Acts 1:1-8 (NIV)
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until
the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles
he had chosen.3 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. 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.
5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 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.”
Here we have the Book of Acts. It and all the books of the Bible are all extraordinary in their own right. It is a
miracle that we have them at all. God has preserved them for us through people. It’s remarkable. Just last year
we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. In fact, today is Resurrection Sunday,
year 501. One of the reasons that the Reformation gained such a following was the invention of the printing
press around that time. Some people highlight the small differences in the texts that were hand copied for
hundreds of years before this. What is truly extraordinary is how much is the same. Sixty-six books, and this
Bible has 1989 pages. It is miraculous that we have Bibles and that we can read them, and I don’t use the word
“miraculous” lightly. That these books have been preserved. In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians he mentions that
he also wrote a letter to the church of Laodicea. My Bible doesn’t include that letter in it. Does yours? No, it was
lost. It’s remarkable that we have any letters at all.
Here we have the book of Acts, and it is this bridge between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and
the rest of the New Testament. The central character in the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ, the
Spirit of Jesus. Those are all different ways of saying the same thing. It is how God gave birth to his church.
Particularly it talks about transformation and how lives are transformed. How Peter and Paul were particularly
transformed, and how through pain and persecution, the gospel spread and many lives, all the way through the
centuries, have experienced the transforming power of the gospel. And, we are the spiritual inheritors of what
happened beginning there at the book of Acts.
Probably, the most remarkable thing about the book of Acts is the very first line. How many of you, when you
pick up a book, skim over or skip the introduction? Don’t do that! Especially when you are reading books of the
Bible. The biblical writers in those first few sentences, those first few paragraphs, lay out for us what the rest of
the book is going to be about. As I read to you a few minutes ago, I hope when you heard that first line, it drew
you out to the edge of your seat. Did it? This is how the word of God should affect us. It causes us to draw us to
the edge of our seat with expectancy.
Did you hear it? “In my first book Theophilus…” Luke is the writer of the gospel of Luke, and now the book of
Acts. He is writing to the Theophilus. We don’t know if that was a specific person. It might have been. It also
could be a group of people. Theophilus “means lover of God.”
“In my first book, Theophilus…” the book of Luke, “I wrote about everything Jesus began to do and teach.
” Does this strike you as strange? If you think about the book of Luke that should seem very strange. Because
everything Jesus did on this Earth from his birth to his life to his teaching, his miracles, sufferings, his death,
and his resurrection and even his ascension back to heaven was all recorded in the book of Luke. Luke says
that was just the beginning of what Jesus was going to do.
Who here is familiar with the Paul Harvey, the famous radio man. He would begin to tell an average sounding
news story, but then he would utter the immortal words, “And now, the rest of the story…” We hear the
beginning in the Gospels, but the book of Acts launches and unleashes the rest of the Jesus story. The
Gospel of Luke was just the beginning, just the part off the top, and now it is the rest of the story that leads
all the way to where we find ourselves here at Joseph United Methodist Church today.
And so as we read, we have Jesus with the 11 remaining disciples, a 12th will be added soon to replace
Judas Iscariot. The Scripture says that Jesus spent 40 days with them after his resurrection, giving many
proofs that he had actually risen from the dead. And they talked with one another. Have you ever thought
about that? Put yourself in the scene and wondered? What did they talk about for 40 days? We know
what they talked about. It says it right here. They talked about the Kingdom of God. Does that seems
a bit boring? The Kingdom of God for forty days, really? They talked about the Kingdom of God?
The thing that you have to realize is that the Kingdom of God is the main thing that Jesus talked about in
the book of Luke. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God more than he talked about sins being forgiven or
us going to heaven when we die or you … fill in the blank with what you think Jesus was mainly about, but
the Kingdom of God was the main thing that Jesus talked about, and so it goes to show that after his
resurrection that would be the thing he would have talked about.
When we talk about the Kingdom of God, it is the scope of God’s rule and God’s reign in the hearts of people.
The Kingdom of God is not a place per se. It is like a parallel dimension. When Jesus tells people that the
Kingdom of God has come near, he is talking about how these dimensions intersect, and he is the connection.
Now, we with the Holy Spirit we become that conduit. It is a frame of heart and mind where we yield and
give way to God’s love and forgiveness, and we share it with others. In the Kingdom of God there is a king
and our king is Jesus.
In the Kingdom of God our king rules. Our King Jesus rules in two different ways. Do you remember this
from last week that we, as followers of Jesus, keep our Ws up high. [Hands up.] “Jesus is Savior,” Jesus rules
by saving and redeeming people. Jesus rules. “Jesus is Lord” by being the decisive orienting center in
our lives, the decisive orienting center in our lives. God guides and directs and leads. [Hands up.]
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Savior. We keep our Ws up high. Yes, our king rules in that way, and the Kingdom of
God has a people. We are God’s people in the Kingdom of God serving our king. There is a “law.” There is a
way of life that is revealed in the teachings of Jesus that we give our hearts and our lives over to. In the
Kingdom of God there is indeed a land. That land is every place that you and I as Jesus followers
place our feet. We bring the Kingdom of God with us wherever we go. That is where the Kingdom of God is,
and that Kingdom of God has an impact. They were in that kingdom right there in the beginning of Acts, Jesus
and his disciples. Jerusalem was a hotspot of God’s power and God’s presence.
It was the firm belief of the Jewish people that God’s spirit physically dwelt in the Temple, and it was centered
there in Jerusalem. That is where Jesus is interacting with his disciples in Jerusalem right before he gives the gift
of the Holy Spirit. This animates them to move out into mission.
Remember what happened when Jesus actually died? The veil in the Temple tore in two from top to bottom at
the moment of Jesus death, and the Spirit vacated the Temple. It comes to reside in the hearts of Jesus followers
just days later. God gave the gift of God’s Spirit to God’s people. God’s vision to renew the whole world was reset
that moment. [Sound effect.] That vision that was laid out in Genesis 12:1-3 was reset.
Remember how God talked to Abraham or to Abram? God said this to him, “Go from your country, your people
and your father’s household, to the land I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless
you, and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever
curses you I will curse.” Here’s the part that is so definitive for us. “And all peoples on Earth will be blessed
And so, all these people from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, and the
Spirit came into the disciples, and this vision of God renewing the whole world; the reset button was hit. And
Jesus said that you’re going to do this by being my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of
Now like with many things with of the disciples, like with many of us, as Jesus’ disciples now, what Jesus says
sometimes goes in one ear and out the other. It just does not compute. That is the case here with what Jesus
says in Acts 1:1-8.
The disciples had no intention of leaving Jerusalem. They had no intention of taking this Gospel and spreading
it to people that were radically differ from them. They were bent on their old way of thinking that God was just
for them. Their minds were still focused on old paradigms. In Isaiah 2, it says that all the nations would stream
to Jerusalem to experience the presence and power of God, but it is here and now in Acts 1 that things begin to
change. The Spirit, the power, and the presence of God would now reside in Jesus’ followers. That God fills
Jesus’ follower’s heart through faith. God fills us with his Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit, and as we are filled
with the Spirit of God, the Spirit of God will always send us out. It is this constant circle of in-and-out, in-and-out.
This is how we are witnesses. We are examples. We are representatives.
Now this is just one way that we are described as followers of Jesus. Not only are we the bride of Christ, the body
of Christ. Not only are we saints and priests and children of God, but we are indeed witnesses. That word
“witness” in the church has gained a negative connotation with some people. All it means is sharing what God
has done in our lives with others. What it has meant in our lives. We are envoys or ambassadors for Jesus.
The Spirit will always be at work in our lives to be God’s faithful ambassadors. But what do we say, and how do
we tell our stories? We have a story to tell about how we have experienced brokenness because of sin and
because of the sins of others. We tell how God’s story of love and forgiveness and restoration has interfaced
with our story and created a brand new direction for our lives and a brand new story.
You see people need to hear that. People need to hear our story of how God is at work in our lives, but not only
do they hear our story as witnesses or ambassadors, but they experience our story by the way we arrange
and live our lives. Later in chapter two of Acts, as the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, this gift from
God, they arrange their lives in a different way, in a new way. They arrange their lives around the
apostle’s teaching, through the breaking of the bread, through fellowship, and through prayer.
That is how they ordered their lives, and it must have been to strange for some people to see that especially
as the faith began to spread out into the Gentile areas. Why are you all doing this? We’ve got this story. We
have this new way of life that is shaping and molding us.
The thing that must have really gotten underneath the skin of the early disciples was where they were going
to be witnesses. We like to tell people about our lives. We want to make a difference for God, but we are kind of
tempted to do it where we want to do it, around the people we know are like us. And Jesus says, no, no, no.
” You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
What would it be like for us to be witnesses or representatives in Jerusalem? Christians physically visit
Jerusalem all the time, but most of us are not in Jerusalem. Also, Jerusalem is not to us what is was the first
disciples. So, what does it mean for us to be witnesses in Jerusalem? Well, to witness in Jerusalem is to talk
to those people who are close to us like our spouse, our kids, our family, our friends, with our people or our
Jerusalem would also include our church family here. This place where we are seeking to connect and grow
into Christ’s likeness together. Jerusalem are those people that are very similar to us in many ways.
Now, Judea again are people that are very very similar to us. They’re just removed from us by proximity, but we
still can connect with them easily when we when we run across them. It is easy to get to know them.
Several years ago, I came to know this woman named Joy, and Joy was certainly the perfect name for her as
she spread joy in whatever she did and wherever she went. Our paths intersected through an interest in late
night talk shows. That would be a harder thing these days as I no longer use a TV, but that is another story.
We formed an instant connection, and it had to do with a lot more than talk shows. Turns out that we were
about the same age, two middle class white women with connections to the upper mid-west. Our political
views meshed as well as what we considered the right way to treat people, with kindness. I loved what she
did when she had to clean her kids’ rooms. She had three with one in elementary, one in middle school, and
one in high school, but the rule was the same. She would give them a few days to clean out what was under
their beds. If they didn’t make the deadline, she would go in and pull everything out. It either got thrown away
or donated to charity. Sounds brutal right? But here’s the thing. She would leave chocolate as a consolation
prize. I still want to be her when I grow up. It was easy for us to develop trust with each other, so it was easy
to talk about faith with her.
Joy and I had this immediate connection. This is what it means to be a witness in Judea. I think the Apostles
could have handled that, but then Jesus says what is like the place that shall not be named. You are going to
be my witnesses in Samaria.
Oh, those people are not like me. Those people are people that I despise and hate. We don’t get along very
well, and you’re wanting me to go there? Jews that lived in Galilee would walk around Samaria to get to
Jerusalem because they could not stand even set foot on Samaritan soil. And the Samaritans had no love
for Jewish people either. Those are the people that Jesus calls us to witness to, to talk to. Those are the
people Jesus calls us to develop relationships with, so that you can have a deep meaningful conversation.
Our culture discourages us from talking about religion in public, with casual acquaintances, and people we
don’t know well. The truth is that I think that is a good rule if you don’t want an instant argument or a
severed relationship. But, how do we get past that barrier? Get past the superficial acquaintance stage to
an actual friendship or relationship where trust can be built? That is so much harder with people who
aren’t like us. That “not like us” can mean so many things. Jesus says you are going to be my witnesses,
my ambassadors in Samaria.
And then there’s the ends of the Earth, which meant to the first disciples people like the Romans. You
mean the ones that regularly kill our people and subject our people to unreasonable taxes. What?! The
ends of the Earth are people that are very different from ourselves, ones that we know little or nothing
about. They are people who even espouse different religions, and it’s easy for us to develop feelings of
hate towards them, and yet Jesus is saying, yes, tell the story of how you have received my
love. Tell a story about how you are arranging your life differently on account of me.
These days, these times, we often have a sensitivity about accepting everyone, and not forcing our way
of thinking on others, especially when it comes to religion. That may be in a bit of flux at the moment.
Two steps forward and one step back. Overall again, I think this sensitivity is a good thing.
However, I want to turn that idea upside down. Think of hiding, hording the Gospel. Thinking of it as
something that is just for us, not to be shared with others. In Jesus’ time, that would have been the Jewish
perspective. They kept their faith within the biological family of Abraham. Shun outsiders. We are the
chosen people. We should not be contaminated or made unclean through contact with Gentiles, people
not from the biological family of Abraham. This is part of God’s Law for us.
That is why John the Baptist says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “And do not think that you can say to
yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children
of Abraham.” (Mt 3:9) That is why Peter was so concerned about eating at the house of Cornelius in chapter
10 of Acts. In the end, Cornelius was a man whose whole family Peter accepts and baptizes.
When Jesus says that the disciples are to be his witnesses to the ends of the Earth, he is saying that there is
an end to exclusivity. There is no hiding or hording God as their exclusive God. It is a message that is open
to everyone. It’s not a forcing of religious views on others (though that has happened over the centuries, but
that was not the intent). It is an opportunity to share the love of God with everyone who is open to it. If they
are not open to it, okay. But we don’t know who will or will not be open. It is not our job to figure that out.
Our job, task, role is to share the news, to be the witness to what God has done in our lives.
Jesus is saying, yes, tell the story of how you have received my love. Tell a story about how you
are arranging your life differently on account of me.
What Jesus is inviting us to do, is like what he did in John 4:35. All these Samaritans are just pouring out
of their town towards Jesus and his disciples in the story. Jesus sees them coming, and they are coming and
coming and coming. As Jesus is teaching his disciples, he says open your eyes and look up. Open your eyes
and look up for the field is ripe for harvest.
Notice them. Care for them. Interact with them. Serve them. Share with them as people who are seeking to
grow in their relationship with God to give their heart over more completely over to Jesus.
This is part of it. This is part of what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus. That as Jesus looked up, as
Jesus noticed people, as Jesus was grace in people’s lives. That is our job as his followers. This is part of
what it means to be Simply Church together. We will cultivate hearts and attitudes, cultivate practices that
cause us to look up and notice what’s going on in the lives of other people. There are these barriers to us
being these outward focused people, and it’s the temptation of our own agendas that we focus all of our
attention on “me and my tribe,” and we miss. We miss. There is this very simple formula, the abundant life
formula, like life true full life. The formula is simple. Create space for God, so that God can fill us
regularly. Create a space for God, and create space for others. But, we have a tendency to fill our
lives up with so much that we don’t create space in our lives, and the lives of others are less because of it.
One of the biggest barrier is we have is this barrier of doubt, doubt that we really can truly make a difference
in the world that we can really join God on this beautiful and glorious mission of God making all things
new in the world.
Steve Sjogren says it like this, “Small things…” See we are enamored with the big, and we’ve got to get over
that. It’s small. “Small things done with great love will change the world.” Mother Theresa is misquoted as
saying something similar, but the truth is the same. Anyone, anyone who is motivated by God’s love can
change the world. Anyone, anyone who is willing to leave the safety of every day routine for the
sake of saving lives, both physical and eternal, can change the world.
Think of people throughout your life who have noticed you. People in your life that shared their story
of God’s goodness for you and how that story has changed the direction of your life. This week I want
you to visualize where you will be going, what you will be doing. I can promise you that God is going to place
people in your path that you will have the opportunity to be his witness, his representative this coming week.
Will you trust God enough with your heart and with your life in a very special sort of way to let those barriers
fall and to be as present as you possibly can? And as you do, the world will be changed and be transformed
just a little bit more.
That is one of the reasons why we take communion together, like we will next week. We are reminded that
we are not alone. Christ is with us. Christ is in us. And if Christ is in us, Christ will always move us to
share his goodness with others that he will place in our path. So remember that you are not alone,
and you have power within you to make a difference in the lives of the people that God will place
in your path.
Now, let us say the Jesus Creed together out loud or silently.
Love the Lord your God
With all your heart, with all your soul,
With all your mind,
And with all your strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself.
Only Holy Love
Jesus said that we would go greater things. We just need to be focused on God’s Holy Love.