Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Back to Basics: The 4 R's

Preached at Community Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, September 1, 2013.

Acts 1:1-11, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

I know that some of us who are gray-headed are having trouble moving into the twenty-first century.  Believe me, I know.  My children remind me of it almost daily.  They use terms like tweets and hashtags and utilize means and media like Facebook® and instant messaging, Ipads® and Samsung® Galaxy S3s.  Even now, I look at my kids asking, “Did I say all that right?” 

For me, and maybe for many of you, we wish we were still living in the days of real signatures on real paper, not electronic facsimiles thereof.  We pine for the ‘good ole days’ of letter writing, using real postage stamps, phone calls instead of buzzes, bells and whistles in the purse or pocket, and, yes, for a return to the time when people actually met, conversed and even did business with one another face-to-face, firm handshake at the end and all. 

Though I may be treading on shaky ground, especially with all of you who are 10 years, or more, younger than I am, I’m going to risk it.  Yes, I know that many of you are using an electronic version of the Bible, and certainly all of you can follow the sermon as it is highlighted by way of PowerPoint® technology on the big screen.  But, just for a little while I’m going to take you back to the 4 R’s of the Book of Acts. 

Used to, teachers emphasized what were known as the 3 R’s of education.  I mean, no matter what grade or level of understanding, all education at one time brought the students back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic – the 3 R’s. 

Acts :1-11, we’re very early in our study of this challenging portion of God’s Word, aren’t we?  And, perhaps like Dr. Luke’s friend, Theophilus, we’re just getting started good on our walk with Jesus Christ.  We need a course in the basics of the Christian faith.  On the other hand, some of us, like myself, have been a Christian for a long time, maybe we’ve even studied this Book, the Book of Acts, a number of times before.  So, what is it that we need?  Well, at least to begin with, maybe we need a kind of ‘refresher course’ on the basics also.  Hopefully, this study today, and in coming week, will accomplish those purposes. 

With your ‘textbooks’ (the Bible) open, let’s take a look at each of the 4 R’s of this portion of Scripture, one at a time.  R number 1: in this Book, the second half of the Luke/Acts combo we mentioned last Lord’s Day, through Dr. Luke’s writing, God provides us with a Reliable Record (1st R) of the people, places and events of the earliest days and years of the Christian faith. 

Now, before we move forward with this, allow me to define some terms.  Reliable: when we refer to a record, an account, a report of people, places and events, what do we mean when we say that that record is reliable?  We mean that it is accurate, don’t we?  We mean that is it trustworthy, that we can count on it, right?  And, the reason we can describe it that way is what?  Because it is a record that is based on TRUTH! 

Not many decades ago, Dr. Luke, the human author of this portion of Scripture, was one of the most maligned and criticized of all Bible writers.  Modern scholars and skeptics were attempting to pick apart every detail of his work in order to show it to be Unreliable.  And, yet, on every turn, as more and more historical research and archaeological discoveries have repeatedly shown, Luke’s record, found here in the Book of Acts, is – R #1 – reliable.  Now, why do you think that is? 

Well, most importantly, it’s because this Book is a part of God’s Book.  And God’s Book has been shown to be reliable because He is reliable, trustworthy and true!  Yet, in the case of Luke’s record, here, notice what else he emphasizes.  Verse 3, Jesus, the central figure of Luke’s record - is He nothing more than a first-century mythological character made up by some misguided Jewish zealots?  That may be what the History channel wants you to believe.  That may be what Dan Brown and his book, The DaVinci Code are aiming at.  But, look here.  Dr. Luke, careful historian that he is, informs Theophilus and us that his record is based on eye-witness testimony.  Verses 2 and 3, “[Jesus] showed Himself alive to the apostles whom He had chosen after the suffering of His death…” 

And the end result is what?  Infallible proof, multiple lines of clear, unmistakable evidence that Jesus IS whom He claimed to be: the Christ, the Son of the living God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  R number one, what do we have here?  We hold in our hands, we see on the screen, the Reliable Record God the Holy Spirit guided Luke to prepare for us.  The Reliable Record which has caused many a scholar and former skeptic to acknowledge: “Well, Luke.  I guess you REALLY DID KNOW what you were talking about after all…”  R number one, we have here a Reliable Record of the Acts of the Apostles, the actions and activities of the Spirit of Jesus through His chosen ambassadors. 

But, then, we also have here something else.  In this portion of Scripture Luke makes repeated reference to the REASON behind what he writes and records.  Twenty-first century authors, too often, have their sights set on the fame and fortune that comes with literary prowess.  Things like topping the New York Times® Bestseller list or making a bundle through sales on Amazon® dot-com.  But, Luke’s reason or reasons for writing were much, much different.  Luke chapter one, the clue to the linkage between these two parts of the Bible.  Again, notice there the reason Luke endeavored to provide a reliable record. 

Luke 1:3-4, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very
first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Luke’s concern in writing what he wrote to his ‘student’, his friend, Theophilus, was that Theophilus might be certain that the things he had been taught about Jesus were true.  In other words, Luke wrote, for the same reason Matthew and Mark and John and Paul and Peter and James and Jude wrote - the same reason I teach and preach – to establish, to strengthen, to confirm fellow believers in their knowledge and understanding of who Jesus Christ really is, and in their obedience to Him as Lord of all.  Now, here’s the deal.  Something drove those men to do that, something drives me to do what I do.  What is it? 

Once again, Acts 1:3, “Jesus showed Himself ALIVE to them after they had seen Him die!”  What’s the reason, the overarching, world-changing reason behind what Luke records for us here?  The Resurrection!  Jesus, the crucified one, is alive!  He is alive!  Acts 2:22-24, look it up.  God raised up His Son, Jesus.  Acts 17:30-32, God raised up His Son, Jesus.  But, what does that have to do with anything?  The infallible proofs, the load of clear, unmistakable evidence points us in one direction, and in one direction only: Jesus is whom He claimed to be!  The Christ, the Son of the living God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Acts 17 – the scholars of Paul’s day, the Athenian philosophers, scoffed at it, the thought of a man rising from the dead!   Festus, the secular, Roman ruler before whom Paul appeared, thought Paul was INSANE for making such a claim!  Even the Jewish religious and political leaders knew that if Jesus, the One they had crucified, REALLY was alive, nothing, NO THING, would ever be the same again!  Yes, the Reason of the Resurrection, unmistakable proof, was and would be a world-changer.  Why?  Acts 17:30-32, because His resurrection confirms one very sobering fact: Judgment Day is coming!  In the past, God winked at the ignorance of unbelieving men and women, but now, because Jesus died AND was raised, He commands all to repent!  And, the marvelous thing is this, calling upon the name of, reaching out for, the power and authority and effectual, saving work of the resurrected One, opens for us a doorway out from God’s judgment, from ‘condemnation room’, into a glorious place called, ‘salvation room,’ ‘forgiveness room’! 

The Resurrection Reason behind all Luke records here, that’s ‘R’ number two.  Then, notice Acts 1:6-8.  ‘R’ number three in this passage, the first of many, many references Luke makes to the Responsibility Jesus placed on the shoulders of the Apostles.  Read it again with me, will you? 

Acts 1:6-8, “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The ‘flow-chart’, the leadership ‘flow-chart’ in some organizations is rather sketchy, gaps here, overlapping over here, perhaps even some contradictions there. 

But, not this ‘flow chart’, not in the Church, at least as Jesus aimed to build it.  Acts 1:6-8, who’s responsibility was it – is it – to ordain and orchestrate the times and seasons having to do with final things, the end of the age?  The apostles?  Ours?  No!  Those things belong to God the Father, they are HIS responsibility!  So, where does that leave us?  Where are we on the ‘flow chart’?   What was the apostles’ responsibility, and what is ours?  “You shall be witnesses of Me,” that was Jesus’ answer!  And, notice, that Jesus’ answer to the apostles’ question, “What is OUR responsibility?” does not come merely in the form of a prediction: “You will do such and such…”  Rather, it comes in a form much like that of the 10 commandments of the Old Testament, “You shall be My witnesses…”  This command, beginning with the words, ‘Go make disciples…’  ‘Go testify of me!’  It’s what propelled the apostles and other early Christians to say things like: “We CANNOT but speak of the things which we have seen and heard…”  (Acts 4:19-20)  “You Scribes, you Pharisees, you secular government rulers are demanding that we keep quiet!  But we can’t!  This divine imperative compels us!  No matter what you say!  No matter how much you threaten us.  No matter how badly you treat us or torture us, we must obey God rather than men!”  (Acts 5:29)

If you haven’t already begun to read the Book of Acts, as we kick of this new study, let me urge you to do so!  But, then notice, you know what you’ll see?  This divine compulsion, bound up in the nature of their God-given responsibility, it’s what made these men do what they would not have done otherwise!  Their God-given responsibility combined with our final ‘R’, the Reality of Jesus’ Presence in them and with them, these things are what propelled them AND empowered them to turn the world upside down! 

Acts 2:4 – How many times do we read words like these in the Book of Acts?  “And they (the apostles) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak… as the Spirit of Christ gave them words…”   The joyful Reality of Jesus’ presence in them and with them, what POWER it gave them to courageously witness!  And, what peace, calm like that which Jesus caused out on the stormy sea of Galilee, peace in the face of hatred and teeth-gnashing hostility, what gave them such joy, such peace, such courage?  Acts 4:13 - They had been with Jesus, they had seen Him die AND live again, they had heard His voice, “As the Father has sent Me, even so, I am sending you!”  They had eaten with Him, they had even touched His nail-scarred hands!  They had been with Him!  And, now, through the person of the Spirit of Jesus, He was with them!  In them! 

The Reality of Jesus’ Presence – it is what gave these ordinary men extra-ordinary power, to be Jesus’ witnesses, His hands, His feet, His voice! 

Now, where does all of that leave us?  We’ve learned what the 4 ‘R’s’ are, we can even list them: 1) Reliable Record, 2) Resurrection Reason, 3) Responsibility to Witness, and 4) Reality of His Presence.  But, so what?  What are we supposed to do with that knowledge? 

Let me ask you a question or two first: do you know Jesus?  Is He your Lord and Savior?  Have you ever called upon His name for saving help?  Have you ever been immersed into His name for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit? 

If you haven’t, then, there’s your place to begin.  But, if you have, then what?  Then, ask yourself this question: why did God give me hands, and feet, and a voice?  Why did God give me skills and talents, gifts and abilities and resources?  You, my friends, are to be Jesus’ hands, to heal the sick, and to clothe the naked, TODAY, you are to be His feet, to feed the hungry, and to defend the weak.  Today, yes, you my friends, you know why God gave you that voice, those words, don’t you?  That you might tell others, like Luke told Theophilus: “Jesus is alive!  The crucified Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus, is alive forevermore!  And in His name, through His authority, by way of what He did at Calvary, and on resurrection morning, you can be saved!  You can be forgiven!”

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