January 16, 2022

THE CHURCH: THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF GOD

Passage: Acts 1:1-11

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
— Acts 1:1-11, ESV

Luke is the only non-Jewish person God graced with the work of writing Holy Scripture.  He wrote one of the four Gospels and the only companion volume known as Acts.  Both are addressed to a person, real or symbolic, named Theophilus.  Theophilus means “friend of God.”

Christians are people who have become born again children of God (ref. John 3:3ff, 1 John 3:1ff).  God is our Father and as we grow, we also find Him to be the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (ref. Proverbs 18:24; see also John 15:15).  In our fellow Christians we find we have a true family, and real friends, bonded together by the grace of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Nothing is more precious to us in life than family and friends.  These are the people with whom, by providence and choice, we experience life together. We endure hardships together.  We reveal and expand God’s kingdom together.

The way we do this is in Christianity is by being a committed part of a New Testament church.  The church is the visible expression of the family of God.  It is where the friends of God gather for worship and fan out for work and witness.  When the church is healthy and conditions are right, the church grows and multiplies so that new Christians are born again and new churches are planted all over the world.

This is what the book of Acts is all about, and why it is addressed to the friends of God.  It chronicles the Acts of the Apostles, chiefly Peter and Paul.  It records the Acts of the Holy Spirit, the ongoing work of God, in and through the Apostles and early Christians.  And it lays out a road map for the Acts of the Church, a path for all churches to follow to glorify the Lord and get  the gospel out among the nations.

Let us begin with the beginning, examining the ties that bind the family and friends of God, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and enable us to experience the Christian life together.

We Experience the Gospel Together

Of course we are not all saved at the same time, but all Christians have been saved in the same way.  It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, alone.  The writer Luke hits all the high notes of his Gospel in this introduction to Acts.

He points Theophilus once again to Jesus, Son of God, God Incarnate, coming, living, doing, teaching, in human flesh to human beings.  He writes euphemistically of Christ’s suffering, which is a reference to His death on the cross.  He affirms the Lords’ bodily resurrection and ascension, of His being taken up from the grave and into Heaven.

Luke is a most reliable witness.  He was a physician, a scientist, a man who could not be fooled by smoke and mirrors or superstition.  In Jesus’ day, such men were highly intelligent and well trained, like Hippocrates, who lived four hundred years before Jesus and Luke. Luke was a historian, and expert researcher and writer.  Though he came to Christ in the second wave, though the ministry of the Apostle Paul, he spend months, even years, in Jerusalem, interviewing and documenting the essential historic proofs of the gospel.  Luke was an evangelist, called and compelled by God to preach the message of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Luke, and then document how it spread around the world in Acts.  We can trust our doctor, our teacher, our brother, our friend of God, Luke.

Most of all, we can trust in the Christ He presents, in Luke and Acts, who was born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, did great deeds and taught great things, then He was crucified, died, buried, risen on the third day, and ascended into Heaven after forty days.  Acts reminds us up front, that the work of the church if void if it is not based on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Right Christian experience begins with proper Christian salvation.  Salvation cannot be experienced by meditation, moral codes, or the many religions in the world other than Christianity.  It can only be experienced by responding to the gospel in repentance and faith, personal turning to and totally trusting in Jesus Christ.  We experience the gospel in different times and settings, but we must experience it in the same way.

We Experience the Holy Spirit Together

The Holy Spirit treads lightly in the Gospels put comes to center stage in Acts.  Between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the most difficult to understand.  His prominence in this passage and others can be confusing.

The most common misunderstanding is the Holy Spirit never appeared before Pentecost.  But clearly He is active in vs. 2 before being mentioned in vs. 5 and vs. 8.  The Holy Spirit is also the agent of regeneration and empowerment in the Old Testament and the Gospels before the events in Acts (just look up “The Spirit of the Lord” or “The Spirit of God” in the Old Testament, the presence of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism in the Gospels, and Jesus’ teaching in John 3 and 14-16; see also Genesis 1:2; 1 Samuel 16:13-14; Psalm 51:11, 139:7; Joel 2:28; John 7:39; Acts 2:38, 5:32, 8:16, 10:44; Romans 8:5-9; Titus 3:5).

No person has ever been saved by God except by the Holy Spirit of God, who convicts, regenerates, fills, equips, and guides.  So, all Christians experience the Holy Spirit together, or in the same way.  We also experience the Holy Spirit differently, and corporately.

The Holy Spirit gives diverse gifts to different believers.  And when the early church, a body of many, was baptized or immersed by the Holy Spirit in Acts, it was a special work for a special church at a special time.  But even then, that early church experienced the Holy Spirit together.  We will say much more about that when we get to chapter two.

I do believe that today, when a church corporately has great faith and great unity, the Holy Spirit can baptize the baptized to perform a particular task or reach a particular people.  Would it not be great for this local church to experience together a fresh work of the Holy Spirit, reviving us and reaching others?

We Experience the Kingdom of God Together

Another point of confusion that can be cleared up by a careful study of the introduction to Acts is the concept of the kingdom of God.  The early Christians, like devout Old Covenant Jews before them, conceived of only one advent of the Messiah.  He would come as the Suffering Servant to deal with the sins of God’s people, then immediately enjoin them in ruling the world as Lord and King.  That’s what the disciples meant when they asked in vs. 6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Before Christ, Israel was the kingdom of God and a kingdom of man.  It was spiritual, at least in the hearts of true believers, and it was geopolitical, led at different times by regenerate and unregenerate kings, alternatively doing good things and bad things in the name of God.  It was a mixed bag, but where you wanted to be found was serving the kingdom of God in the midst of this Israeli kingdom of man.

This is how we experience the kingdom of God together, today, too.  The true kingdom of God exists wherever and in whomever Jesus is Lord.  A glorious experience is to be a part of a church where the vast majority of members are regenerate and present together on the Lord’s Day, worshiping then going forth to work in accordance with the word of the Lord.  That’s and answer to the great prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Yet true Christians must move about in the kingdom of God while still being encompassed by the kingdom of man.  This is governments, companies, and other entities on earth that are most often run by ungodly and sometimes evil men.  Christians participate in them, strive to make them better and more honoring to God, but they never truly will.  One day they will all disappear and only one kingdom will stand, the kingdom of God, forever.

Until then, we are to experience the kingdom of God together by putting the kingdom of God first (ref. Matthew 6:33).  We are to then represent God in politics and business and sport, but we must never let politics and business or sport be our god.  Remember what happens in your church, be it on Main Street or Central Avenue, is more important than anything that is happening on Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue.

We Will Experience the Return of Christ Together

When we experience the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God together, we will then experience the return of Christ together.  We do not know when it will be, but we have assurance that it will happen.  The promise of the angels at the ascension of Christ is plain: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

What a day that will be, When my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be.
— Jim Hill

This is how the family and friends of God, the New Testament church, was born.  This is how they went into a world hostile to their Father and their faith in the Son.  This is how they functioned in a world absent of their Holy Spirit.

As we venture with Luke through the Acts we will see glorious and terrible things.  We will see people saved and the church grow.  We will also see believers imprisoned and put to death.  We will see the light of Christ shine in the darkness of the pagan Roman Empire.

The study of Acts is extremely important today.  Christopher Caldwell, writing in The New York Times, said, “We are living through the end of Christian civilization … our public order is coming to resemble that of pagan Rome.”  Here we go again, as Christ’s family and friends of God, to experience life together and bring the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ to bear on a lost world.  God help us!

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