To Become Witnesses Of Christ
1. Next week is Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The scriptural passage we are given for today, a week before then, is from the beginning of The Acts Of The Apostles to verse eleven. This text documents from the resurrection to the ascension of Christ. The period of time in which the risen Lord showed himself to the apostles was for forty days. Well, what did the Lord do during that time? Today I would like for us to make two observations.
The Lord Spoke In Reference To The Kingdom Of God
2. Please look beginning at verse three. "After Jesus suffered, he showed his apostles with many proofs that he was alive, and for forty days long he appeared to them and spoke in regard to the kingdom of God," (verse three). First, let's stop and take a look at the very interesting statement that Christ "spoke of the kingdom of God."
3. We shouldn't selfishly change the reading of this passage to "Jesus .. spoke about the heavenly kingdom." No doubt, after Christ appeared for forty days long, he did go up to heaven, just as we read today. But, Christ was not talking to his disciples of how they can go to heaven in the same way Christ did. There is something more important than even going to heaven. It is that the kingdom of God is coming.
4. Please recall with me. What did Jesus once pray and say to his disciples? Did he pray and say, "Would that we go to thy kingdom?" No, he didn't. The Lord taught them to pray "Thy kingdom come." Did the Lord teach them to pray, "Would that we depart this earth where thy will is not done and we go to heaven?" No, he did not. Didn't he teach them rather to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven?"
5. His kingdom is coming. The kingdom of God is the rule of God. The reign of God is coming. God's government is coming to this world. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall; kingdoms prosper and kingdoms decline, kingdoms war and kingdoms make peace and into this such a world the rule of God is coming. We laugh and we cry, we get mad and we make up, we get disappointed and we get back on our feet, it is into this world that we live in every day that the rule of God is coming. As his will is done in heaven, so it will be done on earth, too. Thus, we, who seek the kingdom in prayer, should be living with hope for the world and our own situations in it. We ought to have hope.
6. Indeed, Christ wasn't teaching us to pray "Thy kingdom come" with a view our looking to the far future. Christ announced the arrival of the kingdom of God and he demonstrated the arrival of God's kingdom and his rule in his own works. The healing of the sick and the exorcism of evil spirits that Christ did were signs of the kingdom of God.
7. When we read The Gospel According To Luke, right after the story in which Christ taught the disciples a prayer comes the story of the driving out of an evil spirit. An argument arose among the people about how that Jesus cast out a demon. Then, Jesus spoke to the people as follows, "If I am casting out demons with the finger of God, the kingdom of God has come to you," (Luke 11:20). Christ showed the arrival of the rule of God by setting the people free from the evil powers that were binding them.
8. So, finally, the rule of God was manifested in the resurrection of Christ. The risen Christ indeed is clearly the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who is invested with absolute power over heaven and earth by God the Father. The power of death and even all the forces of hell are put under his rule. As this King of kings and Lord of lords he appeared to the apostles in the figure of him who defeated death and spoke with them regarding the kingdom of God. That is the scene we read today. The Lord did this so that they would become witnesses of Christ's resurrection and that they would preach that the risen Lord indeed was the true king.
9. The church is entrusted with the testimony of the disciples. As persons entrusted with the testimony of Christ's resurrection, we confess faith in Christ and we preach Christ. In preaching the kingdom of God we, while in this world, point to who the true king is. The church does not exist to point to a different world which escapes off this one. It exists to point to Christ as King of the kingdom of God, which is come and still to come.
10. Then when we show Christ we are but preaching that there is an ultimate salvation for humanity in this very person himself. Our salvation does not lie in a heaven that we escape off to. We are not saved by going to heaven, but are saved by being in Christ and being made His people. Because he truly is the one who has defeated every power and has even defeated death. When we are joined to him and live under God's rule, nothing can destroy us any more. Where Christ is salvation is already begun.
Christ Commanded That We Be Expecting The Holy Spirit
11. However, witnessing to the resurrection of Christ and living in confession of Christ as the true king has never been easy. Because as we know so well this world won't accept the rule of God or follow Christ as king. While in this such a world, to testify to Christ and to live in confession of faith in him means a battle will by necessity come to be therein.
12. In battles power is important. Therefore, Christ commanded that disciples be expectant of the Holy Spirit. That's the second point we ought to take notice of. The Lord said, "Don't leave Jerusalem, but wait on that which was promised by the father, which you have heard of from me before. Because John conferred a baptism by water, but suddenly you will be conferred with a baptism that comes from the Holy Spirit," (verses four and five). After that, Christ went on to add, "When the Holy Spirit falls upon you, you will receive power And you will not only become witnesses of me in Jerusalem but in all of Judah and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth," (verse eight).
13. The power we need in our battle is not the weapons of this temporary world. It is not the authority or the strengths of this world. Once God said the following through the prophet Zechariah to the impotent Israelites when placed under great duress and difficulties, "It does not depend on military might, nor on authorities, but on my Spirit, says the Lord of the Armies," (Zechariah chapter four and verse six). The same thing is said to the church as well. In order to be a church that truly points to Christ, in order to become christians who point to Christ [though we] are in the world, this power is necessary. It is the power that comes upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is the power that comes from God. There is a power that makes us witnesses of Christ when God comes inside us to live and to be at work.
14. Well, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be given power, and to become witnesses of Christ, the apostles had to stay put in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the last place they wanted to be in. It was a place of frustration and discouragement for them. It was the place where the disciples' hearts' desire of "If it's for Jesus, we will give up even our very lives" was frustrated. Beginning with Peter, it was a place where the disciples had forsaken Jesus. And also it was the place where the religious authority of the powerful Jewish leaders was headquartered. It was a place where they couldn't help but admit that no matter how hard they tried their lives were trashed out and unable to accomplish anything. But, because it was all that, it was the place where they could be totally humble and where they could only have their hopes in God, wait on him, and pray. The Lord commanded them to stay there [in that such a place].
15. I would suppose that for christians to live by the power of the Holy Spirit, they must honestly face their own powerlessness from different directions. We need to stay in the place where we are completely humble. It is not human weakness that prevents the work of true religious activity. It is human strengths. The things that really prevent true religious work are human strength and highmindedness, wherein a person does not seek God in prayer. In not realizing they are doing that, things that in essence do not point to Christ in the slightest take place, even though a church might seem zealously active, do things on a grand scale or cry out loudly to the world. Though individual christians look fervent at first glance, what is happening is only the rule of the human ego that is at display there and the rule of the living Christ has not been seen at all.
16. As Christ commanded, the apostles stayed at the capital city to pray and to wait expectantly. That was the way they were until the coming of the Holy Spirit. We, celebrating Pentecost - The Descent Of The Holy Spirit, must wait in the same place they did all over again.
17. So, when Christ finished all he said, he ascended up into heaven right before the watching disciples. Since this is something that happened that belongs to divine mysteries, we know that it actually happened as a phenomenon in the world, but we are not really sure how. But, no doubt that the thing that happened that we might care to call "The Ascension" did happen. Because after that the apostles were no longer all worried and nervous, even though Christ no longer appeared as a visible risen Lord. Christ, [though] he became unseen, became more near, more intimate, and even more certain of a being to them.
18. Then, continuing after the ascension of Christ, the following words of promise were further given to the apostles. "O men of Galilee, why are you standing [there] looking up to heaven? Jesus, who has departed from you and gone up into heaven will come again in the same way as you have seen him going to heaven," (1:11). Just as in the ascension, the return of Christ will also be something that happens that blows away the small powers of our imaginations. But, one thing's for sure, that our battles will soon be over. The time is coming when the church will no longer need to speak of Christ as the true king. Because Christ himself will show forth that fact of reality. In the coming of Christ we see the ultimate answer to the prayer "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven." Yes, it is true, and the time now wherein the church finds itself, even if it is a time amidst difficult battles however hard, is [ticking] towards the fulfillment of that promise. That's why we should have hope. With our hope, we ought to keep on living in dependence and trust upon the Holy Spirit alone.