Why do you believe? It is an important question that we must answer to ourselves. It is a question that you may have asked yourself as you take this journey with Jesus. But the answer to the question is very important. Sometimes people will say that the reason they believe is because the Bible says so. Sometimes people will say that believe because this is what their parents taught them or this is what they have always done. I hope to change that answer because it is not the basis by which we are to have faith. Jesus wants us to have a different answer for why we believe. Why you believe will affect the outcome of what has been promised to you. Open your copies of God’s word to Acts 1.
More About Jesus (1:1-3)
The book of Acts begins, “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….” This is a curious beginning because the author starts by speaking about a first book that was written to Theophilus. If you go back to Luke 1:1-4 you will see that the Gospel of Luke was an orderly account about the events surrounding Jesus. This account was written to Theophilus. Notice that the author of Acts must be the same author of the Gospel of Luke because he says in Acts 1:1 that the former book was dealing with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up. I want us to focus on the word “began.” Luke does not say that the former book was an account of all that Jesus did and taught. Rather, it was an account of what Jesus began to do and teach, implying that the work of Jesus was not complete. What was recorded in the gospels was just the beginning of the work of Jesus. We know this because Jesus told his apostles that he had to leave them because there was more work that needed to be accomplished from heaven (cf. John 16).
This gives us an important lens for how to read the book of Acts. Acts is not about the apostles, though they are certainly important to the book. Acts is not about geography, memorizing missionary journeys, or tracking those journeys on a map. Acts is the continuation of the work of Jesus. The book of Acts should be read like you would read the book of Luke. The book of Luke was all that Jesus began to do and teach and the book of Acts is all that Jesus continued to do and teach. It is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. The series title is called Moving Forward With Jesus: Your Place in God’s Kingdom because this is the important message of God to us. What will you do with Jesus? Will you go forward with Jesus? What is going to be your place in the kingdom?
Immediately we are told that there was more that Jesus was doing and teaching after his death and resurrection. Acts 1:3 tells us that Jesus presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. We can sometimes think that Jesus only appeared alive once or twice, as recorded at the end of the gospels. But Luke says that Jesus showed he was alive with many convincing proofs. What would be some convincing proofs? Jesus offers for Thomas to touch his hands and his sides to believe that he rose from the dead (John 20:28-29). Jesus is also repeatedly shown eating with his disciples in John 21. Luke points this out because the disciples did not expect resurrection. When Jesus appeared to his disciples, he had to prove that it was truly him, that he had risen from the dead. Jesus was not a disembodied spirit floating around. They saw him, they touched him, they talked with him, they heard him, and they ate with him (cf. 1 John 1:1). They needed to be convinced and Jesus provided many convincing proofs during these 40 days.
Now why is this important for going forward with Jesus? Your faith to believe and go forward with Jesus rests on these eyewitnesses evidences of the resurrected Jesus. Unfortunately, too often faith is presumed upon the idea that the Bible tells me so. I want us to see that this is not what Luke is doing. Luke is telling Theophilus to have faith because Jesus presented himself alive with many convincing proofs over a 40 day period to various people. Luke does not say, “I am inspired and God told me Jesus is alive, so you ought to believe me.” No, Luke says that we have eyewitness testimony of Jesus risen from the dead. This is the reason to believe in Jesus.
You may say that I cannot believe such a thing. But all of the history that we believe is based on eyewitness testimony and things that were written down in the past about people. How do you know that there was a George Washington? How do we know that he was not just a myth or story created to bolster the American spirit to rally the nation against Britain and to establish a new nation? Why not claim it to all just be a story? The reason why it is unreasonable to do so is because many people saw George Washington and wrote down what he said and what he did. Why believe in Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, or any other historical person? None of us ever saw any of them. So why should we believe that they are real and they did what they did? The reason is simple: eyewitnesses wrote down and told what they saw and heard. This is what the gospels and the book of Acts are doing. They do not say, “Believe it because it is the Bible.” They say, “We did not believe it either, but we saw Jesus alive and he gave us many convincing proofs during those 40 days.” Our faith rest completely on the resurrection of Jesus and on nothing else. Resurrection is the place where all the apostles take their stand because hundreds of people saw him alive. So Luke is telling Theophilus about all that Jesus continued to do and teach after he rose from the dead. If we refuse to believe the eyewitness testimony of those who saw Jesus alive and wrote it down for all history, then we cannot believe in any historical figure of the past because the reason we know of that person’s existence and actions is because someone saw that person and wrote it down from all history.
Baptized With The Holy Spirit (1:4-5)
Luke also wants us to consider what Jesus is doing during these 40 days while appearing alive with many convincing proofs. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of God for 40 days. The book of Acts teaches about the kingdom and our place in that glorious kingdom. With Jesus teaching about the kingdom, he connects to the disciples something very important about the kingdom. Jesus tells his apostles to wait for the promise of the Father. The promise of the Father is connected to the teaching about the kingdom. The details of the promise are further expressed in verse 5. “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Now we cannot import our thinking into this text. We need to carefully consider what the scriptures are teaching. What exactly are the apostles to wait for that will happen in a few days? Jesus says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father, which is being taught in the context of the kingdom. We need to look back to the prophets to see what the Father had promised concerning the Holy Spirit to understand what the apostles are waiting for. We do not have time to consider all the promises that are made by God the Father concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to go and study all of them on your own. But I will show a few that represent the message God was promising concerning the Holy Spirit. First, we will look at Isaiah 32:14-18.
For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (Isaiah 32:14–18 ESV)
Isaiah 32 is a declaration of judgment against the nation of Israel for its sins, as pictured as the harvest failing (32:10), deserted cities (32:14), a forsaken palace, and wild animals living in the confines of Jerusalem (32:14). Notice that this will happen “until the Spirit is poured upon us.” Then you read about a reversal where the wilderness will turn into a fruitful field and justice, righteousness, and peace will exist. Notice that there is nothing miraculous prophesied here. Rather, the prophecy that the Father is promising is a reversal of condition for God’s people. God made a similar promise through Isaiah in Isaiah 44:2-5.
Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’S,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’S,’ and name himself by the name of Israel. (Isaiah 44:2–5 ESV)
Notice the picture of reversal is given again. The pouring out of the Spirit is pictured as pouring out water on dry ground and as pouring out blessings on God’s people. The result of this reversal is that people will be able to belong to the Lord. People will go from being severed from God to belonging to God when the Spirit is poured out. Ezekiel also spoke similarly.
25 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. 26 They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, 27 when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. 29 And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 39:25–29 ESV)
Notice that God promised through Ezekiel that he would restore the fortunes of Israel and have mercy on his people. God is going to bring them back from the exile that occurred because of their sinning. Further, God will restore the relationship with his people, not hiding his face from them anymore. When would this restoration happen? When would God restore the kingdom? When will God have mercy on his people? When will God bring his people to him? When will God bless his people again? When will God store his relationship with his people? Please look at what Ezekiel notes in verse 29, “…when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel.”
This is what I want us to see was promised by the Father concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. God will restore his people to himself, restore his kingdom, and restore his blessings to his people when the Spirit is poured out. The pouring out of the Spirit or the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a concise way to refer to all that the Father promised to do for Israel and for the world.
Why Do You Believe?
So why do we believe? I want to answer this question by noticing the contrast Jesus gives in Acts 1:5. John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. John himself also said this in Luke 3:15-17.
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15–17 ESV)
Notice that John makes the same contrast. When Jesus comes he is going to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit and fire. John explains what this means. Jesus has the winnowing fork. A winnowing fork was used to throw the wheat into the air so that wind could blow the lighter chaff to the side. John says he is coming to clear his threshing floor, separating the wheat and the chaff. The wheat will be gathered into the barn, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The chaff will burn with unquenchable fire, which is the baptism of fire. John said these words to every person who came to him. The work of Jesus is to separate those who belong to him from those who do not.
We believe Jesus rose from the dead because of the eyewitness accounts that were written down and preserved for our faith. The resurrection of Jesus means you must decide what to do with that information. You can be baptized by fire, meaning that you do not believe in who Jesus is and what he came to do. You do not believe that he rose from the dead. You do not believe that you must submit your life to him. To those who choose this path, unquenchable fire is the eventual outcome. You can be baptized with the Holy Spirit, meaning that you do believe in who Jesus is and what he came to do. You do believe that he rose from the dead. You do believe that you must submit your life to him. To those who choose this path, he is reconciling you to himself, gathering you into his barn so that you can enjoy an eternal relationship with him. Jesus came to bring you back from your sins to him. He holds out his hands to you and shows mercy to you if you will repent and give your life to him.