Sermon on Acts 1 and 9
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 2/1/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the YouTube broadcast of this service, click the link just below. The sermon starts at the 38:58 mark.)
Please open your Bibles again to the book of Acts, chapter 1.
Today is the second-to-last sermon in a series I’ve been preaching since the middle of last year. The series is called “Jesus’ Bible Footprints,” and I based it on the idea that Jesus was very close and very present all throughout the Old Testament. He said so to His disciples on their walk to Emmaus.
In Revelation chapter 1, when John introduces us to what Jesus looked like to him in vision, we hear Jesus saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Almighty.” And then in the next couple of chapters, Jesus lets us watch Him move among the seven churches in that part of Asia.
So it only makes sense that Jesus was moving among people who were faithful to Him in the Old Testament as well, guiding them, sometimes appearing to them and speaking to them. The Bible is very clear that Jesus took the active role in creating us, so of course He is going to stay by us, just as a parent would a child.
Last week I looked at the Messiah prophecy in Zechariah 9, and my thought was that that would be the last sermon in this series. But then I remembered that Jesus didn’t stop leaving His footprints among His people when He ascended to heaven after His resurrection.
I suddenly remembered those times in the book of Acts when Jesus spoke directly to people who were carrying out His mission. And if you have a Bible in which the words of Jesus are printed in red, those red-printed words show up from time to time in the Acts.
And as I was reading through Acts early this week, I thought to myself, “We need to hear what Jesus was saying to those people in the early church. Maybe He is saying the same things to us.”
Because, when you come to think of it, you and I are the early church. The first members of the early church – the people back in Jesus’ time – are long gone. And here we are, 2000 years later. But since you and I are in a time bubble in this particular part of history, we are just as much an early church as the disciples were. It’s up to us to raise that “early church” flat and move it forward.
I don’t know who the oldest person in this room is, but the church we have gathered here today is not any older than that person. And I don’t know who the youngest person is here, but that’s the other end of the time bubble. We are the current, living disciples of Jesus, and what He said to the first disciples could probably mostly apply to us. And I think you’ll see how true this is.
So once again, we’re going to listen to the voice of Jesus, and then do our best to walk in His footsteps as He shows us the way.
So let’s look at where He laid down His first footprints there in the book of Acts. And let’s listen as He tells us what we need to know.
Acts 1:4 – 5 [NKJV]: And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Of course, here He is talking about the day of Pentecost, which is still a month and a half away. And that’s when the Holy Spirit would come strongly upon the disciples, and they would speak boldly about Jesus, miraculously using the very languages of the people who were visiting from far away for the Pentecost feast.
But then the disciples ask Jesus a question which must have caused a divine eye-roll.
Verse 6: Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
As He listened to them, Jesus may have been thinking to Himself, “These friends of mine still have an earthly Israelite kingdom firmly planted in their minds. How can that be? They have seen Me reject any kind of earthly rulership right now. At one point the people tried to make Me king, but I sent them away. My friends still don’t get it.”
So very gently, and very diplomatically, He turns their attention to the real future. Notice what He says:
Verses 7 – 8: And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I wonder whether the disciples were listening carefully to all parts of that paragraph. Of course, somebody eventually remembered it correctly, because they were able to relay it to Luke who was the one who wrote the book of Acts.
But can you imagine the disciples’ emotions here? Their idea that Jesus might restore Israel’s literal kingdom has just come to a screeching halt.
A couple of Mondays ago, Shelley and I heard a screeching halt behind us. We were heading north on Highway 167, and a young woman from Lacey did not see us, and rear-ended us. Fortunately, the bump was a fairly minor one, and nobody got hurt. But I still remember the screech of her tires. She had been sailing smoothly along from Lacey, heading who knows where, when suddenly her travel plans and arrival time were quickly revised. (Our own plans for the day were revised too. We had to go to a clinic to get checked out.)
That’s what the disciples must’ve felt like. If you’re like me, it’s hard to keep everything in your mind as you listen to somebody say something. Jesus began His paragraph by telling them that it really wasn’t up to them to know when future events might happen. Then He said that they would be given the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way. And then finally He told them that they would be witnesses to Him in ever widening circles, all the way around the entire planet.
So as they reeled in shock from what He had just said, they probably at first only remembered the last part. People who’ve done research in preparing speeches or holding debates say that you should state your most powerful argument last, because that’s what people will remember most clearly.
So what the disciples are probably reacting to is Jesus’ statement that they will be His witnesses all over the earth.
And that must have presented an incredibly challenging dilemma to them. Here they’d been walking all over Palestine for three and a half years, following Jesus. They’d heard Him speak in many cities. They’d seen Him do many miracles. But it had all come to nothing. On Sunday He had ridden a donkey through Jerusalem’s streets while the crowds sang praises to a royal descendent of David. But on Thursday night He’d been taken to trial, and on Friday afternoon He had been crucified.
Where were the crowds now? Where were the believers? They were gone. They had evaporated like the fog we’ve seen during some recent mornings around here.
And now, Jesus is suggesting – make that commanding – that His disciples be the ones to spread the news about Him. I mean, how could they ever succeed at this? Jesus Himself hadn’t been successful – or at least it seemed that way – in gathering and retaining followers.
But Jesus calmly tells them what I would like to make Sermon Point One this morning. I don’t know about you, but whenever I drive up 405 and see the impressive skyscrapers of Bellevue, I get a bit discouraged.
These are people in those buildings who need to know that Jesus is coming soon. These are people who need to know that there is a real devil who is really trying to deceive and confuse them.
These are people who need to know that the Sabbath is not merely a quaint Jewish tradition. Instead, it’s a valuable, royal gemstone anchored in the very center of the 10 Commandments. If everybody had kept the Sabbath all the way along, and kept it for the reasons God wants us to – because God created the heavens and earth and everything that is in them – then no one would ever have had to puzzle through the perplexing question of where humanity came from, and are human beings worthwhile, and are some more valuable than others. And real Sabbath rest is a sanity-saver and a perspective-restorer.
But when I look at those big buildings, I feel like those disciples must have felt – small in number and daunted by the challenge.
But as I say, to answer this challenge, Jesus gives them what I’m going to make Sermon Point One. First let’s read it in His words, and then I’ll summarize it.
Verse 8: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So here’s how I’m summarizing it into Sermon Point One.
Jesus says, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you power to share Me until I return.”
In the book of Acts, of course, there was only one Day of Pentecost, only one event where the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire, only one event where 3000 people were baptized in a day.
Most of the faith-sharing in Acts was much more difficult. Paul and Peter and the rest of the disciples faced persecution. They stood before religious leaders and said their say, and were harassed for it. They stood before kings and rulers, but the ideas and decisions of the rulers barely seemed to waver.
So now, what I do when I see those tall city towers, is pray that the Lord will use His Holy Spirit to enter the hearts of the people there. I ask Him to help me be an influence, not necessarily on all the people in all those towers, but on the people I meet, one by one. Because that’s where we can do the most eternal good.
But that leads to another dilemma. And this second dilemma is one where, again, Jesus knew He needed to intervene.
You see, pretty much every one of us knows people who are just not sensitive to spiritual things. Or if they are, their prejudices are so firm that nothing you or I say seems to be able to get through to them. And sometimes these folks are quite hostile against your faith.
But Jesus has an answer here, too. Not long after Jesus ascended to heaven, a young Pharisee named Saul took it upon himself to stamp out Christianity. He honestly believed that Christians were heretics. He honestly believed that the notorious Nazareth woodworker could never be the son of God. And he believed that if dangerous ideas like that were allowed to spread, a lot of people would be deceived, and they would be lost.
Saul believed this so completely that he stood nearby while the Christian deacon Stephen was stoned to death. The people who did the stoning took off their cloaks and looked around for a place to put them. They saw the trustworthy-looking young Pharisee, and Acts 7:58 says that they laid their cloaks at his feet until the execution was complete. And to drive home the point that Saul wasn’t simply a casual bystander, Acts 8:1 says that “Saul was consenting to his death.”
So here is someone that probably every Christian believer had totally written off as a possible convert. The thought probably never entered anyone’s mind. But let’s watch what Saul’s Savior was able to do. Turn to Acts chapter 9.
Acts 9:1 – 2: Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
So this is terrible treachery. Saul knew that these Christians probably gathered in the synagogues to worship every Sabbath morning, and it sounds as though his plan – along with the people who were traveling with him to Damascus – was to show up Sabbath morning, stroll piously into the synagogue, and keep his eyes open. Those letters gave Saul permission to capture and interrogate anybody he wanted to, and then drag them back to Jerusalem if they were Christians.
But Jesus had other plans. And He also had the power to put His plan into action.
Verses 3 – 4: As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
If you have ever suspected that God is a vindictive God, this would be a place to keep your eyes wide open. Saul was the one who was vindictive. Saul – though he didn’t realize it – was a tool of a vindictive devil. But Jesus, from the middle of that dazzling light, simply did what He has always done when He confronts sinners. He gets them into conversation.
Back in the garden of Eden, it was probably Jesus Himself who walked sadly through the meadows of Eden searching for the guilty Adam and Eve. And when He found them, He didn’t smite them. He didn’t even roar at them. He just started asking questions.
And all through the Old Testament, when His people strayed away into idolatry, Jesus sent prophet after prophet, asking questions, posing challenges, trying to change minds.
Verses 4 – 5: Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
According to Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, a goad was “a pointed spike used to prod oxen when plowing. It was made from a straight branch of a hard wood stripped of bark. The other end often had a flat, chisel-like piece of iron, which allowed farmers to scrape off mud and clay that clogged the plowshares.”
The farmer would be walking behind the ox, and if the ox was lazy, the farmer would poke it with the goad. Once in a while the ox would try to kick at the goad, but it didn’t do any good. The farmer simply kept poking.
I’ve read this passage several times over the decades, and I never really stopped to think through what Jesus was saying here. It sounds as though He has been goading Saul in some way, guiding him in a particular direction, but Saul was resisting. In her book The Acts of the Apostles, p. 122, Ellen White suggests that Saul had already come under strong conviction that Jesus might possibly the Messiah, but had stubbornly resisted this idea again and again. Saul had watched the martyrdom of Stephen, and had heard Stephen’s last words about looking up and seeing Jesus at God’s right hand.
And now, this same Jesus had appeared directly to Saul himself. There was no doubt in Saul’s mind, now, that this was Jesus, and that Jesus was divine.
Verses 6 – 9: So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
And now notice what Jesus does. Notice that when Saul asked what he should do, Jesus didn’t tell him. Instead, the Savior connected Saul with a group of believing Christians.
Once in awhile in my pastoral ministry I meet people who seem to believe that their conversion is only between them and the Lord. At first they don’t realize how important it is to get together with fellow-believers. But Jesus sent out His disciples not to simply baptize people, but to gather them together with other believers into churches, so everybody could encourage each other, so that more experienced believers could mentor the younger believers.
So Jesus sends the faithful Christian believer Ananias to baptize Saul.
Verse 10: Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
Now here was somebody who recognized who Jesus was!
Verses 11 – 19: So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
Get ready—finally—for Sermon Point Two. Remember, if you’re wondering whether you can really make a difference for the Lord where you are —
Jesus says, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you power to share Me until I return.”
And if you’re tempted to sadly write off a certain person as unsaveable –
Jesus says, “Don’t worry. I can change the minds of even My most stubborn enemies.”
So keep praying for your loved ones. Keep praying for your kids. Keep praying for the incorribles. And next week we’ll look for more of Jesus’ Bible footprints here in the book of Acts.