The book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the entire Bible. It is an action-packed description of the acts of Jesus through a Spirit empowered, ragtag group of uneducated misfits who became the church within a yard of hell; it is, without a doubt, the most action-packed book in the New Testament.

         Calling Acts an action-packed book is absolutely appropriate because commentators have been referring to it as the book that describes the acts of the apostles or the acts of the Spirit through the apostles or the acts of Jesus through the Spirit empowered apostles; either way, what we will see over the next year-and-a-half will prove to be some of the most action-packed stuff you can find in the New Testament. But do not just take my word for it. Watch this short video and see what lies in store for us ahead (click the image below to watch the video).2

         So, as you can see, we are in for a wild, action-packed ride over the next year-and-a-half or so. And today we begin with the first 11 verses of the story. Look at the text with me:

1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4And 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But 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.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and 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.”

Here is a brief summary of what we just read. Luke is the author of the book of Acts, and he begins by reminding us of everything he has already written about Jesus in his first letter, The Gospel of Luke. He addresses the letter to a man named Theophilus, which means “lover of God” and then he summarizes Jesus’ final days here on earth with a picture of Jesus giving his disciples some final commands and instructions over the course of about 40 days (Acts 1:1 – 3).

The main thrust of Jesus’ final words to his disciples are missional in nature; Jesus is about to continue his mission to seek and to save the lost so that they would become Spirit empowered witnesses to the ends of the earth until he returns (Matt. 28:18 – 20; Lk. 19:10; 24:45 – 49). Now, you cannot be a Spirit empowered witness without the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus commands the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit comes and baptizes them with his infilling presence (Acts 1:4 – 5).

This must have absolutely confused the disciples because they were expecting Jesus to restore the Kingdom of Israel by crushing their Roman oppressors (Acts 1:6). We have to remember that Israel, at this point in time, is far removed from the establishment of the nation in the Promised Land. In fact, in Israel’s history, they were banished from the Promised Land not long after they acquired it, in the book of Joshua, because of their rebellion.

And from that point forward, they lived as exiles in slavery until they returned to the Promised Land in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah but things would never be the same again because the Promised Land was now ruled by oppressive enemies who would eventually become the Roman empire they now lived under.

Israel had longed and hoped for Rome’s destruction for centuries and the disciples believed, now more than ever, that the crucified and risen Christ would in fact annihilate their oppressors once and for all (Acts 1:6). But Jesus has a completely different plan in mind; he has a completely different mission to accomplish. Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save those who are lost and to make them into Spirit empowered witnesses to the ends of the earth until he returns (Luke 19:10; Acts 1:6 – 11).

In fact, Jesus’ mission was not one that would eliminate the suffering of his people and usher in some kind of new utopian reality. Jesus was not removing his people’s enemies and then moving his people to some cush, lavish, lifestyle in the suburbs. Jesus was in fact getting ready to send his people to be his witnesses in their own back yards in Jerusalem, in some of the grimiest places of darkness on the fringes of society in Judea and Samaria, and ultimately into the unknown territories to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

This is the essence of Acts 1:8! In fact, this verse acts as the outline of the spread of the gospel as believers proclaim the gospel of the crucified, risen, and returning Savior throughout the book of Acts.3 Chapters 1 – 7 describe the gospel rippling throughout Israel’s backyards in Jerusalem. Chapters 8 – 11 describe the gospel rippling like rings from a rock thrown into a pond as the Spirit empowered disciples proclaim Christ in some of the grimiest, dirtiest, darkest places throughout Judea and Samaria. Finally, Chapters 12 – 28 describe those ripples continuing to the ends of the known earth.

The point here… the gospel was never meant to be contained by the little boxes of church buildings where lazy Christians come to be entertained; it was meant to rock the world like a tsunami! This brings a whole new perspective on what it means to be the church!

Once Jesus explains his mission to his disciples and instructs them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, he ascends into heaven in a cloud of smoke which leaves the disciples staring into the heavens in awe (Acts 1:9). As the disciples are mesmerized by the awesome display of power and smoke as Jesus ascends into Heaven, two angels show up and instruct them to quit standing around entertained by the smoke show and to get after it because Jesus will return again very soon when the mission is complete (Acts 1:10 – 11). Already, the story begins with lots of action and lots of smoke. And no, this does not justify putting a smoke machine in the church!

Jesus’ mission is not to meet your felt needs and it is not to remove you from hardship and it certainly not to draw you into a comfortable westernized version of Christianity that only requires you to show up on Sundays to be entertained and encouraged.

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost so that he can make you into a Spirit empowered witness who shakes the earth as you proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.

But what does it mean to be a Spirit empowered witness? What hinders us from being Spirit empowered witnesses?


Spirit empowered witnesses love God like Theophilus. As I said earlier, Luke addresses this letter to someone named Theophilus and the name simply means: “A Lover of God” (Acts 1:1). People who love God love to hear from his Word; this is why Luke is writing God’s Word to Theophilus. Nothing stops people who love God from studying his Word with other believers because God’s Word is the only thing that establishes believers and strengthens them for mission.

This is why Jesus referred to himself as the manna that came from heaven, the bread of life that sustains and nurtures and satisfies and strengthens (John 6:31 – 59). And on top of that, Jesus also said that if we really love God then we will obey every word that comes from his mouth (John 14:15 – 24). So, to love God like Theophilus is to love the Bible and to love studying it with other brothers and sisters in Christ.


Spirit empowered witnesses wait for the Holy Spirit to baptize them with his infilling presence. Believer’s baptism by submersion in water is a very important step of obedience in the Christian life and we will certainly see many water baptisms throughout the book of Acts (Acts 2:41; 8:36 – 40; 9:18; 10:47 – 48). But waiting for the Spirit’s baptism is something entirely different than water baptism. When the Holy Spirit baptizes someone, he literally fills them with his abiding presence of dynamite power.

In fact, the word that Jesus uses here for power in Acts 1:8 is the Greek word “Dunamis” or “Dynamis” which means dynamic or dynamite power. And the power that you receive when the Spirit baptizes you is not the power to operate in some special spiritual gift; it is the power to give a witness or to testify to the crucified, risen, and returning Christ in both word and deed. Words must be backed up with our deeds; people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Spirit empowered witnesses are people who have waited upon the presence of the Holy Spirit (instead of proceeding in their own strength) and have asked him to fill them with his power to testify about Jesus to everyone they meet.


Spirit empowered witnesses testify or give witness to the gospel of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior in our backyards at home, in the grimiest and dirtiest of fringe places, and to the ends of the earth. As I said earlier, this outline from Acts 1:8 helps us to outline the book of Acts. But it also gives us some very practical ways that Jesus expects us to be getting after his mission.

Our Jerusalem, at home in our backyards, represents the people that we are the most comfortable with; people we spend the most time around. These people could be the people who serve us at the gas stations or grocery stores we frequent or they could be our friends, coworkers, and family members.

Our Judea and Samaria, the grimiest of fringe places, represents the people we have a tendency to avoid; the people we are not comfortable around. The disciples would have turned up their noses at the prospect of being in a relationship with a Samaritan because they were known to be half breeds who historically made it hard for God’s people and had also watered down the worship of God in their daily lives (1 Kings 12; 15; Deut. 7; 12; Ezra 4; Neh. 4). I do not know who it is that God wants you to reach that makes you really uncomfortable, but whoever it is, this person is your Judea and Samaria.

Lastly, the gospel is meant to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, which means that the gospel must be testified among the Gentile nations, foreigners and outcasts. The gospel knows no social, ethnic, or economical boundaries. All who call upon the name of Christ for salvation will be saved and it is the direct responsibility of every believer to take the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18 – 20; Rom. 10:13 – 17).

Ultimately, this mission to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, is absolutely impossible in our own strength. I am convinced that far too many Christians grew up with a vision of a soft, westernized, Christianity that was nothing more than another social gathering. People who feel the pressure to attend social gatherings, never spend time in the Bible with other believers and they certainly do not spend time in prayer for the Spirit to empower them to share the gospel in their comfort zones, out of their comfort zones, to the ends of the earth because they pray to make it to church on time a few times a month.

Wouldn’t it be something if the church in America waited and prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit to give them the dynamic, dynamite power to share the gospel whenever they walked out the church doors and into the mission field? When you and I walk through those church doors in a few minutes, we are in fact entering the mission field that is full of people who need to meet the crucified, risen and returning Christ. You and I were chosen not just for salvation (like fire insurance to protect us from the flames of hell) we were chosen to be part of an army with a mission to seek and to save the lost as we proclaim the message of salvation to everyone we meet.

Spirit empowered witnesses testify or give witness to the gospel of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior in our backyards at home, in the grimiest and dirtiest of fringe places, and to the ends of the earth.


Spirit empowered witnesses get busy sharing Jesus until he returns, or until we go to meet him. Remember at the end of our text today, the disciples are mesmerized by Jesus’ smokey ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9 – 11). The scene would have been awe inspiring and it would have brought back images of Israel’s history when God’s presence was with them in the wilderness as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night signifying that God’s presence was with them and guiding them wherever they went (Exod. 13; 14; Neh. 9; Heb. 13:5 – 6).

As awe inspiring as this experience was as the disciples watched Jesus’ smokey ascension, it reminds me of how easy it is to not get after the mission we have been given because we are not entertained by the notion that Jesus will return very soon. The urgency that fueled the spread of the gospel through the testimony of the disciples throughout the book of Acts can be attributed to their ferocious focus on the imminent return of Christ. Jesus is coming back soon so we better get busy sharing Jesus until he returns.


In conclusion, we have learned that Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost so that he can make them into Spirit empowered witnesses until he returns. Spirit empowered witnesses love God, wait for the Holy Spirit’s presence, testify at home, in the grimiest of places, and to the ends of the earth, and they get busy with the mission until Jesus returns.

I am convinced that the reason we fail to be Spirit empowered witnesses is that we love something more than God; we try to act in our own strength instead of waiting and asking for the Spirit’s help; we long for and attempt to build the wrong kingdom and get caught up in mission drift; and we do not feel the urgency of Christ’s return deep in our souls.

One thing I have loved about being the founding pastor of this church, is that God has consistently filled this room with people who love him and deeply desire to be about the mission of being Spirit empowered witnesses who are running a rescue mission within a yard of hell as we seek to love God more, to rely on the Spirit more, and to share Christ with more and more people in light of Christ’s imminent return.

When you and I came into this church family, the ragtag group of mostly uneducated misfits, we came in through the shed blood and broken body of Jesus and when we leave this church building, we enter the mission field. Teachers, mental health workers, factory workers, computer IT people, farmers, homeschoolers, bikers, retirees, office and administrative personnel, mothers, fathers, single people, recovering addicts, health care workers; military personnel; we all have one thing in common: the gospel knows no social, ethnic, or economic boundaries and someone had the guts to share Jesus with us and here we are united by the gospel of our crucified, risen, and returning Christ!

When we leave this church building today, if you are a believer, then you once were lost but now you have been found and Jesus is making you into a Spirit empowered witness who loves God, who waits and prays for the Spirit’s help, who testifies about Jesus to everyone you meet, and who cannot wait to get busy sharing Jesus some more!  Amen!

Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).

The Book of Acts in 3 Minutes, The Church at Brook Hills, (CCW Archives: March 2013):

3 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 15.