Category Archives: Acts

Acts 1:1-26 – And you will be my witnesses.

Quick apology – I wrote this on Friday and scheduled it to be sent out later that day but it failed to send. I only realised now that it had not been sent. Here it is…

Introduction

What has been a life-changing moment in your life? What has made it life-changing? What about on the human timeline – what have been the biggest world-changing events that have affected everybody? I’m sure if you stop and think about those two questions you will come up with a variety of things that have affected either you or the world to different degrees. Giving birth is a big change. So is having a car accident. The world trade towers coming down in N.Y. was significant world-wide but to different degrees depending on where you are from.

As far as God is concerned, creation was a pretty big event. The Exodus was big but again, focused on one nation mostly. The birth and death of Jesus are bigger and his second coming won’t be missed by anybody! What about the resurrection? It’s big, for sure but is it a life changer? What impact has the resurrection had in your world? Well, it made quite a difference as Luke explains in Acts 1:1-26.

Context

Acts is the second half of the Luke-Acts story. The opening verses of Acts direct us to the whole of Luke’s gospel as the context! We are at the stage of human history immediately after the creator of mankind was put to death and raised to life again! God has brought piece to mankind through the death and resurrection of his Son. This book tells the story of this news going out to mankind.

Observation

The structure of chapter one might be arranged like this, based on the time episodes in the chapter:

1:1-3 – Introduction – Recall how Jesus chose and taught the apostles.
1:4-11 – ‘On one occasion’ – The instructions given to the apostles when Jesus ascended!
1:12-14 – ‘Then’ – The banding of the apostles.
1:15-26 – ‘In those days’ – Adding their 12th member.

Verse 1. ‘In my former book’ refers to The Gospel According to Luke. That was also written to a person named Theophilus. Who he is, nobody knows. Of course, theories have been suggested but they are only theories.

Verse 1. The book of Luke was all about what Jesus ‘began to do and to teach’. Note that both are significant. What he did was to point people’s eyes to the cross. He came that he would suffer and die (See Jesus’ own testimony of why he came in Luke 24, the final chapter of Luke). But also importantly is what Jesus said!

Verse 2. ‘after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit’ – Verses 1 and 2 are best to be seen as a summary of what will follow in the text. Some think of the instructions that Jesus gave as referring to Matthew 28:19-20 – the great commission – but Luke seems to outline what the instructions were in verses 4-8.

Verse 3. ‘After his suffering…proofs that he was alive.’ It sounds like the suffering did not need proof – he had undergone public humiliation, rejection, crucifixion and burial – all that was witnessed by many. What needed proving was the fact that he was alive again! Most of Luke 24 describes the disbelief of the disciples – that was just a 24 hour period. Now Luke describes Jesus’ further 40 days ministry to the disciples. How amazing would those days have been! How amazing it is that Jesus did not remain dead! It was a surprise to the disciples.

Verses 4-5. The apostles (I’ll talk later about the difference between a disciple and an apostle) are told to wait until they are baptised with the Holy Spirit. Talk of the Spirit and baptism can go terribly wrong if we take our eyes off the scriptures and let our minds wander. Note that Jesus described both what John did and what would happen in Acts 2 as baptism. This word, baptism, refers to a surrendering or being overwhelmed or even of being buried. When we die to self and live again in Christ – this is baptism – this is a total surrendering to Jesus (Rom 6:1-4). John called people to repent and be baptised. That is, admit your guilt, confess your sins to God and surrender to him. He used water as his visual aid for this. That’s because water has often been the symbol God used to show that his people have been saved – walking through the parted waters in Exodus and Joshua for example. But Jesus is promising the apostles something more than a symbol of this – he is promising them the gift from Him and His Father – the Holy Spirit. Paul later tells us that it is through the Spirit that we are able to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3) – the Spirit brings us to the point of repentance and submission to Christ. People may partake in a water ritual but it’s true repentance and submission that God desires. There is more to be said here but we’ll save it for next week.

Verse 6. They don’t seem to ask too much about the gift of the Spirit but want to know the time of God’s kingdom coming. Notice how Peter mentions the Holy Spirit in verse 16 as he describes how David wrote the Psalms. The disciples were not unaware of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Verses 7-10. ‘It is not for you to know the times…but you will be my witnesses…Jesus…will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ The apostles are on a needs to know basis. They have told us all that they know too! When Jesus returns is not the concern for us. But he will return and spreading the news of Jesus was the primary concern of Christ. He promised to equip them with the Holy Spirit to do this task.

Verse 8. One might say that this verse represents the thematic outline of the whole book of Acts. The story will take us from Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. The key, however, is that they are Christ’s witnesses. This is such an important theme for Luke-Acts. The sermons that we’ll read in Acts 1-8 will centre on being witnesses to what Jesus did.

Verses 12-14. Almost all who Jesus had banded together were together again in one room. Eleven of the twelve were united together by what they had seen and heard. They were the primary eye-witnesses of all that Jesus had done and taught. These are the founding members of the church of Christ. The universal church.

They prayed together. What did they pray for? We are told in the NT to cast all of our worries on God because he cares for us. I can only imagine that the cares on their minds right then were for God to show them how to get started on their mission, for God to give them what he had promised and for the Lord Jesus to return and find them doing what he had left them to do – go and be witnesses.

‘Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.’ The notion that Mary remained a virgin all her life is a lie. She was among the faithful witnesses who needs a saviour – of course she was so blessed to have been the mother of Jesus but she needed him to redeem her as much as the rest of humanity. Notice too that the apostles were not praying to her. She was praying with them!

Verse 15. ‘About a hundred and twenty’. Already, the church represents more than eleven people. Jesus had appeared to more than these eleven.

Verses 16-20. The ministry of Judas is described by Luke the narrator and by Peter who stands up to be a type of leader for the apostles. Judas’ purpose was not to be a witness and guide to those who need salvation but as a guide for those who arrested Jesus – he was the Christ’s enemy.

Peter is able to single out sections of the OT that describe the role that Judas played. I won’t go into how amazed I am at the way Peter reads the OT but I will say that the first Christians were those who knew their OT and treated it with absolute respect and trust. After all, these were the men who were taught Biblical Theology by Christ himself (Luke 24:27)!!!

Verses 21-26. ‘For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection’. Right there is a second key verse in chapter one (along with verse 8). They were replacing their 12th member as they saw fulfilling Psalm 109:8 and the key to this leadership role is that this person must be a key witness to the resurrection! The pre-requisite for apostleship was to be witness to the resurrection.

Later on, Jesus would include Paul as an apostle – who saw the risen Lord on the Damascus road.

Jesus called his disciples together in the gospels at around the time of Jesus’ baptism. These were his students. He taught them about the kingdom of God and they listened as they walked with him toward Jerusalem. There were 12 disciples including Judas Iscariot. There were also more disciples who at one stage numbered 72 and probably even more than that. The women were often listed amongst the disciples. But there were 12 which had been chosen and named by Jesus. A disciple is simply a student or follower.

Later, these 12 are referred to as the apostles. This word simply means ‘messenger.’ They would carry the message of the resurrection and of Jesus Christ the Lord of all. Again, there were many more apostles who carried on the same task but there were 12 who were hand picked by Jesus and were eye-witnesses. Usually when we talk about the Apostles, it is with a capital A and refers to the 12 including Matthias who began the early church. They carried authority with them because they walked with Christ. Matthias and Joseph/Justus were no doubt one of the 72 that Jesus sent out on mission during his earthly ministry.

Choosing between two goods.

I love this little story of God-centred decision making. When they have two good candidates, Joseph (or is it Barsabbas or Justus?) and Matthias, how do they make their choice? Well, 1) they decide on what seems like good godly choices, 2) they pray for God to help, 3) they flip a coin, 4) they run with that! So, should we go flipping coins? Maybe – but steps 1 and 2 are crucial! Their decision was not flippant, they sort the scriptures (v20), they knew the importance of a good decision, and they took their request to God. But then, when the choice was made, they accepted it.

Meaning

Christ chose and equipped eye-witnesses to continue his mission for the world. The significant event that the world needs to hear and be clear on is the resurrection. This is the beginning of the gospel going out into the world – stemming from the resurrection of Christ and going forth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Application

  • Consider the significance of the resurrection – for the world and for you. Without the resurrection there would be no Christian faith – what would we be trusting in and hoping for? While we talk a lot about the suffering of Christ for us, it’s the resurrection that will take centre stage in the message of the apostles.
  • Knowing Christ and the resurrection does not mean neglecting the Old Testament. If you or your group find yourselves lost in the Old Testament – lost for understanding and application – then look out for the next ‘God’s Big Picture Plus+’ course or find out about the ‘Intro to the Bible’ course run through Moore College.
  • Jesus left the apostles with the same equipment that we have (more or less) – the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Growing the church was hard then as it is now or as easy then as it is now!
  • God’s mission is for the whole world. Staying in Jerusalem was only temporary for the apostles because they were to be flung around the globe to speak the good news. Think on how this applies to you. It could mean leaving your town or country to spread the gospel and it could mean partnering with those people and organisations who do – like CMS, the Bible Society, Anglican Aid and so on.
  • The resurrection again! What do we talk about when it comes to faith? Do we promote trusting in God? Do we promote how we love that we can call God our Father (perhaps when we didn’t have an earthly father to look up to)? Do we put all of our focus on the cross and how Jesus has paid for our sins and made us righteous (extremely important)? But do we talk much about the resurrection! Jesus has been raised and he promises our resurrection too! This is truly the event that changed the world. Death no longer has it’s sting when we are disciples of Christ.
  • Christian fellowship and prayer. The first church were united in one place and with one hope. I pray that as your groups begin to meet again this year that you will enjoy a unity that comes from knowing Christ and directing your prayers together to him.
  • The return of Christ may or may not happen in your life-time, but it will happen. While the nations of this world are talking about money and resources and power, Christ’s children ought to be talking about the day when we will all see true riches and the eternal King on his throne.

Prayer for the week

Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, thank you for the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and thank you most of all for his resurrection. Help us to be single minded as we persevere together in our faith. Thank you for the Apostles who witnessed the risen Jesus and we pray that you will find us serving you with all our heart when you return. Amen.

Acts 1-8 – Growth Group Terms 1-2 – 2015

G’day everyone. I aim to put out two posts this week. This one is a simple orientation of the book of Acts and the resources we have to study it together.

Leading up to Easter and then for a few weeks after that, we’ll be looking at Acts chapters one to eight. Here is a link to the sermon and Growth Group program for 2015.

Each of the Growth Group posts will follow the COMA routine of reading God’s word. This is a methodical way of viewing the scriptures which lead us to a clearer understanding of the meaning of the text and what we are to do about the message. Here is a link to the 2015 Growth Group guide – page 16 covers the COMA method of preparing a bible study.

And here is an example of the COMA method from our Roman series.

As you begin studying together as a group this year, remember to create plenty of space for people to feel at home where you are meeting and that everyone knows one another. Starting the year well is very important.

The following is for you as a leader to have some background knowledge to the book of Acts. You may use this material in your group or just have it for future reference.

Who wrote Acts?

Dr Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24) has been thanked for writing this book since the 2nd century. His name does not appear in the pages anywhere but the author of the book did join Paul on his journeys – see Acts 16:10-17 for an example of the author being part of the history. Luke was certainly a missionary companion of Paul.

The gospel according to Luke is not only a second book by the same author, it is part of a two-volume collection. That is, Luke-Acts is by the same author and intended to be read as part of the one story. Luke follows the eye-witness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – ending in Jerusalem. Acts continues the history of how these eye-witnesses began to take the gospel message beyond Jerusalem and into the rest of the world. So, Luke leads us to the events at Jerusalem and Acts takes those events from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

At an early date, the two volumes were split and Luke was packaged with the other three gospels, a collection known as ’The Gospels’, while Acts was bundled with the letters of the New Testament, a bundle known as ‘The Apostles’.

Why is it called Acts?

The two-volume set of Luke-Acts may have originally been called ‘History of Christian Origins’ (FF Bruce, NICNT commentary, p3) and when the two volumes were separated, the second half was referred to as the Acts of the Apostles.

The Purpose of the book.

Luke begins the book of Acts in a very similar way to the book of Luke. It should be recognised, however, that the introduction to the book of Luke is intended to cover both volumes. So Luke’s purpose is that we might know the certainty of the things we have been taught (Luke 1:4). The book of Acts picks up the story from when Jesus ascended into heaven but continues the same aim.

Acts 1:8 provides a kind of overview or trajectory of where the book of Acts will lead us: ‘…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.’ The purpose of the book is to describe the spreading of the gospel by eye-witnesses from Jerusalem where the resurrection took place and out to the ends of the earth.

The Importance of this book

Here are a couple of things that we would miss if this book was not written or preserved:

  1. How the early church was formed would be left to myth and legend. This could then lead Christ’s church into all sorts of superstition and heresy.
  2. The letters from Paul which make up a third of the NT would be missing his credentials as an apostle. His conversion, his passion in preaching, his suffering – all would be absent.
  3. The struggles of the early church – religious debate, persecution, heresy, mischief in the church – show us that the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection were met with great opposition right from the start.
  4. The churches and places which Paul writes about in his letters are given further historical setting in the book of Acts.
  5. The Christian movement originated from Jewish people living in Jerusalem and started immediately after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is not the result of an evolved or elevated view of Jesus, but a grass roots celebration of God’s work in bringing true and eternal salvation to all who would hear the good news of Jesus and believe.

How to read the book

Like most of the Old Testament and just like the gospels, Acts is full of narrative – descriptions of what has happened. Narratives are not like laws or commands nor even like songs and poetry. They don’t tell us what we must do. They tell us what has happened. They are not prescriptive but descriptive. When Moses is talking to a burning bush, this is not a prescription for us to go and find miraculous trees to talk to. But in all the narratives of the bible, we read of the great works and words of our God to his people. We hear of his promises and intentions. We do see the example of faithful witnesses and we learn of those who live to oppose the work of God.

So, like any narrative,
listen out for changes in scenery or time – these generally mark the beginning of a new message and lesson for us.
Listen carefully to the speeches and quotes within the story – these often take us to the heart of the message.
Watch for what problems are being faced in the narrative and how they are resolved.
Check out the blog on Jonah chapter one for some more guidance on how to read narrative.

That’s all from this post. I hope that you will read through the book of Acts – all of it – as often as you can to become familiar with the book. It can be really helpful to listen to an audio version of the bible. In the next post, we’ll take a look at Acts chapter one.