April 7, 2024. Sermon Title: Studies in the Book of Acts: I

First Mennonite Church

April 7, 2024

Study in the Book of Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

Starting today, we will begin a study series in the book of Acts of the Apostles. We will be going over a selection of passages through the book to see how the Early Church carried out the ministry Jesus “began” (v. 1).

Here is a word about the author of the Book of Acts. When comparing the introductory words in both the Gospel According to Luke and Acts, we see that both books are addressed to the same reader: Theophilus. Also, in the opening words of Acts, its author makes a direct reference to “my former book,” which likely is the Gospel according to Luke. Therefore, it is believed that Luke wrote both the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts.

Luke’s opening words in Acts one, verse one, not only show the connection this new volume has with his previous work but also imply the intended goal of the new volume-the book of Acts. Luke writes: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .. As the contents of the book of Acts will show, Luke’s purpose is to show the continuation of what Jesus began to do and to teach. But this time, those deeds and teachings will be carried out by the apostles and through the church that will emerge from their ministry. It will show that Jesus’ work which began in Palestine will spread and reach to Rome, the imperial capital through the ministry of Paul. Through the book of Acts, Luke intends to show God’s presence but through the coming and empowering of the Holy Spirit after Jesus “had been taken up to heaven.”

So, both books: the Gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts of the Apostles are addressed to Theophilus. Theophilus was believed to be a wealthy patron who sponsored Luke in his quest to write “an orderly account” about Jesus and what followed after he had been taken up. Theophilus means “dear to God” or “lover of God.”

Regarding Luke, we only know that he was “the beloved physician (Col. 4:14), and a companion of Paul’s missionary tours as attested by the “we” passages (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 37:1-28:16). We also see Luke being present with Paul during his final imprisonment: “Only Luke is with me” (2Tim. 4:11).

In Luke’s first volume, which is the gospel of Luke, he tells the story of Jesus, beginning with his birth. In Luke’s account, Jesus’ birth happens through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit upon Mary. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon him (Luke 3:22) and leads him to the desert to be tempted (4:1). Also, during his inaugural speech, Jesus claims, “The Holy Spirit is upon me and has sent me to proclaim the good news, to heal and to release the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ compassion by reaching out to the least within his people. Of the four Gospels, Luke is the one who emphasizes the important role the Holy Spirit played in the lives of Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Jesus. As we will see further into our study, the Holy Spirit continued to play an important role in the ministry of the Apostle and the Early Church.

Let us go to our passage.

It is only Luke, here in Acts, who tells us that Jesus did not ascend into heaven soon after his resurrection. Luke tells us Jesus stayed on earth appearing to his disciples for a period of forty days. The purpose of this forty-day period was three-fold as described in verses 3-5 of Acts chapter one.

First of all, it had the purpose of convincing the disciples of the fact that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead in physical, bodily form (verse 3).

Throughout the book of Acts, the disciples made reference to Jesus as the resurrected Lord, with convincing force. Thus, we read in Acts 2:23, 24.

“This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”  And again in 3, 14, 15: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous one, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of Life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses” (see also 1:22; 4:2,10; 5:30-32; 7:56-60).

The fact that the disciples could later speak about Jesus’ resurrection shows that the ‘Many convincing proofs’ Jesus gave them truly persuaded them. Paul, in 1Corinthians 15, mentions that Jesus “appeared to many, including to a group of over 500 believers at one time.”

A second purpose of the forty-day period after the resurrection was to give clear instructions to his disciples on what to do next, especially in light of Jesus’ imminent departure.

“…And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4).

In Luke 24, we see that when Jesus appeared to his disciples “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (45-47). There was much that the disciples could not understand about the life and ministry of the Lord until after His death and resurrection. Now He could speak plainly of His work upon the cross and they could understand His teaching. But even now there were truths that they could not bear. Only after His departure, after the promised Holy Spirit came upon them, would they comprehend the great truths of the gospel. For this reason, Jesus commanded the disciples to wait until the promised Spirit was sent.

The third purpose of that forty-day encounters included the Lord’s clarification and correction of certain misconceptions his disciples still held about him.

“And so, when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’”

The disciples anticipated a literal and physical reign of our Lord upon the earth. They believed or wanted Jesus to establish an earthly reign in which he would be the new king. And although our Lord does not deny the coming of God’s Kingdom, He corrects their preoccupation about the timing of its establishment. Only the Father knows when it will come, Jesus tells them.

Again, this is a reminder and warning to us about not only the danger there is in calculating the date of the Lord’s return or the establishment of God’s rule on earth, but also regarding the obsession some have about the Lord’s coming or matters about “the end-times.” As Jesus showed, there is a task awaiting the disciples then and now. 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.”

After Jesus said these words, we read: he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

The ascension of Jesus was necessary for various reasons. The Holy Spirit would only come if Jesus goes back to the Father, as he said. In John 16, verse seven, Jesus said this to his disciples, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Therefore, the coming of the Holy Spirit multiplied the agents of proclamation to carry out the ministry Jesus began. As we will see further into our study, the Holy Spirit enabled the whole community of believers to become a force of witness. The power and effectiveness of God’s work carried out by Jesus alone was multiplied once the Holy Spirit came.

Jesus’ ascension is also the clearest indication that Jesus came from the Father. Therefore, even when he was crucified, both his resurrection and ascension proclaimed his victory over death and evil.

At Jesus’ disappearance in the sky, the disciples kept an intense gaze up trying to keep sight of him. We might not be able to fully understand the disciples’ action of looking so intensely up into the sky. But just imagine how they felt. They lost him the first time when he was arrested and saw his terrible death take place. Yet, during those forty days, Jesus proved to them he was alive, in flesh and bone again. At his ascension, they certainly did not want to lose him a second time. But as Jesus began to ascend, there was nothing they could do to hold him back, even when the sight was so beautiful and glorious. They were suddenly hypnotized by the sight; thus, at least they wanted to take it all in, even to the very last glance their eyes were possible to see. But suddenly two men dressed in white stood by them, “Men of Galilee,” they said, “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.”

With the ascension of Jesus comes the promise of his second coming, glorious and majestic. It is a promise yet to be fulfilled. But the day and the hour, nobody knows. So, we wait for it and seek to be always ready for that moment.

But in the meantime, both the long wait and the cares of daily life can make us forget not only this latent promise but more importantly the task we have been charged with. Jesus has also given us the task of being his disciples. But often we get distracted.

There is a word, which is not much in use today: acedia. Acedia, as described by Thomas Aquinas is “sadness at an interior or spiritual good.”[1] Acedia is the feeling of dread when faced with a certain task or the desire to distract oneself with something else to avoid it. As followers of Christ, we have been given the task of being Jesus’ witnesses. But that feeling of dread about speaking about the Lord to others prevents us from doing it. We rather talk about other things than share the good news of God’s salvation. We rather get distracted with other things, which even when they could be good things, distract us from the task we have been given.

We need to hear the promise afresh: 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.”

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “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.”

May we allow God’s Spirit to empower us to become the Lord’s witnesses. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] J. L. Aijian. The Noonday Demon in Our Distracted Age, Christian Century (Pastors Special Issue 2020) p. 13