The last and vital instructions

INDEX

The book of Acts is addressed to someone called "Theophilus" - a Greek name meaning "lover of God". It is likely that this was an open letter, intended for all followers of Jesus Christ to read. So, imagine that it begins: "Dear friend who loves God..." If you are a follower of Jesus, then this letter is written to you. If you are not, then you need to know why and to whom this book was written. In other words: who or what is a Christian? Do you need to do anything about becoming one?

You also need to ask the question: "When you talk about God, just Who are you talking about?" The word "god" is just another word and, unless we investigate the word, we are more than likely to hold onto our pre-conceived ideas. Perhaps, until now, you have only ever heard the word used as a swear word. After all, an entire generation has grown up thinking that either God does not exist or, if He does, then He is responsible for all the bad things that happen in the world. So it is time that we set the record straight.

  1. Yes, God does exist.
  2. He is responsible for all the love that exists in the world; indeed, He is love.
  3. He has provided the only way to restore the relationship between Himself and us, broken by our wrongdoing. This way is through finding new life in Jesus Christ.

Many religions talk about God in one form or another. It is so important that we know for sure that we are getting to know the God of the Bible. "Elohim" (the Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:1 and translated as "God") is a plural word and the Bible talks about the pre-existence of three "persons": the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all of whom can be thought of as "God". It is the Holy Spirit Who was "brooding over the dark vapours" (Genesis 1:2). It was God the Son who brought into being and created everything that we know through His spoken word. The apostle, John, wrote his "gospel" to put this whole situation into context: "Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. Nothing exists that He didn't make. Eternal life is in Him and this life gives light to all mankind. But, although He made the world, the world didn't recognise Him when He came. Even in His own land and among His own people, He was not accepted. But to all who received Him, He gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust Him to save them. And Christ became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth." (John 1:1-14 - Living Bible translation)

John’s first gospel was written to dispel doubts and to build assurance by presenting a clear picture of Christ. Entering into human history through the "incarnation" (being born as a human baby), the Son of God became the very embodiment of God in the flesh - seen, heard, and touched by John the apostle. John walked and talked with Jesus; saw Him heal; heard Him teach; watched Him die; met Him risen from the dead and saw Him ascend. John knew God. He had lived with Him and had seen Him work (1 John 1:1-3).

He is the same God who created human beings in His image: "Adam" and "Eve". We then see, from the ensuing evidence in the Bible, that people rebelled against the God who had created them (Genesis 3:8-11). The real problem is that, the further they departed from the truth, the more the lie that they followed led them away from the one true and living God (Romans 1:28-32).

So the God portrayed in the Bible (the collection of books produced by the Jewish people and then the disciples of Jesus Christ) is unique. However, He is not exclusive as He sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world. No one is left out. All other religions on earth are about human beings becoming good enough to get to God. Christianity is about God coming to us; paying the price Himself for the mess that we have got into that deserves death; dying on a Roman cross to reconcile us to Himself; then giving every man and woman who has ever existed and will ever exist, the opportunity of accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and being made "righteous" (placed in a position of right standing with God).

Step 11

There are certain elements of your life that identify you as a person who loves God.

Firstly, you will have asked Jesus to be Lord of your life. You will be born again: a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

Secondly, you will want to follow Jesus and be obedient to His commandments (John 14:15; John 15:10).

Thirdly, you will love others. Jesus said: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" and "You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:12-14). The result will be this: "Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:34-35).

Luke’s "gospel" is a record of Jesus’ life and teachings written after the event (probably around AD 60). Luke would have heard the events that he recorded in his gospel from eye-witnesses such as Jesus’ disciples, His relatives and His friends (Acts 1:1). Luke, being a methodical and precise man (a doctor), is a reliable witness to the truth. He carries these characteristics on into his writing of the book of Acts (Acts 1:3). Luke says clearly that Jesus appeared several times to His disciples between His rising from the dead and His ascension and that they were in no doubt at all that it was Jesus they were seeing. The subject that was most on the agenda for discussion at these times was the "Kingdom of God". The story of Acts is one of the world being turned the right way up again by a group of eleven men (plus one subsequently appointed to replace Judas).

When we become a disciple of Jesus, our spirit is born of the Holy Spirit. Our salvation and eternal life with God are secured, but our soul (our mind, will and emotions) has to go through the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus. The difficulty is that, up to that time, our soul has been used to being controlled by our bodily senses (ears, eyes, smell, touch and sound) but now we are making it conform to what our new-born spirit wants and it hates it and rebels against it (Romans 12:1-2 - Amplified Version).

The next step

"John baptised you with water," Jesus told his disciples when He appeared to them shortly after His resurrection, "but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit in just a few days" (Acts 1:4-5). John's baptism had probably taken place in the Jordan, as that was where John normally baptised people, but Jesus was saying that this new baptism would be an entirely different experience.

His words echo down to us today. When we become disciples of Jesus ourselves, we are baptised in water, identifying with Jesus’ death as we go down into the water and with His resurrection and our own re-birth as we come up out of the water (Romans 6:3-8). Then we actively seek and await the baptism in the Holy Spirit, studying God's word to learn about our new-found faith and learning all the while how to follow Jesus, asking Him to show us what areas of His service He wants us to be involved in.

Within fifty days of the resurrection, these believers (who had been holed up in an upper room in Jerusalem for fear of the Jews) were baptised in the Holy Spirit. Equipped with His power, they began to preach the good news about Jesus' death and resurrection (the "gospel"), resulting in thousands becoming disciples. Those were remarkable days. Jesus wants the return of those remarkable days. He is looking for people who will be prepared to follow Him whole-heartedly and to join the ranks of those who will do "mighty exploits" (2 Chronicles 16:9; Daniel 11:32).

What about you and me? Read Hebrews 12:1-4. If we are willing to put our old lives behind us, then there is no limit to what God will do through us and for us. There is nothing so exciting as living in the promises and power of God and seeing Satan’s kingdom driven back.

What is the will of God? Read 2 Peter 3:8-10. We know that His will is for everyone to be saved. You and I can be involved in that as deeply and powerfully as we allow ourselves to be used. But it is absolutely no good to hang on to petty sins. God will see that; so give them up now!

However, the disciples had misunderstood one thing. They still believed that the "Kingdom of God" (to which Jesus had referred) was an earthly kingdom. Initially, they thought that Jesus intended to kick the Romans out of Israel and restore the rule to the Jewish people (Acts 1:6).

Final instructions - Acts 1:7-8

Although Jesus did not deny that the "kingdom of God" would one day come "on earth as it is in heaven", He did not commit Himself to dates. Instead, He lovingly steered them away from their limited concepts of earthly power to focus their thoughts on the amazing and life-changing event that would empower them for the work ahead.

What about you and me? Do we get so bogged down in irrelevant thoughts that we miss the main point of what Jesus is trying to tell us? We need to understand that being equipped for our life’s work is vital. Jesus is building His Kingdom. He has invited us to help Him, but our ideas of the way forward are not necessarily His ideas. Our thinking needs to merge with His and that only happens when we are sold out to Him. Jesus Himself is our leader. Many others may give us direction in life, from parents to teachers, partners, employers, politicians or pastors and ministers, but only Jesus is our Lord. Too many people in Jesus’ day had Caesar as their Lord. Too many people today put other people before Jesus – even in churches.

These last words that Jesus spoke to His disciples were the most important things that He had to tell them. In them, He conveyed His love for them, His instructions to them and His authority over them. Above all, He did not want them side-tracked from His plans for their future and that of the churches that would be birthed eventually. Too much was at stake to allow them to be distracted over timings and structures. He was to be the Lord: the final authority and the way forward.

After these last few important words, He ascended to heaven where He now sits in the place of executive authority and you and I sit right there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). He is the highest ranked in God's family with many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29). We, His disciples, are no longer servants but friends (John 15:15). Each of us has a relationship with Him that is second to none. No person has the right to intervene in that relationship. It is our very own personal relationship with "God": the loving Father, the Son who saves us and the Holy Spirit who empowers us!

As they stood there in awe on the hill from where Jesus had ascended to heaven, wondering how they could follow Him, two angels interrupted their personal and private thoughts and aspirations. "What are you doing staring up there? Come on, there is work to be done: a whole world to save before Jesus returns." (Acts 1:9-11)

So, how do we prepare for the work that needs to be done? We first wait and pray... quietly (Acts 1:12-14).

First things first!

So, home they went, these one hundred and twenty or so nondescript disciples - Jesus’ family. They recognised that the only things that made sense in their lives were (as they are for us today) the things that they had been taught by Jesus. They met regularly together and, quite simply, they prayed. How do we build a church? How do we build our own lives? We pray. There is no other way, no substitute for prayer, because prayer is communication with God. It includes meditation and reflection on God's word and "making our requests known" to Him in line with what He has said in His word (Joshua 1:8).

These were no ordinary prayer meetings. They lasted for days and involved many people who were focused on wanting to know the mind of Christ. They knew that to do things without His power and His authority would have been foolishness. These people had been with Jesus. They had seen how He operated: how He would do nothing unless He had talked first with His Father. Once He knew that He and His Father were in complete accord, He acted. So it is really no surprise that the disciples followed His example. They were following a well-planned and successful route. This is precisely what we need to do today: follow the Master’s instructions. Only then will our efforts be successful (Acts 1:15).

Peter took the initiative, realising that his reference point for the future was God's word as expressed in the Jewish scriptures - what we describe today as the "Old Testament". (None of the so-called "New Testament" had, of course, been written at that stage.) Jesus had given them many examples of how the "Old Testament" was being fulfilled and worked out in their lives and how the era of which these scriptures spoke was being ushered in before their very eyes. Peter was beginning to see that what had been written down long ago was being fulfilled, there and then, in their own lifetimes. So he emphasised how important it was for every scripture to be fulfilled (Acts 1:16-20).

Often God will use us in the outworking of His promises. It is an honour to be involved in this way. Often, as we are obedient in small things, so God entrusts us with much larger things. Very often, we are so absorbed in a particular project that we cannot see the bigger picture. God longs to share the bigger picture with us. His management style is totally open. He does not hide what He is doing or have just a "select list" of people in the know. He is always open and willing to share. For example, think of how God spoke to Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Barak, Abraham, Samuel, David, Adam... and the list goes on! But, before He shares with you, you have to show that you want to know! (See Genesis 18:17-20.) All too often, although God wants to speak with us and to share His plans with us, we are simply not listening and are too wrapped up in our own thinking, planning and activities!

Acts 1:21-26 relates how another disciple was chosen to replace Judas. There were two nominations and Matthias was chosen - after prayer - by the casting of lots. (This was a well-established method in Jewish history of discerning God's will.) It is the first and last time that Matthias’ name is mentioned in the Bible and we know little or nothing about him, but he has his place in scripture. Our own lives may leave no significant mark in human history, but God sees things differently. He may not call us to be important leaders, movers or shakers in our own societies, our spheres of work, our families or even in our local churches, but He has created us as individuals with unique characters and gifts to serve Him in ways that nobody else can. When, one day, we stand before His throne and give an account of our lives to Him, how good will it be to hear Him say: "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!" (Matthew 25:21; 2 Timothy 4:6-8)


 

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