PREPARATION Acts 1
“But 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” (Acts 1:8).A sense of mission can infuse any Christian’s life with purpose.
Luke continued the story of Jesus begun in his Gospel (1:1–2). Christ gave His last words to the disciples and ascended into heaven (vv. 3–11). The disciples, while waiting in Jerusalem as Christ instructed, chose Matthias to replace Judas as a witness to the Lord’s resurrection (vv. 12–26).
Understanding the Text
“All that Jesus began to do and to teach” Acts 1:1. Both Luke’s Gospel and Acts are addressed to Theophilus. In Luke 1:3 he is addressed as “most excellent,” a title that suggests Theophilus held high rank or social position. Some think that Theophilus, whose name means, “he who loves God,” financed Luke’s research. At any rate Theophilus was eager to know all about Jesus. And Luke made it clear that to understand Jesus, the story must be continued beyond Christ’s resurrection and return. The Gospel of Luke told us only what Jesus “began to do and teach.” Acts tells us what Jesus continues to do and teach through the church, His living body here on earth (see DEVOTIONAL). “Wait for the gift My Father promised” Acts 1:4–5. Earlier Peter and several of the disciples had gone back to Galilee, and back to fishing (cf. John 21:1–3). They didn’t know what to do, and just waiting wasn’t easy for these active, restless men. Waiting is hard on all of us. Sometimes it hurts and we know we can’t stand it for another moment. Sometimes it’s uncertainty. We know we’d feel better doing something—anything—even the wrong thing. Anything would be better than waiting. And then Jesus’ words come to us, as they came to the disciples. “Wait.” “Wait for the promise of the Father.” I know that these instructions were unique. It was the disciples who were told to wait for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. Nevertheless, Jesus often has the same instructions for us. Wait. Wait for God to act. Wait for God to fulfill His promise, and do you good. I have no idea how many personal tragedies could have been avoided if believers would only have listened, and heard God say, “Wait.” I do know, however, that until we sense His “Now!” the very best thing we can do is wait. “Are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6–8 Even now the disciples remained “Old Testament believers.” They knew the promises made by the prophets. They were convinced that Jesus, who had proved Himself the Messiah, would make Israel a nation again, and indeed the dominant world power. Their only question was, “When?” And so they asked, with a word order in the original that reflects the emphasis on time, “At this time are You going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus certainly didn’t rebuke His followers for believing that the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled literally. He didn’t say, “Oh, don’t take all that stuff literally. Didn’t I say that My kingdom isn’t of this world?” The fact is that God’s kingdom has far more facets than most are aware of, and a future earthly kingdom is one, but only one, of them. What Jesus did say is, “It is not for you to know the times or dates.” Believe that this will happen. But don’t try to pin down the when. This is a good principle for us to follow in our relationship with the Lord. Believe His promises. Even when you are asked to wait, trust that the good gifts God distributes will be yours. But leave the when entirely up to God. “But you will receive power . . . you will be My witnesses” Acts 1:8. It’s not wrong to probe Scripture in an effort to understand the sweeping nature of God’s grand plan for humankind. It’s commendable. But at the same time, it’s often irrelevant. What is relevant is to know God’s purpose for you and me, now. This is the significance of what Jesus said to the disciples. They questioned Him about His kingdom. And He told them their specific role in what was to happen next. I don’t know when Jesus will return. I expect it in my lifetime—but so have believers through the ages. In a very real sense, when Jesus is to return is none of my business! What I need to know is what the Lord wants me to do with my life. I need to know how to make the decisions that affect next month and next year. I need to know what He wants me to do today. That’s what the disciples needed, and were given. Wait a few days. The Spirit will come. You will receive power. And then you will be My witnesses—next door, and throughout the world! “This same Jesus . . . will come back” Acts 1:9–11. You and I don’t need to know when Jesus will return. We do need to live with the conviction that He will return. The fact that Jesus will come back means that life here is doubly temporary. It is temporary in that death stalks all of us after our few short years. It is temporary in that whether we remain on earth or not, the way of life represented in man’s society is destined to disappear. When Jesus returns the injustice, the selfishness, every dark and unfair deed will all be purged, and true goodness will fill the land. The certain knowledge that Jesus will return gives us the courage to fight on against present evils. Despite setbacks and defeats, in Jesus our victory is already won. “They all joined together constantly in prayer” Acts 1:12–14. This verse marks the first appearance in Acts of a very special Greek word: homothymadon. In fact, 11 of 12 uses of the word are in Acts; the other is in Romans 15:6. What does the word mean? It is a word which pictures the church gathered—praying, worshiping, reaching decisions—in a spirit of unity and harmony. In fact, harmony is perhaps the best description. It is as if a great orchestra assembles, with each instrument retaining its individuality, yet under the baton of a great conductor blending to produce a symphony. This is what the church is intended to be. Not mass-produced tonettes, each with five holes punched in black plastic, but a gathering of distinctive, hand-made instruments. All different. Yet under the guiding hand of God united to play the masterpiece God has composed. “Show us which of these two You have chosen” Acts 1:15–26. Two of the men who had followed Jesus from the beginning, and yet had not been numbered with the Twelve, were recommended by the little company of believers to take Judas’ place. After prayer, the two drew lots and Matthias was selected. This is the last recorded incident in the New Testament of believers seeking to know God’s will “by chance,” and it is significant that it took place just before the Holy Spirit came. From that time on, the Spirit would guide His people from within, and outward signs were no longer necessary. But note that there were two good men, each with the necessary qualifications for leadership, and that only one was chosen. There are nearly always more men and women with leadership potential in the church than are needed. So what about the man who was not chosen: Justus? Was he set aside, to mold on some shelf? Not at all. Matthias was chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection” (v. 23). The implication, of course, is an official witness; one representing the church as a whole. But what’s exciting to me is that Justus, while not “official,” was nevertheless a witness still. And he, just as Matthias, could and undoubtedly did bear witness to his Lord. I’m sometimes puzzled by the clamor of some to be “official” leaders. Being on a board or committee, or being ordained, adds nothing to your or my right to serve Jesus, or to witness to His love and grace. If you’re one of those folks who feels some hurt because you’ve been denied some “official” position in the church, why not take Justus as your patron saint? The man who was not chosen to become one of the Twelve. But who had just as much freedom to witness to Christ’s resurrection as they—because like them he had been with Jesus from the first. Think about it. Isn’t being with Jesus a far greater honor than being elected to an office in His church?
Keep on Doin’Acts 1:1–8
The knock comes on the door, and the little child, left alone for a few hours and carefully instructed by Mom and Dad, leaves the door shut. The knock comes again. Finally, a little desperate, the child cries out, “Go away. There’s nobody home.” Sometimes I think we Christians feel like that little child. We feel all alone. When folks come knocking on our door, we hide inside, hoping they’ll leave us alone. If only Jesus were here, He’d be able to respond. So, aware of our weakness, we finally cry out, “Go away, there’s nobody home!” That’s why we need to read Acts more often. To remind ourselves that someone is home! That all that Jesus did while He was here on earth was just the beginning of His ministry. Today Jesus is still actively at work, in and through His body here on earth. The church. You, and me. When Jesus left His disciples for the last time, He told them the secret. In a few days, He said, you’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit. I know that there’s a lot of debate of the meaning of that baptism. But certainly everyone would agree with 1 Corinthians 12:13. That verse says that by the Spirit all we Christians were “baptized into one body.” And that body is the body of Christ. God the Holy Spirit has so bonded to Jesus that, though He is in heaven, we are His living body, a body of flesh and blood, present here on the earth. And in His body, Jesus is present too! So the next time someone from the world knocks on your door, and you feel anxious and uncertain, don’t shout, “Go away. There’s nobody here.” Someone is here. Jesus Christ is present, in you! And in your loving, caring response to the people who knock on your door, Jesus continues His loving, saving work in our world.
Trust, and let Jesus work through you.
“Attempt great things FOR God and expect great things FROM God.”—William Carey