Jesus Commissions His Church

 

Week of August 18, 2013

 

Bible Verses:Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8; 2:41-47.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson can help you move from spectator to participant in what God is doing in the world today through His church.

 

Understand the Scriptures: Luke 24:44-49.

 

[44]Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." [45]Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, [46]and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47]and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [48]You are witnesses of these things. [49]And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."[ESV]

 

[44-49]Reading in one sitting the closing chapter of Lukeís Gospel makes it seem that Jesus rose from His grave, appeared to His followers, commissioned His apostles and ascended to heaven, all within a twenty-four hour period. In fact, Acts tells us that chapter twenty-four covers a period of virtually six weeks. Luke has compacted his narrative so as to move quickly to the final of his account of Jesusí earthly journey Ė the ascension. But first Jesus must sum up His earthly ministry and commission the disciples who will henceforth act under His authority, in the absence of His physical presence. Jesus recalls His teachings to the disciples while He was still with them [44-45]. His teaching was that He was the goal and meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures and that everything there written about Him has to be fulfilled. Jesus found Himself written about in every part of the Jewish canon. The Old Testament is a Christian book because it predicts Christ in a variety of ways. The Old Testament in its covenants of promise, history of salvation, worship regulations, historical and personal typologies, institutions of sacrifice, liturgy of faith and confession, offer Christ to modern readers. From these sources and aids Jesus understood Himself to be the suffering servant of the Lord whose death would atone for the sins of many and set them free [Luke 20:41-44; 22:37]. Without Him the Old Testament remains unfinished business, enigmatical, literal and lifeless. But through Him it becomes illumined and a source of delight and spiritual refreshment to the Christian. With this explanation Jesus was repeating the exposition of the Scriptures that burned the hearts of the two disciples on the Emmaus road [Luke 24:25-27]. Yet something more is needed for a spiritual understanding of the Scriptures and that is spiritual enlightenment. Christ alone can give this, which is what He did for His disciples. The letter of the Bible without the Spirit to interpret it is deadly and ineffective [2 Cor. 3:4-18]. Both the outward reading and teaching of the written word of God and the inner enlightenment and assurance of the Holy Spirit are necessary for the desired effect. In 24:48-49 Jesus highlights five items for attention. (1) The message about Jesus as Messiah is a scriptural one. The Scriptures foretold the sufferings of the Messiah and His resurrection [Ps. 22; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 1 Cor. 5:7]. (2) Repentance and forgiveness are the first requirements of Christís rule. Without these none can relate rightly to God who is equally holy and gracious [Acts 2:37-38]. (3) The message of the messiah is for the whole of humankind. It should be proclaimed to the whole world in a non-sectarian way [Isaiah 2:1-4; Luke 2:37-38]. Acts records this global mission of Christís followers. (4) The apostles are the official witnesses of the truth about the Messiah. Their oral and written witness, distilled in the New Testament, becomes the pattern of Christian witness to Christ forever. (5) The power of the Holy Spirit is needed to accomplish this global task. Just as Jesus had received the Spirit of mission and power [Luke 3:21-22] so would His followers while waiting in Jerusalem at Pentecost [Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4]. The commission then and now consists of four parts: the message of the historical events of Jesusí death and resurrection; the appropriation of the message through personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; the world outreach of the gospel message; the empowerment for mission through the Holy Spirit. No theology of mission or evangelism can afford to omit any one of these four elements.

 

Engage in Mission: Acts 1:6-8.

 

[6]So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" [7]He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. [8]But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."[ESV]

 

[6-8]The question which the apostles put to Jesus when they met together [6] showed their misunderstanding of both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. The verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom. For the verb restore shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment. In His reply [7-8] Jesus corrected their mistaken notions of the kingdomís nature, extent and arrival.

(1)The kingdom of God is spiritual in its character. In the English language, of course, a kingdom is usually a territorial sphere which can be located on a map. But the kingdom of God is not a territorial concept. Yet this is what the apostles were still envisaging by confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Israel. They were still dreaming of political dominion, of the re-establishment of the monarchy, of Israelís liberation from the colonial yoke of Rome. In His reply Jesus reverted to the topic of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the Spirit coming upon them and giving them power to be His witnesses [8]. It is important to remember that His promise that they would receive power was part of His reply to their question about the kingdom. For the exercise of power is inherent in the concept of a kingdom. But power in Godís kingdom is different from power in human kingdoms. The reference to the Holy Spirit defines its nature. The kingdom of God is His rule set up in the lives of His people by the Holy Spirit. It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force of arms, political intrigue or revolutionary violence. At the same time, in rejecting the politicizing of the kingdom, we must beware of the opposite extreme of super-spiritualizing it, as if Godís rule operates only in heaven and not on earth. The fact is that, although it must not be identified with any political ideology or program, it has radical political and social implications. Kingdom values come into collision with secular values. And the citizens of Godís kingdom steadfastly deny to Caesar the supreme loyalty for which He hungers, but which they insist on giving to Jesus alone.

(2) The kingdom of God is international in its membership. The apostles still cherished narrow, nationalistic aspirations. They asked Jesus if He was about to restore to Israel her national independence. In His reply Jesus broadened their horizons. He promised that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses. They would begin indeed in Jerusalem, the national capital in which He had been condemned and crucified, and which they were not to leave before the Spirit came. They would continue in the immediate vicinities of Judea. But then the Christian mission would radiate out from that center to the end of the earth.

(3) The kingdom of God is gradual in its expansion. The apostlesí question included a specific reference to time: at this time. This had been the expectation of many during Jesusí public ministry, as Luke makes clear in his Gospel [19:11]. So the apostles asked if Jesus would do now after His resurrection what they had hoped He would do in His lifetime; and would He do it immediately? The Lordís reply was twofold. First, it is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority [7]. The apostlesí question betrayed either curiosity or impatience or both. For the Father Himself had fixed the times by His own authority. So they must curb their inquisitiveness and be willing to be left in ignorance. It is not only in relation to the fulfillment of prophecy, but to many other undisclosed truths as well, that Jesus still says to us it is not for you to know. The secret things belong to God, and we should not pry into them; it is the revealed things which belong to us, and with these we should rest content [Deut. 29:29]. Secondly, although they were not to know the times or dates, what they should know was that they would receive power so that, between the Spiritís coming and the Sonís coming again, they were to be His witnesses in ever-widening circles. In fact, the whole interim period between Pentecost and the Parousia is to be filled with the world-wide mission of the church in the power of the Spirit. Christís followers were both to announce what He had achieved at His first coming and to summon people to repent and believe in preparation for His second coming.

 

Practice Kingdom Activities: Acts 2:41-47.

 

[41]So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. [42]And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43]And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44]And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45]And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46]And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47]praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.[ESV]

 

[41-47]The amazing response to Peterís appeal in verse 40 is now recorded in verse 41. Large numbers of people received his word (i.e. repented and believed), and in consequence were baptized. In fact, about three thousand souls were added that day. Luke shows us the effects of Pentecost by giving us a beautiful little cameo of the Spirit-filled church. What evidence did the church give of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit?

(1) It was a learning church. The very first evidence Luke mentions of the Spiritís presence in the church is that they devoted themselves to the apostlesí teaching. We note that those new converts were not enjoying a mystical experience which led them to despise their mind or disdain theology. Anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Nor did those early disciples imagine that, because they had received the Spirit, He was the only teacher they needed and they could dispense with human teachers. On the contrary, they sat at the apostlesí feet, hungry to receive instruction, and they persevered in it. Moreover, the teaching authority of the apostles, to which they submitted, was authenticated by miracles: many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. The two references to the apostles, in verse 42 (their teaching) and in verse 43 (their miracles), can hardly be an accident. Since the teaching of the apostles has come down to us in its definitive form in the New Testament, contemporary devotion to the apostlesí teaching will mean submission to the authority of the New Testament. A Spirit-filled church is a New Testament church, in the sense that it studies and submits to the New Testament instruction. The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.

(2) It was a loving church. They devoted themselves to Ö the fellowship. Koinonia (fellowship) bears witness to the common life of the church in two senses. First, it expresses what we share in together. This is God Himself, for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ [1 John 1:3], and there is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [2 Cor. 13:14]. Thus Koinonia is a Trinitarian experience; it is our common share in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But secondly, Koinonia also expresses what we share out together, what we give as well as what we receive. Koinonia is the word Paul used for the collection he was organizing among the Greek churches [2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13]. It is to this that Luke is particularly referring here, because he goes on at once to describe the way in which these first Christians shared their possessions with one another in verses 44-45. These are disturbing verses. Do they mean that every Spirit-filled believer and community will follow their example literally? At different times in church history some have thought so and done so. Yet neither Jesus nor His apostles forbade private property to all Christians. It is important to note that even in Jerusalem the sharing of property and possessions was voluntary. According to verse 46, they were breaking bread in their homes. So evidently many still had homes; not all had sold them. It is also noteworthy that the tense of both verbs in verse 45 is imperfect, which indicates that the selling and the giving were occasional, in response to particular needs, not once and for all. Further, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) was not greed or materialism but deceit; it was not that they had retained part of the proceeds of their sale, but that they had done so while pretending to give it all. At the same time, although the selling and the sharing were and are voluntary, and every Christian has to make conscientious decisions before God in this matter, we are all called to generosity, especially towards the poor and needy. Christian fellowship is Christian caring, and Christian caring is Christian sharing.

(3) It was a worshipping church. They devoted themselves Ö to the breaking of bread and the prayers [42]. That is, their fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but in corporate worship too. There are two aspects of the early churchís worship which exemplify its balance. First, it was both formal and informal, for it took place both in the temple and Ö in their homes [46], which is an interesting combination. It is perhaps surprising that they continued for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. At the same time, they supplemented the temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings in their homes. Certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both. The second example of the balance of the early churchís worship is that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt of their joy, for they are described as having glad and generous hearts [46], which literally means ďin exultation and sincerity of heartĒ. Since God had sent His Son into the world, and had now sent them His Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent. If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. Awe came upon every soul [43], which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before Him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.

(4) It was an evangelistic church. So far we have considered the study, the fellowship and the worship of the Jerusalem church, for it is to these three things that Luke says the first believers devoted themselves. But those first Jerusalem Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, sharing and worshipping, that they forgot about witnessing. From these earliest believers in Jerusalem, we can learn three vital lessons about local church evangelism. First, the Lord Himself did it: the Lord added to their number. Doubtless He did it through the preaching of the apostles, the witness of church members, the impressive love of their common life, and their example as they were praising God and having favor with all the people. Yet He did it. For He is the head of the church. He alone has the prerogative to admit people into its membership and to bestow salvation from His throne. Secondly, what Jesus did was two things together: He added to their number Ö those who were being saved. He did not add them to the church without saving them, nor did He save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do. Thirdly, the Lord added people day by day. Just as their worship was day by day [46], so was their witness. Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts full of the Holy Spirit. And as their outreach was continuous, so continuously coverts were being added. Looking back over these marks of the first Spirit-filled community, it is evident that they all concerned the churchís relationships. First, they were related to the apostles (in submission). They were eager to receive the apostlesí instruction. A Spirit-filled church is an apostolic church, a New Testament church, anxious to believe and obey what Jesus and His apostles taught. Secondly, they were related to each other (in love). They persevered in the fellowship, supporting each other and relieving the needs of the poor. A Spirit-filled church is a loving, caring, sharing church. Thirdly, they were related to God (in worship). They worshipped Him in the temple and in the home, in the Lordís Supper and in the prayers, with joy and with reverence. A Spirit-filled church is a worshipping church. Fourthly, they were related to the world (in outreach). They were engaged in continuous evangelism. No self-centered, self-contained church (absorbed in its own parochial affairs) can claim to be filled with the Spirit. So a Spirit-filled church is a missionary church.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What five items does Jesus emphasize in His final words to His disciples [Luke 24:44-49]?

 

2.†††††††† What three things did Jesus teach His disciples concerning the Kingdom of God [Acts 1:6-8]?

 

3.†††††††† What four characteristics of the early church do we find in Acts 2:41-47? To what degree do you see these characteristics in your church?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker.

Letís Study Luke, Douglas Milne, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.