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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

In a Cloudy Sky

Acts 1:1-11

            Our concert this afternoon is an attempt to reach our community with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Outreach events like this can take many different forms.  For example, I read about a church that got creative and decided that one way to reach their community was to reenact Jesus carrying His cross to Golgotha.  They got a parade permit and had several members in costume process down Main Street on Good Friday.

            Going against the usual type, the man selected to play Jesus was a big man, a burly truck driver.  One of the main considerations may have been the man’s physical strength being equal to the job of carrying the heavy wooden cross all the way down the parade route.

            Other church members creatively made costumes for the actors.  One member of the church was cast as a Roman soldier.  His job was to whip and harass “Jesus” along the parade route.  The director wanted to emphasize Jesus’ suffering, so the Roman soldier was encouraged to take his part seriously.

            As the parade wound on, the Roman soldier took his part a little too seriously.  He was heavy-handed with the whip, too free with his insults, and generally more abusive than the situation required. 

            When the Roman soldier spat in truck driver “Jesus’” face, the actor had reached his limit.  He turned to the Roman soldier and under his breath muttered, “I’ll be back to deal with you after the Resurrection!”

            Our passage this morning takes us back to the time when the real Jesus came back to deal with His disciples.  After His Resurrection, Jesus prepared them for life without His physical presence among them.  This event is called “the Ascension” and is one of the more important parts of the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry: its end.

Jesus left the Earth to return to glory to intercede for us.

1. Stay tuned; the Holy Spirit is coming.

            As we see in vs. 1-2, Acts is the continuation of Luke’s gospel.  The end of Luke’s gospel (24:50-53) mentions the Ascension, the beginning of Acts gives a full account of it.  The Ascension is the historical line that divides the two books.

            The Ascension also gives closure to Jesus’ earthly life, which began at birth and concluded with His return to heaven.  In a spiritual sense, Jesus is continually with us.  Imparting His presence is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit.  However, His physical presence is gone from the Earth for the moment, but at a future time of God the Father’s choosing, He will appear to us again in His physical self.

            Luke gives us new information about Jesus’ Resurrection in verse three.  The period between the Resurrection and Ascension was 40 days.  Forty is a biblically significant number, occurring in the life and ministry of Moses and Jesus, for example.

            During that time Jesus made occasional appearances to His CHOSEN APOSTLES.  These visits served two purposes: one, to prove to them IN MANY WAYS THAT HE WAS ACTUALLY ALIVE.  This phrase is more emphatic in the Greek than in the English; the word means “irrefutable proofs.”  It refers to evidence that leads to only one possible conclusion: Jesus was raised from the dead.  Perhaps His physical presence was enough to convince the Apostles, but not others who would not have the benefit of being eyewitnesses.  These proofs that Jesus gave them were evidence the Eleven could use to convince those people.

            Two, to give His followers further education about the KINGDOM OF GOD.  Luke wrote his books with a Gentile man, Theophilus (“God lover”) in mind.  Greek mythology had several examples of gods, demi-gods, and humans ascending to heaven, so Luke wrote to establish in their minds the difference between Jesus’ Ascension and these mythological tales.  That this was one of these discussions of the Kingdom that the apostles as the question raised in v. 6.

            It’s important to note that Jesus imparted these FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS by means of the HOLY SPIRIT.  This prefigures the Holy Spirit as the means by which the Apostles, after receiving the Spirit at Pentecost, would do their own teaching.

            This passage confirmed promises He’d made during the Last Supper. (4-5)  We look to John 14:16-17, 28 to see the promises Jesus made.

            First, the gift of the Spirit. AND I WILL ASK THE FATHER, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER ADVOCATE WHO WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU.  HE IS THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHO LEADS INTO ALL TRUTH.  THE WORLD CANNOT RECEIVE HIM, BECAUSE IT ISN’T LOOKING FOR HIM AND DOESN’T RECOGNIZE HIM.  BUT YOU KNOW HIM, BECAUSE HE LIVES WITH YOU NOW AND LATER WILL BE IN YOU.

            Second, that He would return.  REMEMBER WHAT I TOLD YOU: I AM GOING AWAY, BUT I WILL COME BACK TO YOU AGAIN.  IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME, YOU WOULD BE HAPPY THAT I AM GOING TO THE FATHER, WHO IS GREATER THAN I AM.

            Regarding the Holy Spirit, though He would command them to leave Jerusalem after receiving the Sprit (v. 8), for now, they were to remain there until the Spirit was given them. Receiving the Holy Spirit in this new way would be like a new kind of baptism.

            This is an expansion of the Kingdom teaching: one of the things that will define the kingdom of God is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This baptism will be much greater even than the baptism of John, which came at the tail end of the Old Covenant.

2. Jesus is coming back.

            The disciples continued to show an interest in Jesus’ kingdom in the form of a restored Israel (6).  In v. 5 Jesus promised IN JUST A FEW DAYS they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  The disciples heard the time reference and applied it to a different subject that was - at the moment - more important to them: Israel’s freedom and the restoration of their self-government.

            So, they asked, “HAS THE TIME COME?”  There was nothing in Jesus’ teaching to associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with any earthly kingdom.  It was wishful thinking on their part, an illustration of the limitations of their thinking.  Given that these kinds of speculations were going on in Jewish circles at the time (see Luke 23:21), it’s understandable that the Apostles would entertain these thoughts and ask Jesus about them.

            In verses seven and eight, Jesus gave them two-fold answer. (7-8)  First, He said, “The timing is the Father’s decision.”  Jesus made it plain in verse seven that we lack the AUTHORITY to set the DATES AND TIMES to our liking.  Further, that information is on a “need to know” basis and we do not need to know.  Speculation about dates has nothing to do with faithful preparation for these events.  Historically, Christians have wasted a lot of time and effort and have caused much division over speculations about when Jesus would come again.  Our faith is better served by becoming prepared for Jesus to appear at any moment.  Instead, live your life in such a way that you are prepared to receive Jesus joyfully at any time.  That is Jesus’ command and it will make a better life for you and everyone around you.

            In verse eight, Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will empower you to be my world-wide witnesses.”  One specific thing His followers are to be doing while awaiting Jesus’ return is witnessing, telling people about Jesus and inviting them to share in the eternal life He gives. Our witness is to be focused on Jesus, “TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT ME.”  Our witness to be universal, not just to family and friends; “EVERYWHERE - IN JERUSALEM, THROUGHOUT JUDEA, IN SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

            The book of Acts will show how the Church began in Jerusalem, then word spread around the province in which Jerusalem was located, Judea.  It spread further to include the former Israelites in Samaria, and to the Gentiles around the world.  Verse 10 tells us the Apostles were straining their eyes to keep Jesus in sight, a detail that proves this was an actual event, not a vision or something else, as people have claimed.

            To keep these promises, Jesus returned to heaven (the “Ascension”). (9-10)  Luke blandly describes an event of incredible, supernatural proportions.  His deliberate and understated account shows Jesus was bodily lifted from the Earth, flying through the air until He disappeared from their view behind some clouds!

            This event has some biblical precedent.  In Genesis 5:23-24, Enoch simply disappeared because God took him.  He had walked in CLOSE FELLOWSHIP with God prior to his disappearance.  In 2 Kings 2:11-12, Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.

            Angelic visitors confirmed His promise to RETURN FROM HEAVEN. (10-11)  One of the main functions of angels is to pass along messages from God to His people.  Two angels SUDDENLY appeared amid the people whose eyes were on the skies.  Their message was, “You watched Him leave, now it’s time to get about His business.  Don’t feel abandoned, He is coming back just the way He left.”  Ironically, Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming are essentially the same processes, merely headed in different directions.

            This is not the first Bible mention of God arriving in the clouds.  Daniel 7:13 depicts the Son of Man coming WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN into the presence of the ANCIENT ONE. Jesus foretold His Ascension to God’s RIGHT HAND, going on the CLOUDS OF HEAVEN in Mark 14:62.  In Luke 21:27, He referred to His Second Coming on a CLOUD WITH POWER AND GREAT AUTHORITY.

Jesus left the Earth to return to glory to intercede for us.

            One of the major means of transportation in the American West was the stagecoach.  It was not necessarily the easiest way to travel, but the railroads didn’t go everywhere. 

            I’ve watched a fair number of Western movies and TV shows, so I’m familiar with stagecoaches, but one thing I’ve never seen in those programs is that passengers on a stagecoach bought one of three types of tickets.  First-class passengers paid more, but they had the right to remain on the stagecoach throughout any difficulty.  If the stagecoach got stuck or a wheel came off, you were permitted to stay in your seat.

            If you bought a second-class ticket, you paid a little less, but you had to get out of the stagecoach if there was a problem with it.  You didn’t have to help get it unstuck or effect a repair, but you had to at least get out of it if ordered to.

            The third-class ticket was the least expensive, but it meant that you not only had to get out of the stagecoach, but you had to help the driver solve whatever problem was holding you up.

            Since the time Jesus ascended into heaven, He has made all of His followers third class ticket holders.  Before He left, He instructed all His disciples to do all they can to let everyone know how they might be saved.  None of us are allowed to just sit in the Church and wait for others to witness for us.  While we wait for Jesus to return, we are to be actively Inviting others to have eternal life in Him!

RESOURCES:

            Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 1998, pp. 105-114.

            Messages #480 & #1038

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