Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

Acts 2:14-24, “Don’t Miss the Main Event!” 

Sports fans love the feeling of being there: a packed arena, the lights flashing, the smoke machine pouring out, and over the speakers comes “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the main event! Let’s get ready to rumblllleeee!” Beforehand, there may have been games and music and t-shirts and food, but none of that is why anyone bought a ticket. They were there for the game / the main event, and it isn’t something that they were about to miss!

Most churches don’t have the false hype that comes with professional sports (and shouldn’t!), but there is something that the two have in common: a main event. For them, the main event is the game; for us, the main event is the gospel. Just like a sports fan doesn’t want to focus on the pre-game show and miss the main event, neither should we focus on the extra stuff and miss the gospel.

What does any of that have to do with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost? Peter’s sermon didn’t come out of nowhere. There was much that led up to that moment, much of which took place that morning.

For review, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He spent forty days providing many convincing proofs of His real, physical life. He spent time with the disciples teaching them, and left them with a final command prior to His ascension into heaven: they were to return to Jerusalem and wait for God the Holy Spirit who would come upon them, empowering them to be witnesses of Jesus to all the world.

The disciples obeyed, returning to Jerusalem, continually seeking the Lord in unified prayer. The eleven remaining apostles had their numbers restored to twelve with the addition of Matthias, and they continued to wait. Ten days was all it took. In conjunction with the Jewish festival remembering God’s gift of the Law (Torah), God gave a new gift to His people: Himself, via the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Audible and visible signs of God’s glory rested on the Christians as they were empowered in a new way. The Spirit filled them to the point of overflow, and the disciples began to speak in languages they had never known.

This was the sign used by God to grab the attention of the many diverse Jews who had come to Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire in order to celebrate Pentecost. They heard the Christians praising God in their own native dialects – something which ought to have been impossible for them to do. Unsure what to make of it, some openly asked what was happening, while others scoffed – mocking the Christians as if they were drunk.

Of course, they were not. An explanation was on the way, and Peter was just the man to give it. Simply the fact that Peter was the one to provide the first open-air preaching of the Church Age is itself amazing, and a demonstration of what the power of God the Holy Spirit does to a person. Fifty-three days earlier, Peter had crumbled under the questioning of a servant girl and others, afraid to be associated with Jesus. Between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit, Peter was now radically different! He could stand in front of representative Israel on the streets of Jerusalem and openly proclaim Christ. Amazing!

Time forbids a recounting of all of Peter’s message, but he does two things in the first half of it: (1) he explains the sign, and (2) he proclaims Jesus. The sign is what got people’s attention, so the sign needed to be addressed. But the sign wasn’t the main event; Jesus was. Peter knew he had the perfect opportunity to preach Jesus, and that’s what he did.

People still get this mixed up today. The topic of tongues and other supernatural signs & gifts of the Spirit, can be incredibly divisive among Christians, but it doesn’t need to be. When all the attention is put on the signs, then it’s put on the wrong place. That’s the pre-game; not the main event. Don’t miss the main event…the main event is Jesus!

Acts 2:14–24

  • Explaining the sign (14-21)

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

  1. Try to imagine the turbulence of the scene. From later in the text (2:41), we learn that literally thousands of Jews were on hand. Presumably the house in which the disciples met was close to the temple grounds (perhaps even next to one of the entrances), and the commotion from the house of Christians gathered a lot of attention. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, there was the sound of a violent wind on the inside, and then all of a sudden there was this eruption of languages. If all 120 Christians in Jerusalem were gathered together, and if all were praising God at the same time, that would have made quite a bit of noise & attracted a huge crowd. The Jews were gazing up at them – some perplexed, some scoffing – and that’s when Peter raises his voice above the rest. Someone had to provide an explanation, and it might as well be the one to whom Jesus pointed to as the little “rock,” saying that Jesus Himself would build His church upon the great foundation stone of the gospel (Mt 16:18). This isn’t Peter putting himself above the apostles; he’s simply speaking for the apostles. Notice that he was “standing up with the eleven.” They were unified in heart and mind. Peter simply gave them his voice as a representative of them all.
  2. As he spoke (Luke recording him using the polite language of the day, asking for the attention of the crowd), the very first thing he did was answer the scoffing. First things first: the charge of drunkenness needed to be addressed. Why would anyone pay attention to the translated praise of the Christians, if they were all drunk off their gourds? The answer? They weren’t. It was only 9:00am, “the third hour of the day.” Although the time of day doesn’t stop some from drinking, culturally speaking, it wasn’t done. No one drank that early in the morning (apart from outright alcoholics), and there simply wasn’t time to get that sloshed.
  3. So if they weren’t drunk, what was it? That’s what Peter explains from the Scriptures…

16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.

  1. Quotes Joel 2:28-32 (mostly from LXX, with minor variations). Contextually, there is an emphasis throughout Joel on the Day of the Lord. The prophet had written to his nation after a devastating locust swarm, using it as a picture of the devastation that would come in the future during the Day of the Lord. Because Joel is undated, scholars widely differ over when the book was written, perhaps being either during the years of the divided kingdom, or even after the Babylonian exile. Either way, there were dark days ahead for the Jews, and the elders of Israel needed to examine their own hearts in preparation for seeing their God. — That said, even though Joel preached God’s wrath, he also proclaimed God’s mercy. God desired His people to repent & turn back to Him. Joel 2:12–13, “(12) “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (13) So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.” If God’s people (the nation of Israel) would simply turn around, forsaking their evil ways in sincere humility, they would know the compassion of their God.
    1. The principle is no different today! How does someone escape the certain judgment of God? Humility, repentance, and simple faith in Jesus!
  2. How does that all apply to Peter’s preaching to Jerusalem on Pentecost? Easy: the verses Peter quotes don’t come out of a vacuum. God had promised to restore to Israel “the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” (Joel 2:25) – God promised to be gracious to His people. Though the dark days of the Great Tribulation were certain to come, God lovingly promised to receive all who turned to Him in true faith. It is in light of God’s goodness that God promised His Spirit. When the people turned to Him as their Lord & God, they would experience His presence among them as He empowered them with the Holy Spirit. The bottom line for Peter? This day was prophesied! The Scriptures foretold a day in which God the Holy Spirit would come upon all His people, and the Spirit-baptized Christians were proof that God’s promise was true.
  3. How could they know? All they needed to do was listen. The various tongues/dialects spoken by the Christians as they praised God was proof of Joel’s prophecy coming true. The ancient prophet had written that the outpouring of the Spirit would be accompanied by supernatural signs, experienced by the people: prophecy, visions, and dreams. Keep in mind that Joel wasn’t writing a comprehensive list of all the gifts of the Spirit (Paul provides two other lists in Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12); Joel simply gives a sampling of what would take place. The overall idea is that of a total blessing upon God’s people. Be it men or women, young or old, no one who truly turned to the Lord in repentant faith would be excluded from the blessing of the Holy Spirit. He would be poured “on all” The idea continues in the next verse…

18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.

  1. Not only would God the Holy Spirit be given irrespective of gender and age, but also of social status. Even male and female slaves (Hebrew could even imply concubines) would receive the baptism. God’s gift of His Spirit was promised to come to all, without limit. Culturally speaking, this was something never before experienced by the Hebrews. In the past, the Holy Spirit would come upon prophets for a time & He would come upon kings for a time. He was never seen coming upon all for a time. In fact, at one point when Joshua thought that too many elders among Israel were prophesying, he thought that Moses ought to rebuke them. In response, Moses said, “Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29) What Moses desired – what Joel foretold – Peter proclaimed fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
    1. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all believers…no one is left out! We do not always walk in the fullness and power of the Spirit (sadly but easily demonstrated any time we engage in sin), but as born-again believers we all have full access to God the Holy Spirit, and we are always indwelt by the Holy Spirit, forever sealed by Him as belonging to Jesus. Despite the claims of well-meaning teachers who sometimes claim that certain believers don’t have the Holy Spirit, that simply isn’t true. A person cannot be a believer in Jesus unless he/she has been given the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not a caste/class system in which certain “lucky” believers have the Spirit while others do not. God promised His Spirit to all, and He gives His Spirit to all.
    2. Again, don’t confuse that with the idea that we never need to ask to be filled with the Spirit. We do, just as the original disciples were repeatedly filled with the Spirit. The empowerment of the Spirit is different than His presence, but just as freely available to all who believe in Jesus.
  2. As for Peter, he repeats the act of prophecy as a sign of the Holy Spirit, but what he says at this point is not in the Hebrew text nor the LXX. This was something he was personally led by the Spirit to preach to the Jews in Jerusalem that day as a confirmation of how this Scripture was fulfilled. From our perspective, we need to be careful reading too much into this, as if Peter was saying that spoken tongues were spoken prophecy. The New Testament is clear in other places that prophecy is a different gift than that of tongues – Paul goes into great detail of writing how prophecy is a better spiritual gift than that of tongues (1 Cor 14), showing that they are separate and distinct gifts. But that’s not Peter’s point. Peter is giving Biblical justification of a verbal gift/sign. Tongues are unknown in the Old Testament, and what the Jews of Jerusalem heard was very different. But they were familiar with prophecy, and that was one of the many supernatural signs that Joel said would come with the gift of the Spirit. Thus the tongues heard by the crowd could be thought of as the fulfillment of Joel.
  3. That said, the emphasis of the original Hebrew text is not the prophecy or other signs; it is the outpouring of the Spirit of God. That is the promise that opens and closes the two original verses. Through Joel, God said, “I will pour out My Spirit,” doubly promising His Spirit to His people. It would not be the spiritual gifts that was most amazing to the Jews; it was the gift of God the Spirit Himself.
    1. This is where too many Christians get it wrong today. Instead of seeking God & His glory, they’re seeking signs and wonders. They want the side-effects rather than the true Gift. If we want to be used by God, then we ought to seek God first, foremost, and always. Whatever He desires to do past that point is up to Him, but if our priorities are in line, then it won’t really matter to us if He gives visible recognizable gifts or not. As long as God is glorified & Jesus is exalted, everything else pales in comparison!
  4. For all that did come true out of these signs, Joel prophesied other things that did not happen on Pentecost, and haven’t happened yet…

19 I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

  1. Signs would be seen, not only among the people (prophecy, visions, dreams, etc.) but also among creation. There would be signs on the earth and signs above the earth. Interpretations of what these signs actually are varies wildly depending on the bias of the theologian who’s asked. Some believe it’s all spiritual & symbolic, completely dismissing the text. Some believe that it was fulfilled on the days of Jesus’ crucifixion all the way through to Pentecost, as there was unnatural darkness at the cross & tongues like fire on the disciples. Even so, it seems to be a large stretch, and doesn’t address all aspects mentioned by Joel. It’s far better to simply take the prophecy for what it is: actual events that will be unmistakable when they are fulfilled. In fact, the book of Revelation show these exact things taking place during the Great Tribulation. Among other signs fulfilled, John writes: Revelation 6:12–13, “(12) I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. (13) And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.” It is at this moment that the men and women of the earth try to hide themselves in caves, fully realizing that the great day of the wrath of the Lamb of God has come (Rev 6:16-17). What John wrote in Revelation, Joel wrote in his prophecy as well.
  2. Question: What does it mean that there were signs yet unfulfilled, even while Peter said that this section of Scripture was fulfilled? Was Peter wrong? Not at all. Part of the Scripture was indeed fulfilled – the part that applied to that day. But Peter also quotes a part to be fulfilled in the future. This is something quite common in the prophetic writings, sometimes described as the “mountain peaks of prophecy.” … Two Scriptures might be included back-to-back in the text, but their fulfillments are separated by centuries. Such is the case here. The outpouring of the Spirit was fulfilled; the signs & wonders in heavens were not.
  3. But that doesn’t mean that the signs in the heaven were irrelevant. All of the signs prophesied by Joel had a purpose: to prepare people to see God for judgment. When did he say that these things would take place? “Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.” It’s as if Joel (and Peter) was saying: “Get ready! If you’ve seen this much, understand what’s still on the way!” The tongues heard by the people wasn’t just simply a curiosity to be observed, or a nice thing to think about later; it was meant to grab their attention right then & there, because judgment was at hand! If they recognized the Lord’s word being fulfilled, then that meant they had better do something to respond to it, and soon!
  4. And they could! That was the good news…

21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’

  1. For as much as Joel proclaimed the Day of the Lord as a day of judgment, he didn’t leave the people without hope. They could still turn in repentance toward God – they could be the ones who received the outpouring of God’s Spirit – they could be those who experienced His gracious salvation. There was still time to turn to their God in humility and faith. All they needed to do was call upon His name.
  2. This is where Peter was leading all along. This was their invitation to be saved! The people of Jerusalem were to recognize the signs currently around them on Pentecost – they could see these things taking place with their own eyes, and hear the proof of it by their own ears. As they did, it was a wake-up call: the Day of the Lord was at hand! But it wasn’t too late. They heard the tongues, but they didn’t yet see the signs of blood, fire, and smoke. They had evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit, but they didn’t have the sun turning to darkness or the moon turning to blood. There was still time! They could be saved, but they needed to be saved now. They needed to call upon the name of the Lord.
  3. How could they do that? That’s the perfect bridge to talking about Jesus…
  • Preaching Jesus (22-24)

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—

  1. If the people of Israel could recognize the sign among the Christians in front of them, then surely they could recognize the greater signs done by Jesus. They had seen Jesus – they knew Jesus. The majority of Jesus’ three years’ of ministry may have been done in Galilee, but He spent quite a bit of time in Jerusalem (as shown in the gospel of John). He had gone throughout Judea, and even sent His disciples on two short-term mission trips all over the country. The Jewish people knew They were well-acquainted with Him. Jews travelled long distances to see and to hear Him, and thousands even attempted at one point to force Him to be their king (Jn 6:15). For Peter to speak openly about Jesus was not for Peter to introduce Him to a Jerusalem crowd who never heard about Him. No one among the Jews was ignorant of Jesus.
  2. Especially in Jerusalem! Remember the timeframe: Pentecost was exactly 50 days after Passover. Less than two months had passed since Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Although Jerusalem was filled with travelling pilgrims (for the two feasts), many were repeat travelers, and many others were residents of the city. They had been there – they had witnessed the confrontations between Jesus and the rulers of Jerusalem. They knew about Lazarus from nearby Bethany, and the blind men from nearby Jericho. Of course, this doesn’t even get into Jesus’ broader reputation of miracles. He had raised the dead, healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, cast out demons, and created bread and fish from nothing. They knew Him – they saw the signs – they were well aware of God’s testimony concerning Jesus. There had been abundant clear-cut evidence all along that Jesus had been chosen and anointed by God as His prophet (and more, as Peter will later point out)…the people of Israel had seen it all.
  3. They also knew what they did in response to all of it: they killed Him…

23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

  1. Two aspects to Jesus’ death. First, it was God’s will. Jesus died, yes, but everything about Jesus’ death was due to “the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” Everything ranging from Jesus’ betrayal by a friend, to the act of crucifixion, to the soldiers gambling for His clothes, to His burial in a rich man’s tomb, and much more – all of it was prophesied in the Scriptures. The tiniest details of Jesus’ suffering and death was foretold by God in the Bible. God knew what would happen to His Son, and it was God’s “determined purpose” that it would happen. It was God’s will. Isaiah 53:10, “(10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” It was not chance circumstances that sent Jesus to the cross – it was not mob chaos; it was the predetermined sovereign will of God, planned from before the foundations of the world.
  2. Second, it was man’s fault. Both Jew and Gentile were responsible for the death of Jesus. They had seen His work and testimony concerning Him, rejected it, and killed Him in one of more horrendous ways imaginable. Scholars differ about Peter’s reference to “lawless hands,” whether he pointed to Jew or Gentile – in the end, it was both. Peter was talking to Jews that day (being that it was a Jewish feast in the Jewish capitol), but there were doubtless Romans who were present, just as there were every single day during the many years of Roman occupation. In any case, both were responsible. The Jews may not have raised the hammer & pounded the spikes through Jesus’ wrists and feet, but they were the ones who handed Jesus over to the Romans for it to be done. It was an official execution, done at the behest of the highest authorities of both Jerusalem Jews and Romans, but there was nothing legal about it. As Peter pointed out, the act was done “by lawless hands,” as they cruelly fastened Jesus to the cross and killed Him.
  3. Question: If it was God’s will, how could it be man’s fault? If God planned the many aspects of Jesus death (not only foreseeing it in the future, but specifically planning the details and predetermining that it would happen at all), how can the Jews and Gentiles be held responsible for acting it out with their “lawless hands”? Answer: free will. God’s sovereign plan does not exempt us from our own freely chosen decisions. We are not puppets held on a cosmic string, having no choice of our own. When we sin, it is because we have chosen to do so. Does God know what that sin is? Has God planned for that sin in His overall plan for the world? In some shape & fashion, yes, as seen here with His plan for Jesus. Is God responsible for our sin? Absolutely not. When trying to wrap our limited minds around God’s eternal plans, we are bound to come up with some tough questions from time-to-time, but there is one thing that is certain: God never forces anyone to sin. We gladly choose it on our own. God ordains that our sin come about through our “voluntary choices,” (Grudem) – IOW, God is so sovereign, that He even plans for our free-will.
    1. This tells us that we can’t blame God for our mistakes. We cannot blame Him for our sin. What we’ve done, we’ve done – it’s our fault. Acknowledging and confessing that fact is one of the first steps we take towards seeking God’s forgiveness.
  4. As for Peter, his point was that Jew and Gentile ignored the testimony God gave concerning Jesus – Jew and Gentile were responsible for the death of Jesus. But Jesus’ death was not the end…

24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  1. There was a death, but there was also a resurrection! God raised up Jesus, and Peter (and all of the disciples) were witnesses of this fact. Jesus was truly put to death, being buried in a tomb – but He didn’t stay there. The people of Jerusalem had witnessed Jesus hanging from His cross, and they knew the Romans had certified Him as dead when the centurion thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. They were also aware that His body had been taken & buried, and it was likely a scandal that someone among the Sanhedrin council had actually donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. But the people of Jerusalem knew something else: they knew that Jesus did not stay in that tomb. Less than two months ago, Jesus had risen from the dead, and reports and rumors had been flying around town ever since. (This later becomes a critical factor in Peter’s sermon.)
  2. What took place at the resurrection? Peter describes it as a kind of birth. The word Luke quotes Peter using for “pains,” refers to birth-pains/labor-pains. It was as if Jesus’ grave was a womb, and the three days of death was the time of labor. As of Sunday morning, Jesus received a new birth into new life. How so? It was impossible for Him to be held any longer! The Lord Jesus cannot be restrained by death – death has dominion over the wicked, being the penalty for sin, and Jesus is not wicked! Jesus is the innocent, righteous Son of God, and death has neither claim to Him nor power over Him. Jesus willingly entered death, and He willfully exited it! As the old hymn states: “Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior; he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord! Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!” (Robert Lowry)
  3. How is all of this possible? Because Jesus is God Himself. Death has no power over Jesus because Jesus is the Author of life. How can death hold back He who speaks life into existence? It ought to be no wonder that Jesus arose, because Jesus is God. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection is undeniable proof of Jesus’ deity, and Jesus’ deity is proof that He is the Messiah (something which Peter will go on to preach).
    1. If death has no power over Jesus, what does this mean for those who have faith in Jesus? Death has no power over us, either. Apart from the rapture, all Christians will die. We will experience the same physical death as every other human that has ever lived on this planet. But Christians have an assurance given to no other: death will not be our end. We too, will rise to new physical life, which is one reason we can look to eternity with such great hope! 1 Corinthians 15:55–57, “(55) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    2. Is this your hope? Can you look death in the eye, knowing that you will see victory over it through Jesus? Do you have the complete 100% assurance that death has no more sting for you? You can!
  4. Notice the work of God the Father in all of this: God attested to Jesus – God planned for Jesus’ suffering and death – God raised Jesus from the dead. It was God’s work for God’s Son, in order to provide for God’s people…to God alone be the glory!

Conclusion:

We’ve got to end there, but Peter was just getting started. The Jews in the streets of Jerusalem were attracted by the spoken tongues, but the tongues weren’t the main thing; Jesus was. The supernatural spiritual gifts needed to be explained – and they were, being the evidence of the prophesied outpouring of God the Holy Spirit among His people in the last days – but the gifts of the Spirit weren’t the main event; the gospel was. The gifts simply provided the opportunity for Peter to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s what he did.

And it all fits together. Think about it: if the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was evidence of the Jews being in the last days prior to God’s judgment, and if God invited all to humbly call upon His name in repentance and be saved, then how could the Jews call upon His name? It was one thing for them to pray; it was another thing for them to pray rightly. God had shown them how to call upon Him, and through Whom they needed to call. God had made His will plainly obvious among them when He sent them Jesus of Nazareth, whom they killed. That was an act that could not be ignored, and must be answered. Thankfully it could, all because of Jesus’ resurrection.

Put it together: how could the Jews of Jerusalem call upon the name of the Lord to be saved? By calling on the name of Jesus, the One victorious over death. How can anyone call upon the Lord to he saved? By calling on the name of Jesus!

Don’t miss this! This is the main event – this is what was happening on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost wasn’t about various signs and wonders; it was about the sign of Jesus’ resurrection! Pentecost was simply the day the Christians were fully empowered to go and testify of Him. They weren’t seeking the gifts; they were seeking the Giver, and they were seeking Him for a purpose: in order to give Him glory and to be faithful witnesses of Him.

There are many well-meaning Christians who get this wrong. They seek gift after gift, always looking for new experiences, when the Bible never once tells us to do that. Even when Paul commands the Corinthians to desire the best gifts (1 Cor 12:31, 14:1), it is to be done for the glory of God; not for the sake of the individual. The Holy Spirit doesn’t call attention to Himself; He points to Jesus (Jn 15:26, “He will testify of Me”). His gifts ought to be used in the same way.

Christian: we want to be filled with God the Holy Spirit, and used by the Spirit…but let us want to be used for His purpose, His glory, and His gospel! Let us, like Peter, proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with power – boldly telling others how Jesus was sent by God as the sacrifice for our sins, and raised from the dead as a testimony of His forgiveness. May we never lose sight of what is most important in our calling: the Lord Jesus Himself!

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Empowered to Reap

Posted: May 13, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 2:1-13, “Empowered to Reap”

Birthdays are exciting days! Not just birthday celebrations (which are often a lot of fun), but the actual day of birth. Sometimes they are stressful, sometimes painful, sometimes even frightening – but they are always exciting. Mothers know this better than anyone. (Which is appropriate on a Mother’s Day Sunday!) Although the previous 9 months are often filled with anxiety and discomfort, and the process of labor can be truly painful – all of it vanishes when the mom holds her newborn infant in her arms, and the baby’s cry is the most beautiful sound in the world.

All things have a birthday of sorts. After all, everything has a moment when it first comes into existence, even the church. Just like local church congregations can point back to a day of founding (for us, Thanksgiving Sunday 2004), so can the universal church of the Lord Jesus Christ. THE Church was born on Pentecost, exactly 50 days after Jesus was risen from the dead. And that day was exciting, indeed!

Keep the timeframe in mind: again, this was a mere 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Not yet three full months had passed since Jesus’ glorious arrival in Jerusalem, His public debates with the Jewish authorities, His secret arrest and trials by the same, and His awful torturous execution by the Romans. The whole city had come together for the feast of Passover, with the population swelling from Jews who travelled far & wide to be there, and among them all, no one was ignorant of the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. They were neither ignorant of His death, nor ignorant of His resurrection (as Peter will point out to them later in Chapter 2).

Once Jesus rose from the dead, He spent the next 40 days proving His real, physical life, and teaching His disciples how the Scriptures had foretold it (among other things). Basically, He was preparing them to be witnesses of His resurrection to all the world. In fact, that was His last command to them prior to His ascension. After all this teaching, they were to go back to Jerusalem and wait. Wait for what? The baptism of the Holy Spirit: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” By this point, the disciples had everything they needed in order to testify of Jesus – all expect one major component: power. At the time, the disciples had knowledge; they needed ability. They needed the God-given strength in order to do a God-given task.

So the disciples went back and waited. They didn’t have to wait long…only 10 days. During the time, they continually prayed, trusting God to lead them. God did, as He directed the unified group of disciples to replace the apostolic office abandoned by Judas Iscariot. Matthias took his place among the apostles, and they went back to waiting.

With the 12 apostles restored and the larger group of disciples in ongoing unified prayer, things were ready for the next step. There was another feast of Israel on the near horizon, and God would use it to give birth to Jesus’ church. This is the moment the Christians were to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and they would now be empowered to go out and reap a harvest of souls.

Fair warning: we’re going to tackle some controversial subjects in these Scriptures. At first glance, you might wonder why verses 1-13 need to be handled on their own, when Peter starts preaching in verse 14, and doesn’t even get to the gospel until verse 22. It’s because what takes place at the beginning is confusing for many. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and first use of the gift of tongues in the Bible has led to a lot of debate, and we need to take a few moments on that before we can move on. After all, we need to understand what happened (Spirit baptism & tongues), if we are to understand why it happened (the gospel).

In it all, we see this: If we want to do God’s work, we need to do it God’s way, by God’s power. And there’s good news for all Christians: we can do God’s work – in fact, we are invited & commanded to be a part of it. Be filled with the Spirit, and be empowered!

Acts 2:1–13

  • Baptism of the Spirit (2:1-4)

1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

  1. Before we get too far, we need a bit of background on Pentecost, as other than it being the day when the church was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christians typically do not know too much about it. If you do a search for the word “Pentecost” in the Old Testament, you won’t find it, as it’s a Greek word. The Hebrew feast is actually known as the Feast of Weeks, sometimes referred to as Shavuot. It is one of the three major feasts of Israel, when all of the nation was commanded to assemble before the Lord and worship Him. Leviticus 23:15–16, “(15) ‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. (16) Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.” The “fifty days” is where the Greek name of the feast originated: 5 = “pente”; 50 = “pentekonta.” Thus to the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews of the day, Shavuot/Feast of Weeks became known as Pentecost, as it was 50 days post-Passover (the 7th Sabbath).
  2. Question: How exactly does a harvest festival relate to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church? After all, if Jesus being crucified on Passover is the fulfillment of Jesus being the Passover lamb, and His resurrection is the fulfillment of Firstfruits because Jesus is the firstfruits of those risen from the dead, then how is the Feast of Weeks/Shavuot/Pentecost fulfilled here? Technically, there is a harvest that takes place this day, as we’ll see later in Chapter 2 when 3000 people are saved after Peter preaches the gospel. That sort of harvest (and many others like it) would have been absolutely impossible without the power imparted by the Holy Spirit. But more than that is the rabbinical tradition with Pentecost that associated it with the original reception of the law upon Mt. Sinai. Remember that although the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they didn’t need to wait nearly that long after leaving Egypt in order to receive the Law (Torah) from God. Exodus 19:1–2, “(1) In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. (2) For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.” To count 50 days after the original Passover, that would place Israel at Mt. Sinai sometime “in the third month.” Because of this, the rabbis believed that the Feast of Weeks was not only celebratory of the harvest, but also the reception of the Mosaic law. From the Babylonian Talmud regarding Shavuot, “it is the day on which the Torah was given and there is a mitzva to demonstrate one’s joy on that day,” (Pesachim 68b). So put it all together… 50 days after a substitutionary death that purchased freedom for the Hebrews, they had a birthday as a nation when they received the Law of God. Fast forward in history, and 50 days after the substitutionary death of Christ that purchased freedom for those who believe, His disciples had a birthday as the Church when they received the Spirit of God. Just as fire, smoke, and sound descended upon Mt. Sinai when the Hebrews received the Law, so did something like fire and wind descend upon the disciples when they received the Holy Spirit. Truly, Pentecost is the fulfillment of all of what was celebrated on Shavuot/the Feast of Weeks!
    1. FYI: There is a fulfillment of every feast of Israel within Jesus’ work among His Church. The festivals in the first half of the calendar year are fulfilled in Jesus’ 1st coming (His death, burial, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit); the feasts in the 2nd half of the year are fulfilled in conjunction with His 2nd coming (rapture, tribulation, Millennial Kingdom).
  3. This is a lot of background information with which to begin, but it helps set the expectations. The disciples had been told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem, and He had ascended 40 days after His resurrection. Although they wouldn’t have known for certain, they were likely very expectant of something big happening on Pentecost. They had gathered for unified prayer on a regular basis, but it comes as no surprise that they were all gathered together again in one place on the day of Pentecost for more prayer. This wasn’t a day to be out in the temple or elsewhere in the streets; this was potentially a day of great things from the Lord. (And it was!)

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

  1. The first thing that came was a “” Note, it wasn’t a hurricane force wind, but a sound, as if it was “a rushing mighty wind.” Luke describes it as violent and forcible, propelled throughout the house. A tornado did not blow through the gathering room, but it sure sounded like it!
  2. The sound was appropriate for the occasion, because the Holy Spirit was often likened to the wind. (I.e. Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus – Jn 3) In both Greek and Hebrew, the common words for wind/breath/spirit are all the same (though a slightly modified version is used here). This sound was the first indication something big was happening, but it wasn’t the only thing.

3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.

  1. First there was an audible supernatural sign, now there was a visible one. As with the sound of the wind, this wasn’t actual fire, but something that looked to be like fire. “Divided tongues,” or individual divided flames appeared in the midst of the disciples and each person there received a flame for him/herself.
  2. Just like wind was often a picture of the Holy Spirit, so was fire often a picture of God’s presence and glory. God is a consuming fire (Dt 4:24, Heb 12:29), and the angelic creatures that surround His throne are called “Seraphim,” or “burning ones,” (Isa 6:2). Put these two ideas together, and we get the common picture of God’s glory in smoke & fire among His people. His presence descended on Mt. Sinai in smoke & fire. God’s presence led His people through the wilderness via cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. And perhaps most interesting in relation to Pentecost, what was seen when the original tabernacle and temple were dedicated? God’s presence was seen with fire and smoke! With the tabernacle, the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed the offerings on the altar (Lev 9:24); with the temple, the priests were not able even to minister because the cloud of God’s glory filled the house (1 Kng 8:11). Who are we as the Church? We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, both corporately and individually (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). We are filled with the presence and person of God in much the same way as the original structures!
  3. Who was it that was filled? “Each of them.” None among those gathered was left out; all received. If this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which it was, as it evident by the next verse), then note that no one missed being baptized. If they were there (presumably all being believers in the Resurrected Lord Jesus), they were baptized. This simple fact becomes highly controversial today, because the question then becomes: if it happened like this for the original disciples, is this what we ought to expect as present-day disciples. First things first: this was a unique point in Church history. Just like there was only one crucifixion, one resurrection, and one ascension, there was only one Pentecost. Although audible tongues are repeated throughout the New Testament, visible tongues of fire are not. This was a unique event that happened to the initial disciples on this one day. Thus, some change is expected. How much change is the question. People ask: should all Christians expect to receive the Holy Spirit? Do all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the same time? What’s involved with this baptism of the Holy Spirit? Please note that good scholars come to different conclusions. We come to the best conclusions possible, and hold our convictions with charity. That said, there are a few things on the issue that are absolutely clear:
    1. All Christians have the Holy Spirit. There is more than one ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, one of them (perhaps the most important) is that of His indwelling & sealing. This is what take place the moment someone is “born-again.” Jesus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (Jn 3:5) Without this spiritual birth, no one is saved, and this spiritual birth is what takes place when we believe upon Jesus as the only begotten Son of God given for our sin. The moment we trusted in Jesus, we were (according to Paul) “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance,” (Eph 1:13-14). This takes place with all believers, and without which, we cannot be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. All Christians are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Initially, we see that the disciples were automatically filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of their baptism, but there are other instances in the Book of Acts when the disciples are filled again. (Acts 4:8, 4:31, etc.) Paul even writes of it as a command: Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” If the filling is automatic, why would Christians be commanded to receive it? 
    3. The point? These are two different aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is a moment in which He makes us born-again Christians (the indwelling), and there is a series of times in which He empowers us as Jesus’ witnesses (the filling). Even for the original disciples, this initial work of the Spirit’s indwelling was shown as a separate, distinct act from the Spirit’s baptism. Prior to Jesus’ ascension, He breathed upon the disciples, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). Why would He say & do that, yet still tell them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, if the Spirit wasn’t truly given? This is a different (yet crucial!) work.
    4. So which is it that takes place in Acts 2? The filling. Again, they had already received the indwelling of the Spirit before Jesus ascended to heaven. This was their empowerment, or rather, the moment of their first The baptism happened once; the filling would take place time & time again. – As for us, when does baptism take place? Again, good scholars disagree. The bottom line is whenever you believe you were first baptized with the Holy Spirit, there is no question that you still need His power today! If you’ve never asked for the power of the Holy Spirit, you need to ask – whether you receive it for the 1st time (knowingly) or the 1000th time.
  4. BTW – Notice again how the symbolic fire is described: “divided tongues.” This is the first of two types of tongues in Acts 2, both which use exactly the same word (γλῶσσα). In one case, the tongue was visible; in another, it was audible. The visible tongues set up the way for the audible tongues to follow.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

  1. To this point, all the action had been outside the disciples. The sound had filled the room, and the tongues of fire had appeared and sat upon the Christians. But now things changed, as the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.” What had been external became internal – what had been passively done to them, they now actively participated. At this point, they were now baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled with His power (being the initial filling they ever received), and there was an amazing response that took place. The disciples each spoke in languages they had previously never known, all under the direction and empowerment of God the Holy Spirit.
  2. This brings us to our 2nd major controversy. Several issues are at work: (1) Who/What is the Holy Spirit? (2) What are spoken tongues? (3) Who speaks in tongues & how are they spoken?
    1. Who is the Holy Spirit? This first question is properly a who; not a what. Although we often refer to the Spirit in the 3rd person, the Spirit is a “He” not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is not the energy of God, nor the force generated by God, nor a mere characteristic or attribute of God. The Holy Spirit is God, the 3rd Person of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the very person of God Himself. The Spirit speaks, moves, has emotions, has a will, interacts with others, and more. He is the Spirit, and He is the One who empowers Christians to be witnesses of Christ Jesus.
    2. What are spoken tongues? Simply put, they are languages. The word itself can be used for either the physical organ in our mouths, or languages spoken by others. The type of language is not implied at all by the word; only the fact that it is indeed some kind of language. Contextually in New Testament, these are languages that are otherwise unknown to the speaker. That brings us to the 3rd question…
    3. Who speaks in tongues / How are tongues spoken? Acts 2:4 tells us specifically: “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The only way that true supernatural tongues are possible is via a supernatural move of God the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, this was not something the disciples generated for themselves or were somehow trained to do. They were miraculously empowered and directed by God the Holy Spirit to speak in such a way.
  3. All of this seems rather straightforward. Miraculous, yes, but straightforward. Why then, is there so much controversy on the subject? I suggest three main causes: (1) denial of the gift, (2) abuse of the gift, (3) misunderstanding of the gift.
    1. First, there are those who deny that the gift of tongues exists for the church today. They say that this was a sign gift used for the Church’s launch, but soon passed from history with the death of the original apostolic generation. Many good, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Spirit-indwelt teachers hold this position, but the weight of the Scripture is against them. The single place in the Bible that speaks of the gift of tongues ceasing also speaks of knowledge vanishing (1 Cor 13:8). If one went, the other would be expected to go too. The context of that verse is speaking of heaven and the end of the age; not the end of the original apostles in the 2nd Additionally, in the very next chapter, Paul expressly commands the church not to forbid the speaking of tongues (1 Cor 14:39). If anything, the record of the New Testament is not the vanishing of the gift, but the regulation of it. The Scripture exhorts us to use it properly. That takes us to the next point…
    2. There are many who abuse the gift. They believe that the gift of tongues is the primary evidence of a person’s salvation, and the result is that people invent the use of them when the Holy Spirit hasn’t given them. In some churches, new Christians are even “trained” to speak in tongues through the practice of babbling and ecstatic speaking, something never once commanded nor demonstrated in Scripture. In the New Testament, Christians either spoke in tongues, or they didn’t – no training was required. As a result of this unbiblical practice, many well-meaning Christians believe to have spoken in tongues, when they have not – or are unable to recognize the true gift of tongues when it is actually used. Once again, the teaching of the Bible is against this abuse. Paul makes it clear that there are many varieties of gifts given by the Spirit, and not all people speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:30). In fact, tongues is not even the best of all gifts, as it is not used to edify others (1 Cor 14:5).
    3. At the core of all this is a misunderstanding of the gift. As is clear from the next several verses in Chapter 2 (which provides the one example in all the Bible of any form of interpretation of tongues), the purpose of tongues is to praise God; not to preach to men. On one hand, some believe tongues can only be used to preach the gospel to people of a foreign language – but that simply is not the Biblical record. On the other hand, some believe tongues are used to pray over one another in the church, declaring the prophecies of God – but that isn’t the Biblical record either. Biblically, tongues are one of several gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the only one used exclusively for the personal praise of God. Tongues might be used to get someone’s attention, but it is only the proclamation of the gospel in an understood language that will bring someone to salvation. That’s why Paul to write: 1 Corinthians 14:18–19, “(18) I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; (19) yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Five words in the church could minister to a fellow Christian – five words in the street could preach the gospel; 10,000 words in an unknown language might be a wonderful worship experience, but no more.
  4. This all becomes clear in the next several verses as this first-ever use of the gift of tongues is overheard by others in Jerusalem. It got their attention, and it set the stage for the gospel to be preached.
  • Tongues with the crowd (2:5-13)

5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

  1. The disciples of Jesus were in a house when the Holy Spirit came upon them, but apparently the house wasn’t far removed from a larger crowd. From the later description of 3000 people responding to the gospel preached by Peter, it would seem that the house was likely near the temple, where such a large gathering of Jewish pilgrims would be. For Luke to write that the men had come “from every nation under heaven” is simply for him to say that they had come from all over the Roman empire. When the Jews were first taken into Babylonian captivity, they were scattered all over the known world, and only a relatively small number returned to Israel in order to rebuild their nation. By the time of the Romans, there were pockets of Jews everywhere – which made it natural for the later missionary journeys of Paul, as he would start preaching to the Jews before he went to the Gentiles.
  2. In any case, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers, they started speaking in tongues & they apparently didn’t remain indoors while they did it. This wasn’t a quiet inside prayer meeting; this was loud enough in order to attract attention. Of course, if the sound of the wind was as loud as the text implies, that may have been enough to first catch some ears, but the sound of the voices was what really did it. The amazing thing was that all of these Jews from so many different nations from around the world all heard their own native tongue being spoken.

7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

  1. To be a Galilean was to have a distinct accent. It’s one of the reasons that Peter was so easily identified by the crowd outside the house of Caiaphas while Jesus was on trial. When the disciples started speaking, their accent probably gave them away, and it was quickly evident that these were not normally the sorts of people that spoke the various languages that they heard. Understandably, the people in the crowd were “amazed and marveled.” They weren’t sure what was happening, but they knew something special was going on. Although it’s possible that a handful of people might have known a few languages (Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, perhaps), it was highly unlikely that too many people would have been fluent in the languages that were spoken. 
  2. BTW – Elsewhere in the New Testament, when the gift of tongues is taught, so is the gift of interpretation. In the particular case of Pentecost (and only in the case of Pentecost in the Book of Acts; nowhere else when tongues are displayed), the tongues that were spoken had no need of a supernatural interpretation, because the people who were present were able to interpret it for themselves. Interestingly, the word translated “language” is διάλεκτος (~ dialect). These were languages that were then known & used throughout the Roman empire. A summary of the various languages follows…

9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

  1. Although many have tried to determine some sort of pattern and meaning to the list, the basic idea is clear: name the representative country, and it was spoken. If there was a Jew present from a region of the Roman empire, than among the 120 disciples of Jesus, there was some person who was praising God in that language. No region was left out – this was a comprehensive sweep of the empire, thus a symbolic sweep of the world and a wonderful reversal/restoration of what went wrong at the ancient Tower of Babel. There, God confused the languages to confound the rebellion of men; in Jerusalem, God gave the languages to help them hear of His glories.
  2. The most important part isn’t the various countries and languages; it’s the content of what the people heard in their languages: “the wonderful works of God.” Remember that this is the one example in the entire New Testament that any kind of interpretation/translation is provided of any example of the spiritual gift of tongues. What were the disciples doing? Praising God. They weren’t preaching the gospel, nor were they exhorting one another – they were giving God the glory for the things He has done. In the Hebrew mindset, praise is public – it is something that is proclaimed. There’s a reason why the psalms of praise read the way they do. These were not things that could (or should) be kept locked up in the hearts of the faithful; they were meant to be declared. Psalm 145:4–7, “(4) One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. (5) I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, And on Your wondrous works. (6) Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, And I will declare Your greatness. (7) They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, And shall sing of Your righteousness.” This is the sort of praise that was familiar to the Jews, and doubtless, this was the sort of praise proclaimed by the Pentecost Christians. What exactly it was they said was not recorded, but the heart of what they said was: their declaration of the wonderful works of God.
    1. This is affirmed in Paul’s corrections that he gives to the Corinthian church regarding their abuse and/or confusion with the spiritual gifts (particularly tongues): 1 Corinthians 14:1–4, “(1) Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (2) For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (3) But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. (4) He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” To whom is a prophecy spoken? To whom are tongues spoken? God. This gives us a fantastic clue as to when a real Spirit-given tongue is practiced: when it is done in praise to God, giving Him glory, honoring the Son. A supposed tongue that is interpreted as a message to men is not a tongue at all, nor is a bunch of speech that simply calls attention to itself (and the speaker).
  3. As for the Jews during Pentecost, their attention was put directly upon the Lord God, and that caused them to search for an explanation.

12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” 13 Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

  1. All heard the disciples praising God; several refused to follow them into praise. Some thought the disciples were crazy (1 Cor 14:23), or more to the case, drunk. It was a festival, after all – perhaps these men and women had broke open the booze. They were accused of being “full of new wine,” or the super-sweet wine that was still in the process of fermenting. (γλεῦκος ~ glucose) The truth was exactly the opposite. Like Paul wrote to the Ephesians, these disciples were not filled with wine, but with the Holy Spirit! (Eph 5:18)
  2. Question: What made them mock? Why did the scoffers scoff? The same reason anyone does today: it’s easier to mock Christians than to accept a miracle of Christ. If the skeptics among the Jews recognized a true work of God taking place, then it would mean they would have to respond to that work. Keep in mind that miracles are never done for show or simple entertainment (though they are often treated that way); they are done to authenticate the message of God. That’s exactly what takes place here, and where Peter will pick up with the first evangelistic sermon of the Church Age.

Conclusion:

50 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, His disciples were baptized with God the Holy Spirit. The first made the Church possible (via forgiveness of sin); the second gave the Church birth and power (via the filling of the presence of God). It was an amazing day, and it was only the beginning! Peter was about to launch into the first revival message ever preached, and it would have incredible results. On that festival day celebrating the harvest and the Law of God, the Church was empowered to reap a wonderful harvest as they were filled and baptized with the Spirit of God.

In retrospect, it’s sad that such a joyful day in church history has become such a point of controversy among Christians. It’s not that anyone doubts the facts of what took place that day; it’s that they disagree about how it applies to this day.

Can the day of Pentecost be repeated? No. That was a unique day in history, just like Jesus’ one crucifixion and one resurrection. It can be celebrated and remembered (May 20, 2018!), but we should not expect the sound of wind and visible tongues of fire. We can expect the Spirit’s presence and His power. We can expect to be filled with the Spirit and His gifts. Not all Christians have the same gifts, but all Christians have some gift. Whatever gift you have, it is to be used for the glory of God.

The operative word here is “used.” The gift of tongues that day, however incredible, isn’t the main point. That wasn’t even what the disciples were waiting for. The disciples had been waiting for the Holy Spirit, and they were used by the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who filled them, and the Spirit who gave them utterance. It was the Spirit of God who used them for the glory of God. That is something that every Christian should desire! Whatever someone happens to believe about the various Biblical gifts, to be used by God’s Spirit for God’s glory is wonderful!

That’s something that God desires for all of us. We can be a part of the work of God, but only when we are empowered by Him and directed by Him. Too much of the controversies surrounding these things today exist (1) because people are focusing on gifts, rather than the Giver, (2) people try to force these things for themselves rather than being directed by God, and sometimes sadly (3) people are seeking their own glory rather than the Lord’s. 

Let us, as Bible-believing Christians, be done with that! There is far too much work to do for us to be caught up in such a mess. As Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. How can we be workers? When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. And yes, this is what God desires for you.

Christian, when was the last time you asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you even ever thought to ask?

Another Apostle

Posted: May 6, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 1:12-26, “Another Apostle”

Fans and alumni of Texas A&M University are more than familiar with the concept of the 12th Man. Aggies know the history of E. King Gill, who stood on the sidelines, dressed out & ready to play, as the small A&M football team in 1922 battled with multiple injuries – only to pull an outstanding upset and victory. But Gill had remained ready to go at a moment’s notice, vigilant with purpose. In the years that followed, the entire student body became the proverbial “12th Man,” all them now, ready to play if the need arose.

With the deepest respect to our Aggie friends, the original 12th Man was not found in 1922 with the football team of A&M, but around 33AD among the disciples of Jesus. It was then that a man was found to fill the vacancy left by a traitor (Judas Iscariot), and it was the first time after the ascension of Jesus that the church saw how God led them and would continue to lead them. Jesus had physically departed, but He had not left them alone. As He had said to them in Galilee, with His Great Commission, He would be with them always, “even to the end of the age.”

Of course, those were the events that had led up to this moment. Just barely a month earlier (40+ days), Jesus had been rejected by the Jewish nation, brutally crucified by the Roman Gentiles, and buried in a rich man’s tomb. Three days later He rose, and in the weeks that followed, Jesus had provided abundant proofs that He was alive. He physically appeared to many, ate food in the presence of witnesses, continued to teach the Scriptures to His disciples, and more. In the end, Jesus commanded the disciples two things for the immediate time: to wait & to witness. They were to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Who (being the 3rd Person of the Godhead) would empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world. They would testify of the Risen Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. With this final command, Jesus demonstrated one more miracle: His physical ascension straight up into the clouds (a visible manifestation of the glory of God). Staring into the sky, lost in wonder, the disciples were spurred back into the present by two angels who told them although Jesus had gone up miraculously, He would return in the same way. (We weren’t there to see Jesus rise, but we will be with Him at His return…and it will be glorious!)

So what now? Now the disciples needed to be obedient to the first part of their command: they needed to wait. But something else needed to happen before they could be used by God to preach the gospel to the nation of Israel: they needed their numbers restored. When Jesus originally chose 12 men to be His apostles, He hadn’t chosen a random figure; this was a number with a purpose. Just as there are 12 tribes of Israel, there were 12 apostles – men meant to provide leadership to the church and to sit in judgment over the 12 Hebrew tribes. On the night of the Last Supper (ironically after Jesus had just provided an incredible demonstration of His own humility), the disciples broke out into an argument about who would be greatest in the kingdom. Chastising them, Jesus instructed all of them to be humble, but also told them of the glories to come: Luke 22:28–30, “(28) But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. (29) And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, (30) that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” God has a purpose for 12 apostles, so 12 were needed.

Peter, James, John, and the others knew this, but now they faced a problem: there were only 11. What to do? Answer: pray, and trust God to provide for His church. And He did! Jesus always provides for His church, because it is (we are) His church. He is the One to build it, and we can trust that He is the One to keep it. 

Acts 1:12–26

  • The apostles pray (12-14)

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

  1. Jesus’ ascent into the clouds of glory had been just outside Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, which was not only the place of His ascension, but will also be the place of His return. It is extremely close to the city, being what Luke described as a “Sabbath day’s journey.” This was a common measurement used by the rabbis to describe the acceptable maximum distance that could be travelled by a Jew on a Sabbath day without it falling into the category of “work.” Long hikes can be labor-intensive, and that was to be guarded against on the day of rest. Over time, the rabbis came up with a distance of 2000 cubits (estimates range from one-half to two-thirds a mile), which was the estimated distance that someone from the furthest end of the Hebrews camping in the wilderness would need to travel in order to arrive at the Tabernacle for worship.
  2. Last week, we observed that the Book of Acts can be thought of as a sequel (or part 2) of Luke’s gospel, picking up the account of Jesus’ works among His church where the gospel account left off. With that in mind, there might appear to be a bit of contradiction with the end of the previous book. According to Luke 24:50, it would seem that Jesus had ascended from Bethany, which is slightly further away from Jerusalem & more than a Sabbath’s day journey, being a little less than 2 miles away. Upon closer inspection, there is no contradiction at all. Luke 24:50 says that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany,” being an approximation of distance, and on the way to Bethany, as the Mount of Olives plainly is. Considering that Luke is the author of both accounts, it would be highly unlikely for him to so easily contradict himself, and he doesn’t do it here or anywhere else. (Always give the Bible the benefit of the doubt! A little research usually clears up any potential problem.)

13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.

  1. This is the same list of apostles as seen in the gospel accounts, with the obvious exception of Judas Iscariot now lacking. “Simon the Zealot” is known elsewhere as “Simon the Canaanite,” and “Judas the son of James” is the same as Thaddaeus/Labbaeus. The various lists generally demonstrate a different order of names (although Peter is always first), but it doesn’t usually mean much. Sometimes brothers were listed together – other times not. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were part of Jesus’ inner-circle of friends, but all were equally apostles with one another, being specifically chosen by Jesus to testify of Him and His teaching to the world.
  2. The 11 were in “the upper room,” potentially the same upper room in which they had celebrated the Passover last supper with Jesus (Lk 22:12). Yet they weren’t alone.

14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

  1. Who else was there? At the very least, the “women” who had followed Jesus throughout His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – Mk 16:1), as well as Jesus’ earthly family: His mother Mary, and “His brothers” (James, Joses, Judas/Jude, and Simon – Mk 6:3).
  2. The inclusion of Jesus’ brothers (half-brothers, technically) is very significant. During Jesus’ ministry, they didn’t believe Him – in fact, they seemed to mock Him. John 7:2–5, “(2) Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. (3) His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. (4) For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (5) For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” No other mention of His brothers is made in the gospels, apart from one time when they and their mother attempt to pull Jesus away from one of His earlier teachings, regarding the unpardonable sin (Mk 3:31-35). Although Mary seemed to have believed the word of God regarding Jesus, her other children did not. Why would they? You might respect your older siblings, but it’s highly doubtful you would believe any of their claims to deity! … By the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, there’s no account that any of His brothers believed, yet all of a sudden they are in the upper room with the other apostles and they had come to faith. What happened? The resurrection! Remember that there were many infallible proofs that Jesus had risen from the dead (Acts 1:3). One of these proofs was a personal appearance by Jesus to His brother James (1 Cor 15:7). Once they were convinced that Jesus was truly alive, they had all the proof they needed that their Brother’s claim was true.
  3. So that’s who was gathered. What were they all doing? They were united in prayer. That the gathered group of disciples would be praying, seeking the will of God is not surprising. What makes this prayer different than much prayer among the church today is the fact that (1) it was continual, (2) it was done in “one accord.” Luke uses the word ὁμοθυμαδόν (homothumadon), and it is an important descriptor in the Book of Acts, being almost entirely exclusive to Acts (apart from one use by Paul in Romans 15:6). As a compound word (“homos,” same + “thumos,” anger/passion) it speaks of unanimity. One dictionary describes it as the “inner unity of a group faced by a common duty or danger,” (NIDNTT). When soldiers are in the heat of battle, they are trained to come together as a group. There’s no thought to other hobbies or pet-projects; their singular focus is to stay alive and defeat their enemy. That’s ὁμοθυμαδόν. That’s how the original group of disciples prayed.
    1. What does the church still need today? ὁμοθυμαδόν. We need unity, especially in terms of prayer! How often do we come together with our own individual agendas? How often do we seek to show others how “spiritual” we are? It’s no wonder that the prayers of the church sometimes seem powerless; we often pray selfishly for our own ends, rather than united humbly seeking the will of God.
  • The apostles’ lack (15-20)

15 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said,

  1. 19 individuals were mentioned between the apostles, the women, and Jesus’ family (enough to make a small upper room crowded all by itself!). Even so, they weren’t alone. All totaled, there were 120 people who believed (“disciples”) in Jerusalem. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean there were only 120 Christians, period. Paul wrote that there was one time when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once (1 Cor 15:6). It’s possible that post-resurrection appearance was in Galilee, as Jesus had given instructions to the apostles to meet Him there. If so, that would explain the difference between the numbers. The Galileans would have remained at home, while the others (plus the 11 apostles, Jesus’ family, etc.,) returned to Jerusalem.
  2. Among the 120, Peter stood up, taking the lead among the group. Peter was a leader among the church, but he wasn’t the leader among the church at Jerusalem. That role seems to have been filled by James, the brother of Jesus (Acts 15). That said, Peter did have an important role among the church, and the Book of Acts is going to follow his ministry through Chapter 12 (or so).

16 “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17 for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”

  1. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot was prophesied. It was written in the Scripture, and the “Scripture had to be fulfilled.” It was necessary. How so? It was necessary on two levels: (1) Prophetic Scriptures have to be fulfilled, if they are to be valid Scripture. The Scriptures foretold Jesus’ betrayal, and Jesus Himself prophesied of Judas’ betrayal on several occasions. (Lk 9:44, 22:21) If Jesus is a prophet to be believed, then every prophecy He stated must come true. False prophecies = false prophets, and Jesus is no false prophet! (2) Without a betrayal, there is no arrest by the Jews. Without an arrest, there is no cross. Without a cross, there is no salvation. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was an essential part of the plan of God for our salvation. Although the betrayal was an awful sin & crime against God, freely chosen by the will of Judas Iscariot, it was absolutely necessary that Judas chose to do so. Without it, we would not be saved. (Such is the sovereignty of God, that His plan is fulfilled even in our sinful free choices!)
  2. That said, just because Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus didn’t mean that Judas Iscariot did not have a valid ministry. He too, had been chosen by Jesus, and was a full-fledged apostle. As Peter said, “he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.” Judas had been named by Jesus at the same time Jesus named everyone else among the 12. Out of all the people who followed Jesus from place to place, Jesus specifically & purposefully chose Judas Iscariot to be one of His named apostles, all the while knowing what Judas would do to Him. For three years, Judas listened to every message, witnessed every miracle, and even preached the good news of the gospel during the various short-term mission trips when Jesus sent out the apostles. In all likelihood, Judas even performed miracles in the name of Jesus, as all of the disciples rejoiced that they were able to cast out demons in His name, etc. (Lk 10:17) By no means was Judas Iscariot a lesser apostle; he was a true apostle, even if he was a false convert. That’s what Peter notices as a problem. Previously, they had 12 true, valid apostles. Now they lack one. This is what needed to be addressed.
  3. As an aside…don’t miss how Peter describes the process of the inspiration of Scripture. “The Holy Spirit spoke…by the mouth of David.” The words of the Bible are the words of God the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit was not the One to write them down. The Spirit spoke, using other men to speak under His direction. When Paul later writes to Timothy about all Scripture being inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), the word “inspired” literally is “God-breathed.” God the Spirit breathed it out into the authors, who wrote according to their own personalities and styles, but wrote precisely the words intended by God for them to write. Peter put it another way in one of his own letters: 2 Peter 1:20–21, “(20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, (21) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” When we read the words of the Bible, we read the words of God. (Value it as such!)
  4. Peter is about to reference the Scripture that David wrote, being inspired by the Spirit, but before he does, Luke provides a bit of follow-up information about Judas.

18 (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. 19 And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

  1. Gory, but true. Judas went to a terrible fate, and even his body ended up bloody and defiled. Some have noticed some differences between Luke’s account here & Matthew’s account where he writes how Judas threw the thirty coins of silver back into the temple & went out to hang himself (Mt 27:3-8). These are differences, but not discrepancies. Each gospel writer simply points out different details. Judas did throw back the coins, but the priests were not allowed to receive the money back into the temple treasury because it was blood money. Instead they bought a field belonging to a potter, with the people eventually calling it the “Field of Blood,” (Mt 27:7-8). Thus Luke could write that Judas “purchased” it, albeit indirectly. Apparently, that was the field in which he chose to hang himself, and his unburied body rotted in the sun.
  2. The most tragic aspect about this isn’t the gory end, but the fact that the person who most needed the forgiveness of Jesus apparently never received it. This was a man who died in utter despair, and the guilt from his heinous sin consumed him. 

20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’

  1. Peter references two psalms: Psalm 69:24–25, “(24) Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them. (25) Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents.”Psalm 109:7–9, “(7) When he is judged, let him be found guilty, And let his prayer become sin. (8) Let his days be few, And let another take his office. (9) Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow.” Both are royal imprecatory psalms, meaning that they are psalms of David written as prayers to God against his enemies. They aren’t exactly models for us today – we are to pray for those who persecute us, but we’re to pray God’s mercy upon them that they might come to faith in Christ. But David’s imprecatory prayers were honest, and we’re always to pray honestly to God. More than that, David’s prayers were prophetic, looking forward to the betrayal of the Messiah, and the justice of the wrath of God being poured out on the wicked traitor. Although at first glance, the portions quoted by Peter might seem to contradict (let his place be desolate vs. let him be replaced), the psalms actually speak of exactly the same thing: the judgment of God upon the wicked. Bottom line: Judas was forever condemned, which required that his apostolic office be replaced.
  2. Yet how does one go about choosing an apostle, when originally it was Jesus who chose all of them? That’s what Peter goes on to suggest. 
  • The apostles restored (21-26)

21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

  1. The apostles had a very important qualification: among other things, they had each been present during all of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Although there was a larger group of disciples that had followed Jesus from place to place, not all had been with Jesus during the entire three years of ministry. How much of the ministry had they witnessed? The entire thing. The apostles had been there from baptism to ascension (from A-Z). Thus, anyone else chosen as a replacement for Judas Iscariot would be required to have done the same thing. They had to have witnessed the same miracles, heard the same testimony of God the Father regarding His Son (baptism), listened to the same teachings, etc. Anyone among the apostolic group had to be able to testify about Jesus in the same way as any of the others. As might be expected, that would have considerably narrowed the list of possibilities.
    1. FYI: This is why Paul (or Barnabas, or anyone else) cannot be viewed as the same sort of apostle as the 12. It is also why Paul could not have been chosen as a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Paul had not been present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection, and had received personal instruction from Jesus as had the other 12 apostles – but he could not fit the qualifications required for this specific apostolic office.
  2. Question: If this potential person was present with Jesus and the others the whole time, he would already be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Why then, does Peter say that this person “must become a witness with us of His resurrection”? Remember that Peter is speaking of an apostolic office. This man would have been present among the apostles, but (to this point) he had not been named by Jesus as one of His apostles. That’s why Peter speaks in terms that it hasn’t yet happened. This person would “become a witness,” and it was necessary that he become a formal witness. In a sense, it was like ordination. When someone is ordained to ministry, it isn’t the church all of a sudden imparting to a man a pastoral gift; it is the church recognizing the pastoral call and gifting upon the man. It’s a public recognition of what God has already done. This was what needed to happen among the apostles.
    1. Keep in mind that the word “apostle” basically refers to someone who is sent-out. An apostle is a messenger / an ambassador. In a sense, all of the 120 in the room with Peter were ambassadors of Jesus. They had all been commissioned by Christ to go preach the gospel to the world. But they weren’t all part of the 12. The 12 apostles were part of an official, limited office of the church. This is no different today. We are all witnesses; but we aren’t that kind of witness. We too, have an apostolic ministry in the fact that we have been sent out by Jesus – but we do not carry with us the apostolic authority as did the 12 who laid the foundation for the church, with Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20).
  3. Implicit in this, by the way, is the fact that an apostle of Jesus had to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only was the man to have been there from baptism-to-ascension, but he could not “become a witness” of Jesus’ resurrection, if he had not already been an eyewitness of the resurrection. That was a non-negotiable qualification for the apostolic ministry.
    1. In fact, it’s a non-negotiable for Christianity in general. Obviously we do not have the experience of laying our physical eyes upon the physical person of Jesus (Him being ascended into heaven), but we cannot be witnesses of Jesus without being witnesses of His resurrection. One is dependent upon the other. Those who do not believe that Jesus is literally risen from the dead have no claim to the label of “Christian,” despite whatever their church membership might be. If you do not firmly believe and know that the Lord Jesus is truly alive, then you are not a Christian, period. We are not made “Christian” through church memberships, seminary degrees, charitable giving, good behavior, or anything else. We are Christians because we believe in the Risen Christ. We know the Risen Christ. We have interacted with the Risen Christ when we asked Him to forgive us our sins and make us the children of God. If we have not done that, then we cannot be witnesses of His resurrection, and we cannot be His witnesses at all.
  4. Among the 120, there were surely several from which they could choose. Having spent time in unified prayer being led by God, they were able to come up with a short-list of two names, but they rightly understood that this was a decision they could not make themselves. Just as Jesus had chosen the original 12, God would have to choose Judas’ replacement. 

23 And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

  1. How did they pray? First, they trusted in the all-knowing God. As Peter said, God is the one “who knows the hearts of all.” The word used by Luke is interesting, because it is literally “heart-knower,” and is absent from the secular literature. It’s possible that Luke invented it, and it was picked up by other Christian writers. If the heart is the seat of our emotions, often being interchangeable with “mind” or “soul,” then Luke is using a word that basically says that God knows us best. God knows our motives, emotions, thoughts, ideas, hopes, inner-most beings – He knows our hearts. God knows the things about us that are unknown to all, even sometimes being unknown to ourselves.
    1. There are days we cannot trust ourselves. We experience a roller-coaster of emotions, and go through things when we don’t know which way is up. How should we pray? To our God, the heart-knower. God knows what is in our hearts, and we can pray to Him when we have no clue how to pray. In fact, that’s one of the gifts that God gives to His children. We may not know how to pray for ourselves, but God does. Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” We pray to God the Father through the name and work of the Lord Jesus, being empowered and led by the Holy Spirit…and in the process, God the Holy Spirit is Himself praying for us the whole time, ensuring that we are praying according to the Father’s will.
    2. Not only is it an amazing gift that God is our heart-knower, but it might also be a sobering thought. We are not able to pull a fast-one on God. We might be able to put on a public face and lie to everyone else, but it is impossible to lie to God without Him knowing it. Contextually, Peter and the others prayed that God would guard them from another false convert. Judas Iscariot had been named & numbered by Jesus, but although Jesus knew his heart, none of the other apostles did. They were trusting God to choose someone whose heart was pure, and that was something only God Himself could know. He knows it about us, too. He knows when we’re being sincere & when we’re pretending religion. He knows our hearts. 
  2. Second, they prayed to the God who already had a plan in motion. God’s choice had already been made: “You have chosen.” Again, the actions and prayers of the apostles here were simply to publicly acknowledge and confirm the thing already done by God (like ordination). The replacement for Judas was already named in the mind of the Lord – what the apostles were praying was that God would reveal His mind to them.
  3. Third, the apostles prayed to God knowing that this was limited. Judas had fallen, and gone to not only physical but eternal destruction. But outside of Judas Iscariot, no other apostle was replaced. Obviously, at this time there was no need – but it’s interesting to note that when James the brother of John dies during the persecution of Herod (Acts 12:2), no similar attempt is made to replace him. Judas had left a vacancy in his office, but once it was filled, it was forever filled. Remember that Jesus had said that the apostles would sit on thrones in heaven, judging the tribes of Israel. These men have a future responsibility in the Millennial Kingdom, and it’s not something that can be passed to anyone else today.
    1. This tells us that there is no such thing as apostolic successors. There is no papal lineage. The only authority passed by the apostles from generation to generation is that of the Scriptures and the gospel itself. Any other claim to apostolic authority died with the 12 in the first century.

26 And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

  1. Joseph Barsabas Justus may have had the longer name, but Matthias was the Lord’s choice. Lots were thrown (like dice, along the lines of Yahtzee), and his was the name that won the throw. Matthias joined the ranks of the apostles, being “numbered with the eleven,” not having any kind of “lesser” place among them.
    1. Aside from this one mention, we know nothing about Matthias. His name is absent from Scripture, and only legend exists of his potential ministry in Jerusalem and stoning to death by the Jews. But his relative anonymity doesn’t mean he was less valuable. The fact is that we don’t know much about the majority of Jesus’ apostles, at least according to Scripture. A person doesn’t have to be famous, in order to have been used by God!
  2. Regarding the lots, was this dumb luck? No – it was the Lord’s choice. And it had precedence in the Bible. The original priests were commanded to carry the mysterious Urim and Thummim (Exo 28:30). What these were exactly is unsaid in Scripture, but they seem to have functioned somewhat like dice. On a yes/no question, the priest would pray and the Lord could direct him to grab either one or the other in order to determine the Lord’s answer.
    1. Are we supposed to do this today? No…no command in the New Testament is ever given us to cast lots in making decisions. Likewise, we’re also not commanded to choose replacement apostles! This was a unique time in the history of the church, and things were about to drastically change with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today, we pray for wisdom, pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and make the best choices possible as led by God. When we lack wisdom, we have the full invitation to pray to God for it, and He will grant it in abundance. He will give it liberally, and without reproach (Jas 1:5).

Conclusion:

In all of this, please do not miss the timing. When did this take place? In-between the ascension of Jesus, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. During that short interval of time (10 days), had God left the church alone? Not in the slightest. Even here, God will still leading His people, guiding them, ensuring that they were prepared for the things they would face, fully prepared for the future.

Our God never leaves us alone! He never forsakes us, never abandons us. As the church of Jesus Christ, He gives us everything we need to serve Him, and to witness of Jesus to the world. There is not a thing that we lack in the Lord our God.

Do you trust God to guide you? Even during times that it seems as if He is not present, He is. Do you trust Him in those times, too? He will never abandon His church. He never has; He never will.

There’s one unmentioned aspect of all this. Matthias may have been chosen as the 12th apostle, but Joseph Barsabas Justus was ready to go. He was fully prepared in his heart to be used by God for the apostolic ministry, standing ready as the proverbial “12th Man.” How about you? Are you ready to go at a moment’s notice? If God were to commission you for a ministry right now, would you be ready to go? Or is there sin in your life that needs to be confessed – unfinished business that might hold you back? 

Empowered Witnesses

Posted: April 29, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 1:1-11, “Empowered Witnesses”

Although some people are naturally nervous, three situations tend to make everyone nervous more than other times. (1) Public speaking – in fact, some people fear public speaking more than death! (2) Medical visits and procedures, be it dental cleanings or major surgeries. (3) Legal issues, and any interaction we have with the government or with certain kinds of attorneys. Settling legal issues is inherently stressful, and it often puts lawyers and witnesses on opposite sides of one another.

As stressful as they can be, legal documents are often necessary, even beneficial. Some of them can even benefit the Church…the Book of Acts is one such document.

Although there’s more to it than that, it seems that one of the primary purposes of the Book of Acts was to provide a legal apology (defense ~apologetics) for the apostle Paul as he awaited trial in Rome, as well as a legal apology/defense for the Christian Church as a whole. The Church was barely 30 years old when Luke wrote his second book, and already persecution was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. It had begun at the hands of the Jews and local pagan idolaters, but would soon spread to the Roman government itself…which may have been what Luke attempted to head off before it got worse. What was Rome supposed to think of this new religion and its apostles? What did this faith teach? Should Christians be considered as threats? Luke answers these questions (and more) by recording a legal history of the Church’s beginning. He provides written evidence, based off the original eyewitnesses of Christianity, making it possible for the Roman officials to read it for themselves.

In the process, Luke preaches the gospel of Christ, being himself an eyewitness to the things of the Church and the glories of Jesus Christ building the Church through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Luke does it, he teaches us to do the same.

The author of the Book of Acts is, of course, Luke. Technically, the book is anonymous as Luke never once identifies himself by name, but tradition, writing style, the stated connection with the gospel book, and other internal clues make it certain that Luke is the author. He was a physician & sometimes-travelling companion of Paul, who met Paul during his 2nd missionary journey around the time that Paul received his famous Macedonian call. (Acts 16:9) It seems likely that they met in Troas, as that is when the narrative in the Book of Acts changes from the 3rd person (he/them) to the 1st person (me/us).

Like most Biblical books, the date of writing is debated, though it seems likely that Acts was authored between 61-63AD, no later. Although liberal theologians attempt to date Acts somewhere around 80AD, it seems totally implausible, given the circumstances. In 64AD, Rome suffered a horrendous fire, and Nero blamed the Christians. As a result of this blame, Peter and Paul were both arrested and executed by Nero’s government somewhere around 65-67AD, yet there is zero mention of any of these events in Acts. Considering the amount of detail Luke gave to the persecutions suffered by Peter and Paul, it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have mentioned these things, if they had happened. Instead, the book of Acts concludes with Paul’s initial arrival in Rome (and a brief summary of a 2-year stay under house-arrest). IOW, Luke ends with Paul’s thriving ministry rather than a death sentence hanging over his head. From Paul’s later letters, it seems that he was initially released from this house arrest, being able to continue his ministry until after the fire of Rome. Once again, Luke is silent on any further missionary travel from Paul, which surely would have been included if Luke wrote after the fact. All of the evidence points to an early date.

As to the writing, the book itself is a sequel to Luke’s namesake gospel. Both works are addressed/dedicated to the unknown “Theophilus,” and Luke specifically references his other work in 1:1 (as we’ll see). This book truly is a “Part 2,” with Part 1 being the presentation of the gospel, and Part 2 being the gospel in action. In Part 1, Jesus laid the foundation for His Church; in Part 2, Jesus guided His Church as God the Holy Spirit gave birth to it and empowered it.

With that in mind, where did Part 1 leave off? With the victory of Jesus’ resurrection! After three years of miraculous ministry, Jesus had been finally rejected by Jew and Gentile, delivered to a torturous death via crucifixion, and finally had His lifeless body buried in a tomb, being witnessed by many. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, with His very real physical resurrection being attested by multiple eyewitnesses no later than that same Sunday evening. As Luke’s gospel concluded, Luke summarized the days that followed, showing how Jesus gave the disciples understanding of the Scriptures concerning Himself, and commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus ascended into heaven, with the disciples going forth in joy.

What’s next? Luke picks up right where he left off, backtracking just a bit to review some of the details of those final days and provide a bit more information, which sets up the future ministry soon to come. As might be expected, anyone’s last words carry much weight and importance – and when they are the parting words of the Lord Jesus to His apostles, His words are weighty indeed! The earthly days of Jesus may have ended, but the days of His work through Church were just beginning. The Christians had a job to do, and a commission to fulfill, and they needed the power of God to do it. They were going to be witnesses of Jesus unto the world, and it would only be possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our job has not changed, nor has the source of our power. Be a witness – and be empowered by the Spirit to be an effective one!

Acts 1:1–11

  • Jesus’ continuing ministry (1-3)

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

  1. Right off the bat, there is a specific reference to an earlier book, obviously the Gospel of Luke. Again, both books are dedicated to “Theophilus,” with the Gospel reference using an honorific: “most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:3) Because the name is a compound word in Greek meaning “Lover of God,” some have thought this to be a generic name addressing any lover of God who might read the book. In actuality, the word is a quite common name from the time of the Roman Empire, and the honorific indicates that Theophilus was a man of some importance – perhaps a Roman dignitary, or even someone who financed Luke’s writing of the book. In the end, Theophilus is unknown apart from these two mentions from Luke, but we can be glad he existed…without him, we might not have nearly a third of our New Testament! (27%)
  2. The tie to the previous book is importance, because although that book had concluded, the work of God had not. Notice how Luke described the ministry of Jesus: He only “began.” Jesus did much and taught much during His three years leading up to the cross and resurrection, but Jesus’ ministry isn’t over! His earthly ministry was only the beginning. The traditional title to the Book of Acts is technically, “The Acts of the Apostles,” and some Bible teachers have suggested that it ought to be called, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” but in a very real sense, it ought to be called, “More Acts of Jesus, and Act of the Holy Spirit as He Empowered the Apostles to Act.” (But that gets rather lengthy! 😊 ) Although the Holy Spirit has a prominent role in the Book of Acts, by no means is Jesus done acting. His work of the substitutionary atonement (the sacrifice on the cross) is done, demonstrated by His declaration “It is finished!” – but His work among the Church continues. Jesus taught the disciples leading up to His ascension – Jesus worked with His Father in sending the Holy Spirit – Jesus stood at the right hand of God when Stephen was being martyred – and Jesus personally appeared to Saul/Paul at his conversion, and spoke to Ananias as to how to minister to Saul after he was converted.
    1. Even then, Jesus’ work isn’t yet complete. The Lord Jesus still works among His church today! None of us would be here, if it were not for the active work of the living Lord Jesus. No one would be saved if Jesus were not still active and working. Praise God that at the time of Luke, Jesus had only begun to work! May He continue to be glorified through His wondrous work around the world!

2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

  1. Summary/recap of the last chapter of Luke’s gospel. The discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday morning was the climax of Jesus’ ministry, but (again) it was not the end. It wasn’t even the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke wrote of Jesus’ Sunday afternoon walk to Emmaus with two disciples, His Sunday evening appearance to the whole group of disciples, and an overview of His teaching up to the ascension, but there was much more. What Luke wrote initially (and here) was just a small portion of everything that took place. There were 40 active days of ministry. As the apostle John wrote in his gospel, there simply aren’t enough books and papers to contain it all! (Jn 21:29)
  2. During those 40 days, Jesus repeatedly “presented Himself alive” through all kinds of “infallible proofs.” Again, Luke provided a handful of instances, but there were many more. What kind of proofs are “infallible proofs”? This is actually one word in the Greek, and it is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It speaks of something convincing & decisive – something that is unmistakable. When used in secular Greek for logical arguments, it is a “compelling sign.” (NIDNTT) Bottom line: it’s something so true, it’s in-your-face true. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something that can be easily dismissed or explained away. One disciple might have a hallucination – another might be delirious from desire or grief – a few disciples might engage in a conspiracy from a single appearance; the reality of what happened was drastically different. Jesus appeared so many times to so many people, engaging in so many things, that there simply isn’t any getting around it. Jesus IS alive, and He proved it to literally hundreds of people for well over a month!
    1. Because it’s true, it demands a response. We need to choose to believe!
  3. Once again, Luke summarizes those forty days of ministry, but he records two important commands from Jesus as He prepared to leave His disciples. 
  • Jesus’ commands to wait & to witness (4-8)

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

  1. Command #1: don’t depart; wait. The natural tendency for the disciples would have been for them to leave Jerusalem. The vast majority of the eleven remaining apostles were Galilean, so surely they would have wanted to return home. Apparently, they had already made at least one trip to Galilee after the Passover Resurrection (Mt 28:16), only to journey back to Jerusalem for Jesus’ ascension. All of this was done at Jesus’ command, so they were happy to do it, but they were still all visitors in Jerusalem – it wasn’t their home. Besides, they were too excited to stand still! How could they stay in one place? (Who wouldn’t be excited? Jesus is risen from the dead!) But Jesus gave them a very specific command: wait.
  2. To be more exact, the word translated “wait” is actually “wait for.” This is more than just a “hanging out” remaining; this is an expectant waiting for someone or something else. We might ask the question: Wait for what? Or better phrased, wait for Whom? Jesus told them: The Holy Spirit, who is the “Promise of the Father.” On the night of Jesus’ arrest, He repeatedly taught the disciples how the Holy Spirit would soon be sent to them.
    1. John 14:16–17, “(16) And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—(17) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
    2. John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
    3. John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”
    4. John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
    5. Get the picture? Over & over again, Jesus promised the third person of the Triune God would be sent to the disciples. Although Jesus was leaving them, He would not leave them orphans. They would not be left alone. The Spirit was promised by God the Father and by God the Son, and God does not break His word!
  3. Not only would the Holy Spirit come to them, He would come in a miraculous way. The Spirit would soon baptize them, akin to John’s baptism by water. John the Baptist himself had spoken of this ministry of the Spirit long ago, before Jesus’ earthly ministry had even begun. To the Jews, John had contrasted his own ministry of water baptism with the Messiah who would soon come after him, saying that this One would “baptize [them] with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Lk 3:16) No doubt there is an implied reference to judgment (the holy purifying fire of God), but the fire of God isn’t all Later, on the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire would be seen above the heads of the disciples as they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the fire of God within them would soon turn the world upside-down!
    1. Jesus’ point was that this baptism was something special, and something needed. He will explain the reason for it in verse 8.
  4. How soon would this baptism come? Very soon! At the time, Jesus told the disciples, “not many days,” but if this was spoken on the 40th day after His resurrection, then this baptism was only 10 days away. The disciples didn’t have long to wait! Barely a week and a half later, the Holy Spirit would come upon them in powerful miraculous ways. We can only imagine how the anticipation must have risen in the hearts of the apostles. After all, Jesus’ resurrection was incredible enough – imagine what would come next! 
  5. This kind of move of God the Holy Spirit obviously got their attention. Surely something big would be happening – and it was, though it wasn’t what they expected. Their minds were on something physical.

6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

  1. Notice that the disciples expected a literal Although there is much within Jesus’ teaching that indicates a spiritual kingdom of God in which we now live and participate, it is evident that Jesus’ kingdom teaching was not only of a spiritual kingdom. The disciples who had heard every single teaching ever given by Jesus (far more than what is recorded in the Bible), had every expectation of the arrival of a literal physical kingdom on planet earth. And with good reason! The Old Testament is full of prophecies of a restored kingdom of Israel, one that would stretch over the entire earth. God told David that his future Messianic Son would have a the throne of His kingdom established forever (2 Sam 7:13) – God spoke to Isaiah of how the nations of the world would one day flow to the mountain of the Lord and how He would judge between them (Isa 2:2-4) – Zechariah wrote of how the nations of the world would come “to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles,” (Zech 14:16), a very specific reference to a physical kingdom & festival. To detail every prophecy of a future physical kingdom of Israel would literally take days, as it is a constant focus of the Old Testament prophets. For modern theologians to simply dismiss it all as spiritual symbolic language is to willfully blind themselves to the written word of God.
  2. All that to say, the disciples understood the prophecies of the Old Testament, and they understood the kingdom teaching of Jesus. Certainly there is a dual aspect to the kingdom: a now & not-yet, in which we live as kingdom citizens now while awaiting the future literal fulfillment of that kingdom. The disciples understood this, and asked if this was the time for this literal fulfillment/restoration. It was a correct expectation; it was incorrect timing & incorrect focus, as Jesus goes on to point out to them. 

7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.

  1. Incorrect timing. The timing was up to God the Father; not them. The timing of the kingdom wasn’t their responsibility; it belonged to God. Not even the Son knew the exact timing of the Kingdom during His earthly ministry. Speaking of the moment of His return in glory, Jesus told the disciples: Mark 13:32–33, “(32) “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (33) Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Although it might seem strange that some information might be hidden from the knowledge of the 2nd person of the Godhead, apparently that was exactly the case, at least while Jesus was on earth (which He still was in Acts 1, prior to His ascension). The timing of the moment of His return (and thus the institution of the earthly Millennial Kingdom) was not yet revealed to Him. As Jesus said, these things belonged to the Father – they were “in His own authority.” If God the Son didn’t know, then there was no way the disciples of the Son would know!
    1. How often Christians still forget this today! How many times do believers need to be fooled by date-setters before we remember that Christians aren’t supposed to be setting dates for Jesus’ return? Those “times and seasons” are not revealed to us – they aren’t for us to know. If we were able to figure out the precise day of Jesus’ return, no doubt we would postpone everything we could until that day… We aren’t to be lazy servants; we’re to watch at all times for our Lord Jesus!
    2. Question: Didn’t Jesus specifically tell people to watch for seasons? Yes – Mark records it just a few verses earlier: Mark 13:28–29, “(28) “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (29) So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!” If Christians are supposed to watch for the Lord’s return as a gardener watches for the changes in trees, how is that reconciled with what Jesus told the disciples in Acts 1:7? Answer: There’s a difference between watching for Jesus in readiness & attempting to pinpoint dates, hours, and minutes. Yes, we are to be aware of fulfilled prophecy, and be ever-expectant regarding our Lord’s soon return; No, we are not to obsess about pinpointing every single news headline to a countdown clock & calendar. Leave to the Lord what belongs to the Lord; we’ve got other things to do. 
  2. Not only was it incorrect timing; it was an incorrect focus. The Lord Jesus had a different job for the apostles and for all of His disciples. They were to be witnesses.

8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

  1. The command to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied a second command of Jesus: to “be witnesses” of Jesus. Technically, the grammar shows this to be a future tense, rather than an imperative (command), but the end result is the same. This was what the disciples would be doing for Jesus. They weren’t to be date-setters; they were to be witnesses.
  2. What is a witness? A martyr. Quite literally, that is the word in the Greek. Depending on the manuscript, Jesus tells them they would be “My martyrs,” or “martyrs to Me,” the meaning basically being the same. Keep in mind that “martyr” for us has come to mean something different than what it meant to the original disciples at the time. For us, a martyr is someone who has been killed for their faith in Christ. Originally, it spoke of a witness – someone who testifies. That said, there are many people willing to get on a witness stand and lie; there aren’t too many who are willing to die for their testimony. That is the kind of witness the disciples were called to be, and that’s exactly what most (if not all) of the endured.
    1. That’s still the kind of witness disciples of Christ are supposed to be. All over the world, Christians put their lives on the line for their faith in Jesus. They are willing to sacrifice everything, if it means that Jesus is glorified. That sort of martyrdom isn’t the exception; it’s the norm. Technically, we are the exception. We live in a culture that is by & large free of persecution, which many times causes us to get lazy in our faith & witness. (Beware!)
  3. What is needed to be a witness? “Power.” Much has been made of this word “power,” (δύναμις ~ dynamic), but the bottom line is that it speaks of ability/capability. People need strength to be able to function, and “δύναμις” power speaks of that strength. The word is used of anything ranging from mundane circumstances to supernatural miracles. The focus in the verse isn’t so much the power itself, but the source of that power & result of that power. “Power” by itself isn’t the end-goal for the Christian (despite what many of the word/faith TV preacher might say!). “Power” is simply the ability to do In this case, it is the ability to be a witness-martyr for Jesus. That sort of ability isn’t naturally gained; it has to be given.
  4. How would the apostles receive that power? When the Holy Spirit came upon them. This takes us back to the baptism spoken of by Jesus in verse 5. To be “baptized” is to be “immersed.” In John’s case, it was to be immersed in water; in this case, it is to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. Just like water comes upon our flesh in baptism, literally surrounding our physical body, so would the Holy Spirit come upon the disciples in His work of baptism. This was something new, which the disciples had never experienced in the past – and this was the work for which they were to wait in Jerusalem.
    1. Question: Was the Holy Spirit unknown prior to this point? Absolutely not. God the Holy Spirit is spoken of from the very first page of Scripture. Genesis 1:2 says how the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” at the point of creation. The Holy Spirit was said to come upon various prophets in the past, enabling them to prophesy, anointing men as kings, etc. What made this different was the nature of the Spirit’s work. In the past, these works had been temporary; with this new baptism, the work was permanent. Once baptized by the Spirit, the apostles remained baptized by the Spirit, always having access to the power of God.
    2. That said, this doesn’t mean that Christians only need an initial work of the Holy Spirit, never to interact with Him again. The book of Acts will show the apostles being repeatedly filled with the Spirit. Paul writes to the Ephesians of the command to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Evidently, there is a work of the Spirit’s baptism, and an ongoing repeatable work of filling. Both provide the born-again believer with power; one is simply the first out of many.
    3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that’s often debated among Christians, whether it’s something for which we need to ask & wait, or something that happens automatically at the moment of our salvation. At a certain point, the debate is rather pointless. Whenever you believe the Holy Spirit first came upon you, there’s zero question over our ongoing need for Him & His power in our lives. All Christians need to be filled and empowered by the Spirit. When was the last time you asked? How dependent upon Him are you?
  5. Again, “power” by itself wasn’t the end goal. The Spirit would empower them for a purpose. As witnesses, they were to go out to all the world. They would start where they were (“in Jerusalem”), proceeding outward (“in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”). The gospel mission would begin in the same city where Jesus rose from the dead, the city which was the focus of the Jewish nation. From there, it would go to the rest of the nation as a whole, in fulfillment of the promises of God. But the gospel would not stop with the Jews – the good news was good for the whole world, so it needed to spread to the whole world. The gospel would even go to their half-Hebrew neighboring enemies (the Samaritans), and even spread to the pagan Gentiles in every corner of the globe. Jesus gave these disciples a world-wide mission…not bad for a ragtag group of Galilean fishermen!
    1. This mission has not changed for us. The gospel still starts where we are & proceeds out to all the world…
    2. FYI: This single statement provides a marvelous outline of the book of Acts as whole:
      1. The mission to Jerusalem, Acts 1-7.
      2. The mission to Judea & Samaria, Acts 8-12.
  • The mission to the ends of the earth, Acts 13-28.
  1. What Jesus said was necessary for the original disciples is still necessary for disciples today! We are no less in need of the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are to be effective witnesses to Christ! Notice I said “effective.” There’s a reason Jesus told the disciples to wait for the work of God the Holy Spirit. The disciples had all of the knowledge they required to be witnesses of Jesus. They knew the facts of His person, His work, and His resurrection. They could have gone door-to-door in Jerusalem with everything they already possessed. But they still weren’t fully prepared. They required power. A car rolling off the assembly line is fully ready to go, it still won’t go very far without a full tank of gas. Likewise, a Christian can have all kinds of knowledge and theological understanding of the gospel, but without the power of God, he/she won’t get very far. Christians might still be witnesses, but not necessarily effective ones. After all, not every Christian always walk in the power of the Holy Spirit all day every day. We sometimes go off into sin, acting according to our flesh, and as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Gal 5:17) Christians who walk according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit fall into all kinds of sin. It doesn’t mean they’re no longer Christian; it does mean they aren’t effective witnesses for the gospel. On the contrary – they are still publicly identified with Jesus, which makes them bad witnesses for Jesus. … We will be witnesses, so let us be good witnesses! For that, we need to be led by the Holy Spirit of God, fully endued and filled with His power!
  • Jesus’ cloud & 2nd coming (9-11)

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

  1. Can you imagine the sight? One minute the disciples were speaking with Jesus – the next Jesus is literally rising from the ground! We have to go to movies to watch someone “fly,” or see illusionists give the appearance of floating in mid-air; the disciples saw the real deal from Jesus. His body started going up (no wings, no jetpack, no wires), and kept going up & up until He disappeared into “a cloud.
  2. BTW, it wasn’t likely just any “cloud,” as if Jesus simply ascended into a nice cumulus formation that happened to be overhead in the sky. Most likely, this was the cloud of God’s glory. When Jesus was transfigured, a cloud had come upon the disciples with Him, and from the midst of it they heard the voice of God (Lk 9:34-35). When the presence of God descended upon Mt. Sinai, He came in the form of a thick cloud (Exo 19:9). When the glory of God first entered the temple, it was in the form of a cloud that was so thick that the priests were unable to continue ministering there because God’s glory so filled the place (1 Kg 8:10-11). Thus when Jesus went up into a cloud, He went up into the glory of God – which is exactly how He will return: in clouds & great glory! (Mt 24:30)

10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

  1. Although the two men are not technically described as angels, Luke used the same description of the men at Jesus’ empty tomb (Lk 24:4), and it was later evident that these men were indeed angels (Lk 24:23). Two angels were present at Jesus’ site of resurrection, and two angels were present at His site of ascension. (Whether they were the same angels would be an interesting bit of trivia!) They ask a question of the disciples, but it seems to have an obvious answer. “Why are you looking up?” Jesus just physically flew into the sky, disappearing into a visible manifestation of the glory of God. How would they not stare? Of course they were staring into the sky! We would have done the same thing.
  2. Even so, the question was still a good one. Apparently, the disciples were continually gazing into the sky, straining their eyes to see Jesus. The Lord Jesus had already given them something to do: they were to go back to Jerusalem and wait prayerfully for the Spirit. As long as they were looking up, they weren’t being obedient.
    1. Do we wait expectantly for Jesus’ return? Yes! But we don’t only We’ve been given a command by our King, and we’re to be busy!
  3. The good news for the apostles (and us!) was that Jesus would indeed return to them, and it would be in the same way as He went up. Jesus ascended in glory, and He will return in glory. He went up physically, and He will return physically. “This same Jesus” will return. There’s no doubt of His return, but there’s also no doubt of His person. Our Jesus never changes. His location has changed – our abilities and understanding have changed – but the nature of our Lord Jesus has not. Jesus is still the same Jesus who walked and talked with the apostles. He still the same Jesus who multiplied bread and fish for thousands. He’s the same Jesus who showed compassion on the lepers, the lame, and the outcasts. He’s the same Jesus who died for our sins and the cross & rose from the grave. The only difference now is that He reigns in heaven, while one day He will reign on earth. We wait for Him, and we look for Him, but we don’t have to stare off into the skies wondering if He’s going to be any different; we can confidently witness of Him today because the Jesus we know is the Jesus who will return.

Conclusion:

With the opening of the Book of Acts, Jesus is shown ever-victorious over death as He lives, breathes, speaks to the disciples, and ascends to the Father. He was decisively proven to be alive, and there is no question of His sure future return. In the meantime, He did not leave His disciples alone. Jesus may be bodily in heaven, but He promised the Holy Spirit, Who baptizes the Church with the fire of God, and empowers the Church for the mission given us by our Lord Jesus.

The mission: witness – testify – be a living martyr of the Lord Jesus! We will be witnesses, so be empowered witnesses! Be effective witnesses for Jesus, taking the good news of His salvation into all the world. To attempt it in our own strength is foolishness – a sure recipe for failure, as we’ll no doubt walk according to our flesh. But we are not left helpless – we have been given a Helper, God the Holy Spirit Himself. Be empowered!

Some Christians feel as if they live a lifestyle of failure. They desire to do right – they want to glorify God with their lives – but they walk in defeat time & time again. They feel powerless…and they’re right. When we are not ever-reliant & filled with the Holy Spirit, we are powerless! Among other things, He came to endue us with power, so be filled with Him!

But don’t seek power alone; seek His power for His purpose. Primarily: evangelism. There is a world that needs to know of Jesus, and we are the ones to tell them through our witness. So go! Start where you are, and go out from there.

Acts 2:40-47, “Tools of the Trade” — Vision Sunday 2016

If you’ve ever been around me during a construction or renovation project, you know that my very best skill is that of ‘gopher.’  I am happy to assist those who are skilled in craftsmanship, and I freely acknowledge I am not one of them.  That said, I learned a long time ago that the right tools make all of the difference.  Although many issues can be solved with either a 20 pound sledgehammer or a roll of duct-tape, they aren’t always the most effective tools for the job.  If you have the right tools (along with the skill in using them), then the job can get done quickly and successfully.

That principle is true whether we’re talking about home construction, automotive repair, website/graphic design, gourmet cooking, or whatever.  The right tools along with the right application makes all of the difference.  That same principle even applies within the church.  We, as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, have a job to do – we’ve even been given the power in which to do it – and in addition to this, we’ve also been given tools to use in getting it done.  But the tools have to be used if the job is to be done effectively.  Otherwise, we might find ourselves spinning our wheels and going nowhere.

That brings us to our topic for today.  For our visitors, you need to know that we’re doing things a little differently today.  Normally we would be proceeding through a verse-by-verse study of the Bible (and we will be doing that a bit, though not to our usual extent) – but today, we’re going to take a bit of a break and address some things that apply specifically to the family here at Calvary Chapel Tyler.  Like any group, it’s good to sometimes stop and make an assessment of where we’ve been & where we’re going, to ensure that we’re on the right track – and the 1st Sunday of 2016 is an appropriate time to do so.

The tools that we’ll be looking at today are prayer and evangelism.  These tools were foundational to the birth of the church – they are essential for the grown of the church – they are simply non-negotiables.  If the job is the Great Commission, then they are the right tools to get the job done.  When they are absent, what happens?  Nothing.  Not “nothing” as in “no harm,” but “nothing” as in “no activity.”  The church cannot thrive without prayer & evangelism.  It may not die, but it sure won’t live.  Prayer and evangelism are vital to Christian vitality.

So why are we talking about it?  Because honestly, this is a weak area for our church fellowship.  It may be difficult to hear, but it needs to be said.  Problems that remain unrecognized remain unsolved.  And this is too important to let alone!

First, let’s set the context with Scripture.  Nothing of the opinions of men (especially pastors!) matters if it is not grounded in the word of God.  Thankfully, the Bible has much to say on the matter – especially in regards to how prayer and evangelism is linked with the very birth of the church.

Acts 2:40–47

  • The birth of the church

40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

  • It had been the end of an incredible morning among the followers of Jesus.  After being told by the Lord to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them, empowering them to be witnesses of Jesus to all the world, that was exactly what they did.  They waited & prayed – prayed & waited.  They determined the will of God regarding a replacement for Judas Iscariot & before long, the day of Pentecost arrived.  Acts 2:1 seems to assume the believers were already praying, in that they are described as being “in one accord in one place.”  It was at that time that the Holy Spirit filled each of them, accompanied audibly with the sound of a mighty wind & visibly with tongues of fire resting upon each of them.  The noise of the wind gave way to the sound of new tongues spoken from the believers themselves, and this attracted the attention of all of those nearby in the streets of Jerusalem who were surely out & about on their way to worship God on this feast day.  The passers-by were amazed by what they saw & heard, not understanding how it was that these Galileans could be praising God in what were certainly unknown languages – the very languages of the lands from which many of the foreign Jews had arrived.  Their amazement provided Peter the perfect opportunity to begin preaching the gospel to them.  He first explained the gift of tongues as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, showing the Spirit’s power as proof of the Son of God who had come among them, was known by them, rejected by them, crucified by them, and then who rose from the dead & walked among them.  The people of Jerusalem were cut to the heart (2:37), knowing everything Peter said was true, and they begged to be told what they needed to do to be saved.  That’s when Peter told them to turn away from their sins & believe upon Jesus Christ (via repentance & baptism), and the promise from God was forgiveness & salvation.
  • That’s where the author Luke picks up in his narration.  We are not given the remainder of Peter’s sermon that day, but he obviously wasn’t done speaking at the moment.  He went on to teach & exhort them to be saved, and thousands responded.  What an amazing moment!  If only to see it from the perspective of Peter, who weeks earlier was afraid to admit to a little girl that he believed in Jesus – now Peter boldly proclaimed his faith & the dire necessity for others to believe as well.  He proclaimed the truth of God, preaching the good news of Jesus.  He engaged in evangelism.  Just the word “evangelism” can be scary to some people, but it really ought not to be intimidating at all.  The word descends from the Greek word ευαγγελιον, which simply speaks of “good news.”  “Good news” doesn’t sound nearly as scary, does it? J  It shouldn’t!  And the news we have to share is indeed good!  Just as Peter told the Jerusalem crowd that day, it was the news of how they could be saved.  They needed to be saved, because they were lost.  They were immersed in a crooked, perverse generation & culture.  They were a people who had actually executed their awaited Messiah – they nailed the Son of God to a cross & mocked Him as He died.  If there were any generation that was perverse, it was their own!  (BTW – ours is no better.  Our generation routinely mocks the Lord God, scoffing at the idea that God actually exists & if He does, that He must be cruel, bigoted, and incompetent.  Truly our generation is crooked & perverse, and people are just as much in need to be saved from it!)
  • There are many ways to share the good news.  For Peter that day, it was through testifying & exhorting – other translations say that he bore witness & strongly urged the people.  In this context, that meant a public proclamation as he preached to the multitudes – but the same things can be done in quieter conversations, one-on-one with our friends and neighbors.  We testify/bear witness of Jesus.  We speak of who He is, and what He’s done.  If nothing else, we simply point to Him, just like a witness might identify someone from the witness stand.  When we put the attention of someone else upon Jesus, we are witnessing of Him…it’s that simple.  Hand-in-hand with the witnessing is the urging, the application of what to do with Jesus.  After all, it’s one thing to be told who Jesus is; it’s another to be told how to respond to Him.  For instance, we may tell someone “Jesus is God,” and they might reply “Great…now what?”  Them knowing that we know that Jesus is God isn’t the message of salvation – they need to know & believe that Jesus is God as well.  Once they’ve heard the good news, they need to know what to do with it & how to use it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be done.
  • And again, it worked!  “Three thousand souls were added” to the church that day.  When the sun rose that morning, there were around 120 believers – by the time the sun set, the church grew 2400%!  It’s difficult for us to wrap our minds around numbers like that & certainly it is rare to see that kind of conversion rate today.  The point isn’t to intimidate us by our lack of comparative results – it’s to encourage us & help us remember that people ARE ready to be saved.  Whether it is the generation in Jerusalem that day, or the generation in which we ourselves live – some people will hear the gospel and be saved.  Be it 3000 or 3, some people are ready to hear…they just need to be told.
  • BTW – there might be some listening today that aren’t listening from the perspective of Peter, but that of the crowd.  Maybe you are one that could be included among those 3000.  Just as Peter told the crowd that day, the promise of God is available to anyone who is willing to respond to the call of God.  You too can be saved, if you but turn away from your sins & believe upon Jesus Christ as God – the One who died for your sins on the cross & rose again from the grave.  You can do that right now & have the same assurance as Peter or anyone in the church throughout the ages, knowing beyond doubt that Jesus has saved you.  I urge you…believe upon Him today!
  • The work of the church

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

  • Whereas earlier Luke summed up the sermon of Peter on the morning of Pentecost, now Luke sums up the activity of the church once they believed.  What happened to those 3,120 believers in the Lord Jesus?  What happened after they were evangelized & saved?  They dedicated themselves to four things: doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.
  • Don’t pass over how they dedicated themselves: “they continued steadfastly…”  The word Luke uses to describe this is a strengthened form of the word for “enduring, persisting.”  Louw-Nida, “to continue to do something with intense effort…despite difficulty.”  IOW, these four activities in which the church engaged weren’t things they just “happened” to do.  These were not random activities, or things they took lightly & just did as they came around.  These were things they purposed themselves toward – that they made intentional efforts to do.  When they studied doctrine, that’s what they meant to do.  In the same way, they purposed to gather together, and to spend time with one another – be it in general meals or in celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
  • As for us, we can say much of the same thing.  We purpose to study the word.  Continuing in the doctrine of the apostles is not something that we take lightly, and just hope to do every once in a while.  We labor over the word, endeavoring to teach the Scriptures rightly, to the glory of God.  Likewise with fellowship & the breaking of bread.  We intentionally gather together, not forsaking the fellowship.  We understand we need to be around one another in worship & just generally in life.  Even the Lord’s Supper is not something we forsake, as we intentionally celebrate it twice each month – ensuring we do it on a regular basis.
  • But can we say the same about prayer?  Do we continue in prayer with intense effort – or is it something we just “happen” to do casually?  Don’t misunderstand – it isn’t that every prayer needs to be formal, but it certainly ought to be intentional.  After all, this is what the original church did.  The whole context leading up to 2:42 was the group of believers gathering to pray.  They were praying after Jesus ascended to heaven – they were praying as they sought a replacement for Judas – they were almost assuredly praying when they gathered in the room on Pentecost Day prior to the Holy Spirit falling upon them.  We might even argue that all the evangelism that took place on Pentecost via Peter took place precisely because they spent so much time in prayer, waiting for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  They were ready to share the good news of Jesus because they had already done their preparation work in prayer.
    • Prayer so often becomes an afterthought.  We know we ought to do it, so we do – but it’s done with anything except intense effort.  We say grace before eating because we’re “supposed” to – we pray before starting church assemblies simply because that’s “what’s done” – we pray prior to bedtime just because it’s our ritual.  That’s not to say those prayers are wasted, or that habitual prayer is even bad or unwanted (it’s good to make prayer a habit!) – but where is the intense prayer?  Where is the purposed, intentional, seeking-God-in-one-accord prayer?  That is the sort of prayer the early church did, and that is the same sort of thing we ought to be doing as well.
  • The result of the work

43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

  • What happened when the church did what God intended the church to do?  Worship!  Fear, reverence, awe – all of this swept over the church, and they watched the apostles do amazing things as God empowered them to work.  “Many wonders and signs” were done in the presence of the believers, and among the public in Jerusalem.  God was doing a new thing in establishing His church, and miracles were common as He gave proof of the gospel message.
  • The apostles may have performed the signs & wonders, but the credit didn’t go to them.  The fear shown among “every soul” was fear & reverence that belonged to God.  It was obvious that God was working, and that only caused the gospel to go out even more strongly.
  • The point isn’t so much about the miracles, but the reverence.  When God’s people do what God calls us to do, the results are going to be obvious both inside & outside the church.  Inside the church, people’s lives are going to be changed & Christians will be built up & strengthened in the faith.  Outside the church, people are going to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ & be saved.  Either way it’s a supernatural work.  Every salvation is a miracle – even if it isn’t seen as a “sign & wonder” by the world.
  • Love in the church

44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

  • This is another result of the church doing what God had called them to do.  As they worshipped God in reverence, learned of Him through the doctrine, gathered with other believers for worship, remembered the sacrifice of Jesus through the Supper, and prayed fervently in one-accord, it only follows that love would flourish among the believers.  How could it not?  They would see one another’s needs, and if someone was hungry, they would be fed.  If someone was cold, they would be clothed.  It’s rather difficult to worship & pray to God right next to your starving brother in Christ who’s doing the same thing & not respond in some fashion.
  • At this point, it was all organic.  It wasn’t forced among the rich within the church, nor was a distribution system organized among the poor.  As the church grew, the organization would necessarily grow as well – but it was always based upon the love and willingness of the people.  After all, the best way to meet a need is simply to meet it.  If you see it & God moves on your heart, then you do something about it.  Don’t wait for someone else to get involved – you do what God leads you to do.
  • Daily life & growth

46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

  • So the church was unified in mission, in worship, in doctrine, in fellowship, and prayer – they were joyful & made an impact on their community around them.  What followed?  Conversions – salvations.  Not just one or two on occasion, but constant, steady, daily growth.  To be sure, it was a different time – it was a specific time in church history & God was doing amazing things as He gave life to the church He was building.  But there is nothing in vss. 46-47 that is so specific to 33AD that could not also be said of today, if God so blessed us with revival. 
    • They worshipped God daily – so can we.  Even if we meet 2 times per week, we can still be in one accord together as our hearts are knit together in prayer, purposefully praying for one another, staying in touch with one another.  Can you imagine what the early church would have done with email, facebook, and texting?  Surely we can strive to be unified together in our prayers and worship!
    • They spent time together – so can we.  They ate together in various homes, and spent time getting to know one another so they could love each other more.  Whether that takes place at an “official” worship service, a home fellowship, or just over coffee isn’t the issue – just as long as it happens somehow.
  • When the church loves God & when the church loves each other, something very special happens: people get saved.  Evangelism is a natural outgrowth of all of that.  The more time we spend in prayer seeking the God who saved us – the more time we spend glorifying & worshipping Him, thanking Him for His love for us – the more time we look outside ourselves to one another, seeing how we might bear one another’s burdens – the more we do those things, the more natural it is for us to speak the good news of Jesus to our neighbor.  We might even find them asking us what it is that makes us different, because at that point the difference will be obvious.

The issue:
So what does all of that have to do with us?  Simply this: prayer and evangelism were foundational to the birth & growth & life of the early church.  It was that way with them, and it needs to be that way with us.  Moving into 2016, this is something about which we want to be intentional.  This is something to which we need to be dedicated, focused – to give intense effort.

Keep in mind, we do many things well here at Calvary Chapel.  We have a high priority on teaching the word of God & thus remaining in the doctrine handed down to us from the apostles.  That has always been an emphasis for us, and will always remain so.  When we stay in Scripture, then we remain true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  All of the evangelism in the world will do no good if we are not ourselves grounded in the gospel.  What gospel will we preach, if we do not start with a solid foundation from the Scripture?  This is a primary issue for us, and we thankfully do it well.  From our main worship services, to our children & youth ministries, to our home fellowships, all the way through to our radio outreach – we teach the word of God & we will always do so.

We also love one another well here at Calvary Chapel.  To love one another is a preeminent command in the New Testament.  This is what Jesus specifically called His church to do, and it is one way how the rest of the world will know who His disciples truly are.  This particular church is (and always has been) a loving church.  We spend time with one another – we help one another in times of need – we come alongside one another to bear our burdens – we forgive freely & love deeply.  Our love for one another shows that we ourselves have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is a wonderful thing! 

Finally, not only do we love one another, we also love the Lord our God.  This is seen beyond our proclamation of His word, but also in our worship.  Our worship is sincere & Scriptural.  The worship here is something that goes beyond singing & music (though it certainly includes that).  It is shown in the way people live God-honoring lives – in the way that the Scripture is valued – in the way that the people who serve, serve willingly & sacrificially.  People have truly given themselves to be living sacrifices unto God, and (prayerfully) that will always be the case.

But if we’re being honest (and we must), then we need to admit there are other areas that are challenging for us as a local church fellowship.  Primarily, prayer and evangelism.  It’s not that there is a lack of knowledge, or necessarily even a lack of desire – but a lack of use.  We know the tools that have been given to us, but we aren’t doing a good job of putting them into practice.  Our lowest attended services are prayer services, and our lowest attended studies have had to do with evangelism training.  Obviously, prayer & evangelism is much bigger than what can be seen in public events at Calvary Chapel Tyler – but if this is any indication of where we stand generally, then it’s something we need to address.

Keep in mind, it’s not just us.  These two areas are weak areas throughout the church at large.  A 2012 Lifeway survey found that although 80% of evangelicals knew they were responsible for sharing their faith, 61% never did so in the previous six months.  A full 83% were hesitant to even let other people know that they themselves were Christian.  The statistics regarding prayer were no better.  According to a 2014 Lifeway survey regarding prayer habits, 82% of evangelicals regularly prayed for family & friends, 42% prayed regarding their own personal sin, only 37% prayed regarding God’s greatness, and just 20% ever prayed for people of other faith or no faith.

If only 20% of people ever pray for conversions (out of those who pray at all), it is any wonder that 61% of Christians never share their faith?  And of course, that’s if these surveys are even accurate at all.  Based on his own experience, Dr. Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ & the author of the 4 Spiritual Laws) estimated that that only 2% of Christians ever personally shared their faith.  Christians simply are not burdened for those who are lost, and it neither expresses itself in prayer nor evangelism.

The lack of prayer and evangelism is a problem – not just for one church, but for THE church!  But it only changes one church at a time, with one Christian at a time.  Let it begin with us!  Let us use the tools God has given us to reach the world!

The solution:
If that’s the challenge, what do we do about it?  Some of it comes down to the old Nike shoe ad: just do it.  Of course it’s a lot easier to say than to actually put into practice.  Many Christians get overwhelmed at the thought of intentional prayer and evangelism.  Maybe they feel unequipped to share their faith, or uncertain how best to go about prayer.  They might feel intimidated with the thought of sharing the gospel, or inadequate with public (or even private) prayer.

In the end, much of our fear is just that: fear.  And if so, it’s unnecessary.  It’s good to have a fear of God; it’s useless to have a fear of anything else.  It’s not that fear is uncommon – nearly every Christian is hesitant to act out at any given point in time, but it is unnecessary.  God has already equipped us with what we need to serve Him, and we need to walk in that equipping.  Even Timothy, a disciple of Paul who had travelled extensively with him on various mission trips, experienced his own bout with fear.  Paul wrote to encourage him to be bold: 2 Timothy 1:6–7, "(6) Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (7) For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." It’s safe to say that if Timothy had to be encouraged not to fear, then we might have our own struggles with it as well.  But like Timothy, we also need to be exhorted to use what God has given us to do what God has laid before us, especially in regards to prayer and evangelism.

So let’s be exhorted!  The early church in Acts didn’t wait to engage in it, it was simply what they did.  They prayed, and they preached the good news.  Isn’t it interesting that although some of what they said is recorded, most of it is not?  We already saw Luke’s summary in 2:40 regarding “many other words,” but it goes beyond that.  3000 may have come to faith on the day of Pentecost, but how did the others daily come to faith?  It was because Christians were praying & sharing the gospel.  We may not know the words they used, but we certainly know the results that came.

Prayer and evangelistic outreach can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be.  We can have prayer meetings gathered as a church, or we can simply be a group of two or more.  We could even be in our own prayer closet, pouring out our heart to God & waiting to hear from Him.  Likewise with evangelism – it could be done at a church-wide outreach, or as you’re handing a shirt to someone who needs it, or as you’re leaving a gospel tract for your restaurant server.  It doesn’t have to be formal, and it never has to be complicated.

And that’s Scriptural.  In regards to prayer: 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, "(16) Rejoice always, (17) pray without ceasing, (18) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  How is someone to pray without ceasing, if we always wait for formalized prayer?  The kind of prayer Paul writes of here is ongoing, conversational prayer.  It is still intentional, but it is informal.  It is intentionally including God throughout your day.  Theologically, we know that God is omnipresent (always with us), and omniscient (He knows all things, including our thoughts).  Do we pray to Him as if He is?  If He is always with us & hearing us, that means we can pray to Him constantly.  Prayers don’t have to be formalized or long – they just need to be prayed.  When Peter walked on water & began to sink, he didn’t have a long prayer…he just cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30)  And that was enough.  In the end, prayer is simply our intentional conversation with God.  So let us converse!

It is no different with evangelism.  Evangelism can indeed be formal, as it was as Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel to thousands on the day of Pentecost.  But it is vastly more than that.  Think about it: if the only “proper” way to share the gospel was to wait for crusades, formal outreaches, and invitations at the end of a church service, the vast majority of the world’s population would never hear the good news of Jesus.  The very best (and most effective) way for people to hear the gospel is for individual Christians to share it.  It doesn’t have to be a presentation of the 4-laws, or walking someone all the way through to the point of a “sinner’s prayer,” – it can simply be the process of showing someone Jesus.  A wonderful example is found in Peter’s brother Andrew, who literally brought Peter to Christ.  John 1:41–42, "(41) He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). (42) And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone)."  Andrew’s method of evangelism wasn’t complicated – he just took his brother to Jesus.  Likewise with the Samaritan woman at the well, after Jesus personally revealed to her that He is the Messiah.  She simply went to people in her city, inviting them to come see Jesus for themselves. (Jn 4:29)  It was all still intentional, but it was informal & natural.

That’s all well & good generally speaking, but how do WE go about doing it as a church?  What is Calvary Chapel Tyler going to do in 2016 that will make things any different?  As with anything else within a church congregation, there are two ways to approach issues: organically, and organizationally.  BTW – neither is bad, and both are necessary.  Sometimes there’s a tendency to think that one is always better than the other, but that isn’t true.  Efforts that begin organically among the people are wonderfully creative, but they are often short-lived.  Efforts that begin organizationally can sometimes be slow to get started, but are able to involve a greater percentage of people.  So both are good, and we want to encourage all of it.

Organizationally: There are some things we do well in regards to prayer, and these are things we don’t want to change.  We have small groups that spend much dedicated time in prayer, and we want to not only see them continue, but encourage greater involvement.  We have several prayer services a year, specifically designed to devote dedicated time to prayer & that is also something we want to see continue.  Our online prayer list (via facebook & email) is very active, and that’s a good thing.  That said, we want to do better.  We’re going to try to find ways of incorporating more prayer time in our worship services, hopefully to respond to what God is saying to us through the Scripture.  We’re going to organize our dedicated prayer services better, providing more focus to the evening – and we will highly encourage people to gather together to participate.  These are things we need to do together as a congregation, and we cannot see it neglected.

In regards to evangelism, we also do certain things well.  We intentionally weave the gospel throughout the messages that are preached, and our radio ministry has a clear gospel invitation at the end of every weekend broadcast.  We make gospel tracts freely available (as well as Bibles), and we are happy to purchase as many gospel tracts that are needed.  Where we have been lacking from an organizational standpoint this past year have been outreaches.  This is something we will strive to improve in 2016.  It’s time that we get back to basics, and part of that includes getting out into the community.  At this point, we don’t know what it looks like, but whether it’s at the park or in a parking lot, we will have hands-on opportunities to share the gospel this year.  In doing so, we will need people willing to serve every step of the way, from concept to clean-up.

Whatever we do together as a church body, we truly need to do together.  I need to hear from you – our elders need to hear from you.  We not only need your prayers, but we need your voice.  If God lays something on your heart for the church, bring it to us in order that we might also determine if/how to proceed.  (And of course, if God puts it on your heart, He’s likely giving you an opportunity to personally serve!)

And that takes us to the organic side of things.  Organically, there aren’t many things that we can plan, but much that we can encourage.  As a pastor, one of the things that truly thrill me is when people come up with an idea, and then just take the initiative to see it done.  Recently, we had a great example with the Star Wars opening, and someone took the initiative to make customized tracts…  There have been other times when men purposed to get together to pray, or other Bible studies crop up.  I love this.  A ministry/outreach doesn’t have to have the name “Calvary Chapel Tyler” slapped on it to be done by people at Calvary Chapel Tyler.  Our church (like every church) are people; not entities.  WE are the church, and we can act as God moves us to act.  If it is going to represent/involve the church congregation, then by all means come to the elders – and of course we are more than willing to help any time help is required.  But other things can simply be done.  Permission isn’t required to pass out gospel tracts, or to pray for a brother or sister in need, or whatever.  WE are the body of Christ, and we can minister as such.

With that in mind, we want to encourage personal prayer and evangelism as much as possible.  When was the last time you prayed for the personal opportunity to share the gospel, or even just generally for the lost?  When was the last time you actually engaged in it?  I don’t ask to impart guilt, but to get us thinking.  All of us (myself included) need to be spurred on to do good works, so let’s be exhorted together to get moving.  We desperately need to seek God in prayer, and the world around us is desperate to hear the good news of Jesus.  If we personally and individually do not do it, who will? 

Conclusion:
This year, let us commit ourselves again to prayer and evangelism…tools that God has given, that are perhaps underutilized.  Maybe you start small, using the time around your dinner table to do more than pray the same thing every time, but intentionally bless God, thanking Him for your food prior to eating.  Maybe you start using the Lord’s Prayer as the tool for which Jesus gave it: a model & outline for personal prayer.  When you don’t know what to pray, pray through that.  Maybe you pray for one lost person every day, thinking through who you encountered through your day & praying for their salvation before you go to bed at night.  Be intentional about your prayers individually, and we will be intentional about our prayers corporately.

We can do the same thing in sharing the gospel.  Again, you can start small, asking God to make you more aware of the opportunities He gives you every day.  Maybe someone is talking to you about a difficulty, and that’s your cue to tell them how you’ll pray for them (and then do it!).  Maybe someone is new to town, and you’ve got an opportunity to invite them to church.  Maybe you start to keep gospel tracts in your pocket & look for opportunities to simply leave them behind.  As you do, ask for boldness to do more.  If there is one prayer we can be assured that God will answer, it is that His people would have opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Beloved, we have wonderful opportunities ahead of us in 2016!  Every single day we are given is a new day that we have the privilege of talking with our God in prayer, and sharing the good news of Jesus with the lost.  Let us be intentional about moving forward!  Can you imagine the things God will do if every single person here commits him/herself to intentionally growing in our prayer lives and personal evangelism?  Can you imagine what happens when God brings us in to one accord as we seek His face, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and faithfully point people to Jesus?  That is a year to be excited about!  That’s the opportunity that is before us…let us take it!

The Mission Begins

Posted: December 21, 2015 in Acts, Route 66

Route 66: Acts, “The Mission Begins”

Everything has a beginning…everything has a birthday.  With the singular exception of the Triune God, everything in all of creation had a starting point.  Be it the earth itself, humanity, the Jewish people, or even the earthly ministry of Jesus.  All of it had a historical point in time that it began.  The same is true with the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Church (speaking in universal terms of all of the people of God, saved by the grace of Jesus through faith in Jesus) has a birthday – a point in time in which it all began.  That’s true with local church congregations (Calvary Chapel Tyler began November 28, 2004), and it’s true with the universal Church, as seen in the 2nd chapter of Acts.

The entirety of the book of Acts is about the beginnings of the Church.  How it all began – how it started to expand – what trials and persecutions it faced – how it moved to the ends of the earth – all of that is chronicled for us in the history provided for us by Dr. Luke.  But it’s more than only a record of the birth and growth of the people of God known as the Church – it’s also a journal of the activity of the 3rd person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has always been shown as active within the world & among the people of God, no matter what the era – but in no book of the Bible is His activity more in view than the book of Acts.  Many of our Bibles list the book as “The Acts of the Apostles,” but it could just as accurately be called, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” 

It is important to note that the book of Acts is not a comprehensive history of the Church, though it is an accurate one.  Only a handful of the original apostles are seen, and there is no mention of the growth of the church in the eastern Roman empire & beyond.  That said, what it does show is of vital importance.  The book of Acts shows (1) the arrival of the Holy Spirt & His ministry, (2) the transformation of timid disciples into bold witnesses of Jesus, and (3) the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission as the Church patiently awaits His return.  In other words, everything the book of Acts shows as beginning, we still see continuing.  The Spirit is still active within the Church, believers are still transformed by His power, and the Church is still awaiting Jesus’ return while fulfilling the Great Commission.  The Acts of the Holy Spirit & the Apostles have begun, but they are not yet finished!

BACKGROUND:
There is little doubt that the book of Acts is the follow-up to the gospel of Luke.  We might even think of it as “Luke’s Gospel, the sequel.”  When Luke wrote his gospel, his obvious focus was upon the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, especially as Jesus reached out to all the world.  In the book of Acts, the focus shifts to the earthly ministry of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit led & empowered the Church to reach out to all the world.  It’s the same basic mission of God, simply led by two different Persons within the Trinity.  Of course, this is exactly what Jesus told us to expect of the ministry of the Spirit, so it’s only natural that this is what Luke recorded.

As with his gospel, Luke addressed the book to a man by the name of Theophilus (lover of God), which causes some to think that the book is addressed to all lovers of God throughout the world.  Though there is an aspect of that which is true, the Theophilus in question here is almost certainly a real historical individual.  Luke’s gospel gave him the honorary title, “most excellent Theophilus,” (Lk 1:3), whereas Acts addresses him in the vocative – a grammatical case most often done when speaking directly to a specific person.

That Luke wrote the book (both books, actually) is something that can be determined through a process of elimination.  First of all, we know that the author of Luke-Acts was a personal eyewitness, in that he switches from narrating in the 3rd person (he/they) to using the 1st person (I/we).  The earliest occurrence of this happens in Ch 16 & continues off & on throughout the rest of the book.  This means the author was a travelling companion with Paul.  From Paul’s personal letters, we know that the man who travelled with him the most that was never mentioned directly by name was the physician Luke.  Considering that the early church from Irenaeus forward also thought Luke was the author of both books, there’s little reason to cast any doubt upon it.

As we mentioned in our overview of the gospel of Luke, it is the date of writing that is the cause of most of the debate.  Liberal scholars insist on a date of 80 or later, but the overwhelming evidence points to a much earlier date…no later than 63AD.  How can we be sure?  The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, preparing to preach the gospel to the Gentiles who are there.  Yet we know that Paul was released & continued to minister among the churches.  When Rome burned in 64AD, Nero tried to push the blame to Christians & eventually had Paul arrested once again. Both Peter and Paul were executed by Nero around 67AD.  Knowing that history, it is inconceivable that Luke would not have addressed it, if he had written the book after Paul’s death.  Instead, the book ends very openly, almost as if the words “To be continued…” could be added to it.  There was more work to be done; it was only the book that was completed.

Of course an early date to the book of Acts means there must be an earlier date to the gospel of Luke, and an even earlier date to the gospel of Mark (upon which Luke obviously relied).  These were not myths that developed over time; these were accurate events written down by the people who witnessed them with their own eyes.

GENERAL OUTLINE
The book of Acts is by far the easiest book of the Bible to outline, in that Jesus Himself provides it: Acts 1:8, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  In a nutshell, that is the book of Acts.

  • The Church in Jerusalem (1-7)…primarily Peter
  • The Church in Judea & Samaria (8-12)…primarily Peter
  • The Church to the ends of the earth (13-28)…primarily Paul

That’s not to say this is all there is – but it certainly provides a great overall depiction of the book’s contents.  Peter and the original apostles are shown preaching the gospel to all of their countrymen, and then Paul takes up his mantle as the apostle to the Gentiles and proceeds on his various missionary journeys.  All of it is done in the specific power & by the leading of God the Holy Spirit, as the gospel of Jesus is taken even into the heart of the Roman Empire.

The Church in Jerusalem
Waiting for the Promise (1)

  • Introduction (1-3).  “Former account.” (1) Review of gospel account
  • Review of ascension (4-11).  Holy Spirit promised, along with His power to be witnesses.  Acts 1:8, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Angels speak of Jesus’ expected return.
  • The apostles wait (12-26).  They pray “with one accord” (14).  Choose Mattthias as a replacement for Judas.

The Spirit arrives (2)
Specifically said to be “the Day of Pentecost.”  Annual harvest festival (Feast of Weeks), coming 50 days after Passover.  Jewish tradition celebrates the giving of the 10 Commandments.  Moses saw the fire of God’s glory when the 10 Commandments were given; the apostles saw tongues of fire when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Speaking in other tongues (4-13).  First instance of spoken tongues in the Bible, usually seen at crucial moments within the book of Acts as the gospel takes another step forward in the Great Commission.  Key things to remember: (1) it was the Spirit who gave the tongues; not the disciples deciding to do it on their own – 2:4.  (2) People heard the disciples in their own language, but the disciples weren’t speaking to them.  The words heard were words praising the wonderful works of God – 2:11. (3) When Peter did directly address the crowd, he did so in the common tongue (14 & following).  The whole point isn’t something that gives glory to the speaker; it’s something that directed the people hearing it to God.  It was an act of worship to God; not a means of interpersonal communication.

Peter’s 1st major sermon (14-39).  The tongues were just a launching pad for Peter to start preaching the gospel.  The point was to take people to the new (and completed) work of Jesus Christ at the cross & resurrection.  Key verse: Acts 2:36, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."  Once the people heard that, all they needed to be told was their response: repentance & faith (shown by their baptism).

Aftermath (40-47).  3000 saved that 1st day, and the church continued to grow on a daily basis!

Initial miracles and persecution (3-4)
Peter & John heal a lame man at the temple (3:1-10).  Miracle serves as an opportunity to preach the gospel (3:11-26).  The power was proof of Jesus’ resurrection, pointing to Him & not to the apostles themselves.  This was the people’s opportunity to respond & have their sins blotted out. (3:19)

The Sadducees had Peter & John arrested, and put them on trial for preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead (4:1-22). (A charge for which they were in fact, guilty…as should all of us be!)  The apostles didn’t back down at all, and went so far as to preach the gospel to the Sadducees themselves.  Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  The Sadducees knew they couldn’t contest the miracle, so they at least forbade Peter & John from preaching Jesus…a command they directly refused, saying it was better to obey God than men (4:19).  In the end, the apostles were just threatened & released.

The prayer of the church (4:23-31).  In response to the threats Peter & John received, the church actually prayed for more.  They understood this was the result of the gospel going forth, and they wanted boldness to continue.  They received an immediate answer to prayer when the room was shaken, and they were again filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31).

  • This is good for us, too!

The church in action (4:32).  The apostles didn’t just preach the gospel; they lived it out.  All of the church came together & met one another’s needs.  This wasn’t forced – it wasn’t communism – it was simply love in action.  Yet certain people would try to take advantage of it, as Ch 5 goes on to show…

The Spirit’s discipline and protection (5)
Ananias & Sapphira (5:1-11).  This couple tried lying about how much of their wealth they donated to the church & served as an object lesson that no one can lie to the Holy Spirit when God struck them dead.  It wasn’t a matter of their lack of giving; it was a matter of their deception & hardened hearts.  God the Holy Spirit was (and is) not to be mocked or lied to.

Other miracles take place…so many that Luke has to basically summarize them (5:12-16).  Multitudes of people were getting healed, and thus multitudes of people were hearing & responding to the gospel.  That’s when the high priest acted by imprisoning the apostles, who were miraculously freed by an angel in the middle of the night (5:17-21).

The apostles were then re-arrested, and placed on trial in front of the Sanhedrin. Again, Peter refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus, and was so bold that he rebuked the Sanhedrin while telling them the gospel at the same time. Acts 5:29–32, "(29) But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (30) The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. (31) Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (32) And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”"  In the end, though the council was furious, they understood they might be fighting against God, so they just beat the apostles & set them free.

  • Are we willing to endure the same?

Stephen’s martyrdom (6-7)
By this point the church had grown so much that the 12 apostles couldn’t attend to all of the administrative details of the church.  That’s when they picked the 1st deacons – men who had good reputations & were filled with the Holy Spirit.  The deacons took on the ministry of giving aid to the widows, while the apostles dedicated themselves to prayer & the ministry of the word (6:1-4).

One of the deacons was a man named Stephen, who was used by God to perform signs & wonders among the people (6:8).  The leaders of a local synagogue spread lies about him, and had him brought to the Sanhedrin on false charges.  That’s when Stephen launched into a long history of the Jewish people (7:1-50), all with the concluding point being that Israel had always resisted the Holy Spirit (7:51).  He directly accused them of killing the Messiah & sinning against the prophets of God.

At this the people were outraged & stoned him to death, all the while being supervised by Saul the Pharisee. (7:58)  While Stephen was dying, he had a vision of the throne room of God, with Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand.  (Jesus knows the suffering of His saints!)

The Church in Judea & Samaria
Samaritans & God-fearing Gentiles saved (8)
Saul is briefly introduced as one who persecuted the church, and his persecution was so severe that it caused Christians to flee Jerusalem & scatter throughout Judea & Samaria (8:1).  Interestingly, it was persecution which fanned the flame of the Great Commission (which is often the case).

Luke picks up the account in Samaria with another deacon by the name of Philip.  As he proclaimed the gospel & performed signs & wonders, multitudes came to faith (8:4-8).  Included among the crowds was a sorcerer named Simon.  Eventually Philip needed Peter & John to come and help with the crowds, and together they prayed with people to receive the Holy Spirit.  Simon saw his chance to gain more power & tried to buy this ability, for which he was immediately chastised by Peter.  The power of the Holy Spirit cannot be bought or sold…it is the gift & grace of God.

Another account is told of Philip while travelling between Jerusalem & Gaza.  Along the way, he comes across an Ethiopian eunuch who had gone to worship at the temple.  Seeing the eunuch read from Isaiah, Philip strikes up a conversation & ends up helping the man come to faith.  At the first sign of water, the eunuch request to be baptized & afterwards, Philip is immediately caught away by the Holy Spirit to another place (a miniature rapture).

  • Don’t miss how the Holy Spirit was using normal believers in all of this.  These weren’t apostles; they were just men filled with the Holy Spirit desiring to serve.  And they ended up preaching the gospel to people that the apostles never had access to.

Saul’s conversion & Peter’s miracles (9)
That Saul the Pharisee was converted to Paul the apostle is one of the most dramatic life-transformations in history.  It was crucial to the plan of God to take the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth, and it is something that impacts millions of people on a daily basis 2000 years later.  How many people read a quote of Paul today?  Yesterday?  The day before that?  Paul is arguably one of the top 3-5 most influential people in history (with the Lord Jesus at the very top of the list).  But Paul didn’t start out as an apostle; he wasn’t even desiring to come to faith.  Saul thought he was serving God as he persecuted the church.  That’s when the Lord Jesus reached out & grabbed him.  Jesus appeared to him, blinded him, telling him who He was as the Lord & what His will for Saul was to do. (9:1-9)  Saul had been on his way to Damascus originally to persecute the believers, ended up being led there as a believer himself.  He was given back his sight by a disciple named Ananias, and grew so fast in his faith that he began preaching Christ to the point of being persecuted himself, having to escape Damascus by being let down the wall in a basket. (9:22)  Obviously it took time for Saul to gain trust, so he eventually went back to his hometown of Tarsus & grew in his faith & waited for God’s timing.

In the meantime, Luke hasn’t yet left the account of Peter.  Peter was still performing miracles throughout Judea, healing those who were paralyzed (9:33-35), and even raising the dead (9:40-41).  It’s this final miracle which sets the scene for the next major move of the gospel…

Peter preaches to Gentiles (10:1-11:18)
While Peter was in Joppa after the last miracle, there was a Roman centurion in Ceasarea named Cornelius.  He feared God & while worshipping, had an angel instruct him to send for Peter in Joppa (10:1-8).  While the messengers are on their way, Peter received a vision of his own, where he learns not to doubt God when God declares something to be clean.  The messengers come, take Peter to Cornelius, and Peter quickly understands what God is doing.  In the past, Peter would have considered the Gentiles to be unclean, but through the gospel of Jesus, God was declaring them clean.  Peter can’t even get through his whole sermon to Cornelius’ house when the Holy Spirit falls upon them all, and Peter quickly calls for their baptism.

  • As an aside, that’s what happened to each of us when we were saved.  We were unclean; Jesus made us clean.

Back among the Jewish Christians, there was an immediate backlash to Peter’s evangelism among the Gentiles.  Peter defends himself by explaining the vision God gave him, as well as the events that happened at Cornelius’ house.  In the end, none could argue & they all praised God.

  • God might have plans to save people we believe are unreachable.  Be careful not to limit the ability of Jesus to save!

The church in Antioch (11:19-30)
Luke fills in a few gaps of Saul’s history here.  The church had begun to spread beyond the borders of Judea & Samaria, already seen by the presence of Christians in Damascus (Syria).  Now there is a church in Antioch, to the far north of Syria.  They needed help, and the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to them (11:22).  Barnabas knew he needed help, and he remembered the former Pharisee named Saul, and brought him to Antioch (11:25). Antioch would serve as the missionary base for both men, and actually ends up being the 1st place that people are labeled as “Christians.”

Peter vs. Herod (12)
In the next-to-last event Luke tells us of the life of Peter, we read how he is imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who was looking to kill Peter just as he killed James the apostle.  Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel of God, and in a humorous event, the Christians who were praying for his safety & release didn’t believe it when Peter himself was knocking at the door (12:12-16).  Herod was furious & had his prison guards executed.  Luke goes on to tell us of Herod’s death, in which Herod willingly received praise that should have gone to God & was struck immediately with sickness. (He was eaten by worms and died – 12:23).

  • The point?  Man can resist God & work against the people of God, but Man can never stop what it is God desires to do. God had a further plan for Peter, and not even the powerful Herod Antipas could stand in God’s way.

The Church to the ends of the earth
Paul’s 1st journey, with Barnabas (13-14)
At this point, Luke’s narrative transitions almost entirely to Paul.  The Holy Spirit is seen personally sending Paul out to the mission field: Acts 13:2–3, "(2) As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (3) Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."  (The Holy Spirit speaks.)  Not much is said by way of preparation – it would seem that Saul & Barnabas left at their earliest opportunity.

  • Cyprus to Paphos.  Encounter with Bar-Jesus who is blinded (13:4-12)
  • Paphos to Perga to Antioch-Pisidia (13:13-52).  Saul 1st called Paul (13:16)…probably his Roman name.  Preached to the Jews about Jesus being the son of David who was crucified & raised from the dead.  Once the Jews left, Paul preached the same message to the Gentiles, much to the dismay of the Jews.  Paul & Barnabas eventually leave, being persecuted.
  • Iconium (14:1-7).  Same pattern: Paul preached to Jews, then Greeks, and the Jews stirred up trouble.  Eventually (despite signs & wonders), the missionaries left under violence.
  • Lystra. (14:8-20).  Paul performs a miracle here, and the people immediately begin to worship he & Barnabas as the Roman gods Hermes & Zeus (14:12).  Paul & Barnabas try to stop the people, but the Jews (once again) stir the people up into a riot & Paul is stoned.  Paul survives (miraculously) and they leave town.
  • Derbe to Antioch (14:21-28). Despite all their troubles in the earlier towns, Paul & Barnabas retrace their steps back to them to help build up the church, teach them, and appoint elders.  Eventually they head back to Antioch.

The Jerusalem Council (15)
With all of this activity among the Gentiles, quite a controversy had been stirred up in Jerusalem.  Some believed that Gentiles needed to convert to Judaism to be saved; others (like Paul) preached salvation by grace through faith alone.  The apostles & elders in Jerusalem came together to discuss the matter, and that’s when Peter recounted his time with Cornelius the Roman (FYI: this is the last we hear from Peter in Acts).  After Peter testifies, Paul & Barnabas spoke of the work of God among the Gentiles.  Finally, James (the brother of Jesus) gave his opinion not to trouble the Gentiles with Jewish conversion – with which all of the apostles & elders agreed.  Together they wrote a letter to the Gentile churches of their decision, enabling them (and us) to live freely in the grace of Christ.

BTW, there were four requirements from the Jerusalem church: Acts 15:28–29, "(28) For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: (29) that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."  Each has to do with either idolatry or impurity; nothing is legalistic.  The bottom line is that Christians are supposed to live as if they worship the One True God, and that’s it.  Love Him & worship Him alone, using your body to glorify Him.  In everything else, there is liberty.

Paul’s 2nd journey, with Silas (16-18)
At the conclusion of the Jerusalem council, Paul and Barnabas initially wanted to head back to the church plants together, but they parted ways due to an argument they had over John Mark (author of the gospel of Mark).  Mark was Barnabas’ nephew who originally went with Paul & Barnabas on their 1st journey, but abandoned them early on.  Paul no longer trusted him, whereas Barnabas wanted to give him another chance.  In the end, the missionary party was split (thus multiplying their effect), and Paul went out with a Antiochian prophet known as Silas.

  • Derbe & Lystra (16:1-3).  This is where Paul meets Timothy, who as a young man goes off with Paul to serve on the mission field. 
  • Phrygia, Galatia, Asia, Troas (16:6-10).  Apparently Paul had difficulty preaching the gospel in these areas, and Luke even writes that the “Holy Spirit did not permit them” to go into certain cities.  That’s because the Spirit had a different plan in mind for Paul & gave him a dream of a man in Macedonia pleading for help.  With renewed direction, that’s where the group went. (FYI – 16:10 has the 1st use of the 1st person.  Apparently Luke joined Paul at some point prior to his Macedonian call.)
  • Philippi (16:11-40).  This was their first major stop, and Paul immediately finds favor with a merchant woman named Lydia.  She & her household were saved & baptized, and Paul began ministering in town.  He’s bothered by a demonically-possessed slave girl, abused by her masters for her demonization, and Paul casts out the demon.  This causes a ruckus & the magistrates of the town have Paul & Silas caned & thrown into prison.  That night while Paul & Silas were singing, God miraculously releases them (and all of the other prisoners), much to the dismay of the guard who was about to kill himself.  Paul stops him & preaches the gospel to his salvation. 
  • Thessalonica (17:1-9).  Paul engages in his previous pattern of preaching to the Jews at the synagogue & later preaching to Gentiles.  Once more, the Jews cause a riot on their account, and they have to leave.
  • Berea (17:10-15).  Paul had a better time in the next town.  Acts 17:11, "(11) These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."  Always search the Scripture for yourself.  It doesn’t matter if it’s me or even the apostle Paul teaching you, be sure to look at the Scripture with your own eyes.
  • Athens (17:16-34).  Paul was temporarily separated from his companions as Paul was sent away while things calmed down in Berea (due to the Jews again).  He didn’t get any rest, as he preached to the Athenians once he saw their numerous temples to false gods.  He told them of the true God, proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (17:31), to which some mocked, but others believed.
  • Corinth (18:1-20).  Paul had a far easier time here, having been promised peace from the Lord (18:9-10).  He was in Corinth for 1.5 years before trouble began there.  Even so, Paul still left in peace, eventually returning to Antioch.

Paul’s 3rd journey (19-20)
During the final journey, Paul retraced much of the same ground, with the account actually beginning in 18:22-23.

  • Ephesus (19).  After correcting some initial incomplete teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Paul stayed here nearly three years teaching & performing miracles.  At a certain point, the idol-makers were losing money due to so many people getting converted, and they start a riot which had to be calmed down by the city clerk.
  • Continued travels in Greece & Troas to Miletus (20:1-12).  Not much is said about these towns, other than Paul was encouraging the churches that had been planted & continuing to build them up in doctrine. [Eutychus – 20:7-12]
  • While in Miletus, Paul called for the Ephesian elders to give them one final exhortation.  Paul knew he’d be headed back to Jerusalem & would experience trouble.  He needed to warn the elders to be faithful to their calling & the doctrine & to beware false teachers & greed. (20:17-38)

Trouble with Paul in the temple (21-22)

  • Paul’s attempt at peace-making (21:15-25).  Took part in Jewish custom to show he wasn’t opposed to the Jews.  However, his reputation preceded him, and he was immediately accused of bringing Gentiles to the temple (which he hadn’t).
  • Seized at the temple by the Jews, arrested by the Romans, and defense to the Hebrews (21:26-22-21).  Almost scourged by the Romans, saved by his Roman citizenship (22:22-29)

Paul’s trials & imprisonment (23-26)

  • Vs. Sanhedrin (23).  Escaped sentencing by splitting the Sanhedrin between Pharisees & Sadducees on the resurrection (23:1-10).  Escaped an assassination plot when Paul’s nephew discovered it & reported it to the Roman commander.  The commander sent Paul to Caesarea to await trial.
  • Vs. Felix (24).  5 days after Paul’s arrival, Ananias the high priest & his lawyer Tertullus make their case against Paul.  Paul defends himself, asserting his innocence from the false accusation of profaning the temple, but also saying how he was on trial because of his belief in the resurrection. (So are we all!)  Felix heard the arguments, but delayed making a judgment because he was waiting for a bribe.  Two years passed, and though Paul continued to talk with Felix, he was still a prisoner.
  • Vs. Festus (25).  As Felix’s replacement, he once again heard the case against Paul & although he knew Paul hadn’t done any wrong, he was willing to do the Jews a favor.  At this point, Paul appealed to Caesar, to whom Festus was now obligated to send him.
  • Vs. Agrippa (26).  Before Paul was sent to Rome, Herod Agrippa arrived in Caesarea to meet with Festus & he was willing to hear Paul’s case.  Paul knew that Agrippa was intimately familiar with Jesus & the growth of the church, and was glad to give his testimony once more.  Agrippa almost became a believer that day, and told Festus that Paul was innocent and should have been set free.  Only now it was too late.  (Or was it?  This was the plan of God!)

On to Rome (27-28)
Finally Paul & his companions (including Luke) are sent to Rome.  Sailing took a while, and after a few stops, they were on their way.  The ship encountered terrible weather (which Paul had warned them about), and in the storm the ship was lost.  All survived (once they followed Paul’s instructions) & made it to the island of Malta.  There, Paul was bitten by a snake, but miraculously survived – which immediately opened the door for him to share the gospel.

Three months pass & the group eventually makes it to Rome & Paul is given quite a bit of leniency, placed under house arrest.  Once more, Paul preaches the gospel to the Jews, and once more the Jews were divided.  Paul is determined to preach the gospel to the Gentiles in Rome, and apparently does so from his house for two whole years, with no one forbidding him. (28:31)

Conclusion:
And that’s where the book of Acts ends.  Paul is alive, preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  God used persecution not only to build up the church, but to take Paul to Rome & preach to members of Caesar’s own household.  And there was still more to do.  More people needed to hear – more people needed to come to faith.  The work was birthed, but there was still much to be done.

So it is with us!  Today, we are continuing the work of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and others.  We preach the same gospel – we’re filled with the same Holy Spirit – we have the same commission of Jesus.  Don’t grow weary in the task – be excited about the privilege!  Pray for boldness – pray for power – pray for your eyes to be open to the opportunities all around us.

Jesus is Risen; Jesus is Lord

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Acts
Tags: ,

Resurrection Sunday 2015
Acts 2:22-39, “Jesus is Risen; Jesus is Lord”

The first Easter sermon ever preached wasn’t preached on Easter – it was given by Peter on the day of Pentecost.  Easter is less about the particulars of a religious holiday than it is about the content of what that holiday is supposed to celebrate: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Our culture gets lost with Easter celebrations just in general terms.  For some, it’s all about bunnies, eggs, and other things that more accurately reflect pagan celebrations of the Spring Equinox than anything to do with Christianity.  For some, it’s about chocolate, candy, and other feasting.  Praise God for chocolate, but this particular day isn’t about food; it’s about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  This is Resurrection Sunday, and it was the resurrection that was the focus of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.

Take a moment to understand what was going on that day.  After waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, just as Jesus had instructed the disciples to do, the Holy Spirit actually came.  Those who believed in Jesus (much more than just the 12 disciples, which were newly 12 again after Judas was replaced) were seeking the Lord in prayer, and they were all in one accord.  The men and women had gathered once again on this day of Pentecost, which was traditionally a celebration among the Jews remembering how God gave Moses the 10 Commandments upon Mt. Sinai.  This was Shauvot (the Feast of Weeks), and Jews from all over the Roman Empire had once more come to Jerusalem, just as they had 50 days earlier for the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.  So although the believers in Jesus were already meeting for prayer, it was simply a natural time for them to meet once more. 

And as they met together, God did something miraculous in their midst!  Centuries earlier, God had given Moses the law of the covenant; this day God gave something even better: the baptism and filling of Himself.  The Holy Spirit came upon them in an incredible way, with the room filled with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and visible tongues of fire resting upon each one of the disciples in the room.  As the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to praise God verbally, but began speaking in languages they did not know…and that started to attract the attention of the other Jews present in Jerusalem that day.

The people out on the street heard the praises of God spoken in their own native tongues, and they were amazed.  They couldn’t understand how it was all possible.  Trying to make sense of it all, they mocked the group of disciples, claiming that they must be drunk.

That’s when Peter spoke up, explaining what was happening.  The disciples were not drunk; it was far too early in the day for drinking.  (And drunkenness didn’t even make sense!  People might act weird when drunk, but liquor doesn’t give anyone supernatural knowledge of languages they’ve never spoken before.)  What had happed was the fulfillment of prophecy, as the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the worshippers of God in the last day – as a sign to all those who watched that they needed to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved.

But now that Peter had their attention (thanks to the move of the Holy Spirit), he had the perfect opportunity to tell them about Jesus.  Just 7 weeks prior, the people of Jerusalem had put Jesus to death.  He had been betrayed by a friend, turned over to the Jewish priests and elders, and had been convicted of blasphemy.  At that point, Jesus was delivered over to Pilate, who ordered Him crucified after the Jewish mob demanded it.  He died upon the cross and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  All this was public knowledge, and the Jews were well acquainted with it.  What they were not so familiar with was what happened afterwards.  The event that followed Jesus’ crucifixion was a game-changer.  Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the grave – fulfilling prophecy written of Him centuries earlier.  And not only did Jesus rise from the dead, He also bodily rose to God the Father in heaven, another event prophesied in Scripture.  Jesus’ resurrection and ascension proved beyond a doubt that He is God and King – He is to be worshipped by all the world, Jew and Gentile alike.

Ladies & Gentlemen, THAT is the Easter message!  That is the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.  His resurrection is proof that God has made Him Lord and Christ, and by believing upon Him we can have the forgiveness of sin, and eternal salvation.  That is what Peter proclaimed to the Jews on Pentecost, and that is still the proclamation of the Bible today.  Jesus is risen; Jesus is Lord!

Acts 2:22–39

  • Peter’s introduction: it’s all about Jesus (vss. 22-24)

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—

  • Peter is laying out the case for Jesus being the Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah, the God-given King), and as he does so, he first reminds them of how Jesus lived and walked among them.  They knew this Man.  This was “Jesus of Nazareth,” thought by some to be a prophet along the lines of Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist – thought by others to be a disturber of the peace – but known by all to be a worker of great miracles wrought by the power of God.  Even the Pharisees had to admit that no one could do the things Jesus did unless God was with Him (Jn 3:2).  Jesus had performed signs and wonders all throughout the land of Israel: feeding thousands in Galilee with loaves and fish, healing the blind and the paralyzed in Jerusalem and elsewhere, casting out demons wherever He went, and even raising the dead in Bethany (just beyond the city walls of Jerusalem).  His power and authority could not be denied, which was the biggest challenge for the Pharisees and chief priests.  After all, it’s one thing to try to label Jesus a false teacher; it’s another thing to prove it.  His miracles and teachings were far too well-known to be mischaracterized.  Jesus’ character was attested to by God Himself, and that was something that could not be denied.
  • That fact alone was a problem for the men of Israel.  They knew the miracles of Jesus, having seen them for themselves.  They had witnessed these things with their own eyes, and it was plain where the evidence pointed.  Jesus was no ordinary man; He was the Christ of God (the Son of Man, the Son of David).  They knew all this, and still they rejected Him.  Vs. 23…

23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

  • They took Him in lawlessness.  Some have thought that Peter’s reference to “lawless hands” is a reference to the Gentile Romans, who were without the Law of Moses.  The Jews (having the Law) delivered the Messiah/Christ to those without the Law in order to be crucified.  Certainly that is a possibility, but everything about Jesus’ so-called ‘trial’ was lawless!  The supposedly holy chief priests and Jewish council ignored the Law as they brought forth false witnesses about Jesus, entertained lies about Him, sought to convict Him without evidence, and more.  The things that surrounded Jesus on the day He was rejected and condemned to die had nothing to do with the holy righteous Law of God, at least from the perspective of men.  They were thirsty for innocent blood, and they took it.
  • The men of Jerusalem may have rejected Jesus lawlessly, but they didn’t do so by chance.  Everything that happened to Jesus was according to “the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.”  The innocent Son of God was meant to be turned over to sinners that day for death, because that was God’s predetermined plan in regards to sin.  The Bible tells us that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) – back in the Garden of Eden, God already speaks of how His promised Son would be bruised by the Serpent, prior to the Serpent’s head being crushed by Him (Gen 3:15).  Before God ever created the world, He knew that sin would enter it. He knew that the universe He created and declared to be “good” would fall, and that He would have to right every wrong.  That was why He sent Jesus.  Because sin is evil, the righteous God has to pour out His wrath upon it, and the only One who can truly bear the wrath of God is God Himself.  Thus, God came.  Jesus became our propitiation: the One who took the full anger of God towards sin in our place.  The cross of Christ was lawless from the perspective of men – the full product of our sin…but it was also the fullness of the predetermined righteous plan of God.
  • Notice Peter doesn’t shy away from the “death” of Jesus.  For many, they would think of Jesus’ death as proof that He was fake or a failure.  They would have looked at Peter & thought, “Why do you proclaim a dead Teacher?  If your Jesus was taken and killed, He must not have been that great.  Surely He couldn’t have been of God.  If He was, He wouldn’t have died.”  Not so!  Death for Jesus wasn’t failure; it was His mission.  This is what Jesus was born to do.   That said, it wasn’t ALL Jesus was born to do.  There was more to come.  See vs. 24…

24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  • Yes Jesus died, but God “raised” Him up again!  Jesus truly died upon that cross, and He was certified dead by those around Him.  His lifeless body was placed in a tomb, and packed with spices according to Jewish tradition.  There was nothing about Him on Friday evening prior to the tomb being shut that would have given anyone any indication of what was still to come.  But on Sunday morning, something DID come!  Matthew 28:1–8, "(1) Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. (2) And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. (3) His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. (4) And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. (5) But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. (6) He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (7) And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (8) So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word."  Amazing!  Nothing in all history compares with this one historical event!  And be sure not to miss the main event!  It wasn’t the earthquake, or the rolling back of the stone, or the fear of the guards, or even the appearance of the glorious angel that was the most amazing thing.  The very best part of it wall was the One who was not there!  The lifeless body of Jesus could not be found in the tomb, because Jesus was no longer lifeless.  He was risen from the dead, because God raised Him up, “having loosed the pains of death.
  • Death holds us, but it cannot hold Jesus!  How exactly can the Author and Giver of Life be held by death?  What chains can the grave place upon Jesus?  Jesus conquers death; there simply is no other option!
    • And guess what?  Though death holds us now, it will not hold us always.  Those who have faith in Christ Jesus as Lord also will not be held by death.  The sting of death has been taken away.  Though we die, yet will we live.  To be separated by our loved ones by death is to step into the presence of the Living Lord Jesus, one day to have our bodies gloriously resurrected from the dead.  THAT is the victory that God gave Jesus over death.  Not only was Jesus loosed from the pains of death, but His resurrection looses everyone else who has faith in Him!
  • Peter’s illustration: the resurrection was prophesied (vss. 25-28)

25 For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.

  • Quoting Psalm 16:8-11.  From the perspective of the psalmist, this Singer saw God, trusted in God, rejoiced in God, and hoped in God.
  • When does the Singer hope in this way?  When He is in the middle of great trouble, even death itself.  See vs. 27…

27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

  • This is why the Singer rejoiced: God would not leave His soul in the grave.  The Singer, who is the “Holy One” would not “see corruption.”  His body would not stay in the tomb long enough to physically decompose.  He might go there for a day (or three), but no longer.  This is resurrection!

28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’

  • The Singer knows life beyond the grave.  His ultimate joy is being in the presence of God.
  • Peter’s argument: David wrote of Jesus’ resurrection (vss. 29-32)

29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,

  • As the author of Psalm 16, David obviously wasn’t writing of himself.  If he had, what he wrote would have been false considering his body most definitely did decay.  Any one of the Jews could have gone to the tomb of David and viewed his remains.  No, David had Someone else in mind.  Writing as a prophet, David was looking forward to another promise of God that God had given him: the future Christ, who would come from David’s line and reign forever.  God had promised to give David a son, whose throne God would establish forever (2 Sam 7:13).  Every son/descendent of David ultimately looked forward to this promised Son.  They all died and stayed buried, but there was one coming who would live on in glorious majesty.
  • Here’s the problem: if David’s heir would have a kingdom that never ends – if David’s heir would live forever, then how would David’s heir deal with death?  Some might argue that the Messiah (Christ) would never die, but that’s not what David wrote.  David didn’t write that the Messiah would not enter the grave; only that the Messiah wouldn’t be left in the grave (vs. 27).  David’s heir would most certainly die – too many other Scriptures proclaim this (Ps 22, Isa 53 among others).  So what would God do with the death of the Son of David?  The Messiah has to die, but He must also sit on David’s throne forever.  That means there must be a resurrection.  Vs. 31…

31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.

  • So the prophecy was that the Christ would rise from the grave in order to sit on the throne of David.  He would die, but He would not remain dead – His body would never see corruption or decay.  Peter says, “Guess what?  Jesus fits the bill.”  Jesus perfectly fits the description of this prophecy. 
  • How did Peter know?  He witnessed it for himself.  After the women ran with fear and great joy to bring the disciples word, Peter and John had to see this thing for themselves.  John 20:3–8, "(3) Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. (4) So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. (5) And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. (6) Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, (7) and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. (8) Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed."  Peter is a first-hand witness to the empty tomb of Jesus – but it wasn’t only the empty tomb that Peter saw; he saw the living Lord Jesus Himself!  Luke 24:36–39, "(36) Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” (37) But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. (38) And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? (39) Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”"  This was just the first of several times Peter saw the Lord Jesus.  Jesus appeared to Peter & the disciples again 8 days after His resurrection and brought Thomas to faith – He appeared to the disciples while they were fishing, and restored Peter to ministry – Jesus appeared to them all in Galilee and gave them the Great Commission prior to His ascension…and those are just the instances recorded in the Bible.  Peter was a repeated witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  If anyone knew Jesus was raised, it was Peter.
  • And Peter wasn’t the only witness!  There were the other disciples, including the women at the tomb.  There were the Roman soldiers, who witnessed the empty tomb for themselves and were bribed to lie to the Jews. (BTW – the fact they survived to tell a lie is proof that they were lying.  If the disciples had indeed stolen the body while they slept, the soldiers would have been executed by the Romans themselves.)  There were over 500 who saw the Risen Lord Jesus at some point (1 Cor 15:6).  A person might argue that one or two people at a time might have seen a hallucination, but upwards to 500?  It boggles the mind!  From a historical perspective, the evidence that Jesus literally rose from the grave is overwhelming.  Very few historical events have more than just a couple of witnesses; the resurrection of Jesus literally has hundreds.  There is more historical evidence for to the resurrection of Jesus Christ than there is for all Roman history combined.
  • Pardon the pun, but this is life-changing!  Jesus rose up from the dead by the power of God.  He was raised by God the Father – He was raised by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11) – He was raised by His own power (Jn 10:18).  The whole Trinity involved itself in the resurrection of Jesus Christ in glorious display of His majesty!  There has been no other event like this in all history.  Other people have been raised to life, but always by the intervention of another.  God used Elijah to raise the widow’s son.  God used Elisha to raise the Shunammite’s son.  Peter raised Tabitha, and Paul raised Eutychus. Even Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, well as Lazarus.  But even when directly raised by God the Son, there was still the intervention of Someone.  But with Jesus, there was no intervention.  God willed that Jesus be raised, and He rose!  After three days in the grave, Jesus left that grave under His own power; not the power of another.  The resurrection of Jesus is monumental in its scope…and it actually happened.  This is no fiction – this is no religious myth – this is no wishful thinking; this is actually true.  Hundreds of witnesses testify to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.  The proof is irrefutable.
    • The question is: what are you going to do about it?  Peter is going to get to that in a minute, but surely we realize that this is something to which we must respond.  We cannot hear the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and not be compelled to respond in some way.  If Jesus truly is risen from the dead, then that changes everything.  No longer are we simply wandering through life aimlessly doing whatever we want without a care for God.  God has dramatically revealed Himself!  No longer can we think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds at the Judgement, or that we can talk ourselves into heaven.  If Jesus had to die upon the cross, then it doesn’t matter what we possibly think we can do…it’s never enough!  But with Jesus risen from the grave, now there is hope.  You can grab on to that hope today…you have that opportunity.
  • Peter’s 2nd argument: David wrote of Jesus’ ascension (vss. 33-35)

33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

  • The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ go hand-in-hand.  If one comes to believe that Jesus truly did rise back to life from the grave, the next obvious question is this: where is He today?  If Jesus rose, why don’t we see Him?  The answer: Jesus ascended to the throne of God in heaven.  When Jesus rose to life, He rose to ultimate life.  He rose bodily from the grave, and ascended bodily into heaven.  Not only could death not hold Him, but once risen in glorified life, this earth could no longer contain Him.  Jesus rose from the grave never to die again – which is exactly what the ascension declares.  Death could not contain Jesus, and death will never again touch Jesus.  Jesus has conquered death once and forever!
  • But when Jesus ascended, He did not leave His church alone; He sent the Holy Spirit, as Peter declared.  The very event that the Jews witnessed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the disciples was itself proof that Jesus was now “exalted to the right hand of God.”  Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit would not come until He ascended to heaven, and once He ascended, the Holy Spirit came.  His words were proven true once more, and the Jews of Jerusalem could testify of that fact for themselves that Pentecost day.
  • What connection does the outpouring of the Holy Spirit have with Jesus’ ascension and exaltation?  It demonstrates His current victory, and the promise of His consummate victory.  Vs. 34…

34 “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’

  • Peter quotes Psalm 110:1, just as Jesus had weeks prior when confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 22:44).  This is David speaking in the psalm, but he speaks (writes) from the point of view as an observer.  Yahweh God was speaking to Someone even David referred to as “Lord.”  Who could possibly be greater than David, the preeminent king of Israel?  None other than the Son of David, the Messiah.  To this Messiah, God gives the invitation to come sit at His right hand (the position of power and authority).  The Messiah sits in the seat of God, and is given the promise of ultimate victory by God.  There is victory just in the exaltation of the Messiah, but there is more victory yet to come.  One day every enemy of the Messiah King will be thrown down, and the Son of David will stand on their necks as they are vanquished. 
  • That is the victory of Jesus over death and the devil!  One day death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire, along with Satan, Antichrist, the False Prophet, and every other enemy of God.  Satan has already been delivered a death blow when Jesus rose from the grave.  In Jesus’ resurrection, the sting of death has already been taken away.  But yet each of their shadows remain…for now.  At the final victory, even that will be taken from them, and nothing will remain!  Jesus’ ascension is the guarantee of His utter and final victory!
    • This is why those who trust in the Risen Jesus have nothing to fear in life!  If God be for us, who can be against us?  Yes, we endure trials and hardships and sorrows.  We will grieve, just like Peter, Paul, and every other devoted follower of Christ.  We will endure sickness and suffering and hardship, and likely persecution in this life.  But ONLY in this life.  Because Jesus is risen, WE will rise.  Because Jesus lives, WE will live.  Because Jesus is exalted and glorified, WE will be glorified.  Our life and eternal hope is wrapped up in His own, and we will experience what our Lord experiences because we have been graced to share in His inheritance (Rom 8:17).  And with that in mind, what exactly should we fear?  Nothing!  What can this life throw at us that eternity does not wash away?  What can we experience now that will not be utterly overwhelmed in the glories of heaven with Jesus?  Beloved, this is what it means to hope in the resurrection of Jesus!  Do you have that hope?
  • Peter’s conclusion: Jesus is the Christ

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

  • Here is the point that Peter has been building up to this entire time.  He’s built his case: he reminded them of Who Jesus already showed Himself to be prior to His crucifixion – how the Scriptures prophesied of everything regarding the expected Messiah (death, burial, resurrection, ascension) – and now Peter puts it all together in one fell swoop.  Jesus matches it all.  The proof is abundant that Jesus is the Lord and Christ.  Jesus is the “Lord” of whom David observed speaking with Yahweh God (the LORD), and Jesus is the Christ of whom David wrote that His flesh would not see corruption.  All of Israel could now look to Jesus of Nazareth and “know assuredly” the declaration and work of God regarding Him.  Jesus is the Lord God in the flesh, and He is the Messiah Christ King of Israel.  Jesus is the Savior of the world, and the One deserving of all worship.
  • Peter spoke this to the people of Jerusalem, but the truth rings out across the ages to us today.  Let all the world know assuredly that God has made Jesus both Lord & Christ!  This is what we see in the resurrection – this is what we celebrate at Easter.  The Crucified One is the Victorious One – the Divine One – the Royal One.  Let that truth sink in – let your heart absorb that fact.  The One whose name we so often use as a cuss word – the One whose cross of death we throw casually around as meaningless – this is the Living God of the Universe, and the King of all the world.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the men of Jerusalem that day as they take this all in.  They had seen Jesus with their own eyes – they were there when it all happened – they had even heard the stories of Jesus rising from the dead (after all, no one bothered objecting to Peter at the time).  And then all of a sudden it starts to sink in…they were the ones who despised, abused, and delivered Jesus to be crucified.  They had cried out for the torture and death of God the Son, their King.  Vs. 37…
  • Response and invitation (vss. 37-39)

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

  • No doubt they were cut to the heart!  They were pierced to the quick!  They knew they had to do something to respond, but they didn’t know what.
  • Some of you might be cut to the heart as well.  After all, although you didn’t physically cry out to Pilate for Jesus’ crucifixion, you were the reason He was crucified.  When Jesus died upon the cross, He didn’t die for His sins; He died for yours and for mine.  Every sin for every man, woman, and child throughout all history was placed upon His shoulders, and He died for you.  You may not have physically spat in His face, but all your life you were a spiritual enemy of God.  You wanted your way – you wanted to walk according to your lusts and your desires & who cares what God thinks.  So what if God gave you life & and breath?  You wanted your way, period.  Know this: that IS spitting in the face of God!  That is treasonous rebellion against the God to Whom all the world owes our allegiance and worship.  We were the reasons Jesus died that horrendous death upon the cross, and we are faced with the very real reality of seeing Him on the Day of Judgment.  And what will happen on that Day?  All of His enemies will be made His footstool!  We sent God to the cross, but that God lives today in power, might, and victory.  Just like the Jews of Jerusalem, we ought to be asking, “What shall we do?”!

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • We must respond to the resurrection of Jesus, and the declaration of God that Jesus is the Lord and Christ.  How?  Response #1: Turn to Christ – “repent.”  The word “repentance” refers to a change of mind and change of direction.  We change the way we think about sin, turning away from it – forsaking it – leaving it in the past.  We change the way we think about Jesus, and we turn to Him in faith.  There is a turning from and a turning to: from sin, to Jesus.
  • Response #2: Trust in Christ – “be baptized.”  Not that baptism saves us, but baptism is the expression of our identification with Jesus.  Notice Peter tells them to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”  Water doesn’t wash away sin; only the blood of Jesus can do that.  When we trust in the name (the person) of Jesus for forgiveness – when we believe upon Him to be saved, we are identifying ourselves with Him.  All of our hope is in Him, all of our life is in Him.  Physical water baptism is simply the expression of that.  We’ve been immersed into the work of Jesus as He went into the grave and rose to life (so we are laid into the water and rise up again in newness). 
  • These two responses (repentance & baptism / turning to Christ and trusting in Christ) is what we are to do in light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  The promise that comes to those who respond? “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  You will be born to new life!  You will be indwelled with the very Person of God the Holy Spirit, just like the believers in Jesus were on that first day of Pentecost.  God promised to pour out His Spirit on those who called upon His name, and those who did would be saved. 
    • Do you want the assurance that your sins are forgiven?  Do you want the assurance that you have received the promise of eternal life?  Do you want to know that you know you will live with Jesus in forever victory?  Then turn to Jesus in repentance, trust Him in faith, and receive the promise of the Holy Spirit!

39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

  • Did you catch that?  The promise was made to the Jews of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, but it wasn’t made only to them.  It was to their children as well, but not just to the Jews.  It was made to “all who are afar off,” including the world of Gentiles.  It was made to all peoples throughout all ages, “as many as the Lord our God will call.”  IOW, it was made to us, too.  Some people wonder, “Is there room at the cross for me?  Can I really be forgiven?  Can I really be saved?”  The glorious answer is YES!  Every single person whom God calls to be saved WILL be saved.  There is no sin that will keep you from Christ, except the sin of stubborn unbelief.  Those who refuse to answer the call of God will not be saved, but that’s not God’s fault…it’s ours.  Don’t refuse the call of God!  Don’t turn away from the resurrected Jesus!

Conclusion:
So what was Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost?  It was all about Easter – it was all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is risen, so Jesus is Lord.  God has declared Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ – He is God and King.

That news reverberates throughout history, having brought salvation to untold multitudes – as many as the Lord God has called.  He still calls people today.  Even in 2015, almost two thousand years after Jesus rose up from the grave, people still have the opportunity to respond to His resurrection by turning to Him and trusting Him by faith.

Many of us have done that.  Whether it was last week, or decades ago – we’ve trusted in our Lord Jesus, and we’ve received the forgiveness of sins.  We have the assurance that we will live with our Living Lord Jesus in eternity, and we will witness with our own eyes the moment that death and Satan are forever cast away into the lake of fire.  Today is a day of rejoicing!  Today is a day of remembrance!  Today is the day that we celebrate the very foundation of our faith.  It Jesus be not raised, we have absolutely nothing and no hope.  But because Jesus IS raised, Jesus is declared to be the Lord God of all creation, and all of our hope is certain and sure in Him.  Celebrate Him today, and follow the example of Peter, and the other men and women who first saw the Resurrected Jesus by telling everyone you know that Jesus is risen & Jesus is Lord!

For others, you have not yet responded to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but you have the opportunity right now.  You know God is calling to you to place your faith in Him.  You know that to this point you’ve been warring against God, walking in ways that are in rebellion to Him.  Those were the reasons Jesus died.  His cross ought to have been your cross.  His death ought to have been your death.  But it wasn’t.  He stepped into your place, taking the wrath of God so that you wouldn’t have to.  Now He lives!  He rose in victory.  Your sins can be forgiven, and you can have the sure promise of eternal life.  But it doesn’t come without a response.  You have to turn and trust Christ.  Do it.  Don’t harden your heart – don’t try to make excuses – just respond to the loving call of God who wants you to be saved.