Commentary on Acts 1:1-14
Acts of the Apostles is the second significant act in Luke’s account of the dramatic mission of God, which began with the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
This much is clear from the opening sentences. The 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke lays out “all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning …” up to and including his death, resurrection, and ascension. We have within the Gospel the living revelation of the character of God in the relationships, the teaching, the parables, and challenges of the life of Jesus.
But here, in these opening sentences of this second act, the author lays out the direction the narrative will take as the apostles take up the mantle of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and speak of the good news of God throughout the world.
The first clue we gain about a central feature of the narrative going forwards is given in verse 3, where Luke emphasizes the “convincing proofs” of the resurrection of Jesus. This is going to be critical as the apostles move out into the world and speak about Jesus, live according to his teaching, and demonstrate the life of his kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Everything that follows is founded upon this reality. The apostles will found their lives, their mission, their hope, and their passion upon their deep conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead. The pages that follow will challenge the readers to think about the meaning of the resurrection for the nature and character of Jesus, the power of the love of God, and the limited capacity of imperial authority.
The key theme in the passage before us today of the kingdom that grows and develops throughout the ongoing narrative is revealed in two ways. First, we note that Luke records that not only did Jesus provide convincing proofs of the reality of his resurrection from the dead, but he spent 40 days “speaking about the kingdom of God.” Second, we have the question asked by the disciples in verse 6, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Acts of the Apostles is an account of the character of the kingdom of God as it is worked out by the apostles and the increasing number of disciples of Jesus Christ. Just as Mary celebrated the news of her pregnancy with a profound awareness of the character of the kingdom of God (Luke 1:46-55), so too Jesus himself announces the character of the kingdom as he speaks of himself in reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21).
What was it that the disciples expected of the kingdom? Would the kingdom of God take Israel back to the days of David when there was security and peace throughout the land? Or perhaps the days of Solomon when the Israelites worshipped freely and joyfully in the Temple in Jerusalem? Would the revelation of the kingdom of God lead inexorably to the overthrow of the Roman imperial overlords? Perhaps the disciples had Isaiah 61 in their own minds and they were anticipating a radical shift in the political and social context of Israel? But as Luke begins to reveal to us something of the nature of the kingdom, we see that the kingdom of God is made of something wonderful.
First, the disciples are made to wait (verse 4) and they are not given a timetable of events, nor told when God’s chosen time will be (verse 7). This waiting is key to understanding that the kingdom is established by God, empowered by God, ruled by God, and sustained by God. Much as the disciples may want to rush ahead, this waiting encourages them to let God do God’s work of revealing establishing his kingdom in God’s way.
We see that the disciples respond wonderfully to this command, as they return to the city and “were devoting themselves constantly to prayer” (verse 14).
Second, Jesus promises that the disciples “will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (verse 5). This baptism is at the heart of the life of the kingdom of God. The character of the Holy Spirit will later be beautifully articulated by the Apostle Paul, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We should expect, therefore, that the ethos and nature of the kingdom of God will reflect these beautiful character traits. Interestingly, when Peter and John are hauled before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) to account for the healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate (3:1-10), Peter highlights the miracle as “an act of kindness” (4:9). This is exactly what we should expect of a kingdom where the citizens are baptized in the character of the Holy Spirit.
Third, Jesus makes clear that the disciples will be the heralds of the kingdom in fulfilment of the prophetic utterances by Isaiah. “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3), and “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). This witnessing to the life of the kingdom is seen first in the life and community of these first disciples as they gather together following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (4:32-37). They share what they have, care for one another, sell what they don’t need to ensure that everyone’s needs are met, and in this way give authenticity to “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:33).
Fourth, the mission work of the disciples will take place in the power of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom message will be recognizable as having the character traits of the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom itself will be saturated by these characteristics. As a result, the kingdom may grow more slowly than we would like, as the fruit takes time to develop both in the messenger and also as the seed matures in the hearer.
Fifth, Luke makes clear to us that the revelation of the kingdom has begun—the coronation of Jesus takes place as he ascends to glory; the king takes his place on the throne (verse 9).
The specific shape of the kingdom is not predetermined. It will grow organically as disciples—then and today—wait upon God, pray, and respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to live with love, kindness, and mercy, always looking towards justice and peace to emerge as the beautiful fruit of the kingdom of Jesus.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Lord Jesus, after your death and resurrection you sent your followers into the world to proclaim your resurrection to the entire world. Send us into the world to bear witness to all you have done in our lives. Amen.
Alleluia, sing to Jesus ELW 392, GG 260, H82 460/461, NCH 257
Hail thee, festival day ELW 394, H82 175, UMH 324
Anthem of Dedication, Warren Martin
April 19, 2020