Advent Sunday

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Good morning, Jesmond Parish Church. It is a great joy for me to be with you once again. For the last 15 years, I've been with you in person in November, but this year of course is 2020 COVID. And I'm not able to be with you, but I am with you in spirit. And it is my great joy to be able to open God's word and share with you from the word of God this morning. This morning, we're going to continue our theme in keeping the end in sight. And we're going to have a look at the passage Acts 1. You may want to turn to that in your Bibles. And I'm going to read from Acts 1.1-11 and in this passage when I read you'll notice that Luke links the Ascension of Christ and the return of Christ, with the teaching of the New Testament on the Kingdom of God. So he links those two things, the Ascension of Christ, the return of Christ and the kingdom of God. So let me read the passage, pray, and then we'll dig into God's word Acts 1.1-11:

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 to the apostles 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 the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, 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.”
So when they had come together, 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 power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “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.”

This is the word of God. Let’s pray:

Father, we thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to be meeting together around your word. And we pray that your spirit, the Holy spirit may open our eyes, may take away the hardness from our hearts and above all may draw us closer to Christ and we pray this in his name and for his Glory. Amen.

The key verse in this passage must be Acts 1.3:

‘He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.’

So the author of the book of Acts is Luke, and Luke is writing about the 40 days between the resurrection of Christ and the Ascension of Christ. So the question is what was Jesus doing in those 40 days? Almost six weeks. The answer is he was appearing to his disciples, physically, bodily, objectively, and he was teaching them about the kingdom of God. So what we have in these, these 11 verses is almost a summary. It's almost a masterclass in what Jesus taught and what the New Testament taught about the kingdom of God.

So I want you to notice four things about the kingdom of God that we find in this passage. The first thing that we notice is that:

1. The kingdom of God is historical.

So notice Acts 1.1, Luke writes, and he says:

‘In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…’

Now we know that the author of the book of acts was Luke. In fact, he was Dr. Luke. But he was also the author of the gospel, the gospel of Luke. So actually Luke gave us two volumes volume. One was the gospel of Luke, volume two was the book of Acts and what Luke is committed to, is to giving us the historical details of the life, the death, the resurrection, the Ascension of Christ.

And in actual fact in Luke 1.1-4, Luke tells us what his historical research methodology was. What methodology did he use in these two volumes? So have a look quickly at Luke 1.1-4. And what I want you to notice is that Luke had a very clear research methodology. Notice there in Luke 1.1, he tells us that they were historical events. What, what we find yet is a narrative of the things that have been accomplished. Those are events. Secondly, we noticed that they were eye witnesses, Luke 1.2. So Luke talks about eye witnesses who had heard and seen those historical events. He then talks about careful research, Luke 1.3. He said that he followed closely. He researched carefully what the eye witnesses heard and saw. And then Luke 1.3b, he tells us step four in his methodology, which was then to carefully write down what he had researched. And then the last step is in Luke 1.4, where he prepares these documents for his readers. That's us. Of course, the first reader was Theophilus and he writes so that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught. So what Luke wants us to understand is that the basis of the Christian faith is the historical person of Christ his life, his death, his resurrection, his Ascension, the basis of our faith is not some philosophical teaching.

It's not like the teaching. You have Plato or Marx or Freud. It's not based upon some spiritual experience or some mystical experience. It's not based upon some secret knowledge that you have to find or discover. Now the roots of Christianity is based upon the historical person of the Lord, Jesus Christ and Luke tells us he did the research. He did the work so that what we are reading here are the words, the actions of the person of Jesus. And in the gospel of Luke, he tells us what Jesus began to do. And then in the book of Acts, he tells us what Jesus continues to do through his spirit and the apostles. I don't know about you, but I'm normally in the wrong place at the wrong time. Have you ever discovered that? I'm sure we all have. You see chances are that if I'd lived 2000 years ago in Palestine, I would have seen God. You see, Jesus is God in the flesh. He appeared on the human stage in the flesh. He appeared historically, objectively. The basis of our faith is not some philosophy, not some vague thinking, not some experience. No. The basis of our faith is the historical person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in particular, his resurrection. And so Luke makes it quite clear, both in his gospel and here in the book of Acts, he talks about this Jesus who suffered (Acts 1.3) and then by many proofs appears to them during 40 days.

The basis of our faith is historical. Christianity is true. Whether you believe it or not, it's not based upon your faith. It's like the second world war. It's like the Holocaust, whether you believe it or not is irrelevant. Actually it happened, it happened objectively. It happened historically whether you believe it or not. So it is with the Lord. Jesus Christ. It is true. It happened whether you believe it or not. Have you ever wondered why the history of the world is divided between BC and AD? It's because of one man called, called Jesus. The Jesus who died and whom God supernaturally raised from the dead. Do you think they would have been any remembrance of Jesus if he's death had been the end? Why do your friends, thousands of people, tens of thousands of people who were crucified during the Roman empire? There would have been no remembrance of Jesus if his death on the cross had been the end. No, God supernaturally raised him from the dead historically objectively.

2. the kingdom of God is supernatural.

So it's not only historical. It is supernatural. Notice there Acts 1.3, Luke talks about the death and the resurrection of Christ that is supernatural. Acts 1.8 he talks about the Holy Spirit while that's supernatural, Acts 1.9, we have a description of the Ascension of Christ, the physical bodily historical Ascension of Christ into heaven. Acts 1.10, we meet two angels, two men dressed in white robes. The Bible is unashamed about miracles and the supernatural. So God operates both in the natural and the supernatural. Well, that's obvious it's logical. It's not unreasonable. If he is the God of the universe and creation, if he created all things well, surely he can act in both the natural and the supernatural. That is the God of the Bible. And the Bible is not ashamed about supernatural events, because what we have here is the Ascension of Christ. He bodily, physically ascends into heaven, and everything that is supernatural in front of the eyes, they saw it. They gazed into the sky as he disappeared into the clouds.

That's a Miracle. Now let me suggest that some of you here, watching may have problems with the supernatural. You may have problems with things like Moses parting, the Red Sea. You may have problems with the Virgin birth of Christ. You may have problems with, with Jesus walking on water, you may have problems with Jesus feeding the five thousand. You may have problems with the resurrection or the Ascension. Let me suggest that your problem actually is not with miracles. Your problem is with your doctrine of God. You see if you have a small guard, if you have a pathetic God, well, obviously he can't do those things. There supernatural, but if you have the God of the Bible of the garden, father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one who created all things, the one who created the laws of nature. Well, surely, that same God can act outside of the laws of nature, which he created for his own purposes. That is not illogical. That is not unreasonable. The Bible makes no apology about the supernatural nature of the kingdom of God. God acts both in the natural world and in the supernatural world. The third thing we noticed here is that the kingdom of God is not only historical. It is not any supernatural, but:

3. The kingdom of God is eschatological.

Now that comes from the Greek word eschatological. It means the last things. The word eschatological includes the concepts of the return of Christ, of the ending of human history as we know it, of the final judgment of the new heaven and the new earth. That falls under the word eschatology and what we have here is a clear teaching, a clear indication of the eschatologic nature of the kingdom of God. So notice then Acts 1.9-11:

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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “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.”’

So here we have the physical Ascension of Christ. Ascending into heaven. And right now the same Christ is seated at the right hand of God. ‘Seated at the right hand of God’ means that he has authority and here, the angels teach as is taught in the rest of the scriptures, that the same Christ will return. And when he returns, he will bring human history to an end. When he returns, he will usher in the final judgment, he will usher in the final heaven and the final earth, the new heaven and the new earth. So we are taught here that the kingdom of God is not only something that happened in the past. It's something that happens in the future, Christ will return. And when he returns, it will be the end of human history. As we know it. So my dear friends, we live in a world which doesn't believe that our secular world will argue that there is no beginning. There's no end or as Henry Ford famously said probably about a hundred years ago, ‘history is just one darn thing after another’. Forgive my language. But that is the thinking of most people. It's ‘just one darn thing after the other,’ the Bible doesn't teach that. The Bible says no, there's a beginning. Genesis 1. There's an end Revelation. 22. God has book ends. To this world, to human history, God created all things, and God will bring all things in this world as we know it to an end and usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Often he has brought about the final judgment preceded by the return of Christ. So what we have yet in embryonic form in those two, three verses is a very clear indication of the end times, there is an end. There is a return of Christ. There is a judgment, there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be avoided. There is a new heaven and a new earth prepared for those who have submitted to this King King Jesus. Let me just say that one of the most important doctrines in the Bible is the doctrine of judgment. Now I'm too aware that the doctrine of judgment, the teachings of heaven and hell are enormously unpopular in our culture. And especially your culture. People hate the concept of judgment. They hate the concept that there's someone who holds us accountable, and yet the Bible makes it quite clear that there will come a day when Christ will return and God will usher in a day of judgment and he will hold us accountable.

Now, let me tell you why that is such an important doctrine. It's important because it gives us a basis to forgive other people. You see, we as Christians do not have the right to live with bitterness or anger, do not have the right to take revenge. No, God calls on us to forgive. That is the, that is then not nature. That is the attribute of a Christian. And the reason we can forgive people is not because we are soft on justice. No, we know that one day true justice will be done because God will see that all injustices are righted and put right. So on that basis, we can forgive. We can live at peace. We can ask God to take away the hatred or the anger or the bitterness. Why? Because we know that one day there will be a day of true justice. The second reason why it's important is it gives us meaning and purpose in life. We know that God will hold us accountable for how we have lived.

There is a beginning and there's an end. And that gives meaning. That gives purpose. There's a reason why we are here and we are here to serve the King and to extend his kingdom. Lastly, will you notice the kingdom of God is historical it's supernatural, it's eschatological and:

4. The kingdom of God is personal.

Pick that up in Acts 1.4:

‘And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, 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.”’

Now we need to remember that what we have read is the teaching of Jesus to the disciples. And the disciples had to live through the life, the teaching, the death, the resurrection, the Ascension of Christ. They had to wait for Pentecost. Pentecost was when was when Christ sent down his spirit onto his people. So that his kingdom would be extended throughout the earth. They had to wait for the event of the resurrection of the Ascension of Pentecost. And he said at Pentecost, you will receive the Holy Spirit. We, however, live after Pentecost, we receive the Holy Spirit when we are born again, we receive the Holy Spirit when God invades our lives. And causes us to become citizens of his kingdom. You see that Kingdom of God is personal. When you become a Christian is when you receive the Holy Spirit. You can't be a Christian without the Holy Spirit.

When you receive the Holy Spirit, when you are born again, God invades your life. He changes your heart. He changes your mind. He changes your values. He changes your likes and your dislikes. You revolutionise your life. That is personal. That is absolutely personal. The kingdom of God is not only historical. The kingdom of God is not only eschatological (the past and the future). The kingdom of God is now existential. It's personal. You receive the Holy Spirit when you put your faith and trust in Christ. And he changes your life and it gives you new a new heart. He gives you new eyes. It gives you new ears. Let me close time has gone. There's no kingdom without a King. Becoming a Christian is becoming a citizen of the kingdom of God. That's what happens when you become a Christian when the Holy Spirit enters your life, and you become a citizen of the kingdom, when you submit to the King Jesus.

If you've never submitted to him, if you've never bowed the knee to King Jesus, wouldn't today be a good day? When you finally stopped ducking and diving, you finally stopped making excuses and you submit to King Jesus like Thomas, my Lord and my God. Why don't you do that today? Isn't today a good day to actually get right with King Jesus and become a citizen of his kingdom? Well, let's pray:

Father, There may be someone here this morning who has felt your spirit pressing in upon their heart and their mind. And they know that today's the day they need to get right with God. Today's the day they need to repent and trust in Christ as King. Today's the day they need to submit to King Jesus. And so Father, will you help them to call on you and say, ‘Oh God, I don't understand it all, but I know that Christ died. King Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Will you rescue me? What do you make me a citizen of your kingdom? And will you be my King?’ And Father, we thank you that when we turn to you with all our questions and doubts, but we call upon you for mercy that you hear and you answer. And so Lord work amongst us today. We pray for Christ's sake. Amen.

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