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Sermon - April 17, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1253

April 17, 2016 Acts 1:1-14

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“In the Power of the Holy Spirit”

 

  • Acts 1:2 – Commands Through the Holy Spirit

 

Acts is really a continuation of Luke's gospel. The focus shifts from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the power of the Holy Spirit to lead the church in its early life and movement. Luke is the author of Acts, so we really do have a continuation of God's redemptive purposes displayed in this extended narrative in the Acts of the Church. Today we begin a look at the transition from Jesus' physical presence with the disciples to the ascension of Jesus to heaven. I want to start with a phrase given in verse 2, but let's start about midway through verse 1...Luke writes,

 

I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles...”

Note that Luke says Jesus had given commands through the Holy Spirit. Now at first glance we might wonder if that means he gave them commands during this period between the resurrection and the ascension and that might be the case, but it may also refer to all that Jesus commanded during his public ministry. I lean toward both, of course, because I think it also refers to the whole of the Bible in relationship to the inspiration of scripture. He gave commandments through the Holy Spirit is right in line with Paul's words from 2 Timothy,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (3:16)

Giving commands through the Holy Spirit is akin to Scripture being God-breathed. The Spirit is at work in the scriptures. The Holy Spirit brings life to the word in that it brings life to us. The disciples received the word and later the power behind that word in the sending of the Holy Spirit. What I think is most beautiful about all this is the deep connection between inspiration, word, Spirit, and power. There is an energy and life to the words of God that can not be matched by any other written words. What the disciples received from Jesus we have also received – the inspired word of power given through the Holy Spirit.


 

  • Acts 1:4-5 – Awaiting the Promise of the Father

 

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

 

Second point – Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the promise of the Father. We know from John's gospel that this is the sending of the Holy Spirit. We know from the Pentecost story to come that this is the power of the Holy Spirit. We know from John's baptism that people were immersed in the waters for the forgiveness of their sins and that same immersion experience will be known in the indwelling Spirit of God who immerses our lives and our existence, clothing us in God's power.

 

The disciples had been wondering what would be next. Since Jesus was indeed alive, what would now occur? Speculation was probably as deep as their confusion immediately after the cross and resurrection. They come to Jesus asking when the kingdom would be restored. Jesus basically tells them that is not for them to know, only that they should wait. Wait for the coming of power.

Sometimes we spend more time in speculation than power. We wonder what God is doing or we question what God might do rather than waiting on the power of the Holy Spirit. We make our own plans rather than discerning what God is already doing in our midst. To help us grow we might look to see what would result from the command of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit. In essence two items come to light in this story as a part of God's will for all believers.

 

 

  • Acts 1:8, 14 – Result of Command and Spirit

 

Look at verse 8,

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The first result of the power of the Spirit is to be Jesus' witnesses. “You will be my witnesses.” In other words, this is not an option. We might want to say that this command was limited to the first eye witnesses of the resurrection story, but we know that we cannot pick and choose what commands we might observe from Jesus. Witnesses tell the story from one generation to another. One of the amazing things about the power of the Spirit is how the witness of Jesus Christ has grown and spread from Jerusalem all the way to the ends of the earth. God's people are still looking to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The result of the commands of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit is for all who follow him to give testimony to his death and resurrection and to all that we know of Jesus. We need not share everything all the time, but what is needed when it is needed.

The second result is found in verse 14,

14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

We all know that prayer is a basic discipline for all Christians. The disciples came together in this time of waiting to give everything to prayer. They focused all their attention on God through prayer. Jesus commanded them to wait, but they did not just sit around speculating what was to come but they were active in prayer. We sometimes fall to the unfortunate idea that prayer is only a fall back position. Prayer is a devotion, a life devotion. It is that which we are commanded to do without ceasing. We are distracted sometimes by the modern busyness of the day or other distractions that keep us from prayer. Other times we might be influenced by the perceived need to do something! We want to accomplish something almost to the point of doing anything except waiting and praying. We could learn great lessons from the Acts of the church.

 

  • Lessons from the Early Church

 

What can we learn? First, that the church relied heavily of the Holy Spirit and the power promised from God. They did not look to themselves to find their way. They did not act quickly on their own wisdom. They yielded to what the Father had promised and they waited patiently for that promise to come. We too have been told to wait, wait for Christ to come again. While we wait we are also called on to rely on the Holy Spirit and His Power. When we look to the ways of the world and see the darkness, we know that we must rely on the Spirit. How do we do that? We pray! We worship! We discern! We share the message! We follow Jesus!

 

Second, we place our trust in Jesus' commands. We demonstrate trust by living the ways Jesus' commanded. Loving God and neighbor. Loving enemies. Giving or our lives – doing all that Jesus taught which is all that the Bible teaches. We cannot know what to trust until we read it and study it and live it. We cannot know who to trust until we have spent quality time with the Lord in meditation and practice. This is another role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to teach us and remind us of all that Jesus said (John 14:26). Reading and understanding scripture is not just an intellectual act but also a spiritual act of obedience and love. Develop a deep love for the word of God...Psalm 119:167, My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.” Let us get so deeply engaged in God’s word that it gets into the soul and becomes our delight and joy.

 

Third, we do what Jesus said, give witness and pray. Sharing the gospel has been the goal of the church ever since this command was given. There are many ways to share the gospel. We are not all called to go door to door, not all called to make cold calls on people in public. Be we are all called to be capable of sharing when opportunity does arise. It might be with someone we know, even someone close to us. It might even be with a stranger. It might not be with words, but through our actions. We never know who’s watching our lives, who is noticing our love or gentleness and at the time might see our selfishness and arrogance.

 

All three of these lessons are intertwined. The Spirit is leading the way for us to come to God’s word and to share that word to the world – to our neighbors.

  •  

It seems almost too simple, and yes it is true that we only get a glimpse of the church from this first chapter of Acts. But what a great place to start, reliance on the Holy Spirit, trust in Jesus' commands, give witness to the gospel, and pray. Imagine if we really focused more time here. Imagine the testimony the church could give if the church did these things today. Yes, we do pray, we do rely on the Spirit, and we do what Jesus commands, but we have not do that to the extent that the world has seen it in practice. I'm not saying we go our and make a spectacle of ourselves just to get the world to notice us, but we do need to do all these things in such a way that sets us apart from the world. One criticism that was never made about the early church was that they were no different from the world. That is a criticism made today. Not every part of the church, but much of it has become like any other social club. What might set us apart again? Perhaps it could begin with reliance on the Spirit, trust in Jesus' words, sharing the gospel message, and devoting ourselves to prayer. Let's find ways to do these things more effectively and more powerfully.