Sunday, March 1, 2015

The baptism of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2: 1-21

To misunderstand this passage we are looking at today is to put in jeopardy the entire purpose of the Holy Spirit and His ministry to the church.  Understanding this text correctly is crucial to understanding not only the purpose of the church, and the function of the church, but the empowerment of the church.

One of the main reasons that the church is not functioning effectively in our society today is that many people are completely clueless about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Lack of understanding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of  the main reasons why the average Christian feels powerless to live a godly life.  The church has never in it’s history been as superficial and anemic in regards to true spirituality and godliness than it is today and that is largely due to an incorrect, unbiblical understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

And that is ironic, isn’t it?  It’s ironic because there is more emphasis today on what is claimed to be the power of the Holy Spirit than at almost any other time in church history.  There is more emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit today than at any other time in recent history and yet this age is characterized by superficial, worldly, carnal churches that are more consumed with prosperity and physical “blessings” than they are with godliness.

Well, I don’t want to build a church like that.  And I’m confident that if you’re here today you do not want a church like that either.  There are a lot of other churches out there you could be a part of that would fill the bill if you were looking for  superficial Christianity.  But I believe, and I hope you believe, that God has a blueprint for His true church.  I don’t believe that God has given us the church so that we might have 52 different flavors and you get to pick the one you like the most.   I believe that He gave us the blueprint of His church that we are to pattern ours after right here in the first few chapters of Acts.  So I want to carefully examine this text so that we can be sure that we follow that example faithfully.  And also so that we might have the kind of fruitfulness that God expects us to have - the kind of fruitfulness that we see characterized in this first church which is given for our example and encouragement.

The key to understanding the context of this momentous event in church history is found in the eighth verse of the chapter one.  In Jesus’ last instructions to the disciples before His ascension He told them to wait for the promise of what He called  the baptism of the Holy Spirit in just a few days.  Then  Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

So what were they to wait for?  The power of the Holy Spirit.  The power to do what?  Be His witnesses.  To be His witnesses in word and deed.  And right there we should understand the nature of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit provides the power to carry out the ministry of Jesus Christ.  It’s not necessarily the power to speak in tongues.  To limit it to that would be to shortchange the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It is the power to be the ministers of Jesus Christ to the world, by empowering His body, the believers in Christ, to be able to reveal Jesus Christ to the world in word and deed.

The first church we have as the premier example before us today had none of the usual things that we think are so essential for church success today.  They didn’t have a building, they didn’t have any youth or children’s programs, they didn’t have a worship team, they didn’t have social status in the community, and yet this church won thousands to Christ and sent out people who would start other churches throughout the world.  Why?  Because the church had the power of the Holy Spirit empowering it’s ministry.  Their people were empowered by the Holy Spirit to become shining witnesses, testimonies to the transforming power of salvation.

So it behooves us to examine this passage carefully so that we might faithfully follow their example and fulfill Christ’s purpose for our church.  First of all, note that the Apostles and the rest of the church were waiting for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them.  And on the tenth day after the ascension came the day of Pentecost, the day that Christ had promised.  It is important to understand what that day signified for the Jew.  Now please bear with me, this is important.

Pentecost means 50th, which means this feast happened 50 days after the feast of the First Fruits as indicated in Leviticus 23.  There are three feasts there which illustrate the work of Jesus Christ.  The Passover pictured the death of Jesus as the Passover Lamb.  Then came the feast of the First Fruits which pictured Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  And then 50 days later was the feast of Pentecost which pictured the formation of His church. 

The feast of First Fruits was observed the day after the Sabbath following Passover, which meant that it was Sunday, the first day of the week. Christ was crucified on the Passover, was resurrected on the day of First Fruits, Sunday, and then Fifty days after that would fall on a Sunday as well.  So the day of Pentecost, the day the church was inaugurated by the Holy Spirit was on a Sunday.

During the feast of First Fruits, the priest would offer a wave offering of a sheaf of grain.  But during the feast of Pentecost they would offer two loaves of bread.  And contrary to the feast of Passover, the bread loaves of Pentecost had yeast in them, so they would rise.  Now what this signifies is that grains which are the fruits are baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body, represented by the loaves of bread.  And there are two loaves which represent the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jewish believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Gentile believers are baptized in the Spirit at the house of Cornelius which is found in Acts 10.   And the fact that the loaves are baked with leaven indicates that the presence of sin will be in the church.  The church will not be perfect until it is one day glorified in the presence of God.

So the believers and apostles are all together on the day of Pentecost.  We don’t know if they were in the upper room or not at that time.  It would have to be a very large room if they were, because there were 120 people gathered together.  Some think that they would have been in the temple worshipping God together when this happened.  The word house there can also be translated as temple.  So that would explain the reaction from the multitude to what would have been a very public phenomenon.  

As they were gathered together, a sound like  a violent rushing wind fills the place where they were.  It doesn’t say it was a rushing wind, but a sound like a violent rushing wind.  I imagine it might have sounded like a siren.  If you’ve ever been in a hurricane you know that sometimes the wind blows so hard it starts to whine like some sort of siren.  So there is this loud, wailing kind of sound that fills the place and alerts everyone that something is happening. 

Then it says that tongues like fire, or as of fire, appeared and were distributed over the heads of each one of those in the church.  And then the third part of the phenomena, they were  all filled with the Holy Spirit and  began to speak in other languages of the mighty works of God as the Spirit was giving them utterance.  Now all three of these things make up what Jesus described as the baptism of the Holy Spirit in chapter 1 vs. 5. 

I find it interesting that those people that claim a baptism of the Holy Spirit today only seem concerned with the third aspect of the phenomenon, that of speaking in tongues.  I haven’t heard any sound like a siren coming from those churches, or seen any tongues of fire distributing themselves on anyone’s head.  Furthermore, in the first experience everyone could understand what was being said in their own language, which is in direct contrast with what happens today when no one can understand anything that is being said.  Quite a different experience, I would say between what happened in Acts 2 and what is happening today.

So what exactly happened there in this baptism of the Holy Spirit?  What did it signify and what purpose did it achieve?  Well the Greek word for baptize is “baptizo” which has two meanings, one literal and one figurative. Literally, it means to be immersed, but the figurative meaning is to identified with.  So first of all the baptism of the Spirit means to be identified with Christ, the head of the church, and secondly to be formed as the spiritual body of Christ on earth, that is the church.

1Cor. 12:12-13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 

Now try to understand how this works with me for a moment.  If we are to become Christ’s body on earth, then how is that possible?  How does my physical body become the spiritual body of Christ?  Well, it becomes the spiritual body of Christ when Christ’s Spirit indwells my body.  When does that happen?  It happens at salvation.  We are born again by the Spirit of God, made holy and  righteous through the transference of the righteousness of Christ to us, and then indwelled by the Spirit of Christ, that we might have the mind of Christ controlling our body. 

And that indwelling produces the third aspect of that baptism, we are filled with the Spirit.  That means we are controlled by the Spirit.  The energy, the power to energize this body the way Christ would have it operate is by being filled with the Spirit.  That power of the Spirit which fills us is like the wind that fills the sails of a ship.  It fills the sails and the ship is mobilized, it is under power.

Now let’s break all that down a little more in hopes of getting this settled in our minds.  Because it’s difficult enough to understand on it’s own, but when you add all the disinformation that has accumulated in many of us from years of bad teaching, or lack of teaching on this subject, then it becomes even more difficult. 

The three aspects of the baptism of the Holy Spirit are first of all, identification.  We  are identified with Christ.  We are born again by the Spirit of Christ and are now in the family of God.  Secondly, we are baptized into one body.  All believers are joined together and related because we all are one in Christ, and we all are indwelled with the Spirit of Christ.   And then thirdly we are all filled with the Spirit, that means given the power of the Spirit who enables us to do the works of Christ.

It’s important to note that historically the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place in two stages.  The Jewish believers were baptized at Pentecost and the Gentiles were baptized later at the home of Cornelius.  Today the baptism of the Spirit happens when a sinner is converted and born again by the Spirit of Christ.  You are instantly spiritually reborn into the family of God, you are instantly baptized into the body of Christ, the church, joined to every believer, and you are instantly filled with the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  All of that happened by the way with the 3000 souls that were saved as Peter preached.  There was not a subsequent baptism for those 3000.  They were saved, baptized in water and immediately added to the church.

Let me point out another reference which I think pictures this very well.  As you know, the children of Israel are an OT picture of the church.  And Paul relates the baptism of the Israelites to the church in 1Cor. 10:1-4 “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;  and all ate the same spiritual food;  and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”   Moses is a type of Christ. In Acts 3:22 it says, “Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you.”  So the Israelites which are a type of the church are baptized into Moses in two ways: in the cloud, that is the Shekinah glory of God which went before them to guide them by day and dwelt in the temple in the middle of their camp, a constant presence with them, and they were also baptized into the sea, that is the Red Sea.  That represented identification with Moses, separation from the world, Egypt, and salvation from death.  And then you see the unity in the same spiritual food, the same spiritual drink, all coming from the rock who is Christ. 

So in like manner, as the church of Christ, we are identified with Him, become one with His body, and are filled with His Spirit who leads us and guides us as He indwells us.  He is constantly with us because He is within us.  We are not told to seek a baptism of the Holy Spirit, because that is done once for all when we are born again, but we are told to be continually filled with the power of the Holy Spirit because we need His power if we are going to serve God effectively.  On the day of Pentecost, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and filled with the Spirit simultaneously.  But afterwards, though there were more fillings of the Spirit to do a particular work, they did not experience any more baptisms.  There is a distinction between baptism and filling. 

For instance, baptism means I belong to His body, being filled means that my body belongs to Him.  Baptism is non-repeatable, but the filling is repeated over and over again as we trust God for the  power to do what He asks us to do. Baptism involves all believers being united into one body, but filling is individually done as we yield to Him.

Now let’s consider the languages and the purpose and meaning of that part of this phenomenon.  Luke tells us that there were God fearing, devout Jews from 15 different nations present, and they each heard the gospel proclaimed in their own language.  Verse 4 the word used for language or tongues is glossa, which refers to language, but in vs.6 the word used is dialektos and means dialect.  There is no question that means that each person understood what the disciples were saying in their own native language or dialect. 

The question is why did this happen?  What is the significance of this sign?  Well, I gave away the answer in my question.  The speaking of various foreign languages happened as a sign to the unbelieving Jews.  We are going to examine Peter’s message in more detail next time, but note for now that Peter says this baptism of the Holy Spirit happened according to the prophecy of  Joel 2:28-32.   First and foremost then,  tongues were for a sign.  They happened as a sign to the Jews that a particular prophecy was being fulfilled. And Paul confirms this by quoting Isaiah in 1Cor. 14:21, “In the Law it is written, ‘BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,’ says the Lord.  So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers.”

Now that is exactly what Peter is talking about when he stands up and rebukes those in the crowd who had suggested that they might have been drunk with wine.  Peter says no, it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning, no one here has been drinking at 9 in the morning.  But he says in vs. 17 “'AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, 'THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;  EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy.”

This phenomenon was a sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to those unbelieving Jews, the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples to be a witness to them, that the last days had come upon Israel, just as Joel and the prophets had warned it would.  And a sign of these last days would be that by the languages of foreigners they would hear of the gospel of Christ and yet still they would not believe.  Israel as a nation would reject Christ.  Thankfully, 3000 of them did repent that day in response to that sign, and they were saved and God added them to the church.  But the nation of Israel as a whole did not repent, they continued to persecute and put to death the witnesses of the gospel (that’s what the Greek word witness came to mean, martyrs).  And so it would not be only about 35 more years ( this generation) before the judgment of God would fall upon Israel and the temple was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of them were killed and the rest dispersed.  This phenomenon was a sign that the end of the age of the nation of Israel had come. 

The phenomenon also correlated with the Tower of Babel which we read about in Genesis 11.  At that time the men of the world spoke the same language and thought that they would build a temple reaching to heaven as a testament to their great civilization.  But God came down from heaven and confused their language and dispersed them throughout the world.  So God’s judgment at Babel dispersed one people into many nations, but the Spirit at Pentecost united many nations into God’s people, bringing both the Jews and the Gentiles into one body, the church.  At the Tower of Babel one language was confused into many, but at Pentecost people of many languages understood the gospel in their own dialect. 

The bottom line is this; the baptism of the Holy Spirit is given so that we might be saved, identified with Christ, so that we might be unified with all other believers into the body of Christ, and so that we might have the power to be witnesses for Christ.  But though baptism of the Spirit happens once at salvation, there is a daily need to be filled with the Spirit. 

Did you know that Plato and the ancient Greek philosophers, long before the time of Christ, taught that the highest religious expression was found in a phenomenon of speaking in strange syllables which was induced by drunkenness?  This was practiced by the Greeks in their drunken, religious orgies.  So it’s interesting that some people observing what was happening would automatically assume the disciples were drunk.  But Peter is quick to show that they were not drunk.  And furthermore, this wasn’t some nonsensical gibberish, but it was men speaking of the mighty works of God.

So in reference to what Peter said in rebuttal to the charge of drunkenness, let’s look at how Paul contrasts drunkenness and being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;  always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;  and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”  Paul goes on to talk about wives being subject to husbands, husbands sacrificing themselves for their wives, parents, children, slaves, workers, etc, being subject to one another as unto the Lord. 

So what Paul is showing in verse 18 is the contrast between drunkenness and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  When a person is filled with alcohol, he loses control of himself and dishonors himself and God.  But when a man is filled with the Spirit, he exhibits self control and honors God.  That is the contrast and it is given to illustrate what being filled with the Spirit is and is not.  Being filled with the Spirit then is to exhibit self control, self discipline.  Unfortunately, that is not what we see most often when we witness the charismatic outbursts on CBN.  They revel in spiritual  drunkenness which they claim is of the Holy Spirit. They babble incoherently.  They exhibit a lack of control, a lack of discipline, and dishonor God. Paul makes it clear that they know not what sort of spirit they are of. 

If you are being filled with the Spirit, that is under the control of the Spirit, then you will walk in the Spirit and bring honor to God by the way that you live.  We have the power of the Holy Spirit available to us, indwelling in us, if we are saved.  The dilemma is whether or not we will trust in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit and be obedient to the Spirit.  When we do, we will be filled with the power to do so, and in so doing, we will be witnesses to the transforming power of Christ. 

Let me close by reading Galatians 5:19 which shows us that contrast between the life lived as evidence of the flesh and the life evidenced as of the Spirit.  “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,  envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”  Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The right foundation of the church; Acts 1:12-26

The book of Acts is essentially the story of the establishment of the church.  The name Acts of the Apostles is sort of misleading.  It’s not meant to be a biographical account of the apostles as much as it is an account of the establishment of the church by the apostles. 

And so as we begin this study of the book of Acts, it is important that we understand what the church is.  God has a blueprint for the church.  God has a plan for the church.  And that plan is not subject to our ideas of how we might improve upon it.  We are constantly being bombarded today with modern ideas of how we might improve upon the church, how we might modernize it, or how we might make it more accessible, or how we might make it more relevant to our modern culture. 

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it is man’s wisdom.  And the power of the church is that it is built and relies upon God’s wisdom, not man’s.  Only by reliance upon God’s wisdom and God’s power can we ever hope to possibly win the world.  And His wisdom is found in His word and proclaimed through the preaching of His people.

That’s what 1Cor. 1:18-25 is talking about, which says,  “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.  Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Last week in the preceding passage we said that Jesus gave His last instructions in regards to the church before handing over the stewardship of it to the apostles.  And in that message we pointed out that it was necessary to have the right message, which was the Word of Christ, the right confidence in the resurrection power of God, the right kind of power, which was the Holy Spirit, the right timing, the right mission and the right motive.  Now today we are going to see that if you are going to build God’s church you need to have the right men.  The right kind of leadership. 

I was talking to someone this week about the typical process that is often used today to call a pastor, or choose a pastor for a church.  And I pointed out that unfortunately, the call of God upon a man to pastor a church has largely been disregarded in lieu of some sort of popularity contest.  I watched a church recently choose a pastor, or whatever kind of title this church called their pastor, and they used a pastor search committee that was made up of people who were chosen for their social standing in the community, but at least some of whom were unsaved.  I’ve seen pastor search committees hire pastors based on their personalities, based on whether or not they were entertaining speakers, based on their looks and one fleshly characteristic after another.  Using that type of criteria, it is doubtful that the average evangelical church today would call into the pastorate the Apostle Paul.  He was a hunch backed, beak nosed, bald headed old man who more than likely was half blind and was considered contemptible in appearance, probably because he had running sores in his eyes.

They need to be reminded that when Israel, which is the OT picture of the church, sought a king, the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Now the first church is about to be formed within a week or so of Christ’s ascension, almost all the necessary ingredients are in place except that there is still a need to have the right men.  And who are the right men?  They are the apostles.  The twelve.  They will form the foundation of the church.  Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. This building made up of living individuals is built of the foundation of the 12 apostles and the prophets.  That simply means that the word of Christ that these men preached would be the foundation that the church is to be built upon.

So if the church is not made of brick and mortar but of people, then it stands to reason that the right foundation will be made up of people as well.  But only a certain type of person qualifies as an apostle.  Contrary to some of the church signage you might see in certain areas of Sussex County, there are no modern day apostles.  Peter makes it clear in this passage what qualifies one to be an apostle.  Look at vs. 21-22 "Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." 

In order then for one to be a true apostle he had to have been with Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry – taught by Christ since the days of John the Baptist, and he had to have seen the risen Lord.  That was the criteria set forth by Peter and accepted by the rest of the apostles. 

Now let’s back up for a moment and remind ourselves of why this selection was even necessary.  Jesus had appointed 12 disciples.  But from the very beginning Jesus had known that one of them was a devil.  Peter said in vs.16 that it was necessary, scripture had to be fulfilled. Vs.16 "Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

What scriptures is Peter talking about that prophesied Judas’s betrayal?  Well, for starters there are a couple in Psalms. For instance, Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.”  And then another in Psalm 55:12-14 “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him.  But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend;  We who had sweet fellowship together Walked in the house of God in the throng.”

But Peter says not only did the scriptures prophesy that Judas would betray Jesus, but it also prophesied that his office should be replaced.  And to validate that Peter quotes from two other places in the Psalms, chapter 69 and chapter 109, respectfully.  He says in vs. 20, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’

And Luke inserts a bit of historical information about Judas that we will mention but not belabor, since we dealt thoroughly with Judas when we were in Luke.  But he mentions that after Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver he went out  and hung himself.  But it would seem that when he did so, the limb broke and he fell some distance and his body ruptured from the impact and all his intestines gushed out.  That would have caused a great deal of blood to spill out on the ground.  And  the scripture says everyone who lived in Jerusalem heard about it. 

Matt. 27:4-8 adds a little more detail, saying that after Judas’s betrayal, he went back to the high priests and said "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!" And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood." And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.  For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day."

So the end result is that now that Judas is gone and as the apostles are waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the commencement of the church, they want to fulfill the prophecy concerning replacing Judas with another disciple to take his office.  They believe that Christ’s intention was to have 12 apostles and one position is now vacant and so Peter stands and says, one of these men who were with us from the beginning until the day the Lord ascended into heaven must replace the position formerly held by Judas. 

Now if you are going to choose the right man for leadership in the church, it is important that you use the right criteria.  Peter lays out the right criteria.  First and foremost, the person had to have been with the Lord Jesus.  He had to have been there from the beginning to the end.  He had to have been a witness to all that Jesus said and did during His ministry on earth. He needed to have been taught directly by the Lord Himself. Christ’s message was what the Apostles would take to the ends of the earth.  Peter would say later that they were eyewitnesses of His glory. 2Pet. 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  If the world was going to believe these men, it was important that they had been eyewitnesses of Christ. 

And because they had known the Lord and been with the Lord for all of His ministry, they were able to preach the word of Christ.  And in order to validate that message as having come from the Lord, they were given power to perform miracles. It says in 2 Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”  They are given the apostolic gift to do signs and wonders so that they can validate that they were the true representatives of Christ by the miracles that they did.

So to be a leader in God’s church you must meet the right criteria.  I have to say that I am dismayed at the popular practice in many churches today to create all sorts of leadership positions for the church that God never established.  And to make it worse, since these positions are not articulated in the Bible, they don’t feel that they need to meet any sort of Biblical criteria.  Consequently, we have people in leadership positions in the church that have escaped all the requirements set out for Biblical leadership.  Let me be clear;  I’m talking about worship leaders, Sunday school directors, youth leaders, small group leaders, etc, etc.  Far too often these people are selected based on how they look with a guitar and wearing skinny jeans rather than due to meeting any prescribed Biblical criteria.

As far as the Bible is concerned, there are only 2 positions established for church leadership.  One is elders and the other is deacons.  We’re going to be looking at the criteria the Apostles used to select the first deacons in just a few weeks or so.  But let me just say this much, in order to wait on tables in the church the apostles set forth a stringent criteria that included being men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, and at least two of them were soul winning preachers; Stephen and Philip.  Now that was what was involved in the criteria for waiting on tables.  So when the church turns over our preaching and teaching and leading worship to people who have not been tested, as Paul instructed Timothy, to make sure that they are above reproach, to meet the Biblical criteria, then we are at the very least jeopardizing the ministry and mission of the church as Christ prescribed it.

So if you are going to select the right men for leadership in the church, you not only need the right criteria but you need to have the right process.  And I just want to quickly go through the process that the apostles used to select this man. This is the process we need to use as well in order to make godly decisions. First of all, they were obedient to Christ’s commands.  He told them in vs. 4 not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit.  And they were obedient to His commands.  They waited several days in the upper room.  It says in 1 Sam. 15:22, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.”  If you want to know God’s will then you need to be being obedient to the commands of God, and to the criteria of God. 

Secondly, they were in fellowship.  It says in vs. 13 that all the 11 apostles were together, Jesus’ brothers were there, the women who had been following Jesus were there, and all together there were 120 people.  Now that was the first church; 120 people.  They were together in fellowship.  This was a 24/7 church.  They didn’t leave the upper room.  This was church fellowship.  They were together waiting on the Lord, worshipping together.  Folks, if obedience is number one in importance, then I believe church fellowship is number 2.  If you don’t commit to be in church regularly and faithfully then I don’t think you are going to be making the right kind of decisions in the rest of your life either.  The first step into error is directly tied to skipping the local fellowship with believers in church.

Thirdly, it says in vs. 14 that they were continually devoting themselves to prayer.  Listen, make note of this;  prayer is seeking God’s will.  Prayer is not demanding your will to God like a petulant child.  Jesus set the example for prayer on two occasions.  First was the model prayer.  He prayed, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Second was His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  That’s the key to Biblical prayer.  We pray not for God’s blessing on our will, on our decisions, but we pray that God would establish His will in our lives.

Fourthly, they were in the word of God.  Man! This is good, isn’t it?  What a recipe!  Be obedient, be in fellowship, be in prayer and be in the word.  Peter had been reading the word.  Listen, you have to be a student of the word to find the references that he found concerning Judas’s office.  We are told to search the scriptures.  To study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that don’t need to be ashamed.  Folks, if you can’t show someone how to be saved by using the Bible then you ought to be ashamed.  If you can’t give a Biblical reason for the hope that is within you then you should be ashamed.  The Bible is our wisdom, it is our guidebook, our rulebook, our food, our drink.  Get in the word. 

Fifthly, they relied on God’s decision. Now there are three steps that they took to make sure it was God’s decision.  First, it says in vs. 23 that they put forward two men who fit the criteria: Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. They didn’t have a beauty contest, they found men who fit the criteria. And then it says in vs. 24, they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And then they used a method to select the right person which revealed and depended upon the decision of God.  They took the decision out of their hands and put it in God’s hands.  Vs. 25, “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

Now the casting of lots may not be a way that we are told to make decisions today, but at that time it was the way God led them to do it.  In Old Testament times God often used this procedure to show who He selected.  In the book of Proverbs it says in Chapter 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord."  There are numerous OT examples of God using this method of determination.  But while we may not use that method today, the principle is still valid.  We need to seek God’s decision and not according to our own wisdom.  I believe that the Bible teaches that the word of God is sufficient for all knowledge and all wisdom.  The apostles at that point did not have the full, complete revelation of God that we have available to us today.  But Peter makes it clear that we have the knowledge which comes through the scripture for all faith and practice. 2Pet. 1:3-4 “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

And Paul writing to Timothy says that we have everything we need in scripture to equip us for every good work. 2Tim. 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

So Matthias was added to the eleven apostles and now the foundation of the church was complete.  The time had come for God to pour out His Spirit on the church, baptizing them all through the Holy Spirit into one body.  That body was the church, founded on the word and deeds of the apostles and built living stone upon living stone into a temple of the Lord.  And we shall see next week how that begins.  I hope you will make plans to be here for that.  In the meantime, let us be as the apostles were, walking in obedience, staying in fellowship, devoting ourselves to prayer, reading the word, and seeking God’s will in all our decisions.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The ministry of the Holy Spirit; Acts 1:1-11

We begin today a new study, a new series if you will, that is the book of Acts.  It is a monumental task.  If I thought too much ahead of time about what will be involved in preaching through Acts I would doubtless be overwhelmed by the enormity of the scope of this book.  I have purposefully avoided it for almost 10 years now.  But today we have come to it, and I believe we have come to it in just the right time. 

One reason I believe it’s the right time is we have just finished a 2 ½ year journey through the Gospel of Luke.  And Luke is the same writer of the book of Acts.  It is a continuation, volume 2 if you will of what Luke set out to do.  In Luke 1 he stated that “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”  Then in Acts 1 we see Luke continue to write volume 2 to Theophilus.  Vs. 1, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach…”

We don’t know who Theophilus was, but the title given in Luke suggests that he was a high official, perhaps even someone who was defending Paul before Rome.  But I think it more likely that he was simply a Christian, however an eminent member of Roman government.  The name Theophilus by the way meant lover of God. 

But as we read the opening verses of Acts it is apparent that Luke overlaps some information at the beginning.  When we concluded Luke we looked at the ascension of Christ and we even referenced some of the material found here.  So I don’t want to strictly speak on the ascension again, since we covered it thoroughly in the past weeks. 

However, what I do want to do today is to give a little bit of an introduction and overview of the book and  explain the significance of what happens after the ascension of Christ.  Acts is not simply history.  It is an important transition between the Gospels and the Epistles.  In the Gospels we see the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  His teaching, His word is presented, the gospel is proclaimed; and in the Epistles we see the gospel explained. 

But what happens in between in Acts is essential to understanding our relation to the gospel.  Our responsibility to the gospel.  As the gospels are the account of Christ’s ministry, so Acts is the account of the disciples ministry as Jesus passes the torch to them. . It is the account of the way the Holy Spirit, coming upon the apostles, working through the church, continued what Jesus began to do, the story of how they carried on the work which was initiated during the days of his incarnation. As we will see in Acts, the Holy Spirit now begins to fulfill the designed program of God. He begins to carry on Christ’s work through the reincarnated body of Jesus Christ---the church---the body by which the Lord intends to reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth.

That work began after the ascension of Christ 2000 years ago, and it still continues today, even right here through this local body.  And that is why I think it is so pertinent that we begin to study the book of Acts at this time.  I believe we may be at a juncture in our history when we move from being discipled as this small group, to a time when the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you and I, so that we might build His church and proclaim the gospel through each one of you in a more emboldened and effective way than we ever have before. 

If you think about it that way you might see the similarities between our churches situation and the apostles.  They had just finished being taught the words of Jesus for 3 years.  And as well you folks have just completed almost 3 years of in depth study in the words of Christ through our study in Luke.  You know as much or even more than the apostles knew at this point.  And yet it is at this point that Jesus leaves them, passing the baton so to speak to them to carry on His ministry.  And they would do so to a certain extent in an even greater fashion than He did.  Jesus said that, didn’t He? In John 14:12 Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” And that was certainly fulfilled by the fact that Jesus preached the gospel to the Jews only, but through His disciples the gospel has been preached throughout the whole world, to every nation, and every tongue.

So the responsibility for the proclamation of the gospel and the establishment of the church passes from Jesus to the apostles. We see the Lord now pass the baton to His disciples. You know, these apostles aren’t much different than you and I.  They’re just simple working men.  About seven of them were fishermen.  And not only are they the most unlikely people to do this task, but they don’t seem well suited to it either.  They were uneducated.  They had demonstrated weak faith.  They had not always been the most obedient disciples.

They weren’t exactly the greatest prayer warriors.  On the night of  Jesus’ trial, He asked them to pray with Him for one hour and yet they fell asleep.  In fact, that very night they all ran away when Jesus was arrested.  Peter, their leader publicly denied Him three times.  All of them deserted Him in His greatest hour of need.  But these are the very men that Jesus hands over His ministry to.  He entrusts all that He had done and all that He wanted to accomplish to this ragtag band of disciples.  They were the unlikely ones that He entrusted to take His gospel to the world.

And so I would challenge you folks here today to see yourselves in this same light.  I believe that God has you here in this place for such a time as this.  God’s plan is that you would be witnesses of His gospel to the world, starting right here in this community, through this church. There are no rock stars here nor rocket scientists.  But God has chosen you, the weak things, to confound the mighty, to carry on His ministry, to build His church. 

I’m sure that the disciples thought that was an overwhelming mission.  I’m sure that they felt inadequate for the job.  And perhaps you feel that way as well.  I know I have been feeling inadequate lately as I consider the obstacles to building this church.  I sometimes find myself thinking of all the failures in our progress so far.  When I think of all the people who I have failed to really disciple, those that fell away after a time,  or those who did not come to be saved, it is discouraging.  I was looking the other day at a super market that was closing.  And I have often thought that building would make a great building to convert into a church.  And now just the other day I saw that it is closing and up for rent.  Yet from a human standpoint it is completely out of our league.  We don’t have enough people to fill a quarter of it, much less be able to afford to lease it.

But then I thought of this church that starts in Jerusalem with the 11 apostles who are basically hiding out in a room and whom Jesus leaves with instructions to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit.  And I remembered how that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, God added 3000 people to the church in just one day.  Peter stood up to preach on the day of Pentecost and before he got half way through the message, people were crying out, “what do we have to do to be saved?”  Within a few days the number had swelled to 5000 or more. 

So I was encouraged by that as I was reminded that with man it may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible.  Yet the question is, what prompted this great revival?  What caused them to go from being discouraged disciples on the brink of scattering to becoming men who were turning the world upside down?  Well the short answer is that what happened was God sent them the Holy Spirit to indwell them as the church and empower them for the job of building the church. 

So what we see laid out here in these first 11 verses of Acts is Christ’s last instructions He gives to the Apostles to prepare them for this great moving of the Holy Spirit, in order to effectively build His church and carry out His mission in His absence.  And I believe they are instructive for us as well as we consider our mission to build this church.  There are six things here in this passage which serve as a checklist for the mission we are to take up for Christ.

Number one, if you’re going to effectively build Christ’s church you need to have the right message.  Vs. 1, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.”  Notice it says that Jesus began to do and teach. In order to effectively carry on Christ’s ministry, you have to have the right message.  And that message has to be the message of Christ.  It has to be the word of Christ that is preached.  We can’t build a church on empty philosophy, or on men’s wisdom, or men’s strategy.  If we’re going to build the church, we can only build the church on the truth of the gospel. 

But not only does Luke emphasize what Jesus taught, but what Jesus did.  If we are going to be used by God to build His church, we not only need the right message but to be the right messenger. A skeptic once said, “Show me your redeemed life, and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”  We have to practice what we preach.  That’s what discipleship is all about.  Walking out what you have been taught. That’s what makes the gospel believable and attractive to the world. Not trying to attract the world by offering them a religious facsimile of the world, but by showing them the power of the gospel through a transformed life.

Secondly, if you are going to effectively carry out Christ’s mission you need the right kind of confidence. Vs. 3, “To these, he also presented himself alive after his suffering by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over 40 days.”  How did these scared disciples hiding out in an upper room suddenly have the confidence to do the things they did?  Where did their confidence come from?  Their confidence came from being witnesses of His resurrection. They now realized that Jesus had the power over death and hell.  Nothing could kill Him.  Nothing could hold Him.  So by extension that power was given to them.  And we can have that  same confidence because the record of His resurrection was confirmed by over 500 people over the course of 40 days and recorded in the infallible scriptures.  The confidence of the resurrection not only provides assurance that Christ is  sovereign, but it provides us with the confidence that we also will endure beyond the grave. That the gates of Hell can not prevail against Christ’s church. That whatever sufferings that we might be called upon to share with Christ even though they might result in our death of our body we can have confidence that we also will be resurrected with a glorified body as was Christ.

Thirdly, if they were to effectively carry out the ministry of Christ they needed to have the right power.  Verse 4. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me;  for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Back in Luke’s gospel, chapter 24, we read that Jesus added, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  The Holy Spirit is given to the disciples so that they might have the power to do what God has commissioned them to do. This is such an important principle and yet I’m afraid it is so misunderstood.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to take the Spirit of Christ and distribute it to the church, so that they might have the power of Christ available to perform the ministry of Christ. 

So many people today short change the ministry of the Holy Spirit by focusing on the wrong things. As I said last week, the Holy Spirit isn’t given to us so that we might feel saved, but that we might be saved, and that we might act saved.  Jesus said in John’s gospel that the Holy Spirit is given to be our helper.  We cannot do the work in our own strength. He is called the Spirit of truth.  He will teach us all things.  He opens our minds to understand the scriptures.  He brings about conviction in the hearts and minds of the world.  He changes our nature.  He opens our eyes.  He gives the gift of repentance. He distributes the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we will be equipped to do what is necessary to do in order to build the church.  Not for our own edification.  That is; not to make us feel holy or look holy.  But He gives gifts to build up the church so that she might be holy.

Then notice verse 5.  “John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Now that is not talking about water baptism. He literally says you’re going to be submerged with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.   He was talking about the day of Pentecost, which was just a few days away. Notice that He is not telling the apostles to somehow get baptized in the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t telling them to seek it, pray for it, plead for it.  This is a statement of fact. It’s something that happens to all believers as part of their conversion.  But what it is referring to here is submersion or a filling of the Holy Spirit.  To be washed by the Holy Spirit and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  To have the Holy Spirit indwell us. 

The word baptism signifies identification with the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:13.  “For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we’re all made to drink of one Spirit.” As the body of Christ we are literally engulfed in the Holy Spirit. John refers to the Holy Spirit as the anointing which we have from God who teaches us all things.  Another example of that is found in 1Cor. 10:1-4 “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea;  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food;  and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” 

Remember that I told you last Wednesday night that the children of Israel are a picture of the church?  Well, here in that passage we see the picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  They were all baptized into Moses, in the cloud, that is the Shekina glory that followed them and engulfed the tabernacle.  It was the presence of God in the midst of them.  Jesus now says we are baptized in the Holy Spirit so that we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit.  In Moses day the cloud led them by day as in our day the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.  With Moses they all ate the same spiritual food.  Jesus said in John 6:63 “my words are Spirit and they are life.” The Holy Spirit feeds us with the word of God and provides us with the water of life.  The Holy Spirit is the power that we need to effectively build the church of Christ.  Not by human might, not by human power, but by My Spirit says the Lord. (Zec. 4:6)

Fourthly, if we are to build Christ’s church effectively we must have the right timing.  Vs. 6, So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” 

The apostles were still looking for the physical kingdom of God to be set up on the throne of David.  Their eschatology was still not in line with what Christ was doing.  But Jesus doesn’t debunk their eschatology, nor does He stop and give them a detailed blow by blow of what was going to happen in the future.  He did that as far as He intended to do it back in Luke 21.  God doesn’t have to explain the future to us in any more detail than that.  Our job is to wait on the Lord.  To be about the business of being a witness.  Luke 19:13.  He said, “Do business with this until I come back.”  He taught that we are to occupy until He comes, to , “Work, for the night is coming.”  To lay up treasures in heaven while we are on earth.  To invest now in the kingdom of God.

God is in charge of God’s timing.  We are to be about what He has commissioned us to do.  And as we see in this passage, that involves waiting on the Lord.  He is the One who has the power to turn men’s hearts.  At the right time God poured out His Holy Spirit and the church grew and was established.  We just need to be a witness and let God take care of the results.  God will build His church in His time and in His way.  We just need to be found faithful witnesses when He comes.

That leads us to the fifth point if we want to be effectively building God’s church – we need the right mission.  Vs. 8, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;  you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” 

The word witness in the Greek is the word “martys” which is the word we get martyrs from.  The word witness came to be the word martyr because so many witnesses to the gospel died. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross.”  Being a witness of Christ in those days might just cost you your life. 

I think that there was a degree of commitment in the early church that we simply do not have today.  They had to be willing to leave their families oftentimes  if they were to accept Christ.  They had to be willing to lose their jobs or even their homes.  And they had to be willing to possibly be martyred for their faith.  The culture at that time did not accept Christianity.  The Jews wanted to silence them and the Gentile culture was completely pagan.  So there was no friendship with the world whatsoever.  But that level of commitment I think caused the zeal for the house of God to consume them and give everything for the cause of Christ.  And that level of commitment is what the Lord will use.

I think that we are fast approaching that type of animosity towards the church today in our culture.  Christianity has lost whatever social acceptance that it once had in America.  Today if you preach the gospel the way the apostles did you are labeled as hateful, unloving, homophobic, intolerant and so forth.  But we need to remember that the world is our mission field and not our enemy.  We can build the kingdom of God the same way the early church did, through the power of the Holy Spirit by preaching the truth and being consistent in our testimony.

The final point in effective church building is we need to have the right motive.  Vs. 9, And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.
They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”  Their motive for building the kingdom of Christ is that He is coming back in the clouds the same way He went away. 

Our motive for being faithful in our work of the kingdom is that when we stand before God we will hear “well done good and faithful servant.  You’ve been faithful in a few things, I will set you in charge of many things.  Enter into the joy of your Master.”  Christ has given us a mission, a stewardship, to carry on His ministry here on earth until the day He returns for us.  I hope that you consider that mission your priority here on earth.  If we have as our priority the things of God, our priority the caretaking of His church, then I believe that God will increase our stewardship corresponding to our investment.  To him who has, more shall be given. 

I don’t want you to be concerned about building with stone and mortar.  We are not given the mission of building edifices or temples made with hands.  But we are given the task of building up the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, His church.  And all of us are given that task.  We are all commissioned to be ministers of Christ.  It’s an overwhelming task from a human point of view.  But we do not strive by the flesh, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the timing of God, and in the strength of His might.  And when we do that, then God will build His church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The significance of the ascension, Luke 24:49-53

A few days ago I watched the video released by the terrorist group ISIS, in which they set afire a captured Jordanian pilot.  It was a gruesome video, and I don’t recommend that you watch it.  It’s one of those things that you won’t be able to get out of your mind. 

But I had my reasons for watching it.  Not the least of which was that many Christians have been burned at the stake over the centuries. For instance, William Tyndale who was the first to translate the Bible into English was burned at the stake in 1536.  And while it is one thing to know that from a historical perspective, it is another thing entirely to witness something like that in our lifetime, and to imagine what we might do if faced with such a fate. 

As I was talking to someone about this tragic event later, they asked what seems to me to be a very pertinent question.  They said, “What is it that causes people to do such horrible things? What is the root of this kind of evil?”  My answer was that the Bible says that sin is the root of all evil.  Sin is the root cause of all the problems of the world. 

And true Christianity is the only religion in the world to really effectively deal with sin.  Most religions of the world try to tell people how they are supposed to live, to establish some sort of ideal life style.  They purport to tell people how they might aspire to be a better person.  Some may even offer hope of a future after death. But most religions at best only offer a type of ascetic, monastic or meditative state whereby one through sheer willpower may hope to isolate himself somewhat from sin.  But all these false religions fail to really deal effectively with sin. 

But God’s plan to deal with sin meant that He would not just tell us what we must do, but He Himself would deal with the problem of sin.  Theologians tell us that there are three characteristics of sin.  The first characteristic of sin as delineated in the Bible is sin’s penalty.  God told Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden at creation that if they sinned by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.  Likewise, Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.  So the penalty of sin is death, eternal death, as defined by God.  Death is not just God’s punishment for sin, but death is the inevitable outcome of sin.  All sin leads to death.  Inherent in sin is the penalty of death.

The second characteristic of sin is the power of sin. Romans 5:12 tells us, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  So the power of sin is found in the nature of sin.  It is like a genetically transmitted cancer that spread to all men from one generation to the next, traceable back to their father Adam.  It is man’s sinful nature that causes him to sin. In John 8:34 Jesus says that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”  And as such they are held captive by Satan to do his will. This is the power of sin that all men are held captive under.  Sin is relentless, overpowering, corrupting, and spread from generation to generation.  Sin has power and dominion over it’s victims.

And then the third characteristic of sin is the presence of sin.  Eastern religions tell their adherents that the only hope to escape this present state of sin is to withdraw oneself from society.  Perhaps join a monastery where there is little temptation to sin.  Or perhaps attempt to achieve nirvana through meditation whereby they can escape the presence of temptations.  But that does not eradicate the presence of sin, that just gives one some temporary escape and even then only in a limited fashion.  Even if it were possible by some strength of will for a person to limit sin in his body to some degree he still cannot escape the presence of sin in the world and the suffering that must be experienced due to it’s presence. The Bible tells us that the presence of sin entered the human race in the Garden of Eden, and it only grows worse with each succeeding generation. 

In spite of all kinds of technological, scientific, educational, cultural and social advancements in society, things are not getting better and better, things are going from bad to worse.  Wars and rumors of wars are increasing.  People are killing and being killed in greater numbers than  at any other time in history.  Sex crimes and even sexual trafficking are reaching epidemic proportions.  Abortions in the United States average one million babies killed a year.  Divorce rates are at 50%.  Drug abuse has reached pandemic status.  Hundreds of thousands of people die of drug, alcohol and suicide related causes each year in the United States alone.  Sixteen thousand murders are committed a year in the United States.  All of this is the effect of sin.  This is the presence of sin.  It invades all of our lives.  Even if you manage to live in a monastery in Tibet sin will still invade your life.  Sin’s presence is inescapable. 

From man’s perspective the situation is hopeless.  But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. In the midst of man’s hopelessness is where God intervenes.  God’s strategy for dealing with sin doesn’t rely on the strength of man, or on the efforts of man or the will of man.  God knew that man being inherently sinful could not escape sin’s penalty, nor overcome sin’s power, nor be delivered from sin’s presence.  And so God stretched forth His own arm to save man by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to deal with sin. As Isaiah 59:1 tells us, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save.” God Himself provided the antidote to sin.  Continuing in vs. 15, “Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.  And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
then His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him.”

This is the gospel.  This is what Christianity is all about.  Christianity is not another religion that only tells you how you are supposed to live but it provides life by dealing with sin.  Not only did Jesus illustrate by example how we are to live, but by His death He paid the penalty for our sin.  Only God could pay the penalty for another’s sin, and Jesus did that on the cross for those that will accept Him as their Lord and Savior. 

And then God raised Jesus bodily from the tomb to prove that Jesus had been able to pay the penalty for sin.  If Jesus had not been holy, if He had not be deity, if He had not been utterly sinless, then God would have left Him in Hades.  But because Christ was sinless, He was raised from the dead and over 500 people witnessed His resurrected body over the course of 40 days. 

So God dealt with our penalty of sin by applying the punishment to Jesus at the cross.  And because Christ was raised from the dead we can know that His sacrifice was acceptable to God.  But that still leaves the power of sin and the presence of sin.  What does the gospel of Christ offer to deal with that? 

Well the answer is found in our passage today.  After His resurrection, Jesus said to the disciples in vs. 49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."  What is He talking about?  Well, John provides a little more detail in his gospel.  Look at John 16:7  "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  Who is the Helper?  This is none other than the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. 

And the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus said, to give you power.  He said you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.  Now some people have mistakenly taken this to mean that some sort of mystical force emanates from God to us at some point after our conversion so that we might experience God.  They attribute weird feelings, or unknown tongues or some other ecstatic experiences to this power of the Holy Spirit. 

But folks, that is not the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We are going to go into this in detail in a couple of weeks or so when we get into the book of Acts.  But for now, just understand this;  the Holy Spirit is not given to give you the goose bumps so you can feel saved.  The Holy Spirit is given first so that you can be saved and secondly so you can act saved.  So you can  have power over sin.  Listen again to John 16, starting in vs. 8-11, 13-15, "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;  concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. ... 13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.  "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” 

So then, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to convict the world of sin, to lead us into righteousness, and to convict the world of the coming judgment.  And John adds, the Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth through the Word of God.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak of His own initiative, but speaks the Word of Christ.  So as God is, so is Christ, and as Christ is, so is the Spirit of Christ.  The Holy Spirit will not do anything that Christ did not do.  But He is not limited to a physical body as Jesus was on earth.  He is able to indwell the entire church and give them power over sin by leading them into the truth, and the truth will set them free. 

God, in describing the new covenant that He would bring about in Christ said in Ezekiel  36:27  "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Hebrews 10:16 says the same thing, “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM.” The power we have over sin is because God has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts so that we are no longer controlled by sin as we once were.  We are no longer captive to sin.  But now we have a new heart and new desires because we are born of the Spirit, so we walk according to the Spirit. 

Listen, if you are here today and you are convicted of sin, don’t quench the Holy Spirit.  Don’t harden your hearts against the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  His job is to use the Word of God to convict you, to lead you to recognize your need for righteousness. 1John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  As I said last week, repentance is the key to the gospel.  It is the key to salvation.  It is the key to justification and the key to sanctification.  James 5:16 says “confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed.” He is not talking about physical healing, ladies and gentlemen, he’s talking about spiritual healing. 

See, just as there are three categories or characterizations of sin, so are there three categories or stages of salvation.  Salvation is justification, producing sanctification, resulting in glorification.  Justification delivers us from the penalty of sin.  Jesus was our substitute, paying our penalty by dying for us on the cross.  Sanctification delivers us from the power of sin by yielding to the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis.  And glorification is the last stage; the removal from the presence of sin. 

That brings us back to our text.  Jesus was received up into glory in the sight of His disciples.  As He was talking to them, He led them out to the area near Bethany which was on the other side of the Mount of Olives, and He was taken up into heaven in their sight. 

Why is that important? He was received into heaven. It is important because it foreshadows our glorification, when we will be delivered from the presence of sin.  Christ’s ascension was witnessed by the apostles and the disciples gathered there.  If Jesus had just suddenly stopped appearing during the 40 days without a bodily ascension with witnesses, then how would we know that He lives and is seated at the right hand of God as the gospel writers tell us?  We know He lives and is seated in the heavenlies because He was seen taken up into heaven in bodily form.  So His ascension validates the gospel and validates the promise of final deliverance from sin and all it’s effects. 

Paul tells us He was received up into glory far above all rule and authority.  Ephesians 1: 18-23  Paul says “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

This is speaking of the glorification of Christ.  That is what the ascension reveals.  Christ is above all things.  Above the power of sin.  Above the power of angels, above the power of Satan, above the power of kings and rulers.  Above all things.  Above every name that is named, not only in this age, but the age to come.  Now that is Christ’s glorification.  And we know that it is so because of the ascension of Christ. 

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Christ is the forerunner of the church. Because He is there, we will one day be there with Him.  One day Jesus will return for us.  And He will take us to be with Him forever.  We who are saved are destined to be heirs with Christ.  And when He comes again to receive us, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.  That means that this body of sin will be done away with. This mortal will put on immortality.  That means that this world and all it’s evil will be burned up and a new heaven and a new earth will come down out of Heaven and we will be forever with the Lord in a sinless, perfect environment.  Sin’s presence will be dealt with forever.  The devil and his angels will be dealt with forever.  Evil men will be dealt with.  Despots and megalomaniac rulers will be dealt with.  All will be cast into the Lake of Fire which burns forever and ever.  And righteousness will reign in this new heaven and new earth for eternity. 

Oh folks, listen up!  Christ’s ascension was the exclamation point on the gospel.  It is the source of hope for the saints, the source of joy for the saints.  Because we know that as He is, so are we to be.  As the grave could not hold Him, neither can the grave hold us.  As death had no power over Him, neither do we need to fear death.  As He had power over sin, so can we have power over sin.  As He was raised to glory, so we are going to be raised in glory.  As sin cannot be in His presence, so we shall be delivered from sin’s presence. Jesus promised in John 14:3 "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

No wonder Luke tells us that the disciples “after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.”  So should we be praising God and worshipping Him for all that He has accomplished for us that we so undeserving. 

I want to close by continuing to read from Ephesians which we read while ago.  We stopped at the end of chapter one.  But let’s continue with chapter 2 which serves as a complete summary of the gospel: Eph. 2:1-10 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,  in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

And let me just point out a couple of things there which I want to leave you with today.  The first one is that Paul says that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places…  I want you to see that is not speaking of a future event, but a present event.  Those of us that have been made alive in Christ have already been made alive, and have already been seated with Christ in heaven.  That simply means that we have been delivered from the penalty of sin.  As far as God is concerned, we are secure in Christ.  We have already been seated in heaven with Christ spiritually speaking. 

And then he says, all this has happened so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us.  We have been positioned with Christ in heaven so that in eternity to come, God might shower us with the riches of His grace.  This is our inheritance that is reserved for us.  God has already set a table there for us with our name plaque on our chair next to Christ.  And God does not change His mind.  God will keep us and bring us into glory with Christ. 

And then lastly, note that by grace we have been saved through faith, not as a result of works.  It’s nothing we do to earn salvation.  But then notice the last verse, for we are His workmanship, we are crafted and created and designed by God, for what? For good works.  Not saved by good works, but saved for good works… which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” 

If you are here today and you are still in your sins, then I hope you understood the message of the gospel.  Jesus has paid the penalty and suffered the punishment for your sins.  If you will confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.  And if you are here today and are saved, born again by the Spirit of God, then I hope you realize that He has given you the Spirit so that you might have the power over sin.  You were born of the blood of Jesus not so you can continue in sin so that grace may abound, but you were created in Christ Jesus for good works, to walk in them and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.  And then for all of us that are dying daily to the sinful nature in order to walk in the Spirit, know that there is going to come a day when we will be delivered forever from the presence of sin. Rom. 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Let us continue without wavering to look forward to His appearing.

Jesus’ death dealt with the penalty of sin; our justification.  His resurrection provided the power over sin; our sanctification.  And His ascension promises deliverance from the presence of sin; our future glorification.  The only question left is what will you do with Jesus?  Will you accept Him as your Savior, or deny Him as your Lord?  I trust that you will accept His free offer of salvation and find freedom from sin.