Text: Acts 1
Proposition: The Ascension of Jesus, visible as the Resurrection, readies the church to become sent ones.
Introduction: When I first became a Christian there was a passage of Scripture that caught my eye. It’s in Isaiah 43:10-13, … “You are My witnesses," says the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed and there was no foreign god among you; Therefore you are My witnesses," says the LORD, "that I am God. Indeed before the day was, I am He; And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?” This verse both leads and follows us, it both calls us and reminds us, it assures us and confronts us. It resonates like the Shema, it identifies us as His witnesses. I mention this passage because today we are going to begin to look at the witnesses, people who saw the crucifixion and then saw the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The physician Luke wrote an account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and then in a part two to that gospel he wrote another book, The Book of Acts. It describes the acts or actions of the Holy Spirit in the apostles and in the men and women that were the first century church. It describes what kind of witnesses they were and at the same time relates all kinds of details to us that we would never have known otherwise. In the book of Acts is the only account of the Ascension of Jesus, the election of Matthias to replace Judas, the formation of the early church and the wonder of the Promise, the Holy Spirit and that was just chapter one! Turn with me to the book of Acts, chapter 1.
I. The Ascension of Jesus Was Critical to the Formation of the Church. Vs 1-9
Luke begins this book by again mentioning a man named Theophilus, (friend of God). He was likely a Roman of considerable power and position. Some have thought that the Book of Acts was originally designed by Luke to be used for the defense of Paul in Rome, it being written about 62AD when Paul was imprisoned there. Acts is the only link between the Gospels and the Epistles, the various letters of Paul, Peter, James and John to the church, so it is like the connective tissue that ties this all together. For 40 days after His Resurrection Jesus had been meeting with the disciples, teaching them, encouraging them and commanding them. Over those forty days they had heard His voice and seen and touched Him. He was most certainly alive and He had told them again and again about the present reality of the kingdom of God. More than 15 times He had alluded to the fact that He would ascend and return to the Father. (see Jn 6:62; Jn 3:13; Jn 14:1,2) So now here they were standing with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, again. Jesus tells the disciples to remain in Jerusalem, to wait for the Promise of the Father which they would soon receive. The Promise was the baptism of the Holy Spirit which John the Baptist had spoken about three years earlier in the waters of the Jordan. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit was something they must have wondered about, what did it mean, what was the power it conferred? So they ask Jesus if this is the time when He will restore the kingdom to Israel, driving out the Romans and making His kingdom the new ruling power. That was still seen in their minds as the next main event to occur in prophecy yet Jesus tells them the timing for this is not for them to know. The inference is clear, His kingdom will one day have political power as well as spiritual power but that is the Father’s authority to reveal, not His. For now they are to live by faith and get ready for the next step in the plan of redemption. So all this is the setting of the scene, but why was the Ascension critical to the formation of the church? The answer is simple, look at what Jesus says in verse 8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” His ascension opens the way for the Holy Spirit to come, without Whom the church would remain powerless. It would be like building a beautiful car with a great engine and grand engineering but until you put the battery into the car there is no spark to ignite it nor to empower it in all it does. As Incarnation was critical to the Crucifixion in providing a sinless man so the Resurrection was critical to the Crucifixion revealing the sufficiency of the Messiah to pay the price for all sin. Now the Ascension is mission critical enabling the coming of the Promise, the Holy Spirit, into the world for the next 2000 years to empower and release the church.
II. The Ascension Was Visible, It Sends Us Until He Comes Again. Vs9-26
Look at verses 9 and 10, they suddenly see Jesus beginning to rise into the air, higher then higher until they had to put their hands above their eyes to see Him one final time. It was a shocking encounter yet again, it became part of their testimony, it was what they had witnessed. Standing there it was likely no one said a word as they peered into the now empty sky. Then a couple of voices beside them suddenly speak. Two men dressed in white say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” It was God’s way of saying, ‘Hop to it, your burning daylight, times a’waisting’… ‘why do you stand here… But tucked into that was also this incredible promise… “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” The visible ascension of Jesus is a forerunner of the visible return of Jesus. From the Mount of Olives He left, to the Mount of Olives He will return. Zechariah 14:4 speaks of that time, “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west…”. The ascension of Jesus gives both command and promise. Until that day when He returns visibly, like you just saw, get to it. Wait for the Holy Spirit and then when He has come, witness to that as well. The principle is clear, God builds a story in each of us about how we encountered Him. That story is meant to be told, that is what a witness is called to do. As we tell our story God adds to the story… first they saw the Christ, then they saw His crucifixion, then they saw Him alive, resurrected from the dead, then they saw Him ascend and soon they are about to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in them at work. Whether in a court room or a delivery room, witnesses saw and they then proclaim what they saw.
So the disciples returned to the upper room, about 120 disciples. These men and women prepare for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit by praying together, praying for one another, asking for faith and wisdom, by praising God and by being thankful in the presence of all. It sounds like it was a time of Praise and Prayer as they readied themselves for what God was about to do. They spoke the counsel of Scripture to one another, Peter stands and gives leadership and directs them in the replacing of the twelfth disciple and Matthias is elected by God. There were qualifications as to who could be an Apostle. They had to be one who was present with Jesus since the baptism of John right up to the time of His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. 12 Apostles would be the key leadership for the church. Their task was both to guide the early church and to go into the outermost regions… from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria… to all the peoples they could reach. They were to be ‘Sent Ones’, by the power of the Holy Spirit, witnessing to what they had seen. That’s what the Book of Acts sets out to do, it describes the signs and wonders of how God specifically worked in and through the Apostles, even in a man named Saul who would become the last of the Apostles. It was these men that God used to write the words of Scripture, to expand the church of the first century even as they laid down their lives to do so. Their lives and deaths proclaimed a living Savior, a way to forgiveness of sin and an entry point into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
If the church is called the Body of Christ then the work of the Holy Spirit is to cause that body to breathe. It will cause the body to take in and then to send out. Like the diaphragm expands to take in air and then contracts to expel that out, so the early church, and the church gathered here this morning, breathes with those same rhythms. When Jesus was with the disciples He told them that apart from Him they could do nothing but if they would abide in Him they would bear much fruit. That was not just a promise for the disciples then, it is a promise for us here today. When you come to Christ today, placing your faith in Him as the only One who can save you forever, He sends the Holy Spirit to abide in you and in the Holy Spirit you will bear much fruit. It’s Acts, the actions of the Holy Spirit.