Part 1 – The Introduction
The Book: As we begin the introduction to our series on the book of Acts let’s consider the background. This is a some of what the author and history tells us:
- The author has already written one historical account that pertained to the life and ministry of Jesus. (the Gospel of Luke)
- This account will focus on the Apostles who were trained by Jesus, after the time He is taken up into heaven. It will deal with the the early followers.
- It is written to Theophilus. (Roman official / official of the empire?) We don’t know anything about him. Theo philos means ‘friend of God’. Some scholars, therefore, believe this was simply written for the general ‘friends of God’ in the world.
Acts 1 Waiting for the 50th day – Pentecost
Content: As we look at the first two chapters we are presented with an event that happened on Pentecost: The initial baptism of people with the Holy Spirit (Jesus’ words – Acts 1:5)
At the Logos meeting I asked everyone to consider their ideas of this event and to consider their feelings about modern pentecostal, television ministers (for instance). My request, then, was suspend any preconceptions about this event or what it means to be baptized with the Holy Spirit: to simply ‘observe’ and learn from the text.
The Last Instructions
Jesus appears to the disciples over a period of 40 days.
He tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Jewish cultural context -
Descendant of Abraham (Jacob/Israel) had 12 sons. One son (Joseph) was sold into slavery by his brothers – becomes powerful figure in Egypt. Sons of Israel live in Egypt under the protection of their brother. Years later as a large group of people (nation) they are enslaved under the Egyptians.
The Exodus, Passover, and ‘the 50 day’ celebration: Final event of the escape from Egypt is the Passover: lamb slaughtered for every family and its blood smeared on the entrance to their dwelling. Then they traveled for many days to the mountain where God gave them His law (or ways) through Moses. Scripture records that this happened in the third month. In Jewish tradition and according to the law of Moses this was 50 days after Passover. Every year they were to observe a long festival called the Feast of Weeks: 7 weeks (49 day) after the celebration of the Passover. On the 50th day (which Greek Jews in the time of Jesus called Pentecost) there was to be a great celebration.
The 7 weeks (7X7) was a time to create anticipation in their hearts. A time of waiting for the giving of God’s ways. These 49 days after Passover were celebrated every year by the Jews since the giving of the law. (This is later referenced in Daniels vision when the children of Israel are in Babylonian captivity – the 7 weeks of Daniel)
New Passover / New Pentecost
During the final Passover with His disciples Jesus initiated a new covenant (Lord’s Supper), He becomes the new Passover Lamb – and then He was crucified. Jesus appeared to them over a period of 40 days. Final instructions “wait in Jerusalem” connected with Jewish customs. Wait for giving of the law – 7 weeks – then the 50th day – Pentecost. But Jesus now says “Wait for the promise of the Spirit – … you will receive power to be my witnesses (or to accomplish what I’ve called you to do)”
They gathered in Jerusalem in the Upper Room (possibly where they had celebrated the Passover). 10 days later was Pentecost. Every day they met and prayed – waiting with expectation for something, but not knowing how it would come.
Who was there?
There were about 120 people who gathered. The 11 apostles, Mary (mother of Jesus), His family members, women who were part of the inner circle, and others.
Jesus had challenged His disciples (common people) with the task and overseeing the development of this new movement … a new understanding of God and His kingdom. They were certainly overwhelmed. He told them to wait and they would receive power to accomplish the task He had given them. He connected this with the weight of their cultural experience … the coming of the 50th day – Pentecost. “Wait expectantly! for the ways of God, for the promise of God.”
Pentecost was the day of celebration. This is why we will see later that Jews were gathered in Jerusalem from many places. And on that day, the 50th day, the 120 waiting in the upper room were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-2)
As we think about our own lives, His challenge to be His witnesses, and our need for His power to enable us, let us begin as they did – by creating an expectancy in our hearts. Rather than wrestling with what it might mean to be filled with God’s power, let’s begin with simple recognizing our need and (in unity) begin to pray and hope. “God, I want to be your witness. I’m waiting for Your promise, Your power, to enable me.” We cannot make something like this happen in our lives, but we can create an expectation and a hunger. That is what they did. Let’s pray as we begin this journey together.