Let me try to do a quick review of what we’ve already seen in Acts. First of all, you’ll maybe remember that Acts was written by Luke, who also wrote the third gospel in the New Testament. And, in fact, in verse 1 of chapter 1 Luke refers to his gospel which he had written formerly. He says that in his former book, he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. In other words, the gospel was all about the Lord Jesus and what he said and what he did. But, we noticed that Luke put this in an interesting way. He said that his former book was about all that Jesus began to do. And the implication is that now, in the book of Acts, Luke is going to write about what the Lord Jesus did continued to do. The gospel is about what he began to do. Acts is about what he did next. Even though he has ascended to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand side, he’s still at work. He’s still at work in the world through the preaching of the Apostles and by means of the Holy Spirit. And as we read through this book together, we’ll see that the book of Acts, like the gospel of Luke, is all about the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ and what he did to extend his kingdom and to build his church throughout the earth.
However, before he ascended to heaven, he gave his disciples some final instructions. And one of these was to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the gift his Father had promised. And the gift he was referring to was the Holy Spirit. Wait for the Holy Spirit — and once he comes on you, you’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. So, he’s about to leave them. But he’s not leaving them on their own. He’s going to send them the Holy Spirit to help them.
And then, having explained this to them, we read how he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight. Where had he gone? Back to heaven. But angels appeared before the disciples with a promise: one day he’s coming back. Right now, he rules over all things from his throne in heaven. And from his throne in heaven, he’s building his church on the earth. And he’s building his church through the preaching of the gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And one day, when the time is right, he will come back to gather his people together so that we will be with him and his Father for ever and ever.
The disciples — who are by now called Apostles — the word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent out’ whereas the word ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’; these learners were about to be sent out into the world by the Lord Jesus. These disciples, these apostles, before they can go out, must first wait for the Spirit to come to help them. And so, we read in verse 12 how they went back to Jerusalem to wait. And while they waited, Peter stood up among them and began to teach them that what Judas did — and Judas, you’ll remember, betrayed the Lord Jesus and then killed himself — what Judas did was all part of God’s plan. What he did was revealed beforehand in the Scriptures. And the Scriptures also indicate that someone else should be found to replace Judas. And that’s where we got to in April. The Apostles and other believers are in Jerusalem, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, and they’ve agreed that someone should replace Judas.
Verses 21 to 22
In verse 21 Peter sets down the qualifications for the apostleship. We’ve been thinking recently about the qualifications for the eldership, but here are the necessary qualifications to be appointed an apostle. And it’s very simple, really. An apostle needed to be an eye-witness to all the Lord Jesus said and did. Do you see that in verse 21? They were looking for someone who had been with them the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among them. They wanted someone who knew the Lord Jesus. And had heard what he had taught. And had seen the things he had done. They wanted someone who was an eye-witness and could say, ‘This is what the Lord said’ or ‘This is what the Lord did’. And Peter goes on to explain in verse 22 that this meant they wanted someone who was with them from the time John the Baptiser had baptised the Lord Jesus until the time the Lord Jesus was taken back up to heaven. In other words, he’s referring to the time of the Lord’s public ministry which began with his baptism and ended with his ascension. And then Peter’s next phrase is crucial and really explains the main thing, the main qualification for the new apostle. Look at the end of verse 22: The new apostle would be a witness to the Lord’s resurrection. Yes, he would be able to bear witness that the Lord was baptised by John. Yes, he would be able to bear witness that the Lord performed all kinds of wonderful miracles. Yes, he would be able to bear witness to all that the Lord had taught. Yes, he would be able to bear witness that the Lord was arrested, and beaten, and crucified, and died. Yes, he would be able to bear witness that the Lord Jesus had been buried in the tomb. All of that was so important. But the main thing was that the new apostle would be able to testify that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.
We can imagine someone asking the Apostles:
How do you know he rose from the dead? How can you be sure?
That’s what someone would ask. And they’d be right to ask it, because who ever heard of anyone rising from the dead? So, Mr Apostle: how can you be so sure about it? Well, the apostles would be able to say:
I can be sure about it, because I saw him alive afterwards. I saw him being crucified. I saw him die. And I saw him alive afterwards. With my own eyes, I saw him.
That was the vital work of the Apostles: to testify that Jesus who died rose again.
And in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we see how important these eye-witness accounts became. People were saying in Corinth that the dead do not rise. Whoever believes in the resurrection of the dead is wrong. And what was Paul’s response? Well, if the dead don’t rise, then the Lord Jesus couldn’t have risen. But the Lord Jesus did rise. How do we know? We know it because lots of people saw him alive afterwards. And, said Paul to the Corinthians at that time, some of them are still alive. Go and ask them. Find an apostle who was there. And ask him what he saw. And he’ll tell you that, with his own eyes, he saw that that the Lord had risen from the dead.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the turning point for the Lord Jesus. What do I mean? Think about how the Lord Jesus puts it at the beginning of his letter to the Romans? Listen to how the ESV translates what Paul said, because it’s a better translation than the NIV’s translation:
[The Lord Jesus] was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the Son of God came into the world, he lived ‘according to the flesh’. That means his earthly life was characterised by weakness and dishonour and death. For a time, he experienced that kind of existence. However, by his resurrection from the dead, he left behind that old life in the flesh to begin a new life in the Spirit. And life in the Spirit is characterised by power and honour and life.
So, the resurrection was the end of his old life of weakness and dishonour, when he lived among us, and it was the beginning of that new life of power and glory. And as our living and powerful and glorious Saviour, he sends his Spirit to help us and to minister to each one of us according to our need. By his Spirit, he strengthens one. He re-assures another. He encourages a third. He rebukes, perhaps, a fourth. But he helps us. And he can help us because he has become, by his resurrection, our living, powerful and glorious Saviour.
And as our living, powerful and glorious Saviour, he’s able to build his church here on earth. We sometimes think that building the church is all down to us and what we do. And we worry because it seems so hard to convince people to believe. So we need to remember that the Lord Jesus living and powerful and glorious and from his throne in heaven, he’s building his church through the preaching of the gospel and by the power of his Spirit.
And, of course, the fact that the Lord was raised is vitally important for us, because it gives us hope, doesn’t it? Since Jesus Christ died and was raised, we believe that all who trust in him will be raised. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, the Lord Jesus said. ‘He who believes in me will live even though he dies.’ That’s the great hope the Lord Jesus gives to us and to all who trust in him and his death and resurrection for us. That’s the great hope we have whenever we bury a believer. Death is not the end. One day these dead bodies will rise and the Lord’s people will be — body and soul — with the Lord who died for us but who rose again. So, death is not something for us to fear.
The Apostles were to be witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection. And the Eleven Apostles needed to find someone who was able to be a witness with them that yes, the Lord Jesus died, but he rose again. So, they found two men who had been with them since John’s baptism and could testify to the Lord’s resurrection. Two men, but they only needed one. And so what did they do next? They prayed. And they prayed because they believed that God knows everyone’s heart. We look at outward appearances, because that’s all that we can see. We look at what people say and do and we decide:
She seems a godly person.
He seems very ungodly.
But only the Lord knows the heart and what a person is really like. The person who seems godly to us may be proud and may be trusting in her own goodness. The person who seems ungodly to us may be humble because he hates his sin and trusts completely in the Lord. We look at outward appearances; but he knows the heart. So, the Apostles sought God’s help. And in verse 24 they asked God to make it known to them the one he had already chosen. You see, he’s entirely in control of everything and he knows who the right person is to replace Judas. So, you see, they’re praying for God’s guidance. And how will God guide them? Luke tells us: They cast lots — just as the sailors did in the book of Jonah when they were trying to decide who was responsible for the fierce storm. The Apostles did the same here, because they believed what we read in Proverbs 16:33
The lot is cast into the lap
but its every decision is from the Lord.
Of course it’s interesting that we never hear about the Lord’s people casting lots every again. This was the last time they used this particular practice. Now, we don’t really know why this practice has fallen out of use. Nevertheless, the important point is that they were seeking the Lord’s guidance and they used the casting of lots as a way for him to make known his will.
We’re looking to appoint not apostles, but elders. And just as the believers in Acts 1 thought about who possessed the necessary qualifications for the apostleship, so we need to think carefully about who possesses the necessary qualifications for the eldership. And we must also pray, as they did, seeking the Lord’s help to choose the right people for this important work. Now, we don’t use lots today. But we still believe that God controls all things including our thoughts and our decisions. ‘The king’s heart’, the Proverb says, ‘is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.’ If the Lord directs the heart and mind of the king, then he’s able to direct and influence us in our decision-making when we come to vote. And so we need to pray to him to guide us in our choice of new elders.
Chapter 2 verses 1 to 4
We read in chapter 2 that the day they had been waiting for arrives. Remember what the Lord had said in chapter 1?
Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
And so, in verse 1 of chapter 2 we read how on the Day of Pentecost they were all together in one place. Pentecost means 50 and the Day of Pentecost was the fiftieth day after the Passover and it was one of the great religious festivals in the Old Testament. It was sometimes called the Feast of Weeks because 50 days is seven weeks after Passover. And since it was a major religious festival, lots of people were in Jerusalem to celebrate it. And the Apostles and other believers were in Jerusalem too, waiting as the Lord commanded. Verse 2: Suddenly they heard something: a sound like the blowing of a violent wind. And this sound came from where? From heaven. And this sound filled the whole room. Then they saw something: what seemed to be tongues of fire. And these tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each one of them. And then something happened: all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in other tongues.
Now, in 1 Corinthians Paul has a lot to say about the gift of tongues. Some people believe he’s referring to speaking in a completely unknown language which no one is able to understand unless someone else has been enabled by God to interpret it. However, whether or not that’s really what Paul means in 1 Corinthians (and it’s debatable), here in Acts speaking in tongues simply means speaking in foreign languages. How do we know that? If we read on in Acts 2 we’ll see that there were in Jerusalem lots of God-fearing Jews who had come to Jerusalem from lots of different nations. The nations are listed there in verses 9 and 10. These people heard the sound and they crowded around to see what was going on. And verse 6: They were bewildered because each one in the crowd heard the Apostles and believers speaking in their own language. ‘How can this be?’ they asked. ‘These men are all from Galilee.’ That’s like saying there were from the ‘back of beyond’, they were from the sticks and couldn’t possibly know any of these languages they were speaking. ‘So, how come they’re now speaking in our own native language?’ And so, imagine it’s London and Dublin. And in one of those cities, there are people there who speak French and German and Italian and Russian and Greek and Spanish and Portuguese and all the different dialects from Africa and India and wherever else. And there are also Christians among them who speak English. But suddenly those English-speaking Christians are enabled by God to speak all these different languages. Languages they had never learned. It would be bewildering. So, this crowd is drawn together to see what’s going on. And, what do they hear the believers saying in these different languages? Look at verse 11:
We hear them declaring the wonders of God.
That’s as far as can go today. But this is what the Lord’s people have always done. Not in such a dramatic and miraculous way. But nevertheless, this is what the Lord’s people have always done. Think of Psalm 100:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
That’s what these believers were doing on the day of Pentecost. To all these Jews from other nations, the believers were praising God and declaring the wonders of the Lord. And when we gather in church this coming Sunday, and we take the bread and the wine, bread which speaks to us of the Lord’s body, broken for us, and wine which speaks to us of his blood, shed for us, what are we doing? Well, one thing we’re doing is we’re proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. In other words, we declaring the wonders of God: That God gave up his one and only Son to death on the cross for our salvation, so that sinners like us can receive forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life.