“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after he had by the Holy Spirit given commands to the apostles whom He had chosen….” (Acts 1:1-4)
People sometimes wonder what Jesus was doing in the 40 day period sandwiched between His resurrection and ascension. We may not know all the answer to that, but we are given a lot of information in the first chapter of Acts.
During that time, Luke says, Jesus gave four things to his disciples: Commandments, Proofs, Insights, and Promises.
What makes this unique is that each of these is given only to believers, no matter how we would like to stretch it or spin it. Certain blessings and responsibilities are provided only to people of faith, and no one else.
The fact that the four gifts of Acts 1:1-4 are given only to believers sends a much-needed message to the Lord’s people today.
“…He gave orders (commandments) to the disciples whom He had chosen.” (Acts 1:2)
The first thing we have to do is quit automatically thinking “Ten Commandments” when we see that word “commandment.” It refers to all the instructions the Lord gave His disciples.
Just to the left–in my Bible, that’s the final chapter of John’s gospel–we see a couple of those special commands our Lord gave the disciples during that 40 day interlude.
–Feed my sheep. (John 21:15,16,17)
–Follow me. (John 21:19,22)
In the final chapter of Luke, Jesus informed the disciples they were to be witnesses of Him to all the nations. (Luke 24:47-48) This same instruction is given in various forms in other places, including Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15.
Here’s the problem.
Believers through the centuries have wanted to pass laws to force unbelievers to obey the Lord’s commands. History overflows with such sad tales, with every single instance resulting in disaster to the community and shame to the believers.
I bumped into Diane in the shopping center. “You’d be proud of me,” she said. As a new believer in our congregation, I was already proud of her. When she knelt in her home and prayed to receive the Lord a couple of weeks earlier, she stood to her feet a new person, radiant with joy and peace. The fact that Danny, her professed-atheist husband, did not join her in her new faith was a concern to her and the rest of us. We were confident however that given time, he would make the right decision.
Diane said, “Every time he curses, I get all over him. He’s just about quit his profanity.”
I said, “Diane, let me ask you a question: would you rather have your husband be a believer or an unbeliever who doesn’t curse?”
She wasn’t sure where this was going. I said, “The way you’re going now, you are working on reforming his behavior, whereas the problem is his heart. He needs the Lord. Once Christ enters and gives him a new nature, the cursing will take care of itself.”
What she was doing has been tried unsuccessfully by untold numbers of believers on their family members who were resisting the Lord. Far better to show them the Christ within by your loving spirit and changed life than to make them conform to behavior expected only of the redeemed.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15 and numerous other places in the next couple of chapters)
This command to obey Him was given to believers. Who else could be said to love Him?
For all others, Jesus’ word is to repent and believe on Him.
He gives us commands that we might obey.
“He presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days….” (Acts 1:3)
Have you ever noticed that all of the resurrection appearances of Jesus were made only to believers, never to doubters or skeptics. And most definitely, never to the Sanhedrin who condemned Him or to Pilate and Herod who approved of His death. (Someone sure missed a great literary device there, didn’t they. Think how dramatic those confrontations would have been.)
Nope. Only to those who believed.
Why was that? He didn’t say. But we think we know. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him. He cannot understand them for they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14)
Had Jesus appeared to any one of these enemies, the man would probably have run the gamut of human emotions: paralyzing fright, a more reasoned fear, panicky repentance, and later a normal kind of skepticism (“I must have been hallucinating; surely I did not see that.”). That individual would be no better off than had it not happened. So the Lord skipped it altogether, and appeared to those who believed in Him already.
Someone says, “I’ll not believe until I see.” We answer, “You’ll not see until you believe.”
Proofs of the existence of God, the reality of Christ, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are given to those who do the hard work of considering the evidence and thinking the matter through and who then choose to believe. Only after they profess their faith–we’re talking about going public in their faith and being baptized and uniting with the Body of believers–only then do they begin to receive the proofs they had wanted before. Those proofs come as a matter of daily walking with the Lord, as other believers do.
Meanwhile, the outside world–that would be the unbelievers of all kinds–keeps criticizing and turning out their books debunking theism and the Christian faith because they cannot find evidence or proofs they say they require before believing.
This is not to say–this is DEFINITELY not to say–that in coming to Christ we check our brains at the door and enter by blind faith. The Lord who gave us our minds says in one place, “Come now and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Consider the evidence, which is overwhelmingly in favor of God and Jesus and His resurrection. Make your faith decision based on the evidence, and then as you continue living for Him and studying His word, as you pray and grow, as you obey and are faithful, you begin to see the proofs.
He gives us proofs that we may know.
“…appearing to them 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
I once had Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea (along with a couple of other preacher friends) in my office for over an hour. We were preparing for the funeral of Dr. Grady Wilson, the longtime associate of the BGEA, and everyone had arrived early that day in November of 1987. Later, I half-seriously expressed the wish that I’d had a tape recorder running. My wife said she would have loved to have been a “fly on the wall,” so to speak, to overhear everything said.
Wouldn’t we love to have been there among the disciples when the risen and glorified Christ explained the details concerning the Kingdom of God! What teaching that must have been. I can just hear them saying, “Oh yeah! So that’s what that meant! I see it now!”
My opinion is the Lord went back over some of what He had told them throughout the 3 years of His public ministry, opening their eyes to what He was saying and what He meant.
You will recall that immediately following the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9), “He ordered (the disciples) to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Mark adds, “They kept this word to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” (Mk. 9:9-10)
Many of the Lord’s earlier teachings needed to be brought back up and restated in light of the cross and the empty tomb. That’s certainly one thing Jesus was doing over the 40 day period before the ascension.
We recall how the two distraught disciples spoke of the hours they spent with the unrecognized Savior on the road to Emaus that first Easter afternoon. “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
He’s still doing that, incidentally, still walking along side us, giving insights into the Kingdom to faithful disciples who are willing to give Him their unhurried attention.
He gives insights so we might grow.
“He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise….” (Acts 1:4)
Two promises given in the first chapter of Acts concern the coming of the Holy Spirit and the return of Jesus Himself.
The first was fulfilled in the second chapter; the second promise awaits fulfillment.
Why does the Lord give promises to His children? Here is the answer given by the Apostle Peter:
“He has given us very great and precious promises so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires.” (II Peter 1:4)
He gives us promises that we might be like Jesus.
Commandments concern the behavior of believers. Proofs concern their brains and hearts.
Insights have to do with the innner operations of the Kingdom of God. Promises concern the events God has prepared for our future.
Commandments give us instructions and keep us productive. Proofs give us reinforcement and keep us strong.
Insights give us information and keep us growing. Promises give us hope and keep us faithful and steadfast.
These are marked “for the family only.” We should not waste our time and energy by trying to coerce outsiders into living by the family’s code. Bring them into the family and then teach them these things.
Jesus’s instructions make this clear. “…make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them….(and then and only then!) teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)