The Power to be HIS Witnesses (Acts 1)

< If you are just beginning to read this series with this post today, you might want to look at the online web page for two background writings that will help you understand this series and the book of Acts. >

Incredible Change

They had dropped everything to follow this guy Jesus around Palestine. They saw incredible things – healings and all sorts of miracles, and crowds of people. What a pinnacle moment it must have been to see their teacher riding into Jerusalem and hailed with the shouts of “Hosanna!”

But in less than a week’s time, that had all come crashing down. They saw him die on a Roman cross. Peter appears to be the biggest loser of the crew – cursing in denial of knowing the one whom he had previously called “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  But back off on being too hard on him, as none of the rest were even close enough to possibly commit such a failure.

But sorrow had turned to unbelievable joy. Jesus had risen. He appeared to them intermittently over a period of 40 days – not as some sort of ghost or spirit, but in his resurrected flesh, even eating with them. Jesus taught them much about the entire idea of the kingdom of God. So many of the confusing events and teachings over the past three years of the earthly ministry of Christ were now being clarified in new ways.

But what was next? Where were they to go? Would Jesus continue with them? Even during the time before these amazing events he had said to them that he was going away … that he would send the Spirit, not just to be with them as he was, but to actually reside IN them. And now, one day while eating together, Jesus said they should stay in Jerusalem until the gift of the promised Holy Spirit would come upon them.

But what about the Kingdom promised to the nation of Israel? Would it be restored at that time? Jesus did not rebuke them for asking a dumb question! It was simply not for them to know or be concerned about the time of such, though it would yet happen. Rather, Jesus gave them the command to be his witnesses, bearing testimony of all they had seen and been taught, beginning there in Jerusalem and then moving out to the whole world.

So, if you were Jesus, would you trust this mission to a bunch of guys who had so recently abandoned you at the most needful hour? I know; it is hard to think like Jesus! But here is the difference: at the end of their period of waiting, they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit – giving them a power that was entirely different than their previous condition. And oh, what a difference it would make! In less than two months, they would go from cowering cowards, to bold witnesses in the visual presence of the most powerful people in society. They would change the world!

Jesus ascended into heaven, from which the announced promise was that he would return in like fashion … and we today yet wait for that return, and we therefore have the same mission as given to those disciples in verse eight. That verse serves as the key sentence that essentially outlines what the book Acts is all about – the witness of the apostles and early believers as through them, empowered by the Spirit, the message of the Gospel would spread from Jerusalem, to the surrounding area of Judea, to the next areas beyond (like Samaria), and ultimately to the ends of the earth.

We call this The Great Commission … and it remains our commission as a church. We want to likewise be faithful locally, to our region and state, throughout our country, and unto the ends of the earth. As a church, we support varied ministries that represent all of these places. At TSF last week we sought to be a blessing to our area by hosting the FCA sports camp, and on Sunday we heard the report of our recent eight-member missions team to Kazakhstan – truly the uttermost part of the earth!

The power is in the work of the Spirit through us; it is not in our flesh or strength. We are dependent upon God, and we express that dependence through prayer as we look to Him to use us by that power of His Spirit living in and through us.

Acts 1:1-11 … Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

< If any of these posts are difficult to read on your device due to the format being scattered or too small, you can always click to go the web site and see the material there in its original form. >

Luke and Theophilus – Who Are these Guys? (Acts 1:1-3, Luke 1:1-4)

If I handed you a letter written from one person to another, and you began reading it somewhere in the middle, it would not likely make a lot of sense, would it? You would not know who was writing, to whom it was written, or what was the purpose for the letter.

Yet as silly as that sounds, this is exactly how many people begin studying the Bible – just jumping into the middle of some section of Scripture. And then, it is said to be difficult to understand!  No wonder!  We do not always know the “who, what, when, where, and why” for every book of the Bible, but we do know it for many, and that background helps us immensely with understanding the Scriptures.

It is fairly clear that the book of Acts was written by Luke and to a guy named Theophilus. We know that Luke also wrote his Gospel for a fellow addressed as “most excellent Theophilus.”  And though the writer of Acts never identifies himself, he likewise addresses Theophilus again and references his former written book. (Look below to see these passages.)

As well, later in the Acts of the Apostles, the writer puts himself into the narrative of traveling with Paul for a time by talking about the places “we” went in “our” group. From other New Testament writings we are able to know who was with Paul at that time, and the list includes Luke. All the others are mentioned by name at some point in Acts, and so the process of elimination makes it pretty clear that Luke is the writer. We know too from Colossians 4:14 that Luke was a physician, as well as being a gentile believer in Christ.

The identity of Theophilus is more obscure. Many believe he was some sort of gentile Roman official who was interested in an accounting of who was this fellow named Jesus Christ, along with curiosity about what was this message of the Gospel. If so, that would make him likely a seeker of truth, perhaps someone very unique among his circle of acquaintances – which were more likely to ridicule this faith with its Eastern origins.

So the books of Luke and Acts go together. Just as it was unimaginable to write of the work of Jesus Christ without also recording the results worldwide of his teaching, it was likewise incomplete for Luke to write a history of those results without first reviewing the earthly ministry of Christ.

The title of the book “The Acts of the Apostles” was of course not selected by Luke, but was rather how it was commonly referenced in the first century or so after it was written. Peter is the primary character for the first part of the writing, while Paul takes center stage in the latter half. Some have said it should more appropriately be called “The Acts of the Spirit,” since it records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and then the subsequent work of the Spirit in the spread of the Gospel.

Whatever it is called, it does present the growth of the message of the Gospel and the expansion of this truth through the establishment of the church in the Roman world. We would really be lost to understand so much about the letters to the churches that comprise the Epistles without having this historical background. And the book gives us a practical model for living in the midst of a secular world.

And beyond this historic progress report of the spread of Christianity, another theme is the prominence of prayer as supportive for successful living and ministry. And that is especially why we are studying the book this summer.

Luke 1:1-4

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilledamong us,just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Acts 1:1-3

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.