“Beginning At Jerusalem,” Part 2.

This post continues and concludes our last post.

Scripture texts:  Luke 24:26, 27, 45-49; John 20:21-23.

3. Luke 24:26, 45-49, The Message Committed to the Churches.

Verse 26 gives us the essence of Gospel preaching.  There are many Biblical subjects we can preach and teach on, but the Gospel itself is about the two things in Luke’s text.

a. An Awful Reality, vs. 26,

1). “the sufferings of Christ”.

We pretty much don’t like the idea of suffering.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.  If we have to have surgery, we welcome the anesthesiologist.  In every part of our life, we try to be as comfortable as possible.  Even typing this, I’m not sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair.  We want air-conditioning and heat in our cars, comfortable pews in our churches.  We’re pretty spoiled.

Even in our views of Christ, we don’t think a lot about His suffering.  I’ve heard preachers describe the agony of crucifixion with the dispassion they might use with some ordinary topic.  And, truly, we have no idea what a crucifixion was like.  We are concerned in capital cases that the criminal suffer as little as possible and great outcry is made if, by some chance, something goes wrong and he does suffer.  I’m not advocating cruelty toward criminals, but the Romans had no qualms about things we cringe at.

Our pictures of His death have been pretty sanitized, as well.  One branch of the church even boasts of its “bloodless icons.”  But with the beatings, the scourging and the nails in His wrists and ankles, in the words of Isaiah 52:14, His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.  In the common vernacular, He was a bloody mess.

Now, some men and women do have an idea of what physical suffering can be like, with serious injuries and such.  But there was more to it than just the physical.  Isaiah 53:6 says, The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Paul carried it even further, he made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“He made Him to be sin….”

I don’t think we have any idea what that meant to the Lord Jesus.  Incarnate holiness to be made imputed sin.  That One who had enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father now turned away and suffering His wrath against sin.

No.

We have no idea….

But He didn’t just die.

2). and that He should rise from the dead.

The Cross isn’t the end of the story.  He’s not still hanging there.  The crucifix gives a false narrative.  There is no grave holding His remains.  Yes, it was necessary for the Christ to suffer,” but something else was necessary, as well.  That was for Him to rise from the dead the third day,” Luke 24:45.  The Cross is empty.  So is the tomb.

The truth of the Resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from religions of the world.  Other religions have holy books, death, angels, “visions,” etc.  But none of them has a resurrection, indeed, may even deny the resurrection.

Without the Resurrection, there is no proof that Christ’s death was any different than the deaths of the two men who dies with Him that day.  But He did rise from the dead.  This also proved His assertion that He was God, Romans 1:4.  Some deny that He ever claimed to be God, but that claim was the main reason, humanly speaking, He was crucified, John 19:7.  And, further, because He did rise from the dead, then we have –

b. An Individual Applicability, Luke 24:47.

“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The announcement of our Lord’s birth to Joseph was that “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  The Cross was the payment that made salvation even possible.  The Resurrection was the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  We enter into that salvation through two things:

1). Repentance.

Why didn’t Peter mention “faith”?  To hear some preachers, repentance has nothing to do with it.  We have only to “believe.”  Some even say that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine,” and not applicable to us.  Is that true?  Why did Peter mention it?  – and not faith?

And, yes, just to be sure, we are “saved by faith.”  Scripture is very clear about that:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added.

At the same time and regardless of what men may say about it, our Lord specifically commanded repentance to be preached.  In his last remarks to the Ephesian elders, Paul told that he had testified to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Acts 20:21.

“Repentance toward God.”

Too many people have the idea that we’re already the children of God and He is our Father.  He is indeed our Creator and in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28, but we are not little children wandering from the side of a loving Father.  We are traitors and rebels against the God of Heaven and would dethrone Him if we could.  Granted, there are different degrees of rebellion, but it is still true that we all go astray.  Isaiah 53:11 says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  While that verse refers directly to Israel’s repentance at the Return of our Lord, Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to do with God.  “Sin” is not defined by the latest social or cultural ideas.  It isn’t determined by “social justice warriors.”  Those who can riot and cause the most damage or kill the most people have nothing to say about it.  Indeed, such ideas lead only to the filth, violence and perversion we see engulfing our world and our cultures.

To “repent” means to change our mind so that we agree with and obey God, not this world or our own sinful inclinations.  It doesn’t mean just to be “sorry” for our sins, which too often just means that we’re sorry about the results of our sin.  It doesn’t mean just to “show remorse” at our sins, which just usually means that we got caught.  It means to reject our sins, to view them as God views them: as terrible, heinous things deserving of judgment and punishment and ourselves as wicked felons for doing such things and having pleasure in them.

Even the most decent and moral among us have “fallen short” in this matter.  Too often we judge ourselves by seeing someone worse that we are.  But that person isn’t the standard.  God’s Law is.  The Lord Jesus is the human example of what that looks like.

We have sinned, we have “fallen short.”  This brings us to the second thing our Lord mentioned:

2). remission of sin.

In the words of Paul, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

He didn’t come to this world just to give us a reason to give each other presents or to dye eggs.  He came into this world to be a substitute, to be a sacrifice.

He came to take care of our sins.

That is why He lived and died:

to save His people from their sins.

It took the death of the incarnate God to pay for sin.  Money can’t do it.  Our “good works” can’t do it.  A few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” can’t do anything about our sins.  Indeed such things, the good works or trying to “bribe” God in some way, only add to our sin.  No “priest,” no human effort or idea, can cause “remission of sin.”  There is nothing and no one in this world that can forgive sin.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, even the very best we could possibly do is sin.  Apart from Him, there is no hope, no salvation.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

And “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t some physical thing: walking an aisle, “saying a prayer,” “raising a hand for salvation.”  It isn’t baptism or communion.  It isn’t about some ritual or ceremony.

It is to have a “death grip,” as it were, on Him as the Only One who can rescue us from our sin.

4. John 20:21-23, The Means Given to the Churches.

a. His promise, v. 21.

The Lord is not saying that He is sending out His disciples in the same way that the Father sent Him.  There are two words translated “send” in this verse.   The word translated “send” as it pertains to the disciples is more general than the other word.  Some translate the verse so as to indicate that even though the disciples are being sent out, it is still the Lord who is responsible for their mission.  This is a great blessing.  We have enough on our plates to think about without having to worry, as some think, about the results of our faithfulness.  It is the Lord’s mission and it will accomplish what He wants it to, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.

b. His power, vs. 22, 23.

Many think that the disciples didn’t receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost.  However, John indicates that they received Him here.  They received the power of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Verse 23 presents a great difficulty.  The KJV and some other translations seem to indicate that the loosing and remitting of sin is done by the disciples.  A more correct translation indicates that these actions have already been done, and the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are merely confirming what has already taken place, as people either receive or reject the message.

This is solemn.  It is time to quit “playing church.”  We are dealing with eternity-bound men and women.  We are eternity-bound men and women.  How little do we really act as if we realize that we will soon stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The Word of God is all that really matters in this sin-cursed world.  Only the Lord Jesus is able to make “life” what it’s supposed to be.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.