Ready or Not
Rodney Gehman – September 17, 2023
We are starting a brand new sermon series today, where we are planning to go through the book of Acts chapter by chapter, verse by verse for as long as it takes, which as I have things laid out right now, is the next two school years.
As we did with Luke, I would really love for you to have a copy of scripture in front of you each week, in your hands as we go through this. Some weeks will have huge chunks of scripture and I’ll ask you to read it on your own the week before. But please make plans to bring your Bibles for this series. If you need one, free free to grab one off the back table…that’s what they are there for. I’ll have some scripture on the screens, but I think this is done the best when you can interact with your own copy. Underline, highlight, etc.
We also want to try something we’ve never done during a preaching series. And that is, given some of the content of Acts, we’re going to push pause about every 3-4 weeks and do a response Sunday, where we stay a little longer on some of the topics we’ve come across. So if you have questions about something I said or something we read or talked about in the scripture, like: Do people still speak in tongues today? Do we still have apostles? Does God still drop dead people who lie to him? You can text me (directly or 97000), fill out a note and drop it in the offering box at the back. You can do that any Sunday through the whole series, then I’ll take your suggestions and my own questions and use the “response Sundays” to cover those. So, we’ll see how it goes!
If you are not already there, please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Acts.
As you’re turning there, My wife Jodi and I have four children, and we’ve taught 2 of them to drive…and we are working on the third. And one of the things you encourage a new driver to do when they get in the car is to adjust the seat, and put your seatbelt on, start the car…and then what’s next? THE RADIO! You gotta get your jam going! You can’t just leave without something to bob your head to.
But no, the next thing is you adjust your mirrors so you have a clear view of what’s behind you and around you. That’s pretty much how the book of Acts begins. So, today we’re going to spend time getting ourselves oriented to where we’re at in the story of Jesus, where we’re at in history, and let Luke adjust the rear view mirror so we have a clear view or reminders of where we’ve been.
So, you ready for this!? Alright, two years in this book together, here we go.
1 I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up… and I’m going to stop right there. That’s why this is going to take two years. There are a few things already that will help us understand the book of Acts:
- This is a personal letter.
- “I” wrote – who is the I? Christian tradition says Acts was written by a traveling doctor named Luke, who was with the Apostle Paul on several of his missionary trips in the New Testament. You’ll even see the pronouns change as we get later into the book where Luke starts saying “We” did this or that, indicating he is not just writing what he was told – he was there!
- Who is the letter addressed to? A guy named Theophilus. Theophilus is a Greek name, so we can safely assume this guy is not Jewish, he didn’t grow up in and around Yahweh or his word.
- Acts is part two. He says “I wrote the first narrative…” So what is Part 1? Part 1 is the book of Luke that we just came through. How do we know that? The gospel of Luke begins like this: …It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
- Why did Luke write these letters? In the intro to the book of Luke, he says he is writing to Theophilus for the purpose of him having certainty, of him being able to know for sure that the things he heard about were true. What things? The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people…Luke 24:19
- So we have the “who” – written by Luke, written to Theophilus
- We have the “what” – Acts is a second narrative that goes along with the first
- We have the “why” – so that Theo could know for sure that what he had heard about was true
- What about the “when”? Scholars don’t all agree on this, but a lot of them place the writing of both Luke and Acts around the year AD 62, about 30 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension. For us today, it would be as if Acts was written about something that happened in the 90’s. It wouldn’t be very difficult to discern if what is being written today is true or a lie, right? A lot of you were alive in the 90’s, and if not, you know someone who was. You would still have eyewitnesses, you can still research old documents, you can visit the scene, or whatever.
- That’s one of the things that gives us confidence that Luke is not just making things up – if Acts was fake news, it wouldn’t be very difficult to prove.
So, everything in the book of Luke was about what Jesus did and what he taught from his birth until his ascension.
- So, if part 1 is about what Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up, what would you naturally expect Part 2 to be about? What Jesus continues to do and teach, after he was taken up, right? Which means one thing: Luke wants Theophilus (and you and me, anyone else who would read this letter) to know that
- Jesus right now is alive and he’s actually doing great (Bock)! 1 Peter 3:22 says Jesus has gone into heaven and is seated at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. This is a huge part of the gospel!
- Jesus had been telling them all along that he was going away. He had gone off on his own before, to pray or whatever, maybe he visited family over the holidays, but he always returned to them pretty quickly. But now, watching him being carried up into heaven is a pretty clear sign to his disciples that this is what he meant when he said he’s going away. This time it’s going to be different.
- Another thing in the rearview mirror, there in verse 2, that Luke expects us to understand are the instructions that Jesus gave to the apostles. These apostles will be acting on those instructions.
Now the word “apostles” isn’t entirely new for us. We saw it a couple times in the book of Luke, first in Luke 6:13 where Jesus called all of his disciples, his students, his learners together… and he chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles. So Jesus had a lot of people following him from time to time, a lot of people he would refer to as his students, or people he was teaching, but he didn’t treat them all the same. Some he chose to be his inner circle, so to speak, and he gave them special authority and unique leadership roles.
We’re going to look a little closer at what the qualifications for being an apostle are next Sunday, so for right now, the question is, what were the instructions he had given through the Holy Spirit? Well a lot of those were given over our past four weeks in John this summer: Love one another as I have loved you; Establishing the Lord’s Supper – do this in remembrance of me; Go and make disciples, baptize them, teach them to observe everything I have commanded you; Proclaim repentance of sins to all nations, starting in Jerusalem
The mission that Jesus was on this earth to accomplish, he now passes on to his apostles. Then Luke adjusts the rearview mirror a little so you can see something else that is important, and that is, Acts is about the Gospel.
3 After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
You can see the pieces of the gospel here:
- Jesus’ suffering – We never move on from the cross.
- Presented himself alive – We never move on from the resurrection. This is where things will get really intense along the way. Belief in the resurrection, ironically, is what is going to get some Jesus-followers killed.
- Convincing proofs/appearing over 40 days – that word “convincing” means what you think it would mean: It means these are proofs that force a decision, especially for those who did not expect him to rise. Luke wants us to remember the convincing proofs that he wrote in Luke — that Jesus ate fish, they touched him, that he appeared to 500 people at one time, and so on.
- These three things are what the Apostle Paul considered most important to the gospel
- 1 Cor 15:3 – Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, the 12, over 500 people at once, to James and the other apostles, and then to me.
What may be surprising to find as we go along is that ⅓ of the book of Acts are sermons and speeches. And you’re going to see those three elements in those speeches pretty often.
THE HOLY SPIRIT PROMISED
4 While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said,“you have heard me speak about; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.”
While a lot of the book of Acts is sermons and speeches, another huge chunk of Acts is travel logs about who went where and what they did, we’re also going to talk about the Holy Spirit a lot.
Some folks were brought up to believe that the Spirit is the crazy uncle Eddie that shows up at Christmas and sort of throws things into chaos where we were all doing just fine. These people just sort of hope that if he does show up, that he doesn’t scare away all the guests.
Other people think the Trinity consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible, where the Spirit was also taken back up to heaven when the last Apostle died, and now that we have scripture, we don’t really need the Spirit to do much of anything.
Then there is another group of people who treat the Spirit as if He is all that matters…the Father and Son did their part, but now they are just kicking back in the throne room while the Holy Spirit is what it’s all about now. Jesus was great, but we’ve moved on to bigger and more powerful things: the Spirit is here now! Thank you pastor for preaching through Acts… NOW we’re getting to the good stuff.
And then, let’s just be honest, there are a whole bunch of us who are either in the middle somewhere or we admit we just don’t really know what we believe about the Spirit.
As we looked at over the past couple of weeks, Jesus promised the Counselor, the Advocate, the Helper, told us a lot about what the Spirit will do, but now uses a new word to describe what’s coming, by saying John baptized people with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Baptized.
John’s baptism was about repentance, about making yourself ready for God to come. Water baptism for John was symbolic of the washing away of the sin that separated us from God, it was about starting over in obedience, and committing to follow the LORD. But the baptism of the Spirit is not symbolic. It’s the real thing! John got you ready for God to come – Now he’s going to show up – In you.
But before you think God changed his mind about how he wanted to do things… you know, the law didn’t work too well, let's try a plan B… the coming of the Spirit was the plan all along, the same way Jesus was always the plan. Joel 2:28-32 (In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people…), Isaiah 32:15 (a Spirit from on high is poured out on us) 44:3 (I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants…)
The Holy Spirit isn’t even a New Testament concept. He was alive and well in the OT, filling and empowering people – usually prophets and kings – but now Jesus is opening that door to all believers!
When Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, it’s not about washing – it’s about a power coming on the disciples. And you’ll see these guys being filled by the Spirit again and again and again throughout their ministry.
Now the disciples still don’t quite understand how all of this works. Jesus is alive, and since he rose from the dead he apparently can’t be killed, not for long anyway, which is fantastic if you’re trying to make him king, AND he is promising them power, 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time? ”
So are you giving us the power to overthrow Rome now? Does this mean that all the promises of the kingdom from the Old Testament are coming true? Jeremiah 16 says that God will establish Israel as a light among the nations, that blessing will come where the harvest will be so bountiful that they won’t be able to get it all off the field before Spring, and all of their enemies are taken care of. So, Jesus, is this the end!? Is this when it all goes down? You can’t be killed, you’ll make a great king, and you’re giving us power… So, is now the time when everything comes to its fulfillment?
There are still a lot of people really concerned about this, asking the same question as the disciples: Are we in the end times? Are these the last days? Are we close to Jesus returning and restoring heaven and earth?
And I wonder if Jesus would say the same thing to us today that he said in verse 7 to the disciples: 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
Now, he doesn’t berate them for asking a dumb question. It’s not a dumb question to ask if we’re in the end times. It’s wisdom to be aware of what’s happening in the world. Jesus knows the disciples want to see Israel restored, and he knows that all believers want to see the world restored – no more pain, no more tears, we’ll be face to face with Jesus, sin and death gone forever… Jesus knows we’re eager for that. So it’s not a dumb question to ask, “are we close?” But Jesus simply says don’t worry about it. Don’t lose sleep over it. Don’t obsess over it. The Father has the authority to make that call when he is ready, and you can trust that he is good. You can trust him. So don’t worry about it.
But there is an assignment for you to do in the meantime. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
At the beginning of the year, I looked at this scripture and named the series “clothed with power” because that’s how the book of Luke ends, and then here again in verse 8 Jesus talks about power. So I had called the series “clothed with power.” But then the more I studied these verses, I decided to take that name away and just call the series “Acts” because the power we receive with the Holy Spirit is not the point. It’s the means, not the focus.
The power has a purpose, and the purpose of the power is to help the disciples be effective witnesses! To be a witness means you are someone who helps establish what is true, and you do it through verifiable evidence – that your story can be validated and proved.
For example, if a witness goes on the stand and says he saw the murderer come out of the Riverside Caseys at 3am carrying a breakfast pizza, that story carries no weight because in a matter of 2 clicks, or a phone call, you can learn that neither of the Riverside Caseys are open at 3am. So even if he says, well, it felt like 3am, his witness is unreliable.
A true witness’s story is either verifiable or it’s easily dismissed, and when you’re a witness to something like the resurrection of a dead person who claimed he was God, you had better have cold hard evidence, or they will book you a seat on the crazy train. And we’re going to watch all through the book of Acts, starting in Acts 2, as the power the Spirit gives to these apostles is what provides the evidence, and backs up their claim.
So what Luke is laying out for us, is that the assignment for these disciples – the reason Jesus chose them, called them, taught them, equipped them… the reason he will ask the Father to fill them with the gift of the Holy Spirit – the whole purpose of the book of Acts is to record with accuracy and detail the words and actions of these Spirit-empowered Apostles as they bear witness to the resurrection of Christ, and verse 8 gives them the road map for how this looks – starting at home in Jerusalem with people and a culture they know very well (that’s going to be chapters 1-7), then expanding regionally to include fellow Jews around Judea and across racial barriers into Samaria (that’s ch 8-11), and then into all the other cultures of the world (ch 11-28).
9 After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.”
- This same Jesus… who rescues us from the coming wrath; the same Jesus who will return the conquering king; the same Jesus who was born gentle and lowly; the same Jesus who will destroy his enemies; the same Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified by sinful men; the same Jesus who is resurrected and ascended to the highest throne of heaven, given the name that is above every name – That’s the Jesus you’re looking to see again some day. You don’t need to be guessing about babies born in Bethlehem anymore.
- You don’t need to be looking for another Messiah to come along the way and finish the job – no, THIS ONE is coming back with his angels in the glory of his Father to reward each person for what he has done, and will be marveled at by everyone who believes.
So here’s the mission for us today, coming off of a big vision Sunday last week – we are not called to stand around staring at the sky, trying to read the signs and guess if we’re in the end times. We’re not called to stand around staring at the sky asking Jesus to put someone else in our co-worker’s life so they come to Christ. We’re not called to stand around staring at the sky hoping Jesus magically reaches Riverside without me needing to get out of my comfort zone.
The same mission given to the disciples by Jesus continues to all believers: the mission to keep going into all the world, keep making disciples, keep baptizing them, keep teaching them to be followers of Jesus one step at a time, and to keep loving each other the way Jesus loved us.
The same mission still requires the same means. Every believer is still filled by the Holy Spirit the moment they believe the gospel; every believer is empowered for this mission with various spiritual gifts, and then needs to be baptized by the Spirit again and again and again and again as He empowers us to be effective witnesses locally, regionally, and globally.
- Why are you staring at the sky?
- Are you obsessing about the Lord’s return? Reading, planning, scheming, hoping you’ve figured out if we’re in the end times or not?
- Are you staring at the sky, hoping he’ll show up again and not need you to step out of your comfort zone in order for people to be saved?
- Maybe you’re staring at the sky because you’re just hoping to see some movement. Is God really real? Are you really there? Maybe it’s been a hard road for you and you’re doubting that God exists.
- As we saw today, the answer is yes! Jesus is alive and well, and he is still working – still leading, still guiding, still transforming hearts.
- You can call out to him by faith right now, and ask him to show himself to you. But the reality is, in Jesus, God already has shown himself to you. Your best opportunity to see if God is real or not is to do what the apostles did… obey his words. Trust him. And join yourself to a community of Jesus-followers who can help you lean in.
- Ask the Father to fill you (maybe for the first time, maybe for the 50th time) so that you can be an effective witness this week to people in your class, your work, your home, your city, etc.
Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 1998)
Darrell Bock, ACTS: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2007)