Acts part 1 – First Followers
Between Easter and Pentecost Jesus met with his followers a number of times, first Mary, then with Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus, followed by meetings with the disciples in Jerusalem and by the sea of Galilee and lastly on the Mount of Olives outside in Jerusalem. This is all outlined at the end of the four gospels and the beginning of Acts. These 40 days would have been a rollercoaster of emotions for Jesus’ followers. He was hailed as Messiah when he proclaimed himself a king of peace, proven by his preaching & healings, yet hated by priests for usurping their authority, then the trials, the crucifixion, their grieving with the uncertainty of their future
We are going to look at the information given to us by Luke in Acts. In that waiting time after the resurrection and before the ascension, this is quite a long passage so rather than have it as a reading I’m going to paraphrasing the readings (in italics) within the talk. So you don’t miss out I’ll give you some homework, to read the full text it’s Acts chapter 1 to verse 4 of Chapter 2 and will only take a few minutes to read.
Talk Acts from Chapter 1 to chapter 2 verse 4
Luke finishes his gospel with Jesus telling the disciples the Holy Spirit would come, giving them power directly from God, then he left them and rose to heaven. He then starts his second book and like his gospel it is addressed to Theophilus who is a person of rank; Luke writes to him with the purpose of providing a reliable ordered set of events, based on the evidence of eye-witnesses
Again Luke describes the ascension but gives a little more detail:- For 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead he taught his disciples. Then when Jesus rose to heaven two men dressed in white stood beside them.“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Luke first confirms Jesus, lived, died, rose and taught the disciple until his ascension proving beyond doubt that he was and is The Son of God worthy to be made our Lord. How important is it to us there is life after death, that Jesus will come again? How are we living our lives to reflect this? How does our church reflect it? The Christian church story starts at Pentecost 40 days after Passover when the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and have to put into practice what Jesus taught them. Decisions having to be made
Luke continues:- When they arrive back at the room, the eleven disciple joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women, Jesus’ mother Mary, his brothers and others making a group of about 120.
This would be a difficult time, Jesus has now left them, they were on their own, they don’t know when he is coming back but given comfort that one day he will. They have the promise that soon God’s Spirit will be coming in power on them the same Spirit that God gave to his prophets like Moses, Samuel, and David it’s the gift of knowing God’s mind enabling people to carry out his work
We find that in this early time for the church that group prayer time is important right at that start the whole group joined together constantly in prayer. We’re assured Jesus is with us when two or more are gathered together in his name. Community prayer is vital to the heath and direction of the church, there needs to be a purpose and a oneness of mind to the prayer and of course needs to be in line with what God would want to happen. In my own church, leaders meetings were 5% prayer and 95% business yet from our reading it seems that in the early church meetings it was the other way round plus all the members were included, all 120, not just the leaders.
These 120 followers of Jesus included; 11 disciples, His Mother, woman, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and then the other close followers of around 100 men. These were the people Jesus were to use to build his church on. Jesus didn’t lead a great number of people his purpose was to teach and Spiritually equip his followers to receive God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to go and witness his life, so others would become Children of God
Luke now goes on to the business part of the meeting. Peter addressed the followers, “Brothers and sisters, Judas betrayed Jesus, his evil allowed his arrest, he killed himself and now another needs to take his place of leadership all of which fulfils the Scriptures written by David.
Calling themselves brothers & sisters the group already think of themselves as family. Judas does evil – betraying Jesus, evil is going against what God would want, therefore although foretold, this betrayal was not what God or Jesus wanted. Why Judas went to the temple to betray Jesus will never be known but whatever it was he must have felt he knew better what to do than Jesus and that is the downfall of many false Christian leaders.
Let’s consider possibilities, well for me it must have been a build up over a number of things, he knew he wasn’t liked by the other followers, it was known as the treasurer he stole from the group’s money bag, he was at odds with Jesus’ ways and disputed his actions. When Jesus contradicted him about the anointing he felt isolated & revengeful, exacerbated and the last supper when Jesus told everyone he was the betrayer it was then Satan that is evil entered him and so he went to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver = about £6,000 or $7000.
Fulfilling scripture or prophesies leads us down the path of fate and predestination. Which does go against the gift we have all be given of freewill. Simply, prophesies are well informed predictions of what will happen, God who has that ability is then able to tell his prophets what will happen for he not an interfering God but a loving intervening God, trying to guide his creation along a right path, which is why Jesus came. Unfortunately we too often use our freewill to put ourselves first ignoring God’s teachings that now can come directly to us from The Holy Spirit. This is why people of God appear encouraging us to love him and live to his ways.
Luke tells us what needed to be decided at the meeting; Peter told them another disciple had to be chosen to replace Judas, they had decide on someone who’d been living among us from seeing John’s baptise Jesus and has witnessed his resurrection. Joseph and Matthias were nominated. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this ministry, They cast lots and Matthias was added as the twelfth apostle.
Peter now takes on his role of leader and is accepted as such. Jesus had set up the model of the leadership team Peter with James and John. The disciples accepted Peter as leader and started working together as a team willingly taking on whatever role was needed to be done. It was the group working together helping to make decisions, not as a group where all the decisions were made by Peter. When decisions need to be made they came together first in prayer which then included God in the direction they should be taking. Then not having the Holy Spirit and unable to chose they left the choice to chance. I wonder why didn’t they ask Jesus who should fill the vacant spot before he ascended or put a ‘No-one yet’ in the casting of the lots.
Lastly we move on to the first 4 verses of chapter 2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together when suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire separating out and coming to rest on each of them. They were all filled with The Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
The Jewish religion celebrates Pentecost seven weeks after Passover it is also called Feast of Harvest the bringing in the grain harvest, as well as remembering when Moses was given of the law at Mount Sinai. When it was given there was thundering, lightings, and God came in fire. That sounds rather similar, to God’s Spirit coming upon the followers at Pentecost
Very dramatic a violent wind and what seemed to be tongues of fire it’s imagery is thought that the wind was to cleanse the house of any evil and in make it clean it was then fit to welcome God’s Holy Spirit. The tongues of fire to denote God’s presents, as in the burning bush, also as the pillar of fire leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Fire will give light so we can think of it as being given the light of God’s Word, fire also burns so by its power we may burn hot for God and not be lukewarm or cold
This is such a powerful image, The promised of God’s own Spirit had come, before it had happen to very special people given for particular tasks to carry out such as Moses, Samuel, David Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, plus other prophets. One problem with this image of tongues of fire in that some Christians feel that unless someone has a similar special awe occurring experience they can’t really have God’s Spirit and therefore are not real Christian. This is nonsense, as Jesus tells us that all we need do is to make him our Lord, then we are giving four gifts, Faith, Forgiveness, Eternal Life and The Holy Spirit. People may not use them or even be aware of having them, but they have been given.
The disciple were told not to witness Jesus until they had received God’s Spirit, they were well able to, having lived with him during his ministry, they could have witnessed his healing, his teachings and his miracles. So why were they told to wait until they had received The Holy Spirit? Followers are given God’s Spirit for guidance so what is done is in God’s name without The Holy Spirit then what is done is often for one’s own self advancement having God’s Spirit ensures one is putting God first not oneself.
When accepting Jesus as Lord, people are given The Holy Spirit. We have God’s Spirit and we can accept or decline his help, that is up to us. On my birthday one daughter gave me a book, the other a box of dates, after 5 months I still haven’t started book but ate the dates within a few days. You see it was my choice to use them or not. On our birth as Christians we are given gifts, we have the choice to we use them, Paul names these gifts of the Spirit; we haven’t time today to study them but each should be used by churches. They are:-
- Faith, Certainty of God’s Love and encouragement in using it
- Discerning, Spirits To know good from evil
- Knowledge, Ability to learn about God’s Word
- Wisdom, How we apply God’s Love in our life
- Healing, The ability to make the body, mind and spirit whole again
- Miracles, To do things greater than Jesus
- Prophecy, To speak of things to come
- Tongues, To speak the words of God in a language we don’t know
- Tongues Interpretation, To understand and tell what has been said in Tongues
These gifts are key to living as a Christian, the more we use them the more we grow when we rely on using God’s Spirit, the more we are likely to live to our purpose that is to do and say those things that pleases God. In everything we do we need to do it in a way that would put a smile on God’s face and it’s simple it’s even without difficult theology, a follower of Jesus has the aim of pleasing God.
I have little time for theologies who complicate Jesus’ teachings, for we have direct access to the teaching of Jesus, his words are easy to understand. He says that by becoming his followers we have Him in us, We have The Father in us and we have God’s Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit will guide us in doing those things that will please God. We need to have faith, a faith that enables us to be confident in our love of God then we learn to love ourselves and to love our neighbour isn’t that straightforward
Quoting Paul again, he tell us what can be seen in our actions by living by the spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. We are free to do these things because they are also God’s attributes as Followers of God we need to try to be God like, do what Jesus would do. Those early Followers of Jesus in Acts did just that, we need also to