Part 1: The Unchanging mission of God(1-8)
When you remove the key leader often companies or movements struggle. Think of Manchester United since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, or the concerns about Apple without Steve Jobs.
When they crucified Jesus the Jewish leaders hoped that’d be the last they heard of him. That his disciples would drift back to their normal lives and Jesus and his works would become a fading memory. But on Easter Sunday Jesus rose again, death wasn’t the end, (Luke 24:46)just as the law and prophets promised. Jesus proves it conclusively to his followers(3). But now, here in Acts1, Jesus is about to go away, (2)he’s going to be taken up to heaven. The question is what will happen to the disciples without him? Will they go back to their fishing boats and tax booths? Will Jesus become a forgotten footnote in history?
Fast forward 30 years after Jesus’ ascension and the good news of Jesus has turned the world upside down. Jesus who never left the area surrounding Judea is known, worshipped and followed across Asia, Europe, Africa and elsewhere. How and why did that happen?
That’s the story of Acts. The explosion of the gospel from the backwater of Palestine across the world. And in his opening verses Luke wants Theophilus, and us as we read over his shoulder, to see why. (1-2)“In my first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up...” Luke’s gospel is about who Jesus is and what he did before he ascended to heaven, Acts is the account of what Jesus does after his ascension. Jesus isn’t done when he ascends; Jesus is alive and reigning at God the Father’s right hand. And he isn’t distant; an isolated, pampered prince. He reigns and intercedes on behalf of his people and Acts will show us how. Acts isn’t the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the continuing Acts of the risen reigning Jesus at work by the Spirit in his people.
And that hasn’t changed. What is true in the first century is true this morning. Jesus is alive and reigning right now at his Father’s right hand. That’s the lens through which we view the world. All the chaos; the fractures caused by sin, the pain and hurt which is the result of rebellion against God, the evil which comes from wanting to rule ourselves is painfully real. But Jesus Christ is reigning over all. It doesn’t knock him off his throne. That’s our confidence, just as it was the church’s confidence in Acts as they faced external persecution and internal challenges, as they went to a hostile world with the gospel, Jesus reigns and rules. He is still on mission.
Jesus reigns, right now this morning, he will be reigning tomorrow as you go to work or school or home. And he is at work, it may be small and hidden, but he is at work.
You can imagine the disciples’ excitement can’t you? Like Christmas, birthday and bonfire night all rolled into one. Jesus is alive, raised to life again by God so now he’ll bring the kingdom he’s been teaching about into being. His rule will begin, his enemies will be defeated and everything will be amazing. So they ask “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You can imagine the excited glances, smiling expectantly, like children waiting for the cake at a party as they ask the question.
They expect Jesus to bring his kingdom right now. But (7-8)Jesus wants them to understand the nature of the kingdom, the timing of the kingdom and their role in bringing the kingdom.
They ask about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. But God’s plans have always been much bigger than one nation. Jesus has been teaching them about (3)the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom has never been exclusively to one nation. Father, Son and Spirit have planned from eternity to reconcile, redeem and reunite all humanity. Jesus says “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
God’s plan has always been to reach and win the world. In Genesis 12 as an embryonic Israel is in promise form, the promise is of people, place, and protection but also God’s plan that “in you all families of the earth shall be blessed.” Throughout the Old Testament we see glimpses of that plan as Joseph blesses the nations by providing food, as Solomon’s wisdom impacts nations beyond Israel’s borders. As Rahab, Ruth, and others join God’s people by faith, as Jonah and Nahum are sent to the Assyrians, as Daniel and friends witness in Babylon. As the prophets cast a vision of God’s people as a light to the nations who flock to know God.
God’s plan has always been for people from every nation to enter his kingdom through faith in Jesus. To know the king, follow him and live enjoying his rule. And God invites, no he commands his people to share the family values. Mission not an option it is a necessity. Therefore planting churches, communities that hold out the gospel - not are inward looking and naval gazing - is an absolute must if we are to play our part in God's mission.