In our study, we look back at the early church in hopes of applying it to our lives as believers in the world today. The book was written by Luke who was an associate of Paul. This is the same "Luke" that wrote the book "Luke". He used eyewitness accounts as well as written documents to present an accurate history of the life of Jesus (in the book of Luke) and the early church (in this book). It is a transitional book that explains to us how Christianity grew from a small group of Jews that followed Jesus to a very large group that include Gentiles. Acts was completed in the year 62 AD which is about 30 years after Jesus was crucified.
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In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach
Most of us probably just blast right through this verse when we read this book but I think that in doing so we miss something. The former book that Luke refers to is The Gospel According To Luke. There are two schools of thought about Theophilus. Theophilus, at that time in Biblical history, was often used as an honorary title and it's meaning is "friend of God" or "lover of God". Many people take this view in that the book was not addressed to a single individual but to the Christians of those days. Others believe that Theophilus, in this sense, was a person of that time. Many believe it to be addressed to Theophilus ben Ananus who was the brother-in-law of Caiaphas and the High Priest at the Temple from 37-41 A.D. Personally, I believe that Luke is using Theophilus as an honorary title in this case. If you look at what was happening during the time of the writing of this book, the Christians of these days were being singled out and persecuted to the point of execution. For Luke to address the book to an individual it would effectively be a death warrant for "Theophilus". I think that the question we each should ask ourselves is am I a "friend of God"/"lover of God". If our answer is yes, then, this book is a history book and it is addressed to us. It tells us how the church got to the point where we, as Gentiles (non-Jews) received the Word of God. If our answer to the question is no, then, we need to go back and read the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. What does "friend of God"/"lover of God" mean to you?
until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
As we see here, Luke is still referring to the Gospel account that he had already written. We talked about being a "friend of God" and, in the first part of this verse, we see that Jesus was "taken up to heaven". Isn't it awesome to know that we have a friend in heaven? The last part of today's verse basically tells us why Jesus came back to earth after his death , burial, and resurrection. Keep in mind that Jesus had already taken care of our sins and made the way for us to have a right relationship with God. But, God knew that it was going to be tough to be different and to follow Jesus. God, in his infinite love and mercy, sent us the power to do what he knew we couldn't do alone. That power comes in the form of the Holy Spirit. We need to each and everyone stop and to ask ourselves the question "Do I have the Holy Spirit at work within and through me or am I trying to follow Jesus in my own strength?" God has given us this gift as a way of knowing that we are his, therefore, if we do not have that gift, we need to go back and look at the gospel accounts of Jesus and decide whether we accept him as our Lord and Savior or not. In the other Gospel accounts, these instructions are referred to as "the great commission". Luke reminds us that Jesus gave instructions to the apostles as to what he wanted them to do. If we go back to the Gospel According to Luke, we see that the instructions that Jesus gave were clear and to the point. First, Jesus told them to wait until they received the power to do the will of God. He told them that power would come through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The second part of his instructions were simple and basically he said to go and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ's name. This brings us to another question that we each have to ask ourselves. Are we preaching repentance and forgiveness? Most of us realize that we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us personally to follow Jesus but we are reminded here that, once we have that power, we are to use it to reach a hurting world. When was the last time you used that power to do what Jesus instructed?
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men 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.
When we think of his suffering, we usually think of Jesus hanging on a cross for our sins. It is good to remember the physical pain but the suffering was so much more. While Jesus was on the cross, he experienced for the first time what is was like not to have the Father in his life. That had to be such an agonizing lonely feeling. Jesus even cried out my God why have you forsaken me. Can you imagine what it would be like if God was to no longer be a part of your life? Our verse goes on to say that he "gave many convincing proofs that he was alive". You see the apostles, even after being with Jesus throughout his ministry on the Earth, still did not understand about the resurrection. There were many theories at that time to explain where Jesus' body had gone. But, when Jesus showed up in the flesh, the apostles believed. Each and every one of us have to come to the same conclusion because, if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, we have no hope and no friend in heaven. If you do not believe it, then go back and read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Either every word that Jesus said was true or none of it was. You have to make that decision on your own. The last part of today's verse says that Jesus was with them for forty days and told them about the kingdom of God. You see, only after coming to know that Jesus is who he said he was, are you prepared to learn and to grow. Today, we have the chance for God to tell us about his kingdom. Every day when we read his word we have the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and to grow. Got the Spirit? If not, go back and read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. If you have got the Holy Spirit, pray that God will help you to understand his word.
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."
One thing that jumps out at me in the first part of this verse is the fact that it says "while he was eating with them". We probably just blow on by this when we read this verse but have you ever asked yourself why Jesus would have been eating with them? As we looked at yesterday, this happened after Jesus was resurrected so I don't think Jesus ate to fulfill his own needs. It seems to me that Jesus probably dined with the apostles to help them to be more comfortable. Isn't it awesome to see that no matter what Jesus was always putting others first? The command that he gave the apostles is just as significant for us today as it was to them at the time. He told them to wait for the Holy Spirit before they left to do the work that he was going to give them. How often do you and I want to go ahead without the guidance from the Holy Spirit? It is very tempting to try to do so and to try to make our plans fit into God's plan but that can lead to frustration.
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
We all know of people that have been "baptized" but it seems like there is no change in their life. To me, that is a lot like John baptizing with water. Repentance is easy for a Christian but the power to overcome the sin only comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here, Jesus is reminding us that the gift of the Holy Spirit is what gives us the ability to do what God wants us to do. Once again, Jesus is telling them to wait and not try to do things on their own. How much time do you spend praying and waiting on the guidance from God? It must be very important because Jesus has mentioned it twice in only five verses and there is more to come. Today, let us all start the day by asking God to show us (through the Holy Spirit) what He wants us to do.
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
We see in this verse that the apostles still did not understand about the Kingdom of God. They always kept looking for God to overthrow the Roman government and restore the Israelite kingdom to it's former glory. They still did not see the big picture and the fact that Jesus was giving them more than a temporary earthly kingdom. We may ask ourselves why they didn't get it and criticize them but do we make the same mistake in our own daily lives? I must confess that many times I let the earthly things distract me from God's big plan. I must also confess that I am most easily distracted from God's plan when I haven't spent time reading God's word and praying.
He said to them:" It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."
In this verse, Jesus is answering the apostles question about restoring the kingdom to the Israelites. One thing that really stands out to me is that Jesus showed them love, even when they were totally wrong in their thinking. Instead of throwing up his hands in disgust, Jesus gave them an answer they could understand and turned the focus back on God. This really is an example of patience that we should take to heart. When you are faced by people that just don't get the whole "Christian thing", do you immediately try to fix them through your own power and words or do you shift the focus back to the Father? I must confess that sometimes I forget to stop, pray, and turn the focus back on God and free myself from the burden of changing people. That is God's job and I have to be humble enough to say that I can do nothing on my own.
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.
Jesus is still talking to the apostles here and we have already looked at the power of the Holy Spirit. The second part of this verse is what we will concentrate on today. Jesus tells them that, after they receive the power from the Holy Spirit, they WILL be his witnesses. This really jumps out at me and I may offend some people here but this is a very big misconception in the local churches of today. Many sermons and much time is spent begging "Christians" to get involved and to be witnesses but it seems from this verse that we don't have to beg people to get involved when they have the Spirit. Therefore, let us do our part and tell people about Jesus and let them truly understand what he did for them on the cross. Then, let's allow God to work on them and lead them in their efforts to be witnesses. Another misconception concerns what being "witnesses" really means. First of all, the word used here means martyrs. A simple definition of a martyr is someone that will tell others about Jesus without regard for the consequences. We have transformed this in our minds to mean people that die for their faith as if that is a larger sacrifice than living for Christ in a hostile environment. Do you have a hostile environment at work because they know you are a Christian? Do you live in a home where your family members do not know Jesus and you have to deal with that environment? Do you not fit into the cliques at school because of your faith? My friends, if you are in a situation like that, you are a martyr (witness) for Jesus Christ. In the last part of today's verse, Jesus tells the apostles where they would be doing this work of being a martyr. He tells them "to the ends of the earth". We like to speed on past this part but there is another misconception that is prevalent among the local church. I believe that this misconception is one of the most damaging in the local church bodies today. The misconception is the practice of "giving money to missions" instead of going to the ends of the earth. Jesus did not tell these men to hire someone to go to the ends of the earth he told them to go. We, especially the local churches in America, have basically turned our backs on this call and rationalized it by saying we gave money for someone else to do it.
After He said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
For me, this is such a cool verse. We talked earlier about having a friend in Jesus, now we learn that our friend went up to heaven. We would all agree that it is great to have friends here on earth but that doesn't come close to having a friend in heaven at the very right hand of God (the creator of the universe). That's our Jesus! Maybe some of you that read this are not a part of the "in crowd" . Maybe you are called names, picked on, beat up, etc. Maybe you have tried drugs, alcohol, sex, or something else to kill the pain of not fitting in but found they are not the answer. If you grab on and hold on to Jesus, then you have a very powerful friend that can help you to overcome anything. This same Jesus is the one that is in heaven. Do you know him? If you do, remember that you are never alone. If you don't know him, find out about him before it's too late.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
Can you imagine Jesus giving you instructions and then going up to heaven before your very eyes? When this verse says "they were looking intently" I want to say duh, that's got to get your attention. How awesome is Jesus! Then it says "two men dressed in white stood beside them". The fact that there was two men there is significant because, in the Old Testament, it took two or three men saying the same thing as a sign that it was the truth.
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."
We can find comfort in this verse during the rough times of our life. Just the fact that Jesus is coming back for us is such a wonderful promise but are we doing what the apostles were doing? Are we stuck standing there looking up and waiting for his return? Just a few verses earlier, Jesus had given them instructions. They were to wait for the power, then, get to work reaching the world. We, as Christians today, have that same power as well as the same mission. If you are still standing looking up and waiting, then maybe you need to fall to your knees and ask yourself do you really know Jesus. My friends, the simple fact of the matter is that, if you know Jesus, you will be his witness just like he told the apostles.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath's walk from the city.
This verse gives us an example of simple obedience to the Lord. You see, for the apostles, Jerusalem was not their home but, because Jesus told them to, they went there to wait. They were promised a gift (Holy Spirit) but, if they had chosen to go their own way, they would have missed out on that gift. How many times do we, as Christians, miss out on blessings from God because we choose to go our own way? The second part of the verse "a sabbath's walk from the city", brings such joy to my heart. It reminds me of the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. You see, without Christ's sacrifice, every aspect of life was covered by a law even down to how far you could walk on a Sabbath. Thank God that, through Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the bondage of the law. Even so, today, many local churches try to make up various rules as to what it takes to be a part of their group or denomination. Why do we as people try to go back to bondage instead of rejoicing in our freedom and savior?
When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
Can you imagine what the conversation was like? These men had just watched Jesus ascend into heaven. While they waited for the Spirit to be given, they only had each other. Why didn't God send the Spirit right away? When was this promised gift going to come? Were they going to be arrested and crucified like Jesus? The eleven remaining apostles simply trusted and obeyed Jesus. Would I have been that faithful? Sometimes, I wonder and many times I have failed with lesser challenges than those. Even so, to me, this passage shows us the value of a community of believers. We, as Christians today, have the Holy Spirit but there is still tremendous value in having a group of brothers/sisters in Christ that you meet and serve with.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
How big a part does prayer play in your life? It says here that, for the early church, it was a constant thing. It was intentional and natural. That, my friends, is what happens when you realize the power that you have through the Spirit and the gratitude and love you have from knowing our Savior. Is prayer a vital part of your life or is it a ritual that you go through?
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)
It may seem, at first glance, that there is not much in this verse. For me, it is very encouraging. Christianity started with one man (Jesus) and now it is up to 120. The number 120 was important in the Jewish customs as that was the number of people required to legally establish a new community with its own council. You may say well that was Jesus and he was God. Well, as we have already learned, we Christians have that same power at work in us today. And, as we will see, the growth of the early church was truly amazing. What would happen if we would simply trust in the Holy Spirit and do what Jesus told the apostles to do just a few verses earlier?
and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus-"
Remember, that this is Peter speaking to the early church. He is telling them, here, that God was not surprised when Judas betrayed Jesus. That fact can comfort us today, if we allow it to. You see if you trust in God and know that he is in control of everything, it really eliminates the need to worry. That is freedom and it only comes from being secure in who God is and knowing that you have a right relationship with him. Remember, in the end, we, as Christians, win because we get to spend eternity in heaven.
"he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."
Peter is still talking about Judas here and his betrayal of Jesus. Remember from yesterday that this betrayal did not surprise God. God didn't have to come up with a backup plan because of the actions of Judas. You might ask yourself, how could Judas have been with Jesus all that time and then turn on him? If we are honest with ourselves, there are probably several times each day that we do the same things. Do you pass up God given opportunities to share the gospel? Do you try to do things your own way instead of listening to the Spirit? My friends, let us stop being a Judas and vow to do better. That can only happen through the Holy Spirit.
"With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field, there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out."
At first glance, this may seem like a harsh and gory passage from the Bible and it does paint a pretty ugly picture. For us, as Christians, it should also help us through the difficult times of persecution. You see, God is in control and in the end everyone has to answer for their own actions. If you are a Christian, you are God's child and he will take care of you even better than a mother takes care of her baby. Jesus paid the penalty for your sins. If you do not know Jesus, there is a time coming where, just like Judas, you will have to answer for your own actions. The time for mercy and grace will have passed then you will be on your own. Do you know Jesus? If you know him, are you willing to wait for him to take care of those that persecute you?
Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.
This verse reminds me that my actions have an impact on many people. In this situation, Judas thought that he had made a secret deal to turn Jesus over to the authorities. In the end, "Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this". This verse hopefully inspires us to guard our actions because those things that we may think are secrets will in the end be exposed. Thank God that, through Jesus Christ, I don't have to pay for my sins the way that Judas did.
"For," said Peter, " it is written in the book of Psalms, May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it, and, May another take his place of leadership."
Here, Peter is quoting from the book of Psalms. The Psalms that Peter are quoting are prayers to God from David. David is praying that God will repay those who persecute him. Have you ever felt that way? I know that I have but, during those times, I have to be reminded that Jesus came for my persecutor just as he came for me.
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
Peter is still talking to the early church here. He is saying that Judas, as an apostle, must be replaced. He is also saying that it can't be just anyone that assumes the position of Apostle. Today, just as in the early church, there are many Christian leaders that get caught up in titles. You see them call themselves everything from prophet to evangelist to apostle. Peter is telling us here that an apostle is not just someone that knows Christ but that it is someone that actually was there when Jesus walked the earth. I personally believe that, if the church would get over all the titles and rules that men have come up with, the Church, as a whole, would be a lot better off. There is only one title we really need and that is Christian. The simple test for that title is do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.
Here Peter is still giving the qualifications for being an apostle. As you can see, it had to be someone who had personally witnessed Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection. That narrows it down quite a bit even for those days. Today, there are many Christians searching for another title as if it makes them something more. The title of apostle is taken by many to set themselves apart. It seems like it becomes all about them, their name, and their titles. That is what we would call pride and we are taught elsewhere in the Bible that it isn't good. Are you content with the simple title of Christian? In the end, what are all the titles and fancy letters at the end of people's names going to mean?
"So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen"
These two verses give us a pattern that is very useful. You see, in the previous verses, Peter described the qualifications of someone to be an Apostle. Now they have found two men that meet those requirements and put their names forward. The next step they took was not some board meeting or other man made plan but it was to go to God in prayer. We can also learn much from their prayer. You see, by their prayer, they acknowledged that it was God's decision and knew that God had already made the choice. All they asked for in their prayer was that God would let them know His decision. Is that how we operate? Many people use prayer as a polite way of saying no. They will say "we will pray on it" when you know in your heart that they aren't and that the answer is really no. Many others will simply forget about prayer until after the decision is made and then pray for God to accept their decision. My friends, that is not how God operates.
"to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
In the first part of today's study, Peter is finishing his prayer about who should replace Judas. We should take note that Peter was very specific when he prayed. Are you specific in your prayers? You see, even though God knows all, He wants his children to ask. In the second part of today's study, we notice that after they prayed they did two things. First of all, they knew, from the scriptures, that they were praying in God's will. Then, they trusted God enough to take action. You see many people use prayer as a coward's way of doing nothing. Here, they trusted God enough to know that He could control the lot as it was cast. Many people will pray about the same thing for years (which is not wrong if it is done with the right motive) and all the time they are using prayer as an excuse to avoid action. Do you pray with confidence or do you use it as an excuse to do nothing?