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YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES

Acts 1:1-1:14
Key Verse: 1:8

Our key verse of 2017 was Colossians 2:7, to be rooted and built up in Christ. This is a very important direction throughout one’s Christian life. In this direction in life may God mould each one to be a Christ-centred person. This year we want to take Acts 1:8 as our key verse with the prayer that 2018 be the year of evangelism in the power of the Spirit and joining together in prayer. Today’s passage is mainly about the conversation between the risen Jesus and the apostles he had chosen right before his ascension. It is about the promise of the Holy Spirit and the apostles becoming witnesses of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. We believe that it is God’s hope and vision for us that we also may become witnesses of Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

First, Jesus’ resurrection and the kingdom of God (1-3). In verses 1 and 2, “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…” The former book is the gospel of Luke. The contents of the book was about all that Jesus began to do and to teach for around three years of his life on earth. The life of Jesus in the earthly messianic ministry is of supreme importance in the whole human history. No one did as Jesus did, and no one taught as Jesus taught. What he did includes healing incurable diseases, driving out demons/evil spirits, calming the storm, feeding the five thousand, and raising the dead. He prayed regularly and at each specific time. Particularly he raised 12 disciples and finally died on the cross and rose again. And his teaching was an essential part in his ministry. He taught the word of God very faithfully, even during the Passion Week, (the last week of his life on earth). The ministry of Jesus is unthinkable without his teaching. He taught especially about the kingdom of God. He specifically spoke about hell and heaven, and how to enter the kingdom of God. He taught his disciples how to pray, pray with this prayer, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” and pray persistently. He clearly stated the purpose of his coming in the world, “The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” Soul-saving was his primary concern in his life and ministry, certainly in obedience to God’s will. In short, his doing and teaching was to reveal God’s love and truth to lost mankind and bring them back to God. The earthly ministry of Jesus is the foundation of all Christian ministry. After his earthly ministry he has continued to do and to teach through the church, his body, till now, and he will do so until he comes again.

In verse 2b says, “giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” This is a meaningful description. Before his ascension he gave his apostle instructions through the Holy Spirit. During his earthly messianic ministry he gave many instructions to the twelve apostles, about how to live as kingdom members, how to do the gospel work, that is, to solely depend on God with a clear gospel message and uncompromising attitude, how to follow Christ, that is, to deny oneself, take up each one’s cross daily and follow him, etc. Finally he gave them the instruction that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The point is he gave these instructions to them through the Holy Spirit. This implies the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry. As you know, particularly Luke wrote a lot about the Holy Spirit in his gospel. Apostle Peter said to Cornelius in Acts 10:37-38, “You know…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around…” This indicates that the Holy Spirit enabled and empowered Jesus to do the work of God. That’s why Jesus’ earthly ministry is an example for us to follow. This is connected to the next part.

Look at verse 3, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive.” His suffering and death on the cross left almost irrevocable impact upon the apostles. Their despair and wounds were very deep in their hearts. Surely they heard the message, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Yet, the message was not enough to restore them. The risen Jesus showed himself to them, letting them see the wounds in his hands and feet and touch the wounded body. He gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive, eating before their very eyes, making sure that he is not a ghost. He showed himself to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time (1 Cor. 14:6). Here Luke’s point is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true. Jesus’ rising from the dead is the very foundation of Christianity and the kingdom of God. The resurrection of Jesus is a demonstration that God is living, and he is the living God, truly God Almighty, and what Jesus did and taught, his deeds and words, are all living and alive in each and every generation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the victory over death, the last enemy of mankind. It is the victory over all evil and falsity, and evil spirits and Satan. We really need the assurance of this victory. When we look at the world, lies and deceptions seem to be very powerful. Actually Satan, according to Jesus, is the father of lies. In this world of lying and sin’s deception, how can we be sure of victory of the truth? How can we be assured of the victory of living by faith according to the truth of God’s word? We can have such sureness and assurance because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He rose again and he is alive. Most importantly we have victory over all evil spirits and Satan in Christ Jesus. And how can we be sure of the kingdom of God beyond this world? It is through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:20, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” He talked about the kingdom in resurrection chapter (1 Cor. 15:24-26). And Apostle Peter that in 1 Peter 1:3 that we have a living hope of the kingdom of God through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The resurrection of Christ opens the door for the coming kingdom of God. Our faith in Christ’s resurrection should be certain and practical.

Then in verse 3b, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Wow! For forty days, speaking about the kingdom of God. As the only one who came from heaven he could speak about the kingdom of God. He said to Pilate at the trial, “My kingdom is not of this world…my kingdom is from another place” (Jn 18:36).

Jesus began his ministry, preaching the kingdom of God. Since then, he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God traveling about from one town and village after another (Lk 8:1). He trained his disciples to preach the kingdom of God. He taught about the kingdom of God through many parables. He asked his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom of God.” On the cross he invited a repentant criminal to the kingdom of God. After his resurrection, he spoke about the kingdom of God. Now he would soon go back to the kingdom of God. In such a time he could have said of many other things to his apostles whom he had chosen, but for forty days he spoke about the kingdom of God. Why? It is because the kingdom of God is the ultimate hope of all mankind. The powerful and glorious kingdom of David described in 2 Samuel was a shadow of God’s kingdom. For in the kingdom of God all men can truly happy with the complete restoration of God’s rule. We can say that the purpose of Jesus’ coming is the full restoration of God’s rule in each one’s heart, which is true salvation, and the restoration of God’s rule in each family and society and nation and finally in the world. It will be consummated when Jesus comes again. As you know, the theme of the gospel story, actually of the whole Bible, is the restoration of God’s kingdom, that is, the restoration of everything. It is very important to have a right kingdom mind-set.

In this part we thought of Jesus’ ministry of doing and teaching and through the Holy Spirit and his resurrection and the kingdom of God. These are all important as we serve God’s ministry.

Second, the Holy Spirit and witnesses of Jesus. In verse 4, “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 water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Here surely the gift is the Holy Spirit. This expression shows how eagerly God the Father wants to give this gift which he promised to all his people. As for the apostles Jerusalem was a dangerous place to stay, the place they did not want to stay with bad memories in them. Yet, the risen Jesus wanted them to stay there, waiting for the gift the Father promised. They needed to stay that place and needed to have such a waiting time for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in such a historical moment. As for us, since that time the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in each believer’s heart. However, we need also such a time and space to pray in this busy world and busy life for the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

At this command, how did the apostles respond? Look at verse 6. “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” Here we are somewhat surprised at their response? Unexpectedly their hearts were occupied with the kingdom of Israel, not the kingdom of God, even after forty days of Jesus’ speaking about the kingdom of God. How strong their expectation of restring the kingdom to Israel was! In short this was their Judaism, the idea of which is that only Israel is God’s chosen nation to stand over all other nation in God’s blessing, particularly at that time over Rome. In the same way each believer can have his or her own idea of kingdom. This self-centred kingdom is a great hindrance and even an enemy to the kingdom of God. It is easy for believers to use their belief for their own success in the world or to satisfy their own desires and dreams in their lives. Their self is the centre of their lives. They serve God with themselves in the centre. At a certain point their eyes become blind to see what God is doing in their lives and their ears become blocked to hear the true word of God. We can also become numb to the Spirit in our habitual Christian life. Until we overcome ‘my kingdom’ mentality, we cannot truly serve his kingdom work.

Judaism is wrong even in light of the very beginning of the nation. When God called Abraham, God wanted to bless all peoples on earth through him. Yet, Abraham himself did not understand the meaning of this calling for a long time. His former name ‘Abram’ means ‘exalted father.’ After getting Ishmael, the son of the flesh, at the age of eighty six, he just wanted to live as a noble father for the son. That was his selfish human desire. But God’s desire for him was to establish him as a father of many nations. So at a certain time God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, with a great expectation that he might be a father of many nations. That was at the age of 99. It was not easy at all for him to accept this expectation from God. However, amazingly this man accepted God’s great desire for him repenting of his petty human desire. Practically the circumcision was done, which was a painful operation of cutting off a part of his body. More importantly his heart circumcision must have been done. Since then he grew tremendously, and indeed was established as a father of many nations. God also changed his wife’s name from Sarai meaning “princess” into Sarah, “the mother of nations” from whom kings of nations would come. There was a sincere and funny prophet, Jonah. When God called him to preach the message of salvation to the people of Nineveh, the capital city of the enemy country Assyria, he was stunned. He could not understand God’s way of working, more importantly God’s heart at all. He ran away from God, going to the opposite direction from the place God told him to go. Then he faced the situation he had to be thrown in the sea. That could be the miserable end of his life. However, when he was finally thrown into the sea, God prepared a huge fish, which swallowed Jonah and so in which Jonah could survive even in the depth of sea. In the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to God in repentance. After three days the great fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. There was a second calling from God to go to Nineveh. This time he obeyed and proclaimed the message of salvation to the perishing souls, and there was a great work of God in the city Nineveh. God’s calling for Jonah was irresistible and irrevocable. This story well shows the contrast between a man’s heart with Judaism and his own direction and God’s heart for the world. As we know Apostle Paul’s former name was Saul. He was the one who was also so strongly attached to Judaism. He said in Galatians 1:13, 14, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” In Acts 26:11, he said that was his obsession. But when he met the risen Christ, he was amazingly changed and became an apostle for the Gentiles, receiving so many persecutions.

How did Jesus respond to the apostles who seemed to be only concerned about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel? In verses 7 and 8, he said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.” Wow! Jesus was full of hope for them. Jesus did not ignore their expectation of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. He wanted them to entrust the matter fully to God the Father. This is as Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Then Jesus said about their becoming powerful witnesses of Jesus through the coming of the Holy Spirit. What a hope!

They will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them. The power Jesus talked about would not come from within themselves. The power would not rely on what kind people they were. The power would be irrelevant of their human conditions and present situations. The source of this power is from another, not from any other human being but from the Holy Spirit. There seem to be various kinds of powers in the world: physical power, the power of beauty, the power of wealth, the power of position, the power of knowledge, the power of technology, political power, the power of military force, etc. These powers influence others in a good way or bad way. At that time, it seemed that Rome would rule the world forever with its power. Such power was too overwhelming for the disciples.

Jesus promised power from the Holy Spirit. Here “power” is in Greek “dunamis.” It is inherent and dynamic power, different from all human powers, coming from the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? Jesus had already spoken about him. He is another Comforter or Counselor. He is the Spirit of the truth, guiding the people of God into all truths. Now here the Holy Spirit is the very one who would empower them to be powerful witnesses of Jesus. Here the word witness is in Greek, “martus,” which originally meant “witness.” They would be powerful and courageous witnesses of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. We need this power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul in power, a bashful young man became very powerful that he took a pair of oxen and cut them into pieces, and mustered three hundred and thirty thousand men from the twelve tribes of Israel, and defeated a cruel nation to rescue helpless people. Zechariah 4:4 says, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” What is impossible with man’s might or power is possible with God’s Spirit. When we read Acts, Peter and John, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, were so bold and fearless even before the Sanhedrin. They said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Nothing could stop them from proclaiming the gospel and speaking the word of God. On another occasion Peter and John also said to Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men.” When they had been flogged and then left Sanhedrin, they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (of Jesus). They were indeed witnesses of Jesus, ready to give their lives for this cause.

The promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8 can be applied to all those who accepted these words very personally, “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.” At the Pentecost Apostle Peter could see how the words of the prophet Joel were fulfilled and addressed to the people confidently, “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’” In Old Testament prophets spoke the word of God. As for us, this can be the vision that by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we will be competent servants of God’s word and so become powerful witnesses of Jesus and raise such servants in this generation. We believe that God wants us to claim this promise as our own. Apostle Paul also said in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk…Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

How important it is for each Christian to have a clear life direction to live as a witness of Jesus in this present generation where everything seems to be permissible and acceptable, and nothing seems to be absolute. Our Lord Jesus unambiguously said, “Whoever believes and baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Apostle Paul had such a clear life direction that he said to Timothy, his spiritual son, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:1). He himself did so, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ with first priority in life. He said to the Corinthians, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (15:3-4).

When I studied church history, I could see that at the time of the early church (30-312) gospel preaching was very powerful. The preachers of the gospel were indeed witnesses of Jesus with martyrdom spirit. They were severely persecuted under the power of Rome. Then the gospel conquered Rome. However, when Christianity became the religion of the empire, it gradually depended on the power of the state. That was the Age of the Christian Roman Empire (312-590). It went through the Christian Middle Age (590-1517) and the Age of the Reformation (1517-1648). Still, it depended much on the state. Then such Christianity could not stand the Age of Reason. Christian faith seemed to be disappearing. Yet, the age of revival accompanied the age of reason (1648-17890), as the strength and growth of Christianity depended solely on the preaching of the gospel, rather than on state power. Then it went through the age of progress (1789-1914) and the age of ideologies (1914-1989) and reached the age of global expansion and relocation (1900-). It was so encouraging to hear that more people have become Christians in the last one hundred years than at any other time. It is even said that when focusing upon the evangelistic embrace of faith, more has happened in the last one hundred years than has happened in all of the church’s previous history. Of course, in our time we face the strong power of secularization through humanism, hedonism and materialism. Yet, the gospel preaching is ongoing on a global level, and as the Lord had spoken, the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt 24:14). Our Lord Jesus’ vision will be realized by any means. Then what matters is whether we can be prepared to be used by God. What a blessing it will be if we are used for the preaching of the gospel to young people in our campus and in our nation and for world mission. This is the reason God wants each one of us to be a powerful witness of Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

Third, Jesus’ ascension and the vessel of prayer (9-14). In verse 9, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Jesus was gone with the cloud. At this they were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” What a vivid description of how Jesus ascended and of how he will come back! The expression “in the same way” shows all things are in God’s hand, as if the futures events are like the present events. God wants us to keep this vivid glorious promise of his coming back in our hearts. Colossians 3:4 says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” And as we studied in Hebrews, he will come back to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (9:28).

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. What did they do? They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Surely, they did so according to Jesus’ command and promise, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift (that is the Holy Spirit)…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” Thus the vessel of prayer was formed for the vessel of the Holy Spirit, who would powerfully work in and through them. We also want to join in prayer on every Friday, which can be small but our five loves and two for the bigger and powerful prayer vessel.

May we very personally accept Jesus’ words of promise and hope, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” On this promise and hope we pray that the year 2018 be the year of evangelism in the power of the Spirit and in constantly joining in prayer.

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