The Kingdom of God and Jesus

We have reached then end of our Acts series, and our passage this morning is both a good reminder and summary for us of the main points of Acts that we have seen, and the heart of God that has been present throughout. When we started this series, we said that our long summary sentence for Acts was this:

The Holy Spirit empowers his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people with all boldness and without hindrance.

Or, more simply, Acts was about:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ Going Global

It was aspects of this message that we saw all along as we walked the journey of the early church and believers through Acts. You and I, just like the early believers, have been commissioned by God to take the good news of his gospel to the ends of the earth. And not only have we been commissioned, but we have been empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. We saw this in Acts 1:1–11. And we saw how the Holy Spirit is THE gift of God in our lives, and the power of the Holy Spirit is manifest in multiple ways in each of God’s people, as much of our New Testament discusses.

And how did God do that? How is it that we can have the very Spirit of God in us? It was through his Messiah—Jesus Christ—and the power of his life, death, resurrection, and reign in power. It is because Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father in power that he and the Father have sent their Holy Spirit to us, as we saw in Acts 2:1–41.

God is so kind. He doesn’t leave us on our own. Through the Holy Spirit he brings us into a community, a new family, that we might be encouraged, equipped, and sent. We saw this at the end of Acts 2 (2:42–47), as well as Acts 4:32–37 and 6:1–7. This family, this community, is meant to become partners with us in our Gospel spreading mission. Whether near or far, we partner for the sake of this mission as Paul did in Acts 18:24–28 and Acts 20:17­­–38.

It doesn’t stop there. We don’t just have the Holy Spirit. We don’t just have community. God has given us his very word—the Old and New Testaments—that we might now him and trust him. We will focus more on this in a moment.

With all of this encouragement, we are also told and shown that things won’t always be easy. We will see opposition from within and from without our community at times as the disciples saw in Acts 13:1–12 and 13:42–52. There will be suffering like Stephen experienced in Acts 7:1­­–53; the kind brought by Saul before he was Paul in Acts 8:1–4. There will be seasons of change, seasons of waiting, like we saw last week in Acts 24:24–27 and 25:1–12.

But you and I, Christians, we are the very instruments of God, chosen by him and empowered by his Holy Spirit to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ like the disciples before us—even like Paul—in Acts 9:1–22. It is his power at work in us and his work being fulfilled in our actions. Like Philip and his ministry to the Ethiopian and the people of Samaria in Acts 8:4–40, we are called to go after everyone: Jew, Gentile, Mormon, Buddhist in Joy that God has called all peoples through Jesus Christ (Acts 10:1–48).

As we leave Acts, this last section with Paul gives us a great summary and calling in two simple points: 1) All of Scripture speaks to Jesus, and 2) the Holy Spirit has empowered you—believer—to share with boldness and without hinderance, and be a part of God’s Kingdom being built.

All Scripture Speaks to Jesus

As we think about that first point, we notice that throughout Acts we have seen the Apostles, the disciples, Paul, and every Christian again and again go back to Scripture as their source of truth. It is what persuades the Jews and challenges the Gentiles when they hear about God for the first time. In our section, it says about Paul in Acts 28:23 that:

From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. (Acts 28:23, ESV)

In this moment, Scripture convicts some and turns others away as they realize God anticipated their hardness and was using it for the sake of loving the Gentiles. We see it again and again throughout Acts:

  • Peter turns to Scripture to explain the odd events of Pentecost and the arrival of God’s Spirit in Acts 1:16.

  • Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch start and end in Scripture in Acts 8:32

  • Luke notes for us in Acts 17:2 that it was Paul’s “custom” or habit to spend the Sabbath day in each town he was at reasoning with the people of the city “from the Scriptures.”

  • All of Christ’s disciples learn this. It is especially noted that the Jews from the city of Berea go to Scripture to confirm what the disciples are saying is correct in Acts 17:11.

  • It is also important for Luke to note for us that Apollos, another preacher and missionary was considered “competent” in the Scriptures in Acts 18:24. 

Scripture is God’s very word, his plan and his story of how much he loves you in Jesus Christ. You should return to it, again and again to be encouraged and equipped for our mission.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle—a hubbub of views if you will—in the nerdy, academic corner of Christianity over this summer. A popular maker of Bible software and one of their resident scholars posted a blog article entitled, “Everything in Scripture isn’t about Jesus.” [1] Now, I think I know what he was really getting at. There are some churches, some preachers, and some Christians who are looking for connections in odd places. It would be as though someone was going through the story of Jael in Judges 4 and finds the spot where she drives a tent peg through Haber’s head, killing him, and tries to make a direct connection to Jesus. They might say, “Jesus is our true “tabernacle” according to John 1:14, a tent if you will. And so Jael using the tent peg is showing us how Jesus will put to death all evil and people who are against him one day.” If that sounds far-fetched, it should. That would be a very stretched connection, and I think that is what the author of that article was trying to get at.

However, he made a mistake. One of his initial examples was this statement, “The Tower of Babel isn’t about Jesus.” Big mistake. There have been books written on that! I pray God gets us to that section of Genesis one day—Genesis 11—and we can spend a whole sermon on the beauty of God’s plan for his people. That even in his punishment of dispersing everyone and giving them different languages, that one day he would reverse that punishment. Not by unifying all languages, but rather by using all those distinct languages to give himself glory in Revelation 7:10 where people from every tribe, nation, and language come and offer praise before God saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Babel is definitely about Jesus!

That is what I pray you will find when you go to all of Scripture looking for Jesus. That as you read, like Paul did here in Rome in Acts 28, you will see that it has Jesus across every page. Even moments like Jael are about Jesus if you don’t try to stretch it. Her story is revealing a people and a nation who were so stuck in their pursuit of idols and earthly rulers that what they needed was a good King—God their king—that they might serve him purely and wholly!

Friends, turn to Scripture often. It is there to encourage you, that you might know and trust God better as your King as he is building his Kingdom through his people.

 The Holy Spirit empowers us to share with boldness and without hinderance!

Not only does this section point us to the reminder we have seen throughout Acts that Scripture is the plumb-line of our faith, but Luke also points us to the power of God through his Holy Spirit. Luke tells us at the very end of Acts 28:30–31 that:

 [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30–31 ESV)

The Kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus: Holy Spirit Focus

The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to point again and again to Jesus Christ. As we were just talking about, all of Scripture points to Jesus and God’s Kingdom, and so does the work of the Holy Spirit. His empowerment is never meant to point to ourselves. We saw this with Paul and Apollos and we see it again here. Paul does not use Christianity for his own gain: in fact, we see him again and again living with difficulty because of his trust in Jesus. He viewed his entire life of one of sacrifice:

 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1–2 ESV)

 Our lives are God’s, and we are called to make much of him. As we see here, we are to point people to the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus Christ as their only hope.

 Do you ever tire of this? I think we sometimes forget the amazing fact that we are a people who belong to a King and a Kingdom that is not of this world. We should walk around, as Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11–12, as “aliens and strangers in the world.” Yet we often forget this. We want to become just like the world, to live for the same joys and to find our value in the same places.

 But you, Christian, you belong to God. In Jesus you are found righteous. In Jesus you are adopted as a son or daughter. In Jesus you have access to your Father, who loves you deeply. You are not only empowered by the Holy Spirit for this mission, but you yourself are being changed and conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29).

 This is Holy Spirit Focus! A singular focus on God and his Kingdom and the magnificence that is Jesus in bringing us back to God and under his caring rule.

With Boldness: Holy Spirit Identity

The Spirit also changes how we are to do this work. With boldness. Boldness! I don’t always feel bold. Definitely not like Paul often is. In our passage this morning he not only tries to convert the Jews to Christianity, but he also scolds them from Scripture reminding them that God had told them many Jews would have a hard heart that salvation may go to the Gentiles.

Just like the Holy Spirit changes our focus, he also changes our identity. You belong to God! The God who created the universe, the God who knows—as we mentioned last week—every word that is going to come out of your mouth before you say it (Psalm 139:4) and every hair on your head (Luke 12:7), this is the God who loves you and cares for you.  

Your identity in God through Jesus is not only your focus, but it is your empowerment through the Spirit. If it is this God who dwells in you now, what do you have to fear? Seriously—Paul is willing to die and count it as gain because he will see Jesus face-to-face in Philippians 1:21. Do you realize that you have nothing to fear; not ridicule, not scorn, not persecution, not even death. It is God himself at work in you for your good and his purposes.

Without Hinderance: Holy Spirit Assurance

I think many of these are words we have heard often before, and they are not something we usually argue against as Christians. We know that all of the Bible is meant to point us toward our need for Jesus and the amazing hope found in him. We know that the Holy Spirit is encouraging us, convicting us, to share that amazing truth with everyone we meet. We want, and try, to have boldness in that process.

Yet many things hinder us. I want to make a full circle this morning back to the word and confront some of those hinderances you may feel like you have.

Perhaps you are weak this morning. Your body is failing you in illness or age. You might feel tired, either from poor TV choices or from children. But find courage and don’t be hindered:

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalms 73:26 ESV)

 

“[God] gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29 ESV)

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Maybe you are worried you don’t know what to say, that you aren’t very eloquent. How would I talk with that person without looking odd? Listen to Paul’s tactic in Corinth:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–2 ESV)

Maybe you feel like you lack opportunities.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24 ESV)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Or perhaps, this morning, it is your acute awareness that you are a sinner that is holding you back. Remember, what we are told in 1 John 1:9

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)

 

Paul didn’t seem to view any of this as “hinderance.” He seemed to see every turn, every twist, as God’s providence for who and where to share next. It was simply his life! I don’t believe you can find a situation that God cannot and will not use to both strengthen and grow you, and give you an opportunity to declare the glory of God in your life.

Perhaps you are beginning to feel this is a bit cyclical. “So,” you may say, “you are telling me God’s word, Scripture, has confirmed and revealed to me the good news of Jesus Christ and my chance to be found in him through repentance. Because of that I have the Holy Spirit in me, empowering me to be bold and to move ahead without hinderance in my mission to take the glory of the gospel of Jesus to all people. And when I don’t feel that, when I feel hindered, I should look to God’s word and Scripture and the identity I have in the Holy Spirit so I may feel empowered to do these things?” Yep.

You know this reasoning actually works. If I remind you that you are breathing and to make sure you breathe at least every 7 seconds, something you have done for the last 20 minutes without thinking about becomes something you begin to focus on. If I encourage you to blink at least every 7 seconds, it becomes all you can do to not have to force yourself to blink in a rhythm or purposefully. And never talk about restroom breaks on a road trip because inevitably everyone will need one even if moments before they were good for another 100 miles.

This is the beautiful cycle that is our life. We come back, again and again, to who we are in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in our life for the sake of the gospel of Jesus and our mission to all people. It never gets old because it is both our mission and our identity. We have been called to live for God:

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:7–9 ESV)

 We go out and give people all around us the reason for the hope that we have—and it is Jesus! (1 Pet 3:5). And when we don’t see that hope clearly, we go back to God’s very word. His Scripture encourages us. When prayer seems distant, when we are unsure of our place, it is his constant word that can bring us the truth that we need to strengthen our walk. 1) All of Scripture speaks to Jesus, and 2) the Holy Spirit has empowered you—believer—to share with boldness and without hinderance, and be a part of God’s Kingdom being built.

[1] Heiser, Michale S., “Everything in the Bible Isn’t About Jesus,” 7/9/2019,  https://blog.logos.com/2019/07/everything-in-the-bible-isnt-about-jesus/, last accessed 8/24/2019.