A Healthy Church is Empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-11)
The late Chicago pastor A.W. Tozer once said, “There was a day when the world followed the Church. She took the initiative; she was aggressive. But it has changed now, and we are down on our knees imitating the world. The Church is like a poor old withered [lady], rather than the beautiful, full-blooded bride of the Lamb we are intended to be.”
What is he saying? He is saying the church today, at least in North America, is dead, with the world influencing us more than us influencing the world. We have lost our vigor, beauty and vitality. Yet Jesus Christ has died for this bride and the church continues to exist because He is alive and He loves His bride! But as a local church, I want us to be alive, our heart beating for Him, our hands working with His, our feet running with His!
We are shifting gears for the next few weeks to look at Acts 1-8. Though I was sad to leave Genesis after a year and a half, I realized that Acts is full of references to Genesis. This is all one story after all! In this series, we want to answer the question: “What does a healthy church look like?” Obviously we want to always be about the Gospel, but what does the lifestyle of a church look like that walks and talks the Gospel? We are the church. The church is not a building we go to, but we are each, God’s dwelling place, the church, gathering together as one body to proclaim His name. We are the church. So though we will talk about what a healthy church looks like, it is a message to each of us and not some system out there that needs to change. We need to change.
Before we jump in, let’s do some introductory work on what we are getting ourselves into. Here is some basic info on the book of Acts:
Background of Acts
The author is Luke, the only Gentile author of the Bible. He was a doctor according to Colossians 4:14, called by Paul as the “beloved Physician.” Luke wrote the longest of the four gospels and it is the only gospel with a sequel. He wrote 28% of the New Testament. He was not one of the original disciples, but seems to be a convert of Paul.
Luke was a faithful co-worker of Paul’s, until Paul’s death. He often traveled with Paul and later in Acts, around Acts 16 or so, he stops using the third person plural of “they” and starts using the first person plural “we” in talking about Paul’s journeys. So most of the sources of his material comes from his personal experiences, as well as his time with Paul. He was educated, an able writer, researcher and had a thorough knowledge of Greek literature and language. A third century quote says that Luke had neither wife nor children and died either in his 70s or 80s, but “full of the Holy Spirit.”
Luke wrote Acts probably around AD 62-64 from Rome, right about when Paul was released from prison and his content covers the life of the early church from ~ AD 30-60.
c) Theme Verse and Outline
Look at the basic outline of Acts (taken from Wilkinson and Boa’s Talk thru the Bible):
The theme verse is Acts 1:8. In a real sense the reader goes from Jerusalem to the uttermost part of the world in these 28 chapters. During those three decades, the church expanded from a small group of Jewish believers gathered in Jerusalem to embrace thousands in dozens of congregations throughout the Roman world. The Book of Acts is the story of the men and women who took the commission in Acts 1:8 seriously and began to spread the news of a risen Savior to the most remote corners of the known world. At the same time, it wasn’t a perfect church. Luke also portrays the tensions, persecutions, frustrations, theological problems, and hopes confronting the neophyte bride of Christ.
If you notice on the outline, it is not really the Acts of all the apostles, but primarily Peter, a little bit of Phillip and a whole lot of Paul. Perhaps the better title is, “Certain Acts of Certain Apostles.” It starts off as the Gospel for the Jews and ends with the Gospel for the whole world. It is an excellent bridge from the Gospels to the Epistles. As Pastor Warren Wiersbe says, “Imagine how confused you would be if, in reading your New Testament, you turned the last page of the Gospel of John and discovered—Romans! ‘How did the church get to Rome?’ you would ask yourself; and the answer is found in the Book of Acts.”
Interestingly, Luke makes of “progress reports” which are sprinkled throughout the book (cf. 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). He stops to give updates, as the Gospel is moving forward. The Gospel is always moving forward in Acts. And how does it keep moving? It will be not be by human design, but the Holy Spirit doing it. The Spirit of God “superintended, controlled, and empowered the expansion of the church. Indeed, the book could well be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles.” The Holy Spirit is mentioned over 50 times in the Book of Acts.
Why did Luke write Acts? Most likely, he had a few reasons. First of all, there is the apologetic reason. One commentator says, “There is much in Acts to substantiate the idea that the book was written to defend Christianity before Roman rulers.” Look at who the book is written to: “Theophilus” or “Lover/Friend of God.” We don’t know exactly who this is. Most likely this was a high-ranking Gentile official friend of Luke that Luke was trying to witness to. So Luke presents him the facts of Christianity from his careful research. This tells us something. Most people want to know if Christianity will work for them. The real question is not if it works, but if it is true. If it’s true, then it will change everything and it will work.
Secondly, there is a historical reason. Luke wants to show us how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. A small group of people in a little corner in Palestine will bring the Gospel in just 30 years to reach Rome. He is telling us what happened. Thirdly, there is a theological reason. Not only do we ask, “What happened,” but we must also ask, “What was Luke’s purpose in selecting and shaping the material in this way?” Therefore, this means that Acts is not a full out detailed biography. We have highlights of the early church. Luke has goals in mind to get us see some themes in the book. Also, because it is a theological book, our job is draw out principles, not to find models. Gordon Fee writes, “Luke’s interest also does not seem to be in standardizing things, bringing everything into uniformity. When he records individual conversions there are usually two elements included: gift of the Spirit and water baptism. But these can be in reverse order, with or without the laying on of hands, with or without the mention of tongues…Similarly, Luke neither says nor implies that the Gentile churches experienced a communal life similar to that in Jerusalem in 2:42–47 and 4:32–35. Such diversity probably means that no specific example is being set forth as the model Christian experience or church life.”
Acts is meant to be descriptive not prescriptive. It tells us what happened, not that we necessarily try to do it exactly. For example, they cast lots at the end of Acts 1 to choose an apostle after Judas’ suicide. Should we cast lots to choose our leaders today? They don’t cast lots again after that. We go to the Epistles for prescriptive commands to follow. So when we look at Acts and say, “What does a healthy church look like?” we are looking at general themes found here and our applications from those themes will be confirmed by the Epistles. For example, the early church was constantly devoted to one another, even selling their property and living together. Should we do that? The NT doesn’t talk about that anymore in the Epistles, but certainly teaches generosity and sacrifice, so we will seek to apply those things. In other words, we can learn from the early church, but we must not try to teach their experience, but seek more to experience their teaching.
e) Major themes
The sovereignty of God in birthing and growing His church is a major theme. As we said, the Holy Spirit is also a major theme, mentioned over 50x. Prayer is also important in the life of the church. The preaching of God’s Word is another. No fewer than nineteen significant Christian speeches occur in his second volume (omitting the non-Christian speeches by Gamaliel, the Ephesian town clerk and Tertullus). There are eight by Peter (in chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 15), one each by Stephen and James (in chapters 7 and 15), and nine by Paul (five sermons in chapters 13, 14, 17, 20 and 28, and four defense speeches in chapters 22 to 26). Approximately 20% of Luke’s text is devoted to sermons given by Peter and Paul; if Stephen’s speech is added, the percentage rises to about 25%. We also have an emphasis in this book on what it means to be a missional community and the opposition that comes as a result.
With that said, today’s message is “A healthy church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean?
I. Jesus continues His work through us (vv.1-3).
Luke begins in verses 1-3 by reminding us that the Gospel of Luke was simply everything that Jesus “began to do and teach.” The earthly ministry of Jesus until He ascended was all about what Jesus did and taught. Then Jesus died and on the third day He rose again. Then for forty days, off and on, He showed Himself to the Apostles before leaving for Heaven for good.
Right away we see the essence of Christianity. It is based on what Jesus has done and is doing. It is not what man has achieved, but what Christ has achieved and believing man has received. Michael Horton says, “The church is always on the receiving end in its relationship to Christ; it is never the redeemer, but always the redeemed; never the head, but always the body; never the ruler, but always the ruled.”
The Gospel is not man’s quest for God; the Gospel is the Savior God seeking lost men. The Gospel is not something that originated on earth; the Gospel originated in heaven. The Gospel is not man-made, but the Gospel is the gift of God. It is not the story of what a sinful man tries to do for a holy God, but the story of what a holy God has done for sinful men.
But notice the word “began.” The founders of all other major religions have already done all that he will ever do. But Jesus has just begun His work. It is not that Jesus has finished His work—well, with His work of atonement yes—but that He continues His work through the Spirit. In other words, we have two stages of the ministry of the same Christ. His earthly ministry is over, but now His Heavenly ministry is just starting. So it’s not like Jesus ascends and is like, “Ok. Good luck! Hope it all works out!”
Jesus goes up to Heaven only to continue His work on earth. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, it is not that Jesus is no longer present. The Ascension means that Jesus is here all over. When He was on earth, He could only do His work through one human body, but now He can do it through millions of human bodies. His power and presence is working through us. John Stott says, “This, then, is the kind of Jesus Christ we believe in: he is both the historical Jesus who lived and the contemporary Jesus who lives. The Jesus of history began his ministry on earth; the Christ of glory has been active through his Spirit ever since, according to his promise to be with his people ‘always, to the very end of the age’.”
So what is Living Hope? Living Hope is evidence that Jesus is continuing His work through us. He is still alive. The times I thought we were forgotten here in Glendale Heights, Jesus was doing a million things here that I couldn’t see. Is that how I see church? Is that how I see my life? So often I come to church thinking, “Ok. Another week. I hope people come today. I hope I don’t miss that line. I hope we have ushers. Another day. Another week.” I have forgotten that Jesus is working still. Jesus is ascended.
Every time you read that Bible, you sit down to pray, you share your faith, you open your mouth to sing, you sit down with someone, you teach little ones or share with the youth group, what do you expect? What do you see? Do you see you working for Jesus? Or Jesus working through you? He’s not finished. He’s going to finish what He started. Do you come expecting to see Jesus at church? Or do you stay up late Saturday night, roll out Sunday morning, rub your eyes, throw some clothes on and come because that is what we do every week?
Let’s repent of our small expectations. He has ascended and not only has He finished the work of redemption, He is working His power through us still. Do you look at your bad habits as mountains that will never be moved? Jesus is continuing His work in 2013. You might not see it. Silence is never absence. He is working. Let us expect to meet Jesus not just at church, but in all of our serving and times with Him. Expect to meet Him this year! Yes, the Lord is working and I need to expect Him to work, but how do I get this truth to move from my head to my heart and hands?
II. Jesus fills us with power to carry out His work (vv.4-8).
We need power. Remember the early church had no political power, no cultural power, no educational power and no economic power. But they didn’t need those things to do God’s work. They just needed Him. Having seen Jesus alive, learning about the Kingdom of God, given the Great Commission, the Apostles may have thought knowing the truth is enough. It is not. Truth plus power. You need both. All the preparation and training that knowledge and experience can bring are useless without the proper might. Power had to accompany truth. A.T. Pierson, a minister from the 1800s said, as he was mobilizing students for mission, “The church has money, brains, organizations, rivers of prayer and oceans of sermons, but she lacks in POWER.”
Jesus says it will be like how John used to baptize people with water, but just like he prophesied, a greater baptism was coming. Denominations have been created over what this means. Some groups teach that every Christian needs this experience. They say since the Apostles already had the Spirit since they were born again, they needed an additional boost of the Spirit by praying for it. This will equip them for service as it says in Acts 1:8.
Again, this is descriptive of what happened. The Epistles do not teach us to seek the baptism of the Spirit. It does teach us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The other time we see the word baptism and Spirit is found in 1 Cor. 12:13. This teaches us that at the moment of conversion, the Spirit of God immerses into the body of Christ. The Spirit of God also then lives in us at that moment and never leaves us. But don’t we need power for God’s service? Yes. We will talk about that in a moment.
So the apostles’ and early disciples’ experience is not the norm for believers today. They were in the transitional period associated with the birth of the church. The baptism of the Spirit happened once as promised by God. It was God announcing that He’s continuing the work that Jesus started, through the Spirit of God living through His believers.
Jesus is telling them what John did was a shadow, a picture of something greater that was going to happen. He immersed you in water, but God is going to do something more overwhelming and amazing. He is going to start living in you! And this is what the New Covenant did. It brought two things: forgiveness through cleansing, and divine enablement to live out the law through the Spirit of God and it was going to be permanent. The Holy Spirit never leaves us, but He can be grieved and pushed into a corner as we let our flesh control us. We will learn more about the Spirit through the Book of Acts.
Of course, they hang on the last words of Jesus: “not many days from now.” It will be 10 days to be exact. However, they start thinking about a political kingdom and kicking the Romans out and Jesus being Messiah on the earth. Bob Deffinbaugh says, “Do you remember where this took place? Not Jerusalem. It was the city outside of Jerusalem—Bethany (Luke 24:50). Bethany is where the triumphal entry began (John 12:1,9). This is where Jesus had raised Lazarus. People had gathered not only to see Jesus, but to behold Lazarus, and it was out of all of this that the crowd came to herald Jesus as the Messiah. So it was Bethany that was the point of origin for the triumphal entry. Now can you imagine why the disciples would bring up the subject of the coming of the Kingdom? I suppose they thought, ‘Here we are at Bethany again. Maybe we’re going to have the real triumphal entry this time.’” They wanted what they lost to be regained and they wanted it now. They were concerned with timing. Jesus says, “Leave those things with God. Don’t waste time about those things. My Father’s got that taken care of. You don’t need access to His google calendar. It’s fixed. Good news. We win.”
Rather than engaging in speculation, they were to focus on the task at hand. What is the task? BE WITNESSES. Notice it does not say, “Do witnessing.” It is a lifestyle of witnessing. A witness is not a lawyer. It is not a judge. A witness simply tells what he has experienced. Notice also it is “MY” witnesses. We are witnessing about Him. He has saved us, called us, commissioned us and lives through us. And notice also, the plural: “witnesses.” You will do this together and not alone. Where? Everywhere to everyone (Jerusalem—Judea—uttermost parts of the earth), regardless of who they are. What a shock these geographical designations must have been to the disciples. Jerusalem? The Lord was crucified there. Judea? They had been rejected there. Samaria? Minister to those half-breeds? The ends of the earth? Gentiles too? The words were not only spiritually revolutionary, but socially and ethnically unheard of.”
What is this? This is the recommissioning of a new creation. God is calling us back to Gen. 1:28. Fill the world with God and put His glory on display. He is giving His new creation the old mandate. The new Adam has made a way for us to be His glory fillers of the earth. Huge task. Sounds difficult. Actually no it’s not. It’s impossible. How are we going to do it?
We need power. Notice the power first, then being witnesses next. How do we get it? Do we pray for it? Interestingly, none of the prayers in Acts talk about people praying for power. Actually I am not sure you see that anywhere in the Bible. Paul says in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power unto salvation.” The truth of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension does not bring power or lead to power. It is the power. The Gospel is power. We don’t need to pray for it. We need to pray with it. We need to pray the truth of the Gospel into our hearts until we see it and it explodes. Look at Eph. 1:15-23. Paul prays for experiential knowledge (as opposed to “know about”). He wants us to see the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe. The power is there. The Gospel is power.
Listen to Tullian Tchividjian. He says, “John Calvin said we need the gospel every day, because we are partly unbelievers until we die. The gospel is the only antidote for unbelief. Therefore, you need it every day, even after you become a Christian…Many of us read Romans 1:16—where Paul says the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation”—to mean the gospel is the power of God unto conversion. But that is not what Paul meant…When the Bible speaks of salvation, it speaks about God’s saving action in a three-dimensional manner: past, present, and future. The gospel is not simply the door to salvation—the entrance point into God’s family. It is also the path that we are to walk every day. It is not just the means of our conversion; it is also the means of our continual transformation.
When we are saved, God does not move us beyond the gospel; he moves us more deeply into the gospel, because all of the power we need in order to change and mature comes through the gospel. The gospel is the power of God. Many Christians live frustrated lives because they think we need something other than the pure gospel after conversion. We tend to look for power in other places besides the one place where God promises to distribute power.”
The truth of the Gospel is like that candy bar stuck in the vending machine. You can pray for that candy bar to come to you and give you what you need. But the problem is it is stuck. The truth of the Gospel is stuck in our head. It needs to fall down into our hearts. Often God will shake us up to get it to fall down. And it becomes a power when it does. Lastly and quickly:
III. Jesus will finish His work one day (vv.9-11).
It was at that moment Jesus ascends to Heaven on a cloud. In my reading this week on the Ascension, Marva Dawn says, “In my teen years I played clarinet in the high school band for the town Christmas parade at which Santa Claus was flown in by helicopter. Later, I heard, they flew the bunny in for Easter. But the world hasn’t got the foggiest notion what to do with someone flying out.”
Why this dramatic leaving? Stott notes, “The reason for a public and visible ascension is surely that he wanted them to know that he had gone for good. During the forty days he had kept appearing, disappearing and reappearing. But now this interim period was over. This time his departure was final. So they were not to wait around for his next resurrection appearance. Instead, they were to wait for somebody else, the Holy Spirit (1:4).”
But notice, “They were gazing.” This means almost like a trance-like state. I am sure grief, fear, uncertainty, etc. initially all filled their hearts. The angels rebuke them mildly. You can stare all you want, but it’s not going to bring Him back. Stott says again, “‘This same Jesus’ certainly indicates that his coming will be personal, the Eternal Son still possessing his glorified human nature and body. And ‘in the same way’ indicates that his coming will also be visible and glorious. They had seen him go; they would see him come.” In other words, He will finish this work that He started. Until then, ”it was the earth not the sky which was to be their preoccupation…You have seen him go. You will see him come. But between that going and coming there must be another. The Spirit must come, and you must go—into the world for Christ.’” Then joy filled their hearts (Luke 24:52-53). He was coming back physically, but more awesomely, He is coming to live in us to help us be everything He has asked us to be.
So did you notice that Christ does it all? He saves us, sanctifies us and serves through us. Paul at the end of Romans 11 says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” See that? “For from Him”—He is the source. “Through Him”—He is the means. “To Him”—He is the goal…for everything!
Sometimes we complicate all of this. I have to read the Bible, I have to witness, I have to pray, I have to, I have to…it’s too much! If we say that, we are trying to live on our own power, not trusting and leaning on Him. The Spirit of God is like a best man at a wedding. He points to the Bridegroom. If you walk into a church and a guy greets you and says, “I am the best man.” The next question you would ask is this: “Where is the bridegroom?” That’s what a best man does. He makes the Bridegroom look glorious.
We as His bride often stop looking at Him. We can get caught up with other things, so the Holy Spirit takes truth and pushes it deeper into our hearts. Pastor Wayne Cordeiro gives us a helpful illustration:
When I was dating my wife, Anna, one thing I admired about her was her love for sports. I love sports too, but there are two sports I don’t like. Forgive me if you like these, but I don’t.
The first is bowling. I can’t understand it. You pick up this cannonball and throw it on this beautiful maple floor that’s tilted. And it goes down and disappears, thank goodness. All of a sudden, ‘swhump!’ and it comes back again. You throw that thing down again, and it goes down and disappears. All of a sudden, ‘swhump!’ and there it comes back. All night you’re trying to get rid of it. Finally when you’re done and you try to leave, they make you pay for throwing that ball down on the ground. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
This is a true story. On our first date, I knocked on Anna’s door. I was so excited. I said, ‘Where would you like to go tonight?’ She said, ‘Do you like bowling?’ And she picked up her own bowling ball. She had her own bag. Now, I was in love, so when she asked if I liked bowling, my answer was, ‘I love bowling.’ And we went bowling all night. We had a great time.
The next week I knocked on her door. I said, ‘Where would you like to go this week?’ She picked up her skates. She said, ‘Do you like skating?’ I said, ‘I’ve been waiting for months for someone to ask me go skating. I love skating.’ And we skated all night.
I look back on it now and think, what made it easy for me to change? Did I have to work up this thing to change my desire for bowling and skating? No. It was because of my relationship with that girl. Because of the love that I had in relationship with her, change was easy.
The power to change is predicated upon your relationship with God. How often I think, God, it’s hard to do what you’re asking me to do, hard to change. Do I just grit my teeth? ‘No,’ the Lord says, ‘why don’t you just come closer to the cross? Why don’t you let me restore and renew my relationship with you? Would you come close?’”
We don’t have power because we have not come close. See the God who became weak for you and me. The one who had all power in His hand, give it up and become weak like us, paying the penalty for our sin, so now the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness with His strength and power. And if we are going to be a healthy church, we will need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to stay close to Jesus. And when we come close, He will pull us in and then send us out.