The Writings of the Apostle Luke
part 2: the Book of Acts
by pastor Paul J. Bern
[Acts chapter 1, verses 1-11]
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Last week we concluded Part One of this series of Biblical teachings as written by the apostle Luke, none other than the Gospel according to Luke. This week we will commence Part Two with an exhaustive study on the Book of Acts. This is one of the most important books in the Bible because it chronicles everything that happened once Jesus had ascended into the heavens. The entire history of the early church is contained in these 28 chapters, which were written somewhere around 50-65 A.D, since Luke died for his faith and was martyred in approximately 75 A.D. No one knows the exact year of Luke’s martyrdom to the best of my knowledge, but the fact that Luke gave his life for Christ’s memory commands my respect; and so let that command the respect of us all. With that in mind, let’s begin at verse 1 of chapter 1, and I quote:
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote all about what Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a total of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one 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 with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1, verses 1-5)
When we think back to the very first Bible study on the writings of the apostle Luke I published online a little over a year ago, you will recall I pointed out that the gospel of Luke was comprised of a letter to Theophilus, an individual of apparent nobility about whom little else is known. The fact that Luke’s gospel and the Book of Acts start out in exactly the same way proves fairly conclusively that the two books have the same author. Notice the very next thing Luke points out is that Christ was alive, and had in point of fact literally risen from the grave after being there for three full days. This has not happened before or since in all of human history, proving even more conclusively that Christ Jesus was in fact the Son of God. Moreover, Jesus stayed behind for a total of 40 days just so there could be no misunderstanding about who this man truly was!
As part of his final instructions, our Lord and Savior told the Eleven, together with all the others, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”. This gift, as our Risen Savior said in the very next sentence, was that of the Holy Spirit, or simply the Spirit of our departed Lord, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding on behalf of all who believe, so that our souls may all be saved after our bodies wear out and die. Those who refused to believe will not be included in those numbers. Let that sink in for a minute. I mean, this isn’t just my opinion, that fact is written all through the Bible (see Psalm 37: 39-40; Isaiah 25: 9; Matthew 1: 21; Acts 16: 31; Ephesians 2: 8; Hebrews 7: 25). I encourage each of you to read those verses in your Bibles, or pull them up on the Internet if you don’t own or can’t afford to buy a Bible. After doing so, let’s conclude this week’s Bible study starting at verse 6.
“So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or 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 in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he had said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly 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 in which you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1, verses 6-11)
As the apostle Luke demonstrates, the apostles were still thinking very much in human terms rather than in the Spirit of Christ. After all, their question was based on what we would call Old Testament theology today. Rather than directly answering their questions about Israel’s future at that time – since Christ had already told the apostles all about Israel’s fate back in Luke chapter 21 – our Savior pointedly told the apostles that the times and dates they asked about were on a need-to-know basis, and that none of them needed to know. That, by extension, includes ourselves. So if anybody puts a video up on You Tube, or if some TV preacher comes right out and says that they know the day of the return of the Lord, do not listen to those people! Have nothing whatsoever to do with any such self-appointed “prophet” or “apostle”! “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The phony prophets I just mentioned derive their power from their intellects and their personalities, which are often highly practiced – you know, like a sales pitch. It is derived from the world around us. But the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord and Savior is derived from the Heaven above us. That’s why the nature of the Holy Spirit is so radically different than that of the world.
“….you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is a process that is still going on 2,000 years later. Never in the entire history of humankind has one single man left such a gigantic legacy! I myself, in my humble little way as I try to emulate my Savior, try to reach as many people as I can with the Gospel of Christ via the Internet. Though I am disabled and work primarily from home, particularly since I don’t currently own a car, I still try and reach as many as I can with the Good News of Jesus Christ. “After he had said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Just as Jesus rose from his borrowed grave supernaturally, so he rose up from the earth until he was out of sight. I can barely imagine the perplexity the apostles must have felt as they watched Jesus slowly lifting up and out of sight. There is no way of knowing how Christ did that with no visible means to do so, but the very next sentence ties it all together very nicely, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way in which you have seen him go into heaven.” Unlike today’s space program, Jesus needed no count-down nor a launch pad, nor any fanfare. He simply ascended into heaven in a matter-of-fact way, but his return will be accompanied by some pretty dramatic telltale signs.
Those signs are all around us today, all we have to do is look. Earthquake activity is at an all-time high, climate change poses a genuine threat to the long-term viability of humankind in general – including how and where we can grow our food and livestock. Much of the world today is a political and economic powder keg, with economic inequality at an all-time high. Meanwhile, our debt-based, predatory capitalist economic system has pretty much run its course because it is running out of debt it can generate, combined with the encroachment of “crypto-currencies” on to its territory. The world as we have known it at least since we’ve been alive is in a state of flux, and where it stops to rest is anyone’s guess. It is for these reasons and more that it is ever more important to stay grounded in the Word of God. And next week we’ll move on to part 2 of Acts chapter 1.