The Ascension Of Jesus: Instructions for all believers

          The book of Acts is a remarkable book of the Bible. It is considered a transitional book, leaving one dispensation and moving into a new dispensation of time. The book of Acts is written by Luke and is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. It tells of the great men and women who took the Great Commission seriously and began to spread the news of the risen Savior to the most remote corners of the known world. All available Greek manuscripts designate the book of Acts with the title of Praxeis. This term is commonly used in Greek literature to summarize accomplishments of great men. The apostles are mentioned throughout the book of Acts with a great emphasis, however, on Peter and Paul. Both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by Luke to Theophilus. It is unknown exactly who Theophilus was, however, he is believed to have been a Roman official. This is due to the fact that in the Gospel of Luke, Theophilus is addressed as “most excellent”.

                Here in the first twelve verse of chapter one, we find the account of the ascension of Jesus. After His resurrection, Jesus was with His followers for 40 days and taught them and gave them instructions pertaining to the kingdom of God. As Jesus is ascending back up into heaven, two angels appear and tell the followers of Jesus not to worry, for Jesus will come again. You and I are living in the period of time that began not long after Jesus ascended into heaven. Just before Jesus left, He gives some very important instructions for His followers as they enter into the dispensation of grace. It is those very same instructions that you and I are called to carry out today as we wait for the return of Christ. There are basically four things that we are instructed to do during this age.

                Carry on the ministry of Jesus. In verse one it mentions that in the former account (the Gospel of Luke) we are given all the things that Jesus both began to do and to teach. In the book of Acts, we see the followers of Jesus carrying on those things that Jesus did and taught. This is also our responsibility today. We are to carry on the ministry of Jesus. We do not add to it, we simple continue in it. In other words, we are to follow the example of Jesus and do the work that He did while He was on this earth. Notice that we are to carry on what Jesus did. What did Jesus do? Well, as you study the life of Jesus, you find that He did a great number of things. He performed many great miracles, He gave of Himself for the saving of lost souls, and He engaged in intentional benevolent ministry. Now, we cannot do what Jesus did specifically because we are not God. However, it is the spirit of the work that we are to carry on. We are to point others to Christ who can work miracles in them. We cannot perform the miraculous, but we point people to the one who can. We cannot save a lost soul, but we are to give of ourselves in the work of pointing people to the Savior. We are also to engage in helping those in need just as Jesus did. Jesus taught us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Too often we get caught up in doing what we think of as ministry, that we fail to simply love people. We talk of doing great things and we have a vision for building a great ministry. All of those things are fine and good and have their place, but nothing surpasses a genuine love for people that drives us to act. We should never be too busy to help someone who has a need. This does not mean that we just throw money at every need that comes our way. Jesus did not do that. He helped people for the long term. He did not just get them out of a tough situation, but He gave them a hope for a better future. These are the things that Jesus began to do. This is a work that was started by Jesus and we, as His followers, are to continue that work during this age of grace. Not only do we see that we are to carry on what Jesus did, but we are also to carry on what Jesus taught. It is the responsibility of believers in Christ to teach people the doctrines of Jesus. This is the very thing that Paul instructed Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4:1-5. The term ‘doctrine’ basically means, ‘teaching’. More specifically, it refers to the teachings of scripture. I have heard some say that doctrine divides and that we should not focus so much on doctrine. This cannot be any further from the truth. Those who say such things have no idea what doctrine is all about. True doctrine does not divide, it unites. It brings people into a greater understanding of who Christ is. Churches that have a focus on the teaching of true doctrine will produce people whose lives are transformed and who are living out the Christian life in such a way as to engage their society with the Gospel. So, what are these ‘doctrines’ of Jesus? What did Jesus begin to teach? There are many things that Jesus taught that we must study and follow and obey, but there is one simple command of Jesus that sums it all up. Look at Matthew 22:34-40. Notice how Jesus says that on these two commands hang all the laws and the prophets. In other words, this is the foundation. Without a complete love for God and for people, then everything else is useless and vain. This is what Jesus began to teach and this is what we are to continue in. We are to love God with everything that is about us. Let me tell you something, when we really love God, it changes the way we live. People want to know how they can live right, how they can practice ‘Christian living’. The answer is very simple. Fall in love with Jesus more and more every day. The more you love Jesus, the more you put Him first; everything else will fall into place. This is why the Gospel is so central. The more we grasp and understand all that Jesus did for us, the more we are compelled to love Him and to serve Him. This ever growing love for Jesus will then overflow through us into a love for others. This is the message we are to preach, this is the teaching of Jesus that we are to carry on as we wait for His return.

                Wait for God to move. The second instruction that the followers of Jesus are given is to ‘wait’. In verse four, we see that Jesus command them to not go and do and teach just yet, but to wait. What were they to wait for? They were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity. He is the one who guides, comforts, teaches, empowers, and convicts us. At this time in history the followers of Christ were to wait until the Spirit of God indwells them and they will then have the power to carry on the work of Christ. Since the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, every person who accepts Christ as Savior is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. However, even though we have the Holy Spirit living within us, we are not always filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit. This is the principle that we learn here. Before we can carry on the work, we must make sure we are filled with the Spirit. We must make sure that what we do is Spirit-led. So, before we do anything, we must wait for God to move, for God to do the work in us and then through us. This does not mean we just sit around and do nothing, but it does mean that before we engage in a task for the kingdom of God we must have total confidence that we are filled with the Spirit. If we are not filled, then we must wait until our hearts are in tune with the heart of God and the Spirit of God is filling us to overflowing. This is something that I personally pray for many times throughout every day. As a pastor, I realize that if I attempt to minister to people without being Spirit-filled, then everything I do will be in vain. Before every meeting, counseling session, visit, sermon, phone call, and even in the preparation for those things, I try to make it a point to pause and ask God to fill me with His Spirit. I also pray regularly that those who serve in the church: the teachers, deacons, committee members, etc. would be filled with the Spirit. You see, apart from the control of the Spirit in our lives, all we do is meaningless and useless. We must wait for the filling of the Spirit.

                Rely on the power of God. Jesus is asked by His followers as to when He would set up His kingdom on the earth. Jesus basically responded by saying that it is none of your business to know those things. In other words, God does not won’t so preoccupied with trying to figure out when Jesus will return that we fail to do what we are called here to do. In verse eight, Jesus tells us that we are to be witnessed of Him. Instead of focusing so much on the return of Christ, we should be busy doing the Lord’s work. This does not mean we should not look forward to His return and even consider the signs of the times. However, as some say, we should not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We are on this earth as ambassadors of Jesus and it is our responsibility to share the love of Jesus and the message of salvation to the world. This task that we are to do cannot be accomplished apart from the power of God. Jesus said that Holy Spirit gives us power to do the work. In this age that we live in, we must rely upon the power of God in order to carry out His mission. When I think of the power of God, I come to the understanding that ‘with God, nothing shall be impossible.’ The power that is in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit of God is the same power that spoke the world into existence, it’s the same power that healed the sick, it’s the same power that raised the dead, it’s the same power that rose from the grave Himself, it is this same power that is given to us. Think about it. If there is anything that bothers me more than anything else in the ministry of the church it is when I hear people give excuses as to why we cannot accomplish certain things for the kingdom of God. It is true that we can’t. But, God can! Through the power of God, there is nothing that the church cannot accomplish. Too often we say that we don’t have the money, or we don’t have the people, or we can’t do this or we can’t do that. My friend, it is not our money, it is not our people; nothing belongs to us. It is all of God! The reason we often say that we can’t is because we our relying on ourselves. All we see is our own weaknesses and limits. But with God, there is no limit; there is nothing that He cannot do. So instead of focusing on what we can or cannot do, may we simply rely of God’s power and submit to Him and to His Word and allow God to do His work in and through us. We need to learn to let go and let God. Rely on His power and you can change the world!

                Unite in Prayer. A final instruction that we are given as we wait for the return of Christ is to pray. In verse 12-14 we find that after Jesus ascends into heaven, the followers of Jesus went together into a room and there they waited for the Holy Spirit and together they prayed. There is nothing more powerful on the earth than believers in Christ uniting together in prayer. When God’s people pray, things begin to happen. The greatest weapon that we have in our spiritual arsenal is prayer. There is something special about God’s people gathering together for the purpose of prayer. Unfortunately, such gatherings are often the least attended in the local church. I have seen it all too often. The least attended service in the church is the mid-week prayer meeting. However, if we were to announce that we are having a special fellowship or a revival or a mission conference, people will make an effort to come in the middle of the week to participate. But, when we announce a prayer meeting , so few will come. I am not trying to make you feel guilty, I’m just stating a fact. Study the book of Acts. Look at what God did when God’s people purposefully and intentionally met for united prayer. We can have a hundred people come out for an all-nighter for the youth group but if we were to have an all night prayer meeting, I would dare say that less than ten would even think of coming. What would happen if we got serious about praying together? What would happen if the mid-week prayer meeting became the most well attended meeting time in the church? Imagine what God would do! There is power in prayer, and there is power in united prayer. Brothers and Sisters it is imperative that we gather together and pray more. Without it, we are weak and useless. As we carry on in these last days, we must pray.

                It is good to know that our salvation is secure and that we have heaven to look forward to. It is good to know that Jesus is coming again. However, what good is it if it does not mean anything to us? We have been given a job to do. We are to carry on the ministry of Jesus, we are to be filled with the Spirit, we are to rely on the power of God, and we are to unite in prayer. When we focus on these things, God can use us to change the world just like He used the early church. Will you join us?

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