Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1-14
“What a great story! I wonder what happens next?”
Have you ever said those words at the end of a book or movie you’ve read or seen?
When you turn the final page and you finish the book and just want to know what happens next? You wonder what the character’s life continued to be like? You wonder if they were able to continue on the trajectory when you read those final words.
And for movies, you just want to know if there’s going to be a sequel and your start to picture what happens next?
In our family we’re big science fiction fans. Which means we went to see Star Wars when it came out in December. And yes we went on opening day. But because we know there are still 2 more movies being made, we couldn’t help but wonder what the characters would be up to in the next movie. We wondered how the plot would evolve. We speculated about their unknown histories which will surely be revealed as the movies come out and we tried see how the characters would be connected to each other.
It’s kind of our nature isn’t it? It’s part of our desire to belong to a larger story. It’s part of our desire for connection to others. We all have it, even if you are an extreme introvert, or are incredibly shy, there are still moments when you want to be part of a community of stories.
For the last few months our focus has been on the Gospel of Mark, and last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. We celebrated that his promises came true, and that he still lives today.
And in the Gospel of Mark, the book ends rather abruptly at this point. There is only a couple of short mentions about Jesus revealing himself to the disciples, then he quickly ascends into heaven.
After the resurrection story, all of these things happen in only 11 verses; a couple of short paragraphs. And that’s it, the book is done.
So we might turn the page and say, “Wow, I wonder what happens next? What did the disciples do?”
Well, today we start to see just what happens next as we move into the book of the Bible known as the Acts of the Apostles, or simply the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts begins with “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1)
“In the first book I wrote about…”
Who is speaking?
Well that would be Luke, the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Luke is known as a bit of an academic amongst Biblical scholars. It seems like he took time to make sure his research was good before he wrote things down. Of all the Gospels, Luke’s gospel is often regarded as the more accurate one.
So Luke has continued writing about what happened after Jesus was resurrected from the dead. In the Gospel of Luke we read up to the point where Jesus ascended into heaven as well. And this is where the book of Acts comes in. It gives a brief recap of the days following the resurrection story, and a story of one the visits Jesus made to the disciples.
After which he goes on to tell the story of the building of what has become the Christian church. And we’ll look at the book of Acts over the next few weeks to learn more about what happened.
In our reading this morning we hear of the promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus will send as a gift to his friends. We will hear more about this in the coming weeks as we approach Pentecost, but it’s important we remember the promise Jesus has made to his friends. He’s not done with them yet! There is still more to come!
In verse 6 of our reading the disciples ask Jesus a question. They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
All along Jesus had been promising to restore Israel, to bring about God’s plan for the people. So the disciples ask, one more time, “is this the time?”
I mean after all of the journey they have been on. After all they have seen over the last few weeks, with Jesus dying, then coming out of the grave, and now visiting them a number of times. They are probably wondering what’s up. Obviously things have really changed for them, and they are remembering all the promises Jesus made around the return of the Kingdom of God. Their question seems quite valid! “Is now the time?”
Sadly, for them, it is not. And Jesus lets them know it will happen when it will happen. They won’t know the day, but they will have the opportunity to help continue his mission, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells them God knows the time, and that’s all that really matters. In the meantime he gives them a job to do once they receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Imagine for a moment you were given a big job. You were being asked to be witnesses for Jesus. And then Jesus gives you the territory you will cover.
So he begins, “You will be my witness in Sydney Mines.”
Well that sounds ok. Sydney Mines isn’t a very big town, we can handle that can’t we? We know lots of people here, we’re quite comfortable in this town. We could probably be a witness for Jesus pretty easily.
But Jesus isn’t done.
“You will be my witnesses in Sydney Mines, and in all of Nova Scotia.”
Woah, that’s a little more daunting isn’t it?
We can handle Sydney Mines, but all of Nova Scotia? That’s a pretty big place. Just to witness down around Yarmouth is a 6 or more hour drive! How could we possibly witness to such a big place? But we would try. It’s a little intimidating, but we’ll see what we can do.
But Jesus isn’t finished yet.
“You will be my witnesses in Sydney Mines, in all of Nova Scotia, and to the ends of the earth.”
WOAH! Hold on a minute there Jesus. Do you realize just how big the world is? Do you realize there are something like 7 billion people out there who speaks hundreds of different languages? Most of them we’ve never even heard of?
Sydney Mines? Sure, we can handle this town.
The province? Well, that’s pushing us, but maybe we could do some good work in the province if we really put our minds to it.
The whole world? That’s just beyond our limits! Isn’t it? That’s just too big of an area. There’s no way we can ever reach out to the ends of the earth. Nope sorry, it’s not possible at all.
You are probably getting an idea of what the disciples were thinking when they heard these words from Jesus.
They can handle Jerusalem. The might be able to handle Judea and Samaria. But even Samaria is a tough sell, because the Jews hate Samaria. It would be like asking the Hatfields to make friends with the McCoys.
And then the whole world.
This is before public mass transit. There’s no trains or airplanes where you can travel from one corner of the earth to another on pretty much the same day. There’s no Facebook or Twitter where you can share messages with people all over the world with the simple typing of a keyboard and click of a mouse.
For the disciples to get the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, it means they need to go there physically with weeks, months, even years of travel.
And guess what. Our presence here this morning is a witness to the fact they did it. Sure none of the first disciples of Jesus made it this far, but their message surely did.
Because they received the Holy Spirit, because they encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ, because they believed his teaching, we are here today. They truly have reached the ends of the earth.
11 guys started all of this.
2000 years ago.
Because Jesus told them they would.
Now I am sure, that when they went back to Jerusalem to share with the others what they have been told, they had NO IDEA just how far their message would spread.
They returned to the place they were staying and dedicated themselves to prayer and waited for the next instructions to come.
Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, the world.
Comfortable. A bit uneasy. Impossible.
But when they finally received the Holy Spirit, things changed fast and the journey had begun. Quickly they moved beyond the city into the region, and then in no time they began travelling to places they had never been to before.
Yet another promise of Jesus comes true. They become witnesses to the entire world. Remembered for the faith, for their zeal, for their love of Jesus and their commitment to sharing his teachings with the entire world.
What do we want to be known for?
What do we want Cape Breton to be known for?
Do we want Cape Breton to be known for the fact that over 50% of young adult males are problem drinkers? It’s true.
Do we want Cape Breton to be known for it’s poverty and addiction issues?
Do we want Cape Breton to be known for Chase The Ace? Where people spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the very slim chance they’ll win some big money?
What would we like Cape Breton to be known for?
Personally, I would love to see Cape Breton known for it’s love of Jesus Christ. I would weep tears of joy and gratitude if the people of this island knew Jesus as Lord and Saviour. I would be in great awe if they took their faith and shared it with the world.
Can it happen?
If it can happen with 11 regular guys from the middle east it can happen anywhere. Even here.
Jesus didn’t make his promise of the Holy Spirit a limited time offer. Jesus made this offer available to all people for all time, until he returns to bring us home.
And just like the disciples, we have no idea when that will be. Only God knows this.
My friends, I believe strongly God has big plans for His church. I believe God is going to do great and wonderful things here in Sydney Mines and to the ends of the earth.
I believe God has put the plan the motion, and He is inviting the church to be part of it.
Do we dare?
Are we so moved by Jesus to join him on this journey?
Sydney Mines. Nova Scotia. The whole world.
It can happen!
The good news is we won’t be doing it alone. There are churches across this island, there are churches across this province, there are churches across Canada and the entire world working as part of God’s mission to share His love with the entire world.
I know it. I’ve met some of them, especially the Canadian ones.
Churches from all denominations feeling passionate about what Jesus taught and showed the world. Churches full of people who are committing themselves to be disciples of his.
Big churches. Small churches. Churches just like our church.
Churches full of people with questions. Full of people seeking answers. Full of people who are longing to know Jesus more. People no different than we are.
People who are giving themselves to Jesus.
And Jesus is responding by leading his people.
We are part of this. We are Christ’s church and we are part of his life.
Why? Because he lives.
Jesus Christ laid out his plan when he told his disciples they would take his message to the ends of the earth. And they did. Beyond all comprehension, beyond all belief they could ever do it, it’s been done.
And now it’s our turn.
We will continue to carry on in sharing the life of Jesus Christ with the world. We will do it by sharing his stories.
And we will do it by sharing the life of Jesus Christ which is in us.
Sydney Mines. Nova Scotia. The world!
When we closed the book on the Gospel of Mark last week, maybe we wondered what’s next?
Jesus is risen. That’s great and wonderful news!
But what’s next?
Today we begin to see what’s next.
Today we see we are the what’s next, because the disciples received the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, and the message spread.
What is our message?
Where will we share this good news?
What will God do through us that we never expected? I can’t say I know. I wish I could. But God knows, and I know God will use us for great and wonderful things in His name.
We’ve already seen it happen and we will see it happen again.
Thanks be to God. Amen and amen.