In order to understand Acts, we need to be familiar with the first half of Luke’s account, his careful study of Jesus Himself. Since it was all one account, given in two volumes, Luke artfully segued from Jesus’ biography to His continuing work in His full glory as Lord. After He rose from the dead, Jesus spent a great deal of time with His followers.
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”Luke 24:44-45 (NRSV)
It was getting close to the time when Jesus was going to leave them to rise up to His throne in heaven, so Jesus opened up their minds to understand the scriptures and His own testimony. While Jesus was on earth as a man, He had lived with this group of people constantly, developing them to be the leaders who would bring His movement forward once He rose into heaven. He had already explained He would not be with them forever, but would send His Spirit to be with them.
Now, Jesus was reminding them about the promised Holy Spirit. They were His witnesses, and would need Jesus’ supernatural power to fulfill their commission. The door of reconciliation, restoration, and new relationship with God was being opened to Jew and Gentile alike, a startling message to that ancient world, an earth shaking, culturally shattering message.
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, andreturned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”Luke 24:50-53 (NRSV)
When you move to the first chapter of Acts, you see a seamless transition to Jesus now rising up into heaven, and this inner circle now moving to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths celebration, and to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. First, Luke provided a parenthesis for Theopholus, so he would be prepared for what was coming.
“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.”Acts 1:1-4
Luke, being a medical man, may have also understood the soul wound that grief and loss bring.
The Lord Jesus had spent three and a half years leading His public ministry, gathering followers, teaching His inner circle, and training His twelve disciples. In the last six months of His time with them Jesus began to prepare His followers for what lay ahead—the cross, the resurrection, His ascension, and their continuation of His ministry throughout the world. Before He died, only one person appears to have understood what Jesus was preparing them for; Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
In effect, in His talk of the Holy Spirit, Jesus had been discussing His farewell with His inner circle. John later remembered Jesus saying “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Once Jesus had risen from the dead, the Lord honored the relationships He had with His followers, His inner circle of 120 women and men, and His twelve disciples, by spending about six weeks of intimate goodbyes with them, teaching, comforting, exhorting, relationship-building, and strengthening them for what lay ahead—one might say Jesus gave them, as His gift of leave-taking, one day for each month they had been with Jesus.
During this time the Lord encouraged them, affirmed what they had learned, and the skills they had developed. He confirmed their power by His Spirit (and promised more with the coming Holy Spirit). He prophesied, and shared His vision for them. He predicted the crises and challenges that lay ahead for them, and He placed His full confidence in their ability to meet each set of circumstances in His name, saying,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8 (NRSV)
Finally, in His last moments with them, the Lord Jesus reminded them of His care, His love, and His unwavering presence in their lives, saying, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
To me, this is the most important part of this chapter, what Jesus did as He prepared His beloved companions for their separation. Goodbyes are hard for me. I’d rather just quietly disappear, sort of fade away, and then maybe later someone notices I’m gone. But, I’ve come to learn that is really dishonoring to the depth of intimacy in relationships. It feels vulnerable, and it hurts deeply to let those emotions be felt, but it’s also good and right.
In His last earthly act, as His heart, and the hearts of all those who loved Him, were being torn right in two, Jesus insisted on being fully present and fully engaged, giving fully of Himself until the last moment they were together.
Before we leave Acts 1, we need to get the whole resurrection thing dealt with. And, there’s one verse I’d like to point out, because it will feature front and center two Wednesdays from now:
“All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”Acts 1:14 (NRSV)
[Jesus Teaching After His Resurrection – The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]