Acts 1:1–11 In my former book, 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 presented himself to them 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. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and 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.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 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.”
I honestly can’t decide what the greater miracle in this account really is. Is it Theophilus or Jesus’ supernatural levitation known as as ascension. It’s a toss-up. A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have ever wondered that. Because in the past I’ve missed the Spirit’s point. I’ve read Scripture like this. My eyes have glazed over. My brain has gone into some kind of incoherent fog and I’ve totally missed what the Spirit was telling me. It’s happened when I’ve gotten to Matthew chapter one and then again when I’ve headed into Luke three. It’s happened in Genesis too. Probably especially when I’ve gotten to Genesis. Genesis has had my eyes trying to glaze already in its fifth chapter and then again in its tenth. And if I’ve managed to stick with the Spirit that long then it’s chapter thirty-six that has generally gotten my number. You know what the Spirit does in those chapters of the Bible? He lines up person after person after person after person – and all of them by name. All of them by name. When you read those chapters it’s like a scriptural tsunami of names. Name after name after name after name after name. It’s overwhelming.
Sometimes though, the Spirit doesn’t overwhelm you with the volume and the amount of names. Sometimes he impresses you because of how lonesome a name in the Bible is. Sometimes you see how one individual gets named. Just one. One person who gets noticed, and totally and singularly loved by God. That’s the approach Luke takes here. The singular one. The totally personal one. He names just one guy who is known, loved, and spoken to. And he does this as the first thing in Acts. Before he breathes a single syllable about Jesus, he speaks to this one guy and then – and only then – is willing to dive into the history of Jesus. In the English translation here it takes Luke just four little words before he says, “Theophilus,” (v. 1) I’m writing to you and for you.’ That’s at least partly why I’m wondering here what’s more miraculous the ascension of Jesus Christ or the love of God that zeroes in on just one single soul like there was no one else in the entire world. Just him. What’s more miraculous?
Before you answer that question, I suppose I should point out that Theophilus needed some special attention from God. We don’t know much about the problem that Theophilus had with Jesus, but we can guess. We can guess that he had too high an opinion of himself. So high that Jesus seemed unnecessary to him. So high that Luke had to treat him with kid gloves, coddle him, and walk on eggshells with him. You can’t miss that in Luke’s Gospel. He said there, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3–4) And so write Luke did and some of it was tough love. None of the other gospels have the lost stories like Luke. That lost sheep, coin, and brother. I’ll bet those stories hit Theophilus like a ton of bricks. Perhaps it was those stories that showed him how lost he was; how critical and uncaring he constantly was of people outside his circle; how he was always chasing stuff not people; how much he had relied on his money and his power to feel something – anything; how he had used his title and his position and authority not for others, but for himself.
And perhaps it was in those very stories that not only revealed to Theophilus his true self, but also saved him. Because he was the one being found. Jesus had just never quit on him. He found Theophilus’ prideful heart so filled with position, status, and success and instead filled it with his cross. He found Theophilus and let him know, “I’m as real and saving as your sins are.” Because Jesus was still real. Still there. Still Alive. Really, he was. Jesus’ life and work was all a matter of historical record now. “After his suffering, he (Jesus) presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” (v. 3) Jesus was alive. And all of it was right there in black and white in Luke’s own hand. And better yet all of it was written to him, about him and for him. “Most excellent Theophilus,” Luke had said, “Jesus died and rose for you.” His own name. Written right there in the Scriptures. For Theophilus. For the status seeker in him. For the Pharisee in him. For the money lover and stuff chaser in him. Jesus was for him. Personally. Specifically. Individually.
Just one guy. But that’s totally God. God’s the kind of God who has names and people scrolling through his head like a divine ticker tape – a ticker tape we just get to glimpse in places like Luke three and Genesis five. God knows names. God cares about individuals. And not just in mass either. Jesus’ eyes don’t glaze over when the ticker tape starts running before him. That’s when they start shining. Jesus’ mind doesn’t fog with the mass of humanity. It gains laser like focus. You know how we know that? Because he zeroed in on you. And he picked you. And maybe for you it was just a bit like Theophilus. Maybe it your excellency that he took. Maybe he helped you see the you that was so lost that you didn’t even really realize you were lost. Maybe he helped you see that the ways in which you had been finding yourself – your parenting, your job, your morality – made you more lost than the people who already knew they were lost. But then somehow someway Jesus found you too and inscribed his cross right into your heart. And you were found. Singularly. Specifically. Individually.
I’m telling you that when God takes people and gives them faith that’s huge. HUGE. Remember those eggshells Luke had been walking on with Theophilus? Gone. You know what’s left in Acts? Just plain, “Theophilus.” (v. 1) Theophilus the disciple. Theophilus the believer. Theophilus the man who Jesus personally loved. And that is HUGE. Theophilus is a miracle of the most stunning variety. If you think making the blind see or the lame walk is something, try converting a human. Just try. I promise you that when it came to Theophilus God somehow someway did the spiritual equivalent of make a pig fly. Theophilus is a miracle of the greatest ranking. He ranks up there with the turning of the most hardened criminals, the most prideful of hearts, the most solid of Muslims, the most vocal of atheists, and the most lethargic of souls, even your aunt who the whole family knows swore off Jesus a decade ago. The Spirit here took the most impossible of people, Theophilus, and converted him. And noticing that massive miracle couldn’t be more important to the rest of Luke’s point.
You know why? If we don’t see that you know what we’ll do in life? We’ll check out. We’ll hit the pause button and just hang out as a country club of the saved until Jesus comes back to get us. We’ll watch too much Netflix. We’ll scroll too much Facebook. We huddle up too often in our houses or in our church. We’ll pull up a lawn chair in life, slap on our sunglasses, and stare into the sky waiting for Jesus to come back. And why? Because we won’t think when Jesus says that “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8) that it’s going to do a lick of good. You know how the argument looks in your head, right? He’s too backward. She’s too unbelieving. They’re too hardened. He’s too into Buddhism. She’s too stuck on her sexual orientation or too in pursuit of her career or his good work or his easy lifestyle or her scientific studies or what their dad told them about God when they were eight. You know the arguments. And you know what the truth is? You’re right. You’re right about all of them them. Jesus is absolutely unfathomable to folks like that. You’re not turning them around. That’d be like you trying to take the stripes off a Zebra. Or the waddling from a penguin. Or the excellency from Theophilus. Or the unbelief from you.
And that’s why Jesus doesn’t task you with it. You’re not doing the converting. That’s Luke’s huge deal in this entire section. You’re not doing it. Really you’re not. He doesn’t come to you here in Acts 1 and say, “Better get to work at pounding Jesus into your atheist neighbor. It sure is going to take you a while.” Nor does he say, “You better have the exact phrasing for him or it might not work.” Nor does he say, “You better witness enough or people will be lost forever because of you.” Luke isn’t dumping commands on us about witnessing at all. Not in this section. You know what he does say? He says, “You’re going to get, “the gift my Father promised.” (v. 4) And he says, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And as if that weren’t enough he goes on to promise, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (v. 8) Luke’s all about the promise of power. That’s his big deal. And then – and I might add – and only then does he go on to say, “You will be my witnesses.” (v. 8) Do you see Luke’s point? We don’t convert anybody. We trust the Spirit to do it.
That’s Luke’s big deal. You have God. God. Not Jesus junior. Not God the Father the lesser. You have Pure, High, and Mighty God. God the Miracle Worker. God the Converter. God the Re-birther. God the Regenerator. God the Faith Starter. God the Spirit. And God the Spirit has mind blowing power, soul converting power. The kind of power that can take the stripes right off a Zebra, the waddling away from a penguin, the excellency from Theophilus, and the unbelief from you. Nobody’s too entrenched in their Buddhism that the Spirit can’t entrench them in Christ. Nobody’s too stuck in their sexual orientation that the Spirit can’t reorient them to Jesus. Nobody’s so in love with this life that he won’t have them falling in love with the coming life with Jesus. The Spirit of God has a firm non-discrimination policy. He’s after everyone no matter who they are. Nominal Christian or avowed atheist, comfortable American or religiously unaffiliated, upstanding citizen or hardened criminal. Nobody is too backward for the Spirit. Nobody. You know what the best proof of that is? You are. You’re the Spirit’s best work – his greatest miracle. Look in the mirror. See what you see. You know what I see in myself? The most unlikely of converts. Converted. The one running from him in life. Now chasing him. The unlovable. Loved. You are the work of the mighty Spirit of God. No less than Theophilus.
We must see his power. We must understand his consistency and his love. We must. You know why? Our problem with witnessing isn’t that we don’t know we’re supposed to do it. It isn’t even that we don’t quite know what to say. Our biggest problem is that we’re not sure it works. I mean why say something at the family Christmas party if it’s just going to get everyone stirred up? Why talk to the recent divorcee about the healing Jesus gives if she’ll never believe anyway? Why bring up the faith with that wealthy equestrian when he’ll probably just send it all packing? Why would we? We wouldn’t, but we would if we knew the Convertor was there. But we would if we thought the Regenerator would use it. But we would if we knew that Mighty God the Spirit was going to my voice, my faith thoughts, my love for Jesus to save someone. Then we would. Then we would and we’d stand there waiting to see the fireworks. We would. We stand there expecting results same way we would when we flip a switch, plug in a light, or turn the ignition in a car.
We would witness and then we’d watch. And that’s what Luke wants for us. Luke wants us to trust that the Spirit works through our witnessing. Because he knows that when we do, we’ll witness. We’ll get off Facebook and grab lunch with that hurting soul. We’ll get out of the lawn chairs of our lives and get into the County prison and out into that white collar office. We will. We’ll say what’s true at the book club and that dinner party and that Christmas gathering. We really will. Because we’ll see people as people. We’ll see that they’re a part of God’s ticker tape, a name on his brain. And then our eyes won’t glaze as we look at people and our minds won’t fog as we spend time with them. We’ll be zapped into the potential every moment has to change a person’s eternity. Because I’m standing with or sitting next to or eating with another person who Jesus loves with every fiber of his being. And now the Spirit is just waiting to leap from my thoughts – to use my very words to plug that name, that person, that soul into Jesus so that for the first time in their lives darkness becomes light and unbelief becomes belief and sadness becomes joy and death becomes life.
Theophilus got that. That’s why he bankrolled the writing of Acts. And he did bankroll it. He was the patron of the book. Luke was written because Theophilus wasn’t sure. Acts was written because he was. Theophilus put his checkbook, his resources, his heart on the line for witness. Because he believed a person catches the Spirit through it. Thick skinned Jews and heretical Greeks. Modern skeptics and humanistic Romans. Super religious people and super unreligious people. He knew all of them could be reached through witness. And why? Because God is there. God the Spirit. Lightning in the bottle of your witness. Divinity in the clothes of your words. Salvation coming right from your tongue. For your aunt – you know the one. For the mailman who comes by the house. For the lady in your running club. For the husband you married. For the child you gave birth to and your best friend from high school. I’m not sure which was the greater miracle in this account. Theophilus or Jesus’ supernatural levitation. To me, it’s a toss-up. I’ll tell you what I do know. I’m enjoying all the spiritual miracles sitting right here in front of me right now. You. And I can’t wait to see what miracle the Spirit’s going to do next. Through your witness. Amen.