Acts 1-4: Witnesses.

October 31, 2015.

Daily Reading: Acts 1-4.

Background: The book of Acts is Luke’s second writing to Theophilus (see background to Luke), who was probably a Roman, perhaps even a high ranking Roman, which continues the story of the unfolding of the gospel. His first book detailed the life and ministry of Jesus Christ through eye witness accounts in an orderly and historical manner. Luke was a physician (see Colossians 4:14) who was Greek travel companion and friend with the early disciples, perhaps most often paired with Paul in scripture. The book of Acts is simply a second volume in what he set out to do with his first book, and in it he follows the story of the birth and early days of the church as the gospel was beginning its spread throughout the world. Notably, the book of Acts begins with Luke telling Theophilus that his first book was about what Jesus had begun to do, as this book is the continuation of what Jesus was doing though His church. The book ends somewhat abruptly, and in a way, it is still being written today by the actions of the Christians worldwide.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 1

1. The promise, call and ascension: During the days between the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus had appeared to His disciples many times, and this is where Luke beings his second writing to Theophilus. Upon one of these occasions, probably closer to the day of Pentecost where the next chapter will pick up, Jesus tells them to remain in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 3:11) would come upon them not many days from then. This baptism of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied by John the baptizer, can be seen twice in the book of Acts through the explicit outpouring of the Sprit (see Acts 2:1-4 and Acts 10:44-48, 11:13-17), once on Jews and once on Gentiles, giving the signs of miraculous gifts to those upon whom the outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon. After this promise was given to the disciples, they asked Him if he would at this time restore the kingdom of Israel on the earth, to which He tells them that it is not for them to know the time or seasons that the Father has fixed. Then He redirects their attention the Holy Spirit that will be given them soon, so that they can be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, even to the end of the earth. This call was not only for those listening there (certainly the end of the earth was not reached by the end of that generation, or by these specific people), but to all disciples throughout the ages. We are called to be His witnesses to the end of the earth (see Matthew 28:18-20). We receive the promise of the second coming of the Lord after He ascends into heaven here, from two men robed in white, heralding the second coming of Christ. Until the return of our Lord, let us answer the call to be witnesses of Him to all the earth.

2. Replacing Judas as an apostle: As Judas had betrayed the Lord with a kiss (see Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:47, John 18:3), Peter stood up among the disciples when they had come to Jerusalem and said that they should fill his spot as an apostle, as was prophesied in scripture (see Psalm 69:25 and 109:8). The qualifications that Peter laid out for the one that was to take the office were one that had accompanied them throughout the ministry of Jesus, from the baptism of John to the ascension, and one that was a witness to His resurrection. Two men were selected as options, Barsabbas and Matthias. After praying to the Lord to show them who He had chosen to take the place of Judas, they cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias. Casting lots was a way that was seen in the Old Testament to determine the will of the Lord (see Proverbs 16:33). After Matthias was chosen, he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Chapter 2

1. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit: As this chapter begins, we open with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied by John the baptizer (see Matthew 3:11). Those disciples who were gathered together received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a great display of power, and they began to speak in many different language, as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance. Since it was the day of Pentecost (see Leviticus 23:15), there were many Jews from different nations (they had been scattered throughout the world when Israel and Judah went into captivity, and though a remnant indeed returned to Jerusalem, undoubtedly some stayed and established lives and families in these other countries) who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover and Pentecost. As they lived in different countries, they spoke different languages, and they were amazed when they heard the disciples speaking in their own tongues. They knew they were Galileans and were not able to speak in all of these different languages. Yet all who were gathered, from so many different nations, heard in their own language. They were amazed and perplex, and some even tried to make sense of it by saying they were drunk. But they were not drunk. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and something that would change the world was about to happen through the Spirit.

2. The gospel call and response: As there was much amazement and perplexity going on in this moment, Peter stands up with the eleven and delivers what is commonly referred to as the first gospel sermon to the Jewish audience that was gathered there. He begins by asserting that they were not drunk, but rather it was the work of God that was evident among them, the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of God’s Spirit (see Joel 2:28-32). He then presents to them Jesus Christ, from whom they had seen mighty works and wonders, yet they had delivered Him to be crucified. Notice that Peter doesn’t run from the truth here, or try to sugar coat it. Surely this was an offensive message, especially when delivered to the people who had crucified their Messiah. But that was the bad news- the good news was yet to come. This Jesus, who they crucified, God raised from the dead, just as was prophesied through David in Psalm 16:8-11. God did not allow at Jesus to suffer corruption in the grave, but raised Him up on the third day, now to be exalted at the right hand of God. They were witnesses of his resurrection. Peter calls to their attention that it was not David whom this prophecy was made, for he both died and his tomb was still with them that day. He cites another Psalm of David to show that David knew his place before the Lord, and he too was looking forward to the Messiah (see Psalm 110:1). Then perhaps his most stinging statement is made, where he directly calls out his audience for crucifying the Messiah they had been waiting for all these years, and this Messiah had been made both Lord and Christ.

There could have been different reactions to this statement. But the only response that they crowd had was one of complete conviction. They were cut to the heart and asked the only thing they could: “What should we do?” They had realized their grave mistake, and now what could they do about it? Was there any hope? Could they be saved? They had killed the Messiah. Peter’s response was simple. They were to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. What a display of the steadfast love and mercy of our God. The answer was simple, yet life changing. If they would be saved, if they would be forgiven, they were to turn their lives around and give it to Christ, being buried with Him in baptism and raising anew to a new life. The old would be washed away and new would be put on (see Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2-3). Those who gladly received the word did just that- repented and were baptized- and three thousand souls were added to the kingdom that day. What a glorious day, one that would set the course for a new world- a world with Christ.

At the end of this chapter we get a snapshot of the very early church. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. They met together in each others homes daily, and were willing to sell their possessions to give to those of their number who were in need. Note the community of believers here, how they treated one another and fellowshipped with one another. They were going to the temple, eating together and praising God, and more believers were being added to the kingdom daily. What joy they must have shared together.

Chapter 3

Lame man healed and a second sermon: As the disciples carried on, there came a time as Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of prayer when an opportunity arose for them to glorify God. There was a lame beggar that sat at the Beautiful Gate, asking alms of the people who entered the temple. Instead of giving him alms, Peter gave him the gift of walking, though the healing of the Holy Spirit. He told him to rise and walk, and immediately the lame man was healed and he leapt up and went through the temple, leaping and praising God. Everyone knew who the man was, because he was setting at the gate as they entered in, and everyone was filled with amazement. Peter took this as an opportunity to deliver another message to the people, though this time there would be a slightly different outcome when compared with the one he gave in the previous chapter. He takes the same approach as he did in his first sermon, pointing to Jesus, the Messiah who they had delivered to be crucified, now risen from the dead, to be the source of the power that healed the lame man. He brings up the prophets, even Moses who had prophesied that the Lord would raise up a prophet like him that the people were to follow (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19) and tells the people to repent. The Messiah had come, and it was time for God to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham by this Messiah (see Genesis 22:18). Jesus had been raised from the dead, and was now sent to the Jews first, that they might turn to Him and have their sins blotted out.

Chapter 4

1. Peter and John taken before the council: As Peter and John were proclaiming the gospel to the people in the temple through the healing of the blind man, they Sadducees came and arrested them, and took them before the elders, rulers and scribes on the next day. Nevertheless, there were many who believed at the preaching of Peter and James, and the number of believers grew to about five thousand. Standing before the council, Peter and John were asked by what authority they healed the lame man, to which they responded (filled with the Holy Spirit) that they did it in the name (or by the power/authority of) Jesus Christ, who they crucified (note that they were speaking to Annas and Caiaphas, the very priests that sent Jesus to Pilate and to the cross), and who was raised from the dead. Then he cites a psalm to show them that the Lord had fulfilled His promise to make the stone which the builders rejected the corner stone (see Psalm 118:22). There is salvation in no other name other than Jesus. The council was astonished at the boldness of Peter and John, uneducated, common men, and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Note the complete chance in boldness in the apostles here, as the night of Jesus’ betrayal, they all fled, but now they stood strong in the face of the very opposition that had brought Jesus to the cross. The work of the Spirit is evident. This put the council in a tight spot. They certainly didn’t want Peter and John to continue preaching about Jesus, but they also could not deny the fact that a miraculous sign had been done- they would not be able to convince the people, for they saw the sign. They couldn’t say anything in opposition, for the man who had been healed was standing right there. They told Peter and John not to teach in the name of Jesus, but Peter said they could not help but speak the things they had seen and heard. They threatened them and let them go, because they could not find a way to punish them.

2. The believers: After they were released, Peter and John join their fellow believers and reported everything that had happened. Note here that when they heard the things that had happened, the believers go straight into prayer. It is a very interesting prayer as well, one that might not sound like the way we would pray today, or even what we would pray for if we were in their situation. They begin the prayer by asserting the sovereignty of the Lord and then cite scripture from the words of David, who spoke through the Holy Spirit about the rulers gathering against the Lord’s Anointed (see Psalm 2:1-2). The believers saw this prophecy as being fulfilled before their very eyes. Note here what they pray for, however. They don’t pray for safety or the end of persecution. They don’t pray for deliverance even. They pray for boldness to continue to preach the gospel as God continues to heal and do great signs before them. What zeal! After their prayer, the place where they were gathered together was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to seek the word of God with boldness. Then we see again a snapshot of the early church that looks very similar to that at the end of Acts 2, where all the believers have everything in common, and those who had land would sell it to give to those who were in need. Of note, Barnabas is introduced here, who will be a very important character in the latter chapters of this book and in Paul’s ministry, who is called by this name because of his encouragement. He sold his field (which was apparently a notable size) and brought the money to the feet of the apostles.

Tomorrow’s Reading: James 1-3.

Be His witnesses in the world.

-Walter

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