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We read the first chapter of Acts and discussed it. I was interested to note that the disciples behaved just the same way we do; in the absence of Jesus they decided to do things their own way.
Last time Paul and I met we finished Mark's gospel and decided to work through Acts next.
Today we made a start by reading Luke 1:1-4 to help us understand how Luke had written both books to give the best and most consistent possible account of the events concerning Jesus and the early church.
Then we read the first chapter of Acts section by section, stopping to discuss what we had read as we worked our way through. Here are some of the things I found especially striking.
The pattern of events is perfectly clear. Jesus was arrested, tried both by the religious and civil courts, was crucified, died, and spent the entire Sabbath (Friday evening until sometime before Sunday sunrise) in a sealed rock tomb. Then he returned to life and for forty days he was with the disciples in Galilee and then in Jerusalem before he returned to the Father in heaven.
The rule of Christ - During these forty days he gave 'convincing proofs' that he was alive (verse 3). And during this time he spoke about the kingdom, that is he told them about his rule, the extent of his reign. This realm is not only in heaven but also in the hearts and lives of every man, woman and child that will follow him and obey him. Simply put, a kingdom is that realm where the king reigns; the sum of the places where his commands are treated with respect and fully carried out. It's important that my heart and your heart are part of his kingdom. You're either in or you're out!
He begins to reign immediately; he commands them to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the promised gift. Did they know what this gift was? Yes, the gift of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Did they know what this meant? No, they had little idea of what would happen or how it would change everything! But they would certainly recognise it when it happened.
We're just the same. We know that if he is ruling in our lives he will bless us but we don't expect the amazing things he does. When they happen though, we recognise them and realise our expectations were too limited. It's not that we lack faith (thought often we do lack faith), but rather that he habitually does abundantly more than we could expect even in our most faith-filled moments. (Ephesians 3:20) This should encourage us immensely!
Back to the city - I was very struck by verses 12-26. This is also just like us, scarily so. Just pay attention to what they did.
Jesus has just left them to return to the Father, they walk back from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem without him. They must have retraced the steps they would have taken with Jesus many times before, the same route the Temple guards would have taken Jesus after his capture. The olive grove of Gethsemane is on this route, part of the way down the hill. Their thoughts must have been confused and every step would have held a mix of precious and painful memories.
They go back to the upper room, very likely the same place they had eaten that last meal with him at Passover. But he is not here now. He has left physically and his Spirit has not yet 'baptised' them. They are without any kind of heavenly counsel, left to work it our for themselves. And they do.
The wrong way - Peter stands up and takes charge (they probably agreed that someone had to). He speaks to the remaining ten disciples and those other men and women gathered in the room. He argues (perfectly reasonably) that Judas should be replaced to make up the number twelve again. In their own wisdom they decide on two candidates and then they draw lots. Effectively they decide between Joseph and Matthias by tossing a coin!
Does this sound familiar? An important decision needs to be made, Jesus doesn't seem to be around, so someone takes charge, and we make the decision by election and/or by chance.
The right way - What should they have done instead? What should we do? We should have faith and we should have patience. In other words we should wait expectantly for the solution to be given to us. Prayer would do no harm while we're waiting. Jesus had actually told them to wait - wait until the promised gift arrives, wait until you are baptised in the Spirit. How immediate was their lack of trust, their taking of things into their own hands, their failure to wait.
And how much pain and disappointment could be avoided in church life if we listened to Jesus instead of rushing off to fix things for ourselves!
The real replacement - And who was the new apostle? Matthias (and Joseph too for that matter) remain in obscurity. Who was the new apostle? Arguably he was a pharisee. He might have called for the release of Barabbas. He certainly attacked the early church and helped at the stoning of Stephen. Saul, a person the disciples may not have heard of and certainly would never have chosen - this same Saul is the Paul who became the apostle to the gentiles and wrote all those amazing letters that make up a large part of the New Testament. Wow!
We desperately need to learn this lesson. Pray, expect, wait - and do what we are told, not what we think to be best.
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