Relating with Jesus

Title: Relating with Jesus

Text: Acts 1:3-5

Date: September 16, 2007

One of the greatest benefits of the Book of Acts is that it not only teaches us but it gives us examples of the early church disciples obeying God. Or in other words, the Book of Acts isn’t just another book of the Bible that teaches us what to believe, what to think, but it also shows us how to live and how the early Christians lived in obedience to Christ. It gives us an account of normal people – for example, Peter was a fisherman from Galilee – who were transformed in their lives from living ordinary, mundane lives, into living powerful spiritual lives through the power of God. The Book of Acts starts out with the risen Christ appearing to the disciples and preparing them for life without His visible form. They were being trained to live with the invisible yet powerful presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit – the very same way we are expected to live today. But before Christ left them to the Holy Spirit, He made sure that they were prepared and that everything was completed in the way of their training. Acts 1:3-5 (read) describes some of the important points of Christ’s preparation for them. First, they had to experience the risen Christ personally in order to be convinced that He was alive. Second, He had to instruct them concerning the coming Kingdom of God. And third, they had to obey Him not only in thought and word, but also in deed – with their lives, in their actions. Now that same order applies to us today as we relate with Christ Jesus today. First, we must experience Jesus personally in our lives as a reality beyond mere thoughts or words. Second, we must begin to receive God’s Word of instructions for us how to live the Christian life as a result of experiencing Christ. And third, we must be motivated to obey God’s Word of instruction for our lives in all we do. The Book of Acts gives an account of the early Christian Church doing these three things. They were people who experienced the risen Christ, not just nice sounding words or inspiring thoughts about him as a philosophy might teach. They experienced Jesus and were utterly convinced that he was alive. Next, they dedicated themselves above all things to learning God’s will for their lives in light of their relationship with Jesus Christ. With Jesus, God was not just an abstract idea or philosophical concept to ponder or contemplate, He was a living reality who could be experienced and from whom they could be instructed. So they dedicated themselves to the Apostles’ teaching in addition to the Old Testament writings of the Jews. Finally, having experienced the living Christ and eagerly seeking after His instructions for their lives, the early believers went about living out their faith with peace, love and joy. Let’s see what we can learn about imitating their example.

First, we must experience the living Christ. Acts 1:3, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. . . .” What separates Christianity from all the religions of the world is that Christ is a living Savior who can be experienced in the here and now, not just an historical figures with religious teachings to learn and to live by. For example, Muslims follow the teachings of Mohammed their so-called prophet. But no Muslim believes that Mohammed is still alive and living with them each and every moment. Mohammed had his time on earth; he died, and is now gone from the earth. He isn’t living and with them today. It’s the same with the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The original Buddha is dead and gone. His teachings remain for his followers, but he himself is gone. But in Christianity, it isn’t just the teachings of Jesus that remain; it is Jesus himself. The early Christian followers were not merely followers of the teachings of Jesus, they were followers of Jesus himself, and they experienced his actual presence in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now the original disciples actually experienced the risen Christ in transition form, between the resurrection and the ascension, with a solid body, a solid spiritual body that could come and go, appear and disappear. That form wouldn’t be the final form of Jesus on earth among his followers, but it was the form that he appeared to his original disciples for a period of 40 days after his death, burial and resurrection. Why did he come in this transition form? Because he wanted to utterly convince them that he was alive and that his presence was as real as anything else could be. These were the founders of the church, the Apostles, the foundation upon which all of Christianity would be built. Jesus wanted them to be rock solid in their convictions about their faith. As for us today, we don’t get to experience the risen Christ in the transitional form, the semi-solid form as he appeared to disciples between the resurrection and the ascension, but we too can be just as convinced that Christ is real today by experiencing him through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s original disciples were given “many convincing proofs that he was alive,” says the Book of Acts, and so today, Christ’s disciples in the 21st century are given “convincing proofs” that Christ is alive as well, although through different means and different forms. What convinces a believer that Christ is alive today? That depends on the individual person. For some people, historical evidences are the proof that ushers them into an experience with the living Christ by faith. For others, a miracle or different mysterious and strange occurrences of things happening in their life convinces people that Christ is alive today to save. For others, reading along in the Bible, something inside of them convinces them that yes indeed the gospel is true, that Jesus is alive. On and on it goes. What is convincing to one person, may not seem convincing to another, but what is important is that Jesus is still doing the work of convincing people he is alive today through one means or another. What convinced you that Jesus is real today? What still convinces you? How are you experiencing the living Lord today? Without such an experience it’s difficult to live the Christian life as taught in the Bible.

Second, Jesus must instruct us. Acts 1:3, “. . . He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” So we see two things taking place with Jesus and the disciples: first, he’s appearing to them, they are experiencing the living Christ; and two, he’s instructing them about the kingdom of God. Or in other words, he’s teaching them. It isn’t enough to simply have experiences of Jesus, or to feel the powerful presence of Jesus, there must also be teachings, instructions from Jesus in order to guide our lives, so we know how to think, what to say, and what to do with our lives. Experiencing the living and risen Savior Jesus is a powerfully motivating thing, but what comes next? Jesus isn’t just coming to his disciples to give them a spiritual experience; he’s not just trying to fill them with deep emotions, of wonder and awe. He’s not just trying to move them emotionally or “wow” them through spiritual experiences. No. He’s giving them a powerful, life-changing experience to do something more – to change them, to change their lives. It comes back to the whole purpose of life and the whole purpose of salvation. Men and women were originally created by God in a garden paradise; everything was perfect. Then Satan and sin entered the picture and led to the fall of mankind. Since that original sin, all of humanity has suffered under the curse of sin and death. All of us are born in rebellion against God through our inherited sin nature. We inherit rebelliousness against God and then when we are old enough we join willfully into that rebellion of sin with our own free will. We are at odds with God. Unless we are changed, we will suffer the fate of all rebels against God: destruction in eternal damnation. So Jesus came from heaven to correct the situation, to offer himself as payment for our sins, to die on the cross as a satisfaction for our crimes against God. God’s justice is now satisfied through the death of Jesus for our sins, now God’s mercy is available by faith in Christ. So it’s very important that people – you and me – place our complete trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sins, or else we perish for all eternity without forgiveness or salvation. But how can a holy God get the attention of sinful man in order to save some? That’s where the living and risen Christ comes in. To each person, Jesus provides enough convincing proof of his reality, although not all people believe. Those who do, He begins to teach and instruct – through the Word of God, the Bible, and also through the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the instruction is to change us from rebellious creatures into living saints. Now we are saved and made holy through the declaration of God on the basis of Christ, yet in our actual lives, we must develop into and fulfill our actual calling to be saints in order to experience all of what God purposes for us in life. That’s why, in addition to giving us an experience of his presence, Christ also seeks to instruct us how to believe and how to live as well.

Third, we must obey Christ. Acts 1:4-5, “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” It must have been particularly difficult for those original disciples to not go right out and start getting on with the ministry Christ had called them to. But Jesus had specifically commanded them not to do that; but rather to wait until they had the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to do it. Jesus knew that their original enthusiasm would wane, that their initial motivation would fail, that mere human energy and hype would die off. What he wanted them to do was wait for the supernatural power from heaven in the form of the Holy Spirit. Christ would be with his disciples every moment for every difficulty and challenge through the Spirit. So they were commanded by Christ to wait. And so they obeyed and waited. Later, we’ll get to the day of Pentecost where they received from God what they had been waiting for, but the point for now is just as the original disciples had received instructions and were expected to obey, so too we today as 21st century disciples have to be instructed and obey what we are taught by God. And that isn’t easy. Today we live in a growing sinfully rebellious culture, a modern, secular culture that is turning its back on God and God’s will. This culture is depending on and trusting in its own cleverness and ability. More and more Christian values are discarded. More and more Christian beliefs and practices are ridiculed and attacked. It’s not easy living the true and authentic Christian faith today with all of the pressure and distractions to depart from the faith. What can keep a believer following after the Christian faith today? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying, only through the invisible, yet powerful presence of the living Christ. We experience the living Jesus because God gives us the ability to recognize the reality of His presence in our lives. The salvation experience convinces us to follow God. Then we turn to the Word of God, the Bible, for instruction as to what to think, how to feel, and how to live our lives. So we learn the truth of God from God. But how are we to live out these truths in the midst of a sinful and rebellious world? How are we to resist temptation? How are we to obey? Jesus knew that we’d need more than good intentions. He knew that his followers would need more than religious enthusiasm and hype. He knew that only through the power of his continual presence could his followers believe and live according to his will. That’s the whole message of the Book of Acts as it describes the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Is the Holy Spirit working powerfully in your life? Are you getting the power to resist temptation, to obey, to love? Only through the Spirit can we ever come close to fulfilling our purpose and calling in this life. Are you sure you have all of the Holy Spirit available to you today? If not, let’s pray for more of the Spirit?

Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name, we pray for all the power of the Holy Spirit that is available for us today. We confess that we have been distracted by the many things the earth has to offer today, that we have given our time and attention to other, lesser things. But now we pray that as we give our attention to you in prayer that you will fill us with the Holy Spirit to the point that we are able to resist all temptations, that we are able to love supernaturally and unconditionally, that we are able to obey all the teachings that we learn from your Word, the Bible. Empower us to have supernatural attitudes, help us to maintain our joy in the midst of struggles, energize us to spread your gospel to the lost, motivate us to serve others instead of only serving ourselves. God, we realize that without the Holy Spirit energizing us and motivating us and empowering us that we will never, ever fulfill our calling in this life. Please empower us, fill us every day from morning to night, so that we can be a force of good in this bad world. Guide, direct, encourage us as you did the early Christian believers. Protect us from sin and Satan. Keep us faithful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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