Yesterday I started what a series studying the book of Acts, and the central question we’ll be asking each week is this: How did the first Christians live as followers of Jesus, in their world? This week we are working through Acts 1. In the first three verses, we learned that, over the 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus spent time with his followers, proving he was alive and talking with them about the Kingdom of God. Wouldn’t you want to know more about those conversations? The author of Acts, Luke, does give us one brief story, and we read about that next in Acts 1, verses 4-5.
In this brief story, Jesus and his followers are eating together, and he has some specific instructions for them. The disciples are to wait for a few days in Jerusalem for the empowerment of the Spirit. He had talked about this before. This is not new news. In John’s Gospel account, in chapters 13-17, which is a long teaching section that took place at the last supper before he was arrested, Jesus mentioned the coming of the Holy Spirit numerous times. Think about the timing of this. That teaching in John 13-17 was perhaps only 3-5 weeks before this dinner meeting described in Acts 1. Did they remember what he had said at the Last Supper about the Spirit? Did they understand what was about to happen? We don’t know for sure, but as we’ll in the next few verses, it seems like they still didn’t quite get what Jesus was talking about.
I do want to point out that the Holy Spirit is mentioned 3 times in Acts 1 verses 2-8. (Verses 2, 5, and 8.) In fact the Spirit is mentioned more than 50 times in the book of Acts. Though the official title of the book is the Acts of the Apostles, some believe it is better titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit. We’re about to find out why. For now, though, Jesus says wait.
They don’t need to understand what he means about the Spirit empowering them, or this idea of baptism with the Spirit that he talks about in verse 5. All they need to understand is Wait. And that is easy. Or is it? It is easy to understand. But how many of you love waiting? As the saying goes, “Waiting is the hardest part.” How long would they have to wait? He said, “a few days,” but what does that mean? Two or ten or twenty? What would they do as they waited? These kinds of questions are why waiting is difficult. We want answers…now! The disciples will find out that there is an extremely good reason that Jesus wants them to wait.
But for now, they still have Jesus with them. So they are happy, they are elated. All that talk of him leaving them, and then the arrest and beating and crucifixion and horrible pain and emptiness that we reviewed in yesterday’s post? All that is over because he is alive again and he is with them. They don’t need to worry about waiting.
So one day, as we read in verse 6, they take a hike together. The disciples ask Jesus a very curious question in verse 6: Is he going to restore the Kingdom to Israel? I wonder what was going on in their minds. Restore the Kingdom to Israel? What gave them that idea? Did Jesus ever teach this or talk like this? No. Well, he talked a lot about the Kingdom of God, as we just read in verse 3, but he did not talk about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. So why would the disciples ask this?
I think location is key. Where were they in verse 6? Luke tells us in verse 12 that they were on Mt. of Olives. Why does that matter? They had been there with Jesus probably a bunch of times before. But this day was different. Never before had he been crucified and resurrected, and proved to them that he was alive and talked with them about the Kingdom of God.
At that moment, it seems to me that a bunch of ideas were coming together in the minds of the disciples. They were convinced that he was the Messiah, as predicted in the Old Testament. These men were steeped in the Old Testament mindset, with a typical Jewish desire for an earthly kingdom and restoration to the glory days of David and Solomon. That mindset was still inside them. So they remembered a prophecy of the Messiah.
Turn to the Old Testament book of Zechariah, chapter 14. This prophecy in Zechariah predicts a future day when the Messiah comes to the Mount of Olives to restore the Kingdom. Perhaps this prophecy is in the minds of the disciples when they ask in verse 6 if Jesus is going to restore the kingdom. They’re thinking, “This is it! Jesus is about to usher in the salvation and restoration of Israel!” I think they were crackling with excitement. They’re thinking, “Finally, our Roman occupiers are about to get what’s coming to them.” They eagerly ask Jesus,” Are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” In other words, is this the moment we’ve all been waiting for, Jesus? Now does the fighting begin to free Israel, defeat the Romans, and install you as King?
Jesus says, “Nope!” Then he repeats what he basically always taught, “no one knows the day, time or hour.” Instead there is a new mission for the disciples, a greater mission. God didn’t just want to restore the Kingdom to Israel, he wanted to bring restoration to the whole world! And it was starting with them. They would be his witnesses.
Witness? Over the centuries we Christians have loaded up that word with all kinds of meanings. What do you think of when you think of Christian witnessing? What I am referring to is the idea of a Christian sharing a plan of salvation, usually with pamphlets that they hand out. There is nothing wrong with that, if done in the right way with the right heart. But that’s not the witnessing Jesus is talking about here.
What was he talking about? To find out, let’s go back to the meaning of the word, “witness.” A witness is a person who has seen something. In a court of law, a witness is called upon to tell the truth about what they saw or about what they know.
What did the disciples see? Jump ahead to Acts 1 verse 22. There we read that they were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. They had a story to tell of this Jesus who was put to death, but is now alive!
Notice what Jesus did not say: “Witness if you feel like it, or if you are good at telling stories, or if you are an extrovert, or if you have a good sense of humor, or if you are the pastor, or a missionary.” No, he simply made a blanket statement as he gave them a new mission. The mission is for all of his followers. Tell your story. Witness. You have a story to tell about how God has worked in your life. It doesn’t have to be a story with high drama or radical life change. You have your story. What have you seen of God? What do you know about God?
In a court of law, this is called providing testimony. That’s why Christians call their story of faith in Jesus their testimony.
It also important to tell your story without words. What I mean is that how we choose to live our lives tells a story too. The choices we make show what we believe and how God has been at work in our lives. When we are being transformed by God’s Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will flow out of us. That evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control is a story of God at work.
Jesus, in Acts 1:8, says a bit more about witnessing. He says it is to happen in Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the ends of the earth, which we will see is the outline of the book of Acts.
- Acts 1-5 – Jerusalem
- Acts 6-9 – Judea & Samaria
- Acts 10-28 – The ends of the world
There will be a geographical movement. And what do you notice about this direction of this movement? It’s outward. They are located in Jerusalem, but Jesus doesn’t want their telling of his story to stay there. The good news about Jesus, rather, is to be told beyond the borders of the nation of Israel and quite literally to the whole world. Jesus wants all to know the hope found in him.
Let’s put together what we have read thus far. Jesus tells them to wait for the power of the Spirit, and after that they are to witness, which is to share the story, and it is to have an outward movement. We will see this Spirit-led movement through the entire book. And it remains in effect for us today. But how do we wait and witness? We’ll return to these concepts later this week. So check back in to tomorrow’s post as the disciples will face some shocking news.