And today we must leave some things behind.
Acts is the continuing saga began by Luke in his gospel, written between the 60s and the 80s. And the opening verses of Acts place us within the final days Jesus spent with his apostles. We find here a very dramatic shift.
Jesus wants to talk about the kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, Jesus spends forty days talking about the kingdom of God with the apostles (1:3). Yet in forty days’ worth of conversations, Luke only records two statements by Jesus. Here’s the first:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (1:4, 5)
Here is the second:
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:7, 8)
Both of these statements come after conversations about two different kingdoms, though. The first comes after forty days of conversations about the “kingdom of God.”
The second statement comes after this question, from the apostles: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
In this writing, Jesus doesn’t really satisfy our curiosity about either. Are they the same kingdoms? Are they different?
I don’t think it really matters.
It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “Enough with the teaching, boys. We’ve had these conversations too many times.” The mission now begins. And the mission is simple:
- Stay in Jerusalem … for now.
- Receive the holy spirit of God.
- Be my witnesses.
And then he leaves. Gone. In a cloud. And they couldn’t stop staring into the sky. Two men, dressed in white, shook them from their trance, and told them that the mission begins now.
It was time for them to leave Jesus behind. His physical presence was gone.
And so the first thing we must leave behind is the temptation to be paralyzed by the teachings of Jesus.
I must admit that I have this temptation today. After spending thirty-one days reading the gospels, being in and out of Jesus’ life and geography, I am staring intently up into the sky as well. I do not want those moments to be over. And I readily admit a fear today, of moving on into the New Testament narrative.
The opening scene of Acts places us squarely in this position, though. It is a sweeping prologue, that immediately makes us aware that there is something to do. Not just to learn.
But … the doing isn’t much like what we think.
There isn’t much teaching involved in Jesus’ mission for his apostles. He’s not asking them to try to change people. He’s not asking them to gather people. He’s not asking them to fight sin. He’s not asking them to fight governments. He’s not even asking them to establish any government, or kingdom. No sermons. No bible classes. No church plants (in the sense of our current and cultural definition of people beginning a church gathering in a particular place). No great stages for worship. No worship teams. No church budgets.
He only tells them to receive the spirit, and to be his witnesses. And while the idea of being a witness can take any form, I think the charge is simple enough. So simple, in fact, that we’ve just tried every which way to mess it up.
Enough with that, though. There are a couple of more things in these first three chapters that make us leave behind any preconceptions about Jesus. I want to share those with you.
First is the final word on Judas. And the final word is that he was replaceable.
One of the Twelve had to be replaced. His story is so well-known that it does not need to be repeated, but listen carefully to the Word of God here in Acts. Even one of the Twelve wasn’t immune to the fame and notoriety Jesus can afford anyone. And the fruits of his payment — the field that he bought with his blood money — would forever be deserted (1:20).
His placement next to Jesus made him famous to the wrong people, and he was a willing part in the treason. Yet, with a decision and a prayer, he is replaced. That is quite sobering to me, and it should be to all of us who “labor” for God. We can all be replaced. This kingdom is much bigger than any one of us, and the second thing we should readily leave behind is the idea that in some way we are important because of our contribution, and our proximity, to Jesus.
The story of Judas proves that to us.
And finally, the immersion of the spirit in Acts 2 got my attention. Jesus often teased the coming of this spirit throughout the gospels. There was no notion of how that would occur, though. Jesus just said that it was coming.
And Luke begins Acts by teasing this coming gift.
In 1:2 Jesus gave instructions by the holy spirit. In 1:5 Jesus spoke of the coming baptism into the holy spirit. And in 1:6, power will accompany this spirit’s visitation upon them. Luke is heightening the suspense for us.
So what would that look like? Move yourself to their side of history for a moment. What would this feel like? How would you know when it happened? And how long do you think you would need to wait?
We aren’t sure what their eyes saw in that upper room when the spirit came, though. Nor are we really sure what they heard. The sound on their ears only sounded like a violent wind. Their eyes only saw what looked like tongues of fire. I don’t think it’s some sort of existential moment, here, though. I don’t see tiny wicks above their heads, and their hair blowing like orphaned feathers.
But I do see something here they can’t fully comprehend. And there’s the point.
It can’t be fully explained.
God visits us in inconceivable ways. The exact second we believe we can pinpoint and exactly interpret God’s working and moving is the exact second we look like fools. God can’t be contained. He can’t be predicted. His will and his ways are sovereign and infinitely far above our ability to think and imagine. That’s what Luke wants us to see here. This doesn’t appear to be normal. It doesn’t appear to be prescribed.
Because. It. Isn’t. Normal.
God is not normal.
And so the third thing we must leave behind any idea that God can be contained.
I hope these thoughts have challenged you today. These first three chapters challenged me in ways I wasn’t entirely ready for this morning. Wow. Thanks for reading. Blessings to you today.