Acts 1:1-11 The Kingdom of Christ to the Ends of the Earth (Rev. Erik Veerman)
On April 7th, 1866, a young couple with 2 boys boarded a steam ship.. the SS America. They were leaving the old country for a new life in America. It has been a difficult few years. 6 of their 8 children had died at birth or shortly after. Even with this sorrow… they still had hope and promise. They said goodbye to their friends and family and after a stormy 18-day journey on the Atlantic Ocean, they arrived safely in New York. Soon they would travel to central Illinois, be cared for by some loving families they met… and begin to make roots. Today, in that small town, you’ll even find a street with their last name.
Who was this family? Jakob and Elske Veerman. My great great great grandparents. This is part of my family history. We’re thankful that it has been preserved.
We all have a history, known or unknown. At times complicated, messy… but also at times joyous and transformative… setting the course for generations to come.
And beloved, we share a part of our history. you and I. And where do we find that common history? In the book of Acts.
You see, Acts is our story. Our family history. It’s not some disconnected set of stories of people long ago. No, as we read and study Acts. We are reading and studying our story, your story, my story, our heritage. But you say, “wait, I can’t trace my lineage back to them. Half of them were Jewish Christians and I’m not Jewish.” But you see, if you are a believer in Christ, you have been adopted into the family of God, into His church. Their history… it’s now your history.
So as we study and consider Acts… as we read of the apostles establishing the church… and the other faithful men and women serving and supporting the church. We are reading about our spiritual ancestors. God’s work through them to establish his Kingdom. Which extends now to us, Tucker Presbyterian.
Let me give you a little bit of background. Then we’ll take a look at these first 11 verses.
Acts was written by Luke. He was a disciple of Jesus but not one of the 12. Luke was a physician by trade and accompanied several disciples and the apostle Paul on some of their travels. Luke also wrote The Gospel of Luke, of course. And Acts is an extension of that.
Both books are written to Theophilus. We see that here in verse 1. Theopholis is a Greek name, and the title he’s given in the Gospel of Luke suggests he was a high ranking official in the Roman system. Some have speculated that Theopholis was a new Christian that Luke was discipling. Whoever Theopholis was… as Luke wrote, he would have intended his letter to be dispersed all around.
The events immediately leading up to Acts 1 included the last days of Jesus ministry in Jerulsalem… His arrest, trial, His execution on a wooden cross, his burial, his physical resurrection, which we read earlier in the service. The time period between Jesus resurrection and Acts 1 was only 40 days. You’ll notice that right there in verse 3. In that time, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, He explained the Scriptures, he showed them how all the promises in the OT were fulfilled in him, Jesus taught them why he had to suffer and die, in order to forgive sins. And he spoke about His Kingdom. He opened their eyes to understand all these things…
Wouldn’t it have been amazing to be in his presence at that time.
And what happens next in these verses… Jesus is taken up to heaven. Literally. Physically. We call this the Ascension.
And what these first 11 verses do… they set the trajectory of the entire book of Acts. Most pastors and commentators key in on verse 8 as the summary of Acts. “But you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And that’s true. That’s the geographical order of where the Gospel message extends in the book. But actually, there’s more in these verses that connect to the overall story of Acts.
And as we study Acts, I want you to be aware of the other layers. So you can see how they connect to each other… and how they connect to us today.
Ok, to help organize our time, I’ll use an acronym. ACTS. A.C.T.S.
Several years ago, Amy and I were at a wedding. And in the wedding homily, the pastor took the letters of the groom’s last name, and made his points. I thought it was the silliest thing. But guess what. Of all the wedding messages I’ve heard, that’s the only one I remember!
ACTS. A for Ascension. The resurrected and ascended Jesus.
C for Church. That word is not explicitly in these verses, but it’s actually everywhere in these verses.
T… and this is a special one. T stands for Tucker. Do you see it? There it is, right there in verse 8. “But you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and Tucker… and to the end of the earth.” T
And finally S. That’s for Spirit. The Holy Spirit.
The Ascended and Resurrected Christ.
So, first A. The Ascended Christ. And let me include in that the resurrected and ascended Christ… because Jesus resurrection and ascension go hand and hand. You can’t have the ascension without the resurrection. And Jesus resurrection is followed by his ascension which teaches us that he is still alive and at work. Not here on earth, but exalted in heaven.
Verse 9 describes the scene. Jesus was with the apostles. And after his final teaching on earth. After he said his final words. He was carried up into the clouds and then out of their sight. He ascended… that’s where we get the word ascension.
A quick side note. I know we all think of heaven as up in the sky. But really, heaven is not in this universe. It’s other worldly. Nonetheless Jesus ascended up into the clouds.
Now, Luke could have started the book of Acts after the ascension. But he didn’t. Luke repeats the account of the ascension here. It’s also in the last chapter of Luke. He repeats it here because it is critical to the history of the church.
Look what happened. They’re all still gazing up in amazement… verse 10. And then, these angels appear. And they say essentially… hey, stop looking up. Jesus is going to return in the same way he just left. They were saying… Jesus is now reigning… in heaven. His physical presence is there… with the nail marks in his hands and wound in his side. But he will return. So you need to now fix your eyes on what he’s called you to do… while you wait for his return.
As we look at other NT Scriptures… such as the books of Romans, Colossians, 1 Peter, Ephesians, Hebrews and Revelation… We’re told that Jesus ascended to the very throne room of God. He’s seated at the father’s right hand. Exalted in Heaven and reigning over all creation.
IN the book of Acts, there are about 11-15 sermons, depending on how you count. Almost all of them include the resurrection or ascension of Jesus or both. It’s the lynch pin of God’s victory over sin and death. And therefore a major emphasis in Acts.
There’s so much there for us to take to heart. And as we work through Acts, we’ll see this applied in different ways. For example, living with the knowledge of Jesus’ exaltation and reign, now. Knowledge of Jesus’ intercession with the father for us. In our ministry, emphasizing Jesus death, resurrection and exaltation. That’s one reason every week at Tucker Pres, you’ll hear the Gospel – Jesus forgiveness of sins and victory over death.
I know those are broad categories of application… but stay tuned over the next weeks and months, as we see the Ascended Christ. Exalted, Reigning, Sovereign, Overseeing and accomplishing his purposes for his glory in the church. A, the Ascended Christ.
That brings us to the letter C. C for Church. The Greek word for church is the word ecclesia. It means an assembly of people. This is important. Christianity is not just an individual me and Jesus thing. No, being a Christian is being part of a people, together, gathering, and worshipping.
Jesus had already told his disciples earlier… He would build his ecclesia, His church through them. But the first time that word is used in Acts is not until chapter 5. And much of Acts from that point on is about the church.
Well, here in chapter 1, even though church is not explicitly stated, it’s the church that Jesus is preparing to establish. When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God… both before his death and after his resurrection… it is fulfilled in the church.
Last week, David Fraser continued his sermon series in Mark. A lot of Jesus’ teaching in Mark is about the kingdom. If you remember, it’s like a mustard seed, small but will grow to be a mature tree. It’s like the harvest, God is planting the seeds and harvesting the fruit in his time. God’s kingdom is not a military force or earthly political power, rather it is a people seeking him, putting their faith in him, forgiven by him, transformed through him, committed to Him … It’s a spiritual kingdom. Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world”
And in Acts, the Kingdom is being fulfilled in the church. Jesus is King over the church. And later in Acts, when God’s Kingdom is mentioned it includes His church – people coming by faith nd entering into his kingdom.
So then, look at verse 6, the apostles ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
I remember one of my elementary teachers saying: “Now there’s no such thing as a bad question?” And of course, she was saying that so we wouldn’t be hesitant to ask. But questions sometimes reveal that our lack of understanding is deeper than we realize. And in this case, the disciples revealed their continued confusion about the kingdom. Pastor and Theologian John Calvin said, “there are as many errors in this question as there are words” And his point was that the disciples still understood the kingdom in terms of national identity and dominion. Israel. Not something that would cross boarders and people groups. They were asking, when will Israel be restored to be a great earthly kingdom again? Like in the days of King David and Solomon.
One commentator put it this way, the apostles asked the question backwards. They should have asked, “when will Israel be restored to the Kingdom?” In other words, when will the Jewish people be restored to the kingdom… when will they believe that Christ fulfilled God’s OT promises and come to faith in him.
Well, Jesus responds to them with patience and grace. And at first glance, we’re tempted to think he’s avoiding the question. Jesus responds, “it is not for you to know the times.” Jesus is saying, it’s not about the “when” it’s about the “what.” Verse 8 continues Jesus response. “but… when the Holy Spirit has come upon you… you will be my witnesses.” Jesus is actually still answering their question.
In other words, Jesus’ answer about the kingdom… is connected to their Gospel witness to the ends of the earth. In the book of Acts, that’s fulfilled in the church. The apostles’ main missionary activities involve planting churches. The local church in Acts is the means by which evangelism, worship, fellowship, and discipleship happens… and through which more churches are planted.
As the church begins to develop in the book of Acts, the disciples and apostles more and more realize that God’s Kingdom crosses borders and languages and is spiritual in nature. God’s Kingdom, his church… grows through faith in the resurrected and reigning king… not through political or military might.
T = Tucker
This leads right to “T” for Tucker. Many see verse 8 as connected to Jesus’ great commission. The call that we will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth… which includes, of course, Tucker.
Notice, these verses all have a certainty about them. “You will receive power”… “you will be my witnesses.” Jesus “will come” in the same way you saw him go.
Let me go back again to last week’s sermon… When Jesus was in the boat with his disciples and that great storm arose. As David noted… the entire kingdom of God hung in the balance… it was at grave risk. This was only hours after Jesus declaration of the expanding kingdom. And from the disciple point of view, they were all about to die at sea. That’s when Jesus awoke… he displayed his full power as the son of God. He calmed the storm… and in doing do… he demonstrated that nothing will stop His kingdom
Nothing will stop God from accomplishing his purposes. Nothing will stop the Gospel will go forth to the ends of the earth. His Church will go forth… the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. The Gospel will go forth to every tribe, tongue and nation.
For us, 2000 years later… we have the blessing and advantage of looking back and seeing how that’s been accomplished. In Acts, we’ll see the church expand all throughout the Mediterranean. But we know from history that the Gospel has gone all throughout Europe and Asia… more recently it has exploded in growth in Africa and Korea. It’s growing by leaps and bounds in India and China. There are an estimated 2 to 2.5 billion Christians in the world, today. Yet still, 1/3 of the people groups in the world have never received the good news of Jesus. And so, today, Jesus’s commission in verse 8 is still being accomplished… the Gospel is still going forth to the ends of the earth. And God is using his people, his church as witnesses.
And Tucker, no less than anywhere in the world, needs to hear of salvation in Christ. As the Apostle Peter says in Acts chapter 4… “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved“
Our primary responsibility in the verse 8 commission… you and me, Tucker Presbyterian Church… is Tucker. Our neighbors need to hear of the hope in Christ. Now, this isn’t our only responsibility. We’re to support the work of missions throughout the world… sending people and resources to the ends of the earth. But our call begins here.
To be sure, God will accomplish his mission… with or without us. But may we be faithful to this call.
Tucker is ripe for the harvest.
Finally, the letter “S” for Spirit. The Holy Spirit.
Infused through out these verses is an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Verse 2, Jesus ministry through the Holy Spirit… Verse 5 Jesus promise that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… and verse 8 that the power to be witnesses will come from the Holy Spirit.
Who is this Holy Spirit? Well, the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit. Jesus taught earlier in his ministry that He and his Father would send this helper, God’s Spirit to work in His people… Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would bring conviction of sin, an understanding of judgment, Jesus taught that the Spirit would point us to the truth in the Word, and to help us to live in righteousness. All those things are really God’s Spirit working His Gospel in us.
The Spirit is called many things in the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, the Helper, Comforter, the Eternal Spirit, the Spirit of Glory, and other similar names.
I wish we had more time this morning to adequately cover the Holy Spirit. But as we get into chapter 2 and beyond we’ll see God at work through His Spirit. Some have said that the book of Acts – the Acts of the apostles, should really have been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Because all throughout the book, we see God’s Spirit at work through his people, in His church, and in the hearts and mind of those he’s called to faith. There are 55 references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. That’s more than any other book of the Bible.
And here, in these few verses, Jesus promises this gift of the Holy Spirit. And it’s interesting. Jesus tells them to wait. To wait for this gift. To stay in Jerusalem. They don’t know how long they will be waiting, but we know that it will only be a 10 day wait. That gives Jesus disciples time to rest, to further reflect on Jesus last words, and to prepare. Because when the Holy Spirit is given… it’s like this explosion… in a good way… an explosion of God’s kingdom going forth. Hold on because nothing will stop the work of the Spirit.
And if you are in Christ, you have this same Spirit in you. This gift. And with Him… you’re given all the benefits of faith… and the blessings of participating in the building up of the church, the kingdom of God.
So Acts. A the Ascended Christ – resurrected and Exalted. C the Church – God’s kingdom being fulfilled here on earth, T Tucker and to the Ends of the Earth, and S the Holy Spirit.
Each of these aspect here… they not only set the path for the entire book, but they all interrelate and work together for God purposes in his Kingdom.
You see, it’s the ascended and exalted Jesus… His ministry in heaven is being worked out through His Spirit, applied in His church, for the expansion of his kingdom to the ends of the earth.
And it’s the Holy Spirit who enables the apostles and followers to be witnesses. It’s that same Spirit that regenerates hearts and minds. And it’s the Church that God is establishing to the ends of the earth.
And the working together of all these thing… it all began here in the book of Acts… This is our history.
A couple years before my ancestors left their old homeland… they wrote this in their journal “We rejoice heartily that Christ acts on our behalf in this land where we have Christian friends.” And when they arrived in Illinois… they would soon join a local church and continue to participate in God’s work in a new land and nation and language… because God has continued to build his church.
That work continues today... Here. In our lives, in our work together at Tucker Pres, as we declare the exalted Christ. As we bear witness in Tucker and participate in the expansion of his church…
And as we fulfill our calling as a church… May we look forward to that glorious day when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven… and in the meantime, may we rest on Christ, be empowered by his spirit and be witnesses as His church to Tucker and the end of the earth.