After His resurrection, the Apostles record at least 12 separate occasions where Jesus appeared to His Apostles, different disciples in small groups, and at one occasion to a crowd of over 500 people.
During this time, He ate with them, taught them, encouraged them and prayed with them.
On the 40th day, Luke 24:50; Acts 1:12, tells us that He gathered His Apostles and took them for a walk. They left Jerusalem and headed towards Bethany on the same road that goes through the Mount of Olives where He had prayed on the night before His Passion. In Acts 1:12, Luke mentions that they had gone a Sabbath day's distance (Jews were only allowed to walk 2000 paces on the Sabbath day) which would put them where the road branches out in two different directions - one side to Jericho and the other to Bethany.
As they walked and talked, He reminded them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the power from the Holy Spirit.
He told them that after they had received this power, they were to become witnesses of everything that they had seen and heard, and tell it to all the world: His life, His miracles, His teachings, His death and His resurrection.
Then He stopped walking, faced them and lifted up His hands; He prayed a blessing upon them, and as they listened to His prayer, He began to rise up into the sky until He was taken completely into the clouds out of their sight.
There was something very different about this departure. Every other time in the last 40 days, He had merely appeared and then disappeared. This time, however, He visibly ascended into the sky until they could see Him no longer.
Luke tells us (Acts 1:10-11) that as they looked, two men in white (angels?) told them to return to Jerusalem and wait for the power promised by Jesus who would one day return from the heavens in the same way that He had ascended.
*They went away amazed and while they waited for ten more days in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit to descend upon them, they had time to ponder the incredible final command that He had given to them during His last few moments with them.
His Last Command
Both Matthew and Mark record different occasions when Jesus gave His Apostles the final instructions. Matthew 28:16-30; Mark 16:14-18.
Basically, the command could be broken down into three parts:
- They were to tell the good news of Jesus who died to pay for the sins of all men and rose from the dead to prove His divinity to every person in the world (use visa example).
- They were to baptize (immerse in water) those who believed their witness about Jesus.
- They were to teach the converts to know and obey everything that Jesus commanded so they would become faithful disciples.
*This command and its execution was critical because in carrying it out, the Apostles would create a turning point for mankind in its relationship with God.
The Three Things That Changed
When they began preaching the gospel and baptizing people and teaching them the way and the words of Christ, three things happened that had never happened before. For the first time in the history of man:
There Was Absolute Exclusivity in Religion
Until this time, religion was very much a cultural or tribal thing. Each country has his religion and gods, and when countries merged through wars and alliances, so did their gods and religions.
There was strength in numbers and so the more "gods" you had, the better off you were.
Jesus told them to preach only Him. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Me" (Matthew 28:18).
Peter boldly declares this fact to the religious leaders of his day in Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
This is the reason that the Apostles were tortured and killed, not that they preached about a mere religion - they had thousands of gods and religions in their day - there were martyred because they dared to say that Jesus Christ was the only way a person could come to God.
Nothing has changed today. People may not like it, or disagree with it, or even reject it, but no one can deny that Jesus Christ demands exclusive loyalty to Himself, and that the Bible teaches that a person cannot be saved from hell by any other person or religion. And people still hate the idea, and anyone who preaches it.
In our society, we are at the point in history where only two concepts in religion remain. One is inclusive which is represented by the "New Age" movement that includes as valid all disciplines and religions for the common good. Most churches and religions are going in this direction, also most educational systems.
The other is exclusive, which is represents by New Testament Christianity and which declares that there is only one way - Jesus Christ.
*After His resurrection, Jesus commanded His Apostles to preach that He and only He could save men to the exclusion of every other god or religion, philosophy or prophet - and the tension and conflict between men throughout history has been caused by this demand for exclusivity and will continue until He returns to vindicate those who believe and depend on Him.
** This is a hard idea to accept, especially in our country where we pride ourselves on being tolerant of every religion and point of view. Great, but salvation is not based on democracy but on the blood.
There Was a Final Solution to Life's Major Problems - Sin and Death
In Mark 16:15, Jesus commands the Apostles to go preach the good news to all nations.
What is the good news? Not that only Jesus is Lord of all. Not that people could now go to church and pray and read their Bibles. These are good things but not the good news.
The good news was that God had successfully dealt with man's two oldest problem: Sin and death.
Until Jesus, there was no solution to:
- Sin: People kept sinning and getting worse, and even when you knew what was right and wrong you still did not have the ability to do what was right, even if you wanted to. It is the same today.
- Death: No matter how great, strong or holy you were, you still died. And no one knew for sure what happened afterwards. There was a lot of rituals, magic and theories, but death remained the terrible mystery and destiny of every person. No change in 1991, even with our technology, there is death.
However, in Acts 2:38, Peter announces the good news and the heart of the good news is the solution to the problem of sin:
- Forgiveness: Now because Jesus has paid the moral debt for man's sins against God by dying on the cross, God can now offer all men forgiveness for their sins. The final solution to man's imperfections, to his mistakes, to his disobedience, is God's loving forgiveness. And with that forgiveness comes freedom from guilt, freedom from fear, freedom from the need to perfect ourself, freedom from condemnation to a joyful and peaceful conscience before God. The Holy Spirit gives power to overcome sin (Romans 8:13-14).
In John 6:39-40, Jesus clearly announces the final solution to the problem of death which every man had to suffer:
- Resurrection: Man could now see that death was real, but not final, there was life after death, even eternal.
*In His final command, a resurrected man is telling his disciples to go and tell the entire world how God will forgive their sins and give them resurrection and eternal life after death. This was a message never heard or even imagined before.
** This was a message that offered a real solution to man's greatest problems, sin and death. Forgiveness for sin and resurrection from death, both through Jesus Christ.
*** Now that is good news for a guilty sinner condemned to die.
The Entire World was Made to Choose
The problems of sin and death were solved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
His appearance after His death confirmed: His divine nature, His complete authority, His claim to exclusive loyalty.
Jesus now sends out His Apostles to confront the world with these facts and force them to choose - before He returns on last time to judge all men.
Mark writes very plainly concerning the choice: (Mark 16:16) the entire issue of life and death is reduced to one choice. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved (meaning that forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life belong to the one who believes and is baptized - immersed in water). Those who disbelieve (and consequently refuse baptism) will be condemned (found guilty of sin, and punished to an eternity suffering in hell away from God).
The choice is:
- Exclusive - one or another
- Attacks my privacy, sense of independence
- Demanding, urgent, offensive
- It weighs a million tons on my conscience until I answer it.
- It makes me angry because now that I know what the choice is, I want to say why do you make me choose> I do not want to choose.
Through the gospel God brings us face to face with reality.
For the first time in history, men could come to the edge and look into eternity and have the incredible responsibility of choosing to live or die.
For most, their pride and attachment to sin caused them to actually throw away the opportunity to live forever in exchange for the momentary pleasures of this world.
*But Luke tells us of the thousands who, after being given the choice, gladly responded to God's gracious offer of forgiveness and life after death (Acts 2:37-41).
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:41
Jesus' final command to tell the world about God's solution to sin and death through His death and resurrection was truly a turning point in the history of mankind:
- With it God established Him as the only Lord and Savior - no one could please God or come to God except through Him.
- With it He also revealed God's solution to sin and death - forgiveness and a promise of resurrection.
- With it He also presented a clear choice to all men - believe in Him and be baptized for salvation or perish in your sins. The choice was painfully simple and final.
That final command was first preached by the Apostles and then handed on to every generation of Christians to present to their society and will be passed on until Jesus returns.
It is no different for our generation of Christians and on society today - the final command stands before us in all its urgency and terror and promise and glory.
Every one of us here tonight must make a choice concerning our eternal destiny based on these words of Jesus: "Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, etc."
Some of us have already believed and been baptized, and for this reason will be saved. I rejoice with you my brethren because tomorrow we will talk about the final gift given to all who have believed and been baptized.
Sadly, others have completely rejected this and refuse to believe and are assured of and eternity of suffering. Make no mistake about this - God is not a fool, He does not make empty promises. I urge you to reconsider, not to reject the offer of forgiveness before you tonight.
Still other are undecided. I pray that you will choose tonight to be saved or at least to come and study God's word so you can be taught more about Jesus and help you make the right decision.
*If anyone needs to respond in some way to Jesus' final command, let us know now.