by Bob Burridge ©2016
Marching to a Different Drummer
Acts 1:6-11 (ESV)
We have all probably known someone who, though talented or even gifted, seemed a bit out of step with everyone else. They seem to be tuned in on a different channel. Their focus is different.
The Great Reformers of the church seemed out of step too. John Wycliffe wanted even the common man, not just church leaders, to know what the Bible said. John Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox could have gone along with the church and not rocked the boat. They were talented men who could have had nice careers. Why did they defy the Church Councils, and Popes, and the masses of people? Why did they risk their careers and lives with controversy?
Those who seem out of step are often ridiculed and excluded because they are different. But some are out of step because they are marching to the beat of a different drummer.
In a very real sense Christianity means we should listen to a different drummer. The world puts its material needs first. It might add religion as an added benefit in life. But it’s own self-pleasing desires are always first. The church is called to seek God’s ways first. Our material and personal interests should be in subjection to what God says pleases him.
We might turn down a promotion or job if it makes us disobey God’s law. We should not value our own pleasure so that we break God’s sabbath commandment about work on his day. We put morality above our own desires. Since we are part of a church we give a portion of what we earn to support its work and ministries.
It’s not that we just want to be different. Our goal is not to dress oddly, act like uninformed weirdos, or use outdated vocabulary. But just living the way the Bible tells us to will be enough, that people to say, “We seem to be marching to the beat of a different drummer.” – We are!
So many things mark us out when we’re obedient to our Savior’s teachings. Our vocabulary and values will be different from the world. The way we spend our time and use our talent will be different. Our goals and definition of success will not be the same.
Jesus appeared to his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. He taught them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), just as he had done during his three years of ministry before his death. Finally Jesus led them to the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, the same place where Jesus had instructed them during his last week. That memorable lesson was about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the final judgment yet future, when Jesus would come again at the end of our age.
Jesus was about to physically leave them for the last time. What would be his last message? As they gathered, the disciples had one more question to ask.
6. So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
At that time the Pharisees expected God to set up an earthly political kingdom. The Jews had been under Roman rule for several generations. They were heavily taxed. They were not free to live by their traditions. They were persecuted, or simply tolerated, but never liked. They dreamed of the day Rome would be overthrown. They imagined that the promised Messiah would be a political revolutionary who would establish a Jewish empire in it’s place. When Jesus came to Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey they laid palms and garments before him, asking him to save them as their conquering king.
But that’s not what Jesus came to do. In his last week in Jerusalem, his lessons about the Kingdom made the Jewish people and leaders angry.
By the end of that week they called for his crucifixion!
The disciples had come to Jesus about this before: All their lives they had grown up with the Pharisees’ interpretations. Still not fully understanding Jesus’ message of a spiritual kingdom they imagined an earthly throne and kingdom.
They had debated which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom. They wanted to sit at Jesus right and left hand in the new Jewish Empire. I guess they were not listening when Jesus said that the humble servants would be the greatest in God’s kingdom. Jesus said that God let Satan put those ideas into their hearts. They needed to learn that His kingdom would not be a political one.
Now here they were, asking their last question of their Lord. They still want to know when the Kingdom would be restored to Israel.
Man, in his fallen condition, wants to build earthly empires. He wants power, and a sense of control over his life, and security. He wants to satisfy all his cravings and covetings. He wants to convince himself he’s doing things the right way. He says, “look at all I’ve accomplished”, or “see the following I have.”
Today, many still have as their goal to amass earthly power. Socialism tempts leaders to build a big, powerful government. Businesses try to build massive power networks to put others out of work. Even some churches become “mega-churches” with huge congregations of over 10 or 15 thousand attenders weekly! One I visited had several remote parking lots with color coded shuttles to carry you to the worship center. It had its own TV station and high tech studio to broadcast various programs and its daily events to screens in the different buildings and information centers. It had several orchestras and three ballet companies they used in worship.
But these are not the goals God sets for his Kingdom. A materialistic idea of the kingdom leads to man-centered expectations. Man-centered goals obscure the Glory and ignore the Reign of our heavenly King.
Jesus answered their question this way …
They had a duty to perform.
7. He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
There’s a great danger in “date fixing”. More people flock to prophesy conferences than serve in local churches. Opportunists predict when the end will come and try to confirm their interpretations by twisting biblical symbols to fit modern nations and military weapons. When interpreters see helicopters, nuclear weapons, and communism in the Bible, be cautious! You are probably dealing with a poor Bible interpreter ready to sell you another prediction of the end.
Jesus’ warning (here and in other places) ought to stop the time-setters. There is a reason God doesn’t tell us when is — that’s not the message he gives us to deliver. The Apostles were commissioned to proclaim the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. They were not told to make predictions about when the Kingdom takes on it’s next form.
This is the disciple’s last lapse into expecting an earthly kingdom. They seem to have learned their lesson once the Spirit came at Pentecost and the spiritual kingdom Jesus spoke of became realized. From this time on, they devoted themselves to the proclamation and service of God’s spiritual Kingdom.
Instead of marching to the drum of greed, lust for power, perversion of pleasure, and fascinating predictions. God calls his people to march to a different cadence.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples question showed that …
8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus promised to give them power from the Holy Spirit. The kingdom would not come by revolution, mass advertising, politics, social change, or by passing laws. It comes as the Holy Spirit comes to the church. That’s encouraging. We are not left to our own ideas and resources. God is the power behind His assignments to His people.
Powered by the Holy Spirit, he will establish a Spiritual Kingdom represented by his church, not an earthly political empire like the world imagines. The empires of conquerors and revolutionaries fall far short of the more noble and holy kingdom represented in the church. It’s where Messiah reigns with a peace that passes understanding, a victory beyond the understanding of mere human expectations.
Jesus promised that they will be his witnesses. When he said, “you will be my witnesses” it was not so much a command, as it was a fact.
The Apostles had witnessed the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom for the past 40 days. They were about to witness the ascending of Jesus, and soon the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the church. They had already been witnesses to the direct teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry. Now their duty will be to let others know what God had said and done.
God called Old Testament Israel to be his witnesses. Jehovah told Israel “You are My witnesses” (Isaiah 43:10). But Israel did a poor job fulfilling her mission. Instead of telling what God said, she boasted in her own glory, and pridefully looked down on everybody else.
Now Jesus passed the same duty on to the disciples. He said, “You will be my witnesses.” Their duty was not to give testimony to their own experience, but to witness about what God had promised and done in the Messiah.
The command is given specially to the Apostles here. This is not where Jesus calls us all to be witnesses. The Apostles were his audience. They were to bear testimony to God’s message in a special way. He gave some of them the gift of inspiration to write books of the Bible. He spoke to and through them prophetically. They performed special miracles and even raised the dead. The Apostles would move the message outwardly from Jerusalem.
The plan described here outlines the book of Acts. They were to be eye-witnesses to what God has said and done first in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-11), finally outside the frontiers of the Holy Land – even to Rome! (Acts 12-26)
But, the Bible makes it clear that we are all to be witnesses. God does not enable us to write inspired books, receive prophesy, or perform miracles. But we are to tell others about what is in those inspired books. We should all bear testimony when we can about what God has said and done. We should talk about God’s promises, and how He fulfilled them in Christ.
In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus called all his people to shine as lights in the world, showing God’s glory. In verse 16 he said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The Holy Spirit is the power behind our witness to Christ’s work. But we point to God the King and his Sovereign grace, not to ourselves. But our good works should be clearly explained as God’s work in our unworthy lives.
When we sin we need to be truly repentant about it, and humbly admit our weakness to others who know about it. We make it known that we’re so thankful for Christ taking our place on the cross. That can start the conversation about how a person becomes a redeemed citizen of God’s Kingdom.
But, we are not called to just tell people how to become kingdom citizens. We should bear witness to how God says we should live in his Kingdom. We need to be examples of honoring and obeying God in our daily lives at school, at work, in our homes (as parents, children, or spouses), in the church, in the community, everywhere!
We are not on our own. God is active, ruling all things including overseeing the work of his church here on Earth.
9. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
10. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,
11. and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus ascended to heavenly glory. Now he sits at the Father’s right hand where he reigns over all things, and watches over the true church.
We should not become distracted by the direction of His ascent. Heaven isn’t “up” in our astronomical sense. Which way was Jerusalem facing when Jesus ascended? Toward the sun at noon or at an angle to it at 3:00? Toward the constellation Scorpio in winter or Pisces in the summer?
Jesus didn’t so much go “up” as “out”. He moved out of our dimensions of space and time into another. He rose up and was enfolded into a cloud. Its not important that he continued upward at that point. Heaven isn’t a place in physical space. It’s in a different set of dimensions altogether.
The physical movement of Jesus was to accommodate the human observers. There is no reason to believe He had not been to glory yet. The resurrection ended his subjection to death. Immediately Jesus returned to the throne. But now the time of his visit to earth was ending. He would not be with his church physically any more until he comes again in the final judgment.
Jesus is coming again physically when this present form of his Kingdom is completed. The heavenly messengers from God asked the Apostles, “why do you stand looking into heaven?.” Their words do not seem to be a rebuke. They needed to turn their minds away from the physical sight, to appreciate its meaning for them and their duty.
Jesus will come back, just as he left them. He will come back visibly, Revelation 1:7 “Every eye will see him.” He will step back into this set of dimensions. This final time he will come in glory to find a completed kingdom. All the elect of God, from all the nations, will have been redeemed. Satan’s attempts to deceive them will have failed miserably. There will be no more elect to keep from coming Christ, the devil will again be allowed to put his blinders on the nations. But that will be a very short season of deception. When Satan is set free to deceive the nations at the end of this age, God’s final judgment will also be released.
is to fill the world with His truth.
We do it by daily showing by word and example that Jesus is Lord of our lives. We show a love for his principles and a trust in his promises. We do it by humbly leading others to Christ for forgiveness and restoration. But, we are not expected to do it on our own.
The world has his own program which is to build earthly empires and amass power. God’s church has its program which is to be a spiritual kingdom under Christ. God reveals his program behind it all, and makes us able to honor him with our lives. He reigns in glory and is coming again when his kingdom is complete. When people see us put God and his church ahead of personal gain and pleasure, they will probably say “he marches to the beat of a different drummer!” — So be it. Let’s introduce them to the drummer.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)