“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.” (Acts 1:8)
In the Book of Acts, Luke continues His account of the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact Acts of the Apostles can be called the Acts of Jesus which He continued to do through His disciples and His church by the Holy Spirit. This was Jesus’ plan, to use His followers to do His work by means of the Holy Spirit. He had to ascend as Luke describes, so that His followers would act in faith. If He stayed, then they would not go forth, would not grow, and would not love. They would always be depending on the Lord to do it all. Now they will depend on Him by faith, not by sight.
As Jesus is about to ascend the disciples’ questions indicate that they still did not understand that His kingdom was to be a spiritual one. Perhaps they wondered how they were going to cope without Jesus. He had commissioned them to do a great task, to establish His Kingdom by preaching the good news about Him. They were to go out to the ends of the earth. They must have realized that without Jesus, they were woefully inadequate for such a task.
But as Jesus said in John, He has not left us orphans. He has not left us without provision. In order for us to be able to carry out the task the Lord has commissioned us to do, He has given us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in the heart of every believer so that each one now has direct access and constant fellowship with the Father. In addition, He strengthens every believer with power and wisdom to carry out the task of preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each believer becomes a ambassador for Christ and His kingdom on earth.
This is one of the main things the Lord told His disciples there on the Mount of Ascension: Wait in Jerusalem until you have been filled with power from on high. Don’t take any steps to carry out the mission until that happens. They had questions, they had doubts and fears. But they had no choice. All things would become clear once the H/S came into them.
So the H/S is the enabler, the one who gives us strength and wisdom just as Jesus did for the disciples when here on earth. He gives us comfort because is the seal and guarantee that we belong to Jesus, that our salvation is secure. If we have the Holy Spirit living in us, then we are one with Christ, and He is never really absent from us. We cannot see Him physically, but by the faith He gives we know we have direct fellowship with Him at all times.
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)
When I read about the ascension, I have a question. I ask the Lord “Why? Why did you have to go back to heaven when we need you here on earth so much?” I think it would have been so much easier for all of us if Jesus was physically present here on earth. Then whenever we needed Him, we could go right to Him. He would always be there for us with the right words to say to comfort, strengthen and encourage us. He would be there to give us a hug and heal us of all of our infirmities. We would never have to worry or lack for anything. There would be peace, no wars, no murder, no fighting if Jesus would just have stayed and established His kingdom at that point rather than ascending to heaven. Why did Jesus have to ascend to heaven?
Jesus does give us an answer but one which is not so easy for us to grasp especially when we are suffering or when we have to watch loved ones and friends in the midst of serious pain and critical illness. Such trials test the very foundation of our faith in Jesus. “Lord do you really know what you are doing? What purpose does such suffering serve? Why have you allowed this to happen?” I am sure that even the most faithful of us, have asked these questions at one time or another.
The major reason why Jesus had to ascend to heaven, why He commissioned His followers to establish His kingdom on earth, is because it is the Father’s will. It is not given to us to know the specific answers, the specific reasons. It is enough to know that it is the Father’s will. He does things in a different way than what we would do, like, or think. Therefore, the ultimate answer to all of our “Why?” questions is “It is the Father’s will.” By faith, that is all we need.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:13-14)
On the night of the Last Supper with His disciples Jesus instituted the new covenant based on a new commandment. It was not written on tablets of stone as were the 10 commandments but on the heart, on the inner being of those called to be disciples. It was a covenant based on love which is not a mere feeling or emotion but an act of the will. The example Jesus gives us of true love may surprise those who are rooted in our culture’s definition of love which is physical, romantic and emotional. The love of Jesus is self-sacrificing. He sacrifices His life for those He loves. This is what love then means, sacrificing our life, our time, talents and treasures for all others including God.
Jesus also tells His disciples, and us, that we are no longer mere servants, but friends. This does not mean we are His equals in terms of authority and power but that we are partners, co-workers in the ministry of salvation. We are His friends if we follow His command to love one another. We are His friends as we are commissioned to go into the entire world and preach the gospel. Part of the fruit we are to bear involves witnessing to others about the love of Christ but it goes further. Love means performing deeds of righteousness, compassion and mercy for those who are undeserving and sinful, because that is what He did for us.
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'” (Acts 10:34-35)
The 10th chapter of the Book of Acts is one of the most thrilling in the Bible as it depicts the salvation of the first Gentiles. Up to this point Christianity was little more than a sect of the Jews. All those who had believed in Jesus had been Jews or proselytes, converts to Judaism, all under the Mosaic covenant, all still conforming to the Jewish religious traditions, feasts, rituals and laws of what was clean and unclean. They considered uncircumcised Gentiles to be unclean and tried to avoid all association with them, this despite the fact that the Lord had called Abram and his descendants to be a blessing to them (Gen. 12:1-3).
Yet the Lord wanted to give the gift of salvation to all men and he used Peter to effect it. He prepared the apostle by sending him to stay in a house owned by Simon, a tanner. Tanners were unclean as they worked with carcasses of dead animals, yet Peter apparently did not think this an issue. Then the Lord showed him a vision that ripped to shreds all the dietary and ceremonial laws of clean and unclean which marked the Jews as God’s people. Not only did God bless all food, but He also did away with the separation between Jew and Gentile. This all became clear to Peter when he went to Cornelius, and in response to the message of the gospel, all those gathered believed and were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Now all men can become one in Jesus and are made righteous through the love and mercy of God.
God often works in us to upset our biases and preconceived notions. He exposes us to people of races ethnic groups that differ from our own, people we may not like, people we may think unclean. Yet the Lord extends His love and grace to all. Those who are in Him, regardless of where they come from or what they look like are our brethren. We must love them as we love Christ Himself.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
(1 John 5:2)
John speaks of obedience as the true mark of those who love God. He is recalling the words Jesus spoke on the night before He was crucified, a portion of this week’s gospel reading. On that night Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment, that they love another sacrificially as He loved them. He gives us the same command. The fulfillment of the Law of God is love. This love is to be expressed not only by obedience to the commands of the Lord but also by acts of charity and kindness not only towards one’s Christian brethren but toward the unsaved. Love is not a mere feeling or emotional response; it is an act of the will that chooses to be compassionate, caring and kind towards another.
We believers are not perfect or sin free, yet by faith in Christ, we have victory over sin’s power. The commands of Lord are for His glory and our benefit yet we often think them a burden. They need not be so long as we realize that the Lord will enable us to obey all He commands. He gives us the Holy Spirit who grants us the wisdom to discern good from evil and the strength to resist sin and temptation. If we rely on Him we need not fall victim to the lies of the devil. Yet if we do, as John has told us (1 John 1:8-9) we know we can confess and be forgiven.
“For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, . . .”
(2 Corinthians 8:3 ESV)
Paul praised the example of the Macedonian Christians in their giving to God. These believers were a good example of the expression of sincere generous open handed giving in imitation of Christ Himself. They were not rich; they were going through some tough times. But they pleaded with Paul to share in the privilege of giving to the ministry of their fellow saints. Their giving, beyond their ability, reflected God’s work in their lives, the grace that He had given them in forgiving their sins, and giving them life and everything they needed. This same grace was now at work in building their Christian character. This grace was also at work enabling them to give to the church. They gave out of all measure to their ability because they were committed to serving the Lord wholeheartedly no matter what the cost because Jesus had done the same for them.
Paul cites this example as a way of teaching the proper motivation for giving. The Macedonians were totally committed to the Lord. This is perfect motivation for our giving: Jesus. He gave up everything; He gave up Himself for us. We should give generously, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically just as He did for us. There is no greater cause to support than the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Giving is a way of expressing thanks and love to Jesus and as such is an act of worship.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
Paul makes an appeal for a financial collection. This seems like an abrupt switch from the subject matter of the first 7 chapters in which he has been chastising the wrongdoers at Corinth and exhorting them to respect his apostolic authority. Now he suddenly launches into this appeal for money that was needed to assist the saints in Jerusalem who had been enduring difficult times for several years due to persecution by the Jews as well as famine caused by drought, agricultural failures and/or a natural disaster. But Paul uses the appeal as part of his way of helping his brethren in Corinth. He is reminding these saints of their responsibility to demonstrate their renewed commitment to him and to the Lord with concrete, loving and positive actions.
What Paul is urging is that we give because we are the Lord’s servants and we must do what He did. When he says Jesus was rich, he did not mean in terms of economics, but that He is God. He existed in eternity. He enjoyed all the splendor and glory in fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When Paul says Jesus became poor, he means that He became a man. He set aside all His glory to become like us, subject to human weakness, pain and even human authority. He was the Holy One living with unholy and wretched humanity. He became poor by taking on our sins and sacrificing Himself in our place He gave His all for us, so surely we can give our self and all we have for Him and for the cause of the gospel of salvation.