This week, we move further into
Luke’s historical account of the early church in the
book of Acts. Last
week in our introduction to this book, we saw that Jesus continues his earthly ministry within the
book of Acts through his apostles. He does this through the Holy Spirit for whom
he commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem. Apart from the
outpouring of the Spirit, there
can be no authentic ministry of Jesus in the
we move on, in our text for this morning, the narrative revolves around two encounters the
apostles have—first with the soon-to-be-ascended Jesus in response to a question they
ask him and second, with a pair of angels. It’s these two encounters,
both of which result in the apostles being rebuked, that drive Luke’s account here.
I hope that helps us better understand Acts 1:6-11 where Luke records the
when they [Jesus
and the apostles] had come
together, they [the apostles] asked him, “Lord,
will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know
times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted
up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from
you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go
I think the main message for us
from this text is: We
must by God’s grace remain truth-driven and undistracted as we live out a bold and vibrant witness for Jesus Christ
here and to the end of the earth.
Notice that Christ’s call for the
apostles to be his witnesses in verse eight comes in response to a question they ask him in verse six. That question reveals
that the apostles still have much ignorance and many wrong assumptions
about Jesus and their mission. John Calvin says there are as many errors in
the apostle’s question in verse six as there
are words. The reason I say
this text teaches that we must remain truth-driven and undistracted in our witness is because it’s clear from these
verses that at this point in their lives, the apostles are driven by
some very wrong assumptions. They
display a vulnerability to some common errors that have often kept the
church today from being faithful to our mission.
I want us to see the truths in
this text by citing three errors in the apostles’ understanding of their
of the apostles’ ignorance is revealed in this first question in verse
six, so let’s read that again. Jesus has just ordered to wait for “the promise of the Father,” the
Holy Spirit to come upon them before they
can begin their ministry.
That command to wait for the
Holy Spirit prompted the question in verse six, “Lord,
will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
We might wonder, “How
does Jesus’ command to wait for the Spirit trigger this question about whether
Jesus will now “restore the kingdom.” The reason is--the
Jews at this time, because of their understanding of the
Old Testament prophets, saw the coming of the
Spirit as a decisive indicator that the Messiah would initiate his
reign and restore Israel
to the supremacy she experienced under the
reign of King David and Solomon.
The Jews got that understanding from promises like Isaiah 32:14 where the
prophet is speaking of Israel, specifically the king’s palace and says,
palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys,
a pasture of flocks; 15 until the
Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the
fruitful field. 17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the
result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. 18
My people will abide in a peaceful
habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”
connection between the
Spirit of God being poured out and all these other wonderful things that all are part of what will happen
Messiah reigns on his throne.
When Jesus orders the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, they connected some dots and ask Jesus if he would at that
time restore the
kingdom to Israel.
The good thing about their question is--they certainly believe Jesus is the
Messiah and he will reign.
The bad thing is—as happens today, they
were relying more on the
popular understanding of end-times teaching to guide their thinking, than on what Jesus had explicitly told them. Jesus
had very recently told them
that “repentance and forgiveness of sins
should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This was clearly directed at the apostles. He
had also clearly taught them in the gospels—especially the Upper Room discourse in John, that God sending of the
Spirit was to enable them to fulfill their mission. They missed that and I find three errors in the
The first is the error of misplaced
responsibility, the second is the error of parochialism
and the third is the error of skewed
These are three ways in which the
apostles missed God’s agenda for them and for which they received correction from Jesus first, and then
Let’s look first at—The
Error of Misplaced Responsibility.
In verse six, the first word revealing an
error in the apostles’ thinking is the word, “you”—“Lord,
will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus has just told them that they were to wait for the Spirit so they could in his name preach repentance and forgiveness
of sins to all nations.
But they ask Jesus—“Lord,
at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Notice in his
response how Jesus strongly directs the responsibility back to the apostles.
is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
will receive power when the
Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus
says in effect that the
coming of the
Spirit DID signal the
beginning of a new age, but this age would not be marked by HIM doing the ministry with the apostles sitting sat back and watching. That
is largely the way it was BEFORE the
Jesus did most of the ministry while the apostles watched him.
Now, in the age of the Spirit, God would use his
people to do his ministry through them as his Spirit-empowered vessels.
Jesus basically answers their question, “No,
the reason you are to
wait for the Spirit to be poured
out is so YOU can have the power to be my witnesses
and all over the world. This
is not a brand new teaching from Jesus to the apostles.
Jesus tells the apostles on the night he was betrayed in John 15:26-27, “26 But
Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the
he will bear witness about me. 27 And you
also will bear witness, because you
have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus
says that the
Helper will come, not to relieve them
mission to witness to the
world who Jesus is.
No, the Holy Spirit will join them in their witness to Jesus. The
Spirit will provide the
to transform hearts through the
as to how to declare the message of truth, and the boldness
to speak the message to people who are hostile to the message.
As we’ll see, the apostles saw the Spirit as a sign that Jesus would restore God’s national
kingdom. Jesus says in effect, “No,
the Spirit’s ministry
means that you will be bringing God’s
spiritual kingdom to earth through the preaching of the gospel.”
This is not a contradiction with what we
said last week about Jesus’ emphatic position that HE will do the ministry.
Jesus does the ministry as he works by the Holy Spirit, through his apostles.
We must understand that it has always been
God’s plan for him to work through his human servants to accomplish his will on earth.
Before the fall, he charged Adam and Eve to be his Vice Regents
to manifest his rule over this world.
Likewise, when the kingdom of God is fully consummated at the
return of Christ, he promises those who are part of his faithful church “to
I will give authority over the nations, and [they] will rule them with a rod of iron, as when I myself have received
authority from my Father.”
In the beginning, God gave authority in the garden for Adam and Eve to rule over this earth. At
end of this age after Jesus returns, he will give authority to his church to rule over the nations.
And now during this age of the
Spirit, as Christ is spreading his kingdom to the nations through the gospel, we exercise Christ’s authority to make disciples
of all nations as we witness to him in the power of the Spirit.
The apostles saw the Holy Spirit as the sign that they could sit back and watch Jesus do the ministry, when in fact the Spirit’s outpouring meant that they
would now be the
active human agents bringing Christ’s rule to this world through the gospel.
Even though we have a much better understanding
things than the
apostles did, we can be guilty of this same error of misplaced responsibility.
We see someone in our neighborhood, or a
friend at school, or a co-worker who may or may not go to church, but who doesn’t know God in a personal relationship—is
still lost in their
sins. What do we do?
Do we just “sic” the Holy Spirit on them through prayer?
move in their life—release the Holy Spirit in their lives—cause them to see their sin—cause them to see that their church going isn’t
them of the fact that they don’t know you personally—Go
get ‘em, God.”
There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of
prayers, but often they
are prayed under this umbrella of misplaced responsibility.
What I mean by that is—we pray this way
and may be very fervent and sincere in our prayers, but we seldom take the next step.
That is--seek to discover if God wants US
to be the
one to speak the
life-changing truth of the
gospel into their
life—if God wants US to tell them
that going to church isn’t enough—to be used of God to show them that they don’t know God.
Ask yourself this question, “How would my praying
for people’s salvation change if I only prayed for those I was genuinely willing to share the gospel with?”
Sometimes, we seem under the impression that the primary way God works in these people’s lives is that he mystically exposes them
truth about their
souls without the
aid of another
person—perhaps through a vision or a dream.
Maybe, they’ll wake up in the middle of the night and are mysteriously drawn to an open Bible they
haven’t touched in 10 years that just happens to be open to Romans chapter one where they read that they are under the wrath of God.
Next, perhaps without anyone else to help
Holy Spirit leads them
miraculously turn, in just the
right sequence, to those other
passages in Romans they
need to read to savingly trust in Christ.
But if God was going to do all that, why
did he bother
putting you in their
life as a commissioned witness?
Why did he cause a relationship with a witness
like you to develop? Why did he put a witness like you in their neighborhood or office?
You have the truth—you have the power of the Spirit that will embolden you.
Doesn’t it make more sense that you, as
an officially commissioned, Spirit-indwelt witness for Christ share the truth with them, than for God to use some other means?
We can and must pray energetically, but
in many cases, if that is all we do, we are not being responsible—we are making this same error of misplaced responsibility—expecting
Jesus to do it, even when we know we have been told to give out the gospel.
God has made us his witnesses. Everyone
that is genuinely in Christ is a witness--the question is whether we are faithful witnesses or unfaithful. But
this we know—we have the
power to witness—that is the
promise of Acts 1:8.
I think we see much the same error in the apostles’ confrontation with the angels.
After Jesus ascends to the Father on this cloud manifesting the glory of God, two men in white robes (who are almost
certainly angels) say, “Men of Galilee, why
do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up form you into heaven, will come in the
same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
This is a word of rebuke from the angels and the rebuke is simply this—“What
are you doing focusing on Jesus’ exit? He told you what to
do and he will come back in just this way—visibly, gloriously and personally but now—as
John Stott puts it, “your
job is to be witnesses, not star gazers.” Our
lazy and fearful flesh is sinfully inclined to want to watch Jesus (or for that matter, anyone else) do the
ministry, when we are supposed to be doing something.
God wants to do the ministry of Christ through us and he’s given us the
Spirit to enable us to do that.
A second error the apostles make here is the Error of Parochialism. Parochialism
tendency to see things too narrowly.
The root word is “parish” like a church
parish. Parochialism is the tendency to see things as only applying narrowly, to
your local situation or “parish.”
The apostles were very parochial and we
see that in this question in verse six. “Lord,
will you at this time restore the kingdom to
When Jesus commanded them to wait for the Spirit, not only were the apostles wrong in thinking that meant that Jesus would
be doing all the
were also wrong about the scope
of that work.
They saw the Spirit’s outpouring signaling the return of national Israel to a place of preeminence.
As loyal Israelite patriots, they
were very excited to think about Jesus restoring the nation of Israel to the greatness it enjoyed in the days of King David and Solomon.
Do you hear how narrow that concern is? Again,
had somehow missed what Jesus had just told them--that they were to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in
Jesus’ name to
More than that, they had missed the entire direction of redemptive history since the
call of Abraham.
In Genesis chapter 12, God promises Abram
“3 I will bless those
who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Galatians chapter
three, Paul argues that this blessing of Abraham to the families or nations of the earth had come through Christ—the
offspring or “seed” of Abraham. When Jesus calls the apostles to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the
nations in Luke 24, that mission is to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham.
This blessing of Abraham to all the
nations is fulfilled as the gospel is preached and people from all nations
or people groups repent and are forgiven through Christ.
The apostles had missed that connection to Abraham.
The Old Testament often announces that all the nations—not just the Jews,
but all the Gentile peoples of this earth will one day worship the God
We see this in texts like Psalm
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” Psalm 117:1
Praise the Lord, all
nations! Extol him, all
Psalm 86:9, “9
All the nations you
have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.”
“11 May all kings
fall down before him, all nations serve him!” That
was written by Jews in the Old Testament when God’s people were almost exclusively national, ethnic Israelites. The apostles had
not yet understood their role in bringing about God’s global redemptive
plan to fulfillment as they preached the
gospel to the nations. If they
had, they would never have limited their
concerns to only national Israel. They were parochial
and the same can be true of us. So often, we are very concerned that our family members know Christ and that is certainly
the Holy Spirit is given to embolden us to reach people well beyond
our immediate family or people who are just like us.
The Spirit wants Jesus to be seen and worshipped and obeyed by all kinds
of people everywhere. As
our heart is more in sync with the Holy Spirit, we will want to reach,
not only our immediate family, but also those with whom we have very little in common--our coworkers, our classmates
and people who live at the other
end of the world.
The Holy Spirit is a globally-empowering Spirit.
We mustn’t repeat the parochial
errors of the apostles.
A third and final error is--the
Error of Skewed
Kingdom Priorities. We
know one of the reasons why the
apostles were more likely to think in terms of national Israel
than the nations is because their personal priorities were self-oriented at this time.
That is--they were guilty at times of seeing Jesus as their
ticket to political power and influence. Think about it. In their minds, Jesus is going to be the King of Israel and they
were in his inner circle—members of his cabinet, if you will.
We know they struggled with these
political ambitions because in Mark 10, James and John came up to Jesus and said, “37…“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and
one at your left, in your glory.” This is raw political ambition at work.
Lurking behind the apostles’ curiosity
about Jesus restoring the kingdom is a concern for their
own political standing in this new kingdom.
In light of the gospel accounts
of their political aspiration, part of their
question to Jesus was, “…will you at
this time give us the
prestige and political power we crave by restoring your kingdom?”
Jesus wants his name to be known throughout the
earth—he wants his ministry extended and his name magnified as people repent of their
sins and trust in him for their forgiveness. By contrast, the apostles
are at times more concerned about the advancement of their
We can be guilty of a form of this error as well.
There are those within evangelicalism who are far more concerned about and
who spend more time and energy working to achieve a national political climate that is friendly to their world
view, than they do spreading the
gospel to sinners in the power of the
is not to say that we shouldn’t be good citizens and it is a good thing to be politically active and work for righteousness
in all spheres of public life. But we must make certain that our priorities are God’s priorities.
And God is far more concerned with the growth of his blood-bought church
through new converts who will worship him, than he is with the national political influence of his children. The power of the
Spirit is given first and foremost to empower us to be witnesses to Christ here and to the
fact that our mission is global in nature means that Christ’s ultimate aim is far broader than improving the North
American political climate for evangelicals.
That is a skewed priority.
Likewise, we see this skewed priority in the
first part of the apostle’s question in verse six where they
ask, “Lord, will you at
this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The apostles were very curious about the time of the
Lord’s final triumph over his enemies. Jesus completely shuts them down on that concern. He says in verse
seven, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
But, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” It
is a good thing to read the prophecies of Revelation or Daniel. There can be profit
in studying end-times prophecy--as there can be in studying any area of Biblical truth.
But when we see Jesus’
priority here, it makes us wonder how much time has been wasted trying
to arrive at a precise, detailed understanding of those prophetic texts as it pertains to the
return of Christ and the events that precede it?
Jesus makes clear that trying to ascertain the time of his return is NOT
a kingdom priority—it’s not even possible. According to Luke’s gospel, even the King himself does not know the
means, among other things, the time of Christ’s return is not even close to as important
as what Jesus bled and died for on Calvary.
I wonder how many more people could have been reached with the
gospel in the last century, if all the time invested in figuring out
when Jesus will return, could have instead been spent where God’s heart is—bringing the
gospel to the nations.
I wonder if we wouldn’t already be in heaven.
I can ask that question because Jesus clearly ties the
timing of his return to the proclamation of the
gospel to all these peoples.
In Matthew 24:14 he says, “14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” How
ironic it is that so many believers have tried to figure out the time
of Jesus’ return, on the basis of what are ambiguous and unclear texts,
when this one unambiguous marker in Matthew 24 seems to have fallen
on so many deaf ears among those who are concerned with the timing of
Christ’s return. He
will return when all these peoples that are promised to receive the
blessing of Abraham through Christ are reached with the gospel. If we know that truth,
show me someone who is genuinely yearning for
the return of Christ and I will show you someone with a heart to reach
the nations for Christ.
We must keep our kingdom priorities in line with Christ and that means that
we must take the time we may now spend on advancing an evangelical political
agenda and the time we spend trying to figure out end-times calendars
and put it where Jesus does. The
Holy Spirit was sent to make us witnesses to Christ and ironically, as we are faithful to do that, the
world around us may just increasingly change to reflect Christ.
Also, as we pray and go and send people to the
unreached peoples and those peoples are won to Christ, the time of the
return of Christ will be expedited as the gospel is preached to all
But our heart must be where God’s heart is—on being faithful witnesses to
Jesus to a lost and dying world.
Where are our priorities today?
Does God’s priority to reach, not just our family, but also those who are
not like us in our neighborhoods, our places of work and around the world burn in our hearts?
As we live the Christian life,
do we do so with a sense of our own responsibility to be faithful to the
call of Christ here in Acts 1:8? As we pray for the Holy Spirit to move in an
unbeliever’s life, do we also willingly accept that Jesus may very well call us to boldly speak the
words of life that will bring Holy Spirit conviction of sin into their life?
This is our call here… and to the
the apostles in Acts 1:8, we have the Holy Spirit.
What a change the Holy Spirit made in their lives.
After Pentecost, instead of trying to duck their responsibility to carry
the message of the gospel, they felt it a great privilege, not only to preach Jesus, but even to suffer for doing
his name. They
eventually went as Acts 1:8 says—past Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth with the gospel—to
people who were not at all like them. We must learn from their example that they did not work to advance a national, political
kingdom in what Augustine calls the “city of man” because they were too busy working to advance the spiritual kingdom
of Jesus—building the “city of God”
that will never end. Finally,
they were far more concerned that they be found faithful in their witness at the return of Christ, than they were
in trying to discover its exact day and hour.
May God give us the grace to remain truth-driven and undistracted as we live
out a bold and vibrant witness for Jesus Christ here and to the end of the earth.