In our final passage of Luke’s gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to be his witnesses, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to them, blesses them one final time and leaves them worshipping him with great joy.
Take a look at Luke 24:48 – 53…
48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
This final passage in Luke’s gospel is a surreal ending for me in our three-year study. It’s hard for me to cope with the fact that all of the time we’ve spent walking with Jesus through his life, ministry, death and resurrection is coming to a close. I’ve had the privilege of walking in relationship with Jesus for nearly seventeen years. And the last three years have been some of the hardest and sweetest years as I’ve lived in this text while laboring alongside all of you as we follow Jesus in planting a thriving gospel centered church family of gospel communities who are engaged in the mission of growing disciples who glorify God.
The burdening question that has loomed in my heart as I studied this final text in Luke’s gospel is, what is God’s final word to us in this Gospel? What is God’s last instruction to us from this text as we examine Jesus’ return to Heaven? I have to admit that this question has haunted me for the last few weeks as this final text has loomed in my heart and mind as I’ve labored to shepherd among all of you amidst the various seasons of life that every one of our souls has been experiencing.
Friday morning I sat in my study feeling emotionally drained and completely spent from the week of work and the lack of sleep, asking the Lord for the energy and clarity for just one more sermon from this text that would feed his flock faithfully and helpfully. I spent four hours communing with the Lord in prayer and self-examination, asking him to apply this text to my heart first, to clear my heart of my own identity issues, to fixate my hope on Christ alone, to clarify this text, to purify my motives and to fill me with the power of his Spirit to witness again to the hope of Christ in our midst.
As I studied and prayed and wrote, a thought struck me with absolute clarity and force and I was caught up in the Lord’s presence as he spoke a word to me that is a call to worship for us as we bring this study to a close. You see the truth of this passage is that God is calling us to be his witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship. Look at what happens in this passage…
#1. Jesus calls his disciples witnesses… (48)
What does Jesus mean when he says “You are witnesses of these things”? In the immediate context of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is referring to his disciples as eyewitnesses to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. It means that anyone who is a disciple of Jesus is a person who shares his or her authentic experience of the gospel. But there’s also a broader meaning to this word “witness” in the Scriptures. In Acts 1:8 Luke unpacks more details about how Jesus uses this word “witness” when Jesus says “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth”. When Jesus says this he is saying that his disciples will be his martyrs in the immediate context of their close relationships in Jerusalem, their uncomfortable relationships in Judea & Samaria and throughout the world or to the ends of the earth.
This second use of the word “witnesses” expands our understanding of what Jesus is saying here because it ties together the concepts of experiencing and sharing the presence of Christ with others to the point of suffering and death. We must remember that every disciple in this text died because they refused to give in to the pressure of the world around them that pressed them to stop proclaiming Christ. In other words, this call to be witnesses for Jesus is a call to share our own personal experience of the presence and work of Christ with other people to the point that we would suffer and even die for Jesus as he has done for us. This is a final call to cross-carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ proclaiming lifestyles of worship to God.
The question that runs through my mind as I contemplate the reality of the kind of worshipping witnesses that God calls us to be is how will we become that kind of people? How do we become cross-carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ-proclaiming worshippers of God? The answer to that question is found in Jesus’ promise to send the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to clothe his disciples with the power of the indwelling presence of God himself which brings us to point number two.
#2. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples… (49)
This is an extraordinary promise and it’s also an extraordinary revelation of the triune Godhead at work. God the Father has promised to send His Spirit. Jesus reminds his disciples of this promise and then actually sends the gift of the Spirit after he leaves. And then as the disciples wait in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit actually comes and fills all of them with his powerful presence.
The word Luke uses for “power” in both this context and in the context of the book of Acts is the Greek word “Dunamis” which means dynamite or dynamic. In other words, God doesn’t promise to give us the power of a firecracker. He promises to give us his very own indwelling presence, which is more like the power of dynamite in comparison to a firecracker. So when God calls us to become cross-carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ-proclaiming people who worship God, he backs up that call with the promise of the dynamite presence & power of God himself living and working within us.
What more could we ask for than the very presence of God himself dwelling within us and empowering us to be his witnesses? I can’t think of anything else I would ask for which is what makes our next point so humbling.
#3. Jesus blesses his disciples as he leaves… (50-51)
This moment is like the moment when the curtain closes for the last time after the final act of the best movie you’ve ever seen. I remember seeing “The Passion of The Christ” for the very first time in a movie theater. And I’ll never forget the absolute silence and emotional awe that filled the room amidst the sniffling and weeping as the movie came to an end. The horror of the crucifixion of Christ was so powerful in that movie but equally as powerful is this picture of Christ ascending into the clouds of Heaven as he blesses his disciples one last time.
It’s common for us to bless people as we leave their presence. After a meal with a friend we often hug and say “I love you” or “God bless you” or “drive safely”. This is our way of blessing others as we leave. We do this at the end of our church gatherings when we say, “thanks for gathering here today, God bless you this week.” This is our natural way of proclaiming God’s blessings over each other as we part ways and it should remind us of this final encounter between Jesus and his disciples as he blesses them one final time.
This final word of blessing is a reminder of God’s kindness and generosity towards us as he calls us to become cross carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ-proclaiming people who’ve been blessed by the dynamite presence and power of God himself. What do we do with this call to witness? What we do with this promise of power? What do we do with this final blessing of Jesus? What did the disciples do?
#4. The disciples worship Jesus… (52-53)
Luke tells us that after Jesus called his disciples witnesses, and after he promised to send the Holy Spirit to them, and after he blessed them as he returned to Heaven, the disciples “worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” Doesn’t this seem to be the most appropriate response to the end of the movie? Doesn’t the call to worship Jesus continually and joyfully just feel like the best way to end this story? Isn’t this call to become continual joy-filled worshippers of Jesus the best note to end on?
The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Do you see the connection here? This is a call to worship. This is a call to worship God by becoming cross-carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ-proclaiming people who’ve been blessed by the dynamite presence and power of God himself. God is calling us to be witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship.
How will you and I answer this final call?
Will we leave here today and go back to our worship disorders? Will we leave here today and go back to drinking poisonous water from filthy glasses? Will we go back to playing games with our sin in the shadow of the cross where Christ died for us? Will we go back to chasing the momentary pleasures of this life? Will we go back to conformity to this world where we chase money, possessions, experiences, friendships, romance or status? Will we go back to chasing the high of the intoxication of our sinful and selfish secret habits?
Or will we answer this final call of God on our lives in Luke’s gospel? Will we give our lives to Jesus as our spiritual act of worship? Will we become cross-carrying, self-denying, sin-killing, Christ proclaiming people who’ve been blessed by the dynamite presence and power of the Spirit of God himself who is alive within us? God is calling us to be witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship. How will you and I answer this final call? This is a call to leave the prison cell of slavery to your worship disorders and never go back. To help us answer this call of God on our lives from this message, I’ve put together a few action steps.
#1. Give your life as an act of sacrificial worship… (Romans 12:1 – 2)
God is calling us to be witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship. Worship is all about giving your self completely to something or someone. You may be giving yourself to sinful relationships, or the pursuit of more money and possessions, or sexual sin, or the pursuit of worldly status, or laziness, or anger, or bitterness, or overworking, or overspending but God’s call on your life is to give yourself to him completely because he gave himself for you.
The question is, will you give yourself to the Lord as an act of living and sacrificial worship?
#2. Ask God to empower you with his Spirit… (Acts 2:1 – 13)
Again, God is calling us to be witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship. This means that we must ask God to empower us with the infilling presence of his Spirit. We often believe that we would have the strength to carry on if we just had more money, or a better relationship, or a bigger house, or a better paying job, or well mannered kids, or another car, or better drugs. We often think that if we could just change our circumstances then we could make it another day. But the truth is all of those things are firecrackers in comparison to the dynamite presence of the Spirit of God.
So the question is, will you stop chasing firecrackers and begin chasing dynamite?
#3. Witness boldly to everyone you meet… (Acts 4:23 – 31)
Listen, God is calling us to be witnesses to the person and work of Jesus Christ through our Spirit empowered lives of worship. This means that we must open our mouths to speak boldly about what he has done in our hearts and lives and our lives must match the words that come out of our mouths.
So the question is, will you witness boldly to everyone you meet with your words and your lifestyle? How will you answer this final call to be witnesses for God to the person and work of Jesus Christ through your Spirit empowered life of worship? How will you answer this final call?