Allen Jackson - Jesus' Ascension, Help Arrives - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you today. We're talking about Jesus's ascension and the descent of the Spirit. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus went back to heaven. He just lifted off from the Mount of Olives. But after that, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of God got busy promoting the name of Jesus. The book of Acts is the story, really, of a Jesus explosion in the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, and before we get to the end of the book of Acts, it's all the way to Rome and has invaded Caesar's household. Well, the Spirit of God is still present in the earth, lifting up the name of Jesus and drawing people to him. I want to be a part of that initiative, and I believe you do too. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all, open your heart. The Spirit of God is drawing people towards the person of Jesus. It's an exciting day.
Who wrote the Gospel of Luke? Luke, it's not a trick question. Who wrote the book of Timothy? Paul, it's a trick question. I'm not above it. Who wrote the book of Acts, Acts? Luke did, Luke. It's a two-volume work: the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus's life; the book of Acts tells the story of Jesus's followers after Jesus ascended back to Heaven. And in Acts chapter 1, it says, "After his suffering, Jesus showed himself to these men and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God". They got a 40-day seminar with the King, learning about his kingdom. How cool would that be? "And 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've heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you'll be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"
Now, that statement about spirit baptism, tragically, has become far too frequently a point of division in the midst of God's people. We have seminars about it and classes about it and we decide what we wanna do with it. If we can just put it in the simplest context, Jesus talked to his disciples and he said, "Don't start your assignment, don't leave Jerusalem until you've been clothed with power from on high". That's at the end of the gospel. And in the opening of the book of Acts, with the same crew of people, he says to them and just, "John baptized you with water, but in a few days you'll be baptized with the Holy Spirit". You know, there's more than one baptism in the New Testament. There's John's baptism. John came with a message to the Jewish people under the old covenant, and he said, "You need to repent".
John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, agreed? The people came from Jerusalem to the Jordan River to be baptized. And when he saw the scribes and the Pharisees, the same people that would hate Jesus in the very near future, he said, "Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come"? He said, "Before you're baptized, bring forth the fruit of repentance". So those people that were baptized by John, a baptism of repentance, they were already repentant, and John's baptism was a baptism into the life of repentance. Make sense? He said, "I don't want to baptize you until you've already repented". There were all sorts of places right around the temple in Jerusalem where they could be baptized, dozens and dozens of pools of water for ritual cleansing, but John didn't use them. He called them away from the power center, a 20-mile walk into the desert, a difficult walk to the Jordan River, which is underwhelming.
And if you're gonna do that to publicly say "I repent," can you imagine if we did a public baptism for everybody, you know, if you're been wicked and you wanna change, meet us at the river. Somebody'd be collecting phones, 'cause we don't want that to get recorded. So John's baptism was a baptism into a life of repentance for those who'd already repented. Well then, Christian baptism, who is that for? That's for persons who have already accepted Jesus as Lord of their lives, right? You don't want to be baptized if you haven't made a profession of faith in Jesus, but Christian baptism, then, is a baptism into a life of faith. So then we come to Jesus's discussion about spirit baptism. And he's talking to a group of his disciples who have already received the Holy Spirit.
We saw that on Resurrection Day; he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit," but then he says to them, "Don't leave Jerusalem until you're baptized in the Spirit". He wants them to be baptized into a life in the Spirit. In the same way that John was inviting people into a life of repentance, where Christian baptism is a life defined by the Lordship of Jesus, Spirit baptism is baptism into a life defined by yielding to the Spirit of God. And Jesus thought it was important enough for James and John and Peter and Mary; I'm thinkin' it'd probably be helpful for you and me.
Lest you think I'm making it up, in Hebrews chapter 6 and verse 1 it says, "Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God," he's gonna list these foundational doctrines, "repentance from acts that lead to death, faith in God, instruction about baptisms". It's plural, there's more than one in the New Testament. I know we focus on one, but there's more than one. So I want to take the balance of our time, and I've got just a few minutes, to talk a little bit, I just want to walk with you at the pictures were given. This is a time of year when we reflect and we reminisce, and you think about Christmas has passed and how your life has changed and the world has changed.
Well, the book of Acts is the story of Jesus's friends after he left, because in Acts chapter 1 he ascended back to heaven. They stood with him on the Mount of Olives. And his last words to them is "You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth". It's Acts 1:8, you can check. Last words have heightened significance, agreed? His last words, he said, "You'll be empowered to be my witnesses". That's the point of spirit baptism. It's not the power of God to get our way or to torture our enemies. We're empowered to be witnesses for the kingdom of God. And with that, he lifted off until he disappeared in the clouds. It says that right in Acts 1.
And then the angels speak to these disciples, who are like this... That hasn't happened to them a lot. They said, "What are you doing"? And they said, "Well". And the angels said, "This same Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go". But I want to just, real quickly, I gave you some notes, but we can't look at all of those. We're just going to take the first part of the book of Acts, and watch what happens. If you read the Gospels, the group that Jesus recruited look more like "Keystone Cops" than world changers. On more than one occasion, Jesus says to them, "Are you really that dull? Are you still so slow"? They're arguing amongst themselves who's gonna be the greatest, and Jesus knows it. Can you imagine?
At the table with Jesus, arguing about who's the best. Now, we might do it when he's gone, but when he's there? Jesus says, "What are you talkin' about"? "Uhhh, Titans". I mean, they had a hard time keeping up. And when he needed a friend, they were useless. When he needed an advocate, they couldn't find their voice. But Acts chapter 1, Jesus goes back to Heaven; in Acts chapter 2, everything's changed. The promise, the arrival of the Spirit, takes place in Acts chapter 2, with a sound like a rushing wind. They're all waiting for it. It's 50 days after Passover, when Jesus was crucified. It's another Jewish holiday, it's Pentecost. "Pente" means 50, it's a Greek word for 50, it's just 50 days after the previous holiday. It's not about a denomination or a spiritual experience. And on that holiday, God poured out his Spirit in Jerusalem.
They were waiting in an upper room. And out of that prayer meeting, the whole city of Jerusalem ends up being shaken. Hey, it's easy to walk past that and you think, well, yeah, that makes sense. No, it doesn't make sense, because Jesus himself didn't shake the city. When Jesus was there in John 9, opening the eyes of a man born blind, there were some repercussions across the city, but not widespread acceptance of Jesus. His enemies were effective in quashing the story. The people were more afraid of public opinion and the power brokers than they were interested in aligning with Jesus, and that dynamic never really changed.
The triumphal entry on Palm Sunday maybe was a little aberration to that, a little breakout, but it was just kind of a little blip on the radar because within a matter of hours, they've arrested him and nobody's coming to his defense. They're not afraid of the general public when they stand him on the steps of the the judgment hall of the the Roman governor and say, "Do you want me to release him"? And the people say, "No, we don't want him". But in Acts chapter 2, the Spirit of God comes. Jesus said, "It's better for you if I go away. You have an assignment to do," he said. "But if I leave, I'm gonna send you help". So the book of Acts is really the story of the help that you and I have.
Folks, we have a problem. We don't have enough power to change our culture. We don't have enough resources, there are not enough of us, we're outmanned, we're out-gunned, we don't control the universities, we don't control the media outlets. We're sacrificing our children at a far higher rate than COVID ever thought about threatening us. We've allowed our Lord to be taken out of the public square and the public schools and the public universities. He's hardly welcomed in the hospitals or the courtrooms any longer. We need help.
Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit's poured out, a crowd gathers, they want to see the commotion. Commotion's good for a crowd. This is Peter: "Let all Israel be assured of this: God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ". Whoa, big fella, your first public speech in the city, and you tell them they killed the Messiah! People say we shouldn't talk about current events; I'm thinking Peter was pretty much focused on current events, you killed the Messiah. "And when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and they said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What shall we do?'" He says those who accepted his message were baptized that day, 3.000 of them. The whole city of Jerusalem is rattled. In one day, what didn't happen in the 30 years of Jesus's life, the three years of his public ministry, with the coming of the Spirit of God; that's Acts chapter 2.
Acts chapter 3, there's a healing. A lame man is healed, Peter and John pray for him, and he goes onto the Temple Mount. It's the largest public gathering place in the city of Jerusalem. It is until today. And this man that they've all walked past, you all know that awkward moment of walking past somebody who's asking for help. You get focused on the road ahead. And this man that they've all walked past is whole, and he's saying that it was done in Jesus's name. And the whole city is stirred even more.
It's Acts 3:11, "When the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade," it's part of the Temple Mount. "Peter saw this and he said to them," Peter is going to address the crowd again, "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus". He took their perspective on faith. They say, "We're children of Abraham," and he said, "The God of Abraham honored Jesus, whom you crucified, and made this man whole". Look at verse 14: "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this". I said a few moments ago we've exchanged truth for deception, that we really have lacked the courage to say there is objective truth, that there's right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral.
Folks, that's our assignment, not to be angry or condemning. If Peter hadn't been willing to tell the people in the city of Jerusalem the truth, they would not have had an opportunity to choose Jesus. If we don't have the courage to speak the truth to our culture, they will not have an opportunity to address the Lord. And we'll be held accountable. Look at Acts chapter 4. You say, well, it's going really well, there's thousands of people, the whole city is stirred, yes, that's true; but by the time we get to Acts chapter 4, the arrests begin, whew. Pushback's not a new thing. Dissenting voices is not a new thing. Monitoring your messages is not a new thing.
Acts chapter 4, he says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved". He's talking to the group of religious leaders that orchestrated Jesus' death, and he's just said to them, "There's no other name under heaven where you can be saved". "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus". We gotta stop waiting for a politician or a party or some ideological leader or some media star; we've gotta be willing to own the influence God has given to us in the place where we live and we work, and begin to boldly, clearly, compassionately tell our Jesus story. That's our assignment. And when they look at us and they go, "You're kind of unschooled and ordinary," we'd go, "Yep, but Jesus changed my life".
Now, they understood they were outmatched, and they're struggling with it. They've already been arrested. It's the first time in the book of Acts. And so at the end of that fourth chapter, I thought it was worth noting that when they're released from the arrest, they decide this time not to keep them, they gathered to pray. It's verse 29: "Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness". They're asking for boldness. You can feel the pressure. They killed you... how awkward would it be standing before the group of people that orchestrated Jesus' death? They've got to be conscious of that. And they tell the story, they stand there, they don't flinch. But you got a feeling when they got out of the meeting, their knees buckled.
So they get back to their friends and they say, "God, give us boldness and stretch out your hand to heal," it says. Do the miracles that we've seen you do. We need your help, God. I wonder if we have the humility to say that: God, we need your help. We are willing to stand wherever you ask us to stand, to deliver whatever truth about you that we know, whatever we've experienced; we'll stop segregating our lives into our church life and our business life and our recreational life. We'll be your people wherever you take us, but God, we need your help.
Acts chapter 5. Now we get a little momentum, and enough that there's some jealousy, and the problems are being stirred up; by Acts chapter 5, God takes a hand, it's sobering stuff. Ananias and Sapphira, they're a part of the church, they're a part of the believers. They're Christ followers, they've accepted Jesus. We don't know their backstory, but we know they're welcomed into the community, and they're receiving gifts. People are selling property and bringing the resources, there's a movement happening, something's happening, and they're tryin' to sort it out, it's unfolding quickly. And Ananias and Sapphira bring a gift, and they say, "It's the total purchase price of our property". And it isn't. And Peter has an insight from the spirit of God; there's no other explanation from the text. He said, "Why would you tell that lie"? And Ananias dropped dead.
The message is not that everybody that lies in church drops dead, or we'd be having church in the parking lot. 'Cause his wife comes in a little later and repeats the same story, and Peter said, you know, it was your property, you could have sold it and kept the money. You could have bought a new car, you could have bought a house at the beach, you could have done whatever you wanted. You could have given a portion of it and kept a portion of it. Why would you decide to lie and try to receive the appreciation or the blessing for a sacrifice that you didn't make? It's God's referendum on hypocrisy.
Again, it's not that every one of us that's a hypocrite dies immediately, but it's a very clear line in the sand. God said, this is not a practice that I would encourage. Holiness and purity, honor, character; words that are not particularly fashionable these days need to be a part of God's people's vocabulary. We will have to help one another. They're more important than being feeling fulfilled in the moment. We want God to be pleased with us. The persecution groves, that same chapter, it says, "The high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy".
The Sadducees controlled the national bank, the temple. And they're jealous of the disciples now. These unlearned ignorant fishermen are threatening us! "And they arrested them and put them in the public jail. But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out and said, 'Go, stand in the temple courts and finish your sermon.'" See what would happen if I quit early? There'll be angels in the parking lot, go back, get the rest of it. Not hardly. By Acts chapter 6, there's internal problems, not external, internal; there's quibbling, squabbling amongst the people. We don't like the way you're distributing resources.
Folks, we have to guard our hearts because we have to find ways to stand together. There's tremendous forces right now to bring division and frustration and agitation. I don't mean just with our congregation, I mean in the body of Christ in general. The statistics are pretty clear at this point: at least 25% of the people who were worshiping pre-COVID are not worshiping together any longer. Oh, I know we have our reasons, but most of them are rooted in some sort of dissatisfaction or fear. Those things didn't begin with the Lord. So the disciples step in and sort it out and say, "It wouldn't be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to keep waiting tables". No, we really liked it better when Peter was the one that brought us the juice glass. And they said, no, the assignments change the message has grown, we gotta go together.
The book of Acts doesn't have a formal conclusion like most of the letters of the New Testament do. There's a reason, I believe, for that: the account of Jesus's followers led by his Spirit is still being written. The question that's on a table before us is what will be said of the 21st century church? This is our time in the arena. Are we going to spend our future grieving what was lost when COVID was introduced? Are we gonna be silent in the in the wake and the face of exploding violence and hatred and anger and division? Will we be silent while there is unprecedented economic destruction being unleashed around us, because in our greed, we hope to get our piece of the pie as it's being passed out?
We have the boldness to acknowledge Jesus is Lord. We celebrate Christmas as if Jesus were listening. We have an opportunity unlike any in my lifetime. I'm not discouraged, I'm certainly not frightened; I'm excited. God is moving. Greater is the one who's for us than all those who may be arrayed against us. Well, that's the truth. But I don't believe we should be naive; I don't think they're content with us worshiping outside, they'd prefer to close the building. And I don't know who "they" are, but there's enough pressure, it's being expressed all over the world.
The root of it is spiritual, not political, and we've got to have a spiritual response. That's our assignment. I brought you a prayer, I gotta stop. Why don't you stand with me? We're gonna learn to cooperate with the Spirit of God in new ways. We're gonna learn to lead Spirit-led lives with a power beyond ourselves and authority beyond us, a wisdom and an insight beyond ours. Pretty exciting stuff. Let's pray together:
Almighty God, we rejoice in your great provision for our lives. You created the earth and all that is in it on our behalf. We rebelled against you, setting aside your commands. In an expression of love, you sent your Son to redeem us from an empty way of life, then you sent your Spirit to help us serve you. Holy Spirit, we choose to cooperate. You are welcome in our lives, our homes, our congregation. Give us receptive hearts. May the name of Jesus be glorified through our lives, amen.