This week, we begin the second
part of our series of messages on a truth-driven vision for our church.
This part will be a series of messages from the
book of Acts. I
thought about preaching this series of “vision messages” topically.
That is, preach a message or two on Biblical community and a related message
on the necessity of church membership.
Add another few messages on being
a more effective witness for Christ. Another message or two could be given on the
need for prayer and the centrality of the
Holy Spirit’s work in the church.
Another on planting churches and
another message or two on worship might be preached.
As I thought about that, it seemed better to preach through Acts because
all those themes are found in this book
multiple times. Preaching
through the book of Acts enables us to see these
elements of our vision repeatedly and from different angles as we again and again see the
God-centered, truth-driven, gospel saturated content of these 28 chapters
of inspired Scripture. It’s
my prayer as we go through Acts, that we will not only take in “head knowledge” of what God’s plan is for our church,
but also from these pages of Scripture would emanate the
fragrance of Christ as he ministers through his church in Acts and that we would deeply breathe
in that aroma and be changed more into his likeness.
First, let me make some very brief introductory comments about this book. First, what is the
purpose of this book? I
agree with those who say that Acts is “a
testimony about the
early church’s witness and God’s role in bringing it to pass.” As we will see today,
it was written by Luke, a doctor who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
He wrote Acts to the same man
to whom he addressed his gospel as a sequel to that gospel.
We don’t know much about this man named Theophilus, other
than he had read Luke’s gospel and was probably a Gentile who was familiar with the
Old Testament. Luke
addresses him in his gospel with the title “most excellent” which may
indicate that he was a person of some prominence in society. Luke probably wrote Acts sometime between 62 AD, when Paul was imprisoned in Rome—(that
account is recorded by Luke in chapter 28) and AD 70 before Jerusalem was destroyed.
There is nothing in Acts about that event and it probably would have been
included if it had happened before Luke’s writing.
Acts is a history book and although
Luke’s account of these events has at times been challenged by historians,
time has repeatedly vindicated Luke as a historian of the first rank.
the rest of Scripture, Acts is an anvil that has worn out the
many hammers of its critics. We
must read Acts as a history book. Although Acts is the source of much rich doctrine,
many people in church history have misused this book by trying to turn this history book into a Systematic Theology.
far better to get our theology of (for instance) the baptism of the
Holy Spirit from Paul when he is specifically teaching on that topic in First Corinthians, than by getting it from
the historical events Luke records in Acts.
Jesus Christ is the
dominant character in the book of Acts and we seldom see that more
clearly than in the opening verses of this book.
Let’s read the first five verses of the
book of Acts. Luke
is the author and he says, “1
In the first book, O Theophilus, I
have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after
he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
3 He presented himself alive
to them after his suffering by many
proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking
about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with
them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5
for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from
The main truth I see in these
opening verses could be stated like this: Jesus Christ, though ascended to the
continues his earthly ministry through his apostles by the Holy Spirit.
We see this beginning in verse one, where Luke connects Acts with his gospel. He says, “In the first book, (the gospel of Luke) O
Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach…”
That’s a very curious way to word this reference to the
gospel of Luke—an account of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”
In Luke’s gospel, which Theophilus has read, we see in chapter 24 that Jesus
ascended to the right hand of God—not to return to earth until his
second coming. When
Luke wrote Acts, Jesus had left this earth in bodily form and was abiding at the Father’s
right hand. His
earthly ministry here was presumably completed.
Yet, Luke says here in verse one that the
first 33-odd years of Jesus’ life, culminating in his death, resurrection and ascension were just the
of his earthly ministry. Luke
summarizes his gospel as his account of what Jesus BEGAN to do and BEGAN to teach.
Jesus initiated his earthly ministry in Luke’s gospel and doubtless did his
most important work of redemption, but the clear implication is that
Jesus Christ continues his earthly ministry in the book of Acts,
though he is in fact in heaven. Our first point is to dwell on the FACT of Christ’s
continuing ministry within the
The fact that Luke sees Jesus as
continuing his earthly ministry tells us something of immense importance about first, how Luke sees the
events of this book and second, about our theology of the
is—we must know that there is far more continuity between Jesus’ earthly ministry up to his ascension and his ministry
in Acts and even today. We
could say it this way: In
gospels, Christ ministers through the Spirit by means of his own physical body. Luke speaks of Jesus
giving commands to his apostles through
Holy Spirit, but he says in verse one that this was part of the
beginning of Christ’s ministry. That means: In the book of Acts, Christ ministers through his Spirit
by means of his spiritual body the church, especially the apostles. Don’t miss the amazing
continuity Luke wants us to see between Jesus’ earthly ministry in the
gospels through the Spirit and his earthly ministry from heaven through the Spirit in the
book of Acts. In
the gospels, Christ ministers through the
Spirit by means of his physical body. In Acts, Christ minister through the Spirit
by means of his spiritual body the church, especially the
In both of these
phases of Christ’s ministry, Luke wants us to see that it is CHRIST who is doing the
ministry—doing and teaching. We
must never believe that when Jesus ascended to God that his ministry was over.
His work of redemption was finished once and for all, but not his ministry
in and through his church—that ministry of Jesus continues.
That’s why we have said that the
church is commissioned by Christ to carry on the ministry of Christ
and show forth the character of Christ. F.F. Bruce says this is one of the differences
separating Christianity from every other religion.
All other religions regard “their
founder as having completed his ministry during his lifetime; Luke says Jesus only began his.” That’s because, unlike
Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, Joseph Smith and all the
rest, Jesus alone is still alive.
This is not the
first time we have seen this truth about Jesus continuing his ministry after he physically departs this earth. Jesus spoke of this
often as he reassured his disciples about the coming of the
Holy Spirit. In
John 14:16, Jesus says, “16 And
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17
even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because
it neither sees him nor knows him. You
know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. “
After Jesus speaks about the
Helper as the Spirit of truth who will dwell with them
and be with them he concludes by saying that, “I
will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Although there
is a clear distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Jesus says
that when the Spirit comes to you, HE, Jesus will be coming to you. He will continue
to do and to teach within his church.
Listen to how closely Christ identifies
himself with the church in Acts nine.
When Jesus meets Saul of Tarsus on the
Damascus road in a great light, as Paul falls
to the ground in terror Jesus says to him, “Saul,
Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”
And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Jesus so closely identifies with his church that when Saul was terrorizing
the church, dragging men, women and children off to prison and to
their death, Jesus accuses Saul of not simply persecuting his people,
but persecuting himself.
In First Corinthians chapter 12,
Paul is speaking of spiritual gifts within the church and he says
in verse 12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with
Is that what it says?
Does it say that the church, though
being one body has many members? No. What
it really says is, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with
CHRIST has one body and many members!
Again, hear the profound level
of identification Christ has with his church. The local church’s ministry is not simply the
ministry of a pastor or leadership team or a group of people.
As it is done through the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the
church is the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We must see this truth that Christ
ministers within the church for many reasons but let’s focus on one
this morning. That
is—when Luke says that Jesus continues to minister within the church—when
he so profoundly identifies himself and his personal ministry with the
ministry of the church, that should cause us to have a very high view
of the local church.
If this truth doesn’t elevate our understanding of the
local church, then we have missed it.
Today, an increasing number of evangelicals think that they
can have a healthy relationship with God without any local church involvement.
They don’t realize that when they
leave the church, they are,
according to Jesus, leaving Him! They aren’t simply leaving a group of people or a pastor; they
are turning their backs on Jesus and his ongoing ministry within the
a person who is indifferent to the local church—can take it or leave
it—that person is indifferent to Christ because Christ identifies himself so powerfully with his church.
People who are down on the
church—make no mistake—are down on Christ—you can’t separate the head
from the body.
When someone undermines the
local church, they are they
are undermining Jesus--just as much as if they had undermined his ministry
2000 years ago. We
know from Acts chapter nine that Jesus takes that kind of thing very personally! We must not develop bad attitudes toward the
church—not fundamentally because we must be personally loyal to the
people in church, but because in the eyes of Jesus, we are against HIM! We must carefully
monitor what we say and the attitudes we have toward any gospel-preaching
church because we can be throwing darts at our Savior!
We see in verse four that Jesus
gave a command to his apostles that would ensure his ministry would continue through his church.
It says, “…he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water,
but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from
Jesus knew that the church must
be baptized—the church must be immersed in the
Holy Spirit if he were to continue his ministry through his church.
Just as Jesus depended on the
Holy Spirit to be faithful in his earthly ministry, so must the church
minister through the Spirit if Jesus’ ministry is to be manifest in
Without the Spirit, the
mission of the church to continue the
ministry of Christ and manifest the character of Christ could never
be accomplished. Jesus
said in John 14:26 that the Spirit will “teach
you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Later in 16:14 Jesus
says of the Spirit, “He will
glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The Spirit is the One who will
make Jesus real to you. Jesus
commanded the apostles and the
other believers to wait for the
Spirit at least in part out of his desire to minister within the church
by the Spirit and for the
church to accurately manifest him as his church.
A second point related to Christ’s
continuing ministry in the church is found in verse three. Luke writes of Jesus
appearing to the apostles after his resurrection and says, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking
about the kingdom of God.”
have seen the fact of Jesus’ continuing ministry.
Here we see the plausibility of
Christ’s continuing ministry within the
church. Without the resurrection of Christ, the continuing ministry of Christ simply would not
be plausible. You
cannot continue ministry if you are dead. Luke says that Jesus “by many proofs” presented himself alive.
That word translated “proof” means “convincing,
decisive proof.” The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is
convincing and decisive. Luke
tells us here that the proof of the resurrection of Jesus was not simply
witnessed one-time. Jesus
did not rise from the dead and immediately ascend into heaven. The gospels tell
us that he made intermittent resurrection appearances and at various times even ate with his friends.
Paul gives us even more insight
into the resurrection appearances of Jesus in First Corinthians 15:5. There he says Jesus,
5” …appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen
asleep. 7 Then he appeared
to James, then to all the apostles”
It’s clear that most of Jesus’ resurrection appearances were for the
benefit of the apostles and those in their
circle, but at least once, Jesus appeared to a large group of more than 500 people who served as witnesses to the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a religious myth.
It is not a gigantic fraud perpetrated by his apostles.
One of the truths the
gospel writers so clearly reveal is that the apostles, in spite of all
the times Jesus told them
he would rise from the dead—they were in fact, NOT expecting the
took them completely by surprise. It was no hoax for which these 12 men and countless others gave their
was a very well attested historical event witnessed over 40 days by more than 500 people.
Throughout the preaching in the
book of Acts, the resurrection of Jesus plays a central role. Paul says that if
Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain.
His resurrection authenticates
and makes possible his continuing ministry in his church.
It also gives us hope of our future bodily resurrection if we are in Christ.
In verse two we see truth that points
to the nature of Christ’s
continuing ministry within the
church. What does this ministry look like? Luke says that before Christ ascended—“was taken up” “he
had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” In
order for us to understand what Luke means here by “commands,” we must remember that he wrote Acts as a sequel
to his gospel. When
we turn to the final commands of Jesus in Luke’s gospel just before
his ascension, we see what he means. In Luke 24:45 he writes about Jesus, “45
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that
the Christ should suffer and on
the third day rise from the dead, 47
and that repentance and forgiveness
of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
48 You are witnesses of
these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The nature of Christ’s ministry
after his ascension is similar to his ministry on earth.
He came out of Nazareth
preaching a gospel of repentance. After he went to the cross, he preached not
only repentance—turning away from sin, but also the forgiveness of
must be done in Christ’s name because it is his message and it is to radiate out from Jerusalem
to all the nations.
Those within evangelicalism that teach that repentance is a work and therefore
we should not call to repentance those to whom we preach the gospel
need to read Luke’s gospel and Acts. We will see in Acts that repentance looms very large in Luke’s understanding of the
Peter preaches his first sermon at Pentecost, his hearers are cut to the
heart with conviction and ask the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” …Peter
said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As we’ll see as in
Acts, conversion for Luke in the early church involved five elements--baptism,
forgiveness, repentance, faith in Jesus Christ and the confession of
Jesus Christ as Lord. At different times,
Luke equates each of those with being saved because in the early church,
unlike today, those all happened pretty much on the same day. That’s why in Luke’s
mind, all of them could be used as synonyms for salvation. When did you repent?—when
were you baptized?—when did you believe?—when did you confess Christ?—when were you baptized?
Believers in the early church
would have heard those questions all asking the same thing—when were
you saved? Part
of the nature of Christ’s continuing ministry was this call to repentance. If you are here today
and claim to be a Christian, but your life hasn’t changed, if you haven’t turned from your sin, you need to know
that repentance is part of what Christ calls us to in the church.
Repentance is possible through the
Holy Spirit. In
Ezekiel 36, the prophet looks forward to this ministry of the Spirit and says, “I
will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses, and from all your idols I
will cleanse you.” And
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will removed the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart
Those are some of those wonderful promises we can claim that we spoke of
last week. As
we struggle with the idols of this world and our desire to elevate them above Christ, we can claim the truth that
in the gospel through the Spirit we have been cleansed from all our idols.
We have a new heart through the Holy Spirit that loves Jesus more than anything
in this world. Do
we believe that? Are
we with faith battling against the idols of this world in those kinds of promises?
aspect of Jesus’ continuing ministry in the church is implied in this
word “apostles” to whom he gave this commission to preach repentance and the
forgiveness of sins. Christ
continued to minister in the early church by the
Spirit primarily through the apostles.
The twelve minus Judas, plus Matthias and Paul were the
main conduits through which he worked. Other men and women are clearly used—Stephen,
Philip and others, but most of the
heavy lifting of continuing Christ’s ministry was done through these
men chosen by Jesus, Peter and Paul in particular. An apostle was a “commissioned,
sent agent” and that is what these
men were. Jesus
continues his ministry through the Spirit in the
church in the book of Acts through the
apostles as they lead the
church in the ministry of the word and it’s the same today in Christ’s
ministry is how Jesus continues to minister in his church today primarily through his apostolic word. That’s the
most important way Jesus continues to minister within the church by
the Spirit—through his apostolic word.
As his apostolic word is read and
preached and taught and prayed over, Christ works in his church through the Spirit.
As we close—where are we today?
Do we have a high view of the church that is consistent with the truth that
Jesus continues his ministry through the church?
More and more evangelicals are sadly believing that they can have Christ
without the church. More
and more believe the lie that they can have a healthy relationship with Christ while having a superficial or even
unhealthy relationship with his church. May God give us the grace to prize the church because Christ is in the church and may
the risen Christ be seen in this church as we through the Spirit seek after that for his glory.