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Let’s pray. O Father, we trust that these words we have just sung are not just words, but reflect and express the attitude of our hearts, so we pray again that you would prepare our hearts, O God, help us to receive. We do have hard and stony ground in our hearts. We are easily distracted; even now we’re thinking of what’s to come, what’s for dinner, what’s ahead this week. We, we are prone to wander. Lord, we feel it, and so these next moments together are apt to be a waste of time if You don’t come and break up the stony ground in our hearts and give us the grace to receive, to learn, from Your Word. And so we ask that by Your Holy Spirit your people here might hear a better sermon than the one that I’m going to preach, and that You would speak to us and give us just what we need to hear. We pray in Your name. Amen.
Famous last words. Some of them are quite noble. George Washington said, “It is well, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.” Some are poetic. Emily Dickinson. It is said her last words were “the fog is rising.” Perhaps like her poems. Interesting, not quite sure what it means. Some are historically fascinating. Louis XIV, “Why are you weeping? Did you imagine I was immortal?” Thomas Jefferson, “Is it the fourth?” And it was, as you know, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Some are sad. Pablo Picasso’s last words, “Drink to me.” Some are tragic/comic. John Sedgwick at the Battle of Wilderness, when he was told not to show himself over the wall. “Nonsense,” his last words, “they couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” It turns out they could. [laughter] Dylan Thomas, last wounds, “I have just had 18 whiskeys in a row, I do believe that is a record.” Or John Rogers, a criminal when asked at his execution for any last words or final request, he said, “Why, yes, I’d like a bullet-proof vest.” And then there is, as you may have heard, Oscar Wilde, who said, “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.”
Famous last words. Some are inspirational, some are tragic, some are comical. They can tell us a lot about the person, especially if they are premeditated words. I imagine Oscar Wilde thought of that said something of his irreverent attitude toward life.
We have, in this text, in Acts chapter 1, two famous last words, in a way. We have the famous last words from Jesus before He ascended into heaven, but we also have the last words from His disciples. Now, not the last we hear from His disciples, but the last question from the disciples for the risen Lord Jesus.
Follow along as we begin this study in Acts. Not looking at every section, but various high points throughout the book, beginning this morning in Acts chapter 1, this famous section, version 6 through 11.
“So when they had come together, they asked Him,” so here are the disciples’ famous last words, their last words for Jesus, “‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. 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.’ And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.'”
What would you say if you had one last question to ask the Lord Jesus before He ascended into heaven? One last question.
It’s not like, you know, the genie, you can’t wish for more wishes.
What would be your last question? Why did the Patriots end up with Antonio Brown? How did that happen? [laughter] No, hopefully you’d think of something more profound than that.
The disciples want to ask about the kingdom. It’s not a dumb question on the face of it. It was natural that they would ask about the kingdom. Think of all the language about the kingdom in the Gospels. Not to mention verse 3. Look up at verse 3: “He presented Himself alive to them,” Jesus, “after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
So what was He doing in these forty days? He was often speaking about the kingdom. It’s understandable that then their last question would be about the kingdom. When they ask, verse 6, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”, highlight that word “restore.” They are likely thinking of the good ol’ days under David and Solomon. Will You now get the Romans off our backs? We didn’t see this coming. You, you died on a cross, but now You’re alive, surely the kingdom is coming and you’re going to be on a throne, in Jerusalem, we’re going to get these political oppressors out of our land, we’re going to have our whole religion and promised land back. Is now the time You’re going to do it?”
It’s an understandable question. An honest question. It just wasn’t a terribly good question.
Calvin said there are as many errors as words in this question. It may not be quite that bad, but we see from Jesus’ response, and from the rest of Acts, that the disciples misunderstood a lot about the kingdom. They misunderstood the nature of the kingdom, the domain of the kingdom, and the time of the kingdom. Now, those are going to be the first three points, and then that’s going to lead us to what Jesus wants to say about the kingdom, one big point, and then we’ll finish with a few points of application.
So, first, what did they misunderstand? They misunderstood the nature of the kingdom. They were thinking political, earthly kingdom. Jesus was thinking spiritual, heavenly kingdom. Jesus is going to rule from a heavenly throne. He is ascending into heaven. He is not going to rule on an earthly throne in Jerusalem. The spread of God’s reign and rule would come not by armies or elections, but by the words of the apostles and their followers.
Six other uses of kingdom in Acts outside of this chapter. 8:12: Preaching good news about the kingdom. Paul, in Acts 14:22, says “through tribulation you will enter the kingdom.” Acts 19:8: “Reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom.” Acts 20:25 speaks of proclaiming the kingdom. Acts 28:23, testifying to the kingdom, and Acts 28:31 speaks of proclaiming the kingdom.
So you can hear there the verbs are speaking verbs. What are they doing with the kingdom? They are not girding up their swords, they are not trying to overthrow the Roman Empire, they are not trying to set up an earthly throne in Jerusalem, but rather they are announcing the good news of the kingdom. They’re preaching it. They’re proclaiming it. And the only of these that isn’t a speaking word is where Paul says “through tribulation you will enter the kingdom,” that is you will receive it.
Think about this. The verbs related to the kingdom, in Acts and in the Gospels, are not actually the verbs that we sometimes use. “I’m going to go out and build the kingdom. I’m going to go expand the kingdom. I’m going to work with God to create the kingdom.” These aren’t the words.
Now, I know why we say it sometimes, but actually the language of building the kingdom is not here in the New Testament. The language is of proclaiming, announcing, or passively to receive, to inherit, to enter into the kingdom. The kingdom is a gift that God gives to us. It is not something that we must go and build and shape by our own ingenuity.
Now, we can see the importance of the kingdom for the book of Acts because it forms a deliberate bookend. You see in verse 3, we already read, that Jesus was speaking about the kingdom, so the book begins with Jesus announcing the kingdom and then go to the end of the book, Acts 28:31, the very last verse finds Paul under house arrest, in Rome, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
So quite deliberately, the book begins with Jesus speaking of the kingdom and it ends with Paul boldly and without hindrance preaching of the kingdom. Because Acts, we think of Acts as the history of the early church, and it gives us that, but really it’s the continuing history of Jesus.
Look at Acts 1. “In the first book,” verse 1, “O Theophilus,” so he’s speaking of his first book that he wrote, the Gospel according to Luke, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.”
So if Luke was about what Jesus began to do and teach, then Acts by implication is what Jesus continues to do and to teach. This is the book of Jesus’ continuing ministry. You say wouldn’t it be great if Jesus was still ministering on the earth. He is. By His Spirit and His Word as we bear witness in the power of the Spirit to that Word.
So Jesus starts preaching the kingdom, the book ends with Paul preaching the kingdom. They are not speaking of a future earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. How would that make sense, how would that be good news when Paul’s in Ephesus or when Paul is in Rome? Good news, there’s a kingdom in Jerusalem. No, the good news is not about a local empire, but about a spiritual heavenly kingdom that you enter into not by ethnic heritage, not by the color of your skin, or the language that you speak, but by faith and repentance. The presence of the kingdom then is marked by the advancement of the Gospel, and we’ll see this and come back to this many times. The kingdom that Paul preached, as he preaches it later in the book, and the kingdom that Jesus preached, as not about planting trees or transforming social structures, as good as both of those things may be, and as those things may even give an expression to values of the kingdom. And yet, the kingdom quite deliberately comes only when the King is announced, believed upon, and received in the heart. The kingdom comes when and where the King is known.
And I emphasize that and will emphasize it throughout our studies in Acts because many people hear kingdom and they’re taught kingdom is sort of, Gospel is kind of churchy, but kingdom, man, yeah, we can get behind kingdom. Kingdom is about, you know, making a park look good and about making the world a better place. Well, the kingdom coming does make the world a better place, but the kingdom only comes where the King is known and believed upon.
So they misunderstand the nature of the kingdom; not political, not earthly, heavenly, spiritual, with earthly ramifications.
Second, they misunderstand the domain of the kingdom. What do I mean by domain? Well, they were thinking a national kingdom when Jesus came to announce a universal kingdom. They were thinking the kingdom of Israel.
You notice the language. Verse 3, Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of God. Verse 6, they say are now you going to restore the kingdom to Israel? He’s announcing, Jesus, something universal. They’re expecting something local and national. Israel’s kingdom.
But it cannot be reduced to what is going on in a sliver in the world around the Mediterranean basin.
Turn over to Acts chapter 3. Look at the preaching here, verse 19: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.”
So the disciples are going to gain a much better understanding of the kingdom as the book goes on. And likely what Jesus says here, in these famous last words, is but a summary, but a sort of headline news version of all that He might have explained to them at His ascension. To make clear: No, no, no… You want a kingdom to Israel. What I’m announcing is the restoration of all things. Israel is going to exert a universal influence through its Messiah’s reign and rule.
So not national, but universal. You see this in verse 8. Verse 8 is the most famous verse in this section: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That geographic sequence forms a table of contents for the book, quite literally.
So verse 4, “while they were staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem.” So the action at the beginning of Acts is decidedly in Jerusalem. Verse 12, “Then they returned to Jerusalem.” Chapter 2 is about Pentecost at Jerusalem. So the first seven chapters of the book are decidedly in and around Jerusalem, just like Acts 1:8 says.
But then go to Acts chapter 8: “And there arose,” verse 1, ” on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.” So we’ve been in Jerusalem, now look what happens, “and they were all scattered throughout the regions,” exact same language of verse 8 in chapter 1, “of Judea and Samaria.”
So here’s the table of contents. Chapter 1 through 7, Jerusalem. Now here in chapter 8, just like we heard, we’re going to Judea and to Samaria. And then if you turn over to chapter 13, many people mark off 13 as the beginning of the final section, the ends of the earth, because we read “now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
So we are now in Antioch, we are outside of Jerusalem, outside of Judea, outside of Samaria, and now we have people who are coming from parts of Africa and around the Mediterranean world, that yes, the Gospel is reaching to the ends of the earth.
So there is a geographic movement of the Gospel forming a table of contents in the book of Acts, and there’s a reason that it ends in Rome, because Rome is, it’s not that Rome was the farthest place they’ve ever heard of. Paul wanted to go to Spain, they knew of Spain and that was farther than Rome, but Rome being the seat of imperial power, is the gateway to the ends of the earth.
So quite deliberately, the book ends with Paul in Rome and there’s a reason it ends with that strange phrase “without hindrance.”
You try to write a book in some Master of Fine Arts class, they’d probably tell you don’t end your book with the word “hindrance.”
But it makes perfect sense, because this is the story of Christ’s continuing work through the ministry of the Word and so the perfect ending in chapter 28 is that the Gospel of the kingdom is being preached boldly and without hindrance. Paul made it to Rome. He made it to the gateway, as they understood it, to the rest of the world. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 49:6: “It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to take up the tribes of Jacob and to bring in the preserves of Israel. I will make you as a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
One of my favorite Old Testament passages, such a great missionary text. It’s too small a thing. No, no, no, if you’re, so often they were just thinking “Israel, we’ve just got to get Israel restored, we’ve just got to get the temple right, we’ve just got to get Jerusalem and Judea.”
And all the way back, Isaiah says “no, no, too small a thing.” You think God’s just, just interested in the lost tribes of Jacob? No, He is going to be and bring and send a light to the gentiles.
Now, your plans for the spread of the Gospel or my plans or our plans as a church, may be self-centered. They could be impatient. They could be naïve. But they most certainly cannot be too big. Our plans for the spread of the Gospel cannot be too big. God says “You think that’s hard for Me? You think I can’t have a Gospel breakthrough in North Korea? You think I can’t have the 10/40 Window and the Muslim world turn to Me? You think secular Americans and Westerners can’t come to Christ? It’s too small a thing that I should just be a light to middle class church people. Be a light to the nations: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.”
They misunderstood the nature of the kingdom, they misunderstood the domain of the kingdom, and they misunderstood, third, the timing of the kingdom.
So go back to chapter 1. There is an element of the kingdom that is now and an element that’s later. The later is that Jesus is coming back. The angels, we presume they’re angels in white robes, say that, “this Jesus will come back just in the way as you saw Him go up.” So there will be a physical bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ. We still pray “Your kingdom come,” because it hasn’t fully come. There’s a later, but there’s a now.
“Wait here, in a few days you will be clothed with power from on high.” We read that in Acts, we read it at the end of Luke’s Gospel, that they’re to wait, that there is going to be a profound inbreaking of the kingdom there in Jerusalem. In Luke 11:20: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
So there, as Jesus preached the Gospel and as he demonstrated His power over the devil and disease, He says the kingdom is coming.
So there’s a later, there’s a now, so you say has the kingdom come? Yes. Should we pray for the kingdom to come? Yes. It’s been inaugurated, to use a fancy term, but it has not finally been consummated, or realized absolutely.
Now, if you say, “Well, I’m really curious though. I want to know, when is it finally going to happen? When is Jesus going to come back?” The Bible has a very clear word for you. You’re not going to know. And in fact, if you find someone who has a book, 88 Reasons He’s Coming Back in 1988, and you know, then it turns out, oh, I meant 2088, that’s what it was. Or how many times has this happened. Jesus coming back, what is that, a number of, it was about 10 years ago, I remember, I was doing a wedding on the day that supposedly Jesus was supposed to come back, that one of the, the people was saying, and I said to the couple, who I knew well, I was like, “Not gonna have much of a honeymoon. Did you plan anything?” [laughter] Thankfully, the husband was like “Yeah, I got contingencies, okay? We got something.” And then after that didn’t happen, the person who predicted it said “well, I, I miscalculated the date. It’s next year.” And then it was “well, I mis-, it was a spiritual return, not a physical return.” Look, you can be sure it’s the wrong date when someone tells you what the date is, and you can just circle it, okay, that’s not going to be when Jesus comes back.
Because what do we read here? Jesus Himself says, verse 7, “it is not for you to know.” It seems so obvious, and yet so many people and groups and cults and movements start with someone who says “well, it’s for me to know.” No, it is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. We cannot change God’s eternal plan, we cannot discover this end time calendar, so we ought not to fret ourselves over God’s inscrutable timing.
Don’t focus on when He will return, but focus on your God-given mission until He returns.
They misunderstood the timing of the kingdom.
Which brings us to Jesus’ point, and then some application.
They misunderstood all of that about the kingdom, but Jesus is going to make plain, in response to that, the single overarching kingdom imperative. It’s the point of this passage and it’s the purpose of their mission and it is the mission of the Church. It’s here in verse 8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and here is their kingdom imperative, “and you will be My witnesses.” That is the central imperative for us as those who have received the kingdom. What do we do? Go out and build it? Go out and create it? Partner with God to establish it? No, we bear witness. Isaiah 43:10: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.”
Isaiah 44:8: “Fear not, nor be afraid. Have I not told you from of old, declared it, and you are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? There is no rock I know, not any.”
Now to be fair, this requirement is in some sense unique to the apostles. We are not to wait in Jerusalem for Pentecost. It’s happened. They were witnesses, eyewitnesses, establishing the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection, through verifiable observation. They could say “we saw Him, we were there, we saw Him, we had a meal with Him.” They were eyewitnesses in the way that we are not. The word for witness is used mainly in this book for the twelve.
But we witness in a secondary sense, sharing with others the eyewitness testimony of the apostles. So no, we do not bear apostolic witness in the way that they were, but we, too, have the Holy Spirit and bear witness, even if we have not seen with our eyes, we have seen with the eyes of faith, and we have recorded the eyewitness accounts of Christ and what His death and resurrection has accomplished.
So we testify to people, we announce good news. We speak of what the apostles saw and heard and what we know to be true.
Now, yes, as go through the book of Acts, there is going to be a lot about evangelism, but evangelism can be a scary word. It can sound like something that’s only maybe slightly above a stewardship sermon, in terms of Christians’ excitement or a sermon on prayer. Evangelism, it’s the one thing we all know we should do and we don’t want to do it and we don’t do. Evangelism sounds like I have to sell something. I need to close the deal. I need the proverbial selling freezers to Eskimos kind of what do I have to give to those people.
Well, evangelism simply means, as you know, that you “euaggelion,” the evangel, the Good News, the Greek word for The Gospel. It’s to announce something. If evangelism sounds sort of daunting and very churchy and intimidating, think of the word that Jesus uses here: A witness.
I’m sure you all bear witness all the time, to things in your life that you’re excited about. Some of you have already probably talked about whatever football game you are into yesterday or something that your kids did over the weekend or your grandkids, and if someone wants to know something about your grandkids, you have maybe 700 photos right here, just, I could show you, just for a moment. And you’ll bear witness. You’ll talk about events and people will talk about the hurricane and what happened and where it went. If there’s a political really, you’ll talk about it. On Wednesday, after the election, people will talk about it. They will bear witness. If there’s a traffic jam, if there’s an accident, if there’s a road closure, if you have a wonderful vacation, if you try a new restaurant, a hundred times a week you are bearing witness. You’re testifying to things in your life that are unusual, that are exciting, that are noteworthy, that are scary, that are thrilling. You’re announcing things to people all the time.
So to be a witness for Christ is as difficult but also as simple as speaking of Jesus. You’ve heard me say many times we are all natural evangelists for the things that we love most. You talk about the things you’re passionate about. If it’s food, if it’s sports, if it’s your kids, if it’s politics, if it’s books. You will. It won’t take very long. You’ll be talking about it, because you love it, because you’re interested in it.
And when we love the Lord Jesus, we talk about Him. Now, yes, it’s not the same as, you know, telling about a great donut you had. Most people aren’t offended by great donuts. The gluten people are. [laughter] But Jesus can be. And yet all you’re doing is telling people about what you have seen and heard, about what you know to have taken place in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
Speaking, not trying to sell something, not trying to close a deal, not speaking in some abstract sense about religion per se, or just about the church, but you’re telling people as a witness about what I assume is the most important person in your life, if you’re a Christian. Jesus.
You will be My witnesses. That’s the central kingdom imperative.
Here are a few points of application as we close. Five of them.
Number one. We’ve already hit on this, but notice what He doesn’t say. Jesus does not say “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My co-creators, you will be My kingdom builders, you will be My city renewal experts, you will be My cultural architects, you will partner with Me in the restoring of all things.” He does not say that. He says “you will be a witness. Can you share what has happened in history, and what has happened in your life?”
Here’s the second application. We ought to make the apostles’ mission our mission as a church. This will come up time and time again, let me just say it as carefully as I can: God cares about every issue that affects His creation. He is not expecting all of us to be pastors and missionaries. He uses you in your various vocations, in business and service and blue collar and white collar and in the family. All can be done to the glory of God. He never suggests that church work is the only thing that matters. I just want to be very clear: God is not indifferent to human suffering. He cares about emotional, physical suffering. He cares about suffering for Christians and non-Christians. We are, after all, told to cast all our cares upon Him. And yet, the mission of the Church as given by the Lord Jesus is not to right every wrong, though some of us in our own vocations and callings will be a part of politics or NGOs or justice advocacy. But the mission of the Church is not to provide humanitarian services around the world, as good and proper as they may be. Our mission is not to preserve our own culture, family or tribe. Our mission is not to make the journey to heaven as comfortable as possible. The mission of the disciples was world mission. World mission that starts local, goes global. The mission of the Church, as it as the mission of the twelve, is to be spirit-empowered witnesses of the cross and the empty tomb. That is the mission of the Church, to be spirit-empowered witnesses to the cross and the empty tomb, to make disciples, to announce this Good News of the kingdom.
We’ll have much more to say about that in the weeks ahead.
Here’s the third point of application. We are called, therefore, to be ambassadors for Christ, not avatars of Christ. What’s an avatar? It is an incarnation of some god or some deity or your social media avatar is the representation of you. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, not avatars of Christ. Which is why I believe the language of incarnational ministry is not particularly helpful.
There was an article several years ago, you could probably find it, it was by Todd Billings, called “The Problem with Incarnational Ministry,” subtitle “What if our mission is not to be Jesus to other cultures, but to join with the Holy Spirit?” I understand why some people use the phrase “incarnational ministry.” They mean shouldn’t we live among people, and know their language, and know their habits, and contextualize the Gospel, and move into the neighborhood just like Jesus did to become clothed with human flesh. Well, yes, all of that is good. But incarnation is likely not the best word to use to describe it.
In this article, Todd Billings says he’s seen two dangers with incarnational ministry. One among more liberal churches and one with more conservative churches. He says among liberal churches, he says I was at a workshop recently about mission. He said I heard many techniques for adopting a second culture, listening to others, immersing myself in an urban neighborhood, but there was apparently no need to mention Jesus. Jesus provided the model for how to immerse ourselves in another culture, but the specific content of His life and teaching and death and resurrection were beside the point.
That’s a danger in liberal churches. You just, we identify with you. And? Well, that’s what we do. And you forget, oh, we have a message.
Well, what about in more conservative evangelical circles? He says the problem here is that by using the incarnation as a model, evangelicals miss the implication of what comes earlier in Acts 1:8, that the commissioning depends not on a second incarnation, but on receiving power from the Holy Spirit. Do you notice that in verse 8? “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” So it is not that we are told “now you are going to be another incarnation of Christ.” To use that language undermines the uniqueness of the God-man of the second person of the Trinity, taking on human flesh.
So, Billings says, because so many take the incarnation as their model of ministry, evangelicals often assume that they, rather than the Holy Spirit, made Christ present in the world. In these circles, one often hears the slogan “you and I may be the only Jesus that others will ever meet.” Youth leaders are admonished to go out and be Jesus to the youth. Church planters are told be Christ to the people they meet. The burden of incarnation and revelation is on the shoulders of individuals. Such a theology often leads to burn out. We forget we are not equipped to represent Christ to the world without being united as a community to Christ through the Spirit. If there is a representation of Christ to the world, it is the Church corporately, the body of Christ. You and I are but a member. It’s this church, and the Church, which represents Christ. But the act of God becoming incarnate in Christ is utterly unique.
So Billings says, in the end, not one New Testament passage suggests that we should imitate the divine act of becoming incarnate. In engaging other cultures, the New Testament church did not draw on a theology of incarnational ministry, but instead responded to the Spirit’s work of creating a new people in Christ.
So we are ambassadors. That is, we are deployed from another kingdom by another King to bear witness, but we are not avatars. We do not have to put that burden upon ourselves. You cannot be Christ. What you can do is in the power of the Holy Spirit bear witness to Christ.
Fourth. Our church budget, our church prayers, and our church priorities should reflect this mission of bearing witness. Our church budget, our church prayers, and our church priorities.
Are you bearing witness? It’s a fair question. How often do you speak of Jesus?
I had at my other church a dear African American woman, did her funeral after she passed away, and she always said the same thing to me when she shook my hand. She said, “Pastor, have a Jesus week.” I thought, that’s, that’s good. I’d like to have a Jesus week. And I saw in her life just the simple contagious act of so naturally, casually speaking of Jesus, and it made a difference. And it sometimes put me to shame. One thing to speak of Jesus boldly from this big huge box here, another to do it throughout the week to people who don’t want to hear of Him.
Are you bearing witness?
Are our missionaries bearing witness? I think they are. I hear concern from friends I know working around the world that increasingly they find missionaries doing all sorts of things except for the very thing that churches back home think they’re doing, which is speaking of Jesus.
You see here these concentric circles of our witness: Jerusalem, so that’s close and like us, people who are sort of like us and they’re near us, that’s our Jerusalem; Judea, farther away, but still culturally like us. Jerusalem and Judea were sort of home turf, but there was no home field advantage for the apostles. They were still met by enemies and hostility, but Jerusalem, and then a little broader geographic area, but still people like us, Judea, there’s Jews in Judea.
And then Samaria. So if Jerusalem is close and alike, Judea is farther and alike, Samaria is close but not alike. Samaria wasn’t far away. It was right next door to Judea. But the Samaritans were thought to be a different kind of people, different religious background.
Calvin says Samaria was close in situation, yet distant in mind and heart. Close in situation yet distant in mind and heart.
So you might go a further distance and, you know, go to Raleigh/Durham, and do ministry, but it’s really Judea and it’s people like yourself, whereas there may be a place five miles away from your home here in Charlotte that’s very close at hand, but very far off in mind and heart, different neighborhood, different people.
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth, which is now far away and unlike.
Close and the same, farther and the same, close and different, far and different.
So it’s not just geographic, but it’s speaking of added boundaries at every step of the Gospel process. Let our church budget, our church prayers, and our church priorities reflect this mission.
And the finally, let us not doubt the ultimate success of this mission. We will see this over and over in Acts. The unrelenting, unstoppable power, not of you, not of me, not of Christ Covenant, not of the PCA, not of the American church, but of the Word.
You see what was going to happen to Peter. He’s going to be transformed, almost immediately at Pentecost.
Politics matter, elections matter, we’re right to care about those things and vote on such things, but we should not think that any of those things are ultimate. Jesus would say to us “You want power, Christians? You want power, Church? There is so much more power that I have for you, from the Holy Spirit, working through the Word.”
Like Elijah passing the mantel to Elisha, Jesus passes on His power and His authority to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that what we do is the continuing ministry of Jesus in the world. Jesus hasn’t stopped, so you don’t stop.
It is for mission that the Spirit has sent the Church into the world, which means though churches may fail, ministries may end, denominations may falter, nations may crumble, but the Gospel will not in the end fail. And your life, in so far as you give your life to bearing witness to Christ, can make so much more difference than you dare to think, hope, or imagine.
The kingdom comes, not because we build it, but because you announce it. Through our imperfect, meager words, the King of the universe means to bring His merciful and rightful reign on our planet. And the tasks He gives to you and He gives to me and He gives to the Church is as simple as it is glorious: Would you say something? Would you speak of Jesus and bear witness.
Let’s pray. Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. Give us grace through this book that You might teach us, You might re-orient us to things that many of us already know, but can easily be forgotten. Help to fix us in our resolve as a church for the things that matter most: Who we are, what we are to be about. And may we be Your witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the very ends of the earth. In Christ we pray. Amen.