Do you ever wish you could live in the time of Jesus. There are great events in the 4 gospels that we only get to read about. Wouldn’t it be good to have seen them for yourself? To have heard Jesus deliver the original Sermon on the Mount, first-hand. To have shaken the hand of the paralysed man who’d been healed. To have eaten some of the foot Jesus produced for the crowd of 5000.
The good news this morning is that you can. You can live in the time of Jesus. Not because we’ve invented time-travel, but because the time of Jesus is now. Those events may be in the past, and not to be repeated, but Jesus himself is not in the past. He’s not only alive. He’s very much at work today. He’s still teaching people today as well.
We’re starting a series looking together at the opening chapters of Acts.
Acts is the second volume of Luke’s gospel. To see this, have a look at how Luke begins his gospel. Luke chapter 1, verse 1: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke’s done his research. He’s spoken to eyewitnesses, who saw the things have taken place during the life of Jesus. He’s written it all up as a carefully structured account for his patron, Theophilus.
Then, Acts chapter 1, verse 1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven”.
His former book was Luke. It told the story up to the point when Jesus was taken up to heaven.
Acts is volume 2. It picks up where the first volume left off.
The turning point is the ascension.
Luke tells us that Jesus had appeared many times over a period of 40 days. He came and he went. He disappeared, then would appear again on the earth, alive and well, eating and drinking.
But then after 40 days he had one final appearance. It’s the one recorded in our reading. This time, he didn’t just vanish. They watched him leave, because they had to understand that this time he was going for good. He wasn’t coming back – not for a very long time, anyway.
The ascension is the climax towards which Luke’s gospel moves. It wraps up Luke, but it opens Acts. In Acts, the ascension is the launchpad for the events that will be recorded.
Gone for good, but he’s still very much active in the world.
Look again at verse 1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven”.
“Began to do and to teach”. That’s Luke’s gospel. And the implication is that Volume 2, the book of Acts, will contain all he continues to do and to teach.
Jesus leaves, but he does not stop doing things. And he does not stop teaching. Those things carry on. The ascension is when he transfers his power to others. He continues to do and to teach things. But he now does and teaches through other people. He hands over the baton.
In particular, he hands over to two different people. There are two ways in which Jesus continues to do and to teach.
The Apostolic Witness
First, the apostolic witness. Jesus hands over to the apostles. Through them, he continues to do and to teach.
What Jesus said before his ascension was said to a very specific group of people. Verse 12: It’s the apostles. The remaining 11 members of the 12 disciples Jesus called to be with him. Jesus says to them, it’s in verse 8: “You will be my witnesses”.
He’s passing the baton onto them. If you know the story of Elijah from the Old Testament, you’ll know that Elijah was a prophet; he spoke in God’s name. At the end of his life he handed over to Elisha. He left his cloak and his staff, then was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Now Elisha was the prophet. He’d taken over where Elijah left off.
That’s what’s happening here. Jesus has left, gone up to heaven. First, he handed over to this group of 11. Through them, Jesus will continue his work.
That raises the question of whether this is only them. Is it only these 11 who will bear witness to Jesus? This is a question we’ll return to next week.
At one level, the answer is yes. It is just them. Only they can be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They were the ones who ate and drank with him, touched him, saw him alive on many occasions.
On another level, there’s still work to be done. Jesus actually says this: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The book of Acts charts the story of those territories being unlocked, one by one. Jerusalem. Then Judea – the region where the Jews lived, centred on Jerusalem. Next is Samaria. Samaritans were compromised half-Jews, hated by the Jews, but sharing some of their story. Next stop: The ends of the earth. The rest of us, outright Gentiles with no Jewish blood in our veins.
In Acts we watch as the good news reaches each of those four sections. But there’s still work to do. Most countries now have a viable Christian church, but many still need to hear.
Coca Cola is sold in over 200 countries. Kentucky Fried Chicken is in 118 countries. McDonalds is in 119, but curiously not Iceland. Compared to that, the Church of Jesus Christ has reached nearly every country on earth. But in some, it’s underground, persecuted, with only a handful of Christians. If you just look at whole countries, it would be easy to miss that many tribal groups, ethnic groups, have no viable church at all. Even in Britain, many people don’t know that Jesus Christ is the best news the world has ever heard.
Which means that even today, there is witnessing to be done. We’ll do it in a secondary way. We weren’t in that privileged group who witnessed the risen Jesus with their own eyes. But that’s not a problem. Even within Acts, there’s a shift. At the beginning of the book, the apostles say: “Jesus rose, we saw him”. By the end, others bear witness, but they say: “Jesus rose, they saw him.”
Through the witness of the apostles, Jesus lives on, speaks on, works on.
The apostolic witness.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
Second, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus hands over to the Spirit. Through the Spirit, he continues to do and to teach.
Verses 4 and 5 build up to this moment. The Father promised, Jesus spoke about it, John foretold it. And now at last it’s here.
Verse 5: “John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”
John baptised people. It signified their repentance. They were making a fresh start.
But now they’ll be baptised with the Holy Spirit. God himself will get to work on them from the inside. Change them from within. This had to happen before the apostles did anything else. The number one instruction Jesus gave them was in verse 4: Do not leave Jerusalem.
Jesus takes their passports away. They’re free to leave the Mount of Olives, but they are not to leave town.
So they’ll have the Holy Spirit.
Now here’s the point: This is Jesus continuing to do and to teach?
Let me recap briefly on the Trinity. The one God exists as three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They are not the same as each other. They’re each fully God. Yet there aren’t three Gods – there’s one God, who exists as these three persons.
Which means Jesus and the Spirit are not the same person. Jesus is God the Son – the second person of the Trinity. The Spirit is God the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity.
They’re not the same. But they also cannot be separated. You never get one without the other.
In particular, (don’t turn there) in Acts 16, verse 7, the Spirit is called the “Spirit of Jesus”. The Spirit is not the same person as Jesus, but he is Jesus’ Spirit, so you cannot separate the two.
John chapters 13 to 16 records the long conversation Jesus had with the apostles the night before he died. The disciples are having to process the fact that Jesus is about to die, he’s about to go, he’s going to leave them. And in John chapter 14 ,verse 18, he reassures them. “I will not leave you as orphans,” he says. He won’t leave them on their own. He’ll send the Spirit.
But here’s what he actually says: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” The Spirit will come. But by coming, Jesus himself will be with them. With them by his Spirit.
To have the Spirit live with us, and in us, is the most wonderful blessing. It’s another way in which Jesus is still here, still at work. He lives in each Christian, by his Spirit.
We need to stop and check we understand. This is so wonderful. Jesus himself really is with us, by his Spirit. The way we use that kind of language today could easily mean we miss the wonder.
Have you seen bereavement cards that imply that those who have died never really leave us? Their spirit lives on. What we actually mean is that the memory of them lives on. Having Jesus with us by his Spirit is much more than just saying we remember him. His Spirit is real. He’s his Spirit. Jesus really is with us.
Or you get a modern artist, a poet, a writer, being creative in the spirit of some great figure of history. A piece of music in the spirit of Beethoven. A piece of writing in the spirit of Jane Austen. We mean “in the style of”, whilst implying we’re more than just copying their style. We’re intending to honour this character by recreating the kind of things they created. But we’re not just living the Christian life in the Spirit of Jesus, as though he were here with us. He really is here.
There’s a lot more we could say about that Indeed, it’s so exciting, it would be wonderful to keep discussing this. The rest of Acts will have lots more to say about the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as it will have a lot more to say about witnessing.
But for today, Luke’s point is a simple one: Here’s a second way in which Jesus is still active. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts is the story of what Jesus continued to do and to teach.
The book of Acts ends in the mid 60s AD. But Jesus is no less active today.
Don’t read the 4 gospels – in this case, Luke’s gospel – and assume that they are about a bygone era. Christianity is not a religion where we remember our founder and try to live out his legacy. It’s a religion where we worship our founder, who’s just as active today as he was then. His body may not be on earth, but his church is, and it’s a church that’s been given his Holy Spirit.
I hope all this makes you want to read the book of Acts. To most Christians, the stories in there are much less familiar than the ones in the four gospels. But it’s volume 2 of Luke’s gospel; it’s just as important as Luke’s gospel; it’s the inspired record of what Jesus did next.
But even more than making you want to read Acts, I hope all this makes you want to live life. If Jesus is alive, then there is nobody more important than he is. He’s not only alive, he’s also not absent. He’s very much at work. He’s still teaching, too.
That means that our lives need to be about finding out what Jesus is doing today, and then lining up our lives with what he’s doing in his life.
We’re left with one question: Is your life walking in step with the life of Jesus?
Some people definitely are not walking in step with him. If that’s you, then today is the time to begin walking through life with him.
If it is your intention to walk with the risen Jesus, then the book of Acts is for you. It will show us all what Jesus is doing in the world today. It will show us how we can walk with him through life, and do so more and more.