WE ARE COMMISSIONED
All right, grab your Bibles. We’re in the book of Acts. We start a new book of the Bible today. Mars Hill, we like books of the Bible, right?
Go to the book of Acts. As you’re turning there, we’re going to study together, over the course of nine weeks, the early history of the first Christians, but here’s how we’re going to study it. We’re not going to study it as scholars; we’re going to study it as soldiers. Scholars and soldiers tend to be the ones who study history the most. Scholars want to look at what people used to do; soldiers want to see what remains to be done. Those who are scholars study history for the sake of information; those who are soldiers study it for the sake of mission.
As we come to study the history of the early church, we’re not just looking at what God used to do but what God still wants to do, amen? And we’re invited today to be part of the most important mission in the history of the world. A soldier marches forward so that people may have life. We march forward together as the people of God so that people may receive eternal life.
God has assembled us together. He’s chosen us to be born when we were born, to live where we live, and he has assembled us together to be on a great mission with him. And the story of the Bible is that God has an enemy, and that he has taken into captivity those who are apart from Jesus—their hearts are hard, their eyes are closed, their life is destined toward destruction. And we have this great news, this great good news, to tell: Jesus Christ conquers sin, Jesus Christ conquers death, Jesus Christ is alive and well. And we are commissioned—we are sent on mission into the world—to tell others about the victory of Jesus.
It all begins right here in Acts 1. If you’ve wondered, “How did Christianity start? How did churches come into existence? Why is Mars Hill Church even here?” Here, we read it in the beginning of the book of Acts. So, if you would turn there with me, we’ll start with Jesus’ life in Acts 1:1–3. I want you to see that it’s all about Jesus.
The first eleven verses of Acts that we’ll examine together today—every single one of them mentions Jesus. There is no Christianity without Christ. Here’s how it begins: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit”—you’re going to learn a ton about the Holy Spirit in the next nine weeks; he is going to appear every single week—“to the apostles”—those are leaders—“whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about”—and there it is—“the kingdom of God.”
He talks about the first book. When he speaks of the first book, he’s talking about the book of Luke. How many of you were here when we went through the book of Luke a few years ago? We took a few years and went through the book of Luke. That was the prequel; this is the sequel. In the book of Luke, it tells us that Jesus gave us his life. In Acts, it shows us how Jesus gave us his power through the person and the presence of the Holy Spirit. And so we have the same author, and he is writing to tell us the history of Jesus and the history of Jesus’ people, the first Christians in the church.
So, that’s the first book that he, in fact, references. And he tells us that back in Luke, he recorded for us “all that”—and he says it right here—“Jesus began to do and to teach.” So, that’s Jesus’ works and his words. This is very important. John Calvin called this “a holy knot.” All right, next time you lace up your shoes, think, “Jesus’ works and Jesus’ words.” They go together into a holy knot. Some people really like Jesus’ works. “Oh look, there’s Jesus. He’s feeding the hungry, he’s giving sight to the blind, he’s playing with children. We love that.” Where some have resistance is not so much to Jesus’ works but to his words, “I am God,” “I am Savior,” “I am Creator,” “I am the Judge of the living and the dead,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” The conflict, the controversy occurs over Jesus’ words. Over Jesus’ words.
HIS WORDS AND WORKS
So, as we read, particularly the Gospel of Luke, as he is referencing here, I want you to, as you read the Bible, look at Jesus’ works and say, “That’s amazing that Jesus would love and give and serve so well,” but don’t overlook his words. Don’t just look to his works; listen to his words. Who he says he is is why he ultimately died. He was put to death, not for anything that he did, but for many things that he said, claiming to be God.
So, he’s saying here that these two knots go together. As we look at Jesus’ character, we see that here is a very trustworthy, honorable, humble, and generous giver. And then, when we hear his words, we have to then realize that he’s making claims that no one else makes in the history of the world, saying that he is the Creator, saying that he is the Sustainer, saying that he is the Redeemer, saying that he is God among us. And then if we disagree with him, we have to go back to his works and ask, “Is this the kind of man who would tell this kind of lie? Does he have the kind of character that causes me to be compelled to not only admire his works but to trust in his words?”
And that’s exactly what he’s saying. He’s setting it up all around Jesus. When it comes to Jesus’ works, it’s his sinless life, it’s his substitutionary death in our place for our sins, it’s his burial in the grave, and it’s his resurrection and triumphant victory over sin and death that constitutes the heart of his works. And then when he tells us that we can turn from sin, that we can trust in him, that in him there is forgiveness of sin, that in him there is eternal life, then his words and his works come together. As we believe his words, we experience his work. And that’s exactly what he’s telling us.
So, this is so incredibly important, Mars Hill, because what tends to happen is that some love what Jesus did but disagree with what Jesus said. And here, he tells us to listen to what Jesus said—his words—and to watch what Jesus did—his works. And the most important work that Jesus did was his resurrection from the dead. All of his claims are confirmed through his resurrection. No one beats death. No one beats death—except for Jesus Christ. He beat death. He died and was buried, and he rose. And he tells us here that he appeared for how many days? Forty days. And he says he offered many convincing proofs. This includes having breakfast with people. OK, that’s pretty convincing proof. You’re there, a guy dies, you go to his grave site to leave flowers, you realize that it’s open, he’s not there. Where is he? What happened? Oh, he’s in town having breakfast. You go have breakfast with him. You say, “Were you the guy that got crucified?” “Yes, here are the scars.” True or false, convincing proof? Very convincing proof. You don’t even have to go to college to get that one right, all right?
So, there are the kinds of convincing proofs that Jesus offered. He hung out for forty days. He had breakfast with people the Bible records. People came up and gave him a hug to see that he was actually, physically, literally resurrected from death. Guys like Thomas came up to him and said, “I won’t believe unless I see it for myself.” He sees the crucifixion scars in Jesus’ hands and side, falls down, proclaims, “This is my Lord; this is my God.” Jesus rose from death, and he evidenced this for forty days. It was obvious to all. It’s why his tomb was never enshrined. People would enshrine a tomb to go visit someone they loved or memorialized. People don’t go to Jesus’ tomb, why? He’s not there. He’s not there.
And then after forty days, he’s going to tell us what happened. Now, before we get into that, let me tell you a little bit about our author. Who knows the author of Acts? I just told you a little while ago. Were you paying attention? Come on, this’ll be on the test. Come on. Luke. Luke. Luke was a physician. He was a doctor. It says in Colossians 4 that he was Dr. Luke.
How many of you have heard that Christianity is for poor people and that it was led by uneducated people? How many of you have heard that? That’s not entirely true. Luke is a more affluent person. I don’t know about you, I don’t know a lot of really poor doctors, right? A poor doctor’s still doing better than most of us, right? So, he was not poor, he was more affluent. And he was not uneducated; he was very well educated. He originally wrote Luke and Acts in Greek, and those who are scholars would say that he indicates a very high intellect and a very competent education. He writes as one who’s been very formally trained. He’s a very articulate man. There were some leaders in the early church who were poor, and some were rich. Some were uneducated, and some were well educated—because Jesus is for what people? All people. All people. All people.
REPORTING ON JESUS’ LIFE
Dr. Luke is an amazing man. He was not an eye witness to the life, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus. He was more like an investigative reporter. He was more like a historian. He was like an Indiana Jones type, OK? For those of you who are as old as me, you know what that means. The rest of you can Google it. He was a guy who would go out, and he would investigate. So, he would go talk to those who knew Jesus, kids who grew up with him, family members who were still alive. He would go to the places that Paul preached and that Peter preached and where churches were assembled, and he would do the work of an investigative reporter: he would talk to the eye witnesses, he would gather the oral tradition, he would look at any evidence that was there, and he would try to collect and amass the story of Jesus in the book of Luke and Jesus’ people in the book of Acts.
I’ll tell you a couple things about him. He probably was not Jewish. He’s only mentioned three times in the New Testament. He was very close friends with Paul. As we read together the book of Acts, you’re going to see certain passages where Paul says, “We went here, and we did this, and we did that,” and you wonder, “Well, I know who Paul is. Who’s Mr. ‘We’?” Mr. “We” would be Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke is the traveling companion of Paul. They worked together. He’s friends with Paul. I think that he might have actually also been Paul’s personal physician. As Paul’s getting beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, imprisoned, a doctor would help, amen? And he’s got with him Dr. Luke. That’s his cut man in his corner to help him out for his gospel ministry. He goes and takes a seat, gets all stitched up by Luke, back to preaching. These two guys worked together. They worked together as friends.
And so, he’s there traveling with Paul, and he’s seeing what’s happening, and he’s recording what’s happening. He is the investigative reporter, who’s doing the work of going back to look at what Jesus did, and also an eye witness, recording what’s happening through the Holy Spirit with leaders like Paul.
Now, Luke and Acts are two book of the New Testament, but together they constitute the majority of the New Testament. Just by sheer length, Luke writes the majority of the New Testament. The largest number of books in the New Testament is written by Paul, who, again, is a friend of Luke. And so, Luke is involved in, to some degree, the vast majority—almost the entirety—of the New Testament.
And he stayed faithful to Jesus. There is a record of him outside of the Bible in church history, and here’s what it says. It’s written about a hundred years after he lived. It says, “Indeed, Luke was an Antiochian Syrian, a doctor by profession, a disciple of the apostles. Later, however, he followed Paul until his martyrdom.” So, Luke died for Jesus, “serving the Lord blamelessly. Faithful, godly man. He never had a wife, he never fathered children, and he died at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit.” Man, that we would all have that last line on our gravestone. “They died full of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve been to the place where it is presumed that he is buried. This man actually lived and what he records are historical events. I need you to get this: Christianity is about history; it’s not about philosophy. There are certain religious systems, like Buddhism, that are not based on a founder but a system of ideas. There are other religions that are based on a place—a holy location that we have to travel to. The center of Christianity is not a philosophy. The center of Christianity is not a place. The center of Christianity is a person. His name is Jesus.
So, we don’t adhere to a philosophical system. We don’t travel to a sacred place. Instead, we get to know a living person named Jesus. That’s his big idea. If you take Jesus out, Christianity ceases to exist. If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, that explains why Christianity is alive. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. The center of the Christian faith is the living, ruling, reigning, resurrected King of kings, Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. And that’s what Luke records for us in the Gospel of Luke, looking at the life of Jesus.
Then he continues in the book of Acts, showing the implications of the resurrection of Jesus and what the living Jesus does to and through his people. So, he begins by telling us about Jesus’ life, and then he transitions to telling us about Jesus’ power. Acts 1:4–5, “And while staying with them he ordered them”—this is Jesus—“not to depart from Jerusalem”—where they were and where the temple was located at that time—“but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”
Then, down in Acts 1:8, he was very clear. He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Jesus’ life and his power are not just to be admired; they’re also to be experienced. A non-Christian can look at Jesus’ life and Jesus’ power and admire it. Only a Christian can look at Jesus’ life and Jesus’ power and experience it. How many of you have looked at Jesus’ life and thought, “That’s an amazing life. That’s an amazing life.” He said no to sin; he said yes to God. He never took advantage of anyone. He never stole anything. He never was inappropriate with any woman as a single man in his thirties. He was always generous. He always told the truth. He suffered nobly. How many of you have looked at the life of Jesus and admired it? OK, that’s good, but that’s not enough. Jesus doesn’t want you to just admire his life, he wants you to experience his life through the person, the presence, the power of the third member of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.
So, after Jesus rises from death, everybody’s excited. “What do we do now? What do we do now?” Wait, because the Christian life cannot be lived apart from Christ’s power. Jesus is not just an example for us; he’s one who empowers us to follow in his example. You get that?
Let me explain this to you. He talked about “in his former book,” right? We just read that in Acts 1:1, —“in my former book.” So, what tends to happen is—some of you won’t know what this means; just hang in there. —How many of you are from Pentecostal, Charismatic backgrounds? All right, raise your hand. I know you want to. That’s what you do, right, OK? “Yay!” Both hands, right, OK? [Congregation laughing] Charismatic, Pentecostal, OK, raise your hands, right? And what tends to happen is when you go to a Charismatic or a Pentecostal church, they’re gonna talk a lot about the Holy Spirit, and they’ll usually start right around the book of Acts. And they’ll say, “Oh see, Jesus says we’re gonna get the Holy Spirit.” And then you go a little bit forward—we’re gonna get there in the next few weeks—the Holy Spirit drops on God’s people, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit, and then everybody starts talking about the Holy Spirit.
Luke just told us—where should we start our study? “In his former book.” If you want to understand the person of the Holy Spirit, you don’t start in Acts; you start in Luke, which sets up Acts. They’re actually one book in two parts, and Luke starts Acts by saying, “Don’t forget my former book. These go together. Read that one first. Get this all in order.”
So, let’s follow Luke’s instruction. Jesus tells us, “You will receive”—what? “Power.”
There was a Swedish chemist many years ago. He was working, and he discovered a very powerful substance. And so, he had to call it something because he had discovered it. He called a friend of his who was a Greek scholar. I don’t know if he was a Christian or not. He may have been a New Testament scholar for all I know. And he asked, “What’s the Greek word for ‘power’?” It’s the same word here. It’s dunamis. What is that? It’s dynamite. Our word “dynamite” comes from the biblical word for “Holy Spirit.” All right, when he shows up, boom! Stuff happens, right? You don’t have to ask, “Was there dynamite there? I couldn’t tell.” No, you know right? You know, right? Let’s say it was a firecracker. You’re like, “Um, yeah, that— [Boom!] OK, that, that was dynamite over there.” When the Holy Spirit shows up, you know it. There’s power. Things happen. Things change. The Christian life is about that kind of power, that kind of supernatural, God-given power. But you need to be careful with this, because apart from Jesus, we could misunderstand this power. We could misuse this power.
So, we go back to his former book and we ask, not first, “How should we use this power of the Holy Spirit?” but “How did Jesus use this power from the Holy Spirit?” One of the things I love about Luke’s Gospel is that it is the Gospel that explains in the richest detail the relationship between God the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ.
OK, if you’re new, we believe in one God, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s called the Trinity. It’s what all Christians believe. Within this, the second member of the Trinity comes into human history as the God-man Jesus Christ. And he lives a perfect life—no sin of any sort or kind. The question is, how did he do that? How many have looked at the life of Jesus and said, “Well, of course he didn’t sin. He’s God.” It kind of looks like he’s cheating, right? “Oh, God didn’t sin? Well, shocking, that is. Oh look, God’s waterskiing without a boat. Kind of expected that,” right? “Oh, God took a little boy’s Lunchables and fed a stadium of people. Well, that’s the stuff that God can do; I’m not God, so I don’t expect to do anything really interesting. God said no to temptation, God did not tell a lie, but that’s God; I’m not God, so I have very little expectation for any explosive power of change in my life.”
JESUS DIDN’T CHEAT
Let me tell you this about Jesus: he never cheated. This is very important. How many of you watch the old Superman episodes and you’re like, “I know it’s not Clark Kent. I know it’s not.” Again, you kids can Google it. He looked like Clark Kent, but underneath, who was he? Superman. He had the big S on his unitard. He did, right? [audience member laughs] One person likes that; the rest of us are throwing up in our mouth. Anyways, he had the big s on his chest, which meant when someone was against him, they really weren’t against Clark Kent; they were really against Superman. Some people have that perspective of Jesus. “Oh, he looks like a mild, humble, Galilean, peasant carpenter, but underneath, he’s really Savior—he’s Lord. So, when he’s tempted, he’s not really tempted. When he’s hurting, he’s not really hurting. When he’s suffering, he’s not really suffering. He’s cheating.”
Did Jesus cheat? No. While on the earth, Jesus remained fully God and had full access to all of his divine attributes, but he did not avail himself to the continual use of those divine attributes. He didn’t cheat. When it says in Luke 2 that he grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with men and God, it means that he actually had to memorize Scripture like we have to memorize Scripture. He didn’t just get to go, “Oh, I know it because I wrote it,” right? He had to memorize it like we do. It means that as Jesus was preaching and teaching, he had to learn how to use his abilities like we would have to learn to use our abilities. It means when he was tempted, he did not lean into his divinity to cheat, he lived out of his humanity, and he was tempted, the Bible says, in every way as we are, yet without sin. What this means is that Jesus could have leaned into his divinity.
All right, he’s one person, two natures, fully God, fully man—but he didn’t cheat. As I read the Bible, the only time I see Jesus leaning into his divinity, into his deity, is never for his own benefit but for the benefit of others. So, when someone needs their sin forgiven, he forgives them as God, but that’s for their benefit. Any time that he is being tempted, any time that he is being tested, any time that he is being opposed, he doesn’t lean into his divinity, his deity. He lives out of his humanity. Jesus gets hungry like we get hungry. Jesus gets tempted like we get tempted. Jesus gets exhausted like we get exhausted. Jesus has to learn like we have to learn. Jesus has to labor like we have to labor.
So, Mars Hill, how did he do it? If he didn’t cheat and lean into his divinity, how did he do it? How did he do it? By the power of the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus shows us what it’s like to live a perfect, Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-led life.
Now, some of you didn’t grow up in Charismatic and Pentecostal homes, and when I start talking about the Holy Spirit, you get a nervous eye twitch, OK? You’re like, “I’ve heard about those churches. It’s where they collect seven offerings and the pastor wears a white suit and his wife looks like she lost a paintball gun war and people run around with flags. You’re freaking me out,” right? Hey, I’m just telling you what happens, right? And you get a little—you’re like, “Oh man.” As soon as they hear “Holy Spirit,” it’s like happy hour, right? Everybody gets a little loopy, and things get a little out of control.
JESUS LIVED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The key is, you cannot understand the power of the Holy Spirit apart from the life of Jesus. There’s no example of what it means to live a Spirit-empowered life unless we look at the life of Jesus.
And so, that’s what Luke is telling us. He says, OK, Jesus lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He lives without sin, he dies for our sin, he rises for our sin, he evidences it for forty days, and he tells his people, “Don’t go do ministry yet. Wait. You need power. The Holy Spirit’s coming to cause you to be like me.” That’s why the former book and the latter book go together.
So, in the book of Luke, I’ve got some notes for you. The relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit—Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in his mother, Mary. Jesus’ conception, his entrance into human history as a man, was by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Number two, at Jesus’ baptism, God the Father speaks from heaven. The whole Trinity is there. “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Here’s Jesus, the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity coming up out of the water. Who descends on Jesus? The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. This is to show publicly that Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, that he’s indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that he’s filled by the Holy Spirit, that he’s empowered by the Holy Spirit, that his whole life is by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why this was public, so everybody could see it. See, Jesus already knew it. This wasn’t for Jesus’ understanding; this was for our understanding.
The book of Luke, then, goes on to say that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit.” How many of you have heard, “You should live a Spirit-filled life.” That’s true. You know what that looks like? Jesus. Jesus. Any time we lift someone else up and say, “Well, there’s the Spirit-filled person, be like them,” wrong person. None of us sinners are perfectly, continually full of the Holy Spirit. We grieve, we quench, we resist the Holy Spirit at times. But Jesus was, “full of the Holy Spirit”—continually, perfectly.
Number four, the Gospel of Luke says that he was “led by the Spirit.” So, Jesus goes here because that’s where the Spirit is directing him. He teaches these people, he leads these people, he casts out these demons, he prays over this crowd. Why? Because he’s led by the Holy Spirit.
Number five, we read repeatedly in the Gospel of Luke that he came “in the power of the Spirit.” How did he teach? In the power of the Holy Spirit. How did he cast out demons? In the power of the Holy Spirit. How were those who were blind given sight? Because he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He came with, by, for, through the power of the Holy Spirit. See, ministry has programs, but it does nothing without power.
Number six, the Gospel of Luke says that he “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” When he had joy, when he celebrated, it was because the joy of the Lord was his strength. It was the Holy Spirit in him, causing him to glorify, to worship, to enjoy, to adore, to thank, to bless God the Father.
Number seven, it also says repeatedly in the book of Acts that the hand of the Lord was upon him. That’s language for the Holy Spirit. It’s a metaphor. God the Father’s in heaven, and God the Son’s on earth, and God the Father puts his hand on God the Son. He’s the One. In fact, that’s what it means to be the Christ. “Christ” literally means “the anointed one”—the one whom the Father has put his hand on and said, “He’s the chosen one. He’s the perfect one. He is the sent one.” Jesus indicates this for us as well.
Number eight, early on in his ministry, he walks into a synagogue, he opens to the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 61:1–2, and he reads it. Do you remember what he reads? He reads this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news and to set captives free.” And then he closed it up, and he said this: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Isaiah wrote seven hundred years prior and said, “There’s one who is coming, and the Spirit of the Lord will reside on him so that he could preach good news and set captives free from sin and death.” And Jesus says, “I’m here. That’s me. I’m the one you’ve all been waiting for, and the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
Mars Hill, that’s either true or one of the most arrogant statements ever uttered in the history of the world. Jesus was led by the Spirit. He was empowered by the Spirit. He was filled with the Spirit. He suffered by the power of the Holy Spirit. He persevered by the power of the Holy Spirit. He loved by the power of the Holy Spirit. He engaged in spiritual conflicts with the demonic realm by the power of the Holy Spirit. He prayed by the power of the Holy Spirit. He trained leaders by the power of the Holy Spirit. He honored and obeyed his mother and father when he was a little boy by the power of the Holy Spirit. He humbly, for the first thirty years of his life, went to a job as a carpenter, humbly serving, obscurely serving in a small town, in a poor family by the power of the Holy Spirit. He died still filled and led by the Holy Spirit.
So hear this: to be Spirit-filled is not to avoid suffering but to suffer well. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will not get you around suffering; he’ll get you through suffering. That was the case with Jesus. And Jesus, we read elsewhere in the New Testament, was raised from death by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in that same section, it goes on to say, “And that same power that raised Christ from the dead lives”—where? Lives in you, the Christian, so that we don’t just admire Jesus’ life; we experience Jesus’ life. When we look at Jesus, we don’t say, “Well, that’s God cheating.” No, that’s God humbling himself to live by the power of the Holy Spirit and then sending us the Spirit so that we could live by Jesus’ power, so we could follow Jesus’ example by Jesus’ power. You get that?
All of this, friends, is for mission. It’s not just so that you can be a better person. This is not modified self-help. This is not so that you can achieve your potential. This is not so that you could showcase your glory to the world. This is not so that you would meet all of your objectives. This is not so that you would be all you can be and do all you can do. This is exclusively for the mission of Jesus.
And we read of this in Acts 1:6–11. “So when they had come together”—all the believers (We see a few chapters later it’s 120 people. Christianity, at this point, is not a big deal)—“they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore ‘the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons ‘that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive’”—what? “Power”—there it is again—“when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses”—there’s our mission. The Holy Spirit comes so that we would be witnesses on Jesus’ mission—“in Jerusalem”—where they were—“Judea”—the region—“Samaria”—extended area—“and to the ends of the earth”—like Albuquerque and Portland. All right, he’s looking down the road.
The story continues. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The presence of God in the Bible is often accompanied with a cloud. “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said”—these are angels—“‘Men of Galilee, ‘why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” See, this explains to us where Jesus is today.
I had a funny story not long ago. A guy came up to me and said, “OK, so Jesus rose from death?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Where is he? Is he in Israel?” I was like, “No.” It’s a good question. Where is Jesus? If he conquered death, he never died again, where is he? Where is he, Mars Hill? He was taken up.
You ever had a kid who had a balloon? It wasn’t long ago my kids and I went out for burgers, and they gave my kids a balloon. Invariably, what happens to the balloon as soon as you leave the restaurant? All right, sometimes accidentally—and you can tell because of the nervous breakdown—they lose the string, right? “Ahhh!” But after a while, it becomes intentional, right? They’re like [peering around], and they let it go. One of my kids intentionally let their balloon go, right? I said, “What are you doing?” They’re like, “I want to watch.” So they watch, and I thought, “I wonder if it was like that when Jesus went.” Because they didn’t even have balloons at that time, so they were not expecting this. They’re like, “Wow.” I wonder if one of the guys was like, “We should have tied a string on him.” You know, like [mimics holding a string]. I mean, we read it in the Bible. We’re like, “And here is the ascension of our Lord,” but you think about it, you’re like, “That had to be kind of a weird moment,” right? “Hey Jesus, how are you—” [looking up] Right? And apparently, they’re all standing there looking at each other for a while, right? They’re like, “Uh, anybody have any suggestions?” Like, “I don’t know.” [jumps up] “We’re not going. We’re not going. What?” It was an awkward moment, right? Apparently, they’re there long enough to just like, “Wha—what do we do now?” The two angels show up, dudes in white. “Men of Galilee, hey, what are you doing? He’ll come back, but it’s going to be a while,” all right? And he tells them, “Here’s what I need you to do. Here’s what Jesus told you to do.”
I don’t know how to explain this. Jesus not only went up to a physical place, he then entered into another dimension, all right? Some of you say, “I don’t understand this.” Hey, ask a guy who watches Star Trek. Maybe he’ll help. I can’t fully explain this, OK? Now we’re into the supernatural, now we’re into the miraculous, now we’re into another dimension. But Jesus is alive today, and he’s a King who ascends to sit on his throne and rule over all of his creation.
3 THINGS ABOUT JESUS’ MISSION
Now, here’s the deal: it’s not about your mission. It’s not about my mission. It’s not about our mission. It’s about his mission. A lot of people have a mission, and they want to use Jesus for their mission. Grow my business, make me healthy, fix my family. Sometimes this can even be noble causes, noble organizations. Not necessarily even bad things, maybe even things that Jesus would approve of. But we’ve got to be very careful. We’re never allowed to use Jesus for our mission. It’s Jesus’ mission, and we’re a part of it.
So as a church, you need to know this: we believe it’s a sin to sit down with a whiteboard and ask, “What’s our mission?” We have no right. In fact, we’re supposed to open the Bible and ask, “Jesus, what’s your mission?” And then we’re supposed to be on his mission. See, organizations and businesses can sit down and put together their mission statement. Jesus is the head of the church. Every church belongs to him. Every church has the same mission, and we have no right to come up with our own mission or to try to use him for our mission. In fact, the church doesn’t even have a mission. Jesus does, and the church is a part of his mission. So, our mission is simply to do what Jesus told us to do. Do you get that? And he said that we would be his—what? His witnesses. That’s the mission. That’s the mission.
So, let me tell you a couple things about Jesus’ mission.
1. IT’S UNDER HIS SOVEREIGN RULE
Number one, Jesus’ mission is under his sovereign rule. He ascended into heaven. Right now, he’s seated on a throne. So, Jesus entire mission is under his sovereign rule. I’m not in charge; Jesus is. You’re not in charge; Jesus is. The whole mission on earth is under the ruling, resurrected, reigning Jesus, seated on his throne right now.
2. IT’S KINGDOM EXPANSION
Number two, Jesus’ mission is the expansion of his kingdom through the church. There’s no mission apart from the church. You’re going to see that coming up in Acts 2 and 3. He doesn’t start a whole bunch of organizations. He starts one organism called the church, and Jesus’ mission is the expansion of his kingdom. He says it right here. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” He’s coming back. Between the time of his ascension and the time of his Second Coming is the time for our witnessing as the church for the expansion of his kingdom. The Old Testament would say this a lot: “God was seeking a people for his own possession.” In the New Testament, the language is, “to make disciples”—which are people for his own possession. The goal is always people meeting Jesus. That’s the goal. Those who know Jesus to grow to become more like him. So, we’re talking more Christians and better Christians and more churches and better churches—that’s the mission. That’s the mission.
I need you to understand this. We talk about planting churches and making disciples—that’s Jesus’ mission. And the more we work together, the more we pray together, the more we walk in unity and in humility and in generosity the more disciples are made, the more churches are planted, the more Jesus’ kingdom advances, the more the Holy Spirit pours out grace and blessing. The Holy Spirit wants you and me to become like Jesus and to continue the ministry of Jesus. He’s glad to empower us, he’s glad to show up, he’s glad to help—but not to people who are on their own mission.
3. IT’S FOR ALL NATIONS
Number three, Jesus’ mission is for all nations. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth.” And at this point, they couldn’t grab a map. There wasn’t a map. Peter couldn’t say, “Hey, grab the globe.” There was no globe. Most of these guys had never traveled more than thirty, forty, fifty miles from their home, and it was on foot. They don’t know what’s going on in Uzbekistan. They’ve got no clue. A hundred and twenty of them. And what Jesus says is, “OK, the earth—we need to get it.” That’s kind of a big ask, right? That’s a big request. The earth—that’s the mission. “The people on the earth, wherever they live, we need to get to them and tell them that I’m alive, that I’m God and I conquered death.” True or false, those people already have their own religions? Do they? They do. And we’re going to go there and tell them that they’re worshiping a false God and that their demonic false God is telling them lies and it’s going to lead to eternal damnation.
See, today, the first thing that would happen was, there would have been a committee that would have met to ask whether or not that was hate speech and intolerant. The most loving thing we can do is tell people about Jesus and tell them that everything that is contrary to Jesus is wrong.
So, Mars Hill, how’s it going? I get to share with you some good news today. Let me show you some things that are going on nationally and internationally. And when he says, “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth,” what he means is, “Start locally, move regionally, go nationally, serve globally.” It’s like throwing a rock in a pond and everything rings out. Mission starts not across the world; mission starts across the street. This is where Community Groups are being sent into neighborhoods, and then we want to expand and plant churches throughout regions. We’re willing to go anywhere in the nation, and we’re willing to help those who are planting in other nations—“Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth.” Sometimes Christians get really excited about international missions but not about local missions. They want to reach all those strange people groups but not the ones next door, OK? And we want to do both by God’s grace.
So here’s what’s going on. I want to thank you; this is all to say thank you. This year, we’ve sent out elders—and we only send out those who are qualified elders, that we agree are called and ready, that have been serving with us for at least three years—but some have been sent out to plant with some funding from you in Atlanta, Orange County, Denver, and a suburb of Texas. That’s where they felt called. We established the Mars Hill Network, where we invested in two other churches to really help them grow, and we put a lot of effort into them.
We had a national Resurgence conference, where we brought together a few thousand leaders from all kinds of tribes and churches to invest in them. And the next one will be up this November in Seattle and Bellevue and Albuquerque and Reno and Orlando, and we’ve got Rick Warren, we’ve got Greg Laurie, we’ve got James MacDonald, we’ve got Matt Chandler, we’ve got Crawford Loritts. We’ve got a great lineup, and I’m praying for four thousand-plus Christian leaders that we can invest in and serve.
We’ve got new friendships with large churches, pastors who are older than me, who can help me learn, because I’ve got a lot to learn, help us to learn, because we’ve got a lot to learn, bigger churches to help us figure out how to love and care for as many people as we have. And I just want to say it’s great to have some friends who are helpful. And we’ve given out, this last year, thousands of resources for free to pastors—sermons, study guides, tons of resources, including through the Resurgence. And you guys have proven to be one of the most generous churches in investing in leaders from lots of other churches and lots of other nations, and I just want to say thank you for that.
I want to show you some things that are going on internationally as well. You guys are funding forty-two church planters in Ethiopia and India. These are nationals who’ve met and love Jesus, and they’re out on the front line, and you’re on the supply line. We’ve taken and had translated two thousand copies of the Bible into Amharic, which is the language of Ethiopia, as we’re serving church planters there. Some of those Bibles are going to go out to Ethiopia. Some are going, actually, to local Ethiopian pastors in the Seattle area as we’ve gotten to know them. They have resource needs as well. We’ve translated Doctrine, the systematic theology, into Spanish and Amharic, again, the language of Ethiopia, and it’ll be printed, and we’re going to give it all away online for free, specifically for those who are working internationally and want something in their native language.
This fall, there’s a pastor’s conference in Ethiopia. We’re working with a number of church planters there. They have not been able to gather and meet for three years because they don’t have the funds. Many of them walk literally for days, and so you are funding their pastors’ conference. They’re going to meet for a few weeks, and they’re going to be trained in discipleship. We’re going to invest in the leaders, and then the leaders are going to go back and invest in their people and plant more churches and make more disciples. And this will include what actually is good food for a few weeks, which, if you know anything about Ethiopia, that’s a grace in and of itself. And so on behalf of those four hundred-plus leaders and their wives, thank you for generously contributing to training them for weeks coming up this fall.
Also, I just finished up the Real Marriage tour, and I have a heart for Haiti, so I was asking people on the tour, “Sponsor a child, sponsor a child, sponsor a child. They’ll get a place to live, an education, food, water, safety, they’ll learn about Jesus,” and we sponsored eight hundred Haitian kids just on the Real Marriage tour. So, those are just some of the things that are going on internationally, and I hope you would say, “Great!” right? That’s good, right? That’s good.
A MARATHONER’S MENTALITY
As we go back to Acts 1, the question is, then, well, how long do we do this? How long do we do this? That was kind of their first question. And he says, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not for you to know the time that I’m coming back. It’s not for you to know the time that I’m coming back.” Jesus wants us to be less concerned with his coming and more concerned with our going. Jesus wants us to be less concerned with his coming and more concerned with our going. It’s been two thousand years, and some would say, “He is slow.” The Bible says, “He is not slow; he is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance.”
I long for the day that the Lord Jesus returns, so that we don’t have any more elections, we don’t have any more nations, we don’t have any more wars; it’s just Jesus and his people together forever. But I’m also excited that there remains mission to be completed. There are people to be reached, there are churches to be planted, there are nations to be served. It means that we’ve not yet finished all the things that Jesus has appointed for us to do.
So, Mars Hill, what I want you to have is a marathoner’s mentality. Don’t just show up and sign up and then give up. It’s about perseverance, right? The Holy Spirit wants to empower us to persevere like Jesus persevered. It’s about continuing forward with the mission of Jesus, not just giving but giving for the rest of your life; not just serving, but serving for the rest of your life; not just praying, but praying for the rest of your life. We don’t know when he’s going to come back.
I want to warn you, Mars Hill, because some of you are new and you’re young, and what always happens is, there’s somebody who reads the Old Testament—they’ll grab Daniel, they’ll grab Ezekiel, they’ll grab some stuff in Matthew, they’ll take a few bits of Revelation, they’ll put it together with Fox News, shake it all up, and tell you when Jesus is coming back, because there’s a chart, OK? There’s only one chart that matters, and that’s God’s chart, and nobody else will ever see that chart. Only God knows when Jesus is returning. We have no room for speculation. We’re far more concerned about our going than his coming. And if he comes tomorrow or he comes in a thousand years, if we’re still on mission, then we won’t have anything to be ashamed of, amen?
So, we’re going to continue pressing forward together by the Holy Spirit’s power. And then, this requires our witness. He says, “You will be my witnesses.” Thirty-nine times in Acts he goes on to say, “And they were witnesses, and they were witnesses, and they were witnesses.” “Witness” is also the same word for “martyr.” It’s one who trades their life, who says, “I’m going to talk about Jesus even if I die, because I know who I’m going to meet on the other side, and I no longer fear death.”
Mars Hill, there’s a lot of reasons that you and I would not talk about Jesus—opposition, ostracism, criticism. We are to be his witnesses. That’s praying for people, loving people, serving people, but also speaking to people. Like Jesus, it’s that holy knot of our works and our words, and talking to them about Jesus—coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, enemies. This is in large part what our Community Groups are commissioned to do—to be witnesses in their community, to be witnesses in particular neighborhoods to the person and the work of Jesus.
HIS MISSION REQUIRES YOUR GENEROSITY
And then lastly, Jesus’ mission requires your generosity. Let me go back to the beginning. He introduced us to another guy. Do you remember his name? Theophilus. You ever met somebody named Theo? It’s named after this guy. Over in Luke 1, it mentions this guy as well, Theophilus/Theo, and there he is called, “Most Excellent Theophilus.” That tends to be a title, right? How many of you—nobody refers to you as, “Your Most Excellency,” right? It just doesn’t work that way. You have to be in a very high position, particularly in the Middle East. Even to this day, all right, you’ve got to be in a high position to be called, “Your Excellency.”
Most Excellent Theophilus is the one who was the financer for Luke in Acts. Did you know that? See, what Luke had to do is assemble a research team and he had to travel, go to all the places that Jesus went and trace the journey of Jesus and interview the eyewitnesses and pull up the oral history and look at any written documents and check all the facts, and then he had to record them on huge scrolls. This is not like he had his solar-powered laptop. It wasn’t like that. So, he’s writing this all down, and then somewhere there’s a couple of guys with necks my size carrying all the scrolls, right? This is quite an endeavor. And then, for the book of Acts, he has to follow Paul and the journeys of Paul and the work of Paul and all the places we’re going to read about in Acts, and this little team had to go with him and do all the research, collect and keep all the research. How much do you think that costs? How many years do you think that took? They don’t have airplanes. They’re walking. They’re writing. They’re on a ship. Sometimes weather’s going to delay them. This is years. Years.
Theophilus writes the check for the whole thing. That’s why he’s mentioned at the beginning of both books. Luke is saying, “Most Excellent Theophilus, thank you for all of your support, and here is the result of your investment.” Do you think Theophilus ever regretted spending the money for the funding of Luke and Acts? Mars Hill, I guarantee you this: he didn’t. I guarantee you this: he didn’t. I don’t know what kind of rims he had on his chariot, I don’t know how big his crib was. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know: he funded the majority of the New Testament. You know what’s sad? Other people missed that opportunity. Other people could have said, “You know, what did you give your money to? Do you like the Bible? You’re welcome. I wrote a check.” Nope, missed the opportunity. Theophilus took the opportunity. He was an affluent man, and he bankrolled and funded the writing of the majority of the New Testament.
I want you to see from this that stewardship and generosity invested in the kingdom of God and being witnesses to Jesus is always a worthwhile investment. I remember when I was a new Christian attending our church as a college student, I made $1,000 a month and I decided I’m going to tithe 10 percent. So, I gave $100 a month as a college kid. And one of the goals of Grace and I over the years has always been, every year, to give more than we did the year before to the church, and this was before we were even in ministry, attending other churches, and things of that kind. There’s a lot of money that I regret spending. There’s not a dollar that I’ve given to the mission of Jesus that I wish I could get back. I get to see people saved, I get to see lives changed, I get to see marriages reconciled, I get to see children born, I get to see the kingdom of God.
With that, we’re going to collect our offering right now, and I would encourage you to use this as an opportunity to share in the heart of Theophilus, to give to the mission of Jesus.
CHURCH FAMILY UPDATE
And as we collect our tithes and offerings, I want to share with you a couple things. This actually is nearing the end of our fiscal year, and I wanted to give you guys a brief report.
So, here’s a little mission report of how things are going. True or false, the Holy Spirit has come upon us with power? True. I get asked this from the media all the time. “Pastor Mark, what’s the secret?” Well, it is not my winsome personality. It is the power of the Holy Spirit. So, on Easter, we had our biggest Sunday ever for Mars Hill—21,000 people. In the last year, we had a 1,000 people baptized. Good or bad? Good. This is numerous years in a row, a 1,000-plus people baptized.
We started a new student ministry. It has over 400 kids. It’s had over 60 baptisms of new kids meeting Jesus, and it’s only been going for less than a year. Women’s ministry got kicked off across most of our churches. Men’s training days have been packed out on Saturdays for men. And we’ve also continued with our Community Group campaigns, so we’ve got resources for you to help you study the Bible together, even as we’re in the book of Acts right now. We’re looking at moving into new homes for Mars Hill Everett and Tacoma, and pray for them and give as we’re continuing our fundraising effort there for those two churches to grow.
What’s next? We’ve got potential new homes, church buildings, in Orange County, Bellevue, Olympia, and Shoreline. Our churches are growing. We need new homes. The places we’re renting we want to buy. The places we’re looking at are about the same per month as a rental. And so if we can get the down payment together, it’d be great because we could move from renters to owners and have more space to serve more people. Working on a new discipleship program that’ll integrate with our Community Groups. New kids curriculum is in development. There’s upwards of three thousand kids under the age of 10 at Mars Hill. We’ve got the book of Acts.
Coming up this summer we’ve got My Best Sermon Ever. I’ve got Wayne Grudem, I’ve got Eric Mason, I’ve got Paul Tripp, I’ve got Bruce Ware, I’ve got Larry Osborne all coming in to preach for you guys because I love you. We’re going to do the Ten Commandments in the fall. Then we’re going to do the book of James.
The biggest thing I think we’ve ever done, after that, will be My Problem with Christianity. We’ve commissioned a huge research team to do a very large national survey—what are the objections and oppositions to Christianity from unbelievers. We’re going to take the top eight and we’re going to bang those out, one sermon at a time. It should be [sound of explosion] dynamite.
All right, and so, yeah, here’s what we’ve got coming. The good news is our spending is below projection, so we’ve been good stewards. The bad news is our giving is below projections, so we’ve got about $1 million difference to make up across the church by the end of our fiscal year at the end of June. So pray for your church, and if you pray for your church, your treasure follows your heart. So it starts with praying for your church.
As we end our fiscal year, I wanted you to see this. So if you look at all of Mars Hill Church, right, a lot of people, maybe, I don’t know, twelve thousand this week or something, what church has the lowest percentage of people giving? Less than 20 percent, Rainier Valley. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of people giving anything, right, so when my seven-year-old Gideon brings his tithe to church today, he’ll be jumping into the category of giver. It’s giving any amount. Everett, Federal Way, Orange County, Portland, and U-District, 20 percent to 30 percent of people give anything in a year. They’re giving anything. Thirty-one to forty percent is Albuquerque, Ballard, Bellevue, Downtown Seattle, Olympia, Shoreline, and West Seattle. And the big brother we all need to give a hug to is Sammamish, as over 40 percent of people at Sammamish are giving.
Here’s what I want you to see: we’re one family with fourteen kids. Rainier Valley is an impoverished area, and we’ve got, actually, a lot of women who live at Hope Place, which is a transitional home for women who have had hard circumstances. A church like Mars Hill would never go plant a church there because it’s not economically viable, but it’s also the most diverse ZIP code in the United States of America, and one way to reach the nations is just to reach Rainier Valley because all the nations are there. And so the churches that are giving generously are helping to support the churches that are struggling financially.
Same with the University District, right? There’s two kinds of broke: broke and college broke. That’s a whole new level of broke. Most college kids are not like, “Yeah, we’re ready to buy our building and fund our staff.” If we want pizza, they could help. Beyond that, they’re not a huge financial contributor.
So, what that means is the older, the more mature, the more established, the more godly churches need to be generous. In the same way, in a family, the big brother, the big sister looks after the little brother, the little sister. Eventually, the little brother, the little sister grows up, and then they get to look after the newest and latest little brother and little sister. That’s how we do it. So, I want to say thank you.
I’ll tell you something cool, too. We told Mars Hill Sammamish, “Hey, some of your money’s going to help Mars Hill Rainier Valley.” You know what they did? They cheered and clapped. That’s good, right? That’s good. I’ll tell you what, when I pay my taxes, I do not cheer or clap because I’m not as excited about the mission. We’ll edit that out, but it’s very insightful.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
Lastly, how to participate. You’ve got a giving envelope, you can give online at marshill.com/give, and you can go to marshill.com to set up a Connect account. Hey, it’s not about the money; it’s about the mission. We want people to meet Jesus, we want churches to get planted, we want the nations to be reached, and to be a generous people, we need to be a generous people.
Father God, thank you so much that what we read about in Acts is what we’re seeing at Mars Hill, that you have come upon us with power. God, you have done powerful, wonderful things in our midst. Over a thousand baptisms is amazing in a year—amazing. Lord God, that we get to be in fourteen locations, that we get to, from there, serve the nations—it’s amazing. Jesus, you are alive. You have sent the Holy Spirit. He has been good to us, amen, Mars Hill? He has been good to us. Help us to be good witnesses. Help us to have Luke’s courage. Help us to have Theophilus’ generosity so that more people might meet Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.
All right, we’re going to take Communion. We’re going to sing and celebrate. Everybody stand on up!
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.