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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Worship Svc, 2016-01-03

Text: Acts 1:1-11

The church theme that has been chosen for 2016 is “Serving with Love.” Service is the expression of Christian love. As we grow in love, we are able to show love in serving God and others. You can tell that a church is vibrant and healthy by the loving service of its members.

This was one of the distinguishing features of the early church – it was a vibrant church, a church that was clearly full of first love for the Lord Jesus. This love became its source of spiritual victory in enduring trials, and of spiritual vitality for patient perseverance. It was also the source of its faithfulness in witnessing boldly for Christ, trusting God to give the increase. The book in our Bible which gives us the historical record of the early church is known as the Acts of the Apostles. May our study of this book motivate all of us to serve Him and others with love.

This morning we will discover a powerful motivation for us to serve with love. It comes from knowing God’s amazing plan and promise. This is found in our passage of scripture, Acts 1:1-11. It records the last instructions which the risen Lord Jesus gave to His disciples, and it describes how He was taken up to heaven after that. This event has defined forever what the Church needs to do until the Lord returns. There are two things here which can motivate us to serve the Lord with love. The first is…

1. God’s Amazing Plan for His Servants (vv.4-8)

God designed this plan to redeem a lost world, and it is absolutely amazing. This plan is immensely better than the best-laid plans ever made by men. And yet it is simple enough even for a child to understand. The first part of this plan required the disciples to wait – waiting for the power they need to carry it out. This is what Jesus said in verse 4 – “…they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father…” What promise was he referring to? Has God the Father ever promised power to reach the lost? Yes, He has.

Let us look at Genesis 12:3 – “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” God made this promise to Abraham at the moment when He called him. He promised to bless all families of the earth through him. Let us see how this promise was to be fulfilled according to Galatians 3:14 – “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Can you see now what the promise of the Father is? It is the power of the Holy Spirit which would enable all Gentiles of the earth to be blessed.

This was the same power that had enabled the Old Testament prophets to minister effectively to Israel in all their teaching and preaching. It was same power that enabled the biblical writers to produce the Scriptures which we have today. The Lord Jesus Himself served by the power of the Spirit, as verse 2 of our text says – “…after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen.” As followers of Christ, we can do no less than to serve through the Holy Ghost like our Lord.

And now in vv.4 and 5 we see that Christ “…commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” He makes the same proclamation to them in v.8 – “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you…”

We will be learning more about this power in later sermons. What I would like us to observe now is the importance of waiting. We need to prepare ourselves for service by waiting upon the Lord. All too often we are just too impatient. We hurry and cannot wait to get things done. The result is that we make a mess of things because we serve in our own strength and with our own means. Please be careful not to rush into service. Wait patiently upon the Lord first by praying earnestly for His empowerment and seeking His help and guidance. Ask Him to search your heart and your real motives for serving. Read His Word quietly and listen to Him as He speaks.

In fact, we ought to wait upon the Lord every day in order to live as Christians. Let us not neglect our daily time with God. Without it we will become too weak to resist the temptations of the world and the lusts of the flesh. We always need fresh supplies of power from God to face each day’s challenges, for, “…they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Thus we have seen that waiting for power was the first part of God’s plan for His servants. The second part is given in verse 8 – “…and ye shall be witnesses unto Me…” We notice that Jesus did not say, “ye shall be My salesmen”, using creative methods of persuasion to market the Good news of salvation. Neither did He say, “ye shall be My fighters”, using violence and bloodshed to force people into submission. He tells them to be His witnesses. What does a witness do? A witness faithfully proclaims the message he has received.

To be a witness for Christ is to proclaim the glorious message of His kingdom. This is seen in v.3 of our text – “To whom also He shewed himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” At the end of the book we see the same message being proclaimed: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31)

But someone may then say, “Pastor, I thought we’re supposed to be telling people the good news of how to avoid going to hell when they die. What do you mean to say that it is a message of Christ’s kingdom?” Let us understand that the evangelism is not about saving souls alone. It is about bringing people to know Jesus Christ and to serve Him. To accept Christ as your Saviour is to accept Him as your King. This means removing self and any other idol from the throne of your life and putting Christ on it instead. Doing that makes you a servant of Christ, fully under His rule and authority.

And this kingdom of Christ is presently not a political kingdom with all the outward marks and forms of power and authority. The disciples of Christ clearly misunderstood this, since they asked Jesus in v.6 – “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Because of their strong Jewish mind-set, the disciples longed for the ‘good old glorious days’ when King David and King Solomon had made Israel a great kingdom. They hoped that Jesus would now lead them to overthrow their Roman overlords and make Israel a great kingdom again.

But the Lord’s plan for the present time is a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom where He reigns in the hearts of His people rather than on a grand throne in Jerusalem. This is reflected in the answer Jesus gave when the Pharisees asked Him about God’s kingdom – “…The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) God’s kingdom is not confined to any physical location. Wherever Christ reigns in the hearts of people in any part of the world, the kingdom of God is there.

If you want to know whether you are in God’s kingdom or not, please ask yourself, “Who is the king of my life?” Is Christ the king of your life? If He is not, will you repent of your sinful rebellion and submit to Him now? The Lord Jesus is full of grace and mercy. He is most ready to forgive all who repent of their sins and submit to His lordship, because He has made a full atonement for our sins through His death on the Cross. This is the other part of the message that is proclaimed by His witnesses.

Please listen to what Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 24:46-48 – “...thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And ye are witnesses of these things.” You will notice here that their witness should begin at Jerusalem (because it was there that Jesus died and rose again) and ultimately reach all nations of the world. Our Lord’s plan was therefore aimed at creating a growing movement of His influence.

The latter part of verse 8 provides more details of this growing movement: “…and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” What makes this verse so amazing is that the rest of the book shows that everything happened exactly as Jesus had said right here. This actually summarises all that is recorded in the book of Acts.

The first seven chapters record the witness of Christ’s disciples in Jerusalem. Acts 6:7 relates – “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…” The next two chapters (chapters 8-9) relate how their witness spread beyond Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. This came about only through severe persecution: “…And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). By the end of chapter 9, churches had been established in all these areas:  “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

In the rest of the book  (chapters 10-28) the Christian witness extends right to the uttermost part of the earth. This begins with the account of how a Roman centurion’s family turned to Christ, and it ends with an apostle preaching the Gospel at the capital of the vast Roman Empire. How long did it take for the witness of Christ to reach Rome which is 2,300 km away from Jerusalem? About 30 years! From Rome the influence of Christ spread quite naturally to the rest of the empire and to the uttermost part of the earth.

What really amazes us about this entire record is that none of it was planned by the disciples. When Jesus told them that they would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” they did not have the slightest clue how this would be achieved. They might have thought, “How can we, a group of 11 men from Galilee who are mostly fishermen with no resources, build up a movement that will reach the ends of the earth? How will we communicate the Gospel to people from so many different cultures and languages? How will we convince them to give up all the gods they were worshipping and risk being persecuted as Christians? How will the message that God’s greatest work was accomplished through the shameful death of His Son who then rose from the dead be believed and accepted?” Humanly speaking, this was ‘mission impossible’! If success depends on them, the mission would fail miserably.

And yet every word spoken by Christ in Acts 1:8 was fulfilled, and as we study the rest of this exciting book we will be utterly amazed – How did all this happen? The answer is found in God’s plan – a brilliant plan that was bound to succeed, and yet it was a simple plan that required the disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, and to be faithful witnesses of the glorious message of Christ’s kingdom! Today we can see how well this plan has worked. The movement that started in Jerusalem has reached us through witnesses who faithfully brought the message here. What a powerful testimony this is to God’s wisdom to devise such a great plan, and to God’s power working in weak vessels like us to accomplish it!

And God’s plan to reach the world has remained unchanged. Now it is our turn to be witnesses for Christ with the Spirit’s power wherever we are – at home, at work, at school, or when we are sent overseas for work or study. How exciting it is to be part of God’s plan! Let us commit ourselves today to be faithful witnesses, sharing the Gospel both by our words and by our actions, trusting God to give the increase. But let us understand that doing this will not always be easy and smooth-sailing. There may be crosses for us to bear in witnessing. There will be difficulties and discouragements along the way. But through them all we will be supported by...

2. God’s Amazing Promise for Our Service (vv.1-3, 9-11)

This is the second thing that can motivate us to serve God with love. It is the promise of His eternal presence with us. There is great comfort in knowing that our Living Saviour is always with us. Verse 3 tells us how the first disciples of Christ experienced this – “To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He appeared to His disciples at least 12 times over 40 days. During that time they not only saw Him, they also heard Him and walked with Him as He taught them. They and even ate meals together with Him. All those personal encounters with Jesus gave them tremendous comfort and confidence, knowing that the Lord whom they serve is not dead, but alive and well.

After those 40 days, Jesus was taken up to heaven according to v.9 – “And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Were they sad that Jesus was taken up from them? Not at all. According to Luke 24:52 “…they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Why? Because He was still with them even though they could no longer see Him. This is truly amazing! Peter, the chief disciple, wrote about this in his first epistle, 1 Peter 1:8 – “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

We too can find great joy and comfort in knowing that our Lord Jesus is always with us, because He has given us His promise in Matthew 28:19-20 – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

In fact, Jesus is accomplishing His plan of reaching the world through us, just as he did through His first disciples. The book of Acts is actually a continuation of Luke’s Gospel. The first verse reads, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…” This ‘former treatise’ is the Gospel of Luke which begins with a similar preface addressed to the same Theophilus.

In his Gospel, Luke had recorded what Jesus began to do and teach on earth through His physical body. In the book of Acts, which is the sequel to that Gospel, Luke now records what Jesus continued to do and teach on earth through His spiritual body, which consisted of all His servants in the early church. He was working behind the scenes – unseen and yet always present with His servants – and helping them to accomplish His plan. By working simultaneously through all His servants, His work becomes multiplied so much more than what would have ever been achieved if Jesus had remained on earth.

Because of this, some have suggested that a better title for the book is: ‘The Acts of Jesus Christ through His Servants.’ Its common name, ‘the Acts of Apostles’ does not reflect its contents accurately, since it records the acts of only a few apostles like Peter, John and Paul. Nothing is mentioned about the acts of other apostles like Matthew, Thomas and Andrew except in 1:13. Instead the acts of many believers who were not apostles are recorded in the book quite extensively, e.g. The acts of Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Ananias and Silas.

The book of Acts ends abruptly with Paul preaching in Rome in the last chapter. But it is actually an unfinished book, an unfinished record of all the acts of Jesus through His servants. This is because Jesus has continued to do and teach on earth through His servants in every generation and even right until now.

And this same Jesus now continues to do and to teach on earth through us. We are His body, His voice, His hands and His feet through whom He is accomplishing His amazing plan of redeeming a lost world. Therefore we must let Him use us fully. Let each of us have the same mind-set which Paul expressed so well in Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”

On this first Sunday of 2016, I want to urge all of us to make a firm commitment to serve Him with love. As we consider God’s plan for His servants and His promise for our service, let us re-dedicate our lives to Him. Let each of us respond to the Lord Jesus from our heart by saying, “O Lord, I want to serve you, and I will trust You fully to use my life and all that I have to accomplish Your plan. May your will be done.”

Rest assured that the Lord Jesus will hear your prayer, and He will even add His own prayer to it as He intercedes for you at the right hand of God. Romans 8:34 tells us – “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Do you know that Jesus intercedes for us day and night as our Great High Priest in heaven, in order to procure God’s richest blessings for us?

This is one reason why He went up there. Only ten days after He ascended, the treasuries of heaven were opened as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples during the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. This is recorded in Acts 2:33 – “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this…” Isn’t it amazing how Christ can be interceding in heaven for us, while at the same time being here with us on earth? What comfort and joy this ought to bring to us in our service!

And if all that is still not enough to motivate you to serve Him with love, then please consider the glorious hope that Christ gives to you in His second coming. This hope was proclaimed by two angels in v.11 – “…this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” As the disciples watched Jesus ascending in glory they were actually having a special preview of His return. Compare what is mentioned in v.9 (“And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”) with Luke 21:27 – “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The second coming of Christ will be like His ascension, but played back in reverse.

His ascension is also a preview of a spectacular event that will take place when He returns – the rapture of all believers. Jesus is the first-fruit offering which guarantees that the rest of the Lord’s harvest will follow. If we are alive when Jesus returns, we will be instantly transformed to have that same glorious body He has, and then, like Him at His ascension, we too will defy the law of gravity and go upward to meet with Him in the sky, as 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says – “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

This will be a million times better than watching any Star Wars movie, and it may be coming soon! How soon? Many people have tried to predict the date of Christ’s return, but all predictions have only brought disappointment. Please don’t believe anyone who claims to know exactly when Jesus will return. Jesus Himself has said in v.7 – “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” The Lord has disclosed details about the future not for us spend hours trying to predict the time when they will happen. They are given to strengthen us, so that we will be able to endure and press on in our service even under the most trying circumstances. This bright hope enables us to overcome every difficulty we face in serving Him. So whenever you feel discouraged or find your burden getting too heavy to bear, please remember: Jesus is coming soon! It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!

In today’s sermon we have seen that all that we need in order to serve with love is found in the Lord Jesus. It is His amazing plan for us that motivates us to be His witnesses. It is His amazing promise for our service that keeps us going no matter how difficult things become. There is really no better plan and no better promise than His. Let us therefore serve Him with love!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11