Sermon for Sunday Evening, January 24th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 1:1-5 ESV] 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.”
It is a great joy to myself and hopefully to all others here that we have instituted a Sunday evening service.
And I considered writing a sermon on that very subject – the importance of remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy. All of the Sabbath day. That is indeed why the Presbyterian church of the past had, and indeed many today have, evening worship. For, worship of the Lord is to be an all day occupation for the Christian on this, the Lord’s Day. We open and close our day with praises to the Lord, and fill the in-between with, as our confession says, “private exercises of his worship” and “an holy rest, all the day, from our works, words, and thoughts about worldly employments and recreations.”
While that would indeed be a valuable subject of discussion, I’ve chosen to begin today with a sermon series on the book of Acts, which I believe will also be of great value. The books of Act is “The Second Book.”
I. Second Book
Acts is “the second book” because it is Luke’s second writing to a man named Theophilus. Luke’s first book is his Gospel. Now he writes a second time to explain what happened next; to explain what happened after Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven.
Who this man “Theophilus” is, is shrouded in history. He is called “most excellent.” This same term is used later on (Acts 26:25) for the “Most Excellent Festus,” the Roman procurator or governor in Judea. That Theophilus is spoken of similarly may entail that he also had important position in life. But even this is speculation.
I consider this to be perhaps the most valuable book in the New Testament in the sense that if any book were to be removed, this one would be the most missed. The Gospels surely cover more important material – the life of Christ Himself, whereas Acts speaks about the apostles and the early church. But there are 4 Gospels with much overlapping content. The book of Acts, on the other hand, is almost entirely unique in its content. The history we learn in it is noted elsewhere only in a few brief places in Paul’s epistles. This is really the book that holds together the whole New Testament; that explains the rise of the church and the work of the Holy Spirit and connects the time of Christ with the time of the Apostles. It is certainly one of the most important histories every written.
While we call it the “The Acts of the Apostles” it is essentially Peter (in chapter 1 through 12) and Paul (in chapters 13 through 28) who are emphasized.
And again, while we call it “The Acts of the Apostles” it is surely the Acts of God through the Apostles. They are his servants; more literally his “sent ones,” for “Apostle” comes from the Greek “apostello” mean “to send out.” The Apostles are sent out, to go forth bringing the Gospel to all nations. We now see in this history how that mission is first carried out.
2. Many Proofs
Before Luke moves on to the time after Jesus, he first explains of the time in which the resurrected Jesus was still on the earth with his disciples, saying:
“He [Jesus] presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
What does this mean? Why does he say “many proofs”? Is not Jesus’ presence among the Apostles all the proof that they need?
The proof that Jesus is talking about is not sensory perception; it is not seeing and hearing him, so much as it is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The post-resurrection physical interactions Jesus had with his disciples, like when Thomas put his hand in Jesus’ side, are called “signs” in John 20:30. Not proofs, but signs.
The “many proofs” are the many Scriptures that testify to Christ. They testify to what has just happened; that Jesus died and rose again.
In his First book, Luke’s Gospel, he had written about these proofs:
[Luk 24:44-48 ESV] 44 Then he [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
The “many proofs” are the many Scriptures which are now understood by the disciples to concern Christ’s death and resurrection, because Christ has opened their minds to understand.
Which Scriptures exactly Jesus pointed out, we are not told. But there are plenty. The Old Testament constantly points to Christ. And each fulfillment of the prophecy is another proof that Jesus is the Christ.
As we continue through the books we find that many of these proofs are mentioned by the Apostles in their sermons.
In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost he references Psalm 16 as concerning Jesus. Specifically that his soul will be abandoned to Hades nor his body see corruption. This is speaking of the resurrection fulfilled in Christ. (Acts 2:27)
Another proof from the Old Testament is adduced by Peter as he speaks at Solomon’s portico where he quotes from Moses saying “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” (Acts 3:22) Stephen later quotes the very same saying of Moses in chapter 7.
Peter and John together refer to the proof of Psalm 2 – “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people plot in vain? The Kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers were gathering together against the Lord and against his Anointed.” (Acts 4:25-26) This prophecy was fulfilled in the crucifixion.
Philip tells the Ethiopian Eunuch that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture of Isaiah 53:7-8 – “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33)
And Paul at Antioch in Pisidia brings up a number of proofs in citing Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3, Psalm 16:10, and Isaiah 49:6 as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
These are the proofs.
The Scriptures are the word of God and more sure than any sight and sound or any miracle.
Indeed we are warned in the Gospels that “false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, as as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22)
But while signs and wonders might lead one astray, the Word of God does not err.
Thus, while Jesus’ miracles and especially his resurrection surely startled the Apostles, the proof that Jesus brought to them was from the Word of God. There he presented to them “many proofs,” opening their minds to everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.
The first three verses of the books of Acts are a summary of what Luke wrote especially in the end of his Gospel. He adds to his former writing in noting that Jesus appeared to them during “forty days.”
As Jesus departs, we have a transition into the new material that Luke is writing about here in Acts. Here in the Second Book we then have the beginning of the “second movement” or what happens next.
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.”
3. The Promise of the Holy Spirit
We’ll see the work of the Holy Spirit prominently emphasized in the Book of Acts,
If you remember in a sermon on the Gospel of John, I spoke about “another comforter.” Jesus was the first comforter, and he promises another comforter to come; who is the Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit who is emphasized in the Book of Acts unlike anywhere else. In the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promise is kept.
In chapter 2 of Acts, the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples as tongues of fire at Pentecost
In chapters 4, 7, and 13, the Holy Spirit leads the speaking of disciples.
And throughout the book an emphasis is placed on receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so as we study the books of Acts, we’ll be forced to say something about the erroneous views of the Holy Spirit held by Pentecostalists and others. And we’ll want to look more directly at the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; who He is and what He does. It might be important to note here that the Holy Spirit is a “he.” The Holy Spirit is a person. He is the third person of the triune God. He is not some impersonal force, but truly a self-conscious person of the Trinity.
Now, Luke tells us that in his first book he told us about the things Jesus BEGAN to do. While Christ was the finisher or our salvation with his death on the cross, his work continues through his Holy Spirit.
Through the Holy Sprit, Jesus builds his church, and continues to build it even in our day.
Here we have a strong Trinitarian statement. The promise is “of the Father” spoken by the Son and fulfilled in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not some extra level of advancement for the Christian, but is the necessary means by which all Christians do believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation. It is simple an error in terminology to speak of “a non-Spirit-filled Christian.” You cannot believe but by the work of the Holy Spirit. And this brings great assurance as, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you are to know that you have the Holy Spirit.
We have the proof of Jesus being the messiah and very God himself, not because we have seen him in the flesh, but because we know the proofs FROM THE SCRIPTURES that he fulfilled the prophecies of God. Jesus calls those like us blessed in that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We believe, not because of some profound sight or sound, but because the Holy Spirit works belief in us.
Consider that the great miracles of the Bible only convinced some of the people and usually only for a short time. We ask, “Why did not the people who saw the parting of Red Sea not all continue to believe in him?” Why did not the destruction of the armies (of the Amorites) by hail sent by God not convince all of the Jews to worship the Lord forever? And why did not the virgin birth of Jesus Christ convince all that he was the messiah? It is because belief requires the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says of those who do not have the Holy Spirit working faith in them, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Miracles attest to the truth of Jesus Christ, but the convincing of belief is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately Acts is a victorious book as the gospels progresses through the world to all nations.
And this gives us confidence as well, that God is victorious in all his plans. And our own salvation is part of this victory. God the plan of God, through the death of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are given salvation, victory over death.