An old priest, Zechariah, enters the temple while worshippers outside are praying. As he enters the temple to burn the incense, the angel Gabriel appears and announces to him that his prayers have been heard and that his wife who was barren would now have a son. Because he doubts, he is no longer able to speak until his son is born 9 months later. On the day of John’s birth, Zechariah writes out the name of his child: John. Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in a town in the hill country of Judea.
Meanwhile, six months after the announcement to Zechariah, Gabriel appears in the little town of Nazareth to a teenager named Mary who is a virgin. She is engaged to be married, but he tells her that the Holy Spirit will come over her and she will become pregnant with a son who will be named: Jesus, the Son of God. “May it be to me as you said” was her simple reply.
Immediately Mary leaves town to see Elizabeth who, as Mary approaches her, cries out that the baby in her womb “leaped for joy” as Mary approached and Mary bursts into songs of praise. When John is born his father was suddenly enabled to speak, is filled with the Holy Spirit and bursts out into praise.
Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph in a stable and laid in a feeding trough in the little town of Bethlehem while out in the fields nearby an angel appears to lower class shepherds in a field to announce “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”. The angel is suddenly accompanied by a myriad of heavenly beings in the night sky who shout out praises to God saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Immediately the shepherds run to Bethlehem to see the baby and tell his parents about what they had seen. They too return to their sheep “glorifying and praising God.”
When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised a man is moved through the crowds by the Holy Spirit until he finds them. His name is Simeon who had been promised by the Holy Spirit, that he would see the Lord’s Christ before he died. When he sees the child he lifts him up in his arms and begins to praise God. No sooner had he finished then an elderly prophetess, Anna, comes up to them and begins giving thanks to God for bringing the child who was here for “the redemption of Israel.”
When Jesus was 12 years old his parents take him to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and, when the feast is over they lose him for three days until they find Jesus in the temple courts engaged in deep discussions with the teachers of the Law. Jesus obeys his parents and returns to Nazareth.
When Jesus is 30 years old he goes to the Jordan and stands in line with everyone else to be baptized by John who is preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” As John is teaching about repentance and its importance as one comes to God Jesus is praying after his own baptism by John and suddenly the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and a voice comes from heaven, saying, “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”
It is through Mary’s lineage that Jesus is a descendent of King David but Luke follows his family tree all of the way back to Adam, himself, who was also a son of God; the God who created Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
Jesus returns to Nazareth to proclaim his good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to free the oppressed as he proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. It was when He announced that the kingdom would be extended to include the Gentiles they tried to kill Him.
From then on as He taught about the kingdom of God He healed lepers, the lame and the sick, forgave sinners, called his disciples and trained them (including women), raised dead people back to life, cast out demons, stilled storms, miraculously fed thousands of people, and warned of the coming judgement by calling people to repent.
While the crowds were drawn to Jesus, His power and His message the religious rulers noticed His disregard for their traditions, His threat to their political alliances and His incredible popularity. And so, they began to scheme against Him; in fact, they actually began to plot to kill Him. They were horrified when He healed people on the Sabbath Day and they failed to trip Him up with their trick questions and hypotheticals. Their hatred was so strong that they refused to acknowledge the miracles like the raising Lazarus from the dead: an event that no one could have misunderstood…and all they could think of was how to kill Jesus and, now, Lazarus, too.
It’s important to pause to remember that there were things that Jesus didn’t do. He did not belittle or humiliate the poor, the handicapped, the broken, the blind, the demon possessed, the widows and, of course, the children. He could always be found among the broken people of society. The ones who were largely ignorant of the details of The Law. The sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors were drawn to Him because they felt safe with Jesus. The lost who knew that they were powerless to save themselves found a ready friend in the Messiah.
His harshest words would be given honestly, straightforwardly and to the point when He would encounter those seasoned law-abiders who should have known better. To them he did not mince words and they hated him for it. So much so that their only desire was to silence him and to strategize plans for how to do it.
Jesus told his disciples they would be persecuted one day and he called them to vigilance and prayer for events that would soon unfold. He ate the Passover meal with them and gave its new meaning to them as he prepared to face the cross. In his final days he would be betrayed to the religious rulers by one of his own followers. When the mob came to take him to a mock trial all of his followers deserted him; one of his closest inner circle of friends would deny him.
Falsely accused, Jesus—the one who speaks to the winds and waves and they obey him–remained silent under wilting interrogation. Mocked, tortured, insulted, whipped, beaten, spit upon, the Son of God allowed His persecutors to crucify him between two thieves where he died a horrible death. He was buried in a borrowed grave.
Three days later it is the women who announce the resurrected Christ to the apostles in the upper room. Peter runs to the grave to see the grave cloths laying on the stone bed and he leaves wondering. Later two men encounter the stranger on the road who does such a great job tying the old testament prophecies with everything that happened to Jesus that they instantly recognize him when he says grace over the bread and then, disappears. Immediately they race back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples and as they are telling their story, Jesus himself appears and eats with them.
Finally, in Luke’s gospel, just as the disciples are getting used to Jesus being alive He ascends to heaven and disappears from sight. The disciples worship him, praise God and spend their time in the temple praising God. Acts 1 makes it clear that the disciples still did not understand that the kingdom was not of this world; but, they obey his instructions to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit who, on the day of Pentecost, arrives with a mighty wind and flames of fire appear over each of the apostles and they start speaking in foreign languages. Immediately, Peter stands before the huge crowd that has gathered with the sound of the rushing wind and the other apostles begin translating his words to other portions of the crowd recounting the story with which they would already be familiar.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Fearing God’s wrath, the crowd cried out, “What Shall We Do?!”
Peter responds: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
That day the Lord added more than 3,000 people to the church. With these new babes in Christ, what did the apostles do?
42 They devoted themselves to
- the apostles’ teachingand
- to fellowship,
- to the breaking of breadand
- to prayer.
- They took care of one another’s needs
- They met together regularly
- They broke bread in each other’s homes and ate together
- They praised God
Just like them, this morning we have devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus, we made time to come together over coffee to enjoy fellowship and we have spent time in prayer. And now we break bread and care for each other’s needs.
In the early church as they broke the bread just as Jesus did when he said, “Do this in rembrance of me”. And so, like them, we also break the bread and remember.
Jesus told them that the wine they drank was a symbol of the blood he would shed for their sins. And so, they came together to drink the wine—as he had instructed them to do—“in remembrance of Him.” And so, every Sunday, we, too, pause to remember Him by drinking this fruit of the vine because it is His blood that takes away our sin.
In the first 12 chapters of Acts we learn that prayer was central to the early church. We also learn that when God’s people prayed, God took action that surprised them and assured them that Jesus was alive and well. He was not gone, He was there; He was not far away, He dwelled in each of them through His Holy Spirit; He was not weak, He moved in mighty ways; No government power or faithless act escaped His attention.
When Peter and John and the apostles appeared before the Sanhedrin they spoke boldly about the one who had died for all. When Stephen was stoned and persecution broke out at the hands of a man named Saul Jesus intervened and reversed his persecutor’s fate to that of a persecuted apostle. When James was killed and Peter was imprisoned Jesus took action and freed Peter and killed Herod the king of the Jews with an excruciating death when the crowds proclaimed him to be god! When a Roman Centurion was praying Jesus sent Peter to tell him about the gospel story; Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles and opened the door to the nations of the world, just as he had foretold he would do.
And now, today, we come together as recipients of this great cloud of witnesses and celebrate what God has done for us through his Son, empowered with every spiritual blessing delivered to us through his Holy Spirit for one reason: so that we, like the early church, can tell the story that we have told today so that others can follow him, too.
Do you know someone who needs to hear the story? Perhaps for the first time? Read with them the story of Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Do they need to know what to do to respond in faithful obedience and to join together with others in living the life of disciples of Jesus Christ? Read through Acts 1-12.
We are people of a movement that believes deeply in the inspiration of the Bible as the very breath of God. And so, our heritage begins when Moses first penned the words “In the beginning….” The Hebrew writer tells us that God’s word is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword as it pierces our hearts, convicts us of our sin and informs us about His remedy for our condemnation, and it is found only in His Son: Jesus Christ. Let the word do the work. Tell your story: i.e., what God has done for you through Jesus, and then, let God Himself tell His story through the gospel of Luke and his writings of the early church in Acts 1-12.