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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.