June 1, 2014 - Acts 1.6-14

“What’re You Starin’ At?”

Acts 1:6-14

June 1, 2014

 

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

 

This week our family goes on a trip and we will be back in three weeks.  During the trip we will drive over 3400 miles.  One thing I am really dreading during the 52 hour drive is the unavoidable specter of “construction zones”.  It’s not that I resent people working on the roads to make them better.  On the contrary, I applaud it.  What I do not like and cannot STAND is seeing the sign “Men Working” and not seeing a single person working.  It drives me crazy.  “Oh thanks for closing off that lane for 6 miles to make room for NOBODY!”  The only thing worse than that is to finally so some in the construction zone NOT working.  One guy is talking on the phone, one is sitting in the big machine, and another is picking his nose.  But none seem to be working. There is nothing worse than seeing all these dudes that are supposed to be doing something and they are all just standing around.  I know you all have endured this and I ask that you pray for me as we drive. 

 

Today is Ascension Sunday.  Jesus Ascended – went up into heaven.  But before he could do that, he met with his disciples and had a little talk.  They asked him, “Is this the time when you will act like a real Messiah?”  Throughout his ministry had to put up with one great disadvantage.  The center of his message was the Kingdom of God.  He meant one thing by the kingdom of God, but those who listened to him constantly thought of another.  They had “Political Motivations.”  His answer to them was one that is very simple and we still refuse to hear Jesus say it even today.  “It is not for you to know!”  He also said while he was on earth that he did not know, that only God the Father knew.  Now if Jesus did not know, and didn’t want us to know, then why do Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsay think they know?  Jesus knew it would be a distraction to us.  Why?  Because he was leaving the earth, and he didn’t want us standing around – staring into the sky.

 

He did not want us distracted because we have a job to do.  (v. 7, v.8) What are you staring at?  Why are you just standing here?  He’ll come back, but in the meantime, you have work to do. You will receive power – You will be my witnesses.  You.  Us.  Emphasize personal effect.

 

Frank Broome’s joke about driving in the dark.  That is being Christ’s Witnesses.

 

No one is more fatigued than those who just do not know what to do.

 

The eye of the church is turned to the future, to be witnesses to Christ in a world that will respond to the gospel in inconsistent ways – joy, anger, resentment, thankfulness, contention – in any way except indifference.  They were going to be Christ’s witnesses.  We are going to be his witnesses.  The power of the Holy Spirit is upon us and if we are going to get bust with God’s business we are going to need it!  “Gather your strength for the day to come.”  To the ends of the earth! 

 

Witness is a serious thing to be.  A witness is someone who says, “I know this to be true.”  A witness does not say, “that is my opinion of the events.”  A witness does not say, “well, if you do not believe me, that’s ok.”  No.  A witness is someone that declares what they say to be true.  In court, they do not allow hearsay.  You cannot be on a witness stand and tell the court what someone else told you.  You must tell your own story or you are not a witness.  A witness does not say, ‘I think so,” a witness says “I KNOW.”

 

“He ascended into heaven.”  Was it literally up?  Is heaven literally up?  But at night up is the other direction…  What we mean by this is that where Jesus went is some OTHER place – heaven.  Heaven is a cosmic concept, not earthly.  It is something cosmic at work here, something too grand to be limited to our earthbound categories.  Have we been abandoned?  Have we been left to our own devices?  NO.  The one who came and stood beside us who suffered because of us and for us, who felt the heel of Caesar, the fickleness of the mob, and the cowardice of the disciples – he has gone up!

Jesus was raised from the dead; now he has reconvened his scattered, fearful, disillusioned disciples. Jesus had earlier commanded his disciples to “love one another,” and to “Go! Make disciples!” Now in Acts, “You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem (that is, close to home), Judea (that is, the whole countryside), Samaria (out in the hinterland beyond Judea), to the very ends of earth. You will be my witnesses, says the risen Christ.
     Who’s a witness? I, as a “witness,” observe an event, say, an accident. I go to court. In court, that makes me a witness. “Would you tell the court what you saw at 10 am on the morning of May 15?”
     “Well, I got up about six, I had not slept well, had a slight headache and was feeling sort of  . . . ”
     “Let’s just stick to the event itself. Would you tell the court what you saw at 10 am on May 15th?”
     “Well, I got in my car and drove up 31 North, from Vestavia. I noted that I needed gas so . . .”
     “Please, would you tell the court what you saw at . . . ”
     “Anyway, I stopped at the Shell station, and I couldn’t believe that I needed $50 of gas. I remember when you could get a fill up for 20 bucks.”
     The judge says, “We don’t care about any of that – your feelings, the night before – you are a witness! All this court cares about is your description of what you saw and what you heard. Period!”[1]
     A witness witnesses something and then tells the world what she witnessed. 
     Some of you are old enough to remember the old TV show “Dragnet” and how officer Joe Friday would say to some chatty witness, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” A witness witnesses to the facts of what has been seen and what has been heard. And the risen Christ, after Easter, calls us witnesses.
     Jesus Christ is not a figment of our imagination. He is not a feeling. He is a distinct personality who makes some distinctive, irreducible claims, who makes specific promises, like the very specific evangelistic/geographical promises he makes today in Acts.
     “What are you looking for in a church?” someone asks a visitor.
     “I’m just trying to find a faith that works for me.”
     Better to say, “I’m looking for a church that loves me enough to stand against me, a church that is more than simply an expression of all my preconceptions and prejudices.”
     When we worship, and I stand up to preach to you, your question is not, “Preacher, how are you feeling these days? What’s on your mind?” No!  We open up an ancient book. You say to me, in effect, “Here! Read this! Work from this! We want you to share something more significant than your personal feelings. We want you to share a gospel that is bigger, better than that which is merely inside of us.” Get this straight: The Christian faith is not something we came up with. It’s something that came to us. Happened to us. Of this, we are witnesses.[2]

 

Another way to bear witness is in your deeds.  When Stanley discovered Livingston in Central Africa he spent some time with him there.  He said, “If I had been with him any longer I would have been compelled to become a Christian myself even though he never spoke a word to me about it at all.”[3]  The witness of the man’s life was irresistible. 

 

I think one of the biggest problems the church today has is lots of people come by us and see a sign that says “Christians Working” and they get mad because none of us seem to be working.  Like a bunch of construction zone workers, people see us standing around a lot more than they see us actually working.  Our best witness is to be doing what we are supposed to be doing.  Ultimately, our words are worthless if our deeds don’t match them.

 

 We are called to bear witness to Jesus.  That means we must go out into the world and live among those in the dark and be people who know Jesus. 

 

Let us close with a prayer:

Jesus, in your resurrection you rose and returned to us and revealed to us what God is up to in our world. In your ascension you took your place in God’s reign but not before you commanded us to be your witnesses to the ends of the earth and thus revealed to us what we should be up to in your world.
     Cure us of our self-protective impulses, even our shyness, and push us out into your world, convinced that it all belongs to you and that you are determined that everyone, everywhere will be brought into the fullness of knowledge of you.

Amen.

 

[1] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, June 1, 2014.

[2] Willimon, Ibid.

[3] Barclay, Acts.

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