Acts: For the Cause of Christ – Sermon #2

For the Cause of ChristActs: For the Cause of Christ – Sermon #2

Acts 1:12-26 – Waiting and Working

Prayer: “Let it be my life’s refrain: To live is Christ, to die is gain; deny myself, take up my cross and follow the Son”

Intro:

Last time we finished by staring after Jesus ascending into heaven being told by a couple of angels, that He would return to that spot in the same way He left. Christ had told the Eleven Apostles that they were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and then to begin witnessing in Jerusalem, then reaching out to ends of the world. So, we pick up this week continuing in chapter 1 with them doing just that, waiting…and then doing some work.

1. Waiting vv 12-15

Luke picks up right after the angels tell the Eleven that Christ would return in the same way He had just left, with “they returned to Jerusalem”. Then Luke gives one of the little details that we will see throughout the book. He tells us that the Mount of Olives is “about a Sabbath day’s journey” away from Jerusalem. So what does that mean, well here Luke is just giving us distance. Interpreting of the Law, people could travel about 2000 cubits (which was the distance of pastureland for the Levites had around the cities of refuge) 2000 cubits is roughly 1 kilometer. Now if your like me and not up on your kilometer to mile formulas, I already looked it up. 1 kilometer is just over half a mile.

So here in verse 13 we see that the Apostles went back to Jerusalem and then back to the upper room. This upper room is where they have been staying, one source called it their “base of operations” or headquarters in Jerusalem. We are not sure where exactly this room was. It is possible it was the same upper room in which they had the Last Supper with Christ, where He inaugurated the Lord’s Table and Judas had left to betray Christ; or whether it was the upper level of a large house of another follower of Jesus’.  Here Luke gives roll call. He lists the Eleven Apostles, partly I think because Luke hadn’t yet named these men in this volume, and, I think, because it sets up the rest of the chapter. Luke goes through the list of names, this list is almost identical to the one in Luke 6:14-16, when Christ had chosen them roughly three years before, the only differences are a few variations of name order (on source specifically mentions how John is listed before his brother James here), and that Judas Iscariot is no longer listed. An interesting item to note is that from here on, only Peter, John, and James are ever mentioned again in the New Testament.

Verse 14 starts by telling us what the Apostles were doing. They were praying. I think it is safe to say that they were worshipping God and that it is even possible that they had gone to the Temple for regular service. But, they did it unified. Some translations say, “they were in one accord”. But you didn’t know that Honda was building cars in the first century now did you? The Apostles were unified in their prayer and worship together. They were unified in their prayer and waiting together. Remember, they are still waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, but we see that they weren’t alone.

Verse 14 continues with listing who is there in the upper room with the Eleven. “The women”, this is a reference back to godly women who had followed Christ from Galilee (Luke 23:55), this group contained Mary the mother of Jesus. We should note that, first, this is the last specific mention of Mary in the New Testament, second we see that she is worshipping along with the Apostles. No one there was praying to Mary or kneeling before her. What does that tell us? That tells us that she is in no way central to the gospel message. She was a faithful and good servant of God for what she was called to do, but to ascribe to her more than what Scripture records is wrong.

We also that Jesus’ brothers are listed here. Now there is some debate whether the term means brother in the normal or natural sense or does it mean “other relatives”, something like cousins. The burden of proof for any other meaning is on those promoting the different meaning. From my study I found that many of the old arguments for this was to promote what the Roman Church calls the “perpetual virginity of Mary”, meaning that Mary had no other children after Jesus and some would go as far as including Joseph in that position as well. This is another example of going to far in ascribing aspects to Mary that aren’t there. I believe that the meaning here is Jesus’ half-brothers. The other children of Mary by Joseph. There’s an old saying, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, lest it result in nonsense.” Up until this point Jesus brothers were unbelievers (John 7:3-5). This probably changed after Christ’s resurrection. We are told in 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus appeared at least to His half-brother James, who would take on a role of leadership in the Jerusalem Church later on (12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18). It seems that Christ’s brothers would remain a distinct group in the early church as Paul grouped them together in 1 Cor 9:5. The beginning of of verse 15 tells us that there were about 120 people in the upper room, this is probably not all the disciples though; remember 1 Cor 15:6 tells us that Christ appeared to over 500 disciples before His ascension. So where are the rest of them? One source suggests that many of them are still in Galilee. Wherever they are, only 120 were here in the upper room in Jerusalem. I’m sure that the Eleven had told the others what happened on the Mount of Olives, what Christ had told them, how He ascended and what the Angels told them. These 120 people were unified in their prayer and worship while they were waiting.

They were waiting. They were obeying. They were praying and worshipping together. Four years ago I was tired of waiting. I started sending out my resume to churches, I had used the college (FBBC) and the GARBC resources to get my resume out. These resources are there for that purpose. We were contacted by a church in upstate New York, we went out and loved the people, the church, the area. But I wasn’t obeying. We had many difficulties getting out there, delayed flight, missed connecting flight and having to stay overnight in Chicago. The church didn’t call us. Looking back, I can see that the Lord was shutting the door, but I was trying to force it open. That lesson hurt. But now after another four years of waiting the Lord opened the door.  What are you waiting for? Are you waiting in obedience? Are you waiting with prayer and worship?

2. Working vv15-26

Even though they were waiting, they saw the need to do some work. We see here in the second half of verse 15 that Peter is again stepping into a leadership role. There doesn’t seem to be any concern or issue of his denial of the Lord before His crucifixion. It appears that everyone has accepted the Peter’s restoration by the Lord has put that in the past. Peter stands up in a position of leadership and verse 16 we see that he is getting down to business to replace Judas, so the Apostles would be back to twelve.

This seems like it would be a big deal, but Peter is going to quote passages from the Psalms to establish that the replacement of Judas was prophesied by David. He doesn’t want to name anybody an Apostle as he lays out qualifications in verses 21 and 22, but we’ll get there. It should be noted that Luke only refers to the Twelve as Apostles, except in 14:4,14. In these verses I think Luke is the more general meaning of apostolos, which is messenger. While I hold to Apostleship of Paul, I don’t think Luke was naming Barnabas as an Apostle in the sense we think about the Twelve or Paul. I think it is possible that he may have been using the term “messenger” since “missionary” wasn’t a term in the First Century.

Verses 18-19 Luke interrupts Peter’s speech and inserts some information. Basically you could draw parentheses marks around verses 18 and 19. What Luke is doing is just giving some background to his readers, since Peter wouldn’t have had to recount what happened with Judas. There is a slight variation between the account given here and in Matthew 27. In Matthew 27 we are told that the Chief priests bought the field. Probaby what happened was that the priests bought the land in Judas’ name. Matthew calls the field “Blood Field” because the land was purchased with blood money, while Luke calls it the “Field of Blood” because Judas’ corpse burst open on the field. Either way, the name is fitting. It is possible that the chief priests bought the field where Judas hanged himself and then turned the field into a cemetary for foreigners.

In verse 20 Luke picks back up with Peter’s speech. Here Peter uses two passages from Psalms as a prophetic basis to replace Judas’ position within the Apostles. The first passage is Psalm 69:25 which is used to show that Judas had been removed and the vacancy was created, then he uses Psalm 109:8 to show that a replacement is needed. We should note that Judas’ death is not what required his replacement. Nobody sought to replace James, the brother of John, after he was executed for the cause of Christ in Acts chapter 12. Judas’ death was only added to the fact that he had defected to and betrayed Christ to His enemies.

Verses 21 and 22 Peter lays out qualifications needed to fill the vacancy. I think that the Peter and the rest of the Eleven had been discussing this amongst themselves for awhile. But the qualifications given are: 1. The man had to be a follower of Jesus since John’s baptism (essentially from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry), and 2. the man had to have seen Jesus after His resurrection. Whether the reference to John’s baptism is a reference to Jesus being baptized by John or the time period of John’s ministry is unknown. But the man should have been a committed follower from the beginning of Jesus ministry although through to His ascension.

In verse 23 we are given the two men’s names. (we’re going to call the first one Joseph). Neither Joseph or Matthias are mentioned in any of the Gospel accounts. It is possible that these were the only two in that 120 that met the qualifications. In verses 24 and 25 we see the prayer of the Apostles. We don’t know exactly who did the praying, it is likely that if Peter was leading the procedure he prayed over the choice here. It is very likely that the group felt that the Lord already had a man chosen, so they prayed for clarity and guidance that they might recognize and call the right man. They didn’t want to choose the wrong man. Then after the prayer the cast lots to determine God’s will of which of these men would be chosen. Casting lots was a common Old Testament way of determining God’s will. This was not out of the ordinary. This was not voting. Casting lots was used in Israel for centuries. It was used to choose which goat was to be the scapegoat for the Day Atonement (Lev 16). The lots indicated Matthias and he was added to the Eleven. I should mention that after the Holy Spirit descends, there are no more examples of casting lots by the church in the New Testament.

It has been said that Peter and the others acted rashly and incorrectly, that the lots showed some lack of faith or reliance upon the Holy Spirit. That Paul was to be the one to take Judas’ place and the Lord would bring him in at the right time. If that is the case then: 1. Why doesn’t Scripture condemn the Matthias or the action taken here in the upper room? 2. If this was wrong, then Peter misused and misinterpreted Old Testament passages. That calls into doubt everything Peter does in Acts and his use of Old Testament Scripture in his epistles. And 3. Paul was unique and had a separate ministry from the Twelve and didn’t counted himself in that group (1 Cor 15:5, 8) and Paul doesn’t fit the qualifications listed in verses 21 and 22. I believe the Apostles and the others acted correctly. I also believe that Paul is an Apostle, though he would have distinct and separate ministry from the Twelve. Peter and the others did things orderly and with prayer. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress once said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

Is there some work the Lord is leading you to do? Is there some work you have been praying over?

Closing:

We saw how the Apostles and the others waited, with prayer, worship, and obedience. We saw how they handled work that needed to be done, with prayer, by Scripture, and orderly. We should always follow this example of periods of waiting we will face and the decisions we may have to face. Let me close with a quote.

Elizabeth Elliot wrote in her book Shadow of the ALmighty,

“William R. Newell says kneeling is a good way to pray because it is uncomfortable. Daniel prayed on his knees. Jim Elliot said, ‘God is still on His throne, we’re still His footstool, and there’s only a knee’s distance between!’ He also said, ‘That saint who advances on his knees never retreats.’”


This sermon was originally preached at First Baptist Church of Brownsdale, Minn on July 29, 2018.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ Sermon #1

The Book of Acts: For the Cause of Christ

Acts 1:1-11 – Commission and Ascension

Intro:

Today we are starting a new series on the Book of Acts. I’ve decided to call this series “For the Cause of Christ” and we’ll see the passion and endurance the Apostles had in spreading the Gospel of Christ around the world. So we’ll start at the beginning, and as the song says, it’s “a very good place to start”. Acts chapter 1, verses 1-11.

1. The Prologue and Background: vv 1-3

As we begin let me give you some background of the book itself. Most scholars believe that Acts was written by Luke, the same author of the third gospel. It is also believed that both books were probably written very close to the same time and that they were one book Luke-Acts. This combined volume was split up when the church was recognising the gospel accounts that were canonical, or what should be considered inspired of God. Some of the evidence used for Luke’s authorship of the book is in both introductions (1:1-2) and Luke 1:3-4. Both books are dedicated to the same individual, Theophilus. There are also a number of times in Acts where the author switches from third person narrative (he, she, they) to first person, these are referred to as the “we passages”. The purpose of the book to is have a written record of the Christ’s continued teaching and work through His Apostles and other believers in Jerusalem, the Judean region, and then to the ends of the world. The date this book was written is debated. Some believe it wasn’t written until the second century (100-199 AD), others believe it was written in the 70s AD, and still others believe that is was written earlier between AD 62-64 (shortly after the narrative of the book closes). Something to keep in mind is that the book covers, roughly, a 30 year time span, form about 30/31 AD to about 62 AD. I hold to an early writing between 62-64 [For more reading on some of the evidences of an early writing to Acts, check out the New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Acts written by F. F. Bruce, which can be purchased here]. So, now let’s get into the book.

Luke begins his book linking back to his first “narrative”, which we call the Gospel of Luke, he is even writing to the same person, Theophilus. There has been some debate over this name. Since the name literally means “friend of God”, it has been suggested that these books were not written to a single person, but that Theophilus was being used to address christians in general. However, in the opening of his gospel, Luke calls, “most honorable” or “most excellent”, this phrase is always used in Scripture (including the book of Acts) as a title of respect to a specific individual. It is also thought that the Theophilus is just a pseudonym or code name if you will to hide the real identity of who the books were written too. It is also possible that Theophilus is the real name of an individual Luke was writing this accounts for, whether he was a wealthy patron helping to publish and distribute the work or not we do not know. Scripture is silent and we should avoid filling gaps like this with imagination and idle talk. As far as I am concerned Luke wrote these to a specific person named Theophilus for reasons known only to God and history.

Verses 1 and 2 briefly summarize what Luke wrote about in his gospel account, “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was take up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. (1:1b-2). This is like the saying “previously on” when you watching part 2 of a cliffhanger TV episode, or when listening to radio preachers that have split the sermon for the radio program starting out with “last time on [Turning Point with David Jeremiah or Truth for Life with Alistair Begg]”. But did you catch a word in there? “All that Jesus began to do and teach”. Jesus had taught everything He wanted to, so look at verse 3.

“After he had suffered”, this obviously refers to His beatings and death on the cross, “he presented himself alive to them”, this is after the resurrection. We know from other scripture Jesus appeared to many disciples and followers from his earthly ministry after His resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, Paul accounts how Christ had appeared to Peter, the rest of the twelve, His half-brother James, and to over 500 people at one time all, apparently, during this 40 day window all with convincing proofs to reassure them that it was really Him having been raised from the dead. But Christ still had work to do with the Apostles apparently as Luke tells us He was “speaking about the kingdom of God.” We don’t know for sure what exactly He was explaining and teaching to them at these appearances. The reference to the kingdom of God could have been a proof of His resurrection for them or He may have been explaining the suffering Messiah and the future glorious kingdom to come. F.F. Bruce puts it this way, “This same Good news as Jesus Himself had announced earlier, but now given effective fulfillment by the saving events of His Passion and triumph (Bruce, F.F.; New International Commentary of The New Testament:The Book of The Acts; ©1988, p 32).”

So we see the purpose of this book here. In Luke’s first volume, his Gospel account, he covered Jesus life and teachings up to His ascension. Here in his second volume we see that the implication in these first few verses is Christ’s continued work by the Holy Spirit in His followers. In essence this book is the beginning work of the Great Commission given in Matthew 28:19-20, which by the way has never been countermanded in Scripture. We as followers of Jesus Christ must still follow that direction of “Go” given in the Matthew 28. We as followers of Christ have been given the Holy Spirit, we therefore have strength and power to share the Gospel, to plant seeds for the Lord to harvest.

2. The Commission vv 4-8

The command Christ gave the Eleven here in verse four may have happened during this 40 day period, or this could have happened while they were going to or already on the Mt of Olives outside of Jerusalem. Christ first tells them to wait in Jerusalem until what was promised from the Father arrived. This promise was familiar to them as Christ points out by saying, “you have heard me speak about”. This is a reminder of Christ’s final instructions to them before He was arrested. This is the promise of the Holy Spirit, or Comforter, that is discussed in the Gospel of John chapters 14-16. In verse 5 He reminds them of the ministry of John the Baptist and that he baptized with water after repentance to prepare Israel for Christ’s coming. John’s baptism of water foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit which baptize them and the rest of the believers in a few days time.

In verse 6, Luke’s language changes, this seems to show that the command and promise in verses 4-5 happened during that 40 day period, but now here, we say a transition to the last conversation the apostles would have with Christ while He was on this earth. They had apparently still been hoping for the Kingdom of God being set up physically and Israel’s independence to be restored to them. It’s possible that since the Lord was discussing the coming of the Holy Spirit, the sign of the coming age, they were thinking that Christ was going to set up His kingdom. Can you blame them? But they remind me of my daughter when we’ve promised her something, time play or to let her help with something. She’ll ask 15 or more times within the next 20 minutes, “Now is it time?” “Is it time now Daddy?”

Here in verse 7 the Lord doesn’t give them a direct “no”, but gently rebukes them by reminding them that matters like this belong solely to the Father. F.F. Bruce says, “Whatever purposes of His own God might have for the nation of Israel, these were not the be the concern of the messengers of Christ (Bruce, p35)”. The Apostles were to focus on proclaiming the Gospel of God and His grace in Christ. To the Apostles’ credit, whatever they were thinking, from this time on they devoted themselves to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.

In verse 8, Christ promised them power from the Holy Spirit when He came, power to perform mighty works and effectively preach the Gospel. He tells them that they will be witnesses for Him.The word witness here is the idea giving testimony or bearing-witness, this is the same root word in Hebrews 12:1

“such a large cloud of witnesses”. The idea of “witness-bearing” is a theme throughout the book of Acts. Verse 8 is also the key verse for the book, as it gives a broad outline for the rest of the account. The Apostles and believers would be witnesses first in Jerusalem (the city to reach) in chapters 1-7, next in Judea and Samaria (the region to reach) chapters 8-11:18, and then to the ends of the earth (the world to reach) chapters 11:19 through the end of the book. How are we doing in our city, our region?

3. The Ascension vv 9-11

Luke’s account here gives us the most detail of Christ’s ascension. Matthew and John don’t discuss it in their gospels. Mark talks about it and gives some detail about what Christ was telling the Apostles, then mentions that Christ “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19b). Luke obviously mentions it in his gospel account, but here in Acts we are told about the cloud and we see that the Apostles watched Him rising up into the sky. Now this forty day period Christ had appeared and disappeared before them several times, but this was different. This was final. After the ascension there were no more visits from the resurrected Lord, where they could touch Him, where He ate with them which was to show them He had physically resurrected. This time was to impress on them His heavenly glory.

The cloud that is mentioned is similar to the one in Luke 9:34-36 that removed Elijah and Moses from the Mount of Transfiguration, as well as Christ’s description of his return in Mark 13:26 and 14:62. It is thought that in each of each of these descriptions, the cloud mentioned should be understood as the Shekinah. The cloud that showed God’s glory and represented His divine presence with the Nation of Israel. This cloud led them through the wilderness before entering the land, it rested above the Tabernacle and filled Solomon’s Temple (1 Kg 8:10-11). This is the same cloud that, after years of disobedience and sin from Israel as a nation, left the Holy of Holies in the Temple, went through the streets of Jerusalem, up a mountain east of the city and ascended into heaven as the nation was taken into captivity and Jerusalem was destroyed (Ezekiel 10:4-5,18-19, 11:22-23). Probably leaving the same place Christ left and will one day return.

The Apostles were standing there heads back to watching Jesus ascending, and though He had disappeared they were still staring after Him, possibly still expecting Him to return and wanting to be there when He did. But while they were watching the clouds, two men appeared next to them. It is commonly thought that these men are angels from God, and I don’t doubt that. Luke’s description of the two men here is similar to his description of the angels that appeared to Mary and the other women at the tomb on Easter morning (Lk 24:4). Here again we see the theme of witnesses being brought out. F.F. Bruce puts it this way, “In both instances the fact that there were two suggests that they were viewed as witnesses, two being the minimum number for credible witness-bearing (Deut 19:15). On the former occasion the two men bore witness to Jesus’ resurrection; here they bear witness to forthcoming [return]” (Bruce, p38).

The angels didn’t come to find shapes in the clouds with the Apostles, they came with a message for them.Their message was one of reassurance to the Apostles, but I don’t wonder if it wasn’t also one to get them moving. The angels addressed them, which would have snapped them back to the moment. The message reassured the Apostle that Christ would return, and they gave them a piece of information they may not have had, Christ would return the same way. From here they leave. We aren’t given an account of the angels leaving, but in verse 12 we see that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Closing:

So what can we take from this account? First we see that the commission was to the Apostles, but through their teaching, their writings which have handed down over 2000 years, that this commission was passed along to each follower of Christ. As I mentioned earlier the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and the commission here in Acts 1 has never been countermanded in any of the following Scripture. We are still commanded to “Go”. But we also need to be mindful of Christ’s return. It is evident here and throughout the rest of the New Testament that the Apostles and early church were ready and waiting for the Lord’s return.

So how are you doing with going? How are you doing with waiting for the Lord’s return? We cannot focus on one and neglect the other. We wait, but we labor while we wait.


I partly got the title for this series from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “For the Cause” which you can watch the lyric video of the song here. You can find out more about theire music here at www.gettymusic.com.

This is the current series I am just beginning to preach at First Baptist Church of Brownsdale, Minn. I will try to keep these posts coming as we work through the Book of Acts in our church.