How do you get ready for a new school year? In the first part of Acts 1, Luke has introduced his second volume, recorded Christ’s great commission to his apostles, and described Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In our text, Acts 1:12–26, he pictures the church preparing, in a 10 day period, for the event of Pentecost. Even though you cannot repeat the event, what can you learn from that time of preparation?
Pray! Ask God for what he has promised. Absolutely essential is prayer. Luke is describing the beginning of the church in its New Testament form. He lists the apostles by name, the men that Jesus had chosen (Luke 6:12–16) to be his disciples during his earthly ministry and then to be the pillars, the foundation pieces, of the church after his resurrection. They were part of the whole body, numbering about 120. Luke describes the larger body, including the women, because the office of believer is very important. Jesus’ brothers have now come to believe. This is the last mention in Scripture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. While we are not told specifically the exact content of the the praying described in Acts 1:14, look back at Acts 1:4 and 8. Almost certainly Luke wants you to understand that the church was praying for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. When God has promised something, you know it’s going to happen. But God still wants you to ask him for it. Look at Daniel 9, as the prophet prays for what he knows God will do.
Pray with and for the church. What is the church doing? Praying! In his Gospel, Luke has noted specific, frequent times when Jesus prayed (Luke 6:12; 9:18; 9:28; 11:1; 22:39–46; and 24:30). Similarly, prayer would characterize the church at crucial points: Acts 1:14, 24–25; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24; 6:6, etc. Luke is not just describing a bit of historical trivia, but rather is teaching you what the posture of the church ought to be: in prayer. Prayer is a function of the entire church. Use that gift! You are a praying church — persevere in that!
Live as the body of Christ. Listen to God’s authoritative Word. Peter, in relatively mild terms, describes the treachery of Judas. Perhaps he is very conscious of his own denial of the Lord. Notice how Peter cites the Scriptures: as spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of the human author. The Scriptures are authoritative, and thus to be obeyed. He quotes from Psalm 69 (clearly messianic) and from an imprecatory Psalm, 109. “The prediction here referred to is not only spoken of as scripture, i.e. written by divine authority, but expressly ascribed to the Holy spirit, as its ultimate author, and to David only as the vehicle or channel of communication.” (J. A. Alexander, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, p. 24) Peter has listened to Jesus explain the focus of the Scriptures on himself. Peter’s use helps you to understand how to use the sometimes difficult Psalms.
Be the apostolic body of Christ. Completing the apostolic number is important, because you need to live as the apostolic church. A replacement had to be found, not simply because Judas had died, but because his treachery had left the apostolic number incomplete at the crucial time when the church was awaiting the promised gift of the Spirit. Acts contains no indication of other apostles being replaced at death. Other officers are ordained to provide for the continuing oversight of the church. The apostolate filled a unique function and time. Two men met the qualifications of being eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry and of his resurrection, but the Lord selected one through the casting of lots. This paralleled the Urim and Thumin in the Old Testament—and there is no indication of lots being used beyond this in the New Testament. “[T]he apostles, as apostles of Christ, are distinguished as especially authorized and empowered representatives of the exalted Christ, by the unique way they represent him and are identified with him. In particular, the authority of Christ is intimately bound up with the person of the apostle in a unique and incommunicable fashion. They speak for Christ as witnesses of his resurrection, and by their witness they function to establish the church’s foundation, understood in a once-for-all sense (Acts 1:21–22; Eph. 2:20). In this role, the apostles are personal plenipotentiaries of the risen Christ.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, p. 58). In the Nicene Creed you confessed that you believe in one apostolic church. John, in his first letter, emphasizes that the true faith is one shared by and built on the testimony of the apostles. Christ, who had chosen the 12, now selects Matthias as a replacement for the traitor. The new Israel, to be composed of believers from many nations, still needed to have the leadership that the Lord had ordained.
Acts 1 is not just technical details. Rather, Jesus himself is concerned about the structure of his church. He did and continues to guide her by his authoritative Word. And he calls you to prayerful service.