The True Power of the Gospel
Text: Acts 1:1-11
Main Idea: Nothing can hinder the progress of the gospel because the risen and ascended King Jesus is actively empowering its advance through his Spirit-empowered people.
I. The Fundamentals
II. The Focus
III. The Framework
Good morning, Church. Today we are launching into our new sermon series in the book of Acts. A book that recounts the mind-blowing expansion of the early church over a period of just 30 years. Just let that sink in. 30-years from the day of Pentecost to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. 30-years that saw a small, frightened group of 120 disciples grow to 3,000 and 5,000, and tens of thousands of disciples that were spread all-the-way from Jerusalem to the very heart of the Roman empire.
But, before we dive into this incredible book, I’d like to ask a question. What is your confidence in the power and ultimate success of the gospel of Jesus Christ? On a scale of 1–10 (1 being the lowest confidence and 10 being the highest) where are you honestly at this morning? What’s your true confidence rating? Five? Seven? Nine?
- Maybe you are a Christian who feels like the gospel is not working and you are failing in your Christian life. Your marriage is difficult. Your children have not embraced the gospel OR have abandoned the gospel they once confessed.
- Maybe your interactions inside this very congregation causes you to doubt the gospel’s power: you’ve served in ministry for years but see very little fruit, you are deeply aware of dissentions, powers struggles, or other problems among the membership, or you just don’t sense that our church is making an impact.
- Maybe your confidence in the gospel is shaken by the fact that Christianity seems to be shrinking in America. According to a December, 2021 article in The Washington Post, we are living in a day and age where only 63% of Americans would consider themselves Christians. Whereas, only ten years ago, 75% of American’s considered themselves Christians.
So if you did not answer “10” this morning, I want you to know that “I get it.” I realize that there are countless things in life that shake our confidence in the gospel.
But, at the very same time, I want you to know that if your instant and emphatic reaction was not “10,” this series is for you and your ever-increasing trust in the power of the gospel. And that is because the overarching message of Acts is that nothing —nothing— can stop the progress of the gospel. Whether that be sinning and struggling Christians, misguided and divided churches, and acute periods of persecution. And that is because Luke’s main point is this: Nothing can hinder the progress of the gospel because the risen and ascended King Jesus is actively empowering its advance through his Spirit-empowered people.
The Fundamentals (Acts 1:1–3)
A Two Volume Work
Now, if you were with us last week, pastor Ryan pointed us to the fact that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were not only written by the same person (Luke the physician and occasional traveling companion of Paul); they were written as an intentional two-volume work even though they are not placed next to each other in our Bibles.
In fact, as we read these two books side by side, it becomes increasingly clear that the book of Acts was not an afterthought or ad hoc And this is because Luke foreshadows key developments and introduces key themes in his Gospel that are not fulfilled until the book of Acts. Two examples:
In Luke 1:32–33, the angel Gabriel declares that Jesus is destined to rule from David’s throne. But this promise appears to be unrealized and unfulfilled in volume one. Yet, what do we find out in the second chapter of volume 2 on the Day of Pentecost? Peter declares that Jesus’ ascension into heaven is a God-given sign that he is actively reigning.
Likewise, in Luke’s birth narrative (Luke 2:32), Simeon announces that Jesus will be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (alluding to Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). But this prophecy is not fulfilled until Acts 13:47, when Paul turns to the Gentiles and cites the very same OT passages from Isaiah (42:6; 49:6).
And here is the best part. Conservative scholars tell us that these two volumes were most likely completed by 63 A.D.— roughly 30 years after the ministry and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This means that the final chapters of Acts were most likely written within months (if not weeks) of the events that they record.
A Continuing Focus on the Work of Jesus Christ
But, this leads us to the fundamental question why? Why did Luke write two volumes to begin with? Well let’s look back at Acts 1:1–2.
Acts 1:1–2 In the first book, O Theophilus, [the Gospel of Luke] I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up.”
Did you catch that? “All that Jesus began to do and teach.” The Gospel of Luke is a historical record of the things that Jesus began to do and teach. By implication this means that the book of Acts is a historical record of the continuing work of Jesus Christ… He is still working; it’s just that his work in Acts looks different than it did in the Gospel of Luke… and that is because the focus shifts from his personal ministry on earth to his active work through his Spirit empowered people.
The Focus (Acts 1:4–11)
Notice here that Jesus doesn’t abandon his disciples or leave wondering what they should do with the rest of their lives. No. His last words on this planet are a twofold command:
Number One: do no depart from Jerusalem until you receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. (Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not do anything.) And why is it so important that the disciples wait for this power? Is it so that they can be traveling healers, exorcists, and miracle workers? After all, the apostles perform miracles, heal people, and drive out demons. Well, I’m certain that Luke’s answer would be “no” because the fundamental purpose of this “power” is so that they can fulfill the second command “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The Importance of the First Command
Just think about this first command for a minute. No one is more qualified to bear witness or to preach about, the life and ministry of Jesus that these men! They have spent the last three and a half years traveling with him and sitting under his teaching. They witnessed his miraculous power, his death, and his resurrection. Even more, they just spent 40 days learning how everything that was written about Jesus Christ in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms was ultimately fulfilled with him (Luke 24:44). They had the best education they could ever receive, what else could they possibly need?
Well according to Jesus they needed something they did not have. To put it simply the disciples are not smart enough, strong enough, creative enough, or charismatic enough to spread the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth in their own power! They couldn’t do it on their own (remember Peter after Jesus’ arrest in the garden?). They needed the inner miracle of a suffering-embracing, death-defying boldness so that they could fulfill their calling. Simply put, the needed God’s power to fulfill God’s gospel-purposes in the world.
And as we read through the book of Acts after the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost, what do we see? We see a monumental change in the disciples. They are no longer caught up in their petty, sinful self-interest. No, their lifestyle and gospel ministry are transformed by the indwelling presence and power of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
Notice what does Luke want his readers to see in these opening verses? He wants them to see that, Jesus’ work does not end at the resurrection and the ascension. Rather, from the very beginning of the book, Luke wants his readers to see that the ascended King Jesus is going to continuing his kingdom-work through his Spirit-empowered witnesses.
The Importance of the Second Command
But, as we turn to the second command, what does this kingdom-work entail? Well let’s go back to verse 8.
Acts 1:8 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.”
The purpose of the Spirit in this verse is not that the disciples might mature in their faith or find a sense of personal comfort. No. The purpose is that they might undertake a humanly task that was completely beyond their previous life experience— spread the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and to the utter most part of the earth.
Don’t miss this, in human terms, this is an impossible task AND Luke knows it. Which is why he carefully organizes the narrative framework of this book around the unhindered advance of the gospel. And he does this two ways:
On the one hand, as he develops the very storyline of this book, he traces a general pattern from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and closes with Paul’s continuing missionary work under house arrest in Rome. So, we can rightly say that the book of Acts records the geographical expansion of the church through the lens Acts 1:8.
But on the other hand, geography is only the tip of the iceberg. What I mean by this is that Luke goes out of his way to demonstrate that this geographic advance is the work of God himself. Let me show you what I mean in a string of 9 passages beginning with Acts 2:47.
What does Luke want us to know about the Church after the day of Pentecost? He wants us to know that God is actively adding to their number.
Acts 2:46–47 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The early church in Jerusalem is not merely the result of Peter’s eloquence, it’s the result of God’s active work.
But as the story goes forward, problems quickly arise as Peter and John continue to preach the gospel and bear witness to Jesus Christ in the Temple. They are arrested and questioned and facing certain death when the most unexpected thing happens…
Acts 5:34–39 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
Acts 5:38–39 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
This is one of the most theologically important statements in the early chapters of Acts, in that, it encourages the reader to ask: “Is the church continuing to grow? Or is it slowly falling apart now that Jesus has ascended into heaven?” Which ultimately answers the question, “Is the church God’s plan or not?” And as we will see, it is from God because nothing can stop the advance of the gospel.
We see this just a few verses later when the church is facing an all-out split over the needs of widows in the church. God leads the apostles and congregation to a unified solution in the appointment of the seven. And what happens as a result?
Acts 6:7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
External Pressure and Persecution
But, the problems do not stop at internal conflict do they? Stephen is stoned in chapter 7, persecution comes to the Jerusalem church at the hands of Saul in the opening verses of chapter 8. And countless Christians flee for their lives. Yes, people are scattering. Can the church survive?
Well, as we read through chapters 8 and 9 we quickly discover the most amazing things! Persecution presses the gospel into Samaria through the ministry of Phillip. And the greatest persecutor, Saul, comes to faith in Jesus Christ! And what was the result?
Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Did you catch that opening sentence? The church is not just multiplying and expanding in Jerusalem, it is spreading throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria.
And even though King Herod attempted to strengthen his ties with Jewish leaders by attacking the church and murdering the apostle James. God protected and sustained his church by ending Herod’s life. And as a result:
Acts 12:24 the word of God increased and multiplied after the death of king Herod.
Paul’s Missionary Work
Shortly after this, Paul is sent out as a missionary and plants churches all over Asia minor. And on his journey to Philippi he “just so happens to” stop through the regions of Derby to Lystra. And what is the result of his visit?
Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
The key here is that the church is expanding into the Roman empire.
Fast forward to Acts 19 as Paul settles in for two-full years of evangelism and teaching in Ephesus, Luke records two amazing developments.
Acts 19:9–10 But when some (Jew in the synagogue) became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Sometime after this, the seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were brutally beaten by a demon possessed man they were trying to deliver in the name of “Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (9:13). They were trying to use Jesus’ name as a magical formula. And what happened?
Acts 19:17–20 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
Paul’s House Arrest in Rome
Finally, by the time we get to the end of the book we discover that nothing can stop the gospel of Jesus Christ; even though the most effective missionary in the ancient church is imprisoned in Rome on false charges.
Acts 28:30–31 He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Did you notice those last two words? “Without hinderance.” The book ends with the continuing expansion and impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ through his Spirit-empowered witnesses. And that is why I have titled this series “The Unhindered Advance of the Gospel.”
But, before we move on we need to circle back to our friend Gamaliel in chapter 5. Because his insight proves to be more-true than he ever imagined it might be, doesn’t it?
Acts 5:38–39 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
I hope this helps you see that the main idea of this whole book is that the progress of the gospel is unstoppable.
- Problems in the church can’t stop it.
- Dissension in the church can’t stop it.
- Persecution from the outside can’t stop it.
- Borders can’t stop it.
- Prison can’t stop it.
- Politicians cannot stop it.
Nothing can hinder the progress of the gospel because the risen and ascended King Jesus is actively empowering its advance through his Spirit-empowered people.
An Honest Issue
The problem that most of us face is that it is easier to focus on the countless barriers to the gospel and the personal cost of sharing the gospel INSTEAD of this gospel promise. Right? This world is a mess. And it is getting harder to stand for the simple essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because it is a message that contains bad news and good news. And that’s what makes it hard sometimes to share. Right?
The Bad News of the Gospel
Every human being, without exception, is facing the imminent wrath of God whether they know it or not. And this is because God is infinitely holy and perfectly just. And Humans are hopeless sinners by nature and choice. We cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We cannot perform enough good deeds to outweigh our bad.
In fact, the truth of the matter is our greatest acts of virtue and most deliberate attempts at personal reform are as ineffective as trying to the earth’s trajectory around the sun with a sledgehammer. Sure, you might move some dirt and feel like you accomplished something through your exertion, but nothing has really changed.
The Good News of the Gospel
But here is the good news. God isn’t looking for righteous people. He is not looking for people who have cleaned themselves up and have it all together. No. He provided a way for sinners to become something they can never be on their own!
Romans 3:21–24 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
But, why is this forgiveness and righteousness available only through Jesus Christ alone? It’s because, as we will see in Acts, Jesus is God. And came to die as a substitute for our sin on the cross even though he never sinned. And he was raised from the dead to prove who he was and what he had done.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The Call of the Gospel
So before I conclude this morning, I want to ask everyone listening to this sermon one simple question: What is your only hope in life and death?
- Is it that there is no life after death?
- Is it that you have lived a good enough life before your death?
- Or is it that your have turned from your self-sufficiency and embraced the God’s free offer of forgiveness and restoration by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Only one of these hopes will prove to be worth it on the final day. Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ? If not, what is holding you back from receiving him today? The call of the gospel is simply this:
Romans 10:9 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
A Final Exhortation
Finally, as we conclude this morning, I want to close with a word to those of you who truly know the forgiving power of the gospel. My simple exhortation to you is don’t give up on the gospel. I know that we struggle to believe that the gospel is just as powerful today as it was in the first century. And I get it, I really do.
That’s why we are studying this book. We need this book to challenge and reshape our lives and our church. We need this book to embolden our hearts in faith not, guilt for our failings. And we need this book to fuel our faithfulness to our king. And it is my prayer that God would do all this and more in our lives over the next 9-months.
 “A date not long after AD 62 is suggested not only by the lack of reference to Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians between AD 64–67 and Paul’s (and Peter’s) martyrdom, but also by the fact that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in AD 66 and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 are not reflected in Luke’s portrayal of the Jews and of Jewish institutions in Jerusalem and in the diaspora;” (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2012]).
 Alan J. Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan, vol. 27 of New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2011), 49.
 The full answer to this question in the Heidelberg Catechism is this: That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation; and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.