This morning, we’re beginning a new message series as we go through the book of Acts. Our goal is to learn from the methods, successes, and even failures of the early church. After all, this first group of disciples were the first ones to determine what it meant to be the church and had no resource outside of the Holy Spirit’s direction as their guide.
One thing that was undeniable, however, was that the people had a burning passion for their mission to tell everyone about the good news of God’s salvation. They literally laid their lives on the line to follow Jesus wherever the Spirit would lead. They lived together in such unity that no one among them ever had need. Even though faced with persecution at every turn, there was a strong sense of purpose that filled them overflowing with joy as they followed Jesus.
Some translations state that this book of the Bible is entitled, “Acts of the Apostles,” some translations state that this book of the Bible is entitled, “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” We’re learning that both are accurate. The Apostles acted on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit acted through them to do the miraculous! Acts is an incredible book of testimonies that reveal the adventurous cooperation between man and God that we can still live out today.
This week, we begin our journey through Acts. Acts was written by Luke who also authored the book of, can you guess it? Yup, the book of Luke. Luke was a medical doctor (Colossian 4:14) and was called by God to keep a carefully documented account of the ministry of Jesus and the early church. Luke was there as a personal eyewitness sort of like a journalist would be today reporting from the frontlines. As is also the case today, many rumors and stories, as President Trump would say, “fake news,” was being spread around about Jesus. Luke wanted to keep a truthful and honest account of what happened. We praise God that he did, too! Let’s begin.
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters,[b] the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
The 120 believers then went on to nominate and elect Matthias to replace Judas’s place in their ministry according to the direction given them by the Holy Spirit through the Psalms.
Sometimes in life, it is the things that God does not tell us that can be the most powerful and impactful. It is what God doesn’t say that gives us a hunger and drive to seek after Him more passionately than we would otherwise. It is the unanswered questions that motivate us to pursue Him and gives life a sense of adventure and mystery. It is the unanswered questions that create the potential and the motive for expectation. That is God’s purpose and intent by what He does not say. Be forewarned that the enemy uses those areas of God’s silence to raise up within us doubt and fear. God intended for it to rise up within us a passion to pursue Him and to courageously trust Him; to have expectation.
Jesus gave the believers many convincing proofs over the course of 40 days that He was certainly alive. Jesus told the apostles to stay and wait for the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit will empower them to be His witnesses in their back yard and the entire way to the ends of the earth.
What Jesus didn’t tell them is when this gift would be given. What Jesus didn’t tell them is how they would know when they received it. What Jesus didn’t tell them is how they would go about launching a world-wide ministry with just 120 men and women. What Jesus didn’t tell them was the painful, costly, difficult, yet thrilling, adventurous, and fulfilling path that they would take in order to be His witnesses. Jesus said very little, but Jesus said enough.
The key to the success of the early church could be all boiled down to the simple phrase, “listen and obey.” The small group of men and women were literally the entire church on the face of the earth. They had nothing to base their identity as a church on than the three years of ministry with Jesus and the Old Testament, which was a foreshadowing of the things that were going to become reality through them. It was all new and it was intentionally all going to be Spirit-lead.
In the eyes of Jesus, they were only missing one thing in order to do more than they could ever think ask or imagine; the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The success of the early church wasn’t based on anyone’s idea of what church was supposed to look like and what it was supposed to do. The success of the early church wasn’t based on books written by others who had success. Their success was based on listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obediently following His lead.
There was no nursery, no preschool, no children’s Church, no youth group, no Sunday school, no men’s group, no women’s group, no prison ministry, no food pantry, no benevolence funds, no deliverance ministry, no worship team, no prayer team, no evangelism team, no missionaries, no anything that we call church today.
The church existed as is a simple group of about 120 people passionately pursuing God with an overwhelming sense of expectation. They were expecting to receive the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t even know exactly what it was that they were expecting. They didn’t know what it would look like, how they would change, how it would impact their lives, or how they would even know when they received it. All that they knew is that Jesus promised them this gift and asked them to wait until they received it. That was enough for them. As they followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the rest of what we call ministry today just happened.
Too often, we create ministries and ask God’s blessing upon them. We create programs and events with the expectation that God will follow our lead and move through the box that we create for Him. Ministry was always intended to be so much more! After all, where’s the creativity and adventure in that? Where is the room for God’s power in that? Any organization can create social events that cause them to grow in number. The church is to be individuals who bring others into an experience and an encounter with the living Jesus.
Ministry just literally means serving others. Ministry was always intended to be God-inspired and faith-required. Ministry was always intended to be us listening to God’s voice, then obediently following His lead by faith. Ministry was always supposed to be us responding to Him with a high level of expectation.
When the first believers gathered together for prayer, they came together with a sense of expectation. When the first believers ate in each other’s homes, they came together with expectation. When the first believers when out to their workplaces, they went out with expectation. When the first believers gave generously so that none were in need, they gave with expectation. When the first believers went out into their communities, they went out with expectation. When the first believers were driven from their homes and forced out into the world by persecution, they still did so with expectation.
What did they expect? They didn’t know, but they knew that it was going to be good. They knew that all that they went through wasn’t accidental, but that it was purposed by the God who held their lives in His hands. They knew that Jesus was alive and was right there with them and for them through the Holy Spirit. They expected that in some way, God would present them with opportunities to lead people to faith in Jesus and that the Holy Spirit would confirm His word with signs, wonders, and miracles.
They didn’t receive a promise from the lips of Jesus and then just go on about their lives fishing and tax collecting and healing and being zealous for politics. That’s what they did before they encountered Jesus, but that isn’t what they did after they encountered Jesus! Jesus promised them the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and they met together in prayer constantly seeking after Jesus in eager expectation until they received that which was promised.
Do we approach Jesus with expectation? When we don’t have the answers, when we don’t understand why God is allowing our circumstances, do we still approach Jesus with expectation? Do we still believe that God is good and that His promises are always yes and amen when all that we have is His promise?
Is His word a reality within our souls even when our circumstances stand in contradiction to them? Do we sulk and mope around life expecting everything to continue the same way that it always has or are we a people who possess a living hope within us? Do we rise every day and proclaim that TODAY is THE day of God’s fulfilled promise?
The way in which we approach God, the lost around us, and service toward Him reveals the state of our faith. If we approach God, the lost around us, and service toward Him as a begrudging chore void of joy then where is our faith? Who is God to us if we have this approach? What should we expect to see as a result of such faith? Nothing! Doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy!
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
God is longing to rise up within us a people with a singleness of mind and purpose. He is looking to increase our faith if we’ll simply allow Him. He wants us to approach Him with an eager expectation of receiving every one of His promises. He wants us to approach the lost around us with an eager expectation that they will turn to Jesus. He wants us to approach serving His church with eager expectation that we are making an impact on people’s lives and in our communities.
A change is stirring and it is a change within each of our individual souls believing God once again for great things. Believing God for who He truly is and expecting that our best days are ahead of us. Believing God to use us to seek and save the lost. Believing God to stretch and grow our faith and our knowledge and experiences with Him. Believing God to empower us for even greater service in His Kingdom. Believing with fullness of expectation just like those initial 120 believers. We don’t know exactly how God is going to do it nor what it is going to look like, but we know that it will be good. We know that God, who promised us, is faithful. Together, let’s expect great things from a great God who empowers us with His own Holy Spirit for His service! Together, we are the church on a mission!