Witnesses (Acts 1:6-14)

What’s next? Jesus had died and risen again, but what was next for him and his disciples and what’s next for us as a church?

Version of sermon recorded at St. Luke’s on same day

Questions for the Vicar’s Sabbatical

At the annual meetings for St. Luke’s and St. George’s, rather than laying out a vision for the coming year for the churches I am asking people to come up with questions for me to consider when I go on Sabbatical for June, July and August.

Thinking of good questions can be quite challenging, but they can also be more useful than statements or ideas. At the St. Luke’s annual meeting, 10 questions were asked, which you can read on the St. Luke’s website if you check out the report on the annual meeting.

Many of the questions express the specific concerns of the questioner:

  • How can we engage our families more?
  • How can we make the church fully accessible to all?
  • How can we develop prayer ministry?

Others were broader and more open ended:

  • What things might be preventing discipleship? What are our current limitations?
  • How do we take church out as well as having a passion for new people to come in?

Perhaps you could ask a really broad question:

  • What next?

Whether specific or broad they are all good questions.

A Question for the Risen Jesus

Our reading comes from the very start of the book of Acts. The apostles who had spent  three years or so with Jesus, seeing him do amazing miracles, hearing incredible teaching and being trained by him to go out on mission. Then they went through the trauma of seeing Jesus arrested, crucified and buried. Finally, Jesus rose again and Luke says in Acts that over 40 days he proved to them that he was indeed alive again.

All of this must have been utterly mind blowing for them, but as the incredible truth of what had happened sank in they began to have questions.

I wonder what question you would have asked the resurrected Jesus?

I suspect it wouldn’t have been their question:

“Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6)

Clearly, despite the life changing experience they had just been through, the disciples were still caught up with the concerns of the Jewish people, to have their own kingdom. What they hoped the risen Jesus would do next was to restore the kingdom to Israel.

As a 21st Century British person, it is hard for me to really grasp what they were really thinking.

I am sure Jesus did understand what they were thinking and he tells them that they can’t know the answer to the question, ‘At what time.’

Instead, Jesus goes on to answer a different question, which is: ‘What next?’

Indeed, I think the whole point of Acts 1:1-11 is to answer the question: given that Jesus has died and risen from the dead, what next?  Arguably, the whole point of the book of Acts is to show us: What’ next.

What next? The Timeline

Acts 1:1-11 lays out a kind of timeline in answer to the question.

Resurrection of Jesus

  • Witness the resurrection

It starts with the resurrection of Jesus and those 40 days after the resurrection. The emphasis here is that this was a time, when Jesus appeared to the disciples on numerous occasions, thus proving beyond what must have been considerable doubt that he was alive, that he had risen bodily from the dead. After this 40 days, there was no way they could doubt the truth of the resurrection.

This was also a time of teaching and preparation for what was next.


Then comes the ascension. Jesus leaves, by going into heaven.

This ascension at the start of Acts suggests two things.

First, this is part of the passing on of the mantle.

In 2 Kings, the Prophet Elijah is taken up into heaven by chariots of fire, leaving his disciple Elisha behind. Elijah’s prophetic ministry on earth is over, but Elisha’s now begins. Indeed, Elisha is promised twice the Spirit of Elijah.

This is in fact where we get the phrase passing on the mantle. “Mantle” is a word meaning “cloak”. When Elijah is taken up to heaven, he leaves his cloak behind and Elisha picks it up  before he sets off to start his ministry.

So, in a sense the Ascension is Jesus passing on his earthly ministry to his disciples. He is passing on the mantle to them, so that they will now go and do what Jesus did.

Secondly, the ascension is actually the enthronement of Jesus. He does not just disappear into the clouds, he goes to sit at God’s right hand to take up the rule over the whole universe.

Peter is clear about this at the end of his Pentecost sermon:

“For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “`The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:34-36)

The other week we saw the coronation of King Charles III. It was an impressive ceremony designed to show Charles’s authority as king over the United Kingdom and beyond. Yet, it is also a ceremony that points to the idea that Charles is subservient to a greater king, to the one who rules not on a throne on earth, but to the one who sits at the right hand of God. The ascension shows that Jesus is King and Lord of all!

  • Wait in Jerusalem (1:4, 12-14). Joined together in prayer.

What are the disciples to do after the ascension? Jesus tells them in 1:4, that they are not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.

In 1:12-14, this is what we are told they do. They return to Jerusalem and meet together in the upper room to pray.

There is something remarkable about this. Firstly, Jerusalem must have been in a sense the last place they wanted to be. It was ruled by the very people who had had Jesus crucified. It would have been much easier for them to have returned to Galilee, to their home, where there would have been much less of a threat. Yet, the whole passage stresses that Jerusalem is the place where they are to start.

Secondly, their focus is on prayer. They don’t race into activity or action, they do as Jesus says and they wait for the Holy Spirit. They do not try to act in their own strength, they wait for God’s power.

Thirdly, they do so together. There is a unity here that is surprising. Not only does this involve the disciples, but also the mother and brothers of Jesus. The gospels do not tell us much about Jesus’s relationship with his mother and brothers, but John does tell us that his own brothers did not believe him. Now here are the two distinct groups together, united in their desire to wait on God’s empowerment for what would come next.


What next? First the resurrection, then the ascension, then Pentecost. Jesus promised and did send the Holy Spirit. What is the prime role of the Spirit in this passage? To empower the disciples to be witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection. And that is what the rest of the book of Acts tells us about.

  • Witness to the resurrection:
    • Jerusalem & Judea

They start out in Jerusalem on Pentecost itself, telling the people that Jesus has risen from the dead. We read about the growth of the church in Jeursalem in Acts 1-7.

  • Samaria

Then in Acts 8 we read about the word of God coming to Samaria

  • Ends of the Earth

Before the rest of the book tells us about its spread around the North Eastern Roman Empire and eventually to Rome itself.

But that is just the start of the story. It is a story that has continued for over 2,000 years, with people hearing, trusting and following the resurrected Christ’s in all parts of the world from Korea to Kenya, Austria to Australia and Canada to Colombia. Even in our two churches are believers from every inhabited continent in the world.


The story continues, because we are still waiting for the true end. As the disciples watch Jesus ascend into heaven, they are told that he will return as he went. As ruler of the whole universe. He will come as judge and saviour.

Does this answer the apostle’s question?

So that is the timeline: Resurrection – Ascension – Pentecost – Return. Jesus answers the question, “What is next?”

But does he answer the Apostle’s question?

“Are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

Given the timeline, we could ask when the kingdom comes?

  • Does the Kingdom come in the Ascension?
    • Yes, because Jesus is now enthroned as king.
    • But he’s not king of an earthly Israel in Jerusalem, but ruling from God’s right hand.
  • Does the Kingdom come through their witness?
    • Yes, because when people hear the good news about Jesus and truly believe and choose to follow him, Jesus becomes enthroned in their lives as their king.
    • But this is not limited to Jerusalem or Israel. Jesus tells them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
  • Does the Kingdom come when Jesus returns?
    • Yes, because then his rule will be complete. Everyone will see him for who he truly is and every knee will bow, however reluctantly can confess that he is Lord of all.
    • But again this is not just limited to Israel!

Jesus does not answer their question, because it is the wrong question.

  • They wanted to know when the Kingdom would be restored, but Jesus shows that the Kingdom coming is a process not a moment or event in history. It is like the growth of a tiny mustard seed into a great bush.
  • They were concerned about Israel, but Jesus’s vision is much greater. He is concerned for the whole world, because as Isaiah says,

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6)

What next for us?

So Jesus sets out the ‘What next’ for the apostles just before his ascension. So, what next for us living in Ramsgate in the Twenty-First Century.

Clearly we need to understand ourselves as being between Pentecost and Jesus’s return. Our main mission is to witness to the truth.

But, the disciples were not told to rush straight into the mission. So, I think we can learn from the overall timeline set out in Acts 1:1-14.

Witness the Truth – Read the Word

Firstly, they spent 40 days witnessing the amazing truth of the resurrected Jesus.

Of course we cannot do that, but the witness did not stop when the apostles died out. They passed on their experience to others who took up the witness. We too can hear their witness by reading the Bible. Luke himself, says he wrote his gospel based on eye witness accounts. If we are to continue the witness today, then we need to listen to the apostles and the amazing thing is we can do just that by reading the New Testament!

Wait – Pray Together

Secondly, the apostles were told to wait for God’s power. So they went and prayed together.

In the same way, we cannot be effective witnesses, without praying together with others. That’s why we need to gather together on Sundays as prayer is a part of what we do together. But why not also meet with others and pray? Or join in with the Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, either by signing up to one of the slots to pray at home, but in a sense together with others on the list or if you are able to try joining us at one of the extended daily prayer meetings.

Witness to the Truth – Share the Word

Finally, we do need to actually take the plunge and be witnesses where we are. It is probably harder today to witness to Jesus in the UK than it has been for many years. I saw a survey saying that the UK now has one of the lowest proportion of people who believe in God of any country in the world. We can fear offending people by even mentioning our faith.

But Jesus did not send the disciples to where it would be easy to talk about Jesus, but to Jerusalem, the city that had called for his crucifixion. Where to claim the one that they crucified was God’s Messiah was deeply offensive.

We need to pray for wisdom and courage to share the word in our society here in Ramsgate. But we need to do it, because they need to know Jesus the ultimate king who they will one day answer to.

What’s next for us? I hope and pray that as a church we can be increasingly engaged and excited by the good news we read about in scripture, devoted to meeting together and to prayer and increasingly effective in our evangelism.

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