Virtual Small Group on the Book of Acts – Chapter 1 Commentary

March 26, 2020

By David Hunsicker

The first Virtual Small Group will meet on Thursday March 26th, 2020 at 6PM CST. To participate use the following links or numbers

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As we begin our book study of Acts, we find ourselves reading familiar words: “In my former book, Theophilus …”. Ah, yes. That’s right! We are thrown into the story in media res because this is not the beginning of a new book, but the second part of a familiar book, the Gospel according to Luke. We are in the middle of the story Luke promised to tell Theophilus about “the things that have been fulfilled among us, just a they were handed town to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-2, NIV).

Luke left his readers pondering miraculous events: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the appearances of the risen Lord at Emmaus and in the upper room, and, finally, Jesus’ ascension. He begins again, with these same wonders, giving greater texture now to the content of Jesus’ resurrection teachings: the Kingdom of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

I think we can digest this first chapter in three sections: vv. 1-5, 6-11, and 12-26. Our first section, about which I have just been speaking, includes Jesus’ important command to his disciples: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised … . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 4-5). The command is simply: go to Jerusalem, wait for the Spirit. But, as you might imagine, the disciples have questions.

We begin our second section with the disciples’ main question: will you restore the kingdom? Will Israel finally be made sovereign nation? The disciples just witness the first ever resurrection from the dead. They stand before the first fruits of the new creation; and yet, their minds are trapped in old modes of thinking. How could the kingdom of God possible be as miniscule as the geo-political idea of Israel? By the end of Acts, their imaginations will be transformed to see the kingdom in all its spatial and temporal dimensions.

For the time being, however, Jesus condescends to the disciples’ ignorance, hinting at the expansion of their imaginations to come: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). The ends of the earth is the scope of God’s coming kingdom and the Holy Spirit is its agent. The disciples must be content to know this instead of the “when” and the “how” of it.

With that, Jesus ascends. The ascension is one of the most underappreciated themes of the Christian faith. There is a temporal change that happens, for sure. We move from the “time of Jesus” to the “time of the Holy Spirit” in our liturgical calendars and in the Biblical narrative. But that understanding of events misunderstands Jesus’ continuing presence in Acts. The real change that happens is a spatial change; the resurrected Jesus—fully God and fully human—moves from earth to heaven. For the first time in human history, a human being enters fully into the divine presence. For the first time, a human beings stands face to face with God and is not destroyed by the holiness of God. When Jesus suggests in the gospel according to John that he must go to heaven to prepare a place for us (John 14:3), we get some sense of what is happening. Jesus is actually preparing a place in the heavenly courts where humans can stand before God in all his glory. Our future is to be in God’s eternal presence and that is possible because Jesus makes it possible.

After his ascension, the disciples are caught jaws agape. Two messengers appear and remind them that they have instructions to follow. They cannot be spectators to Jesus’ action, because he has commissioned them to be actors in the divine drama that unfolds in Acts.

And that brings us, finally, to our third section. The disciples return to the upper room with 120 of Jesus’ followers—the first church. We are told they “joined together constantly in prayer” (v. 14). In Luke, we’re told they go to the temple and praise God continually (Luke 24:53). Then, they hold a business meeting and elect Judas’s replacement. Their understanding of Jesus’ command to “wait” means waiting with purpose. It means preparation. It means continuing the business of being the church.

I love that. Right now, all of us are sitting around waiting. Waiting for quarantine to end, waiting for authorities to determine the right course of action, waiting for power brokers to decide if and when and how we will get much needed financial relief. If we aren’t careful that waiting can become anxious, fearful, exhausting. But the church is not waiting in limbo, the church is waiting in hope. It is preparing while it waits; continuing to study scripture, proclaim the gospel, train disciples. When the wait is over, the church will rejoice to celebrate Christ’s resurrection—something we do not just on Easter but on every Sunday—but it will not be scolded for having sat around looking up into heaven. The seeds we are planting now, in Facebook news feeds, phone calls with loved ones, thoughtfulness towards our neighbors in the medical field, and so many other places will begin to sprout, and we will be rested and energized to mobilize to reap the harvest. I truly believe this.

Wait for the Spirit; prepare and expect it to come. When it does, get ready to explode out into Huntsville and into the whole world.

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