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(with Luke 24:15-53 )
I. It is quite necessary to seize firmly and hold fast by this thought, that the acts of Apostles and all subsequent acts of their true successors, are, as Bengel says, a continuation of Christ's own history, if we would understand St. Luke's opening section of Church history, or any after section of it from St. Luke's day till now. The one event in which St. Luke finds the meeting place of these two eras is the Ascension. It finds a place at the end of his Gospel, and at the beginning of his Church history, because it is really common to both.
II. Unlike the feebleness of good wishes on men's dying lips, the strong benediction of the Prince of Life commands and confers a blessing, while from His radiant face and form, and down from His uplifted hands, there rains into the souls of the eleven a rain of gracious influences, of hope and courage and content and gladness. Then, like a thing of rarer quality, which by its own upward virtue ascends through the grosser atmosphere below, His blessed body rose with a still and slow and stately movement into the pure bright upper air. Nor stayed; but followed by the fixed gaze of the amazed men, rose on, until, still raining blessings down, He reached the region where white clouds rest. Then suddenly there swept beneath His feet a cloud that shut him from their envious eyes. This was no time for idle, melancholy despondencies, that root themselves in the past for profitless longings after that which is not. Gazing into heaven will not fetch Christ back, nor any other departed. Let us return to Jerusalem. Earth has its calls to duty, and heaven will chide us if we do not heed them. Let this be the spur which quickens labour and the hope which cheers exhaustion, that "This same Jesus who is taken from us into heaven, shall so come in like manner as they saw Him go into heaven."
J. Oswald Dykes, From Jerusalem to Antioch, p. 5 (see also Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., p. 1).
References: Acts 1:1-11 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 266; Acts 1:1-21 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 189. Acts 1:2 , Acts 1:3 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 32.Acts 1:3 . T. Binney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 379; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ix., p. 468; Homilist, vol. iii., p. 015.Acts 1:4 . Lawrance, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 123.Acts 1:4 , Acts 1:5 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 33.Acts 1:4-8 . Ibid., vol. iv., p. 267.
I. What is the baptism of the Holy Ghost? We are told that with an invisible power the Spirit should come down and rest upon the heart, cleansing and purifying the whole man, so that it can be said, "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature." This change is mysterious and in some respects inexplicable; but we find it produces union between God and the soul. When the baptism of the Holy Ghost comes to a Church; when it comes to a mass that are brought to the knowledge of Christ; when it comes to a community, as on the day of Pentecost, it seems to represent to us a shower of blessing, and we may well be glad when we commemorate that outpouring. But is it attainable by us now? Yes, we answer, and more than ever. This dispensation is called the dispensation of the Spirit.
II. What are some of the consequences that flow out of this baptism of the Holy Spirit? (1) One of the first is joy and peace. All the epistles are written with the pen of joy. The fulfilment of Christ's Word was theirs. (2) There will be a large accession spiritually to the Church of God. There is nothing else we want in the midst of this Christian people of England; nothing else will save the tens of thousands passing down to destruction; nothing will alter the condition of life which Christ declared to Nicodemus. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again."
III. How is this attainable? We must secure it by prayer. God tells us throughout the whole of these Scriptures, where He promises the Spirit, that we can only receive it by prayer and supplication. Prayer and the consecration of our souls to the service of God these are the conditions on which we shall receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost "not many days hence."
J. Fleming, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 456.
References: Acts 1:5 . J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 197.
The extent and the nature of the intercourse of the risen Lord with His disciples must ever be of the deepest interest to the Church. He was not in those forty days quite as He had been before. His theme was the same, but the tense was different. He could not now talk of His decease as a future event. The subject of much of His conversation seems to have been the unfolding of the prophecies of the ancient Scripture. He was Himself the proper theme of His own ministry. It was natural for the disciples to ask the question of the text. They had been longing, like all patriotic Jews, for the restoration of the glories of the house of Israel. Ancient prophecies, they knew, had foretold this restoration, and had always associated it with a great outpouring of the Spirit. Now that they had been expressly bidden to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Ghost, was it strange that they should ask, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
I. In their request several mistakes were involved. (1) They thought that national supremacy was synonymous with spiritual power. (2) They thought that the visible was the enduring. After their roving life they longed to be at home and at rest, and they thought that the restoration of the kingdom would mean for them a secure and permanent abode. (3) They thought that outward conformity was the same as inward unity. They forgot that outward conformity may be merely like the tie that binds a bundle of dry and lifeless faggots.
II. Our Lord's answer is a very remarkable one. They had asked for power, and He promises that they should be endued with power from on high. The times and seasons mattered little. What they needed was strength to be witnesses for Him. Stormy times were coming, when their strength would be sorely tried. Yet if ever the kingdom did come, it must be by the faithful efforts of faithful men.
H. E. Stone, Jan. 4th, 1891.
Consider what is the nature of the power necessary to regenerate and save the human race
I. Let us show what it is not. (1) We should sadly misunderstand the words of the Saviour did we attach to them the idea of physical power. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God." (2) It is not miraculous power. They were already endued with this, though no doubt a great increase was subsequently made to it. This was not the power the world stood principally in need of. Miraculous power cannot save men. We would rush to perdition through a battalion of ghosts. (3) Neither is it the power of eloquence. I admit there is tremendous power in words; they breathe, they burn, they move the soul. But there is one thing they cannot do regenerate the soul. They are not adequate to do that. The power Christ promised His disciples was not the word power. (4) Neither is it the power of logic. It is trite and commonplace to say that argument cannot convert a soul. God can never save you by argument; the world will defy the Almighty in a debate. There is argument in the Bible; and argument is indispensable; but it is not by logic that men are made new creatures. The power that Christ promised His disciples is not that of logic. (5) It is not that of thought. I do not say that thought is not necessary; but it is not of itself adequate to bring about the desired change.
II. Consider the subject on its positive side. (1) This power which Christ promises to His disciples is "power from on high," a power which has its source in worlds above us. (2) It is "the power of the Holy Ghost." (3) Its effect was to make the disciples pre-eminently spiritual. (4) Its effect on the congregation is that many are turned to God, and are brought out of nature's darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel.
J. Cynddylan Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 1.
The power which accompanied the first missionaries of the Gospel and fitted them for a work which, to human eyes, must have seemed hopeless, is the power which works now for the accomplishment of the same ends. The external phenomena of that day have indeed ceased; the miracles are no more; the gift of tongues is but once or twice alluded to in the second century, and then we hear no more of it. But every minister of Christ, every missionary of the cross, must be clothed with the same power from on high which was imparted to the first Apostles, if he would carry on the work which they commenced. And what is the secret of that power? Where is it to be found? I answer, first in the knowledge of the truth, and next in the sanctification of the heart.
I. This power cannot exist apart from the knowledge of the truth and the love of the truth. "He shall guide you into all truth," says our Lord. That is the most magnificent promise ever given to man, opening the brightest vista to human thought and aspiration, and fitted to fire the noblest minds with a worthy ambition. The whole truth into which the Apostles were to be led, and into which we are to be led, is the truth concerning Christ. It is in the knowledge of that truth that is to be found the secret of the power that gives life to the world.
II. But once more, this power is to be found in the virtue of a holy life, no less than in the knowledge and utterance of the truth. The Spirit of Truth is the Holy Spirit. And in His gracious work we may believe that He who enlightens the understanding to know the truth, does also purify the heart and sanctify the whole man. The power of a holy life is far more than the power of uttering the truth. You may not have the learning of an Origen, or the philosophical acuteness of an Augustine, or the fervid eloquence of a Chrysostom; but if you have been baptised with the Spirit of God, you must be a light wherever you are, you must be a life and a power in the world; there will stream forth from you, in your daily example, in your mortification of self, in your growing self-mastery, in your growing self-sacrifice, in your pureness, your charity, your patience, your meekness, your love; in a word, in your bright exhibition of all the graces of the Christian character, that power which of old subdued the world.
J. S. Perowne, Sermons, p. 205.
References: Acts 1:1 , Acts 1:2 . G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons to English Congregations in India, p. 295; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 32; A. Verran, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 397. Acts 1:6 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 272.Acts 1:6 , Acts 1:7 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 37. Acts 1:6 , Acts 1:8 . New Outlines on the New Testament, pp. 77, 79. Acts 1:6-12 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 361.Acts 1:7 , Acts 1:8 . J. R. Bailey, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 314; R. W. Church, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 187. Acts 1:1-8 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 536; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 130.
Consider the obvious lessons which result at once from Christ's Ascension
I. The first is heavenly-mindedness. He went but as the great forerunner of His people, and we must follow Him in His course; where the Head is, there should the members be; and our treasure, our life, our affection, are meant to be with Him at the right hand of God. Let us hear the cries that come to us from heaven above and from the earth beneath, from the works of nature and the voices of conscience, and from the wail of the weary and from all the graves of men, the cry of Sursum corda , "Lift up your hearts;" and from every one of us let the answer be, "We lift them up unto the Lord."
II. The second lesson is a lesson of simple duty. It is the same plain and unvarnished and homely lesson which is taught in the fifteenth Psalm, "Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?" Is it only the lofty, the unapproachable, the devoted, the timely-happy? No, but common men who by God's grace have lived their common lives in the paths of purity and duty, the lowly, the undeceitful, the unmalicious, the uncorrupt. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall rise up in His holy place? Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart; he who doeth the thing which is right and speaketh the truth from his heart.
III. The third is a lesson of holy fear. If you be an impenitent and hardened sinner, and will continue impenitent and hardened still, then fear; for then to you the lesson of Christ's Ascension is a lesson of wrath and doom.
IV. But, lastly, if you be loving justice and mercy, and walking humbly with your God, if you be striving, however faintly, to be true and pure and good, then the lesson of the Ascension is a lesson of hope. It is a pledge to us of that forgiveness which Christ died to win. For Christ is our Intercessor. And therefore when we are summoned to the bar of God's judgment-seat, we may hope; for the soft rainbow, like unto an emerald, encircles it, and we have an Intercessor. Humble, yet unabashed, may we stand where the very seraphs must veil their faces with their wings, for He is by our side. With the thought of such an Intercessor as this, is not the lesson of the Ascension a lesson of infinite peace and hope?
F. W. Farrar, The Fall of Man, p. 97.
References: Acts 1:9 . S. Wilberforce, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 161; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ix., p. 140; F. W. Farrar, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 354; J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 272; Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 127. Acts 1:9-11 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv, p. 89; G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 209; W. R. Savage, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 336; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. lii., p. 40. Acts 1:10-11 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1817; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. xi., pp. 126, 308; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 292.Acts 1:11 . J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 85; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 272; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 271; vol. v., p. 452.Acts 1:12 , Acts 1:13 . T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 29; W. M. Arthur, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 317. Acts 1:12-14 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 542; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 42.Acts 1:13 . J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 155.Acts 1:14 . Ibid., p. 143; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 557; J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 330. Acts 1:15-22 . Ibid., p. 156. Acts 1:15-26 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 99.
The Subserviency of Crime to the Purposes of God
We are so accustomed to view the traitor Judas with indignation and denounce him for his crime and treachery, that we are apt to overlook the important ends which, as overruled by God, are eventually subserved.
I. As an attestation of the miracles of Christ, we think the treachery of Judas overruled for the lasting benefit of the Church. The traitor shall witness to the Master he betrayed. For had there been anything of luck or deception in the miracles of Jesus, Judas, we may be sure, would have known it and told it. This would have been a fine piece of intelligence to have sold to the chief priests, and by communicating it, he would at once have enriched himself and destroyed Christianity. Nay, he would have done a righteous deed; and while gratifying his avarice, he would have laid up no food for remorse. If suspicion may rest on the witness of those faithful ones who had bound themselves to Christ, and who died rather than deny Him, none can rest on that of the renegade whose only object was to gain money by arresting the religion. The silence of the traitor should convince us, if unconvinced by the glorious company of martyrs.
II. The Christian religion might have been assailed, with at least equal power, through the moral character of its Founder. If the chief priests and scribes could have charged Christ with any sinful practice, and could have made good the charge, their end would have been as effectually answered as if they could have shown Him an impostor and a deceiver. Has Judas no information to give? no, he can betray the person, he cannot impeach the purity of his Lord. It is the innocence of the Sufferer which fills him with excruciating remorse, and so drives him to despair that he takes refuge in suicide. We say of all this, that it is the most perfect and convincing testimony to the spotless character of our Saviour.
III. There is no such extraordinary instance in Scripture as is furnished by the history under review of the utter incapacity of man to hinder the purposes of God. The treachery of Judas was overruled by God, rendering invulnerable, as at first, the testimony to Christ, both from miracle and prophecy. Judas Iscariot vindicates the Master he betrayed, and sustains the cause from which he apostatised.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1862.
References: Acts 1:17 , Acts 1:18 . Parker, City Temple, vol. iii., p. 433.Acts 1:21 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. xi., p. 328.
The Christian Ministry
I. Consider what may be gathered, in regard to the office and qualifications of an Apostle, from that portion of Scripture brought before you by the services of the day. You will observe that St. Peter defines the office as that of being a witness to the resurrection of Christ, and requires that the appointed individual should be taken from those who had been associated with Christ through His earthly ministrations. So thoroughly is the resurrection an epitome of redemption so completely may the whole of Christianity, whether as to evidence or doctrine, be gathered into the one truth, "The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed," that in witnessing to the event which Easter commemorates, they witnessed to all which a sinful world was most concerned to know.
II. But why, if it were only of the resurrection that the apostles were to be witnesses if they witnessed to everything in witnessing to this was it necessary that the man chosen to the apostleship should be selected from those who had from the first been associated with Christ? The necessity is alleged in the text, and its reasons may be easily discerned. Those alone were fitted to bear testimony that Christ had risen, who had been much with Him before He went down into the grave, and much with Him after he had left it. Unless both conditions were fulfilled, there could be no convincing testimony. The Apostle must have been much with Christ not only after His resurrection, but before His crucifixion; for thus alone could he be fit to judge whether it was actually the Being who had been nailed to the tree, who was now claiming to have overcome death. We see, then, how St. Peter gathers into our text a just description of the qualifications of an apostle. It was the resurrection to which they were to give prominence and on which they were to lay stress, and if it were of the resurrection that the Apostles were called to be witnesses, their having been associated from first to last with Christ was indispensable to the placing their testimony beyond the reach of cavil. We see, therefore, with what propriety St. Peter declared that "Of those who had companied with us all the time that the Lord was among us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1858.
I. We here see one secret of the superhuman strength which sustained the Apostles in the fiery trials through which they were destined to pass. They were strong, not because of any secret possession peculiar to them as Apostles, but simply because the mysteries of another world, closing in around them, had become an abiding vision, and issued through their faithfulness to the work of grace within them, in a consistent conformity of thought and act which was above the world. They had, therefore, in all their bearing a singleness, an ease, a dignity, an energy, before which the powers of this lower world gave way. They thus acted and suffered, because they lived and moved in the realities of an inner creation, which imparted its own colour and tone to all their views and judgments. Rut this grave power was independent of their special gift as Apostles, and was promised to abide in the Church for ever.
II. This aspect of the lives of the Apostles bears on our own history. We are so apt to look on the life depicted in the Acts of the Apostles as a kind of heroic form of Christianity, which has passed away, and that we have inherited only the possibilities of a lower state, more accommodated to the actual circumstances of modern society. Such a supposition is fatal to all high sanctity or real faithfulness. Moreover, it is to mistake the very meaning and object of the Acts of the Apostles. In the Acts we behold the Church in its abiding form, as it arose through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and as it was promised to continue through the grace of His unfailing presence even to the end.
III. The following simple rules will by the grace of God tend to cherish that pure inner light on which the increase of spiritual perception depends. (1) Fill up some of the vacant spaces of the day with recurring ejaculatory prayers. (2) Practice con-temptation in some form, however simple. (3) Study Holy Scripture at times in prayer on your knees. (4) Learn to view all acts, all words and thoughts, as they will appear at the day of judgment. (5) Beware of a religion which depends on ardent impulses or occasional efforts.
T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 151.
References: Acts 1:21 , Acts 1:22 . H. Melvill, Voices of the Year, vol. ii., p. 386; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 88; Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 333.Acts 1:22 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 99. Acts 1:23 . Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 193.Acts 1:23-26 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 159. Acts 1:24 . C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, p. 19. Acts 1:25 . J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 313; Mason, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 193; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 156; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 106; T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 264.Acts 2:1 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1783; J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 2nd series, p. 148; 5th series, p. 93; J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 125.Acts 2:1-4 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 511; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 297; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 280; M. Wilks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 449; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 161.
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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10