2016-7-10 Don’t Get Sidetracked

ACTS 1:1-11                                                                                              JULY 10, 2016

DON’T GET SIDETRACKED!”

It is very easy to get distracted! I heard the story of a man who had bought a new hunting dog. Eager to see him perform, he took the dog out hoping to catch some big game. No sooner had they gotten into the woods than the dog picked up the trail of a bear. Excitedly the hunter followed close behind. Then suddenly the dog stopped, sniffed the ground, and headed in a different direction. He had caught the smell of a deer that had crossed the path of the bear. A few minutes later he halted again, this time captivated by the scent of a rabbit that had crossed the path of the deer. And so, on and on it went until finally, the breathless hunter caught up with his dog, only to find him barking triumphantly down the hole of a field mouse. I have found that many believers will seek to persuade you to focus on their pet project. It would be wise if we would take our guidance from the scriptures and not become distracted by side issues.

The book of Acts records the events that occurred after Jesus rose from the grave. There was a period of forty days where he met with his disciples and instructed them. Acts 1:1-3 (NIV) 1 In my former book (Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

What were these instructions?  We look to the former book, the Gospel of Luke. Luke 24:45-49 (NIV) 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  This is similar to the command at the close of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been commanded to obey everything that Jesus taught in the gospels. However, many Christians have adopted the pattern learned as a teenager, of having selective hearing. As teens, we tended to listen only to the words we wanted to hear from our parents. We would ignore those instructions we did not want to adhere to. In both passages we were instructed to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and that he commands us to make disciples.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we change allegiances. We are to no longer put our needs first but we are to follow Christ and obey him. We are called to be witnesses, in spite of our fears or anxieties or stubbornness. During World War II the evangelist M. A. McCone traveled by train to the cities where he conducted services. One day while on the train he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him to stand up on the crowded coach and read some scripture. He whispered to himself, “Certainly not here, Lord.” He continued to feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist stopped the conductor and asked him, “What would you do if someone stood and read from the Bible and lead in prayer? The conductor told him, “nothing”. The Rev. McCone was hoping for a different answer. Finally, he got up and went to the front of the train coach and spoke. “Friends, these are troubled times and I want to read a brief portion from the Bible and pray. Soldiers removed their covers, and the civilians removed their hats. Everyone listened quietly. When he was finished he returned to his seat. Many people thanked him and several came to him and spoke with him about their spiritual needs. As we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God will use us to be witnesses in many places.

During those forty days, Jesus was not with them constantly. The disciples knew that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he was the Son of God and that they were witnesses to these things. Yet they were unsure of their new responsibilities. The Gospel of John tells us that while they were waiting for seven of the disciples decided to go back to fishing one night. Jesus had called them from a life of fishing to be his disciples. They went back to something they knew: fishing. They still struggled with understanding their new role. They still clung to their old way of thinking, whether it was fishing or their misunderstanding of the kingdom of God. Acts 1:6-8 (NIV) 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus told them that they had a new assignment and to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit so that they would be able to be witnesses. We, however, do not have to wait, as we received the Holy Spirit when we accepted Christ as our Savior. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.”

The disciples at that time still thought Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom by restoring the nation of Israel. The wording here speaks to a political change of government. It is still quite easy to become distracted by politics, and who will we support for the president. Jesus redirected their attention from earthly matters. He calls them to be his witnesses. As Christians, we should be aware and participate as a citizen in the presidential election process. However, we should not allow ourselves from being distracted by secondary concerns. Our first priority is to be witness to Jesus Christ.

Christians also seem to get sidetracked by theological questions. The disciples were still concerned about when the coming Kingdom was going to be established. Jesus told them; “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Jesus gives a mild rebuke. He is essentially saying: Don’t get distracted! Stay focused on your primary task of being a witness.

A seven-year-old girl was very ill. Her pastor came to visit her. The young girl was deeply concerned for her father, who was not a Christian. The young girl told Pastor Blackburn that she would soon go to heaven. He tried to comfort her and told her she may get well. She replied, “I hope not!” The pastor was surprised and asked, “why not?” She replied, “Ever since I became a Christian, I’ve been trying to bring my father to hear you preach, and he won’t come. But if I die, you’ll have the funeral service, won’t you?” As tears filled his eyes, he told her he would. She said, “I know Daddy will want to come to church that day, and then you’ll be able to tell him about Jesus. I would be willing to die six times over if he could just hear the Gospel once! Later, when the child died, Pastor Blackburn was himself very ill and was unable to conduct the funeral service. Some time passed, and finally, a tough looking man called at the pastor’s home and informed him that he was the father of the girl. “I hear that she would be willing to die for me six times over if I could only hear the Gospel once. It nearly broke my heart. So I have come to learn the way of salvation.”

When Jesus was taken up into heaven two angels appeared and spoke to the disciples. Acts 1:10-11 (NIV) 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Jesus will return at the appointed time set by the Father. This was again a mild rebuke to the disciples. What are you doing standing around looking up at the sky? Get busy being a witness!

What are we doing allowing ourselves to become distracted from our primary duty of being a witness? The Holy Spirit is with us always, so let’s be open to the leading of the Spirit.

Let us pray.

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