Summary of the Text
An Introduction from Luke: Our passage begins with a note from the author (Luke) to his reader (Theophilus), which reminds us that Luke-Acts was initially meant to be two parts of the story of God’s reign in the world, begun by the incarnational ministry of Jesus and then continued by the church, which, as we will see, will be reliant upon the Holy Spirit, which Jesus himself promises will be sent once his earthly ministry is complete.
In his introductory remarks, Luke describes what took place in the first book, the gospel (Jesus’ earthly ministry culminating in his death and resurrection) and how those events were then followed by more post-resurrection teaching from Jesus to his flock (described now as apostles, not disciples, more on that to come shortly.) These instructions, Luke shares, were given “through the Holy Spirit” (vs.2), a foretaste of what is to come in the rest of Acts as the Holy Spirit empowers and emboldens the apostles to share the gospel to“the ends of the earth.” (vs.8) In his summary, Luke also shares of Jesus’ suffering (translated “Passion”) and the many “convincing proofs that he was alive” (vs.3). In other words, Jesus post-resurrection was filled with experiences of Jesus, resurrected body and all, as he prepared his followers for what was to come next, before he would eventually ascend back to heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father.
Jesus’ Instructions: Sit Tight: Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to the apostles many times. One time in particular he said to them, “do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” Now it seems clear from what is about to take place in chapter 2 (The unleashing of the Holy Spirit) that Jesus wants the disciples to be equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit before they begin sharing the good news of the gospel.
At the same time, I can’t help but think that there is a bit more going on than simply waiting on the Spirit (though of course that is essential as well). Could it be that Jesus is impressing a foundational truth of spiritual leadership: that we must first “be” before we can “do” effectively. Great Christian spiritual leaders have long-stressed the importance of spiritual formation in the life of the leader. We are not simply called to “do stuff,” for Jesus, but to be a specific type of people who bring salt and light into a dark and tasteless world.
The American author Kurt Vonnegut, not a professing Christian, but who recognized the importance of being and presence, once said, “I am a human being (emphasis mine), not a human doing.” Too often the church is filled with folks who “do” all sorts of things for Jesus, but who never take the time to ask what ministry Christ is inviting us into. If we don’t spend time simply being in fellowship with God, we are bound to jump head and foot into all sorts of things that Jesus would never have encouraged us to pursue. So, the resurrected Jesus eats meals with the disciples and talks about what this new kingdom of God looks like. Perhaps we ought to see in this a paradigm for thoughtful ministry, or what some have described as “contemplative action.”
A Post-Resurrection Name Change:The word “apostle” (apostolos in Greek) in Greco-Roman culture meant something akin to an ambassador or a messenger. Someone who was, as Joseph L. Thayer notes, “sent forth with orders.” While Luke doesn’t specifically deal with this shift in terminology for the twelve, the word itself indicates a major shift in their calling. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the twelve were called “disciples”, i.e., those apprenticed to a teacher, from whom they were to gain wisdom and knowledge for how to live and worship faithfully. Now, by switching to “apostle,” the calling has shifted from primarily a place of reception, that is a place of receiving God’s wisdom, to a place of being sent, “with orders,” through the power of the Holy Spirit, into the world. Those orders are connected to vs.3:
“After his suffering [his passion, and therefore his death] he [Jesus] presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive…and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
So, these ambassadors are given a message, and at the heart of that message is that the one who died a criminal’s death and was buried for three days is no longer dead. He is alive. hile his time on earth is drawing to a close, a new day is dawning in which the Holy Spirit, promised by the Father (vs.4), will empower his followers to do things they never could have dreamed of.
And that message, so powerful in the hands of the Holy Spirit-empowered apostles, would ultimately re-shape the entire world as an increasing number of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would believe in the message, in the good news that Jesus, a common man from a small village in a backward province on the edge of the Roman empire, was in fact God incarnate.He was inviting them into a new kingdom, very different from the all the other kingdoms in their world, but the apostles were still learning. They were still not so sure about what this kingdom Jesus spoke so much about really looked like. They were in need of a paradigm shift.
What Kind of Kingdom?: In verse 6, the twelve asked Jesus, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus responds in characteristic cryptic fashion, saying neither yes nor no, but reminding them of his words in Matthew chapter 25, about not knowing the hour which the “Father has set Perhaps Jesus is answering a different question than the one asked by the disciples. The twelve seem to be describing the belief that Jesus was to become the literal king in a restored Jerusalem.
Conversely,Jesus seems to be referring to an eschatological kingship when he talks about the hour that only the Father knows. Why does Luke include this little vignette? It’s an important question to ask because we already know that the disciples believe very differently in Jesus’ true calling. Perhaps this is one more way to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit in effecting a sea change in the views and the actions of the apostles. Prior to Pentecost, they still believed in a traditional kingship. What they would soon discover was that Jesus’ reign was going to be much different, and far larger in scope, than anything they could have expected. This new power would not be civic, but spiritual, and would lead to the conversion of much of the known world.
The Spread of the Gospel: After giving his cryptic response, Jesus utters these well-known words of the coming mission to the world: “ 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 word used here is dynamis, which Robert Wall states in The New Interpreter’s Series,
Dynamis denotes a robust force at work in demonstrative ways for all to see and feel. Such a “power” comes with the Spirit of prophecy. The Spirit does not confer a political authority upon the apostles but rather new competencies that enable them to perform the tasks given them, whether through their inspired words, their miraculous works, or their leadership within the community’s common life (see 2:42–47; 4:32–35).
It is noteworthy that all of this power is given to “be my witnesses.” The use of the word “witness” implies at least a few significant factors related to this mission the apostles are about to experience. The first is that the power the Spirit provides is not meant to simply confer power to the apostles for their own benefit. It is to be used to “witness” to the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the new life available to all who call Him Lord and Savior. A “witness” is someone who has experienced an event first-hand and can act as a reliable source of information related to that event. Therefore, the charge of the apostles here is to describe what has happened to Jesus, and through the Spirit, they continue that same ministry with access to the same power that Jesus had during his earthly ministry. It is not too much of an inference from the passage that our ability to do Spirit-empowered ministry can only be done when it is done in the name and power of Jesus Christ.
If we are experiencing spiritual power for ministry that is disconnected from the Spirit, it is likely empowered by the demonic and not the Spirit.
Jerusalem, Samaria, The Ends of the Earth: The power of the H.S. is given, in order that these twelve apostles would bring the gospel to three particular places. And while these three places are mentioned perhaps in some sense literally, (The apostles did preach in Jerusalem and Samaria) it seems clear that Jesus is pointing to the spread of the gospel first in the center of the faith (Jerusalem), then regionally, (Samaria) and finally to the ends of the earth. While it might be a bit of a stretch to say that this is a definitive model for mission and evangelism, the idea of doing mission in three distinct spaces: local, regional, and abroad could be a healthy way of thinking about your mission partners. If all of your focus is on the “ends of the earth,” there may be some need to correct towards a more balanced missions experience so that you have the opportunity to serve both your neighbor (literally) next door as well as your neighbor on the other side of the planet.
The Ascension: Luke tells us that after he charged the apostles to “be my witnesses, ” “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. We might argue that the subtext here is fairly simple: Jesus had prepared the twelve, both before and after His resurrection, and they were now ready to continue the mission. Luke’s description of the apostles “looking intently into the sky” could be interpreted a number of ways. I. Howard Marshall argues that this detail “which suggests that they are longing for the reappearance of Jesus or some other happening which will indicate that what they have seen is not the final act in the drama.”
Whatever the reason, it is easy to understand a group of disciples missing their Rabbi/Savior, hoping He would be back to continue to encourage and equip them. But this is it. This is the moment when the newly charged “apostles” are to be sent into the world without their Rabbi, to embark on a movement that no other group from Israel had ever embarked upon: to share the good news to the “ends of the earth.” The good news for them of course, is that they would never be forced to do it in their own strength, but always through the promised Holy Spirit, which is about to descend in mighty power.
Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends
A Sign of Consolation
Many years ago a great Arctic explorer started on an expedition to the North Pole. After two long years in the lonely northland, he wrote a short message, tied it under the wing of a carrier pigeon, and prepared to turn it loose to make the two thousand-mile journey to Norway. The explorer gazed around him at the desolation. Not a creature to be seen.
There was nothing but ice, snow, and never-ending bitter cold. He held the trembling little bird in his hand for a moment and then released her into the icy atmosphere. The bird circled three times, and then started her southward flight for multiplied hundreds of miles over ice and frozen ocean wastes until at last she dropped into the lap of the explorer’s wife.
By the arrival of the bird, his wife knew that all was well with her husband in the dark night of the arctic North. Likewise the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly Dove, proved to the disciples that Christ had entered the heavenly sanctuary.
Stuart Strachan Jr. is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor as well as the founder and lead curator of the Pastor’s Workshop. His primary passion is equipping the saints for the ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). He loves preaching, teaching, and helping churches cast vision for what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century. He has served churches in a variety of capacities in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Stu is married to Colleen, who currently serves as a spiritual formation lead at Compassion International in Colorado Springs. Stu and Colleen have two children (Jack and Emma) whom they love deeply.
In his free time, Stu enjoys gardening, golf, reading a good book, and watching baseball.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 47:1-2, 6-7
Pastor: Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
All: For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
Pastor: Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
All: For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
Submitted by Dustin Ray
Prayer of Confession
Lord Jesus, you send us out into the world in your name, but we prefer to stay safely behind. We are nervous, and unmotivated, and uncertain. We love to think about how you love us, but we are much more reluctant to show that love to others. It is especially hard to care for those who challenge, insult, or disrespect us. Strengthen us that we would live up to your call to love even our enemies. Forgive us for our sins, these and all others, as we continue to pray in silence…
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Submitted by Chip Hardwick
Assurance of Pardon
Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. (Romans 8:34)
Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!
You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.