Have you ever read the commands and teachings of Jesus and thought to yourself, “That is impossible. I will never be able to obey or accomplish that.” That is probably very similar to what Jesus’ disciples thought as He spoke to them in the days after His resurrection.”
They probably would have claimed to have strong faith in the resurrected Christ, but most likely had little faith in themselves. Is that not where we often find ourselves as well? We know our past. We know our habitual sins. We know our weaknesses. We know our character flaws. How will we ever be able to accomplish that to which Christ has called us?
But is that not the beauty of Christ. He calls us to kingdom-sized tasks and then gives us the resources to make it possible. We read of such a story in Acts 1.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
In verse one Luke is referring to his previous writing, the book of “Luke.” Luke was not an eyewitness of that which he wrote. In Luke 1, Luke describes how he gathered together the eyewitness accounts of those believers who had been there with Jesus. He then “investigated everything from the beginning” and wrote an orderly account of it all, so that this man named Theophilus could be certain of the things that he had been taught.
Luke did not actually walk with Jesus. Luke entered the story later on as a Gentile doctor who ministered alongside and at times cared for the apostle Paul. We see that both the book of Luke and the book of Acts were written to this man named Theophilus.
Luke was seeking to document all that had happened in Jesus’ life that fulfilled what had been prophesied about him. In the book of Acts Luke was now going to describe all that happened after Jesus’ ascension and throughout the beginning years of the early church. Acts 1 described the transition from Jesus’ ministry to the early church.
In the final chapter of Luke he had written of the crucifixion, resurrection, and Jesus’ first appearances after being raised from the dead. He told of the women at the empty tomb, Jesus walking with the two men on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus appearances to His disciples, and even the ascension of Jesus, which we will discuss a couple of weeks from today.
In the weeks leading up to Christ’s ascension He gave proofs of his being alive and He taught them about the kingdom of God. Jesus came ushering in the kingdom of God and this same theme was His focus during these final days. This was not just to a small group, many people could testify that they had seen Jesus.
The Apostle Paul recounted of these days in 1 Corinthians 15.
“He (Jesus) appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Now that the disciples had seen the crucifixion and the resurrection they could better understand the type of kingdom that Jesus was ushering in and the salvation that it offered to all whom would repent and believe. Luke then continued.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father that Jesus had shared with them previously. After Jesus’ departure the Holy Spirit would come to be with them.
Up until this time in Jewish history baptism had been used when Gentiles desired to enter Judaism. When John the Baptist began his ministry he came calling Jews back to God and invited them to show this rekindled desire for God by being baptized. This was a baptism of repentance. When a Jew was baptized by John the Baptist it was a recognition of their sin and their turning their hearts back to God. It showed a desire for spiritual renewal, and a commitment to obey God’s law in preparation for the Messiah who was to come.
Jesus now contrasted John’s baptism with water with a baptism of the Holy Spirit that would come. The word “baptizo” meant immersion. When used to describe water baptism it was a picture of someone being immersed in water. When used to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit it gave the picture of one being immersed in, surrounded by, filled by the Holy Spirit. That is what Christ was calling them towards. The coming of the Holy Spirit would be seen weeks later at Pentecost.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” All believers are baptized in the Spirit at salvation. When one turns from their sin and believes in Christ they are reconciled to God and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within them.
These post-resurrection days with Jesus must have been such a blessing for Jesus’ disciples. It must have been truly a privilege to have been amongst the followers of Christ when He walked the earth, but now Jesus had told them that He was leaving, but somehow it was going to get even better. Jesus had walked alongside the Apostles, now the Holy Spirit, would come to live inside of them.
In John 16 we see the words of Jesus as He seeks to give the Apostles this kind of perspective about what lies ahead. A life of following Christ would be difficult but they would never be alone.
In John 16:7 we read these words of Jesus. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
The Holy Spirit would be their mentor, their tutor, their helper and their counselor who would reveal the truths of God and Christ in the difficult days that lie ahead. The Spirit would lead them as they became the leaders of the early church and were used of God to lay the foundations for His kingdom work until Christ would return.
The Holy Spirit would be sent to bear witness about Jesus through the Apostles.
Luke then turned his attention towards what Jesus had called them to.
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
We know that Jesus was with them during 40 days after the resurrection and that He taught them about the kingdom, but it seems that they either still did not understand what kind of kingdom it was to be, or they understood but were wanting Christ to restore the kingdom now.
They asked “when” and Jesus responded that it was not for them to know. Have you ever received that answer from God? We wonder when, why, how, where, who, what? And God decides that it is not for us to know. It is difficult to not know, but in those moments, we must trust and rest in Him as our confidence and our hope.
After all that had happened with the crucifixion and resurrection, they probably thought that the kingdom was about to be restored. That the struggle was about over, but in reality, it was just the beginning.
In verse 8 Jesus then explained to them their assignment and where they would find the power to accomplish it.
“8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The Apostles, meaning the “sent out ones,” were to be first and foremost witnesses of the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. They were to proclaim what they had seen and that Jesus Christ is truly the promise Messiah. They were to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ so that they would be saved.
The Apostles were not just to focus on Jerusalem, they were also to be witnesses to those in Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
To understand the significance of this verse we must understand it as the original hearers would have understood it. This is more than just a list of places. Jerusalem was their immediate location and people from their own culture. Geographically speaking Houston would be our Jerusalem. Culturally it would be people who share your cultural background and language. Judea was people from their culture but from a larger part of the country who might live at a distance. Texas would be our Judea.
Samaria was a neighboring area to Judea but there was great prejudice and bitterness between the Jews and the Samaritans. Geographically it might be the same as neighboring states here in the U.S., but culturally it would be the people who you felt most different from or even at odds with. These differences could be ethnically, socially, politically, and socio-economically. Jesus was asking them to be a bridge across human divides to take the gospel to those even who were much different than them and even against them. This was a huge request for those who believed that the Jewish Messiah was just for the Jews. Finally, Jesus concluded by instructing them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Most of them had never traveled beyond Judea and Galilee. This whole story of the gospels had taken place in this small corner of the world known as Israel and now Jesus was calling them to take it to the world.
That must have been quite a change to their way of thinking. Most thought the Messiah would come just to deliver the Jews, but now the vision was to include all nations, tribes and tongues.
Our application of these verses is somewhat unique. People from the “ends of the earth” now live in our Jerusalem. We work together, go to school together and live in the same neighborhoods. That is both a privilege and a responsibility.
At times this call can be quite a burden, but we must remember that God has given us the Holy Spirit. It is His work and we are merely a tool in His hands. With Him nothing is impossible. No one person or one church can accomplish the task of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, but as we work together and as churches work together, we can reach Alief, Houston, Texas and the world.
As a church we financially support multiple missionary families. We are an active part of our local Baptist Association made up of 400 Baptist churches that are working to spread the gospel in the Houston area. We have members who actively minister to refugees, the crisis pregnancy center, the local schools and even recently a center that rescues those who have been involved in human trafficking.
There is still so much we can do both individually and as a church. At times when we look at the data of the ethnic diversity of Houston it seems overwhelming, but we must just start with what God puts before us and where we see Him working. He has called us to a great task and with the Holy Spirit we have the power to answer this call.
As we conclude this morning let us turn our attention to the word “witnesses.” That is our calling. By definition, to be a witness, one has to have seen something or experienced something themselves. To read a book about a topic does not qualify one to be a witness. To hear someone tell a story about an event or person does not qualify us as a witness.
May we allow this call to be “witnesses” to drive us towards a deeper relationship with Christ. Not just religion, but relationship. May we not just be satisfied with knowing about Christ, may we be drawn to know Him. Not just a testimony of when we put our faith in Christ years ago, but how we have experienced Him recently, on an ongoing basis. In the midst of the good and the bad may we be able to talk of His grace, mercy, power, and peace in our own lives and call people to an intimate relationship with the Christ who we personally know.
That is what the Apostles were called to do. They were to tell people what they had personally experienced with Christ and lead others to experience Him as well. Then the stories would continue as people would experience Christ throughout the generations until Christ returns.
We are part of this legacy and this story that has been handed down to us. It is now our turn to walk in obedience and faith. Loving God, loving our neighbors, and introducing people to Jesus until He returns.
Being witnesses to the world is our call, and the Holy Spirit will give us the power to make it possible.