The Faith of the First Christians

Our purpose: “you will be my witnesses.” A “witness” in a courtroom is a person who tells what he or she has experienced personally. We are all such, each day. At question is only whether we fulfill this purpose poorly or well. We are the Bible people read.

Our people: “you” will be my witnesses. “You” is plural in the Greek. There is no clergy-laity distinction here, or anywhere else in the Scriptures. Every member is a minister. We can reach the world with the gospel only when each one of us finds and fulfills our personal ministries.

Our power: the Holy Spirit will enable us to fulfill this purpose. We cannot win a single soul, change a single heart, or redeem a single life. Only the Spirit can convict us of sin and transform our lives. Your work can be accomplished only when the Spirit does it through you.

Our priorities: we are to begin in our Jerusalem, then extend our ministries to the “ends of the earth.” Every life you touch today is part of your mission field. Each person in your class should have a personal Acts 1:8 strategy. Beginning with you.

Fulfill his will urgently (vs. 9-11)

After Jesus made clear his plan one last time, he ascended back to his Father (v. 9). The ascension of Jesus is as real a fact as his resurrection, and as miraculous. One more time he gave his followers reason to believe in his divinity and serve his Kingdom.

Now our Lord reigns in heaven with the Father. We know these facts about his present place and rule:

He reigns as Lord: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

He reigns over spiritual powers: “[Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22).

He reigns over the world: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

He reigns over the church: “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18).

He reigns in worship: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (Revelation 5:12).

He reigns as Lord: “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9).

And one day he will return to the planet from which he ascended (Acts 1:10-11). The disciples were “looking intently” up into the sky; the words mean to stare with intense purpose. Then angels sent them about their business: don’t focus on Jesus’ departure, but prepare for his arrival.

We don’t know the timing or manner in which our Lord will return, for the simple reason that such information is of no practical application to our lives today. Greek philosophers were interested in speculative discussions; the Hebrew mindset was intensely practical and present-tense in orientation.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to the dinosaurs or how many years ago creation began, because such knowledge would not change your life as you read these words. If you and I knew exactly how Jesus would return to our planet, such information would change nothing about our lives and work in this moment.

The Bible doesn’t tell us all we wish we knew, but all we need to know. Mark Twain was right: it’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me—it’s the parts I do understand.

Yield to his will specifically (vs. 12-26)

The last half of Acts 1 describes events which are less relevant to our lives and faith today than those we have studied so far. But the principles which these events teach have direct application to our work in following Jesus, especially when we face times where we must know God’s will for our next steps in faith.

Obey Jesus now (v. 12)

The disciples did exactly what their Lord had commanded them: “they returned to Jerusalem.” He had told them to wait there for the coming of the Spirit (v. 4). This despite the obvious dangers inherent in such a decision. The same authorities who had arranged Jesus’ crucifixion would likely be looking to eliminate his followers.

To return to Jerusalem was ill advised at best. But our Lord’s will is not always rational for us at the moment we receive it. Obedience leads to understanding, seldom the other way around. Obey that part of God’s will which you do understand. Do what you know to do, today.

Pray together constantly (vs. 13-14)

The “homogeneous church growth principle” suggests that churches grow best when they try to become and reach only a single kind of person. Jesus’ disciples give the lie to such an approach. No more disparate group was ever assembled on the face of the earth. Among them was Matthew the tax collector, whose former life had supported Rome in every way, coupled with Simon, the zealot who was pledged to the violent overthrow of the Empire. Peter, the man who denied Christ three times, prayed at the side of John, who refused to leave his Lord’s side. Jesus’ brothers, men who had denied his divinity, prayed with disciples who had staked their lives on it.

They all “joined together” (v. 14a)—the phrase means that they met in unity. The closer we get to the Lord, the closer we get to each other. When was the last time your class met together for no reason except to pray together?