June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 1: Extreme Makeover

One of the weirdest shows on TV has to be “Extreme Makeovers”.  Thousands of people from all over America apply to be given the chance to have radical cosmetic surgery. To have a face-lift, to get a nose-job, their enlarged, liposuction, major dental work.  To go through six weeks of . Pain, discomfort, risk of infection and major complications. All to LOOK BETTER.

And their plea is that life NOW is miserable. And if only they could be happier about the way they look. Then life will just be SO MUCH BETTER.

And so the producers choose the most NEEDY cases – or the ones that will bring the highest ratings. And they offer them the chance to get A WHOLE NEW LIFE.  And to tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure how to react. I don’t know whether to be amused, or excited.  Because it really is moving to see the joy on someone’s face/ who’s just had their teeth repaired.  And they can finally smile, without self-consciously covering up a mouth full of crooked, brown, rotting teeth. And these people swear that their life has been REVOLUTIONISED! And it will never be the same again.

And if life can change that much when you change on the OUTSIDE, imagine how life would change if you had an extreme makeover on the INSIDE.  Because that’s what’s happening to Jesus’ disciples.

Three short years ago, they’d been quietly going about their business. Catching fish, mending nets, sailing around the lake.

But then Jesus had arrived. And life was turned on its head. And it would never be the same again.

He chose them. And they’d left everything to follow him. Taking nothing but the clothes on their back, and the shoes on their feet.

And they’d travelled the length and breadth of Israel. Met all sorts of people. Heard amazing things. Seen incredible miracles. They’d been challenged, and rebuked. Comforted, and disappointed. But never bored.

And they’d come to learn that Jesus was God’s Son. With power to forgive sins, and raise the , and calm storms. And they couldn’t imagine life doing anything else. Being with anyone else.

And then one day, Jesus was gone. And all their hopes were dashed.

He was dragged off by an angry Jewish mob. Found guilty at a rigged trial. Cruelly executed by Roman soldiers.

And that was the lowest point in their lives. They were stunned. Numb. Speechless. Afraid.

And then just as suddenly as he’d gone. Unbelievably. He was back. Back from the .

Back with a new perspective. A new majesty and authority. Giving them a new understanding of who he was, and what his plans were.

And this time, they were finally able to understand. To see Jesus CLEARLY. The extreme makeover had begun.

And whether THEY knew it or not, Jesus knew. That now it was time for STAGE TWO. Stage two of the extreme makeover. Because now the disciples were expected to be LEADERS, and not just FOLLOWERS.

Because Jesus wasn’t going to be with them for much longer. At least not BODILY anyway. And so now it was up to these disciples. They were going to continue the mission Jesus had started.

And that’s where we pick up the story today.

But it was also stage two in a DIFFERENT way. Because it wasn’t just THE DISCIPLES who were in for an EXTREME MAKEOVER, the WHOLE WORLD would never be the same again.

By the end of their lives, the disciples, with God’s help, would have changed the face of the civilised world.

It would be hard to argue whether there’s ever been a more significant movement than that which Jesus began among this small group of uneducated, uncultured fishermen.

It’s a movement that continues right up to today. To people sitting here in this room. And Jesus is STILL giving people this extreme makeover. Changing their orientation, their goals and desires, their priorities. Showing them life the way it was designed to be.

And the portrait we see of the life of these disciples/ is no different from the life Jesus offers ANY OF YOU sitting here today.

And there are four aspects to this life – this extreme makeover – I want to emphasise. It’s life BASED ON HISTORICAL FACT, A life EMPOWERED BY THE PRESENCE OF JESUS HIMSELF. A life lived FOLLOWING JESUS. And a life with A SURE FUTURE HOPE.

1. A life based on historical fact

Let’s look at the first of those. A life following Jesus is BASED ON HISTORICAL FACT.

You see, Christianity is not a philosophy that’s DETACHED from reality. A set of ideas  – a way of living – that’s irrelevant to anything that actually happens in history.

Some people say that being a Christian is just a matter of FAITH. And that THINKING has nothing to do with it. But that’s only HALF right.

Yes, it DOES take faith to believe in a reality you can’t see or hear or smell. And it DOES take faith to believe the historical documents are trustworthy.

But it’s still REASONABLE to do so. Because it takes faith to believe that ANY historical documents are reliable. Newspaper reports on WW2. Army documents. Government papers. Photos.

We use our BRAIN to work out whether it’s REASONABLE to accept these documents. And then we make a decision – take a step of faith – to TRUST them.

And it’s no different with these documents. Because the book of Acts is A HISTORY BOOK. In fact, it’s volume TWO of the series. You can see that right there in v1.

(Acts 1:1 NIV)  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

The guy who wrote the book was called Luke. And his FIRST volume/ is the book of the Bible WE call the Gospel of Luke.

And if you look over at his introduction to THAT book (p723), you can see the method he used as he researched and recorded his history. Luke Ch 1 v1.

(Luke 1:1-4 NIV)  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, {2} just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were EYEWITNESSES and servants of the word. {3} Therefore, since I myself have CAREFULLY INVESTIGATED EVERYTHING from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, {4} so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

He’s spoken to the eyewitnesses. He’s checked his facts. In fact, he was actually PART of some of the later events in this book.

And then he’s recorded them all carefully. In a systematic and organized way. That’s history. It’s not a fable, or a story. Or a nursery rhyme. It’s HISTORY.

Just like a historian today might research the facts about WW2. He’d read the documents, interview the eyewitnesses. Check the details, and record the events accurately.

And it’s about the SAME LENGTH OF TIME between the events and the writing. As between now and WW2. About 50 years. And that’s NOTHING when it comes to history.

But WHAT WAS IT that Luke was interested in? Because it wasn’t a COMPREHENSIVE history. V1 tells us. It was, SPECIFICALLY, events about JESUS. “All that JESUS began to do and teach”

V2 takes up the story.

(Acts 1:2-3 NIV)  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. {3} After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Luke’s already told us about these events in volume 1. But he REMINDS us of them here at the start of Volume 2. Because they form the FOUNDATION of all that’s GOING to happen.

In volume 1, they form the CLIMAX. The END of THAT story. But here, they’re the FOUNDATION. The disciples only do what they do. Become who they become. Because of the time they spend with Jesus after his resurrection.

And exactly what does he DO after his resurrection? He SHOWED himself to the disciples. And gave CONVINCING PROOF that he was alive. He wasn’t a phantom. A hallucination caused by grief. Wishful thinking. The result of MASS HYSTERIA.

He ATE with them. They TOUCHED him. And he didn’t just do it ONCE. But MANY TIMES. Over a period of FORTY DAYS.

And what’s more. He gave INSTRUCTIONS to his disciples. Instructions about the Kingdom of God. Setting them straight about God’s plan for the world. And how Jesus fitted in to it.

Because his and resurrection had changed EVERYTHING. They’d imagined a MILITARY saviour. A warrior. Who’d free Israel from the Romans. Restore the JEWS to a number one position among the nations of the world.

But Jesus says their life will involve a DIFFERENT sort of battle instead. They’ll be WITNESSES, rather than WARRIORS. Declaring that Jesus really HAS risen from the . A historical fact. And that he calls people to RECOGNISE him. And submit to him.

And as witnesses rather than warriors, it won’t be a case of Israel versus the rest of the world. US AGAINST THEM. But Israel as the springboard into which the WHOLE WORLD will hear about Jesus. Israel holding up a LIGHT for the rest of the world to FOLLOW.

Look at how he corrects that idea in v7 and 8. The disciples want to know if Jesus is going to RESTORE THE PRIDE OF NATIONAL ISRAEL. That’s v6. It’s what Israel’s STILL trying to do.

But Jesus stretches their thinking.

(Acts 1:7-8 NIV)  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. {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 EVEN to THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

God’s got a MUCH bigger picture in mind. Israel’s just the beginning. The WORLD is now in view. That’s an extreme makeover.

2. A life empowered by the presence of Jesus himself

But in case it all sounds too hard. Too impossible a task for the disciples to achieve. He’s got a word of COMFORT as well.

The life he calls them to/ is one EMPOWERED by the PRESENCE of JESUS HIMSELF.

He says it in v4

(Acts 1:4-5 NIV)  ..”Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the GIFT my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. {5} For John baptized with water, but in a few days YOU WILL BE BAPTIZED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus – the Spirit of God the Father – living WITH the Christian. Living IN the Christian. That’s what God’s promised. And he’s coming soon.

The MAN Jesus could only be in one place at one time. With one group of people. But one of the amazing truths about Christianity is that Jesus’ SPIRIT can be with EVERY SINGLE of his followers. ALL THE TIME.

And other parts of the Bible tell us that the Holy Spirit GUIDES us. Strengthens us. Helps us to understand the Bible. Convicts us of sin. Gives us GIFTS to build up God’s people. Develops FRUIT in us that reflect his character.

And look at what else. Down in v8.

(Acts 1:8 NIV)  But you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses …

It is the EXTREME MAKEOVER of the Holy Spirit. His POWER which enables these scared, mumbling, uneducated tradesmen to move outside their comfort zones. To stand before kings and governors. Stand up for what they believe in. And EXPLAIN it. In ways they never thought possible.

Because when Jesus expands the TASK. He expands the RESOURCES to match.

And it’s just as true today.

I know people sitting here today. Who can honestly say that if it wasn’t for God’s Spirit working in them, they would never have made it. Addictions. Terrible trials. Tragedies. Overcoming what life throws at them in convincing and authentic ways.

Jesus promises those who follow him. Life empowered by the presence of Jesus himself.

3. A life lived following Jesus – doing, teaching, witnessing

And look at what he says they’re to DO with this power. To WITNESS to the reality of Jesus. And that will involve doing just what Jesus had done with the disciples. Teaching them. Training. Correcting. Showing by example. Living.

Witness is nothing more than a life lived following Jesus.

And this witness. Is just what the rest of the book goes on to describe. How the disciples witness. First in JERUSALEM – that’s Ch’s 1 to 7. And then in ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA – that’s Ch 8. And then to the ends of the earth – that’s Ch’s 9 to 28.

And if you flip over to Ch 28, you can see from the headings that The Apostle Paul lands in Malta, and then arrives in Rome.

And that’s where the book ends. With the message of Jesus having reached Rome. Over a thousand km’s away in about 20 years. Pretty impressive.

But not quite THE END OF THE WORLD.

And so the book finishes with the task INCOMPLETE. Waiting for someone ELSE to take up the running. To continue following Jesus. Witnessing for him.

And someone DID. Because after the Apostles died, the gospel continued to spread. From Rome across to Spain. And then across to Britain. And up into Europe.

And down through Egypt, and North Africa.

And eventually it made it all the way to Australia. Which really IS the end of the world. Unless you count NZ.

People here today continue to carry the baton. Witnessing for Jesus. Still following Jesus. Teaching others, correcting them, living like Jesus, SHOWING them Jesus.

4. A life with a sure future hope

But that’s the END of the race. And that’s a long way from where the disciples are at the moment. Here in Ch 1.

Jesus gives them the command – passes the baton on – in v8. And then look what happens next. V9.

(Acts 1:9-11 NIV)  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. {10} They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. {11} “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

He didn’t just disappear. Vanish into thin air. They all saw him go. There was no doubt about it. No misinformation. No rumours. He went back to heaven. Hard to believe – yes! But no doubt.

And while the disciples keep looking at the clouds. Searching for some last glimpse. Some flicker of hope that they weren’t on their own. Two angels appear, and drag them back to earth.

“Get on with it. You’ve got work to do. Stop pining for something that’s over. Yes, he’s gone. But he’s coming back. The same way he went.”

“So make sure you’re READY when he does. He’s going to want to know how you’ve used your time, and your energy, and your money, and your possessions, and your abilities.”

The Christian life has a sure and certain hope. Jesus will come back one day. And we’ll give an ACCOUNT of all we’ve done. A de-brief. And that’s an incentive to be focussed and committed and hard-working.

Does that describe YOU? Are your priorities affected by the reality of Jesus’ return?

Or are you like an ostrich with its head in the sand? Pretending it ain’t going to happen? Building for financial independence, for comfort, for retirement. But ignoring the most central future event of all.

But Jesus WILL return. And what you do with your life NOW will determine whether you’ll be ready, or not.

The disciples were ready. Will YOU be?

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