Monday, May 14, 2018

Waiting For the Spirit (Acts 1)


You may wonder why acts of the apostles, why the unstoppable?

The Acts of the apostles is a description of the events that happened after the death of Christ – the resurrection and the ascension. It was written around the year 63 AD. After the Gospel, this is Luke’s second book. Luke accompanied apostle Paul in some of his missionary trips. That’s why some call the book of acts of the apostles – the Gospel of Luke 2. Luke, the doctor and historian, writes the history of Christianity and its spreading from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

But this geographical spreading was achieved thanks to the movement of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Thus others call the book: The Acts of the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus wasn’t finished after His ascension but was continued through the apostles and the early church and is continued today by its descendants.

This movement was and remains powerful, dynamic and capturing more and more territories, sweeping away every fortress of resistance of the enemy. Thus I called this series of messages “the Unstoppable”. Nobody can stop those who are led by the Holy Spirit.

However, nowadays there are still fortresses which are in the way. Moreover, the Bible says that even though the Devil has been defeated he still has influence over the world. That’s why the world is so confusing today.

We can see terrible things happening today – bombings in Syria, the laws the European Union is pressing us to accept, the unrest in Russia, the fact that the Bulgarian politicians, instead of serving their nation, seem to be in service of a foreign power.

We long for a world of peace, justice and love but we also feel powerless to stand against the evil around us. This is why today, a couple of days before the celebration of the Ascent of Christ on the 17th of May, we will see what Jesus said to the apostles before ascending to heaven. By learning from the apostles, we can prepare to take part in Jesus’s mission on Earth.

Let us pray for the Word.

Expecting the Spirit
Acts 1
Just like in his gospel of Luke, here in acts of the apostles – Luke writes at the beginning to Theophilus, most probably a powerful person who was one of Luke’s disciples and whom Luke trusted with the task of copying his written words and spreading them.

Acts 1:1-5 1In 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, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

The first two verses are important. Other religions consider their founders to have finished their ministries on earth. But Luke says that Jesus just started the mission

In what kind of Jesus Christ do we believe in? We believe in the historical Jesus, who lived then and we believe in the present – day Jesus who lives today. The distinction between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles isn’t between Christ аnd His church but between the two periods in the ministry of Christ – up until the Ascending and after that.

The truth is that Jesus is here today as well and He is serving on the Earth through us. If you are a member of His church, Jesus wants to serve through you as well.

That is why we need to be prepared. The apostles also had to be prepared. How did Jesus prepare them to serve on Earth?

First, Jesus gave them confidence that He is God’s son –  After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive and even ate with them. Second - He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Third –He gave them instructions what they had to do from now on -  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised. Forth – the most important thing – he told them to expect to be baptized with the Holy Spirit – this was the gift.

Why was the fact that Jesus presented himself to the apostles and gave them very convincing proof that he was alive important? After Golgotha the apostles were sad and hesitant. What that their God? He had promised to bring peace to his kingdom but let them crucify him on the cross.

He was promising to them a new world, he was demonstrating his power by healing and freeing people, he was resurrecting the dead from the death, but could not save himself? The resurrected Jesus appeared to the apostles so that they could testify that he had beaten death.

Jesus chose, sent and instructed the apostles. They needed their Lord to give them confidence after everything that had happened. They needed to be restored, to be advised, encouraged.

Of course, here, Luke talks about the special characteristics of the apostles. First, they were personally chosen and sent by Jesus. The verb Luke uses here is eklegomai and it is used when two people are chosen – one of them was Mathias, the other one was Judah.

The same verb is used when the Lord describes Paul in Athens: ‘This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles’ (9:15). Thus it is stressed that all the apostles (the 12 plus Mathias and Paul) have neither appointed themselves, nor they have been pointed to by a man, an organization, a synod or church but have been directly and personally chosen by Jesus Christ.

Second, He presented Himself to them, giving them many convincing proofs (tekmerion) that he is alive, in the course of 40 days. He spoke to them about the Kingdom, walked with them, ate with them, they touched Him and saw that he wasn’t a ghost. They were witnesses of his resurrection (1:22).

In short, Jesus became tangible to their senses: sight, hearing and hands. Later Paul and James were going to meet the risen Lord (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:7,8). Here is why after them there wasn’t such apostles.

Yet, all of us, being disciples of Jesus can say that He has also chosen us, revealed Himself to us and has sent us as His witnesses, has given us His Spirit.

And, in the same way, He commanded us to preach in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins among all nations (Luke 24:47). To be His envoys and missionaries into this world.

In the long run, there are two kinds of people when it comes to missions—those who need to share Christ and those who need to hear about Him.

At a church meeting a missionary offering was taken. When the collection plate was handed to a wealthy man, he brushed it aside and said, “I do not believe in missions.” “Then take something out,” said the usher. “This is for the heathen.”

Jesus appeared to the apostles and then he told them to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the promised gift (v 4). What kind of a gift was that? It was the Spirit of truth that would remind them what He had taught them (John 14:26).

These are the four steps of preparation for Christ’s apostles: they were chosen, were given proofs that he was alive, He commanded them to preach and to expect the gift of the Spirit. In a sense all of us, Jesus’ disciples, can claim that He has chosen us, revealed Himself to us, commanded us to be His witnesses, and promised and gave His Spirit to us.

Still, Luke speaks here about the specific requirements that each apostle has to meet: to be chosen personally by God’s Son, to be an eyewitness of the historical Jesus, to have the commandment and His permission to speak in His name, and to be clothed in the power of His Spirit.

It is through these people that Jesus continues to act and teach us. Luke intends to introduce them to us in the Acts. These are the Unstoppable. And the best thing is that we also have this power at our disposal!

Acts 1:6-8: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What do you think, did the disciples realize what kind of a kingdom Jesus has founded?

Obviously, the disciples didn’t understand what kind of a kingdom that was. They asked Jesus whether he would restore the kingdom of Israel now. After that, he ascended in front of them and they continued to watch in the sky, as if expecting that He would come back again.

But their question wasn’t so inappropriate. Because God’s Kingdom is closely connected to God’s Spirit. When God establishes the kingdom of the Messiah, according to the prophets, He would pour out His Spirit. This generous pouting out of the Spirit would be among the main signs of His lordship:

Joel 2:28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions..“

If the Spirit would come, does it mean that the Kingdom would come as well? The apostles’ mistake was that they interpret wrongly the nature of the Kingdom. By the verb “restore” one can tell that the disciples were looking forward to a political kingdom with a definite territory; their question “are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel” shows that they mean a national kingdom, and the adverb “now” shows that they hope to see this happen immediately.

Jesus tells them though that in its essence God’s kingdom is spiritual. It is the lordship of God through the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers. But the most interesting thing is that, even though it is not the same as a political program or ideology, it leads to serious political and social changes, because its values clash with the values of the world.

The evangelical Christians in Bulgaria were the first to speak up against drinking of alcohol and smoking of cigarettes. For many years the evangelicals were the only ones to lead that campaign. Later abstainers unions were founded, brochures and leaflets were issued.

In 1907 James Clark, a missionary in Bulgaria, published over 100,000 abstainer brochures, some of which with a permission issued by the Ministry of education, were handed out among the pupils in schools. Many pubs were decorated with illustrations such as “The way of the drunkard or the 5 steps which lead to perfect devastation”.

Clark met with deputies and laid the foundation of an anti-alcohol program and helped the parliament pass a bill prohibiting the selling of alcohol to youths under 20 and established anti-alcohol training programs in all schools.

God’s kingdom is spiritual and yet it leads to real social changes!

Second, in God’s kingdom, Jesus says, all nations enter. Тhe centripetal worship of nations in the Old Testament has turned into a centrifugal missionary activity. Jesus commanded His people to set out and teach the other nations.

Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

A professor the Moscow Bible Institute began his class by asking the students to give their names and where they served, but one student shocked him as he boldly declared, “Of all the pastors, I am the most faithful to the Great Commission!” I was taken aback momentarily until, smiling, he continued, “The Great Commission says we are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. I pastor north of the Arctic Circle in a village nicknamed ‘The End of the Earth’!” Everyone laughed.

Every corner of the earth, no matter how far it is, has to be touched by the message of the cross. If you have believed in Jesus Christ and His Spirit dwells in you, He has chosen you, equipped you with everything necessary and has sent you – in your family, apartment block, school, university or workplace. Even if you go to the end of the earth, you are sent there with a mission!

You are chosen, He has revealed Himself to you, and commanded you to be His witness. He has promised to you the Spirit. Do you witness of Jesus in your family, among the neighbors and colleagues at uni and your workplace?

Actually, in Acts 1:8 we find a summary of the whole book of Acts. Because chapters 1-7 describe the events in Jerusalem, chapter 8 – the spreading of the gospel to Judea and Samaria, and from chapter 9 onwards, we read about Pauls missionary trips to the end of the earth, Rome.

But this would happen after the apostles received the promised Holy Spirit. With Him they would get power to become witnesses for Him in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. We are going to talk about this historic outpouring of the Spirit next Sunday.

Thus His life, death, resurrection and ascension found their climax in this greatest gift, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. He would be the main proof that God’s kingdom is established.

Because this completion of Christ’s work on earth was also a new beginning. In the same way as the Spirit came on Jesus in order to prepare him for his publish ministry, now the Spirit would come on his people, to prepare them for their ministry.

Of course, there would be a difference. Now the apostles would not be just observers but would be themselves the acting power of Christ’s ministry on earth. They had the Spirit and instead of looking upward to Jesus they had to roll up their sleeves and fulfil His great commission to become witnesses for Him till the end of the earth. They had to watch not toward the sky but go to the end of the earth.

Today many Christians are prone to showing unhealthy curiosity to the heavenly world. This hinders them from taking up the ministry that God has given them. Instead, we should witness for Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

Others believe in political utopias. After the Balkan wars and the First world war many people came to believe in the political utopia of communism. Today most Christians are apathetic or unconcerned as regards to social issues.

The little bunch of people against the Istanbul Convention and other wrong policies of the government is a proof of this. The position “I cannot change anything” and the futile gazing into the sky expecting for Jesus to come and punish the wicked is not what He wants from us. He expects us to witness of Him with words, life, and sometimes with a definitely declared position on hot issues.

We see this in the apostles. In the next passage, 1:12-26 Luke shows what they were doing between the ascension and Pentecost. Prayer was their basic activity after they came back from Jerusalem. Luke tells us that it had two characteristics, about which Calvin says, are “two essential characteristics of true prayer, namely, that they were persistent in it and they prayed in unity.” (v 14)

Note here that the apostles were not waiting for the promised Spirit doing nothing. Jesus had commanded them to wait for his coming but that didn’t cancel the need of praying. On the contrary, we see here that only God’s promises give us a reason to pray and the conviction that he hears and responds.

In conclusion, the first chapter of Acts raises questions to which all of us have to answer. Do you pray for Jesus’ witness in the world, starting from your Jerusalem – Varna? Do you serve God with the gifts given to you by the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced His power? Or you tend to gaze in the sky? How can our church draw nearer Christ’s coming here in Varna, and on earth?

As our famous church leader Constantine of Preslav wrote in the first preserved Bulgarian poem, “Acrostic Prayer,

I pray to God with these words:
God, Creator of the visible and wonderful invisible world!
Send the Spirit in my heart to bring the fiery Word,
So that all people could go into the right way
And have life into your purest commandment.
I raise my hands to get wisdom,
Power from heaven which you give
abundantly to all living creatures…
To make your Word clear for the people!
To the Holy Trinity may be the glory!
Every age give them praise!
And my people magnify the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Today and forevermore, amen!

Let us pray. Let us thank God for sending his Spirit. Let us pray for Him to give us strength so that we could continue the mission of Jesus and the unstoppable in our generation. Amen!

BPC "New Life" Varna
May 13, 2018