Last week I said that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were both written by Luke for this man, Theophilus who is mentioned at the beginning of the gospel and the book of Acts. In Luke’s Gospel, Luke wrote about all that the Lord Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he ascended into heaven. And in the book of Acts, Luke is writing about all that the Lord Jesus continued to do. In a number of places in Acts, Luke makes it clear that the Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, is still at work to build his church and to deliver men and women and children from their sin and misery. Once he did this in person, but now he does it through his Apostles and by his Spirit.
And then last week we also read about the Lord’s ascension: how he was lifted up before his disciples until he was hidden by a cloud. And angels appeared to explain to the Apostles that the Lord had gone into heaven, but that one day he will return.
In verse 12 we read how the Apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. And Luke tells us that this was a Sabbath Day’s walk from the city. The little footnote at the bottom of the page tells us that a Sabbath Day’s walk was about 3/4 of a mile so they location of the Lord’s ascension wasn’t far from Jerusalem. Why is it called a Sabbath Day’s walk? It was because the teachers of the law determined that you could only walk so far on the Sabbath Day. Walking up to 3/4 mile was fine. But if you walked further, you were deemed to have worked; and working was forbidden. And because this was widely taught and adhered to, the distance of 3/4 mile became known as a Sabbath Day’s walk.
Verses 13 and 14
In verses 13 and 14 we read that when they got back to the city, they went upstairs to the room where they were saying. This could be the upper room where they ate the Passover meal with the Lord Jesus but it may have been another room entirely. We don’t know.
Luke tells us who was there and he lists the names of the eleven disciples. And, of course, there are only eleven now because of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. Most of the eleven are hardly ever mentioned again by name apart from Peter and John because the book of Acts tells us mostly about the work of Peter and Paul.
There are others with them. Luke mentions the women and these are probably the women who had gone up with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and who supported him and his disciples financially. They’re mentioned in Luke 8 and Luke also tells us in his gospel that they saw where the Lord was buried and they were the ones who first found the empty tomb.
Luke also tells us that Mary was there, the mother of the Lord Jesus. And this is the last time she is mentioned in the Bible. And the Lord’s brothers were also there. And this is a reference to Mary’s other sons.
And how wonderful it is that they were there, because in the gospels we see that they were sceptical about the Lord Jesus. Do you remember that at one time they thought the Lord Jesus was out of his mind? And in John 7 we see them almost scoffing at the Lord Jesus: Why don’t you go up to Jerusalem and show yourself to the world! And John adds that they did not believe in him.
And so, how wonderful that now they’re numbered among the followers of the Lord Jesus and they’re there with the Apostles and the believing women and Mary, praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
It’s wonderful for two reasons. It’s wonderful because it reminds us of the Lord’s kindness. When people doubt us or scoff at us, we become hard and bitter and resentful. We want nothing more to do with them. But the Lord Jesus was willing to pardon his unbelieving brothers and to receive them once they repented and trusted in him. He does not hold our sins against us, but pardons us and remembers our sins no more. And it’s wonderful because it’s a reminder to us that salvation is so surprising. People we think will never believe do come to faith. The Lord’s brothers looked in John 7 that they would never believe, but something happened (we don’t know what) and they came to trust in the Saviour.
And so what were they all doing in this upper room? Luke tells us in verse 14 that they were praying. And throughout the book of Acts Luke will show us that at decisive moments, we find the Lord’s people in prayer:
When they have to choose someone to replace Judas, they prayed.
When the Samaritans first believed, Peter and John prayed for them and they received the Spirit to show that God will willing to accept Samaritans.
When God summoned Ananias to go and speak to Paul who would be sent to preach to the Gentiles, he was told that he would find Paul praying.
When God summoned Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, Peter was praying. And Peter realised that God was willing to accept Gentiles.
The church of Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out with prayer.
The first Christians realised immediately that prayer was vital and so, here, as they waited for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, they prayed.
And how did they pray? Luke tells us that they all joined together constantly in prayer. Or ‘with one mind’, they devoted themselves in prayer.
It’s good to pray in private. But it’s also good to pray together. Christianity is not something that we practice in secret. And it’s not something we practice alone. We’re not to be like hermits who hide from the world and it’s only me and God alone together. No, we worship God together. And together we confess our needs to him and pray for his help.
In those days, between the Lord’s ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up among the believers which was a group comprising around 120 people and he began to speak to them.
And what does he say? Well, he does what every church leader is meant to do: he directed the people to the Scriptures. Look at verse 16. He tells them that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled and, of course, he’s referring to the Old Testament Scriptures because the New Testament had not yet been written. So, the Old Testament Scriptures had to be fulfilled. But what OT Scriptures is he referring to? What bit of the Scriptures had been fulfilled?
Look at the end of verse 16. He’s saying the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus. The soldiers didn’t know where to find Jesus and they wouldn’t know what he looked like because this was in the days before photographs. And so, Judas led them to the Lord Jesus and pointed him out to them. We already know all that from the gospels because the gospel writers all tell us about Judas’s betrayal of the Lord Jesus. However, here Peter explains to the disciples that the Old Testament said this would happen. It happened in fulfilment of what God had revealed beforehand in the Scriptures. And if you look down to verse 20 you’ll see that Peter quotes from Psalm 69 and Psalm 109.
Why is this important? People might read about Judas and think it strange that the Lord Jesus chose him to be a disciple. Should he not have known better? Shouldn’t he have chosen someone else? But the Lord knew precisely what he was doing, because this was all part of God’s plan. God planned it that one of the Lord’s own disciples would betray him. And he foretold what he had been planning in the pages of the Old Testament. Jesus wasn’t taken by surprise by Judas. He knew this was going to happen because it had been planned that way.
But look what else Peter says, because he tells us something very important about the Scriptures. He refers in verse 16 to the Scriptures which were spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David. You see, we can talk about the human side of Scripture because the books of the Bible were written by human authors like David and Luke and Paul and Peter and John. Different people wrote the different books, and they all have difference styles. John is very different from Paul. And Paul is very different from David. Once you know the Bible well, you get a feel for their own individual style so you can read a verse and though you may not be able to place it, you know that this verse sounds like something John would write or it’s something Paul would say. And so Luke refers to something which was spoken through the mouth of David because David wrote these psalms.
However, these human authors wrote what they wrote under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And so, not only can we speak about the human side of the Scriptures, but we must also speak about the divine side of the Scriptures. The Bible is the word of God because the Holy Spirit worked through these human authors so that what they wrote was God’s word. God the Holy Spirit was speaking through them. And so, in 2 Timothy 3 Paul writes about all Scripture being breathed-out by God. In 2 Peter 1 Peter writes about men being carried along by the Holy Spirit. And here in Acts 1 Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke the Scriptures through the mouth of David.
And since the Scriptures are breathed out by God, since the OT prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit spoke the Scriptures through the human authors, since the Scriptures are God’s word to us, then we should receive it and believe it and obey it because it is the word of God. Every time we hear the Bible read, every time we read it ourselves, we should remind ourselves that God is speaking to us.
Verses 18 and 19 are in brackets because it’s thought that these two verses are not part of Peter’s speech, but this is Luke breaking in to explain something to the reader. And Luke tells us that with the reward Judas got for betraying the Lord Jesus, he bought a field. But he fell headlong into it and his body burst open and his intestines spilled out. And so the field became known as the Field of Blood.
Now this is slightly different from what Matthew tells us. Matthew, in his gospel, tells us that the priests bought the field. And Matthew also tells us that Judas hung himself. Are Luke and Matthew contradicting one another? Well no. The Pharisees bought the field with the money Judas got for betraying Jesus. And so, it’s possible to say that Judas bought it, because it was bought with his money and it’s possible to say the priests bought it because they were the ones who handed over the money. And it’s possible that after Judas hung himself, his body fell into the field and burst open. So they don’t contradict each other.
However, we should notice something else. Though Judas’s betrayal of the Lord Jesus was part of God’s plan and was announced beforehand in the Old Testament Scriptures, nevertheless, Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus because of his own wickedness. Do you see that in verse 18? Luke refers to Judas’s wickedness. The Bible teaches us consistently that God rules over all things and controls all things. So, why does anything happen? Because God planned it.
However, the Bible also teaches us consistently that we are responsible for our own sins. Why do we sin? Because we’re sinners who do wrong. It comes naturally to us and we’re inclined to sin and to do wrong. And yet, because God is sovereign, he’s able to use our sin for his own good purposes. The classic example is the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. They intended to do evil to Joseph when they sold him into slavery. But God intended it for good. He was working behind the scenes, working out a way for Joseph to end up in Egypt to prepare for the years of famine. Judas intended to do harm to the Lord Jesus. And he acted wickedly. But God intended it for good. God was working behind the scenes, working out a way for the Lord Jesus to be arrested so that he could die on the cross for our sins.
I think that’s as far as we can go today. But let me close simply by noting that what we’re doing this evening is what the Lord’s people have always done. In those days, the believers met together to pray and to study the Scriptures. And that’s what we’re doing. Through prayer we seek God’s help, and through his word he speaks to us and makes known to us what he has planned for us and what his will for us is.