The resurrection is behind us. New life is before us. What do we do now? For some, they want to hit the rewind button and do it again. The passion, the energy, it all felt good. We encountered the resurrected presence and we want another taste. It is for those that the angels say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Other words, “Hello! Quit relishing in the past. Look ahead. He is about to do something new. Get your head out of the clouds!”
The book of Acts is the story of a Spirit-filled movement of what can happen when people get their head out of the clouds. It is the story of God’s people on the move. It is the story of Jesus’ followers who took serious his prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”
When the greatest authority in your life is a God who won’t stay dead, then your life is going to be interesting. The book of Acts is filled with adventure, suspense, and a God-size mission that turns the world upside down. Today we start our journey through the book of Acts with the hopes of discovering how we can be a church fully alive.
The author begins by saying, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1). Acts is part of a two-volume collection. The author of Luke’s gospel begins by saying, “I decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3, 4). Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke belong together.
The writings were dedicated to a person called “Theophilus.” The name means “lover of God.” In Luke, he is given the title “Most Excellent,” which would be reserved for a high-ranking government official or someone of public stature. He is already familiar with the Jesus movement. Christianity was seen by many with widespread suspicion. As we will see through Acts, it causes a lot of disruption when it is preached on the streets. The movement disrupted a lot of the social order. Jesus followers were beginning to face regular persecution. At the end of the book, when Paul is in Rome, the Jewish leaders said, “We would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22).
In dedicating this two-volume collection to Theophilus, I believe that Luke is trying to give a true account of the Jesus movement up against the one that may have been spoken on the streets. Luke wants Theophilus to have the truth before he makes a decision of what to do with Jesus and the movement. Luke sets to layout an accurate account of the story of Jesus and His movement.
After his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples teaching about the kingdom of God. Like us, the disciples had a hard time grasping the kingdom of God. They were thinking that Jesus was about to restore Israel’s independence. For the disciples, the kingdom of God meant Israel’s freedom from the suppressive power of Rome. For us, we have made the kingdom of God about where we go when we die. We have made it a teaching about keeping our heads in the clouds. But the kingdom of God is about God’s reign invading our age in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom of God is God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). This is the message of the kingdom of God. The reign of God is over all the earth. This is the message that Jesus sends his disciples out with. This is what they are being called to give witness. And what we are called to tell the world – Jesus reigns!
The witness is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the same Spirit that breathed life into creation, the same Spirit that spoke through the prophets is the same Spirit that will empower the disciples to carry the message of God’s reign to the ends of the earth. The disciples wanted political power. They had earlier asked about who would reign with him. Now they wanted to know about restoring the political strength of Israel. But Jesus tells them they will have a power that that is far greater than any political power. When the Holy Spirit comes upon them they will be given heavenly power.
“You will be my witness” is sort of the theme of the book. “In Jerusalem” covers the first seven chapters, “in all Judea and Samaria” covers 8:1 to 11:18, and the remainder of the book traces the gospel to the ends of the earth as it extends to Rome.
The Christian faith is a faith on the move. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus as he heads to Jerusalem. The book of Acts tells the story of Jesus’ Spirit descending in Jerusalem and sending his followers out from Jerusalem. The Christian faith is a missionary movement. What is it going to take to reach the 1.6 billion people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is going to take a Spirit-filled presence.
What is it going to take to keep sharing, giving, and living so that every person in Cherokee County is given an opportunity to respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ?
It is going to take a church that does not settle for comfort and safety. It is going to take a church that is possessed by the Spirit of God. It is going to take people of faith who go out in boldness filled by the Spirit of Jesus. What is it going to take to take the gospel to the ends of the earth? A church that has its feet on the ground and its head out of the clouds.
It is hard to see the Spirit of God at work among us when our head is in the clouds. All kinds of impossible things are being made possible because the Spirit of God is at work among us. Things like families being restored, marriages being renewed, and prodigal children coming home. Things like drug addicts being delivered. Alcoholics being set free. Chains broken. Freedom given. New life.
This gospel is the hope of the world. What sin has destroyed, Jesus’ blood has restored. Now by the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be bold witnesses to this truth. Easter was amazing. But what is to come is truly remarkable. God is calling forth our church to new beginnings. God is calling us to be witnesses of His Good News. This week I want to ask you to be bold. Take an opportunity to invite three people to worship with you next Sunday. Invite them to be your guest. We will be talking about the birth of the church. Be bold. Invite someone.
I read recently of a Mexican priest who decided to take communion to the people of a town whose church was overrun by the drug cartel. They shot anyone who came near, but the priest came forward to enter the church. They shot the ground around his feet, and overcome with fear, he started to leave, but then he stopped, came back again, and moved forward while the town came out to watch. His courage inspired others to fall in step beside him until there was a collection of unarmed people moving toward the church. The startled soldiers no longer had the will to do them harm. They stepped back helpless of the power that was evident among them. The people shared communion. Something moments earlier had been impossible was made possible by the power of God’s presence.
We are called to be a witness. We are called to give witness to the one who calls himself the Bread of Life, who tells the woman at the well that he can provide her with water that will quench her thirst. We are called to give witness to the one that feeds five thousand with one basket of bread and fish. We are called to give witness to the one who says the kingdom of God is like a giant banquet table to which everyone is invited.
You are being invited by a living God to be present with him at His table. We are not worthy. It is an invitation. All are welcome. At this table you will find strength for the journey. At this table you will find the source of strength to go out and be bold witnesses in the name of Christ. Come and feast at the table. Leave empowered. Be a witness of God’s reign to your world. Amen.