This will be a difficult message for me to preach for a couple of reasons:
First, because whatever rebuke there is here applies to me as much if not more than it does to you.
And secondly, because this message goes against just about everything that I have ever heard preached from this verse before.
And this not another man’s message, which I have adapted for use here tonight.
I won’t tell you that others haven’t preached what I am teaching here,
But I will tell you that I haven’t heard or read them.
But it is even more descriptive in Greek than English.
When I read this word, I picture the eleven Apostles, with their heads tilting further and further back, as they watch the Saviour slowly rise and disappear into that cloud.
“Gazing” almost carries the idea that as their eyes stared, their mouths gaped.
But the Greek word, although carrying this idea, also contains a little bit more.
I’d like to read to you a couple of those references, just to show you the gist of the word
And when she saw Peter warming himself, she LOOKED upon him,
And said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.”
And after a little while another saw him, & said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not.
And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean.
And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. & immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew.
And the Lord turned, and LOOKED upon Peter.”
He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus BEHELD him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”
The disciples were studying the Saviour as He ascended into the cloud.
But the angels interrupted their investigation:
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
“Ye men of Galilee, this is not the time for study.
But He will be back again, just as you have seen Him leave.
But you have more important things to do right now.
Stop gazing and get to work.”
In many ways they were just beginning to see many of the things that we consider elementary.
For example, these disciples knew next to nothing about the doctrine of the church.
They didn’t have a single one of the Epistles of Paul,
And John wasn’t even close to writing the Book of Revelation.
They had heard His prayers and seen His miracles.
They had seen the resurrected Saviour, and now they had seen His ascension into Glory.
They had been touched by the Holy Spirit and they had been born from above.
And now they were standing face to face with the prospects of the second coming.
The study of prophecy is a very popular, and I suppose that it always has been.
When Judy and I first moved to Alberta, the political party that governed the province was called “The Social Credit” party.
During the depression, there was a preacher who had a radio program out of Calgary.
William Aberhart became very popular, primarily preaching prophecy and the Second Coming.
And then he heard about an English scheme to bring the world out of the depression.
He incorporated that idea into his preaching.
In 1935 he won a landslide election and he stayed in office for more than 20 years.
He was succeeded by another Social Credit politician,
And the Soc Creds stayed in power until about the time that we moved back the States.
What I am saying is that William Aberhart became Premier of Alberta partly because of his interest in eschatology.
Now we have other ways to divert our minds, and prophecy isn’t as popular among the general public, as it once was,
But it is still a popular subject among the more pious and religious.
In fact, there is a whole industry capitalizing on prophesy lectures, books and movies.
It has produced cults and heresies like Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It’s supposed to move you.
We are supposed to fill the world with beauty and perfume; both truth and glory to God.
It is our job to give witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Angels have been known to get physical.
They find it hard to understand that Christians can be so inert.
When Peter lay in prison after the arrest and execution of James, he might have thought that he too would become a martyr.
So He sent an angel, who entered Peter’s cell and smote him on the side.
That angel might have kicked him – the Bible doesn’t specifically say.
And here, the Bible doesn’t say that these two angels kicked the disciples and sent them packing.
Then the disciples returned unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet.
The angels were not rebuking the disciples, as much as they were explaining things to them.
But what they said came upon the heels of Jesus’ words in verse 8.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
I have probably heard a hundred sermons about the Great Commission,
And sometimes those messages have come from these verses.
To be honest I feel genuinely guilty that I’m not implementing those messages as well as I should.
But then on the other hand I have to wonder if what I heard from those zealous men was really the message of God.
Leaving all the rhetoric that we have heard, let’s just think about what verse 8 actually says.
First, is this really a commission?
The definition of a commission is to grant authority to carry out a specific task.
And He commanded His church to carry out that evangelism.
They are two separate things?
Is this verse worded in such a way so that there is a command in here?
I don’t think I have ever heard this verse preached except as orders from the Lord to evangelize the world,
Look at it.
“But ye SHALL receive power, and ye SHALL be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
And then there is the question: what is it to be a “witness?”
Who remembers the Greek word for “witness?”
I don’t believe that the Lord Jesus is telling them that they are going to die for the cause of Christ.
That certainly was what happened, but that is not the primary meaning of “witness.”
We hear people say that the man who straps explosives to his body and walks into an Israeli café and blows himself up is a martyr.
Osama Ben Lauden may say that the people who forced those airplanes into the Word Trade Center were martyrs.
But this is a mis-diagnosis and a mis-definition.
A martyr is someone who is murdered for a cause; NOT someone who murders others for a cause.
The Apostles and those who followed them were to give their testimony of Christ.
I want you to try to remember some place in this book where the Apostles strapped the gospel onto their chests, walked into a café and blew themselves up?
Yes, they preached the gospel in synagogues, market places, arenas and theaters.
But they didn’t barge into people’s homes and attack them in their living rooms.
On the Day of Pentecost, the church was baptized and they were filled with the Spirit.
“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded,
Then “Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them,
Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, & hearken to my words”
What I see in Acts 2 is the Lord opening a door of opportunity for Peter to be a witness of what he knew about Christ.
And Peter took advantage of that opportunity to preach the gospel.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.”
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
Whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead,
Even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.”
Isn’t the Book of Acts where we learn of the methods of the Lord and how the Lord’s churches should function?
Never do we see what the modern evangelical calls “soul-winning.”
Please, don’t for a moment think that I am saying that there is something sinful in going door-to-door giving out tracts and trying to speak to people about the Lord.
There is nothing sinful about it, but I’m not convinced that we ever see that in the Word of God.
Modern evangelists try to use Acts 2:46 to say that the early church did that kind of work.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
It is a statement that the servants of God would be witnesses of what they knew of the Lord.
It was a prophesy that the Lord would give them opportunities to testify of the Lord, and that they would take those opportunities.
Is there exhortation here?
I believe at there probably is:
When the Lord opens a door for witness and we don’t open our mouths, then we have sinned.
Am I guilty of that sin? Most definitely.
Are you guilty of that sin? Most probably.
Should we confess our sins and become more obedient to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Absolutely.
Are there lessons to learn from these scriptures. Most definitely
But they are not necessarily the lessons that a great many preachers say that they are.