23. Grace & Power

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 23 : Living with Grace and Power

Acts  6:8-10    Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)–Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.

We have considered opposition several times in these meditations in Acts and those who know this story will know that basically it was Stephen’s goodness that drew him to the attention of the authorities and contributed to his death as the first Christian martyr.

Of course when we say his goodness, what we are referring to is God’s power and goodness in him. Earlier on, as one of the first chosen deacons, he was described as, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) Can that description be applied to us? Am I one who is known for my faith and for the presence of the Holy Spirit energizing and flowing in and through me? Well that was Stephen.

Now observe that he was not described as one of the apostles. He had not had that call, but yet we find he was someone who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now we aren’t told what those things were but he was clearly someone who was flowing in Jesus’ words, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) However we put it, he was a man fully energised by the Holy Spirit for there is no other way these things could happen.

But he is not merely a man of power; he is also a man of great grace. Now often we use that word to mean ‘God’s resources in us to enable us to fulfil God’s will for us’, but grace here is more likely to have the more general meaning (as per the dictionary) ‘a pleasing quality, attractiveness, winsomeness, charm’, i.e. he was a nice person to know and be with. Moreover, we find that he was able to speak with his detractors with a wisdom that they could not withstand.  What an all-rounder!

Yes, just pause up with this for a moment. What an example to us. He is a man full of God’s goodness in such measure that he’s a delight to be with, he has all the answers and, more than that, he is open for the Lord to flow through him in power to bless others.

Now in passing I would suggest that the description I’ve just given of him, which I hope corresponds exactly with the Bible’s description of him, is exactly what the world (and God) would like to see of the church as its description, so let’s repeat it: full of God’s goodness in such measure that they are a delight to be with, they have all the answers and, more than that, they are open for the Lord to flow through them in power to bless others.  Isn’t that something to pray for and work for?

But these are meditations about motivation, what it is that makes men and women do what they do. There are, therefore, three things to note here. First there is Stephen’s motivation. He is a man who, for whatever reason, is given over to God and open to God and who is, therefore, energised and empowered, led and guided by the Holy Spirit. See his example, this is, if for no other reason, one reason why we should be praying, “Lord, here am I; fill me with Holy Spirit and take and use me.” The motivation of Stephen has to be twofold: first there is his own commitment to God and then, second there is the responding power of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing to note is that this outworking of the Holy Spirit in him, opens the door for others to see and respect and respond to this by saying, we want this man to be one of those who oversee the administration of our church life.  When you are looking for deacons in your church, are you looking for those who can be described as full of God’s goodness in such measure that they are a delight to be with, he have all the answers and, more than that, are open for the Lord to flow through them in power to bless others? Anything less, is substandard! So, all of this opens doors for Stephen to serve the church.

The third thing to note, and this is clearly a negative thing, is that such goodness etc. attracts the attention of the enemy who is upset by this obvious manifestation of Jesus in his people. This attention will come in the form of attacks by people who do not like being shown up by other people’s goodness. That, for the moment, is all we need say about this. As it was with Jesus, and so it will be with us!  Godly goodness attracts unpleasant opposition. It is a strange thing but darkness is upset by light.

John, speaking of Jesus declared it: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:9-11) Jesus was rejected, largely because of his goodness, largely because he was light shining in darkness.

The reality is that our godly goodness will both open hearts and close hearts, and will motivate people accordingly. The latter is not for us to worry about, just trusting that the Lord with guard us and keep us. For the former, we simply need to seek the Lord daily for the empowering of His Spirit and do all we can to be those gracious people we have been considering.

19. Seasons of Revival

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 19 : Seasons of Revival

Acts  5:12-17    The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.

I commented in a previous meditation that I believe these times recorded in the early chapters of Acts are the equivalent of what, in any other period of history, we might call revival, times when God is moving sovereignly and powerfully. These verses demonstrate this. Oh that we might have such days today! Note what happened.

1. Signs & wonders.The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (v.12a). Now Jesus did say, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and the apostles are leading the way in that, but it isn’t something automatic because it is only God who does ‘signs and wonders’, yet when He finds those open and available He will do it. Yet there do seem to be ‘seasons’ when the Lord comes in such powerful ways and it doesn’t happen all the time. Yet here were the apostles speaking out the word of God and committed to it regardless of threats to their lives.  Power – miracles – are a clear sign of  revival.

2. Confidence & Fellowship.  Then we find, “And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”  (v.12b) There was a confidence in the church that allowed it to meet openly, and fellowship and meeting together was important for them. Another sign of the moving of God.

3. Fear of the Lord. Next we see, “No one else dared join them.”  (v.13a) This was the ‘fear of the Lord’ we considered in the previous meditation. When God turns up in power – including in discipline – it can be scary.

4. Public acclaim. “even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (v.13b)  The church received the favour of the people because the favour of the Lord was clearly on them. Although the world was scared by it they knew that what was going on in the church was good.

5. Conversions.Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (v.14) Salvation is THE sign of revival as God moves sovereignly in the community, convicting of sin and of need for forgiveness.

6. Miraculous healings.  “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” (v.15) We assume that people were healed even by Peter’s shadow falling on them. Such strange things DO happen at such times.

7. The World Comes. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (v.16)  When this sort of thing happens, the world takes notice and comes looking and seeking. They see here, as nowhere else, there are answers to their needs and so unashamedly they come looking for healing or deliverance – and find it!

8. Opposition. “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” (v.17) Sadly, but understandably, such things also bring opposition – but we will leave that for the next meditation.

The key thing we are looking at here is that all these things are motivated by the power of God being unleashed. Sadly history shows that when these things carry on for any length of time, people start growing used to them and almost treat God casually, and so often dissension and upsets occur, such is the folly of residual sin in us. Perhaps this is why that revivals in history have been short lived. The Lord knows that even if He turns up in power regularly, the old sinful nature eventually takes it and Him for granted. After all, it happened in the early life of Israel, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens in the life of the church. That should not stop us asking for it and doing all we can to be in a right place for the Lord to come and use us, even if it is not in such widely dramatic ways. Pray for that to happen.

8. Respond to Misunderstanding

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 8 :  Responding to Misunderstanding

Acts  2:13,14    Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine” Then Peter stood up….

I like talking with non-Christians about their misunderstandings – at least they are talking! I don’t have a problem with the likes of Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens who have both written out of extravagant misunderstanding without bothering to go to the source, the Bible and God, looking for answers – which suggests they really weren’t looking for answers.

If human beings can get hold of the wrong end of the stick, they will! Christians are as prone to it as non-Christians, I believe. It’s the Sin-effect in all of us, and when it comes to people, we love to judge them and see them in a bad light. That’s what is happening in this part of Acts. The crowd (v.6) had heard these Galileans speaking out a variety of languages, all praising God, and their response had been diverse. Some were ‘utterly amazed’ (v.7) and, being perplexed, questioned what was happening (v.12). Some, however, as our verse above shows, made fun of them and suggested that they were drunk.

Now the important part here is found in the words, “Then Peter stood up”. Peter responds to this confusion. It may be he sees the opportunity to respond to their questioning, and maybe he is stirred up to challenge this silly suggestion that they were drunk because that was his starting point: These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (v.15)   He then goes on to explain it is the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy and then explains what happened with Jesus and why.  His only explanation for the tongues-speaking, is to refer to Joel’s prophecy about the Spirit coming.

But the important thing here is that Peter was motivated to preach that sermon that resulted in some three thousand people turning to God, by the questions and doubts of the onlookers. Now I can think of no better motivation to share the Gospel with doubters.

It was Peter himself who was, in years to come, to write, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) Now I think that most of the time, we as Church are not very good at providing such things that provoke people to ask us why we do what we do and what we believe, but that is surely what is behind Peter’s words here. Of course Jesus had taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) Although the outcome is not quite the same, the intent is; that the things we do cause people to respond favorably.

Listen to this testimony of the early church: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5:12-16) Observe the key points: God was doing serious stuff through the apostles, mainly we might suggest from what follows, in the realm of healing. The fear of the Lord was present and so people feared joining them but, nevertheless, more and more people were saved and added in to the church. What was happening? The same as with Jesus’ ministry: healing happened, people came and questioned and got saved. Good deeds resulting in praise to the Father!

At the present, the crusading atheists focus on the silly things said and done by those on the fringe of the church. When will the world be arrested by the acts of the leaders of God’s people, flowing in power, so that people ask what’s going on?

We find this very process going on when Philip started his ministry: “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.” (Acts 8:6) The crowds saw the power of God manifested in his ministry and that made them listen to what he had to say.

We then find the same thing with Peter’s ministry: “As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:32-35) God’s healing power flowed through Peter and when the local people saw what had happened they turned to the Lord. Clearly Peter had shared the Gospel with them in response to their coming and asking.

To conclude, we might ask on that day of Pentecost, why Peter? Why was it Peter who stood up and responded? Part of the answer must be that Jesus had appointed him to be a leader but there is more than that. Why had Jesus done that? We aren’t given reasons in Jn 21 but surely it must have been that Peter had been with Jesus for three years, Peter had been part of all that went on, and Peter’s character was such that he kept on stepping out, speaking and doing crazy things in his desire to follow Jesus. In other words, he had a wide open heart for Jesus, even if he did get it wrong sometimes! So here on this day, it wasn’t James or John who responded but Peter, loud mouthed, impetuous Peter, and the Holy Spirit took him and gave him a most wonderful ‘sermon’ that follows, resulting in thousands turning to God.

So finally, are you and I people who are motivated by people’s misunderstandings? Are we there to give answers? Are we bold enough to stand up and confront those misunderstandings with the truth? May it be so!

6. Living by Law

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 6 :  Living by Law

Acts  1:20    “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms…..

As we ponder on the behaviour of those we find in the book of Acts, we find ourselves considering things which, we noted in the previous meditation require us to walk a careful tightrope walk, because on one side there is almost truth and on the other side, if we are not careful, we go to another extreme of almost truth.

This is especially so in our reflections on Peter’s actions here in Acts 1. We considered in the previous meditation that this pre-Pentecost action differed from that seen later on in Antioch where the anointed and fully recognised prophets clearly heard from the Lord, and differed from Acts 12 where the church did not seek to replace James when he was killed by Herod. But there is another aspect of his actions that bears considering.

It is his reference to what we call the Old Testament Scriptures to justify what he thinks and feels. This is an especially difficult consideration because so much of our time we spend (rightly) teaching new Christians to read their Bibles and base their lives on the teaching found there, and especially that found in the New Testament. So am I suddenly going to reverse that teaching? Definitely not! However it does need to come with a warning. We have already implied this warning in our heading of this meditation: Living by Law.

Now if we may summarise the Christian’s position in respect of the Law briefly. The Ten Commandments still apply as general law applicable to any society. The remainder of the Law given at Sinai and afterwards was specifically for Israel as a nation living under God and much of it simply does not apply in modern largely, non-agricultural communities. The law of sacrifices has been fulfilled in Christ and, as there is no Temple today, could not be followed anyway. All that said, we have much teaching in the New Testament which is there to guide us and which should be followed by us. Yet there is a bigger issue. Living by Law is living by rules and means that we can, in fact, live without any reference to God (apart from His written word).

The bigger issue is that we are first and foremost called to live out a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and that means direct communication, which from His side means leading and guiding by the Spirit and, from our side, means listening and obedience.  Now, yes, we have the Scriptures and we are to follow that teaching and therefore we do not need to constantly ask God what we should be doing and, in fact, often modern Christians spend much time asking God for guidance when the Scriptures are quite clear and are there to be followed.

Often He doesn’t want to hear us asking, He wants our obedience. It is that simple sometimes. But often it isn’t. We may find ourselves in difficulties when, like Peter, we pick out verses to confirm what we already have concluded in our minds. (That may be too unkind on Peter, forgive me if I’m wrong.) But there is that danger, the danger that we choose verses to back up what we want.

So how do we overcome this? Our starting point must be to come to a place where we are open to God’s will – whichever way it takes us. Second, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us into truth, into what His will is for us, and we seek to keep an open heart as to what that means. Third, we keep alert to His voice speaking to us. Now there is a great deal of difference between us scanning through the Bible looking for a verse to justify our desires, and reading the Bible and suddenly finding a verse leaping out at us. God does indeed speak to us in such a way sometimes.

Indeed I have even heard the Lord misquote Scripture to catch my attention. Many years ago we were contemplating taking a team to another part of the country to do two week’s evangelism and all holiday accommodation in that place was completely taken. Yet one day when I was walking to work in the City, I found this ‘verse’ drop into my mind from nowhere: “In my father’s house are many rooms. I have prepared a place for you.” Apparently being Scripture I particularly noted this thought and considered it was coming from the Lord. Being a young Christian at the time I pointed out to the Lord that it was a wrong quote. The right quote was “I go to prepare a place for you.” There seemed to be a pause and back came, “I have said what I have said.” As I reflected on that, I realised he was saying that the situation there was all in hand. On the strength of that, we told the team what we were doing and two of us went down twenty four hours earlier to this place where the local Tourist Board had told us there was absolutely no accommodation and a half an hour before the team arrived we had the final bit of accommodation for fifteen people! It was amazing.

Now the key element of that testimony is that God spoke and we obeyed. It was a situation – and we often find ourselves in such things – where Scripture on its own could not help us. We might have gone through Scripture picking out verses about God’s provision but that would not have helped us and our team to move with confidence and without worry. When James writes If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” (Jas 1:5)  he recognises that there will be many situations where we need to have the ‘how to’ guidance from God.

I can look back on life now, from a perspective of knowing the Lord for over forty five years, and can see there have been a multitude of occasions where I (we) needed guidance and picking out Scriptures would have been inadequate. To end on a light note, you may have heard the old story, and so it can be a reminder, of the man who was seeking guidance of the Lord and stuck his finger in the Bible and it alighted on, So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:5). He took his finger out and stuck it in another page and beneath his finger he read, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses and don’t use promise boxes or any other form of ‘guidance’ that is open to abuse.

Learn to be motivated by the Holy Spirit. If it is a significant guidance, check it with mature leaders and if it is a ‘life redirection’ word then it is likely to come from the Lord at least three times in different ways. He knows and understands that we need reassurance. Rest in His love and let Him lead, and don’t be afraid to check it out with mature leaders.

1. Introduction

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 1 :  Introduction

Acts  1:4   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.

We have previously written a meditation series entitled, “Why?” but that asked questions of God about why things happen like they do.  This series is slightly different in that we will be examining why we act like we do, what is it that motivates us to act like we do, and to do that we are going to use the book of Acts as our basis for consideration.

Our opening verse give us one obvious reason why we, as Christians, do things – because Jesus or God has told us to do so, but that is only a starting point because, as we so often say in these meditations it is important to look at verses in context. So what have we actually got here at the beginning of Acts?

First of all we have a bunch of men and women and they all have history. They are all, we believe, beyond teenage years at the very least. We might guess that they are mostly in their twenties or thirties but we aren’t told. They all have family backgrounds and some of them at least (maybe most) have families of their own. That we may surmise from what we read in the Gospels.  So each of them is a unique personality and they bring that personality to the Gospel accounts, and we mustn’t forget that. We are first and foremost the people God and our families and life has made us to be.

But this particular group of people have a unique history, at least in respect of the last three years, and it involves being called by and then following Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Those three years must have been the peak of human experience as they walked and talked and ate with the Son of God, and then watched him perform healings and miracles, often dozens if not hundreds a day. They saw him raise people from the dead, they saw him walk on water, and three of them saw him transfigured. And then he drew them into what he was doing so that they were the ones who broke bread and fishes to feed five thousand and then four thousand people. They were sent out and they saw healings and signs and wonders and came back full of joy.

But then they had gone up to Jerusalem with him on that last occasion and gone through that nerve racking week when again and again he taught and healed in the temple precincts under the very noses of the authorities who felt threatened by him. They had been with him in the upper room for the Last Supper and they had been with him in the Garden of Gethsemane and fell asleep when he prayed, and then they had seen him arrested and then he had been crucified and buried. They had been utterly miserable and fearful and had hidden away until after three days, when he had been raised from the dead, he came searching them out. Then he had sent them up to Galilee and had eventually come and joined them there – and that is where we find them.

All of these things we need to take into account when we consider these disciples – about to be apostles – as we observe them in Acts.  We are similar to them in that we have unique personalities and we have history but we are very different from them in that we have not been through the wonders and the terrors that were unique to their experience. For us our experience of Jesus started differently. We didn’t have an encounter with this compelling human-cum-God figure. Our encounter came through another human being, yes, and it was Jesus by his Spirit operating through them, but from then on our experiences were different and yet they are the same in as far as they have flowed out of our response to the call of the Son of God to “follow me”.  We are different from our neighbour who has not had this experience in that they have not (yet) come to crisis point in their life where they were faced by their failure and their need and surrendered to God and received His love and forgiveness and regeneration by His Spirit.

That is where we come from but we may be very similar in a number of ways to these disciples with Jesus at our starting point: we hope we are open and available to the Son of God and will therefore be obedient to his calling and his directions, and yet like them we probably have questions because life isn’t as clear as preachers would sometimes like us to believe. So we’re going to stop here in this first meditation and leave the questions to the next one where we can more fully consider them.

For the moment, as we get ready to step out in these new areas of consideration, hold onto that thought about context and background. Yes, we may be motivated in a whole variety of ways that I believe we will see as we get into this series, but behind it all and perhaps limiting or even enabling it, is our personal history. We are what we are because of where we’ve come from and the experiences we’ve had so far in life and all of that will impinge on the things that then press in on us in further life experiences to motivate us to do what we do. Pray for revelation and insight into who you are and how the Lord works in and through these things as we progress in this new series.

8. Now What?

Meditations in Acts   : 8 :  Now What?

Acts 1:12,13 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.

I think the title we’ve given to this meditation – “Now What?” could almost be used as a title over the whole of the book of Acts, because possibly more than any other book in the Bible, it has to be an account which rolls out with question marks over it. Yes, we might say, this is true of all history, we don’t know what is coming next, but if that is true of life generally, it is doubly true of Acts because it is a book of transition – transition from the ministry of Jesus to ministry of the Spirit through the new body of Christ, the Church. It is about how events unroll that are partly empowered and thus brought about, by the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. But we aren’t there yet!

Do you ever have that “after-the-holiday” feeling? You come back perhaps from a fortnight (if you are lucky) away on holiday somewhere and you come back to the empty house and suddenly you are back to utter normality – and wish you weren’t.  The disciples walk back the three quarters of a mile distance back into Jerusalem and they come back to the house where they have been staying (suggesting they had been there more than a day or so?) and walk back into the room alone.  Well, not alone because there are still at least eleven of them, and possibly a number more – but they are without Jesus. They have just witnessed an act of finality. As we observed earlier, there was a finality about his leaving in the manner they have just witnessed. He has gone. They are alone. All they have are the memories – and the teaching and instructions.

They are to wait here. That’s it. Nothing else except the promise that when they do wait they will receive something of power that God has promised. Once when I took a small team of four into Malaysia to teach there, we were given a fortnight’s itinerary by the denomination we had gone to, together with plane tickets to get around the interior. On one occasion we were picked up at the small airport by a man with a pick-up truck and taken into the nearby town. He didn’t speak English and so simply signed to us. In the middle of the town, he pulled up, jumped out and unloaded our baggage on the pavement and indicated we should get out. He promptly drove off!

The team of young people with me, turned to me and asked, “What next?” “I haven’t a clue,” I replied, “we just wait here until something happens.” Ten minutes later another vehicle pulled up and an English-speaking local picked us up and took us to the church where we were next speaking. For those ten minutes we were utterly helpless. We couldn’t speak the language and it was a part of the world where few would have spoken English. I suspect that the disciples had a similar sort of feeling at this point in their lives. Now what? What have we let ourselves in for? How long do we have to wait?

Today we are living in a very controlling world. We have created a great sense of ‘being in control’.  For most of us, the day ahead is unlikely to bring surprises. We may not know exactly how some things at work are going to work out, but apart from the details, life is pretty much laid out in order. We know the time of the train or bus we catch to work, or the time we have to get the children to school. We know the things that need to be done today, and we rarely have doubts about them. If we have to go shopping for food, we know it will be there. If we go to school or college we have timetables that decree at exactly what time we will be where and doing what lesson. If we go on holidays we get all the details worked out before we go, even down to booking plane seats on line before we leave home. Oh yes, in a large measure we are living in a very controlled world and so we don’t like being ‘out of control’. The younger generation with their mobile phones feel even more locked in to this world and many feel bereft if they cannot constantly keep contact with their friends by text messages.

None of this helps faith, because faith involves stepping out on God’s word and trusting Him to move. Or sometimes, like now with the disciples, it just means sitting still and waiting for the Lord to turn up, and that we find even harder to do. Inactivity is not part of modern life, and yet the Lord calls us to it from time to time. Sometimes it is simply so that we can take stock afresh of where we are in life. Sometimes, like now in the case of the disciples, it means waiting until a significant time arrives. Sometimes it is waiting until people or circumstances come into place to enable you to walk forward on the path God has for you. It’s like life is made up of moveable lengths of path and we have to wait until the next bit swings round to align itself with the bit you are standing on. Only then can you walk forward. Because it is a life of faith, of course, much of the future is hidden from us. Yes, remember it is a life of ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ and both those things come into play when all is not clear ahead – but that’s the sort of life the Lord calls us to – but you can be utterly secure in the knowledge that He knows what is to happen and when it is to happen and also the part He wants you to play in it! Rest and rejoice in that!

1. Continuation

A series of meditations covering the events in Acts, starting with chapter 1, a period of uncertainty between the Ascension of Christ and the coming of the Spirit to launch the Church. In chapter 2 we will see the launching of the Church and the first Christian sermon. Thereafter we follow the life of the early church

Meditations in Acts : 1 :  Continuation

PART ONE: “What Next?”

Acts 1:1-3  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to 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 period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Moving from the Gospels to the Acts, I always think, comes with a lightly strange feeling. There is a measure of continuation of the works of Jesus, but the person of Jesus is missing. The link between this book and the Gospel of Luke is quite clear in the first five words of chapter 1. This is clearly a follow on book from a previous writing and the object or receiver of it, Theophilus, has to be beyond coincidence: Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:3,4).

The continuation is also quite clear from the reference to Jesus being taken up into heaven, for in the closing verses of Luke’s Gospel we read, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:50,51).

In this new series in the early chapters of Acts, we are calling this first part, “What Next?” because, after the amazing accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels, when we come to Acts there is this sense of continuation but at the same time there must have been a wondering in the minds of the disciples, what was coming next.  In this first chapter of Acts, I think if we are able to step right inside it, there is a feeling of uncertainty. When we get to chapter 2 we’ll see the launching of the Church but for the moment, there are big questions over everything that is happening.

In the first few verses of Acts, Luke almost seems to rush into recapping what had happened. Having done the link with Jesus ascending into heaven, he backtracks to the fact that Jesus had, after his resurrection, appeared to the disciples and taught them: 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.” In his Gospel Luke had told about how Jesus had appeared to the twelve (Lk 24:36-43) convincing them that he was who he said he was. In the Gospel he simply records that Jesus then taught them the background of what had happened from the Scriptures (Lk 24:44-49). It was Matthew who recorded in his Gospel the message from the angels and then from Jesus himself, that Jesus would be going up to Galilee and they were to meet him there (Mt 28:7,10). Mark also confirmed this (Mk 16:7). It is left to John in his Gospel, written many years later, to provide us with the details of how they had gone back up to Galilee and had the encounter with Jesus by the lake (Jn 21). Luke now makes good the omission from his Gospel: “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God,” (v.3) and ties the Gospel accounts together.

It is perhaps worth a little comment about the matter of the differing accounts. There those antagonistic souls who make noises about discrepancies or, as they wrongly call the differences, contradictions. Several things can be said about this.

First, just what constitutes a contradiction? When four different people witness the same thing they will report it in different ways and with different emphases. It is only a contradiction when one person says “X did this” and another person says “X never did that.” If one person says “John wore brown trousers” and another person says “John wore a green tie,” that is not a contradiction but simply two pieces of presumably accurate information that do not conflict.

A second thing to note is that writers of that day did not seek to fill in all the details like a reporter today might. We are concerned with accuracy of details; they tended to often speak in generalities. From our perspective there often seems a gap between the two but that was not what bothered them.

A third thing that might be worth observing is that the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were possibly the most confusing and emotionally upsetting, at least as viewed by the disciples, that have ever occurred in history. It is no wonder that different writers pick up on different bits because without doubt they would all have been traumatized by what went on in a measure that is almost beyond understanding by us who have not been through what they went through.

A fourth point to be born in mind is that the Gospels probably didn’t start being written down until at least twenty years had passed. Neither this nor the previous point are made to suggest inaccuracies, merely that it is not surprising that different writers picked up on different parts of the story to tell, or expressed it in different ways.

We can never be sure that what we have is an absolutely accurate set of accounts, but then neither can we be sure that they aren’t!  Ultimately it is a matter of faith that says, “I believe that we have a credible record of what took place because it all fits, it all makes sense and Luke especially has given us prior grounds to trust his account when we find in his Gospel these words: “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:3,4) The words I have put in bold suggest strongly that this man is a careful reporter. We can believe what we read. Let’s read it carefully.