Before we get started on the message, I wanted to ask how many of you are happy to be back in church? Did you miss coming to church? Me too and I’m delighted that we are back and am praying that the virus will be squelched very soon so that everyone can return.
How many of you have struggled with the quarantine, and just everything going on lately? I know it’s been a very difficult time for many people. And especially for those who already struggle with depression and anxiety.
I’d like to encourage all of you though to think about what God may be trying to teach you during this time. I know it was a very good time in some ways for me, and I truly feel closer to Jesus as a result of it all. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to realize, that there is always something we can be thankful for, or something to learn when we walk through challenging trials. We just need to look for it, we need to look for the silver lining in the dark, gloomy cloud!!
Now, I’m really excited for us to begin our journey through the Acts of the Apostles! I think this is a book in the New Testament that is often overlooked. People tend to think of it simply as a history book, so we pass over it and don’t give it the time and attention it truly deserves.
Yes, Acts is a historical record of the early church, but it’s also a theological book, with lessons and living examples of the Holy Spirit, church relationships and organization, the implications of grace and the law of love. Acts is the connecting link between the life of Christ and the life of the church, between the Gospels and the letters.
Luke, the Greek, Gentile, physician wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Acts is the sequel to Luke’s Gospel. Some scholars even speculate that because the Acts of the Apostles ended so abruptly, Luke had planned on writing a third book.
The Gospel of Luke tells what Jesus began to do and teach; Acts relates what He continued to do and teach through His apostles and His witnesses. Thus, the purpose of Acts was to give an accurate account of the birth and the growth of the Christian church.
Thus, the 1st half of the book is focused on the beginning of the church and the Apostle Peter, who witnessed primarily to the Jews. The 2ndhalf is focused on Paul, who witnessed primarily to the Gentiles, as well as on his 3 missionary journeys. Throughout our journey together in this book we will take some time to get to know these two apostles – both of whom were incredible men!
Throughout Acts, Luke was very much concerned with demonstrating how both Jesus and the church were directed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s purpose. The Holy Spirit plays a very important role in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s also important to realize, the church did not start or grow under its own power. Rather it began by and through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the apostles.
Now this book covers the 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. It provides an eye-witness account of the flame and the fire – the birth and the spread of the church. Beginning in Jerusalem with the disciples, the message traveled through Judea, Samaria and across the Roman Empire.
And we know, that in just those 30 years, Christianity spread from believing Jews to non-Jews in 39 cities and 30 countries, islands or provinces. Now we have 195 countries in the world today, but I don’t believe there were anywhere near that many in the first century. So that is truly an amazing feat!
In our scripture reading for today, in chapter 1, verses 1-11 are the bridge between the events recorded in the Gospels and the events marking the beginning of the church. The key verse in the entire book of Acts is found nestled in these verses – its verse 8 which again reads: “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.”
The Holy Spirit was sent so that God would be both with and within His followers after Christ returned to heaven. The Holy Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know His truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power.
These disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach, teach and heal. They demonstrated love in the synagogues, schools, homes, marketplaces, courtrooms, on the streets, hills, ships, and desert roads – wherever God sent them. And because they went, because they followed and obeyed Him, lives were changed and history was made!
But here is the truth we need to hear today — we also receive power from the Holy Spirit when we choose faith in Jesus Christ. We are empowered to do whatever He has called us to do. Remember He does not call the equipped – He equips those He calls.
When we receive the Holy Spirit it marks the beginning of our Christian experience. As we cannot belong to Christ without His Spirit, we cannot be united to Christ without His Spirit, we cannot be adopted as His children without His Spirit, and we cannot be in the Body of Christ, except by baptism in the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is the very power behind our new lives in Christ. The Spirit begins a lifelong process within each one of us making us into the image and likeness of Jesus. When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God.
And just as the apostles and disciples were to witness to the truth of the Kingdom of God. So too, are we. The Kingdom of God began when Christ came to earth, when He made the gift of salvation available to all who call on His name. The Kingdom of God lives within every believer’s heart. And the Kingdom of God will not find total fulfillment until Christ returns. Until that time, believers are to work to spread God’s Kingdom across the world. What the early church started, we must continue. We are to witness for Christ – to point others to Him. We are to deny ourselves and take up cross and live for Him. Not at all an easy feat. But remember, we have the power of the Holy Spirit. He is not only with us, but He is within us. We can do this brothers and sisters! It’s our calling, it’s our fate. Let us pray…..
Holy God we love You and we praise You! We thank You that we can gather together once again. We ask that you would completely eradicate this virus so that everyone can join us each Sunday. We ask that you would keep us all healthy and well. That you would keep our families healthy and well. That you would be with the Porter, Call and Cassell families as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved one.
We ask that you be with our country Father. We need Your healing touch desperately. We need Your truth and Your light and Your love to penetrate the darkness that has gripped our nation. May we return to You Father! May we cry out to You, may we confess our sins and turn from our ugly ways to love each other with Your love.
Our Father, who Art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory. Now and forever. And all of God’s people said, amen.
Have a good week. Jesus loves you and so do I.