This Week’s Reading Schedule
Monday’s (today’s) Bible Reading is Acts 1-5
Tuesday, Mar. 27: Acts 6-11
Wednesday, Mar. 28: Acts 12-17
Thursday, Mar. 29: Acts 18-23
Friday, Mar. 30: Acts 24-28
The overall year’s plan is here.
The reason we jumped straight from Luke to Acts is because Acts is a continuation of Luke. Luke tells the life of Christ in a human body on earth, and Acts tells us the life of Christ in the church.
Jesus has not only died, but he’s risen from the dead. Shortly he will ascend to heaven, and he’s leaving last instructions for the apostles.
Obviously, he’s not going to waste time. He’s going to talk about what’s important, and we find him talking about one thing: the Holy Spirit.
The apostles even ask him about the coming kingdom. Jesus says not to worry about it, the Father knows those times and no one else does (an excellent reminder for us today). As with all end time discussions, there should be only one conclusion: be about your business. Do what God has called you to do.
For the apostles, that meant wait in Jerusalem to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
As the apostles watched him ascend to heaven, they are told that he will return the same way. A clear promise of his return.
The apostles obey Jesus’ last command. They find an upper room in Jerusalem, and they wait. While they are waiting, they choose a replacement for Judas.
The chosen replacement is Matthias, but we should note, even more importantly, just what role Matthias is replacing: "One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (v. 22, NASB).
Today, we want to look at how central this role was to the apostles, the power of it, and its relationship to the Gospel preached in Acts versus the Gospel we tend to preach today.
The day finally comes, and it is the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. Remember, the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Everything is brought to fulness, including the feasts. Jesus fulfilled the Passover with his death, and now the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the apostles as the first fruit of the Gospel for Pentecost.
The event is remarkable. There’s a loud noise, which sounds like a mighty wind, then flames of fire light on the head of each of those who are present, and they begin to speak in languages they’ve never learned. In this case, those languages are understood by bystanders, but later cases of speaking in languages like this probably have no understanding bystanders (1 Cor. 14:2).
The hearers begin to mock and wonder, so Peter stands up and delivers the first Gospel sermon.
This is the promise of the Holy Spirit, he tells them, citing Joel’s prophecy.
Peter then gets immediately to Jesus Christ, beginning with the very first sentence after the prophecy. God backed Jesus up with miracles, signs, and wonders. All of you know this, but you killed him anyway.
Here’s where we focus on the importance of the apostles as witnesses of the resurrection. Peter has just told the Jews that they had put Jesus to death.
This provides two perfect opportunities. One, you can explain why Jesus died. You can explain that man is a sinner, that heaven is a free gift, and that Jesus’ death provides that free gift. That is what we would do today, since we consider explaining the atonement an absolute essential to the Gospel.
Peter did not take that opportunity, though. He took the other. Mentioning Jesus’ death is an opportunity to testify that Jesus rose from the dead.
Over and over throughout Acts, we will find that the apostles knew what their role was to the world. They were witnesses of the resurrection. Their job was not to explain the atonement or any other Christian doctrine to the lost. They were to testify that Jesus is the resurrected Lord. He could take care of the rest.
Later, when those lost people were Christians, believing in Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, there would be ample opportunity to explain why he needed to die and rise.
The quotes from Psalms are a Scriptural argument by Peter for the resurrection of the Messiah. David had clearly written of the resurrection, but they all knew that David himself hadn’t resurrected. No, he was a prophet, and he was prophesying the resurrection of the Messiah. Now Jesus had risen from the dead, proving himself to be both Lord and Messiah.
This was enough for the Jews. They didn’t need an explanation of sin or heaven. They were cut to the heart, and they cried out for salvation.
Peter’s answer is simple. Repent and be baptized. In response, God would give the Holy Spirit, the very thing that had prompted this sermon in the first place.
Baptism can be a controversial doctrine today, but it shouldn’t be. I’ve said before that many, if not most, Christians are just as stuck on tradition as the Pharisees. We all have to beware of this.
Baptism is the entrance rite into the Christian faith. Many churches have replaced it with what they call a "sinner’s prayer." The fact is, though, that throughout Acts, you will see the apostles baptizing converts, not praying a prayer with them. Every baptism verse in the apostles’ writings backs this up. It’s just not a questionable doctrine.
Peter’s sermon does not end there, according to Acts. He continued to exhort them to be saved from their corrupt generation. Once he was done, everyone who received his word was baptized, some 3,000 men in one day.
This passage gives us a description of the life of the very first Christians. They were a new family, and they threw themselves into their life together.
Many people think this kind of life was limited to Jerusalem. A look at church history let’s us know this isn’t true. We’ve already seen in Luke that Jesus repeatedly emphasized that his family must be the first family of the disciple, even over their natural families. It should not surprise us, then, that the apostles and their hearers took them seriously.
You shall share everything with your neighbor. You shall not call anything your own. For if you share together the things which are imperishable, how much more should you share what is perishable! (Letter of Barnabas 19, A.D. 80-130)
We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone in need. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 14, c. A.D. 150)
The family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you [Romans], create fraternal bonds among us. One in heart and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. Everything is common among us except our wives. (Tertullian, Apology 39, c. A.D. 210)
It may seem like this kind of sharing is difficult to see in the apostles letters, but it’s there.
I’m not suggesting that other men be eased, and you burdened. I’m suggesting an equality. Right now, your abundance supplies their lack, so that their abundance may be a supply for your lack, so that there may be an equality. As it is written, "He that gathered much had nothing left over, and he that gathered little had no lack." (2 Cor. 8:13-15)
Charge those that are rich in this world … that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)
It’s my hope that anyone who has received the Gospel, received the Spirit of God, and fallen in love with Jesus Christ would be thrilled about this kind of lifestyle. Acts 2:42-47 should create a longing in our souls.
It doesn’t in everyone. Some people, especially in America, find this world quite satisfying in and of itself, without all that fellowship. Such must be warned that the one who makes himself a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (Jam. 4:4), but just as importantly, the world is full of lonely, hurting people who need more than a prayer and a pat on the back. They need a family to be brought into.
This chapter begins with Peter and John healing a lame man. A crowd gathers, and we get to hear another Gospel sermon.
Notice again that the entire focus of that sermon is on Jesus Christ, front to back. Peter mentions that Jesus died, but once again it is not to explain the atonement, but to announce that God raised him from the dead (v. 15). He even stops to point out that the apostles are the witnesses of that fact.
Peter tells them that their sins can be wiped away, but again he does not tie this to the atonement. Forgiveness of sins is tied to the atonement, but explaining that can wait until these people are Christians. For right now, what’s important is to testify that Jesus is risen from the dead, that he is the Messiah, and that they should believe in him. They can learn what he did later.
Thus, he promises that their sins can be wiped away, but he ties this to what they must do, which is "repent and return" (v. 19).
It is interesting to note that repenting and returning will not only bring forgiveness of sins, but will help bring Jesus Christ back faster. Heaven has received him until the time of the restoration of all things, but our obedience is tied to hastening that day both here and in 2 Peter 3:11-12.
Everything Jesus said would happen to the apostles is coming to pass in this chapter. They are standing before leaders, and they are not having to prepare what they’re going to say. The Holy Spirit is giving them words, and both their words and boldness are carrying power.
Peter and John return and tell everyone what has happened. They begin to pray, and I think it’s important to point out that they quote Psalm 2 in their prayer.
We looked at Psalm 2 a number of days ago, which is a Messianic Psalm. I think usually it would be understood to return to the second coming of Christ, but the church applies it to this age and this coming of Christ. They tell us that Herod, Pilate, all the Gentiles, and the Israelites were united against Christ to put him to death.
The church then prays for boldness, not for deliverance. It doesn’t matter if they are persecuted. Jesus promised that would happen. "Grant that your bondservants may speak your word with all confidence" (v. 29, NASB).
They do pray for healing and signs to back them up, something that was abundant whenever the apostles testified of the resurrection.
They get a glorious answer, as the whole place is shaken, and they are filled with the Spirit and boldness.
Here we find the church still sharing everything, and we find the apostles bearing witness to the resurrection with great power.
There is no indication that anyone else is preaching the resurrection or working miracles, just the apostles, but that will change in tomorrow’s reading.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a shocking story, and it’s a reality check concerning the real Gospel. The real Gospel has power. A real love feast (Lord’s Supper) should have the power to make sick and even kill (1 Cor. 11:30).
Note, too, that Ananias and Sapphira were not killed for withholding money from God. They were killed for attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit. The lie was the problem. Peter makes it clear that the money itself was theirs to keep or give (v. 4).
It is still only the apostles who are working miracles, and Peter especially is working amazing miracles.
The high priest and his companions, the Sadducees, finally lock up the apostles in a fit of jealousy, apparently wishing they had the same power and influence among the people as the apostles. It does no good, as an angel of the Lord lets them out.
When they are called back before the Council, they speak boldly. The Council accuses them of trying to pin Jesus’ death on them, and the apostles tell them that’s exactly what happened.
They also repeat their basic message as witnesses of the resurrection. The resurrection proves that Jesus "is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (v. 31, NASB).
The Council was so convicted and furious that they were going to kill the apostles, but Gamaliel’s wisdom saved the apostles. Nonetheless, the Council flogged them before letting them go.
This had no effect on the apostles, except to make them rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ.