Propagating God’s Purposes

Acts 1:1-8

August 17, 2003 | Brian Bill

Even simple things can get confusing if we don’t have a clear map to follow.  When it comes to God’s kingdom plans we can’t afford to miss His commands.  This morning we’re going to discover God’s roadmap for propagating His purposes.  Next week we’ll study the Holy Spirit, who is the power behind these purposes.  In this series from the book of Acts, we’ll also concentrate on how to build a biblically functioning church, we’ll give attention to what Scripture teaches about Communion, we’ll focus on how prayer permeated the early church, we’ll explain clearly how people can be saved, and we’ll take an entire message to explain the command to be baptized.  I can hardly wait!

Let me give you a “take-away” application right at the beginning of the message today.  Would you consider making a commitment to read though the entire book of Acts at least once during the next month?  Acts is a “bridge book” that connects the Gospels to the rest of the New Testament.  It records the explosive growth of the church from a handful of believers huddled in Jerusalem to an amazing expansion that embraced thousands throughout the Roman world.  Humanly speaking, it had nothing going for it.  It had no money, no proven leaders, and no technological tools for propagating the gospel.  What was it that catapulted the church?  What transformed the disillusioned disciples from cowards to courageous communicators?  You’ll find out as you read the book of Acts.

Let’s begin by breaking down verse 1 of chapter 1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”  Acts is actually the second part of a two-volume history written by Dr. Luke, who was a close friend and companion of the Apostle Paul.  As Luke introduces us to Acts, he brings us back to his first book, a book that we know as the Gospel of Luke.  You may want to read Luke’s gospel after you finish the Book of Acts.  In fact, if you read a chapter of Acts each day and then a chapter of Luke each day, you’ll finish around the same time this series will conclude. 

Both of these books are addressed to “Theophilus.”  He’s introduced in Luke 1 as “most excellent.” We don’t really know who he was but this salutation suggests that he may have been an important Roman official.  His name means, “one who loves God.”  I picture him as someone who wanted to grow in the grace of God.  

Friends, God has made each of us for a mission because we’ve been saved to serve

I love this church!  So many of you want to go deeper in your faith.  Keep it up.  It’s my prayer that like Theophilus, we will come away from our study in Acts motivated and mobilized to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  Friends, God has made each of us for a mission because we’ve been saved to serve.  Let’s find out more of what that’s all about.  If we’re serious about wanting to serve the Savior in the context of your world, then it’s imperative that we study how the first Christians lived.

Look back at Acts 1:1 and notice that Luke refers to what he wrote in his gospel as “all that Jesus began to do and teach.”  Underline the word, “began.”  That’s interesting isn’t it?  The Gospel of Luke ends with the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and yet Luke says that this was just the beginning of what Jesus was going to do and teach.  Let’s be clear.  Jesus completed everything that needed to be done for our salvation as Hebrews 9:26 states: “…But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  When he cried out, “It is finished” from the cross, our wickedness was wiped out, our sins were sent away, God’s wrath was removed and the devil was defeated.

His work of salvation is complete and yet, as John Piper says: “He is not finished.  He is not done with His work and with his teaching.  He is doing and teaching…and the rest of what he came to do…is the point of the book of Acts and it is why we exist as a church.”  That means when we come to the end of the Gospels, it’s really not the end but the end of the beginning.  

Acts records the next steps of what Jesus did through His church, and even when this book ends His work is not over.  Perhaps a better title for the Book of Acts should be something like, “The Continuing Acts of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And His ministry continues through you and me as we live out His purposes in our life and in this church.  

We could put it this way.  The work of redemption is finished but the work of propagation has just begun.  The New Testament describes the continuation of how Jesus did His work in the first century and you and I are charged with finishing His work until He comes.  In the Gospels Jesus ministered in His human body; He now continues His doing and teaching through His spiritual body, the church.

Verses 2-8 give us three phases that we must follow if we want to propagate God’s purposes.

1. Embrace the Message of Christ (2-3). 

The first phase is to make sure that we are completely committed to Christ and His commands.  Verse 2 tells us that He gave “instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.”  This word “instruction” is not a suggestion but rather a charge, or an order.  Before Jesus went back to heaven he wanted to make sure that there was no confusion.  He wanted to map out His purposes with absolute clarity.

Let me just say that the instructions of Jesus are clear and the commands of God cannot be ignored.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will speak to this more directly but I can’t help but shudder when a denomination appoints a practicing homosexual to serve as a bishop.  I don’t understand how the clear teaching of Scripture can be ignored on this issue.  David Black puts it this way: “If there’s one thing the current controversy over gay bishops…teaches us, it’s that no church in America is immune from compromise.  The result is that thousands if not millions…feel like strangers in their own denomination. The moral code they were raised with has exploded before their eyes.  In too many ways the church they love is no longer lovely.”   May that never be said of us!

To a society that defines truth as subjective and personal, Acts presents a church that based its life on objective facts about the Savior and about Scripture.  Verse 3 helps us see that not only do we need to be certain about the message, and committed to His commands, we also need to be convinced that Jesus rose from the dead: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive…”  The word for “show” means that Jesus “stood beside” them.  1 Corinthians 15:5-8 gives us more specifics on these appearances. 

The word “proof” carries with it the idea of certain and infallible evidence.  Jesus’ resurrection was not an illusion.  There was solid, visible, and undeniable proof that He was alive.  Friends, Jesus does not just give us certain ideas to carry into the world; He gives us Himself to prove that Christianity is based on proven fact.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, His deity is without question and therefore everything He says must be followed and every promise He makes can be trusted.  Jesus wanted to make sure they obeyed His instructions, He wanted them to have no doubts about His resurrection, and He spent almost 6 weeks speaking to them about the reign of God.  

Look at the last part of verse 3: “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Jesus loved to teach about the kingdom of God.  We can best understand this phrase by defining it as “the realm where God rules.”  The people were waiting for a future kingdom and yet in Luke 17:21, Jesus reframed their understanding by helping them to personalize this truth in the present: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”   

Jesus taught that the crucifixion did not nullify the promised millennial kingdom and He also charged them with spreading the message of His right to rule in people’s hearts and lives right now.  I want you to notice that Jesus spent “40 Days” speaking to them about the kingdom of God.  There’s something about 40 days that is very significant spiritually: 

  • Noah’s life was changed by 40 days of rain
  • Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai
  • The spies were never the same after 40 days in the Promised Land
  • David’s faith became focused by Goliath’s 40-day challenge
  • Elijah was amazed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal
  • The entire city of Nineveh was turned upside down when God gave them 40 days to change
  • Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness
  • And these disciples were radically redirected by spending 40 days with Jesus

The first phase is to embrace the message of Christ.  The next phase is to make sure we’re plugged into the power behind God’s purposes.

2. Embody the might of the Holy Spirit (4-5, 8a). 

I’m just going to touch on this point briefly because we’re going to take the entire sermon next week to focus on the third member of the Trinity.  Look at verses 4-5: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” 

Notice that Jesus ate with the disciples.  This was another proof of His bodily resurrection.  While they were eating Jesus gave another command.  In a sermon on this passage, my brother-in-law states it succinctly: “Before they uttered one word, before preaching one sermon, Jesus wanted them to…wait.  What He was calling them to do was impossible apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus wanted them to know that it is impossible to propagate God’s purposes without the power that only the Holy Spirit can provide.  They might have thought they were ready for ministry but Jesus slows them down.  Even though they had embraced the message they had to embody the might of the Holy Spirit.  Power had to accompany truth.  They didn’t have long to wait because 10 days later, the Holy Spirit would be given on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

The Holy Spirit is our counselor and teacher and He is also the might behind the message.  Look at the first part of Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”  The word “power” is the Greek word dynamis.  This word entered the English language when the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel made the finding that became his fortune.  He discovered something stronger than anything the world had known up to that time.  He asked a friend who was a Greek scholar what the word for “explosive power” was in Greek.  His friend answered, dynamis.  Nobel liked that answer so he named his discovery “dynamite.”  

the Holy Spirit provides an explosive, life-changing dynamic when the Gospel message is proclaimed in His might

Friends, the Holy Spirit provides an explosive, life-changing dynamic when the Gospel message is proclaimed in His might.  Ordinary people like you and me can accomplish extraordinary things because of the mighty Spirit of God.  

Phase one is to embrace the message of Christ.  Phase two is to embody the might of the Holy Spirit.   That leads to the final phase.

3. Embark on the mission of God (6-8). 

In verses 6-7, we’re given three correctives when it comes to propagating God’s purposes.

  • Focus on the spiritual, not political.  The disciples asked Jesus a question that revealed they were still thinking about an earthly government: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom…”  While we must be involved as citizens in the democratic process, the reign of Christ in people’s hearts must have primacy over political issues.  Having said that, I should probably tell you that I’ve decided to run for governor of California!
  • Focus on others, not ourselves.  The disciples wondered if now was the time that the kingdom was going to be restored to “Israel.”  In verse 3, Jesus was teaching about the kingdom of God but they were really only interested in what it would mean for them and their country.  That’s so much like us, isn’t it?  We tend to think only of ourselves and not about others.  The major blackout that blanketed a large part of the U.S. for a couple days has been terrible but most of us have forgotten that many innocent Iraqi people have been without electricity for over four months.  William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was to too sick to attend an important event so he sent a telegram.  It contained only one word: “Others.”  It was William Temple who said, “The Christian church is the one organization in the world that exists purely for the benefit of its non-members.”  That’s a good reminder because the church that lives for itself will die by itself.
  • Focus on evangelism, not end-times.  In verse 7, Jesus gives His followers a gentle rebuke.  They wanted to know how everything was going to come together in God’s prophetic calendar.  Jesus replied: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  The word “times” refers to chronology and “dates” speaks of circumstances.  As interesting as prophecy may be to you, don’t lose sight of your primary calling to fulfill the Great Commission.  Actually, one reason Jesus has not come back yet is so more people can be saved before He does so.  We see this in 2 Peter 3:9: “…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

When we come to verse 8, we’re given the last recorded statement of Jesus in the Bible.  This final command must become our first concern.  It’s not optional but imperative because these are the only instructions He gave before returning to heaven: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This verse begins with the word “But” to show us that Jesus is giving us an alternative aspiration; a roadmap, if you will, that will point others to redemption.  What He is about to say should concern us and consume us.  This verse answers the “who,” “how,” “what” and “where” questions of life.

  • People.  The “who” is you and I: “But you…”  Jesus continues His work today through individuals and the institution called the church. 
  • Power.  When we wonder “how” we’re to fulfill His purposes, we’re told that we have the power of the “Holy Spirit.”
  • Plan.  After we welcome the message, and wait for the power, the “what” is fairly simple.  God’s plan is for us to be “witnesses.”  That’s it.  We don’t have to be expressive evangelists or persuasive preachers. 

 A witness is one who has seen and heard and experienced the explosive life-changing power of Christ in their life.  Jesus said it this way in Luke 24:48: “You are witnesses of these things….”  Dr. Luke describes the work of witnesses in Acts 4:20 when Peter and John answer those who tried to keep them quiet: “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Later Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  Let me just quote a few verses from Acts to help us see that we can do the same thing:

  • Acts 2:32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
  • Acts 3:15: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.”
  • Acts 5:32: “We are witnesses of these things…”
  • Acts 10:39: “We are witnesses of everything he did…” 
  • Acts 22:15: “You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”


  • Place.  God’s place is pervasive.  While He wanted the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the power and then to be His witnesses there, Jesus never intended the gospel message to stop there.  Look at the last part of Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Let me make two quick observations: 

First, this is the key verse in the Book of Acts and serves as the outline of the geographical spread of the gospel.  In chapters 1-7, the focus is on Jerusalem; in chapters 8-12, the gospel moves out to Judea and Samaria; and in chapters 13-28, the message resonates all the way to Rome.  

Second, while the gospel moved out from Jerusalem, it took persecution to shake the believers loose from their comfortable surroundings.  In other words, God sent hard times their way in order to get them back on track.  Look at Acts 8:1 (just reverse the numbers from 1:8): “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”  Sometimes we need a push before we will commit to God’s purposes, don’t we?

Now, how do we fulfill this command today?  I like to bring it home this way:

Jerusalem  The community

Judea   The county

Samaria   The country

Ends of the earth  The continents

Action Steps

I trust that the Holy Spirit will personalize this passage in a way that will mobilize you to propagate the purposes of God as you embrace the message of Christ, embody the might of the Holy Spirit, and embark on the mission of God.   There are a number of ways we can apply this message today.   Let me suggest a few.

1. Grow your faith. 

What next step do you need to take spiritually?  Do you need to join a small group, get baptized, or join the church?  Perhaps you need to make the commitment to read your Bible every day.  Remember a witness is one who has experienced Christ in a personal way.  It’s more who you are than what you do. 

2. Move your feet. 

The basic principle from Acts 1:8 is to start where you are and move outward.  Who do you need to witness to?  Determine to tell your story to someone this week.  Maybe God is moving you out of your comfort zone to serve Him cross-culturally. 

3. Free up your finances. 

There is enough money in American churches to fully fund missionaries who are struggling and to launch new strategic initiatives that will further the gospel to the least reached places of the world. 

Friends, one thing I’m sure of.  Pontiac Bible Church has made a great commitment to the Great Commandment and to the Great Commission.  That’s the only way we will be a great church.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?