Reading for Friday, April 6: Acts 1
Posting this a day late. It seemed odd to plow straight into Acts on Good Friday! But here we go!
V1, Luke says, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…”, implying that this second volume will be about things Jesus is continuing to do. Too often, we speak of God in the past tense, the God of the Bible characters we read about. But Luke rejects this categorically; while affirming the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God, he also proclaims the Spirit-inspired activity of His followers here on earth, those who labor to fulfill Jesus’ prayer that God’s Kingdom reign would come and His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is why Luke writes Acts.
Thus, it is misleading to refer to this text as we commonly have, “The Acts of the Apostles”. We would do well to remember this sacred writing as “The Acts of Jesus” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Spirit was at work in the conception of Jesus in Luke 1&2, so too is the same Spirit at work in the church, the body of Christ, here in Acts 1&2. Luke prepares us for this in the opening scene here, as Jesus reminds His disciples of the promise of Spirit-baptism “not many days from now,” (v5).
V6, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'” Even on this side of the cross and the empty tomb, there is misunderstanding. Anticipating a restoration of Israel’s fortunes, the disciples will be filled with wonder as the Spirit moves through Jew and Gentile alike and God’s Kingdom encompasses a sphere far greater than Israel. V8 is programmatic for Acts. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Luke will follow this outline throughout Acts.
V14 – The disciples remain in community, huddled together, devoting themselves to prayer. Community in Christ draws us together: Christ at the epicenter, the singular object of devotion, flanked by those whose hearts have burned within them at the proclamation of the Good News (Luke 24). The time for dispersal will come much later. These apostles will bear witness to this Good News around the world at great personal risk. Many of them will die alone, reviled, persecuted by a threatened and crumbling empire. But in these first days following the resurrection and ascension, these brothers and sisters are sustained by their mutual recollection of Christ and fervent prayer.
For these followers, prayer precedes activity. Prayer precedes proclamation. Prayer even precedes internal organization. Luke portrayed Jesus as a man of prayer in painstaking detail. And now His followers demonstrate their faithfulness by following suit. Spirit-breathed communion with God will continue to animate the body of Christ on earth.
By chapter’s end, internal activity is the focus of the conversation, namely finding a replacement for Judas. Nominations are accepted, Scripture is consulted, deliberations ensue. But again, prayer. V24-26, “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
It’s as if Luke is saying, “Just in case you think this whole thing was powered by human strategy or political machinations or popularity, trust me — nothing of the sort was going on.” He gives us an unflattering portrait of the early church’s leadership (at least in the eyes of conventional “worldly” wisdom): the disciples pray about it and then, in essence, roll dice and trust that God will manipulate the results to bring about His desired end. But this is the Gospel: foolish to some, it is the wisdom of God. This is the apex of trusting your prayer: not because you know the “magic words” or that you’ve somehow curried enough favor with God to be heard…but because your confidence in the One who hears your prayer is supreme.
And this unwavering confidence in the One who raised Christ from the dead will be one of the hallmarks of these disciples as we read through Acts together.