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Bear Witness- Acts 1:6-8

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."

At the point we come to in the text we have just read. It is clear that the disciples are at a cross roads. Having abandoned Jesus at his arrest and subsequent crucifixion, they had been left hopeless, confused and defeated. Much of this confusion is due their assumptions, which were convergent with the Jewish thought of the day, concerning who the Messiah would be and what He would do.

The 1st century Jewish thought was the Messiah would be a military figure, a king who would come and start a rebellion, an uprising against the Roman empire, rescue Israel from Roman occupation and restore it to the glory days to prosperous days like during the reign of King David. Indeed there were many self proclaimed Messiahs before Jesus such as Judas Maccabeus who started a Jewish revolt in 167BC and ceased control of the temple from the then occupying Seleucid Empire. This is the event that the Jewish festival Hanukkah commemorates. Jews also believed the Messiah would be a priestly figure who would restore the temple to its full glory and people from all around the world would be drawn there to worship YHWH. They read passages like Isaiah 9:2f in the light of this expectation. For example read Isaiah 9:1-7, which was considered an important prophecy concerning the coming Messiah and while you read it bear in your mind the image of a promised military leader....

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given.....

And so when Jesus died of course the disciples became hopeless, confused and defeated, they had expected him to restore the kingdom of Israel and how could He achieve that from beyond the grave!? And so once their hope is restored and confidence returns having witnessed the resurrection their expectation grows.

V6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Their expectation leads them to enquiry. This is certainly something we ought to learn from the disciples in this passage. They knew their LORD well and they knew they could come to Him with their concerns and questions. During their time following Him on his mission throughout Israel they often asked him to explain various parables and teach them about the kingdom He was preaching about. The fact that they did not persist from such enquiry suggests that Jesus was a patient teacher encouraging such engagements with his disciples. He did not wish them to simply stand at the ringside and cheer him on but He expected them to sit at his feet and taught them carefully from scripture and practice. And yet their enquiry seems to be so ignorant of Jesus purposes. They are still reliant upon their own assumptions and preconceptions and have not digested all that Jesus had been teaching them.

As we learn from the scripture we trust that God will enable our teachers to teach faithfully from the scriptures and so ultimately we too sit at Jesus feet. And as we sit and learn we need to be aware that we all have assumptions and preconceptions that we use to wrestle with the scripture. Our human faculties are not fully able to engage with God's word with a total clarity and insight as we might aspire to. And so our best tactic to employ is a strong dose of humility. If we are truly humble in ourselves and with each other we can let the scripture question and challenge our assumptions and preconceptions rather than allowing them to question scripture. And more importantly, if we have a humble approach we will be more aware of the urgings of the Holy Spirit as it interacts through the word with us.

Indeed Jesus answer to the disciples reminds them to be humble.

V7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

The disciples have jumped the gun. Their question assumed the restoration of the kingdom of Israel would occur now. But Jesus corrects them. God has not forgot Israel, the restoration of His people is still part of His purposes. However, the answer to this question was not a revelation they should expect to receive. Jesus would return to Israel as its Messiah, to sit on the throne of David and call His people back to Him, however, this is not something the disciples were to concern themselves with as He had another purpose for them. Perhaps the early Christians would of done them better to meditate on this as the early church seems to have been overly occupied with thoughts concerning the return of Jesus.

But I would not be so arrogant to suggest we do not do the same. There are many questions I mull over that I'm sure the scripture does not answer. A few weeks ago I brought up the nature of the humanity of Christ, I hope no-one suffered too severe a mental meltdown! And there have been other questions we have brought up in class concerning different issues. Don't get me wrong I think its important and rewarding to mull over these things, however, if we cannot find an answer in the scripture, it does not mean the scripture is lacking, but rather that it is not for us to know. Let us remember that Gods word is not an infinite revelation. God alone is infinite and He alone holds all knowledge and power. The word is not infinite but it is complete; it does not contain in it everything God knows but it does have all WE need to know. And so when we come across a question it does not answer it is not because it is lacking but rather because we do not need to know. We should take faith from this truth that God does know all the answers and He is firmly in control working out all His purposes.

So there are some things we are not responsible for but what does God expect from us?

V8 But 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.

We are commanded to be witnesses. This is the great commission to the disciples. They have been trained by Jesus for this purpose and at this point after His resurrection they are finally being enlightened to this purpose. Jesus earthly mission is complete and now His followers have been given a new mission, although the purpose is the same. Salvation for sinners. I can imagine the disciples panic at this point, their expectations are turned upside down. Not only is Jesus not going to found his earthly kingdom by taking the throne in Israel, but He is leaving them. They must fend for themselves, witnessing for Jesus in their own strength! The last time they were left on their own they all fled and failed Jesus dramatically. If the great commission had been reliant upon the efforts of the disciples alone it would of surely failed! But Christ promises them I will never leave you, I will never forsake you. You will receive the Holy Spirit and He will empower you.

This is an amazing promise of scripture we should try to meditate on it often. God does not expect us to do His work in our own strength and we would certainly fail if we were to attempt it. But rather He is enabling us. Our power is from Him. It is not a power He puts at our disposal to achieve whatever purpose we see fit, but rather the Spirit works through us for His purposes, for salvation for sinners. All our efforts should be to equip us to be witnesses to Christ Jesus our LORD. That is our mission. Let us attempt to search the scriptures, humbly enquiring of them, listening to the Spirit and being inspired and empowered to be witnesses for Christ in Glasgow, in Scotland in Great Britain and to the ends of the earth.