- At the beginning of Acts 1 we saw that Jesus has spent 40 days after His resurrection teaching about the kingdom of God to His disciples. After teaching the disciples about the kingdom, Jesus has ascended into heaven to sit on the throne, assuming all rule, authority, dominion, and power. Two angels appear to the disciples telling them that Jesus will return the same way in which He was taken up.
- As we read this next section, we will see the apostles engage in three activities that are useful applications for us in our lives today. As we begin, imagine being one of these disciples after Jesus has ascended. What would you do next? What should be the next course of action? How strange it must have been to see Jesus leave, putting you as His disciple in charge of spreading the kingdom to the ends of the earth.
I. United in Continual Prayer (12-14)
A. Setting the scene
- We begin the story by noticing the disciples are going to Jerusalem from the mount of Olives. The text tells us that this is about 3/4 of a mile journey. This was Jesus’ instruction is Luke 24:49, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power form on high.” Of course, the city Jesus was referring to was the city of Jerusalem. Therefore the disciples now go to the city of Jerusalem to await the promise of the Father.
- When the disciples arrive in Jerusalem, they go to the upper room. It is interesting that the word “the” in “the upper room” is in the original text. It seems likely that this is referring to the same upper room where Jesus had instituted the Lord’s supper before He was betrayed. While we cannot be absolutely certain, it seems the most reasonable explanation as to what the upper room refers to.
- Luke also tells us who has assembled in the upper room. Not only have the eleven apostles who saw Jesus ascend into heaven, but also many of the other believers have come to the upper room. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is in the upper room. Jesus’ brothers, who had rejected Jesus earlier, are now believers and also assemble in the upper room. Luke also points out that the women have come also, which seems to certainly include Mary, Martha, Salome, and Joanna who are disciples of Jesus.
B. Devotion to prayer
- All of these have gathered together in the upper room. I believe it is important for us to consider what they are doing in the upper room. The scripture says, “all these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” The participants in the upper room made no assumptions with God. Though Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles, though Jesus said to remain in the city until they were clothed with power, and though Jesus promised to send the Advocate to help them, they were still praying for these things. Though God had promised this outpouring, the disciples still come together to pray concerning the kingdom of God and promised coming events.
- We see that first century disciples lived on prayer. Prayer was what was used to get through temptations, overcome trials, get through the day, and look for the coming blessings of God. It was a natural part of their daily lives. We see this attitude presented throughout the New Testament.
- “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18). “…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:12). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- These commands have fallen upon our deaf ears. We show that we have not placed our full dependence upon God when we are not regularly and constantly devoting ourselves to prayer. This is something we must strive to attain, brethren. God did not tell us to pray to Him on occasion. The disciples of the Lord were constantly devoting themselves in prayer.
- But let us also see that is not only an individual call to prayer. The whole group in Acts 1 was in one accord, completely united in prayer together in that upper room. Groups of Christians coming together to pray is a powerful tool that we can use against Satan and the evils of this world. Coming together to pray is also an effective tool for requesting God’s guidance and blessings.
II. United in Scripture Knowledge (15-20)
A. Setting the scene
- While the disciples have been gathered together, devoting themselves to prayer each day, awaiting the Holy Spirit, Peter stands up among the 120 brethren to speak to them. Peter is going to talk about Judas. We may stop here for a moment and consider the effect of Judas and his actions upon the other disciples. We think of Judas as the outcast, the betrayer, and the outsider. But the scriptures tell us that Judas was numbered with the twelve. They had a relationship through Jesus Christ with this man. How traumatic it must have been to see Judas betray Jesus! How awful it would have been to find out that their close friend for more than three years had killed himself.
- Peter recounts what happened to Judas to the 120 disciples. Verses 17-18 record different events concerning Judas death than what we read in Matthew 27:3-10. Matthew records that Judas hung himself. Peter says that Judas fell headfirst, burst open in the middle, and his intestines gushed out. Of course, this is a point of controversy to some scholars who suggest this is a contradiction and the Bible must be disregarded. However, the reconciliation of these two passages is not difficult to consider. The combining of the two passages suggests that Judas hung on that tree for quite a while. Finally, whatever instrument was holding him to the tree gave way and Judas fell headlong, bursting open on the ground below. This event became known to all the residents of the area, who called that field the “field of blood.”
B. Knowing the scriptures
- I do not suppose that this event rang any prophetic bells in our minds as we consider the story of Judas. I wonder if the Jews picked up on the prophetic fulfillment that took place in Judas. But Peter is aware that this event is spoken of by God.
- First, Peter points out in verse 16 that the scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of David. This is useful terminology for us to consider. Notice who was speaking through the mouth of David: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the word of God. This reminds us that this book is not merely words on a printed page. This book is not even the words of God in times past. The writer of Hebrews said, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The reason the word of God is alive is because it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us. We do not need to wait for the Lord to whisper silently in our ear. We do not have to wonder if God is speaking in our minds or if the devil is tricking us. We know God’s word because it is loudly proclaimed in the book we hold in our hands: the Bible. This is God’s word and it is powerful and effective in changing us if we will open ourselves to the surgery the sword can accomplish.
- Second, Peter also quotes two psalms to show that David was speaking of these things. The first quotation is from Psalm 69:25, “Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it.” The second quotation is from Psalm 109:8, “Let someone else take his position.” In reading these psalms, it does not seem that David is necessarily prophesying of a betrayer to the Messiah. Instead, it simply seems that we are reading about the enemies of David. But Peter is able to see that David is indirectly referring to the events that would take place, as Judas would be come an enemy of Jesus.
- What we learn is that the disciples were devoting themselves to knowing the scriptures. The disciples were not sitting around speaking about secular things of the Roman empire. Instead, the disciples were considering the scriptures and Peter points out that the words of David had been fulfilled in those last days. This knowledge of the scriptures becomes the basis for the disciples’ future action to appoint another to become an apostle. Without knowing the scriptures, particularly “let someone else take his position” the apostles may not have begun to appoint another.
- We see that it was important to the disciples to know the scriptures. While awaiting the promise of the Father, the scriptures were being considered. The disciples were uniting themselves in the knowledge of the scriptures. Further, what Peter understood concerning the scriptures he shared with the other disciples in the other room.
- We learn the same two applications concerning knowing the scriptures as we learned with prayer. First, we need to dedicate ourselves to know the scriptures. The Bible is the word of God, contains His commands, and has the power to change our lives. We need to come to a deep knowledge of the scriptures. We need to grow and mature in the scriptures so that we can piece the word of God together properly and make appropriate applications to our lives. This must also be our goal that we strive for greater knowledge. We must not give up our Bible reading and Bible study times. Let us see how important it is for us to give up on the other physical things that occupy our time before we give up on reading and studying the word of God.
- Second, we also learn the need to share our knowledge with other disciples. What we learn from the scriptures we need to teach and share with others. Peter did not come to this great realization and keep it to himself. Peter stands up before the 120 and tells them what he knows concerning the scriptures. This is one reason that we assemble together. It is certainly our purpose for our Sunday morning Bible study and Wednesday night Bible study. We need to share with one another what we have found in the scriptures.
- These are things that we must not take lightly nor neglect. We all need to be participating and attending these hours of study to learn God’s word and to share our knowledge with others. Our Bible study is not about sharing personal stories or riding our hobby horses, but is about examining the word of God and trying to understand what God wants us to know. As disciples, we need to dedicate ourselves to knowing and sharing the word of God.
III. United in Dependence on God (21-26)
A. Qualification of an apostle
- Peter then continues to teach the 120 by describing the need to replace Judas’ position. In verse 21 Peter lays out the requirements needed to be placed into consideration for replacing Judas as an apostle. There are three qualifications that are listed here by Peter as necessary to be an apostle.
- First, the man must have accompanied the apostles during the whole ministry of Jesus. Therefore, the man could not be a recent disciple. Second, the man was with Jesus from the beginning of John’s baptism to the moment that he was taken up from them just a few days earlier. This further emphasizes the duration of discipleship needed to be an apostle. Third, the man must have been a witness of the resurrected Jesus. This was critical because the apostles would go forth into all of the world proclaiming they had seen the risen Lord. This certainly shows us that no one can claim to be an apostle today. No one living today has seen the resurrected Lord nor was with Jesus from the time of His baptism to the time of His ascension.
- With these qualifications, two men were selected as possible candidates to replace Judas’ position. These two men were Joseph, who was called Barsabbas and Justus, and a man called Matthias. What the apostles do next is the third application that we learn from these men.
B. Dependence on God
- Consider that the people do not have a democracy and vote who should be the next apostle. Nor does Peter stand up and select which person should take over the position that Judas vacated. Instead, they all prayed to God. Notice the wisdom of this prayer. Only God knows the hearts of these men, they say. They ask God to show them which one is chosen by God to take Judas’ place. After their petition, lots are cast and the lot falls upon Matthias.
- We are reading the disciples placing their complete dependency upon God in this matter. They did not rely upon their own knowledge. They did not have a popularity contest. They did not take matters into their own hands. Rather, they understood the scriptures and asked God to help them do what had been prophesied that must be done. The casting of lots was done throughout the Old Testament as a tool God used for the people to know His will. This is the last time we will see lots be cast. From now on, people were to know God’s will by what the Holy Spirit had spoken in the word.
- Brethren, we also must have that same deep dependency upon God. The disciples were unwilling to make a decision before consulting God first on what must be done. The disciples wanted to know God’s will in this matter. We must have the same dependency on God. We make far too many, if not all, decisions not based upon the will of God. We make too many decisions without asking God for direction and help. We may wonder why we are straying away from God and one of the obvious reasons is that we are not asking for God’s direction. We must grow to fully depend upon God, so much that we would not consider acting before we pray and ask God for assistance.
- I am impressed with the disciples in this section of text. They show us immediately how we ought to be united together continually in prayer, scripture knowledge, and dependence on God. These are areas we ought to set as goals to grow in as individuals. But we need to become more united as a congregation in these things as well. Let us take more opportunities to study together. Let us make more opportunities to pray together. Let us work together to become dependent upon God.