sermon: Things Pertaining to the Kingdom!
Introduction to Acts
Martin G. Collins
Given 27-Apr-13; 69 minutes
By the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus had completed preparations for founding His church. He had finished the work He as a human had come to do, then He gave His life on a stake. The foundation for the church of God had been laid and Christ Himself is the head and chief corner stone, the main foundation, His apostles with the prophets formed the remainder of that foundation.
After His resurrection Christ appeared to His disciples at least ten times over a forty day period, ending in His ascension. He told them things that summarize what He thought they needed be reminded of before He ascended; if they were essential for the apostle to know, we should be deeply interested on how these vitally important things that He taught apply to us.
Regarding that period immediately following His resurrection, the evangelist Luke writes in Acts 1:3,
During those days after His resurrection, Christ appeared to His disciples and discussed the kingdom of God with them; though this topic was the subject of much of Jesus Christ teachings and preaching before His crucifixion, He saw a need to emphasize it further during those days of His post-resurrection ministry.
The apostles were chomping at the bit to get started, to go forth proclaiming the gospel message, but God encouraged them to be patient and commanded them to wait until the appointed time when He would send them the spiritual help they needed to do His work. So Jesus instructed His apostles that they were to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit, and then after that they were to preach to the world the gospel of the coming kingdom of God beginning in Jerusalem. After saying this Christ ascended to heaven to His Father.
Luke 24:46-53 Then He said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold I send the promise of My Father upon you, but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high. And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up his hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Not many days from Christ ascension came the day of Pentecost, Feast of First Fruits. On that day, the Holy Spirit came and the New Testament church was founded, and as you know that day symbolizes the first fruits of God kingdom. God's feast days picture God's spiritual harvest and the first portion of God's spiritual harvest of human made, God beings, is the church.
We will pick up a time frame as to what transpired as they approached that first Pentecost for the New Testament church in Acts.
Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit, had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Acts is a second volume of a two volume history written by Luke, the companion of the apostle Paul. The first volume is the gospel according to Luke, and sometimes scholars refer to these books as Luke/Acts. Luke says the former account I made of O Theophilus—this is in reference to the gospel of Luke, which has a similar introduction.
Luke 1:1-4 In as much as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things I which you were instructed.
The book of Luke begins with a dedication to a man whom he calls the most excellent Theophilus. Luke mentions Theophilus again in the Acts of the Apostles, as we just read, referring also to Luke's former book; and the name Theophilus means friend of God.
Ancient books were generally written on papyrus rolls; it was practical to have a scroll about thirty five feet in length. When it got any longer, it got too bulky to carry around; this physical limitation has determined the length of many of the books of the Bible. God inspired the length of them, but many of them fit on that thirty five foot scroll.
A number of them, the gospels Matthew, Luke, John, also Acts, Romans and some others, are about this length in ancient script. It seems that Luke who set out to write a history of Jesus life and the expansion of the church up to his own age decided to do it on two scrolls of the same length.
The first scroll concerned the life of Christianity founder, and the second picked up the story and carried it to the arrival of the apostle Paul in Rome about thirty years later. Some scholars think that Luke had probably planned a third as well dealing with Paul's release from prison and his further ministry to the western part of the Roman Empire; since that was never done, we can assume that a third book was not according to God's will, because it was never written. Acts is excellent history according to the experts and scholars; it is excellent even from the secular point of view.
The English scholar F. F. Bruce has written a book on the New Testament entitled “The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable?” in which he spells out the details of Luke's extraordinary accuracy. Bruce points out that to have written a history like Luke was no easy task in those days, even though Luke was educated. He was a physician and much of the book of Luke and even Acts as well have technical terms that only come from the medical field.
Today if you want to write a history of something that went on in the world, it is not at all difficult to do because you can go to the library and research it. Now in this modern day we can even go to the internet and find substantial amount of information. But what Luke wrote was from his own personal account and experience. He was a detailed man which his writings show.
In Luke's day it was not possible to go to libraries. Those that existed were not accessible to the common man. Most libraries did not have reference volumes, and even if they had, the events Luke was trying to chronicle had taken place (at least at the beginning) in what the people of that day would call a remote area. They were not the big cities like Rome; they were around Jerusalem, but they were not easy accessible as ours are today.
As Bruce shows, not only did Luke overcome these difficulties to write his history, he also produced an exceedingly remarkable book; the titles given to the rulers of the cities to which the apostle Paul goes are exactly accurate. The characteristics of the cities are what we know them to have been from other sources. For example, Antioch, where Paul ministered, was not at all like Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was not like Rome. Ephesus also had its own characteristics. Luke knew what those cities were like; he was very accurate in describing those cities.
Not only can we appreciate Luke as a secular historian—one who chronicles secular or worldly things well—we can also appreciate him as the great historian of the early church. Luke begins his book in Jerusalem picking up his account with the closing hours of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. It is the period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Then Luke methodically records the spread of true Christianity throughout the Roman world; at the beginning it spread through the influence of the apostle Peter. The first half of Acts recounts this. In the second half of the book, Luke shows how Christianity spread even to Rome through the phenomenal life and ministry of the apostle Paul.
People are puzzled by history; they ask if history has any meaning; we know there are sayings like, “He who does not look back in history is destined to repeats it.” Luke does not merely give us a history of the early church, he tells us that there is a plan to history that God is unfolding, which is crucial to his writings.
That plan does not have to do with the rise and fall of Empires; it does not have to do with one race or people being more influential than another. The Bible does not even look at history as having to do primarily with individual successes and attainments although it does include such things.
The meaning of history is in God's work—God reaching down into the mass of rebellious humanity and saving sinful men and women, bringing them into a new fellowship, the church, and beginning to work with them in such a way that glory is brought to Jesus Christ. That is what Luke is writing about as he unfolds these events.
Luke's history opens up and embraces the entire church age. At the beginning we are in contact with the risen Christ and a world of miracles that were performed; at the end we find Christians bearing witness just as we are called to bear witness and being persecuted just as we at times are persecuted.
In the book of Acts, we find sound principles of church growth and see the way in which temptation and trials are overcome—by the grace of God and by personal responsibility and effort through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:1-11 deal with the forty days between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His ascension.
These verses emphasize the history of Christianity, the presence of Christ, the great commission, and Christ’s return. Acts is a short name for the Acts of the Apostles; it might more properly be called the continuing words and deeds of Jesus by His Spirit through His apostles
First we find an emphasis on the historical basis of Christianity. Luke tells Theophilus that he is going to continue the history that he began in his gospel. In Luke's earlier book, he said he had very carefully investigated the details of the life of Jesus Christ and had written them down only after this investigation. So Luke wants to continue that procedure and acts; he wants to be very careful and continue to investigate and make sure his facts are correct.
The things he wrote in the first book concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach until the day which He was taken up, as he declares in Acts l:1-2…these things are going to continue in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Luke writes in Acts 1:3 of Jesus’ resurrection, he says that Jesus presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs being seen by them during forty days.
That is a very important sentence because it indicates that Jesus did not merely give His disciples certain ideas that they were then to carry into the world. They knew He had died and then He appeared to them as one who had risen from the dead—much greater impact than just actually seeing the death of Christ.
Some of them had been at the crucifixion; they had heard the blow of hammers; they had seen nails driven; and later when the soldiers came, they had seen the spear thrust into Christ side. They knew Jesus had died. In fact they were so convinced of His death, they soon began to scatter and go home, because although it was nice to have known Him, He was dead now. They did not really, deep down, think that He was actually going to rise from the dead in the way that He had.
Then Jesus rose and began appearing to them. His appearances were sufficient to draw them together again, and they would never would have come together for philosophy or mythology, as they did for Jesus who they were so close to. They came together because the Christ they had known and loved was alive. He had conquered death.
Now Thomas, although dedicated, was the greatest skeptic of them all; even after the resurrection when the other disciples had seen Christ and had come to Thomas to proclaim the resurrection, Thomas said to them (as recorded in John 20:25):
John 20:25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the Lord, But he said to them, unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of his nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.
I thought that was a pretty strong statement, and I am sure he regretted it later. John 20:28 tells us that when Jesus appeared to Thomas, this alone was sufficient to dispel all the doubting. He fell before Christ with the confession, “My Lord and my God.” I am sure that was heartfelt and deeply stated; he was convinced finally.
This and other similar experiences are what Luke had in mind when he wrote of infallible proofs. In essences he was saying, “I am going to chart the spread of Christianity, but I want you to know at the very beginning that this is a religion based on historical facts including the amazing matter of the resurrection.”
The resurrection has been demonstrated by many infallible proofs, and it is proof of everything else that needs proving. The world accepts evolution, and they accept their proof of it, which is no proof at all; it is just a bunch of lies. This proof was true proof. I will give you four reasons we have proof.
First, the resurrection is a fact; the disciples knew Jesus had been raised from the dead; they witnessed it, and many others did as well.
Second, if the resurrection is a fact, it proves the deity of Jesus. Christ claimed to be divine before His crucifixion; if that was true it was a great truth; if it was false it was blasphemy. Also Jesus said that God His Father was going to raise Him from the dead after His crucifixion; that was a nearly impossible claim. Yet Jesus was resurrected from the dead after three days, which proved His deity, because it is impossible that God would have raised Him from the dead if this claim to deity had been false.
Third, a divine Christ must speak truth because God is truthful and must speak truthfully.
Fourth, if what Jesus said was true, then we can trust everything He teaches; and we can trust both the Old and New Testaments because Jesus taught that it is the inspired written word of God. We can believe that God has forgiven our many sins because Jesus taught that God would do that for all who believe in Him.
There is a second thing to see about theses opening verses; that is the dominate presence of the living Christ.
Acts 1:4-11 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which He said, “you heard from Me. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His authority. 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.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “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.”
Did you notice the dominate presence of the living Christ in those verses? Verses 1-3 are all about Jesus, and He speaks about the kingdom of God in reference to God the Father. In verse 4, Jesus states that they heard of the Father's promise from Him. Verse 5 mentions baptism with the Holy Spirit which is done by Christ. Verse 6 refers to Jesus as the Lord. In verses 7-8, Jesus told them that knowledge of the future falls under the Father’s authority, and they shall be witnesses to Christ in Jerusalem. In verses 9-10, Christ was taken up, and the end of this section is especially important. In verse 11, the angels are talking about Jesus. “This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will return in like manner.”
What is striking here is that Acts refers to Jesus Christ over and over again. Virtually every one of the first 11 verses either records Jesus speaking or refers to Him. That is important because in critical New Testaments studies, there has been an attempt on the part of some scholars to abandon the New Testament to discover what they chose to call the real or historical Jesus. To them, they are two different individuals.
Despite their ability these scholars only manage to create a Jesus in their own image. Let me explain. If the scholar was a socialist, he produced a socialist Jesus. If he was a moralist, he produced a Jesus who was a teacher of ethics. If he identified with the common man, he produced a Jesus who was a model of the common man.
It is impossible to separate the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history; the Christ of faith that Christ presented to us in the pages of the New Testament is the Jesus of history, and there is no other. This is what Luke says as he begins both his gospel and Acts.
The Lord Jesus Christ who is and has always been the object of the faith of Christians down through all the Christian centuries is the Jesus who really lived, who was crucified, and who rose from the dead. He is the Messiah who always glorifies God the Father.
The problem is today what we see is some segments of mainstream Christianity who believe that the Bible is just a lot of nice stories and legends, and they think there is Jesus Christ the individual, but then there are others on the other side who think that Jesus is strictly spiritual and that He never existed, and that is a faith based system for worshiping Christ. In their view He never really did those things in history, therefore they can make up whatever they want as theology in their Christianity—one that they have designed from their own image.
The third thing we notice about these introductory verses and the great commission is we find
in verses 7-8:
Acts 1:6-8 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And He said, to them “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 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.”
The disciples who were with Jesus in the days between the resurrection and the ascension, still had old fashion Jewish ideas, and one of these, as we know from the gospel, was that the kingdom of God was going to be established by political earthly power. This is what the Jews believed, and the disciples still had that in the back of their minds—the idea of the Messiah with the soldier like Judas Maccabeus, also known as Judas the hammer. And in their minds, the Messiah was going to be strong enough to drive out any occupying military forces. The Jews were looking for a Messiah who would expel the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom of David; the disciples expected to reign with him in His kingdom.
Remember on one occasion the mother of James and John approached Jesus and said, “grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and the other on the left in your kingdom…” as Matthew 20:21 records.
She was not thinking of a kingdom in some far off future day. She thought that Jesus was going to establish His kingdom on earth right then by political means. Even there after the resurrection the disciples had these confused ideas.
The verb “restore,” in verse 6, shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom, and now Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom, and the adverbial clause “at this time” shows that they were expecting immediate establishment.
Verses 7-8 are especially important for another reason; in them is an outline for Acts. Verse 8 establishes a set of priorities. They would first be given spiritual power help from on high to overcome sins, Satan, and the world. Second, the spiritual power would in turn provide what was needed to witness to the world.
The world contains both believers and unbelievers. The first priority is to witness to the believers. Who were the believers? They are the church scattered throughout the world. There are four geographical references in verse 8: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.
The King James Version does not translate the punctuation correctly. In the more modern versions, such as the New King James version, the ESV, the NIV, the middle terms are combined by the verses punctuation, so that there is a three part progression: Jerusalem, Judah and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. This is because in the Greek text Samaria does not have a definite article before it as shown in the King James Version.
The article occurs before Judea which suggests that Judea and Samaria belong together, and this makes it a three part outline for the book of Acts. Acts chapter 1-7, deals with the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem, representing the church which is spiritual Israel; the church was founded in Jerusalem.
In Acts chapters 8-12, the gospel expands beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, representing Judah and Benjamin in the southern tribes and the ten northern tribes of Israel which is physical Israel. So Judah was the area of the southern tribes, and for about two hundred years Samaria was the capital of the northern ten tribes of Israel until their captivity by the Assyrians.
Acts chapters 13-28 records the expansion of the gospel throughout the Roman world. Rome was the proud center of the world’s civilization in the apostolic age, representing the Gentile world to the ends of the western world and beyond.
In this sense, the book of Acts is the prophecy as well as the directive for and to whom and when the gospel is to be preached. Verses 7-8 give a plan for witnessing; each gospel writer version of the great commission has its own emphasis, like Acts. John's version speaks of Christians being sent into the world; his emphasis is on the nature of the disciples’ witness.
John 17:18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
The disciples were sent into the world in the same way and for the same reason Jesus was sent into it. He was to be the model, a pattern for their ministry.
Matthew stresses the authority of Jesus on the basis of which they were to make disciples of all nations.
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
They were to preach God's way of life and the coming of the kingdom of God, because the Son of God had authorized them to do so.
In Acts 1:7-8, we find the emphasis on two other things. First, the disciples were to be empowered for their tasks by the Holy Spirit. Second, they were to be agents of a worldwide geographical expansion of Christianity, and the two go together.
Jesus said they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, and when that happened they were to go to the entire world with the gospel. The reality is that they only went to what we call the western world. It was not until later that Christianity was introduced to the Orient, where it never took hold like it did in the west, other than a few small pockets of believers.
Their witness was to begin in Jerusalem, and then it was to expand outward like ripples in a pond embracing Judea and Samaria, then overflowing beyond those known communities…to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire and beyond.
So we know that they went to other Israelitish people as well in the areas of Scotland, Ireland, and the Northern Europe, outside the reach of Rome at that time or at any time.
In my Bible study, God has not cast away His people. When I describe where the apostles went after the time covered by the book of Acts, I showed how thoroughly that plan was carried out by the first generation of the church. The gospel continued to be preached even farther out by later generations.
Throughout the history of the church, every Christian, not just the former order of missionaries that were supplied by the Christians at home, considered it his or her obligation to bear witness to the truth.
So what is a witness? How do we bear witness? Today the word “witness” is acceptable as a synonym for see. Though it is infrequently used in this way, the common use of the word “witness” is preferred when one’s presence to observe and act is formal or legally necessary, when one’s observance—seeing and/or hearing—is likely to be the basis of subsequent testimony.
It is something the witness has lived through, for example. One sees a new model automobile, but one witnesses an accident; so a witness is one who sees and/or hears an event and can report it to others.
In the New Testament, the word “witness” arrived from various forms of the Greek word martus, which means record, report, or evidence given or testimony. It is someone who can testify or vouch for the parties in debate. As in English, it means one who bears testimony in a judicial sense, or one who can testify to the truth of what he has seen or heard or known.
II Corinthians 13:1 This will be the third time I am coming to you,. By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.
Within the church, an accusation against the minister was only received if it was from two or three witnesses.
I Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
In the New Testament, a witness takes on the more personal form of one who attests his belief in Christ and his teaching behind personal suffering and living. This is the type of witness the apostles frequently were of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as we read earlier in Luke 24:48. The faithful are called so great a cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1. They are people who read the word of God, heard it preached and lived it as a way of life. They had seen God's truth working in their lives.
From the Greek word martus, we get the English word “martyr” which describes one who, amidst great sufferings or by His death, bears witness to the truth. A martyr is one who is so confident of the truth and so upright that he would rather give his life than deny the truth of what he has seen and known. Paul mentions Steven’s witness and martyrdom in Acts 22:20 as an example of this kind of witness.
In the letter to the Laodeceans (Revelation 3:14), Jesus Himself is referred to as the faithful and true witness. Witness here is the Greek word martus and none of the other letters to the seven churches use this title.
Christ’s emphasis His own faithful and true character to contrast the Laodiceans, who lack these two qualities; instead they are lukewarm, non-committing, and unreliable as a witness, friend, or member. Christ’s example shows that to be a suitable witness of God, one must be faithful and true, spiritually reliable and accurate.
So a true witness of God is a reflected example of the life of Jesus Christ in words and behavior. It is important to remember that although we are to be true witnesses of God's way of life, we do not call people into Christ’s church. God does. Our responsibility is provide a witness that glorifies God. It is God who calls people into His church, not us.
I Thessalonians 2:12 That you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
We do not call people into His church, and we do not cause people to come into God's church; only God’s Spirit softens a person’s heart and opens his mind to receive the truth, and understand its significance and importance thereby changing him into a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The word “power” used in verse 8 is significant; it is the Greek word dynamis. In some versions of this text “power” occurs twice, once in verse 7, where it says:
Acts 1:7-8 And he said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 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.”
The word “power” in verse 8 is misleading because in Greek these are two entirely different words. The New King James and the NIV translate the word as authority. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority,” which is right. The second word is translated as power, “But you shall receive power...” actually it is only in the second instance that the text speaks of power as we understand the term power.
The Greek word dynamis entered the English language when the Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who lived from 1833-1896, discovered a power stronger than anything the world had known up to that time. He asked a friend of his who is a Greek scholar what the word for explosive power was in the Greek. His friend answered, “dynamis.” Nobel said,
“Well, I will call my discovery by that name.” So he called his explosive power dynamite. That is the same word in Acts 1:8, and it refers not of the power one has by intrinsic or even a delegated authority, but to the explosive, life changing dynamic of the Holy Spirit from God, the Father, through Jesus Christ and His written word.
This is not political power; political power is what the disciple wanted. They asked Jesus if He was going to set up a political machine. They could understand that kind of power, but that was not the power Jesus was talking about. He was talking about power that flows from God.
Several years ago, there was a French writer Jacques Ellul, who wrote “The Political Illusion.” It examines and exposes the mystic of political power. Ellul calls political power, “An illusion created by politicians because they want to be thought of as powerful, and by the media who feed on it.”
This is not to say that the State Government is unimportant. God established the State to protect the innocent, secure the just punishment of the guilty, and defend its citizens against oppression both from within and out. This involves power.
There is an illusion surrounding the political process, and it is this that Elul is debunking. The illusion that because a person possesses a political office that somehow he or she can control events, change things, and produce reformation in the world… Many people believe that, but it is not where true significant power is located, otherwise politicians would not be so sensitive to public opinion.
Power for change comes from a source entirely. What is it that really changes the world? If I were speaking in secular terms to a secular audience, I could say that it is always the power of an idea. It is not armies that changed the world; they just put different people in charge of the problems; it is not money that changes the world; not even laws change the world, Americans should understand that very well, because we passed a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol, and it did not eliminate drinking; prohibition was a failure.
As a matter of fact it did the opposite. It encouraged people to drink so that there was actually more trafficking in liquor in those days than existed beforehand. So laws do not necessarily change things, at least not for the better. Only ideas change things; changes occur when ideas influence and take hold of people’s minds.
In the spiritual realm, real changes come when God implants in people His Spirit and causes sinning people, who are called by God, to repent of their sins, seek righteousness, and live for Jesus Christ.
Changes follow in a big way when that happens. So what is our responsibility in making changes? How do we prepare for the Kingdom of God? To enter God's Kingdom, we must make proper preparations here and now.
Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ is coming to this earth again very soon. When He comes, the angels will gather the then resurrected saints along with the living saints and take them to meet Christ in the air. In order to meet Christ in the air, certain preliminary conditions are essential. If even one of these essentials is neglected we will not be able to rise and meet Christ in the air.
At this point in the sermon, I want to take the time to remind you of seven simple essential keys that must be carried out to prepare us for our responsibilities as true witnesses and ambassadors of the kingdom of God. They are very simple points; in some ways they are almost too simple, because we go through life and overlook them and forget about them. But there is a simplicity in Christ, and this is a way of showing it, I think.
First, in preparing for our responsibilities as true witnesses and ambassadors of the kingdom of God, we must repent and be baptized. Until we have faith toward God, repent, are baptized, and granted forgiveness of past sins, we have not taken the necessary steps to becoming a Christian. Therefore we cannot properly witness for Jesus Christ and promote God's way of life.
As we grow in grace and knowledge we improve our witnessing ability and quality. Yes, when we first come into the church we can be witnesses for Christ, witnesses of God's way of life, but we are very limited in how we can grow. As we grow, we continue to witness in a more effective and more accurate way.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
So, baptism is necessary not only for forgiveness of sins, but also so we will receive God's Spirit by the laying on of hands of God's ministers. Without the Holy Spirit we are not born from above as children of God, and we will never be able to be changed to immortal spirit at Christ return.
Not only must we be forgiven of past sins and receive God's Holy Spirit, but we must also be forgiven of any subsequent sins we may commit. Christ’s prayer outlined in Luke 11:1-4 includes a request for the forgiveness of sins, so we should make sure that we include that in our prayers and be genuinely sorry for them as well.
We all sometimes sin, but if we repent of those sins and turn and go the opposite way and ask for forgiveness, God will grant it. Sins not repented of and thus unforgiven cut us off from God.
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God. And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.
No one knows when death will end this physical existence. After death, in our next conscience instance, we will stand before God; and we had better not stand there unrepentant with a lot of unforgiven sins.
The second key is simply: obey God. From Genesis to Revelation, one of the Bible’s major themes is that we must obey and submit to God. Adam and Eve did not obey and were thrust out of the Garden of Eden, and most of mankind has been cut off from God ever since.
Notice, however, that Abraham, the father of the faithful, set the example.
Genesis 26:5 Because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
That is why he was father of the faithful. The prophet Moses repeatedly stated that obedience to God would result in blessings while disobedience would result in cursings. God’s commands and laws show the right way to live and define sin; no sinner is going to be in God's Kingdom.
I John 3:4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
If we do not keep God's commandments, we do not really know God at all and are liars; if we say we do, I John 2:3 gives us the test for knowing God.
I John 2:3-5 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him”, and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
We can talk about how we love people all we want, but if we are not keeping the commandments, the only reward we will receive is the compliments of a few unwitting dupes.
The last chapter in the Bible states that only those who do God's commandments will have a right to the tree of life.
Revelation 22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
Do we really realize the importance of trying to keep every one of God's commandments as perfectly as possible? Some neglect what they consider minor laws or least commandments; some justify or rationalize white lies or minor transgressions of the Sabbath and other laws. But sin is sin, and whether it is little or great, it will prevent us from entering His Kingdom unless repented of and forgiven.
Some people have the attitude of doing as little as possible, doing just what is required of them and no more. Jesus said that if we do only what is commanded of us we are still unprofitable servants. We must do all God commands, and then go above and beyond in our Christian lives fulfilling the spirit of God's law which is the love of God and our neighbor.
The third key is simply good works.
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is another way of saying “be a good witness for Jesus Christ by living God's way of life.” The apostle Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:17 that an essential part of Christian living is to do good works. Performing good works is simply doing good to others or following the principles of give rather than get. Good works are expressed in outgoing love and concern and showing kindness and consideration to others. It also means not insulting or talking rudely to people as well as other harsh comments.
The fourth key is simply Bible study.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Without them we will go astray. There is no other method of learning the right way of life except to read or hear His words. How can we know what God expects of us in our Christian lives unless we diligently study His word? God must talk to us and convey to us the knowledge of His will, and since God does not always speak to each of us, we hear what it is we are to do by studying His word, also by listening to the ministers preach and His servants.
Do not think that you will be able to stand before Christ and say they did not tell me. That philosophy, “what we do not know will not hurt us,” does not apply in a relationship to God. Ignorance of the law in this case is no excuse because we have the opportunity to learn what we should know by studying the Bible and every week coming to services and hearing it expounded.
II Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
You cannot leave such essentials of Christian living to someone else. Your wife or husband cannot study God's word for you; you must do it yourself. Bible study in itself is an essential part of the Christian daily life and routine.
The fifth key is prayer. Not only must God regularly talk to us, but we must regularly talk to Him. We must have a two-way communication with God to please Him. The faithful people of God throughout the scriptures were praying people. David prayed three times daily as did Daniel. Daniel continued his practice even though he knew it might cause his death.
Jesus Christ prayed often and long, on at least one important occasion just before the selection of the twelve disciples. He prayed all night.
Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Not only should we make our needs and requests known to God, but we should thank Him for His mercy and for all His blessings, count our blessings, and then thank God for all of them. If you cannot find much to include, study the Psalms and see how David thanked God. Compare our blessings with others who have been called to those of others in poor nations of the world and others who are suffering from illnesses and handicapped. You have no shortage of things to thank God for. You cannot walk with God if you do not talk with God. Make prayer an important part of your daily life, and make it your habit to spend a long time each day on your knees in a private place in prayer. In addition, pray silently and other times during the day as the occasion permits.
Occasionally you should fast so that we draw closer to God; fasting is never done to try to force God to do something for you; it is for improving your relationship with Him, for humbling and drawing closer to God. We should always ask if it is according to His will.
The sixth key is to have a right attitude. This is one that probably is one of the hardest on the list. It is easy to get into a wrong attitude and sometimes not realize it. Here are some common wrong attitudes: Envy—you may be envious of someone else, his opportunities or his blessings when you compare yourself with him, but remember, we are to rejoice with others when they receive blessings rather than envy them.
I Corinthians 12:26 And if one member suffers all the members suffer with it. Or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
II Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
Sometimes God gives one person special opportunities of service while at other times He gives such opportunities to someone else. We all need to learn to be abased and to abound and take it gracefully. We must never envy or despise others in the process.
Another wrong attitude is to have hurt feelings or bitterness toward others. If a root of bitterness is not eradicated quickly, it will ultimately consume and destroy a person.
Hebrews 12:14-15 Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God. Lest any root of bitterness springing cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.
Some people become upset because of what someone else does or in some cases what another person does not do or will not do. What difference does it make what someone else does or does not do? God is the judge of us all, and He will take care of the problem in His own way and in His own time frame.
In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the accuser of our brethren. Some people who get into a wrong attitude do Satan's work for him by making accusations against others in the church. If someone sins and you know it, you should follow what Christ's instruction are instead of telling others about it.
Matthew 18:15-17 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone, if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you take with you one or two more that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Also the apostle Paul remarks about the same thing to the Galatians.
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is over taken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
One of the worst attitudes to get into is one of rebellion. Satan is the arch rebel, and he sometimes is able to influence people in the church to do what he did and rebel against God. Such rebellion is as in the sin of witchcraft, and witchcraft is condemned in scripture as an abomination to the Lord. Therefore, by definition, so is rebellion. Rebellion is an abomination to the Lord.
The kind of attitude we should all have is expressed beautifully in Isaiah 66:2.
Isaiah 66:2 For all those things My hand has made. And all those things exist says the Lord. But on this one will I look, on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.
Humility flows through that verse. Such a person is not proud or haughty, not smug or cocky, but is meek and modest, and his love does not parade itself. It is childlike, open, teachable, and approachable.
I mention this point of having the right attitude, because our attitudes affect the witness and example that we give of our brethren of God's church and of His way of life. Just as a person in our personal human family can ruin our reputations, so can we ruin the reputations of a whole church family. A whole congregation or a whole church organization itself or even every Christian on earth.
We have to remember that we are ambassadors; we are representatives, witnesses for God the Father and Jesus Christ and their Kingdom and our Kingdom.
The seventh key is endure to the end. It will do no good whatsoever if you fulfill all the previous six points for a while and quit. It is the person who endures to the end who will be saved.
Matthew 24:10-14 And then many will be offended, will betray one another and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the worlds as a witness to all the nations and then the end will come.
In a race, the only ones who are rewarded are those who finish. One who drops out after a few laps is not honored; we must not quit no matter what happens. Through thick and thin, we must keep going; we must be determined to reach our spiritual goal: eternal life in God's Kingdom.
Jesus Christ is going to establish God's government on this earth; around that time, He will reward each of us according to our works. Now finally, we will look at a fourth emphasis in what we notice about the introduction to Acts.
Acts 1:9-11 Now when He had spoken these things while they watched He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “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.”
The emphasis is the expectation of the return of Christ, and this is the passage that tells Christ ascension into heaven during these forty days he had been appearing to the disciples on an unanticipated occasions to teach them spiritual things. If that had continued they might have thought, “Well, that is the way it is going to be forever. Every so often Jesus will just be here to give us the kind of instruction we need and then He will disappear.”
Jesus had to teach them that this phase of His work was ending, and the moment came when Jesus bid them goodbye, ascended visibly into heaven, and disappeared from sight. Verse 11 tells us that suddenly the disciples became aware that there were angels standing by them and the angels said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky?” It was a way of saying, “Why are you just standing there. There is work to do; get on with it.” Then the angels gave a great promise. “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.”
We know that Jesus Christ is returning to judge the world, because we are told about it elsewhere in the New Testament. The disciples also have been told that one day Jesus would return to render judgment. But when the disciples were told that this same Jesus would come back, they would have thought of the Jesus they loved, not the judge. It was this gentle, loving, gracious, and sovereign Holy and majestic Christ who would come back.
The disciples, as they thought of Christ return, would have been encouraged for the task at hand. The revelations stirred them to actions so they would be more enthusiastic and zealous for witnessing and preaching to God's church and preparing the Bride and secondarily in preaching to the world.
If that was an inspiration to them, if that kept them going, if that fired them up for the task at hand…how much more should we all be inspired by the thought that one day very soon Jesus Christ Himself is going to return? I have given you some simple keys to apply in your lives; hopefully they will be easy to remember. These things are our responsibilities; things we must do. So may God bless and stir us with enthusiasm for the work in witnessing we have before us as we live His way of life in spirit and in truth.