Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 May 24, 2020
“Jesus Two-Fold Promise”
Acts 1:8 (cf. Acts 1:1-11)
Welcome back to in-person worship at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. We were last together in this place on Sunday morning, March 8—eleven weeks ago—and today is cause for great rejoicing indeed. Today, in liturgical churches, is Ascension Sunday. As you would expect from the name, on this Sunday—the final Sunday before Pentecost—many churches celebrate Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. Today, in God’s Word, we see and hear—in Jesus’ final words before His ascension—His two-fold promise to His disciples—a promise extended to us as well. Let us hear the Word of God read and proclaimed once again in this place.
(HERE READ ACTS 1:1-11)
The verse under close examination today, verse eight, occurs within Luke’s Spirit-led introduction to the book of Acts (1:1-11). Four small sections within this introduction form the context for our verse, namely, Jesus is alive by many convincing proofs (1-3), the disciples must wait in Jerusalem for the Father’s promise (4-5), the disciples ask if the fullness of the Kingdom will come soon, and Jesus replies (6-8, today’s verse occurs within this small section), and Jesus’ ascends to Heaven, with His promised return declared by two men in white (9-11). Jesus, after declaring to the disciples that it is not for them (or us) to know the time of the fullness of the Kingdom of God, issues them—and us—a two-fold promise. Let us look closer at Jesus’ glorious promise to His followers.
First, Jesus’ followers will receive power. Power, at least in physics class, is force per unit time. Hence, the more force exerted over the shorter time, the greater the power. This description will work well in this context. Jesus’ disciples, then and now, will receive power from Him—in this context, to Godly ends, both to discharge ministry (further described below) and to overcome obstacles as they present themselves in the discharge of that ministry (in hearers, from opponents, et al.) Those belonging to Christ will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them. Only God, via the Holy Spirit, grants such power. More wooden translations of the verb rendered has come (Greek eperchomai [epercomai]) in the English Standard Version include arriving or happening—the implication is that, when the Holy Spirit comes in such a fashion upon His disciples, those disciples know it. When the promised Holy Spirit comes to these disciples—of which they have a taste already, cf. John 20:22—they shall receive power for service unto the triune God.
Second, Jesus’ followers will be His witnesses. The underlying Greek New Testament word for witness (martus [martuV]: from whence English martyr) denotes one who declares true testimony, or one whose very presence and bearing imply true testimony. It is true, in some cases, that faithful Christian witness results in the physical death of that witness, but it is the providential lot and new-birthright of the Christian to serve as a witness to Jesus Christ. To be such a witness is to declare what you know concerning Him. What you know includes both what you have sensed concerning Jesus—what you have seen, heard, etc.—and what you have learned concerning Him, either by express declaration from Scripture or by reasonable inference therefrom. We, Jesus’ followers, shall testify of Him in the Spirit’s powerful presence.
Moreover, we shall bear witness unto Jesus in ever-widening circles, or spheres. The first disciples bore witness in Jerusalem (the immediate area where they were), in Judea (the area around Jerusalem, approximately the southern third of the Holy Land), in Samaria (the region immediately north of Judea, approximately the middle third of the Holy Land—Galilee being the northern third), and to the end of the earth (everywhere). This is a great spur, grounded in the Being of God, to take the Good News of His Son, Jesus Christ, as many have said, to the end of the street, to the end of the earth, and everywhere in between.
We, today, are to be witnesses of Jesus. We shall testify to His unique Person. Jesus is fully man, born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph—and, therefore, He is able to identify with us to the uttermost. Jesus also is fully God, born of the Holy Spirit in a miraculous way, and, hence, He is able to save to the uttermost those who trust in Him. We also shall testify to Jesus’ matchless work. We declare His work in our lives: how He gives us hope, how He gives us power and will to forsake sin, His gifts of peace and provision for our lives, and so much more. We also declare Jesus’ work in His Church: how He unifies highly disparate people in one Body, how He ministers to our souls in the teaching and preaching of His Word, and how He fills our souls and calls people to faith in Himself via public worship. Finally, we declare Christ’s works in our world: how He creates beautiful things in the world He made and how He orders good things in that world. We truly have much to declare concerning our Savior.
Yet we, today, need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to do this. We need His presence and power because of indifference toward our message, on the one hand, and hardness of heart concerning that message, on the other hand. We need the Spirit’s power for witness because of opposition to us and to our message—both from the evil one himself and from those here on earth doing his will. We furthermore need the Spirit’s empowerment of our witness because of our reticence to share the Good News—either from perceived want of material, or shyness, or unbecoming shame in the Savior or His message, or from some other cause. Doubtless we need the Spirit’s power—and we have it, according to today’s portion of God’s Word. Therefore, let us undergird this whole enterprise of witness with prayer—much prayer—and let us rejoice that we have another Helper, Whose outpouring we celebrate next week.
 For insight into this Greek verb I am indebted, as usual in my Greek word studies, to Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).