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With Christ as our commander, we are ready for battle

Acts: To The Ends Of The Earth  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:00
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On August 16, 2011, Albert Brown died. Who was Albert Brown? He was the oldest living World War II veteran who was also a survivor of what has become known as the Bataan Death March.
Bataan was a Filipino province. It bordered on the South China Sea. For three months -- three months! — without supplies of food or ammunition, the American and Filipino troops fought against the Japanese army in this province.
But they were eventually overpowered. And so 75,000 soldiers — 50,000 Filipino and 25,000 American — were soon at the mercy of the Japanese. They began to force them to march. Japanese officers with samurai swords were always nearby. Sometimes for no reason at all, it seemed, they would pick out a soldier, have him kneel, and slice of his head. Others were shot randomly.
They marched like this for 65 miles. Little food and little water.
To be sure, the U.S. government had promised to send everything they needed. In fact, General MacArthur had managed to escape, promising “I will return.” Those words echoed in their ears but MacArthur didn’t show until it was too late. “The supplies are on their way,” these men also heard, day after day, week after week, month after month. But they didn’t arrive in time for the 18,000 soldiers who died of either starvation, abuse, or disease.
Albert Brown was not one of these men who died. When he finally escaped and got home doctors told him he wouldn’t live to see 50. He had been 40 years old when he escaped Bataan. Instead, he lived to be 105 years old.
Not everyone had a happy ending like that, of course.
Of course, anytime there is a war, there are always unintended consequences. Military strategists call this collateral damage. Whether it be the deaths of innocent civilians, or the accidental destruction of important resources, or the needless deaths of soldiers because of the failure of their government to come to their aid, war always carries collateral damage. Perhaps nothing reminds us that we live in a broken and fallen world alienated from God quite like war does.
As followers of Jesus, we also find ourselves in a war. If that sounds strange to you, consider this: the apostle Paul challenges us: “put on the armor of God”, “fight the good fight”, “suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The Christian life is a battle. We are in a war.
Yet this war is infinitely different in almost every way. Not only is the outcome of the war certain. We also know exactly what He’s called us to do. There’s no confusion about our task. He has given us a community, a support network, fellow soldiers. He has given us a lifeline, a way to connect with heaven itself in time of trouble. Besides this, we have a commanding officer who, though he may have gone away for a time, we know he’s coming back for us.
In this war, we have everything we need. We Christ as our commander, we are ready for battle.

#1: Our primary task

Look with me at verse 6: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
Now there is some overlap between this week and last week’s sermon. We talked last night about what this question means. Jesus was the Messiah. And the disciples, like the rest of Israel, wanted to see the Messiah defeat the enemies of God - like Rome - and set up the kingdom of God from Jerusalem.
They were saying: “Are you finally about to take your place on the throne of David in the temple, and subjugate all of our enemies to us so that we rule over them with an iron fist?” When is it finally going to happen?
You’ll probably be as surprised as I was to find this out. Apparently even Christopher Columbus got into the game of trying to predict the end of the world. I don’t think he was predicting the return of Christ, but definitely the end of human history. He wrote in one of his journals that the world would come to an end in 1656. “There is no doubt,” he said, “that the world must end in one hundred fifty-five years.” [Swindoll p506]
But when Jesus is coming back is not to be our concern. Rather, we are to busy ourselves with the work He has given us to do until He comes back. What is our work? What is our primary task?
He tells us in verse 8: “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” (NIV).
So let’s break it down. What is our primary task? To witness. What does that mean? Does that mean sharing my testimony? Maybe. Does it mean going door to door in our community? …maybe. But you see, those are methods. Those are different ways of witnessing. What does it mean to actually witness? What does that witness look like?
Well, when we think of the term witness, we’re most likely to think of a courtroom setting. Let’s say I witness a crime. Joel goes out in the parking lot right before church is over and he vandalizes Frank’s truck. And Craig happens to see it. Charges are pressed. Officers come ask questions. Soon, they’re very interested in Craig. Why? Because he saw it. He was a witness to Joel’s criminal activity. An eye-witness. Frank gets involved and covers for Joel and says the pastor did it. They arrest the pastor and take him to jail.
But in the Bible, the term witness means something different. What we find in the book of Acts is that to be a witness for Christ is to be a person who proclaims a message. And that message is this: Jesus is risen! Jesus, who was crucified, who was dead and buried, is now very much alive.
Now let’s go back to Acts and see if we’re correct on what the message is.
Acts 1:21-22
Acts 1:21–22 NIV
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Acts 2:32
Acts 2:32 ESV
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
The message is the unbelievably wonderful yet completely true story that Jesus is risen, and because He is risen He has proven Himself to be the promised One, the Messiah, the One in whom all of God’s promises to His people come to fulfillment.
The idea of personal experience is still there. The idea of personal testimony is still there. His disciples have seen Him in the flesh. We have experienced Him in our midst as a church and in our lives as believers. But our experience of Jesus is not the message. My testimony of Jesus has changed me is not the gospel. The message is, Jesus who was died and buried is now alive, and God now forgives all sin through faith in Jesus.
So that’s the message. Who will empower them to proclaim this message? They’ll be called upon to preach this message in a lot of high pressure situations. They’ll testify before rulers and kings. They’ll preach to mobs that want to see them dead. They’ll wind up in jail numerous times. They’ll be threatened with much, much worse. And yet, through it all, they will not flinch. They’ll proclaim the good news. Each experience of persecution will only strengthen them for the next opportunity to witness. They’ll proclaim the good news in the face of near certain imprisonment and death and they’ll do so with joy, knowing that God will honor it and bear fruit for salvation.
How will they do all this? And how will we witness in our own intimidating situations that God calls us to face? The answer is, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Where are we to proclaim this message? Jesus says, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). Jerusalem is where they were at the time. Judea was the surrounding province. Samaria took you still further away from Jerusalem. And the ends of the earth - well, it’s obvious what that means.
In fact, the book of Acts is organized along these lines. Acts 1:8 is our memory verse for October because it is also the programmatic verse for the book of Acts. Jerusalem >> Judea >> Samaria >> ends of the earth.
Acts 1:8 and the outline of Acts
Witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7)
Witnesses to Judea & Samaria (Acts 8-12)
Witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 13-28)
Ladies and gentlemen, our primary task as a church is bear witness to the risen Christ and the salvation now available in Him. Before we are called to do fundraisers, before we are called to have festivals, before we are called to have fellowship events, more primary than any of those things is our role as witness to the resurrected Lord. All of those things are good. But we dare not let them replace our primary task, and our primary task needs to be woven through those things.
We, too, are called to this. We can’t pick and choose whether we want to do local missions or international missions. We can’t choose arbitrarily between Jerusalem and the ends of the earth, or between Shelby and Dubai. We’re called to do our part to reach both Old Stubbs Road and Pan-American Highway. You say, “Pastor Dustin, how can we do that?” Well, in a sense we’re already doing it. A portion of your tithe goes to the CP. CP dollars fund missionaries with the International Mission Board. But while that’s great, eventually with God’s help we’re going to become a sending church and a going church.
We don’t want to commit the error of the disciples. They thought Jerusalem was what it was all about. Instead, Jesus had to show them that they were thinking way too small. Instead of thinking Christ ruling the nations from Jerusalem, Christ wanted them to take the message of the gospel to those nations. [Munck, p8]. That is our primary task: witnessing to Christ’s resurrection, here and abroad.

#2: Our joyful expectation

Next, notice with me our joyful expectation: the return of Christ.
In a fallen world, there are lots of non-joyful expectations, fearful expectations. Thursday night I was mowing the grass in the our lower yard. I really don’t like mowing under the big trees, especially in the evening, and here’s why: those fall spiders, the ones that sleep in a little coccoon during the day and then come out all hideous and ready to eat at nighttime - those spiders hang out of those trees in our lower yard. When it’s dark, you really can’t see them.
Now I don’t mind killing most spiders. Wolf spiders, the funnel spiders, you name it - if it’s in my house and I can get close enough to it to kill it, if I can be in control, I’ll smash that thing to pieces. But these spiders - you never know when they’re going to hit you, like literally in the face. So Thursday evening it was about 7:45, it was the first chance I had had that week to mow the grass. So I approach these two trees with a sense of wariness. I saw a leaf dangling in mid-air. I thought, that’s not right, something’s going on here. Surely enough, I looked up above it to see one of those fall spiders wth the huge body scurrying up the tree. It was a near miss. I took a stick and cleared the web away and kept going.
The next time around though, I had to go closer to the trunk of the tree and deeper under the branches. I stopped beforehand and scoped things out but didn’t see anything. So I proceeded slowly. Then, to my great horror, I looked to my right and saw one of those bad boys about eight inches from my face. It was awful. He looked just obnoxiously, you know? Just offensively gross. And, I’m pretty sure I heard him whisper to me that he would eat me in my sleep.
But I’m a brave guy. I kept going. Until it happened again, this time with a bigger spider, and this time the web got all over me. I was like, “Alright, I’m done. I’m done with this tonight. I’m done with the nasty spiders in the face thing. I’ll finish this section when it’s daylight. I decided to delay the fearful expectation of the spiders.
But as the church of Jesus Christ we have a joyful expectation. ThatLook with me at verses 8-9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them” (NIV).
Notice with me a couple of things about Jesus’ return, according to the angels here. Notice what they say.
Acts 1:11
Acts 1:11 ESV
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.”
Two points on Jesus’ return in Acts 1:11
The Jesus who went away will be the same Jesus who returns
The pattern for His going will be the pattern for His return
The Jesus who went away will be the same Jesus who returns. Now the obvious factor on that is pretty high. Of course the same Jesus will return who went away. But track with me for a minute. Look at exactly what the angel says. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back...” The Greek literally says “This Jesus, the one who was taken up from you into heaven, he will come back...” The angel is at pains to make clear to the disciples that no change will take place that will alter Jesus in any way between now and when He comes back.
That means that Jesus will return physically, bodily. Jesus did not shed his physical body when He ascended. No, Jesus took on a human nature and a human body when He came to this earth. In doing that He identified with us in the closest way possible, and it is His good pleasure to identify with us that way for all eternity. Who Jesus is in heaven now is exactly who He will be when He returns. Who is He now? He is in heaven now as Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord, our dearest friend, our elder brother and Savior. And this is who He will be when He returns, and this is who we will know Him to be for all eternity.
But not only will He be the same person He was when He went away. He will also come back in the same way that He went away. Do you see that in verse 11? “This Jesus”, the angels says, “will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
The pattern for His return:
He will come publicly
He will come visibly
He will come gloriously
The pattern for His going will be the same for His coming. Just as He ascended into heaven publicly, visibly and gloriously, He will return publicly, visibly, and gloriously. Matt. 24:26-28
Matthew 24:26–28 ESV
So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
His coming will not be isolated, in the inner rooms or in the wilderness. It will be public. From Buenos Aires to Hong Kong and from Los Angeles to Paris, the return of Christ will be out front and public. His coming will not be metaphorical or figurative. It will be real, literal, visible for all to see. His coming will not be low-key. It will be blindingly, brilliantly glorious. For unbelievers, it will be a terrifying sign of their imminent judgment. For believers, it is what we’ve been waiting for.
And you know what a joyful occasion it is to be reunited with that person, don’t you? I saw a news clip the other night. This 11-year-old boy hadn’t seen his best friend, also his age, since before COVID. Well, his mom picks him up from school and she’s arranged for his best friend he hasn’t seen to spend the weekend with them. And he’s in the back seat of the car when his mom picks him up. And when gets in the car and sees his best friend there, he absolutely just loses it. Weeping, crying, “I haven’t seen you in so long and it’s so good to see you because I have just had the worst day today.”
“Come quickly”, the apostle John writes. The early church said maranatha, Aramaic for “Lord, come!” In the same way, we long for Jesus to return. Or do we? I think one of the reasons we don’t long for Jesus’ return is that we are too comfortable here. Now look, I’m preaching to myself here too. As long as our life is comfortable, we have some money in the bank, there is peace in our neighborhoods, as long as we’re healthy, as long as the future is certain and the economy is strong, as long as technology continues to promise us that it will solve our deepest problems — as long as all those things are true, it will be hard for us to long for Christ’s return the way the early church did.
Now in 2021, it seems that God may be weaning us off of some of those things. The future is never certain, but it certainly feels less certain now, at least to me, than at any other time in my life. Suffering may be on the horizon for us. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Listen to how the apostle Peter connects suffering in this life with the return of Christ: 1Peter 4:12-13
1 Peter 4:12–13 NASB95PARA
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
If suffering is what it takes for God to pry the pleasures of this world from my clenched fist, then no matter how anxious that might make me, ultimately I want that for me and for my family and for this church.
Our primary task, witnessing. Our joyful expectation, the return of Christ. Notice with me now our source of support.

#3: Our source of support

Christian fellowship is what I mean here. Christian community. The early church enjoyed Christian community. Look with me at what Luke the historian has recorded for us in verses 12-13: Acts 1:12-13
Acts 1:12–13 ESV
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
That’s the 12 disciples who have become apostles. But there were others there too:
“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14 ESV).
By the way, here’s an explicit mention that Mary became a disciple of Jesus and His brothers too. This also proves that Mary and Joseph did have other children after Jesus was born. At any rate, verse 15 tells us that it was actually about 120 people. Really, they should be social distancing. Turn to the person beside you and do your best shame face. :(
120 people. 120 people with different backgrounds, different personality types, different temperaments, different political leanings, different hairstyles, different ways of dressing, perhaps different odors, shall we say? A diverse group, right? Nevertheless, despite this variety, in the face of this diversity, what does Luke tell us was going on? Look at verse 14 the first part: if you have the NIV it says “they joined together constantly.” But other translations have it different:
“with one accord” (ESV)
“with one mind” (NASB95)
“with one accord” (NKJV)
Gk: homothumadon (ὁμοθυμαδὸν)
= “with one mind, by common consent, etc.”
The word that is translated here is the Greek word homothumodon. This speaks to their unity. That word occurs 11 times in the NT, and 10 of those occurrences are in this book, the book of Acts. Their unity - it was a unity of heart, unity of purpose, unity of spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can create this unity. This is spiritual attachment.
Not everyone has this. Not even every Christian experiences true Christian community. There are a lot of spiritual orphans out there - Christians who are living outside of God’s will because they’re not really connected with God’s family.
Humor me for a minute and let me tell you a story about a conversation I had. I’ll never forget a lady I talked with one time when my family and I had just moved here to the Hickory area back in 2015. I needed to get a haircut, and I didn’t really know where to go. I was just driving along one day and saw a little privately-owned place on LR Blvd. and I decided to pull in and get a haircut. So I went in and waited for awhile and then when I was called I got up in the seat and a lady started cutting my hair. She asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I was a pastor.
Now, usually when I do that, people either start telling about why they haven’t been at church in 15 years (I didn’t ask), or they tell me about all the things they don’t like about all the churches they’ve ever been to. This lady cutting my hair on that day did the second. She said she had a hard time finding a church where she could get “what she needed” (whatever that was). But she said, “I have finally found a little church where the preaching is good and I leave encouraged. But I slip out as soon the preaching is over. I don’t actually want to have to deal with any of the people. I just want to get in, get what I want, and get out, with as little hassle as possible.
Gospel community:
You need us
We need you
What she had forgotten, or perhaps never learned, is that we need each other, church. We need you. I need you. And you need us. We’re called to depend on one another.
This is why, if you missed our fellowship yesterday, you really missed out on a good time. It was a good time for a lot of reasons. The food was great, of course. There was entertainment, as many of you witnessed me trying to give Shannon a hug with fishy fingers. The weather was great too, just the right temperature.
What is “gospel community”?
Community, or fellowship, created and shaped by the gospel.
But it was more than that. As we enjoyed time together last night, something beautiful happened. We had gospel community last night. Gospel community. What is gospel community? Gospel community is community, or fellowship, created by the gospel and shaped by the gospel. Grace and love permeate a gospel community. Last night was a taste, just a small taste, and a very imperfect taste, of heaven itself. And that’s what church is all about anyway, isn’t? Every local church is a local outpost of heaven, or an embassy of heaven. New creation is coming. When we are at our best, God provides through us a very imperfect glimpse of what that new creation is going to be like.
Our source of support: our local church. That’s our primary task, our joyful expectation, our source of support - next notice with me our spiritual lifeline.

#4: Our spiritual lifeline

So we just saw the early church’s unity. They were of one mind, by common consent, even though they were diverse. Homothumadon was the Greek word. But what were the doing with this unity? What did their oneness consist in? How did they express their unity? Through prayer.
Verse 14 again said “these all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer.”
Note that word. Luke doesn’t simply say “they prayed”, although that was true. They did pray. But they prayed in a special kind of way. Together, with one mind, Luke says, “they were continually devoting themselves to prayer.”
Now, we’ve called the Christian life a war. So what role does prayer play in that war?
When I was growing up, I had a set of walkie-talkies. Big deal, I know. All of us guys did and probably some of you ladies too. Guys, when you were playing with your walkie-talkies, what were you playing? Chances are you were playing war. You were down in the trenches with your buddies, taking enemy fire, and you needed to communicate with your other buddies because you needed urgent supplies. We played those games because that’s the context in which we think of walkie-talkies.
John Piper is a pastor and author I admire greatly. He’s written a lot about missions and his church has sent out many, many missionaries. He writes a book on missions called Let the Nations Be Glad! In that book, he talks about walkie-talkies, and he says that basically, prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie.
If you’re fighting for your life and taking enemy fire, you don’t pick up your walkie-talkie and ask for a pepperoni pizza because you’re hungry. No, you ask for reinforcements because you’re overwhelmed, or ammunition because you’re out, or medical help because your men lay dying. Walkie-talkies were originally used in those kinds of settings. They weren’t for trivial requests. They were for real, life and death needs.
John Piper is a pastor and author I admire greatly. He’s written alot about missions and his church has sent out many, many missionaries. He writes a book on missions called Let the Nations Be Glad! In that book, he talks about walkie-talkies, and he says that basically, prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie.
This is what he says:
“Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it is always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world.” [Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p65]
If you’re fighting for your life and taking enemy fire, you don’t pick up your walkie-talkie and ask for a pepperoni pizza because you’re hungry. No, you ask for reinforcements because you’re overwhelmed, or ammunition because you’re out, or medical help because your men lay dying. Walkie-talkies were originally used in those kinds of settings. They weren’t for trivial requests. They were for real, life and death needs.
What are we devoted to as a church? Would you say we’re devoted to prayer?
Do we pray for opportunity to bear witness to our community about the gospel of Christ? Do we pray for boldness to do that even if people make fun or us or call us hateful? Do we ask God to do mighty things in our own hearts and then in our church and then overflowing into our city? Do we pray for God to sanctify us, to rid us of sin and give us godly character? And do we do that together, as a body, like the early church in Acts, with one accord lifting up our voices to heaven? That is what biblical prayer looks like.
Acts 4:29–31 ESV
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
That is bold prayer. That is prayer that God honors. That is prayer that literally shakes the church.

Conclusion and call for response

We’ve seen our primary task, our joyful expectation, our source of support and our spiritual lifeline. With Christ as our commander, we are ready for batle.
Church, what does all of this tell us about the Lord Jesus? It tells us that He is utterly faithful. Faithful to always give us what we need when it’s needed. It tells us he’s unfailingly generous. He gives us more than what we need to do what he’s calling us to do.
And what does all of this say about us? Our primary task, our joyful expectations, our source of support, and our spiritual lifeline. We have all of those things. What does that mean for us? It means we can engage in battle. We can fight. And because the victory is certain, because Jesus has already won the war, we can fight with confidence, knowing the outcome.
We have been given a task, to witness to Jesus’ resurrection here and abroad. We have a joyful expectation - we joyfully await the return of our Lord and Savior. We have a source of support - Christian community, our church. And we have a spiritual lifeline - prayer, our wartime walkie talkie. Most importantly, we have the promise of eternal life, so that whatever happens to us here, nothing can alter our future.
If you’re a believer, if you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation, if you’re leaning on Him, resting on Him, relying upon His shed blood to cleanse you from your sins, praise God! All of this is true for you. All of this is yours.
But sadly, if you are not in Christ, if you have not trusted in Him, even if you think you have but you haven’t, then none of us is true for you. None of this is true for you.
But the good news is that it can be. You can’t earn it don’t even try. You can’t clean yourself up first; that’s His job. So what do you do? You simply confess. Confess your sins to God. He already knows them anyway! You can’t surprise God. Say, “God, I know I’m a sinner. You’re right when you have said I’m a sinner. I want to be saved and forgiven. I believe that by your Son’s death on the cross, I can be forgiven.” Talk to God, get honest with Him. And the promise is that all who call upon the Lord will be saved.
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