By Simon ManchesterSunday 4 Jun 2023Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
We thank you, our Heavenly Father, for bringing us to this new day. We thank you that you have, by your spirit caused the scriptures to be written. And we pray that by your gracious Spirit, you’d help us to receive your word this morning that it would illuminate our path and that we would walk faithfully in it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I cannot think of a more helpful and perfect passage for us than Acts Chapter one. This is a passage that tells us that there is a good and great king on the throne, a king who keeps his promises and a king who sends his Holy Spirit and enables his servants to bless the world.
Therefore, friends, I’m looking into this year with confidence, confidence in God. I’m not, an optimist, because optimists get easily disappointed. I’m not a pessimist, forgetting that God is wonderful, but I am trying to be a realist in light of the word of God. You remember? Jesus said in the world, you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, he said, For I have overcome the world and I want to suggest to you that Acts Chapter one will be a help to us. A compass, a light for our path.
We will always look back and miss some people. We’ll always look back wistfully to certain experiences. We’ll look back to privileges and opportunities that we’ve had. And, uh, some of us look back to our youth and wish we still had it. We’ll also always look forward with a certain amount of trepidation.
There will be concerns about health and family members and the church and the world. That’s inevitable. But Acts Chapter one gives us a rock to stand on. That’s what I want to look at with you this morning.
You will probably know that Luke wrote two New Testament books and actually wrote more words in the New Testament than anyone else. Just in those two books, uh, Volume One, which is called Luke, tells of the Lord Jesus from his coming at Bethlehem to his going at the Ascension,
And Volume two, which is called Acts, tells of Jesus Christ from his going and tells what he is at work doing until he’s coming. OK, let me say that again. The gospel of Luke from the coming to the going, the book of Acts from the going to the coming.
And of all the things that Luke could tell us as he begins Volume two, he’s not going to tell us everything Jesus did in the 40 days between the Resurrection and the ascension. But he does give us some key things, and I’ve got three quick points this morning for you. The first is the word we need today. The second is the king we serve today, and the third is the mission that we share today. First of all, the word that we need today Verses 1 to 8 of acts Chapter one. You’ll see in Verse three that Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples from the time of his coming back to life to his leaving the world.
We know some of the things that he did in those 40 days with people that he went and met with, including his half-brother James, groups of disciples that he met, with crowd that he met with.
We don’t know everything he did in the 40 days, 40 days is a proof, incidentally, that the resurrection was physical and not a dream, not an idea. Some people have said, Oh, Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. He just rose in the minds of his followers.
No, no, no. Jesus was physically around for 40 days and 40 days was a common time frame in the Bible. You think of the ark and the rain coming for 40 days? Or think of, uh, Moses up the mountain, getting the 10 Commandments for 40 days. Or think of the spies going into the promised land for 40 days. Or think of Jesus doing battle in the wilderness with the devil for 40 days.
But one thing that Jesus did do in the 40 days we’re told in verse four is he told the disciples, You will need the Holy Spirit.
You’ll need the Holy Spirit to do the work which I have for you to do. Stay in Jerusalem, said Jesus, until the Holy Spirit comes and the Holy Spirit came 10 days after he left. Now, if you think Jesus was exaggerating and the disciples could easily have done the work without the Holy Spirit just look at the stupid question that they ask in Verse six.
They say to Jesus Lord, are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel? John Calvin says. This question is so dopey. There are as many mistakes as there are words because you see, the disciples are asking Jesus The question of whether he’s going to once again make Israel great like the days of David. Will Israel become a national greatness?
Jesus, you see, is thinking forwards. He’s not thinking backwards. He’s thinking of not national Israel, but international people in the world. He’s not thinking local geographical. He’s thinking global. He’s not thinking of something quick, putting a king into Israel. He’s thinking of something progressive and continuous, seeing the gospel go out across the various boundaries of the world.
Of course, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the disciples suddenly had the lights go on and they realised what Jesus was talking about. But here before, the Holy Spirit has really come and illumined them. They are quite confused and backward looking. No, we need this word as well. We need to be told by the Lord Jesus that without the help of the Holy Spirit. We couldn’t possibly become Christians. We couldn’t possibly be reborn.
We couldn’t possibly grow. We couldn’t follow. We couldn’t serve. We couldn’t witness. We couldn’t do anything profitable at all. We need to know that our message is based on the resurrection of Jesus. Yes, he was alive for 40 days between resurrection and leaving, and we also need need to know that our message is a transforming message. It changes people’s lives.
As one great writer, F. F. Bruce, says, the disciples were interested in power, but their power was human and feeble. Christ’s power is divine and unstoppable. So when we make our plans different, especially as we think of this year, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that we can just do everything ourselves. You may know the story of the lady who decided that she would plan her life, and she decided that she would marry first a banker and then a ringmaster and then a makeup artist and then a funeral director. And when they asked her why she had made these plans, she said, Well, one for the money. One for the show, one to get ready and one to go. That’s the kind of crazy thinking that people come up with. I will plan my life. No, no, no. We need the Holy Spirit.
And if we don’t remember our dependence on God, we will fall on our face. And that’s why we have our prayer meeting because we need his help.
We cannot do the work left to ourselves. But the God who raised Jesus from the dead and the God who gives his Holy Spirit and keeps his promises will cause the kingdom to keep moving out. And where do we see the Kingdom of God? We see the Kingdom of God. Wherever a person acknowledges and serves the king. That’s where the kingdom is seen. It’s seen with people who acknowledge the king. That’s the first thing, the word we need today. Second, the king we serve today verses 9 to 12. This is where we come to the part where Jesus leaves the world, and Luke tells us three times that Jesus was taken up. It’s in Verse two. It’s in verse nine, and it’s in Verse 22.
He was taken up. The New Testament, of course, is full of references to the fact that Jesus is exalted, Enthroned, crowned, ruling in charge. But it’s only Luke who describes the going up in his gospel. He tells us in Luke, Chapter 24 Jesus left and in Acts Chapter one. He tells us that Jesus was taken up.
I want to confess to you that I find this miracle one of the most difficult to state publicly Jesus left the world.
And if you don’t think this is a difficulty, just imagine yourself walking into a hostile high school Scripture class and a boy putting his hand up and saying to you, Uh, where is your Jesus? And you say, Well, he rose. He rose from the grave, and then he rose from the earth. And the boy says, OK, tell us all. How did Jesus leave? And you say, Well, he just He just went up and the boy says, You know, like a rocket.
And the whole class laughs. Just imagine trying to state this in a hostile class or a hostile lecture room or a hostile conference does seem strange, doesn’t it? So here are some things which I think will help us to be confident about the ascension and grateful for the ascension what David Cook calls the coronation of Jesus. First, the 40 days had to come to an end. The 40 days had to come to an end. Jesus had promised that he would ascend or return.
He had prayed that he would return, and now the time had come for him to leave. Second, what was the best way for Jesus to leave the world and leave the disciples? Would it have been better if he had just vanished? Disappeared?
We know that his resurrection body was capable of just leaving and arriving. But as Jim Packer says, what would help the disciples know that he is being exalted to his throne? And the answer is obvious, isn’t it, that he would be raised in front of them?
Thirdly, the cloud in which Jesus is raised is very significant in the Bible, because the cloud is often a picture of the glory of God. Uh, when the temple was commissioned and opened, God’s presence came into the temple like a cloud. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, there was a cloud. When God led them through the wilderness, there was a cloud as we read in the first reading. When the son of man goes to his throne, there is the clout.
So this, um Cloud is a highly significant picture of Jesus receiving his glory. Fourthly, all miracles challenge normality. It’s the mark of a miracle, whether it’s the birth of Jesus or the feeding of the crowd, or the raising of the dead or the healing of the sick or the resurrection or the ascension.
The question when you come to a miracle is not. Is this normal? That’s the scientists question. The question is, Is this historical? Did this happen? Science should not dictate to history.
As Einstein once said to a group of scientists. Learn your limitations. So it’s a history issue. Did it happen? Fifth, great stress is laid in these verses on the eyewitnesses in verses 9 to 11, we’re told they saw this with their eyes. We’re told that they had their sight fixed on Jesus. We’re told that they were looking and twice looking and that they had seen him go and would see him come.
And there are two men there telling the disciples about this leaving and returning, just as there were two at the tomb explaining the resurrection. Sixth. This leaving of Jesus is a preview of his return. Just as he left the world, he will return to the world. That’s one of the great promises waiting to be fulfilled.
And seventh Jesus, who is God as man, is being given his place in glory at the Ascension. And we’re very glad because, as one writer says, this is the moment when Jesus is taken up and glorified, and this is the final assurance and the first fruits of our eternal salvation.
So don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about Jesus ascending. Just ask the person who may be critical. What could be better? What could be clearer? What could be more purposeful? What could be more helpful?
So there’s a king on the throne. Uh, somehow the son of God, who has not given up his flesh but has a resurrection body and is glorified, is controlling every detail of the world and somehow, with every believer in his world, I may have told you this before, but forgive me. I once went many, many, many years ago to Luna Park on the other side of the bridge and I remember walking in and there was a ride called the Octopus, and the Octopus had eight arms, and at the end of each arm was a sort of a carriage or a car. And there were about 10 people in each of these cars or carriages, and they were all screaming because the arms of the octopus were just flying randomly in all directions, and it looked like chaos. But quite nearby was a very calm man, sitting in a little booth with two buttons, one called start and one called stop, and he was in in complete control of what was happening.
And so it is with the Lord Jesus seated on the throne in complete control of the space and the time of his world so that Jesus is enthroned is very good news. The people who live in this suburb, who would tick the box of believing in God almost certainly don’t know who is on the throne. They almost certainly don’t know whether somebody good is on the throne.
They don’t know whether the person who is above is random, helpless, hostile. But when you know that it’s the person called Jesus from the New Testament sitting on the throne of heaven. You have very great cause for confidence, and that’s who is on the throne. So there’s the word we need Jesus, Rose, Holy Spirit. And there’s the king who we serve. And thirdly, there’s the mission we share in this last part of acts, Chapter one, which we didn’t read this morning. It interests Luke to tell us that the 11 disciples chose 1/12 to replace Judas. Luke gives 15 verses to the process of choosing 1/12 disciple to replace Judas.
What is even more important is that the 11 disciples firmly believe that Jesus, who’s left them, is still completely with them in the sense that they can talk to him. They can trust him. Uh, they can obey him.
In other words, they spend these verses dealing with Jesus. Now on his throne, we read in Verse 14. They were praying to him this was their language. Verse 24 Lord, you know everything.
They were talking to Jesus. They were reading Verse 16, the same scriptures that Jesus read how Judas would betray, and another disciple would be the chosen to replace him. In other words, they were copying Jesus in taking the Bible seriously, and then they were trusting Jesus. Verse 26. They cast a lot.
In other words, they rolled a dice. They flipped a coin because they believed that Jesus had complete control of the details and the outcome of the lot, or the dice or the coin. And so they left the decision to Jesus, and then they were obeying him Verse 26 because the one that he chose through the lot through the coin is the one that they included. And Matthias got the job.
You may be interested to know in passing that Judas is described in Matthew as having gone and hung himself. It seems tragically true that Judas throwing the coins back to the priests and saying I’ve done the wrong thing, went in complete despair with no hope whatsoever, and hung himself, and perhaps from that tree fell with regard to the replacement Matthias, the name of the church. Not far from us. You’ll notice that the replacement, according to verse 21 had to be a witness of Jesus, life, death, resurrection and ascension, somebody who saw everything and therefore the Apostle Paul, who many think should have been the 12th Apostle was not qualified to be this replacement. But Mathias was chosen obviously part of the group from the beginning.
And now the apostles are 12 again, and the Holy Spirit will soon come upon them. And they will begin to move out with great confidence crossing boundaries, bringing the gospel to the Jews, the Samaritans, the Gentiles and to all the world. Because Jesus on the throne is good at getting a team together to do the work. In every generation we’ve got linked missionaries Michael and Ray, who are getting ready to go in a few weeks time to Belgium to work in Belgium. But friends, they are praying for us because we have a mission here, which is the more difficult. Would you rather be working with the students on the campus of Belgium or here in the fairly hard and hostile world of the eastern suburbs?
I think I’d rather be in Belgium if I wanted an easy job. I don’t know what I’m talking about, but they are praying for us because we also have a mission to pass on the good news of Christ because Jesus is the ascended King looking after all the details. He’s the ascended high priest deeply interested in everything that’s going on in our lives.
And he’s the Ascended prophet, the one whose word is going out changing people across the face of the world. Well, in case you need a fresh voice to sort of enthuse you, I thought I’d read to you a few sentences from a recent article by Greg Sheridan, the um, the writer for the Australian and sometimes The Herald, who wrote, uh, a couple of weeks ago. Contemporary Christians have a readily accessible account of how the first Christians spread the gospel in a hostile, alien and comprehensively pagan culture.
It’s found in the acts of the apostles in the New Testament. It’s worth reading. It’s a bracing, uncompromising experience to read the book of acts. The message is repentance, redemption and resurrection that the world is over because Jesus has come with his message of repentance and love, and he has conquered death.
It’s also clear that Christian communities have an obligation to spread the message of Jesus not to compel to follow, but to preach to everyone, to make it available to everyone, even when it’s illegal. We see an act that Paul insists absolutely that Christ is physically risen and that everyone will rise from the dead eventually to the judgement. If that is not true, Paul says, we’ll eat, drink for tomorrow, we die. The alternative to belief is insatiable hedonism or lust for power.
When Jesus died on the cross, the apostles were terrified and could barely move out of their meeting room. After he rose from the dead, they became the bravest and most consequential force human history has seen. And they were able to do this because Jesus is the truth. The way they did it among cultures, more uncompromisingly hostile even than ours can teach us invaluable lessons. So, dear friends, let’s take heart from the first chapter of the Book of Acts. There is a king on the throne who’s great and good.
He’s given us his Holy Spirit to help us to do exactly what he asks us to do. And this same Lord Jesus is with us because he said, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age that’s bow heads and pray.
We thank you, our gracious God for this very precious word. We pray that you would give to us the great realism and confidence in the Risen King.
The help of your holy spirit. Usefulness in your service and great joy as we live as your people, we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.