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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Church for the World (Acts 1.1-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 9, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "In Christ Alone" (Townend/Getty, arr. Wyrtzen)

Song of Praise: "O Church Arise" (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Praise: "There is a Fountain" (Cowper)
The Word in Music: "With a Voice of Singing" (Shaw)
Assurance of God's Grace: "Shine Into Our Night" (Sczebel)

Hymn of Sending: "Lord, the Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Postlude: "Lift High the Cross" (Burkhardt)

Church for the World
Text: Acts 1:1-8

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Testimony - by Cameron Cary

As an introduction to today’s sermon, I’d like to simply point you to Luke’s introduction for the book of Acts. In only a matter of verses, Luke summarizes what has gone before (as recorded in Luke) and what is about to happen (as recorded in Acts). All of that is presented in one of the most concise summaries of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection in scripture. Luke references four distinct components of Jesus’ story:
  1. Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Luke – what he did and taught (v. 1)
  2. Jesus suffering and resurrection (v. 3)
  3. Specific teaching about the Kingdom of God (v. 3)
  4. The promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit, only a few days away (vv. 4-5)
If you ever are looking for a primer on what you need to know about Jesus, that’s a great outline. Learn about his life and ministry. Study his death and resurrection. And don’t miss the teaching about the Kingdom of God, which runs throughout his many lessons and parables. And then don’t stop; ask, “What’s next?” The book of Acts answers that question with the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of Jesus’ followers for mission.

Now here’s one interesting part to me. The disciples had lived through all that. They had heard the parables, seen the suffering and death, and witnessed the resurrection. They had shared in the popular expectation of an earthly kingdom ushered in by the expected Messiah, and heard Jesus reorient them toward a spiritual Kingdom time and time again. And now after weeks of “convincing proofs” that he was risen and he was who he said he was, he gathers his followers in Jerusalem and tells them to get ready for what is coming next.

And apparently, they still have some pressing questions… 

Pressing Questions

The insistence of the disciples in asking the next question would be laughable if I weren’t convinced that I would have been right there asking it with them. After all the teaching and correction and proof and power, they still have to ask it: “Lord, NOW are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now you’re going to wipe out the Romans, right? You obviously have the power – their torture and soldiers couldn’t keep you down. Now you’re going to bring it, right?

There are times as a parent when I impart truly important information. It’s not just what time we are leaving or what needs to be eaten before dessert, but good, solid life-lessons. And then the next thing I hear is whether we’ll be done talking in time for the favorite TV show, or “Can I call my friend now?” Adults, have you ever been there?

But grown-ups, we’re not off the hook. We sit through Bible study, sermons, saying our prayers, and doing 20 other things that “get us right with God” and then jump right to, “Now here’s what I want, God.” There’s this disconnect between the message and our focus. Great sermon, preacher; but here’s what I want to know. Hmm – that Great Commission: “Good one, Lord; but what about answering that prayer request?”

Jesus has answered this one before and is in the middle of telling them about the fulfillment of a thousand year old prophecy, and they have pressing questions.

This is not the main point of this sermon, but I am struck – and convicted – by the disciples’ question that I still have much to learn about “Thy will be done” and putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Jesus’ answer is short and deep; and then he moves on. His answer is verse 7, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…” What in the world is an epoch? This is one of those cases where the Message translation nails it: “It is not for you to know the times or timing of the Father’s will…” There are two Greek words for time: chronos and kairos. And each is used here. We don’t get to know the day and time the end will come. That’s chronos – clock time. And we don’t get to know the timing, that is, kairos – God’s time. That’s what an epoch is, by the way, an era or age or chapter in God’s story. We just don’t use that word much. What Jesus is saying is that it’s God’s business and we would do better to listen to what God IS saying then speculate about what God is not revealing. This is also not the main point of this sermon, but I think this has profound implications for those who become overly pre-occupied with end-times matters. Jesus is very clear in this passage that he would reorient us towards a present mission. And that main point is what I want to turn to now, along with the disciples. 

What (and Where) is Next?

Jesus spells out the impending mission for his followers in once sentence in verse 8. I want to look at it in two parts, first looking at WHAT that mission will be, then at WHERE the mission will take place.

Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses…” In a nutshell, here’s what Jesus said we should be focused on: OUR witness to him, fueled by HIS power. The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised (as did God long before that) would be poured out on those who trusted in Him, and that Spirit would energize, compel, protect, embolden, catalyze, and bless the words and actions of human witnesses. But what is it that we have witnessed. Think about a witness in a courtroom. The questions are, “What have you seen? What have you heard? What do you know?”

And here’s where all this hangs together. The content of the Christian witness has already been described in the opening verses of Acts. Luke has summarized the Christian witness for us already in verses 1-5. That is what is referenced by “witnesses” in verse 8. We are witnesses to those four things I mentioned earlier – the amazing stuff: what Jesus did and taught, his suffering and resurrection, his specific teaching about the Kingdom of God, and the promise and reality of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life (and sign of the promised Kingdom of God). That’s the basic story we need to have under our belt, applied and experienced and explained through the filter of our own lives. Said even more simply, we need to know God’s story in Christ, as witnessed through our own story and experience.

Jesus goes on to describe the scope of this mission – the WHERE of it: “…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (v. 8). We have talked about this phrase before. In fact, it underlies the mission of this church as we attempt to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ within our walls, then in our near neighborhood, then in the larger community, and in the world. The Book of Acts chronicles this mission as it follows that very pattern, expanding outward from those nearby to those far away. So also we are to carry our Christian witness from this place of worship and teaching and training into our homes, schools, neighborhoods, community, and world.

One of the things we’ve realized is that it is not sufficient to say “take it to the neighborhood.” We have to be specific. So, we’ve named buildings and groups and neighbors and made specific gestures to obey this mission. We’ve also latched onto a line from the parable of the talents, in which the master says to the faithful steward, “You have been faithful in small things; I will give you responsibility for larger things.”

A few weeks ago I shared about our officer and staff retreat in August – how in the process of rehearsing the ways God has called us to this neighborhood, I am realizing God is opening doors now beyond the neighborhood. For years God has led individuals out beyond our immediate community. Cameron and Josh (who will share next week) are two examples of that. But it seems like those opportunities are coming more and faster.

Striving to not run ahead of nor fall behind where God would lead, this text encourages us to be faithful with what God has given us and attentive to where God would lead us.

You are the Church!

What applies to the congregation also applies to each believer. While you may not be called to central Asia or Africa, each of you IS a minister; each of you IS a missionary. And the same kind of principles apply well into individual lives. If you are a follower of Christ, you are a witness to him… to the same core story Luke talks about in his introduction to Acts. One of the reasons we’ve been having these testimonies in church is to illustrate that you all have stories – you all have a journey in relation to God.

Applying the Acts 1 pattern to your own life, first ask, “Do I know Jesus Christ?” Let’s consider that your Jerusalem. There at home in your head and heart, do you know and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If not, that’s the first order of business. Do you know his story? What stands in the way of belief?

If you do trust in Jesus Christ, what is your Judea? What is one way you can be faithful to the Lord in a small way? I don’t just mean come to church or read your Bible. I mean in God’s call to be a witness and mission-partner. Is it a good friend or neighbor with whom you’ve never risked talking about faith? Is it a gesture towards someone at work or school to let them know you will pray for them? Is it an act of kindness, rooted in your Christian faith?

If you’ve found your Judea, you will probably know your Samaria when you see it – slightly more out of your comfort zone… more of a stretch… the next step. But God promises to give you what you need through the Holy Spirit.

The point is to ask that first mission question: “What is God doing in and around ME and how can I be a part of it?” Ask it and act. The Christian faith isn’t about ourselves, but about God and His glory. Baby steps are fine – small acts of obedience, that’s what they are. Most of us don’t run into problems with those small steps; we don’t want to walk or crawl at all.

This series is all about God’s heart for the world – His love for the world as shown through Jesus Christ. If we say we follow Him, then we’ve got to actually do that. God has given us what we need – the story, the power, the invitation. Both as a church and as individual Christians, that is our privilege and calling.

So how might you find your mission? Scour the “mission opportunities” in the bulletin; pray and listen for God’s still, small voice – a nudge toward some place or person you are probably already close to; ask the mission question and be ready to respond in obedience.

The church is not for me; the church isn’t really even for us. The church is for the world, that it might know God. As we seek the shalom of the world, we will know God’s peace, blessing, and shalom in our own lives! 

Our Mission

Our mission from Acts 1 applies to each individual Christian, from the youngest to the oldest; and it applies to the congregation as one local collection of believers in this time and location:

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has empowered and called on his followers to give witness to him in every area of their life, even stretching beyond those arenas to places to which God would lead us.

Luke has reminded us in short form of God’s story in Christ. And you are Christ’s witnesses in the world. What is your story? With whom will you share God’s story and your own? Amen.

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