connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
[Ed: We’re back – all together, in person :) No hubs, no pre-recorded talks. So great to be back in person after two years! As per usual I’ll be live-blogging my way through the talks and whatever workshops I can take notes in.]
Talk 1 | Acts 1:1-11 | You Will Be My Witnesses
Jesus and 21st Century Australia…?
Running mission on campus with green t-shirts titled “Jesus &…” – basically lots of talks on how Jesus interacts with various subjects like science and other religions. Controversially one of the topics was “Jesus & Roe v Wade”.
A big risky topic since the decision to overturn that US ruling was in the news.
And yes, it caused a stir. One particular young woman was quite upset – she came up to the stall, yelled, visibly upset, “You guys have no right to talk about that topic. This is a secular university. This is a place of open ideas. You can’t come and impose your values on us.”
Quite a full-on moment.
Yet, it also highlights something culturally of where we are with Jesus. Jesus is increasingly unwelcome in 21st Century Austraila. Increasingly pushed to the side, deemed irrelevant and sometimes offensive.
While Christianity continues to be the majority religion, the stats show that since the 1950’s the slide of those identifying as Christian is steep. Other religions are growing – Hinduism is around 4%, Islam is around 4%. No religion is now up to 39%. Among university-aged students it’s 46%.
So many do not care about Jesus.
The temptation we face is to buy into the narrative of our culture. That he is no relevant to our world – and for us the temptation is to stay quiet about Jesus.
Acts 1-10 helps us see that rather than being irrelevant, Jesus is as relevant as he’s ever been. There is nobody more important to know than Jesus. Despite what the voices of our culture yell at the moment.
The background (v1-2)
 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (ESV)
We’re at a conference to be trained to read the Bible. So here’s at tip/hack: don’t skip over the opening verses of a book.
There’s three bits of background to this entire book.
First – the book of Acts is a sequel. There’s been a volume 1, this is volume 2. Volume 1 was Luke (not John!). So reading volume 1 will be helpful in knowing what volume 2 is about.
Second – the intro tells us who is writing and to who. Luke to Theophilus (which means ‘lover of God’). We learn that he was a young Christian. We meet Theo in Luke 1:1-4 – a young Christian who was a bit unsure about his faith. Luke wrote to him that he would have certainty about Jesus (cf Luke 1:4).
Three – what is this book all about. A key word in v1 is ‘began’. Acts is therefore going to be about what Jesus is going to continue to do and teach his church. Jesus did mighty things in the gospel of Luke – but that was a beginning. There is more to come!
This might seem a bit strange because by the end of our passage today Jesus will leave his disciples! So how is this going to be a continuation of his work? Through his Spirit in his people. This is why the book is so important – because the work that Jesus will do in this book will give us insight into how Jesus continues to work in his people today.
The mission (v3-8)
 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.
 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;  for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)
There are particular numbers throughout the BIble that have various symbolic meanings. 7 is the number of perfection. 12 is the number of God’s people.
40 is another symbolic number. In v3 Jesus appears to his disciples for 40 days. Let’s take a quick walk through the number 40 in the Bible to work out it’s symbolism…
Now as Jesus prepares his disciples for the mission ahead he spends 40 days with them. What’s the go here? Two things:
Jesus spends 40 days with his disciples post-resurrection to prepare his disciples to bring the gospel to the world.
What does he do with them during those 40 days? One thing he does at the start of v3 is that he proves himself to his disciples – to prove his resurrection.
As an example – a few days after the death of Jesus the disciples are in a locked room, and Jesus appears among them. To prove he is not a ghost he eats in front of them.
Remember Thomas in the Gospel of John – Thomas wasn’t around when Jesus first appeared, but he refused to believe that Jesus had appeared unless he could reach out and touch Jesus and his scars. So Jesus appears a week later and gives him an exact experience of what he wanted.
1 Cor 15 – Paul says that Jesus appeared to 500 people, proving his life after death.
Alongside these proofs he also spoke to them and taught them about the power that was coming to them – the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit was going to come and empower them for the task ahead. He ordered them to wait for the Spirit.
The big thing that Jesus taught was about the mission itself. v6ff the disciples ask when Jesus is going to restore the Kingdom to Israel. But Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know – but they will receive the Spirit to be his witness across the world. A classic Jesus response – answering their question with something else entirely.
Their business is to be witnesses to Jesus.
Witness isn’t a word we use very much these days. It’s usually a legal term of witnessing a document, or a witness in court.
The task is to bear witness to Jesus – to tell others about Jesus and his work across the world, filled with his Spirit and powered by Him for this work.
No matter what your profession or job, our highest task is the mission of Jesus – to bear witness to him.
The Authority (v9-11)
 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (ESV)
The ascension – when Jesus ascends up to heaven. Over the years it’s a moment which has caused quite a bit of debate and controversy. Opponents of Christianity have argued that this moment undermines historical Christianity – as though it argues that there are three tiers of heaven. We’ve explored the universe, we’ve been past the clouds – there’s no heaven there!
Yeah, ok, that critique misses the point.
Luke isn’t making a point about where heaven is. It’s making a theological point: Jesus is the risen Lord over all. The language is picking up terms from Daniel 7.
In Daniel 7 the Son of Man figure travels in the same direction as Jesus travels in Acts 1 – he is going ‘up’, through the clouds. In Daniel he is approaching throne of the Ancient of Days. As Jesus ascends Daniel’s vision comes to pass. This is his coronation.
We live in a world that thinks Jesus is irrelevant. It doesn’t care for him. But the reality is that Jesus rules the world – and every person will stand before him and call them to account.
Our task is to prepare people for that moment.
Earlier we heard about that girl who yelled at the student group re Roe v Wade. Eventually she calmed down, spoke with one of the Christian students, and invited that girl to come to the talk. She did come. About half way through the talk the speaker pointed to Jesus healing the woman with the bleed, and spoke about Jesus’ compassion to the woman. This girl visibly relaxed, unfolded her arms, and engaged. Staying behind for an hour asking all sorts of questions. She may not have become a believer yet, but we can take heart in this story – the students took Jesus’ mission seriously. They witnessed to him, and helped this girl engage with Jesus.
Let’s all take this task seriously to witness to Jesus.
[Ed: great start to this week and the book of Acts!
Note – there are no evening talks except one on Wednesday, going to be held at City Tabernacle. More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/458741892922587
I hope to see you there!]
Workshop: Carolyn Russell: Change Matters
Where we’re going: the application of scripture to every fibre of our being, to work out how the Bible counsels us.
The material being worked through is stuff from David Powlison [Ed: if you haven’t read his books, or other material from CCEF, do so!]
 Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
 “I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.” (ESV)
Three trees diagram:
Note the thing at the top – the heat.
There are two types of trees under the ‘heat’ – the tree on the right-hand side represents the cursed man, Jeremiah 17:5-6. It doesn’t do well, it has thorns, and produces bad fruit. The roots are shallow and go down into the parched land and salted land.
The tree on the left-hand side represents the blessed man, Jeremiah 17:7-8. It does well, produces good fruit. The roots are deep into good soil.
The heat is the tough stuff of life. It hits everyone alike. It may be physical to us, it may be external to us, it may be a personal relationship in trouble, or a stressor in life. It is whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Often we don’t see the blessing in our situation. When we listen to ourselves in the situation we will focus too much on the bad things in the situation rather than to see the good stuff. We don’t see the blessings from God even in the hard.
As we’re looking at our situation it’s important that we don’t minimise or exaggerate the problem or the blessings.
So, we have the heat but we also have two trees when that heat bears down. There are two trees on the outer, but there’s also a third tree in the middle. The tree (cross) of Christ. If we never come to Christ we will never grow to have a redemptive fruit-filled life. We will remain as a bad tree, until we come to the tree of Christ.
As heat bears down on us there are a series of questions we must ask ourselves. The first question is to ask what is your situation? What is the heat in our lives? It’s good to remember that as we identify the heat we need to acknowledge there’s probably not much we can do about it. But…
The second question is to ask ‘How are you reacting?’ I can’t change the heat, but I can change my reaction. So, what do we typically do? Do we respond with thorns and bad fruit? What actions do I do? What emotions do I display? How does that change my relationships when I let those actions and emotions rip?
We have to start moving down to our roots in those moments. We have to ask what our hearts believe, what do we want? Fear is a common root issue – what do I fear? I fear people, my boss, the shame? Trust is another root problem – I trust myself. What rules you? What hijacks your heart?
When the bad fruit and thorns are appearing we end up in a spiral downwards. There are consequences to our bad fruit – what are they? Do we get busy? Do our relationships suffer? Our work suffer?
At this point we really need to turn to God’s Word – the Spirit moves us here as we work out who God is in the midst of this heat and our response. What does he say, what does he promise? What does he say to address our situation?
As we seek answers to these questions in the scriptures, we have to respond to him with repentance and faith. Our response also builds deeper roots in good soil.
Self-reflection is the key, yet also the hard process of working out how to use the scriptures to self-counsel.
[Ed: These notes are pretty rough. A fuller explanation of these concepts can be found in the Bible study ‘Real Change’ which will be available at the Ignite Bookstall!]
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