I hate working on cars, but sometimes I do it to save money. Invariably, I get to a point where it is impossible to do the job without some special tool. Recently, I had to replace a power door lock on my car. A guy working at the parts department at the Chevy dealer told me that you could pry the panel around the lock off easily with a screwdriver. He lied. The panel was held on by some clips that had to be removed from the inside. I later discovered that to get to these clips, you need a special tool. Some design engineer in Detroit, making six figures a year, devoting his entire time to designing a door panel with a part behind it that invariably will break, makes it impossible to fix without a special tool! It’s frustrating to try to do a job without the proper tools.
When our Lord left this earth, He gave the disciples (that includes us) a daunting task: to proclaim the good news of repentance for forgiveness of sins to the entire world (Luke 24:47). As we saw last week, the church is to continue to do and teach what Jesus began. But Jesus did not leave us without the tools that we need to do the job. Our text reveals four essential tools for doing Jesus’ work:
To do Jesus’ work, the church must have a solid foundation, sufficient power, a sharp focus, and a sure hope.
The solid foundation consists of the resurrection of Jesus and the message of His kingdom (1:3). The sufficient power is that of the Holy Spirit (1:4-5, 8). The sharp focus is the Great Commission (1:6-8). The sure hope is the second coming of Jesus Christ (1:9-11).
Luke emphasizes the factuality of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that He gave to His disciples over the 40-day period between His resurrection and ascension. This is the only verse that tells us how long this period was. Jesus gave the disciples “many convincing proofs.” One proof was the visual: He presented Himself alive. He appeared repeatedly to them. If it had only been one occasion, we could perhaps conclude that it was a vision or mass hallucination. But there were multiple appearances, some to individuals, some to the whole group, and not on one day only, but over 40 days. Furthermore, there was the proof of His teaching them. As Luke 24:45 puts it, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Besides this, He ate with them (“gathered together,” 1:4, may have the nuance of eating together). They knew that He was not a phantom when they saw Him eat a piece of broiled fish in their presence (Luke 24:42-43).
The bodily resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. If He is not risen, our faith is in vain. We may as well become hedonists (1 Cor. 15:17, 19, 32). Jesus’ bodily resurrection proves His deity and it is our guarantee that God accepted Jesus’ death as the satisfactory payment for our sins. Jesus had claimed before His death that He would be raised. He claimed to be one with the Father, so much so that He could say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If Jesus were not God, then these claims were blasphemy. God would not have raised a blasphemer from the dead. But God raised Jesus, proving His deity. Since Jesus is God, everything He taught was true. Thus we can and must trust and obey His teaching. What did Jesus teach?
He spoke to the disciples “of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (1:3). The word “kingdom” occurs over 40 times in Luke’s Gospel and 8 times in Acts (here, 1:6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). Some would limit this to the future Millennial Kingdom, but I think that while it includes this, it also is broader than this. It refers to God’s sovereign rule over all that is (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32), and more specifically, to the realm where He actually rules. In the latter sense, God’s kingdom was manifested through His elect nation, Israel, to the degree that they followed His covenant laws. This reached its apex under the reign of David and the early reign of Solomon, who were types of the reign of Messiah the King. The kingdom was present in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 17:21). In the present age, the kingdom is spiritually manifested when Christ reigns in the hearts of His people, the church. But there is a future sense in which His kingdom will come in fulness and power when the King returns to judge the world and to reign on the throne of David.
When Jesus began to preach the gospel, Mark 1:15 summarizes His message as, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” There are some who would divorce the message of the gospel from the message of the kingdom. In other words, they say that you can accept Jesus as your Savior, but you do not have to accept Him as Lord until later, and even then it is optional! They also teach that repentance is not necessary to be saved; the only requirement is to believe in Jesus. But the Bible clearly connects repentance, faith, and the lordship (or kingship) of Jesus with the gospel.
Paul preached to the intellectual Athenians, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). He reasoned with the Jews and sought to persuade them about the kingdom of God (19:8). He summed up his ministry as going about preaching the kingdom (20:25). He wasn’t discussing nuances of Bible prophecy. He was preaching the rightful lordship of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, and returning in power and glory to judge the earth and rule in righteousness. He was urging his hearers to repent of their sins and submit to Jesus as King before they faced Him as judge.
Thus the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the message about His kingdom rule are the foundation of our work for the Lord. We must proclaim to people that Jesus died for their sins, that He was raised from the dead, that He now sits at the right hand of God, and that He is coming again in power to reign over all the earth.
The disciples still seemed to be thinking in terms of political power, of Jesus restoring Israel’s power as an earthly kingdom. Jesus did not correct them by saying, “Don’t you guys get it yet? My kingdom is not and never will be on this earth.” Someday Jesus will restore the kingdom to Israel. If the disciples had been mistaken on this crucial matter, surely Jesus would have corrected them here before He ascended. What Jesus corrected was not the fact of His future rule over Israel, but rather their desire to know the timing of it. Instead, He emphasized their need for spiritual power to accomplish the task that He was giving them, of being His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which they had heard from Him (John 14-16). The Pentecostals teach that we need to wait for a dramatic experience with the Holy Spirit, which they call the baptism of the Spirit. But they fail to see that Pentecost was a unique, sovereign act of God in history. The reason Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem was that in God’s timetable, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was to coincide with the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, was a time for Israel to offer to God the first fruits of their harvest (Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12). By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus became the first fruits of those who have died (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Through the new birth, brought about by the Holy Spirit, we become the first fruits of His creation (James 1:18).
Before the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered many of God’s people, but He did not permanently indwell every believer (Exod. 31:3; Ps. 51:11). John the Baptist had prophesied that Jesus would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16; John 1:33). The word “baptize” meant to immerse a person in water or to deluge him with it (I. Howard Marshall, Acts [IVP/ Eerdmans], p. 58). It has the main meaning of being totally identified with something, in this case, the Holy Spirit. The passive “be baptized with” indicates that God did the baptizing; the disciples merely received it. With reference to sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus told the disciples that the Spirit “abides with you, and will be in you” (John 14:17). On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples received the permanent indwelling of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
In the Book of Acts, this initial reception of the Spirit’s indwelling follows the pattern of Acts 1:8. In Acts 2, the believers in Jerusalem receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8 and 10, the new believers in Judea and Samaria receive the Spirit. In Acts 19, believers in Ephesus (the remotest parts of the earth) receive the Spirit. Since then, every Christian receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 3:2-5).
But although every Christian has received the Spirit, we still need continually and repeatedly to be filled with or controlled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This is also referred to as walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and it results in the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, rather than the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-23). The power of the Spirit that we need for witnessing is not just the power to speak the gospel boldly and clearly. We also need the Spirit’s power to live holy lives. Our godly lives are the foundation for our verbal witness. If you are not denying ungodly lusts and growing in holiness (Titus 2:12), then please do not tell anyone that you are a Christian, because your life will bring disgrace to the name of Christ. I am not saying that you must be perfect before you bear witness. I am saying that you must be walking in the Holy Spirit, seeking to please God with your life, and forsaking all known sin.
The power for verbal witness is not identical with being an effective salesman. An effective salesman may be able to talk someone into making a decision for Christ, but only God can impart new life to a dead sinner. We need to be clear and persuasive when we present the facts about Christ and the gospel, but the power to save a sinner lies with the Holy Spirit, not with us. Thus we cannot witness effectively for Christ unless we rely upon the Holy Spirit to produce godliness in our daily lives and to use our verbal witness as we have opportunity.
Thus, to do Jesus’ work, we need the solid foundation of Jesus’ resurrection and the message of His kingdom. We need the sufficient power of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples ask Jesus if it is at this time that He is restoring the kingdom to Israel. He replies, in a nice way, “That’s none of your business. Your job is to be My witnesses in every part of the world.” In other words, our focus is not to be on prophetic timetables, but on the Great Commission.
Commentators are quick to jump on the disciples for focusing on the earthly kingdom of Israel, whereas Jesus’ focus was on His spiritual kingdom. But this is to miss the point. Jesus did not correct the notion that He would someday restore the kingdom to Israel. He corrected their concern about when it would happen. He redirected their focus to the great task of the present age, to bear witness of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
Donald Grey Barnhouse calls the amillennial view (that God is through with the Jews as a people and that there will not be a future kingdom on earth) “one of the greatest heresies that men can promulgate” (Acts [Zondervan], p. 20). On the other side, I read this week from a web site called “Dispensational Dementia,” that dispensationalism is a terrible heresy that denies the gospel. I think that both Barnhouse and the anti-dispensationalists are greatly overstating their criticisms! There are godly Bible scholars who hold to all of the major views (pre-, post-, and a-millennial) of Bible prophecy. As long as they affirm the bodily second coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory, there is room for difference of opinion, and we must be charitable to those who disagree with us. While it is both necessary and profitable to study the prophetic portions of Scripture and to try to fit them into a consistent eschatology, we need to take heed to our Lord’s warning here. We should not get so caught up with our views of prophecy that we neglect the clear mandate of the Great Commission.
Jesus says that it is not for us to know the times or epochs. Times is the Greek word chronos, and refers to any length of time. It includes the other word, kairos, which means opportune moments or critical, epoch-making periods (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 211). Thus the Reformation or the great missionary movement of the past 200 years would be “epochs.” All such movements are already fixed by the Father by His own authority. This should give us great comfort, not only that history is under God’s sovereign control and plan, but that it is the Father who is our Sovereign! Thus whether we live in an age of intense persecution for our faith or in an age of revival, we can know that the loving Father is in sovereign control.
Note also that our witness must extend towards people that our culture (and even we, by virtue of being raised in our culture) may despise. The disciples were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been rejected and brutally, unjustly killed. They were also to bear witness in Samaria. The Jews hated the Samaritans and vice versa! But they were to go into Samaria. Beyond that, they were to go to the remotest parts of the earth. Perhaps the disciples at first thought that they were to go to the Jews who were scattered abroad. But they soon learned that the same gospel that converts Jews works on Gentiles! Even so, we must take the gospel to people we may not naturally like or be drawn to, remembering that it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
One final observation on verse 8: the disciples were to be Christ’s witnesses. Is this a command or a prophecy? Both! There is a sense in which every Christian is a witness. The question is, are we effective witnesses or are we a hindrance to the cause of Christ? The word “witness” is a major theme in Acts, occurring 39 times. Since it is the Lord’s command and since we cannot escape being witnesses of some sort, it behooves us to seek by our godly lives and by our clear verbal witness to bring glory to Jesus Christ.
Thus to do Jesus’ work, we need the tools of a solid foundation in the resurrection of Jesus and the message of His kingdom. We need the sufficient power of the Holy Spirit. We need the sharp focus of the Great Commission.
Luke succinctly repeats the story of Jesus’ ascension, which he told at the end of his gospel. The cloud that received Jesus out of their sight was probably the Shekinah glory of God. As the disciples, quite naturally, stood gazing up into the sky at this unusual sight, two men in white clothing, probably angels, suddenly stood beside them and in effect said, “Quit gazing into heaven and get on with what Jesus told you to do. He will return in just the same way as you saw Him leave, bodily, with power and glory.” Thus the certainty of Jesus’ ascension as witnessed by the apostles guarantees the certainty of His bodily return. If we know for sure that Jesus is coming back, we will be obedient to the work He gave us to do.
Before He comes, the gospel must first be preached to all the nations (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10). Our ability to carry out the Lord’s missionary mandate depends on the fact that Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, where He possesses all power and authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:19-23). As we saw when we studied Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24, it not only means that He has all power and authority, but also that He has made one offering for sins for all time (Heb. 10:12-13). Thus we can confidently proclaim forgiveness of sins in His name to everyone who repents and believes in Him. His place at the Father’s right hand also means that He is interceding for His saints. Thus we can be assured of His care for us when we suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel. The fact that He is coming again and we must give an account to Him should also motivate us to be faithful to the mission He has entrusted to us.
To carry on Jesus’ work, He has left us with these tools: (1) the solid foundation of His resurrection and the message of His kingdom; (2) the sufficient power of His Holy Spirit; (3) the sharp focus of the Great Commission; and, (4) the sure hope of His coming again. They are simple and yet powerfully effective tools.
In 1941, the great Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, spoke to a large audience of students at an Anglican church in Oxford. He preached to them as he would have preached anywhere else. After the meeting, it was announced that if anyone had questions, they could come to a room at the back of the church and ask Dr. Lloyd-Jones. He expected just a few, but the room was packed. A bright young student immediately got up and phrased his question with all the grace and polish of a union debater. He complimented the preacher, but then said that he had one great difficulty. He didn’t see but how the sermon might not equally have been delivered to a congregation of farm laborers. The intellectual crowd roared with laughter.
Lloyd-Jones replied that he could not see the difficulty, in that he regarded undergraduates and indeed graduates of Oxford University as just ordinary, common human sinners like everybody else, and that they had the same needs as farm laborers or anyone else. Thus he had preached quite deliberately just as he had done! He also drew a laugh and from then on had the full attention of everyone there. He goes on to say, “There is no greater fallacy than to think that you need a gospel for special types of people” (Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones [Banner of Truth], 2:pp. 76-77).
The point is, whether you are a farm laborer or a Ph.D., there is one and only one message that will save you from sin and God’s judgment: the gospel that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead, and that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. In light of that truth, all men everywhere must repent. If you have believed that gospel and if you will rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, you can tell it to a farm laborer or to a Ph.D., and God will use it mightily according to His purpose. He has given us the tools that we need. Our task is to use these tools to do the work that Jesus began.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2000, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation