After spending the first 285 days of 2021 looking at the Gospel of John, today we are taking a logical next step in our studies and conversation. Today we are going to start walking into the book of Acts. Not because it is on the next page--it is actually written as the continuation of the book of Luke--but as we walk out of John, we look to context to the “what next” after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Acts is a narrative between the resurrection of Jesus and the death of Paul, a time when Christian ideas and beliefs were being formulated and organized, when the Church is in its infancy, and--this is the focus of the text--when the Great Commission is being exercised: to Jerusalem, to Judea, and to the ends of the world.
A large part of our initial pull into talking through Acts is the window into Peter’s life after his reinstatement--what we looked at last week. Peter was asked by Jesus after a nice fish breakfast (John 21), Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Take care of my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
And as we’ll see in our text today, something about this process “broke” something in Peter, in a good way. We’ll reflect on the wide array of Peter’s experience a bit later.
Jesus appeared to different people, but certainly in concentration He appeared to the disciples for 40 days following His death. This had to feel like the ultimate season--We have arrived! This has to be what we have been working towards!
But beyond logic, beyond what they had to be thinking,the real season of God building the church was not yet here. What Jesus was preparing the disciples for was not yet here.
Resurrected Jesus was not going to hang out forever as they were experiencing. Even after Jesus’ death/resurrection, the disciples and followers seemed to still be really concerned with when Jesus would restore Israel. And for good reason, because that’s what they’d heard for hundreds of years, that the Messiah would restore Israel at some point. But Jesus was more concerned with right at that moment, and even though the disciples didn’t see everything clearly, He didn’t rebuke them but invited them into the work the Holy Spirit was doing and commissioned them into it. It speaks a lot to the idea of learning to focus on what God has for us, what’s in front of us right now, even if there are some unanswered questions about really important things for the future.
Lets jump into the narrative:
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 with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the 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.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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.” (Acts 1:1-11)
Was this a moment of inspiration? Anguish? Clarity? Confusion? Hope? Trauma?
Jesus was alive. While He was alive, you had amazing relationship with Him. You saw, experienced, felt, learned. Then Jesus was arrested, sentenced to death, and crucified. And before you could catch your breath, Jesus was alive again!
And now with a massive instruction:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
If you had just seen Jesus depart, what would be your immediate reaction and processing?
Before Jesus dies and comes back to life, He has a meal with his disciples that we call “the Last Supper.” He mentions a new covenant He’s going to introduce.
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)
In Genesis chapter 11, we are introduced to Abram, soon to be known as Abraham. And in chapter 12 we see the first stating of God’s covenant with Abraham:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
This covenant is repeated, clarified, processed, and challenged. One of the beautiful and challenging things of this whole covenant is that it was not coupled with perfect people and perfect scenarios.
It is challenging because of the failing of people. It is encouraging because of God’s relationship with imperfect people, just like us. It is complicated because it was walked in, but also not completed. It was about then, but it is also about now.
One thing that is certain is that this covenant with Abraham was not forgotten. And now here in Jesus’ ascension / departure, the covenant comes to the surface again.
Here again is the last aspect that God presented to Abraham:
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3b)
And now Jesus says:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Hear it from Matthew:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Because of who Jesus is, because of what He did, because of His sacrifice, Jesus looks at His disciples and tells them that they are not just in relationship with God. He tells them that they are now the covenant.
You. Go. To us. To them. To all.
Jesus’ call for us to be part of the fulfilling of the Covenant:
What does that say about God?
What does that say about His relationship with us?
How does it shape for you what it is to be a follower of Jesus?
Acts is the living out of the Great Commission--living it out with imperfect people, in imperfect situations. It is not a story of perfection.
Acts comes at us in the movements of the Great Commission: go to these places and do these things. A + B = C. But there’s so much complexity to what Jesus invites the disciples/us into:
Go to Jerusalem (the place where Jesus was arrested, tortured, executed)--the insider. To Judea (the place where Jesus’ ministry was rejected)--the neighbor. To Samaria (the place where the enemies of God resided)--the outsider. To the ends of the world--everyone.
And Acts starts squarely in the insider.
It was the day of Pentecost. In Jewish tradition, the festival celebrated here (Shavuot) was primarily a thanksgiving for the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, but it was later associated with a remembrance of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
As the disciples celebrated Pentecost, they would have been familiar with the idea of covenant and all of these Old Testament pictures of a “New Covenant.”
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
The Jewish community knew this “prophecy” and waited expectantly on it, on the day when a new covenant would be established between God and His people. Luke makes mention of this new covenant when the disciples gather with Jesus at the Last Supper:
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
And with all of this context, we see the Holy Spirit show up at Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:1-13)
What is going to happen? Is God going to blow stuff up? Will the disciples cower and continue to hide? What will be the result of all of this?
Peter, who was called by Jesus, who had his name changed by Jesus, who walked on water (and sank), who declared commitment to Jesus and denied knowing Jesus--Peter, who was reinstated by Jesus--Peter steps up.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:14-41)
Here was a crowd, in Jerusalem for Pentecost, celebrating God’s provision. They loved God. They feared God. They were “good” people. But they didn’t embrace Jesus.
Acts is the living out of the Great Commission. Here is living out the commissioning to the insider.
Peter was not perfect. Peter was still fallible. And we’re not responsible for people to grow! But what we do or don’t do is important. It’s important that we represent Jesus well, but we don’t do that by trying to force people any direction.
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7)
What should great people in your life who don’t know Jesus see, hear and experience from you?
We are at the insiders being insiders moment. But what next? What did the insiders do next? Depending on how you count it, 12 things:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Next week we will be looking at chapters 3 and 4, and they too will end with one of these moments, one of these how-did-they-live discourses. But now, in the insiders movement of Acts:
How are you challenged/encouraged by this lifestyle?
What do you want to start?
What do you need to stop to make space for that to occur?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Acts 2.
- What are you normally doing on a Saturday morning at 9am?
- From Peter’s words, what did these people who loved and feared God need to hear?
- What do already good people receive with a relationship with Jesus?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, confused by verses 42-47?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Numbers 33
- Numbers 34
- Numbers 35
- Numbers 36
- Acts 4
- Acts 5
- Acts 6