray for us, to intercede for us. Jesus is on the throne and every day Jesus prays for you and me. And what else is significant? He sends his Holy Spirit. He promised that he would send his Holy Spirit (John 14:16, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5). Christ died for us and he is in Heaven as a priest. And the Holy Spirit comes down to fill us. Why did Christ have to die for us before he could send his Holy Spirit to fill us? Because our sins needed to be cleansd and atoned for. If you had a dirty cup would you fill it with water? If you found an old used cup in the sink would you pour it all out and start drinking in it immediately? Usually not, you would clean the inside of the cup first. And this is an analogy of why Jesus had to die first and then send us the Holy Spirit.

Now they were looking up into the sky. They were dazed and they were confused. Could you imagine the scene, they were just staring at the sky… “(imaginary) Matthew, do you think he’s coming back…(Matthew:) I dunno… what do you think Peter? (Picture Peter wide mouth, jaw dropping, amazed). But suddenly, a surprise! 2 men dressed in white like lightning, came suddenly among them. And what did they say to them? They said in .v 11 – “Men of Galilee (so they knew the apostles), why do you stand here looking into the sky? this same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” This same Jesus who you see - ascended into heaven. He ascended physically, he ascended visibly, he ascended in a cloud of glory. And he will come back in the same way he went up: Jesus will come back physically, he will come back visibly, and he will come back in a great cloud of glory. We all know that “Days of Elijah” song right? “Behold he comes, riding on the clouds,” that’s kind of the picture there. Jesus will come back. And the angel’s words also were a little bit of a warning and a rebuke to the apostles: Not to just gaze up in the sky and stare, but to go and witness!

Think again about the disciples. They loved Jesus. They spent 3 years with him. And now they saw Jesus going up. Maybe John even had a little tear in his eye as he was going up J   But to hear the news that Jesus will come back brings them great hope and brings them great joy. Jesus will come back. What does that mean for us? It can mean 2 things – and it depends on whether you are a believer or if you are a non-believer. If you’re a non-believer, Jesus will come back as a judge for the judgment on your sins. On the 2nd coming of Christ, all the dead will be raised form the dead and they will stand before the throne of god to be judged and to be condemned because they did not accept the righteousness that is from God. But what about the believer? What about the apostles the disciples of Christ? Those who look forward to his coming? He will take you up as his bride. He will sweep you away! You will meet him in the air. You will go to the room that he has prepared for you (John 14:2). And you will be clothed in white. Maybe in these lightning clothes like the angels! And you will reign and you will rule forever with Christ. That’s what the believer can look forward to when Christ comes again. The apostles were jumping the gun a little bit when they asked “Will the kingdom of Israel come right now? But at this time they were not to rule and reign over the kingdom , but they were to be witnesses. They were to suffer for the sake of the elect. They were to suffer so that they could bring people into the kingdom of Christ. They wouldn’t have to be alone though. The Holy Spirit would help them. Now what happens when God’s set time is completed? When God’s set time has been fulfilled and He comes again and He takes up His church? They will be rewarded. They will rule with him. That will be the time, but now is the time to witness, now is the time to preach the gospel, and now is the time to seek and to save the lost.

Through the Holy Spirit the gospel is unstoppable. As we will see in the book of Acts, God used sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ to be witnesses of the truth through the Holy Spirit from Jerusalem. And he sent them out to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. May you be filled with the Holy Spirit of God and hear the call, “You will be my witnesses.” What a great honor it is to be a witness to God! Because when you are a witness of Christ, you are a witness of the truth, you are a witness of the gospel. You are a witness of the good news and you bring the good news to others. You are not alone; but the Holy Spirit is with you, and when Christ comes again, you shall be taken up to heaven and receive eternal life.

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From This Day on I Will Bless You

Haggai 2:1-23

Key Verse: 2:19b

Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”

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