The founder of the church is Jesus and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the story of our founder Jesus. And the book of Acts is a story of His followers, of what happened after He left and empowered them and this tsunami wave of grace moving forward.
And if you’ll open your Bibles to Acts chapter 1, we’re going to go on a journey together. And on this journey together, we’re going to watch and discover what did God do? How does this grace push forward? How does it move with just unstoppable force century after century after century?
Because if you do not understand what God was doing in that early church, you’ll never understand His agenda for your life.
If you can’t get that the eternal God of the universe has a plan and it’s not just a plan for the planet, it’s a plan for every person on the planet of which you are one. And those of you who call Christ your Lord and you’re following Him, you’ve got to understand this was the game plan for the first century church because it informs His game plan for the twenty-first century church.
The first century church, what was God’s agenda then? And what you’re going to learn in the first five verses is that His followers are given the task to finish what He began to do and to teach.
The end of Luke, the author is Luke, he’s a doctor. He’s a researcher. Luke and Acts are almost like a documentary. And he does all the research and he’s writing, many people believe, to a person of great influence, Theophilus.
And at the very end of Luke, chapter 24, Jesus opens the mind of His disciples to understand the scriptures and then He gives them this assignment. He says, This message of the Kingdom of God of repentance will be preached through every nation on the earth and I will empower you and you’ll be My messengers.
“You’ll be the unstoppable tsunami force of My grace and love to go to all the earth and let them know there’s hope, there’s deliverance in Me.”
And then, in Acts, he continues his documentary. And we pick it up and he says, “In my former account, Theophilus, I wrote of all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven. And after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen, after His suffering,” speaking of the cross, “He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs.”
That word, literally, in Greek is a “sure sign.” This is the idea of supernatural, miraculous things that they experienced. It was Thomas touching the holes in His hand. It was Him walking through a wall. It was multiple things so they knew, over forty days, the New Testament has ten specific occurrences, that, in a resurrected body, He comes to His disciples and lets them know, this is real. I really rose from the dead.
It wasn’t one person here or one person there. And then He did some teaching. He says that convincing proofs that He was alive and then He appeared to them for over forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God.
And all that means is the rule of God. This is how life works when God is in control. I’m going to send you to finish what I began. And He’s giving them instruction and He’s opening their mind to the Old Testament and giving them a picture of what’s going to happen and what their role is in it.
One on occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized you with water but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
And in your Bible you might circle that phrase “Holy Spirit.” In the book of Acts, it occurs seventy different times. The second person of the godhead is going to take up personal residence inside the human bodies of His followers and they’re going to live the way Jesus lived when He walked on the earth.
They will feel and care for those the way Jesus cared and felt for those when He walked on the earth.
They’re going to finish what Jesus began.
Now, if you were a Jew at this time and you were well schooled, as these men were, and He talked about the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God, your mind would drift back to Ezekiel chapter 36.
The Holy Spirit was not a new concept for Old Testament saints. And you would think because Ezekiel talks about the coming of the spirit and the restoration of the kingdom and God promises in Ezekiel 36, there’s coming a day when the kingdom’s going to be restored, Israel’s going to be restored, there is going to be peace, the crops are going to be great, Israel as you knew it in the old days is going to happen and it’s going to be wonderful.
And they thought, “Maybe this is the time.” So look at verse 6. Notice the question the apostles ask. “So, when they met together, they asked Him.” And the tense of this verb, literally, is they were continually asking Him until they got an answer.
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It’s not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be My witnesses.”
And then He tells them, sort of, the game plan. It’s the outline of the book. “You’ll be My witnesses.” Literally, the word, we get our word “martyr.” “You’ll be My martyr, you’ll be My eye witnesses. You’re the ones that have seen. You’re the ones that have heard. You’re going to experience My power. And you’re going to be My witnesses in Jerusalem the city, Judea the area, Samaria the area beyond that, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
And so what you see is God’s agenda, first and foremost, is He says to His followers, “You finish what I began.” And then second, He says their focus was to fulfill the global agenda. Not their national political interests.
See, when they heard about the Holy Spirit, they’re a lot like us. They thought, “Oh great! You’re going to take down Rome, these cultural wars are going to be over, the religious wars are going to be over.”
I mean, this was a wicked time of life. I mean, this was a polluted time filled with corruption and filled with all kind of idolatry. And so they were thinking, “Great, Jesus has come, He’s the king, He’s risen from the dead, He’s the man, we’re going to sit on the thrones, let’s go for it.”
And He goes, “No.” You see, there’s this parenthesis. Everything that God promised to Abraham and David will be fulfilled but this parenthesis, this is the time of the Church. The supernatural agency of blessing of God’s purposes on the earth will be the Church and it’s a new thing.
Paul describes it and explains it in chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the book of Ephesians. And He says, “Guys, stop thinking about your political interests and your national interest and what you want done for you and your protection and your comfort.”
He says, “There’s a global agenda. You’re to be My witnesses where you are, next to where you are, extended from where you are, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
Well, as He does that then He gives them some assurance. Because I don’t know about you but if you got that word from Jesus at that point in time with your worldview, A) it would be a little disappointing and 2) it would be impossible. Like, are you kidding me?
I mean Peter’s pretty forthright. I can see him, “Hey, John, there’s a hundred and twenty of us. Is He joking? I mean, He may come through the wall and give us some assurance or something again but, I mean, a hundred and twenty of us. We’re going to go to the ends of the earth?”
So the third part of His agenda He makes very clear. He says their assurance of success was the indwelling Holy Spirit and the certainty of Jesus’ return.
What He wants them to know in this very first launch of the church and this tsunami wave of grace is you can’t do it.
And so we pick up the story in verse 9. “After He said this He was taken up before their eyes and a cloud hid Him from their sight. And they were looking intently up into the sky as He was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.” Two angels show up.
“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 up into heaven.”
Now, it’s really interesting. Scholars, when you study this, talk about three different specific words that talk about the ascension of Jesus. In those verse 9, verse 10. Separate words.
He is taken up. He is received into heaven. The picture is, now imagine you’re listening and it’s one of those times and Jesus is speaking. And He’s talking about what’s going to come.
And He’s giving you this assignment. And, like, mid-sentence, He just starts to elevate and elevate and elevate. And then this bright cloud comes around Him. And He elevates. And the word here for, it’s literally like they’re awestruck. It’s a medical term doctors, when someone would go to, like…
That’s the word used here. And in that moment, they’re snapped out of it by a couple angels that say, “Hey, guys. What’s surprises you about this? This same Jesus, who promised to return, who has talked to you about the kingdom of God, who gave you the outline of the great tsunami of grace, of redemption, and reconciliation, just the way He’s left, He’s going to come. Visibly. Physically. Bodily.”
He left at the Mount of Olives. He’ll be coming back at the Mount of Olives. The difference? He came the first time as a Savior to say, “Whosoever. Whosoever would turn from your sin and receive the free gift of forgiveness purchased in My blood. I want to love you and to save you and to forgive you.”
When He comes back He’ll come back as Judge. And He’ll come back on a white horse and upon His thigh it’ll be written, “faithful and true.” And He will now balance the scales and justice and equality and perfection as He ushers in a new heaven and a new earth.
And so what He tells the guys is, you know, verse 8? You can’t do this. It’s the Spirit of God in you. You’re going to receive power but it’s not you. It’s going to be the Spirit of God in you and you can endure anything because life is not just about now.
You have a Friend at the right hand of the Father who is praying for you now. You have an Advocate. And you can know for certain that whatever you have to go through, He’s going to come back, He will make things right, and earlier He told them, there’s great reward for those that go through a difficult life in a fallen world.
Finally, they responded in obedience to Jesus’ words and looked to scripture for their marching orders. And so, remember what He said? He said, “I want you to go back until you get the promise.” Remember the promise? You’re going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
So, I want you to go back to Jerusalem and we’re going to learn it’s about, they call it a Sabbath day’s walk, which is about two thirds of a mile, and then we go back to, literally, the article is there, the upper room.
The same upper room, it’s on the third floor, holds between a hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty people. And, you know, they’re going to just obey what He said. Now, can you imagine? They were running for their life just a few days ago.
They’ve had these amazing, emotional experiences, I mean, what would you talk to with, like, your best friend or your wife, after Jesus showed up, came through a wall, ate some fish, talked about some things, you felt His hands. You know, you’ve seen two or three amazing miracles and you realize, this is real. This is God. This is the Messiah. Now what do we do?
And then He goes up into the sky and says, “I want you to go back to Jerusalem and pray and wait and that’s, don’t do anything until you get the power.”
Well, we pick up the story. Verse 12. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. And when they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. And those present were Peter and John and James and Andrew and Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. And they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.”
And in your Bibles, where it says “in prayer” literally it’s “and the prayer.” Remember when they asked Jesus in Luke 11, “teach us to pray?” And He teaches them the Lord’s prayer. And at the end He gives a little illustration. And then He says, “Ask, seek, knock.”
And then at the end of it He says, “And seek the Father and ask Him to give you the Holy Spirit.” See, they’re not praying just general prayers. One prayer, the prayer we know they’re praying, they’re praying that prayer that He taught them. And they’re praying, “God, you promised the Holy Spirit. We’re asking you to bring Him in our life right now.”
So, they meet Jesus, He goes into the air, the angels say this. And so, guess what? They go and they get before God.
One scholar that I trust a lot says, “As best we can figure, from the time He ascended until Pentecost, next week, when the Holy Spirit comes, it’s about ten days.”
So they’re ten days, kind of, in community. They’re praying and they’re sharing and, you know, during that time of sharing, what you’re going to find is, you know, they’re looking at the Old Testament passages and saying, you know, “I wonder what we should do? What’s the next step?”
And so we pick it up. Look at verse 15. “In those days, Peter stood up among the believers and a group numbering about a hundred and twenty and they said, ‘Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was the one of our number and shared in this ministry.
‘With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field and then he fell headlong, his body burst open, and his intestines spilled out. And everyone in Jerusalem heard about this so they called the field in their language, Akeldama, for it is the field of blood.’”
Now, before we go on you need to understand. So the story of Judas, if you’re familiar with the gospels, he betrays Jesus. And afterwards, he has this worldly sorrow and realized what he’s done. And he doesn’t repent. But what he does is he takes the thirty pieces of silver and he throws it into the face of the high priest.
And they’re thinking, “This is blood money. We don’t want it.” And so they bought this field where, you know, people that can’t afford a grave. And so it had become known that this field is called the field of blood.
And so they’re reciting, kind of, what’s happened in the days following all this, just, I mean, can you imagine the uproar in what’s occurring?
And then Peter is in community and he’s talking and he’s the point person at this point. And he quotes Psalm 69 and he says, “It’s written in the Book of Psalms, verse 25, ‘May this place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.’”
And Peter says, “You know, that Psalm was talking about the issue with Judas.” And then he quotes Psalm 109 verse 8 and it says, “And may another take his place of leadership.”
And so all they know is we’re supposed to stay here and to pray and to wait and to tarry but the Bible is really clear that we had twelve, now we got eleven, we’re supposed to discern who’s the next one.
So we pick up the story. Verse 21: “Therefore, it’s necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us from the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.
Beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must come and become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
By the way, do you get their mission? Their mission wasn’t, “Let’s start a religion and be a little bit more moral than other people. Let’s start a religion and be really kind and nice. Let’s just start a religion and see if we can help the world out and make our lives more comfortable.”
They said, “No, no, no. There’s eleven of us and we’ve been given a global assignment. We are to be witnesses. We’re to, what we hear, what we see, what we experience of the resurrection. That there’s life after death. A Savior came, redemption occurred, reconciliation.”
I mean, these people are positive, focused, and missional. And then now, notice what happens. He says, “So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas and also Justus and Matthias. And then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show which of these two that you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go to the place where he belongs.’ Then they drew lots and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven.”
Now, you might ask, you know, why would they draw lots? It’s because that’s the Old Testament way to discern God’s will when you’re not sure.
I mean, they knew both of these guys were qualified. But, from the time that Jesus was baptized by John to the time that He ascended, they’ve all been in these groups together and both of these guys are, as far as we know, very, very qualified.
And then there’s this very interesting word, “but you are the God who searches the heart.” Only you know. Who have you chosen, Lord? You know people’s motives. You know what’s going on down, deep inside.
And so because the Holy Spirit hasn’t come. And when He comes, what’s the promise? Jesus said, John 16, “He’ll guide you into the truth.”
But right now, as Old Testament saints waiting for the Holy Spirit, they cast lots and what they did is obey the next thing that God showed them.