The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,…
1. Who could have told beforehand that Christ would be the first to go? Our conception would rather have been that He would remain until the last lamb had been enfolded and the last pilgrim entered into rest. Instead of this, He Himself said, "It is expedient for you that I go away."
2. Being about to go, His last interview with the apostles took place. Last interviews are notably pathetic. The words that would be common on any other occasion acquire a new and significant accent. Little things that would not be noticed under ordinary circumstances, start up into unusual prominence. We should always listen as if in a last interview. "What I say unto one, I say unto all — Watch." We lose so much through inattentiveness.
3. Jesus Christ is about to go — how will He go? He cannot be allowed to die: that would be a fatal disappointment to the attention which He has strained and to the expectation He has excited. Dogs die: and if this Man die, He will contradict by one pitiful commonplace all that was phenomenal in His life. How will He go? Luke tells us that He was "taken up." In other places we learn that He "ascended." He entered within the action of another gravitation, into His own place in the heavens. It is enough: the mind is satisfied by the grand action. Were I reading this upon a poet's page, I would applaud the poet for one of the finest conceptions that ever ennobled and glorified human fancy.
4. Jesus Christ then "ascended," and in doing so He but repeated in one final act all the miracles which had made His previous ministry illustrious. From the very beginning He had been ascending, so that when He took the final movement, it was but completing that which He had been continuing for years. Our life should be an ascent! We should not be to-day where we were ten years ago. Not that we are to ascend by sharp steeps that attract the attention. There are ascents so gradual that they do not seem to be ascents; yet looked at as from the beginning to the end, we see that the gradient has evermore lifted itself up until the very next thing to do is to step into heaven! You may know how you will die by knowing how you really live. If your life is a life of faith in the Son of God marked by, at all events, the desire to be Christ-like, then you shall "ascend." All that drops away from you will be the flesh and the bones, that have been a distress to you for many a day. Your self, your liberated spirit, shall "ascend." Who ever saw fire going downward? It is in fire to go up, to seek the parent sun out of which it came. We, too, living, moving, and ever having our being in God shall not die as the dogs die, but "rise" to our fount and origin "with Christ."
5. If the final interview was pathetic to Christ, it was also pathetic to the disciples. They had their question to ask as certainly as He had His commandments to give. "Lord, wilt Thou"? etc.
(1) Mark how, after His resurrection, He had become "Lord" and the Restorer of kingdoms. Everything rests upon the resurrection of Christ: "if Christ be not risen," etc. No matter what He did, taught, or appeared to be: if it was in the power of men to kill and keep Him in the grave, all His protestations were lies and His promises vanity. Hence, Luke and all the apostolic writers insist that Jesus "showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs." The inquiry, then, that was put to Christ in this instance was put to a Man who had risen. It was this — "Wilt Thou restore?" etc. There are times when everything depends upon one man, crises which sum themselves up in the judgment of one thinker — we look to him, he carries the keys, he speaks the final word, and from him we expect the policy which alone can ennoble and save the life.
(2) We learn from this inquiry how long-lingering and ineradicable is the influence of first impressions. The disciples had got it into their minds very early that this Man had come to liberate the Jews and to give them back their lost kingdom. What is so long-lived as prejudice? Therefore take care what impression you make upon the young mind about the Christian Sabbath, Book, Church, idea. Who can wonder that some men can hardly open the Bible with sympathy or hopefulness, because they remember that in early days it was the task-book? Are there not those who dread going to church, because their action is associated with early impressions of gloom and dreariness?
6. Christ's answer may be read in a tone of rebuke, but it was not spoken in that tone. You cannot report a tone — hence it is possible to express the very words the speaker said and yet entirely to misrepresent him! Features can be photographed, but not life. Jesus Christ spoke in a tone that was instructive, and followed with utterances of the largest and tenderest encouragement. "Ye shall receive power," etc. There is no gift equal to the gift of power. When a man in distress comes to you, if, instead of answering his immediate necessity, you could give him power to answer his own, you would bestow the most precious of treasures.
(1) The gift of Christ to the Church is a gift of power —
(a) Not intellectual only, though Christ has indeed sharpened every faculty of the mind, and blessed the Church with penetrating insight — but that is not the power referred to here.
(b) Nor social power — the power usually associated with the idea of kingdom, rule, and authority.
(c) But the power of holiness — "after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." Know yourselves to be powerful by the measure of your holiness, and contrariwise know yourselves to be weak, though your mind covers the whole register of intellectual possibility. We have lost the Holy Ghost. We betake ourselves now to Church questions and not to soul inquiries. The problem of to-day is ecclesiasticism, not evangelisation. We are building structures, arranging mechanics, instead of being carried away with the whirlwind of Divine inspiration, and displaying what the world would call supreme madness in consecration of heart. A grand, or learned, or rich Church — these may be but contradictions in terms, but a holy Church, an inspired Church, would go forth "fair as the moon," etc. The world can answer our argument so as to confuse the listener, but it can have no reply to an unimpeachable purity.
(2) The power which Christ gave was to be used. When He puts the staff into my hand, He means me to walk with it; when He gives me opportunities, He means me to use them.
(3) This power was to be used gradually — "Ye shall be witnesses unto; Me both in Jerusalem," etc. Do not begin at the end: grow little by little, but see to it that your motion is constant. It is not some dashing triumph that strikes beholders, but that subtle, quiet, imperceptible growth that proceeds night and day until a culmination is reached that surprises not by its violence but by its completeness and tenderness of its working.
(4) The power was to be used enlargingly, from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth, until there was no more ground to be covered. This is our Christian mission, and nothing so enlarges and emboldens the mind as sympathy with Christ. The Christian man cannot be a small-minded man. Find a sectarian and you find no Christian; pick out a man who says the kingdom of heaven ends here, and he is a man who has stolen his position in the sanctuary. All Christians are great men, great souls; all who are crucified with Christ see all men drawn to the Cross. Christianity never bends the head downward towards little and dwindling spaces: it always says, "The whole world for Christ." If men would have their minds enlarged, ennobled, inspired, it can only be by direct fellowship with Him who is the Head of all things, who fills all things, who ascended that He might rule by a longer line and by a more comprehensive mastery.
7. Christ's last words were about Himself. "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me." What sublime audacity! What magnificent confidence! The Church has one Lord, one thing to say — Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and went out of the world to pray for His Church and sustain His servants in all the stress of life and in all the anxiety of service.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,