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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TWO

SERMON DELIVERED ON 11-04-17

       Last week I began what I hope to present as a systematic and comprehensive journey through the book of Acts. As discussed last week, the book of Acts takes us back to our roots as a church.  It provides us with a record of the ground floor events that led to the past 2000 years of Christian development.  The book of Acts is a history of the birth and the birth pains of the Christian Church.   

       Last week we discussed the evidence for Luke being the author of Acts as well as the Gospel named after him.  We also discussed the dating of Acts and Luke’s writing style as revealed in chapter one of his Gospel.  We concluded last week with Jesus telling His disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not very long after His ascension to the Father. Today I want to begin were we left off last week and discuss what Jesus meant when he told His disciples that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit:

       Acts 1:4-5: 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

       Jesus speaks of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.  He said “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  When we see John baptizing in the NT, it always appears he is dunking people under the water. Water is the baptizing agent. So what is Jesus saying when He speaks of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

       The English word “baptism” is a translation of the Greek neuter noun baptisma.  The English word “baptize” or “baptized” is a translation of the Greek baptizo which is the verb form of baptisma.  There is also a masculine noun form of this word pronounced baptismos which is used in Scripture to designate ritual washing.  Another form of this word is bapto and is used to describe dipping into water or some other liquid. 

       The basic meaning of these Greek words is to dip or immerse into something. It is the verb baptizo that is most often used by Scriptural writers when speaking of someone being baptized. While we see baptizo used primarily in association with being immersed into water it should be noted that baptisma and baptizo are also used to signify being immersed into things other than water and where something other than water is the baptizing or immersing agent. The Scriptures speak of baptism by trial and fire and by the Holy Spirit.  The Scriptural writers also use baptizo to signify being immersed into Christ and into Moses. 

       For example, Mark 10:35-39 records James and John asking that they be allowed to sit on the right and left of Christ in His glory.  Jesus questioned whether they were prepared to be baptized with the baptism He would be baptized with.  Here baptizo is not referring to being immersed in water or the use of water at all but being immersed into a trial where it is the trial that is the baptizing agent. It is apparent Jesus is referring to the crucifixion as the baptizing agent in this case.      

       The Greek baptizo is also used to show the Holy Spirit and fire as agents of baptism.  John preached that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 

       Matthew 3:11: "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

       Mark 1:8: I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

       While John used water as the agent of baptism we know that on Pentecost the agent of baptism was the Holy Spirit which is seen as poured out upon the disciples through the power of God with tongues like as of fire resting on them. Peter describes the Pentecost event as the Spirit being poured out upon them. 

      Acts 2:33: Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

       This pouring out of the Spirit was witnessed to them by their being able to speak in languages they had never learned.  We will be discussing this event in detail as we proceed with this series

      Both John and Jesus use the word baptism in association with something other than water as the agent of such baptism.  Both John and Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as an agent of baptism.  Peter sees this agent being poured out.  The Greek rendered “poured out” means to pour, shed or spill and is used in this manner both literally and figuratively in the NT.  This is what we see happening at Pentecost.  The promised baptism of the Holy Spirit is seen as a pouring out of the Spirit.   

       The Greek baptizo is also used to signify being baptized into another person.  The Israelites are said to have been baptized into Moses.

       1 Corinthians 1: 1-2: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

       We know that God, through Moses, parted the sea and the Israelite’s walked through the sea on dry land.  A cloud followed Israel by day.  Paul sees this as symbolic of the people being baptized into Moses who was their appointed leader.  Here people were not literally immersed into water as was the case with John’s baptism but water is seen as providing protection.        

       Another way baptizo is used is found in chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul speaks of being baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that is seen as the agent of baptism whereby the Corinthians were thrust into the body of Christ which elsewhere in Scripture is seen as the church.

       I Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

       So while it is true that we frequently see the various Greek words for baptism used in the NT to show an immersion into water, it is apparent baptism can also signify being immersed into the Holy Spirit and to designate immersion into the body of Christ.

       It should be noted while the Greek baptizo and its cognates has the basic meaning of to dip or immerse into something, one of the synonyms of the word Immerse is “to douse.” We have all had the experience of being doused with a bucket of water.  In a very real sense, those disciples gathered together on Pentecost in AD 31 were doused with the Holy Spirit.  It appears when Jesus speaks of his disciples receiving the Holy Spirit and Peter speaks of the Spirit being poured out, it is in this manner the word baptism is being used in relation to receiving the Holy Spirit. 

Forty days speaking about the Kingdom:

       Let’s now move to Acts 1:5 where Luke writes that subsequent to His resurrection, Jesus “appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”  This being the case, it appears rather puzzling to hear the disciples asking the following question shortly before Jesus’ ascension into the heavens. 

       Acts 1:6: So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"           

       Why would the Apostles ask such a question?  The Scriptures show Jesus constantly taught His followers about the Kingdom during His three and one-half year ministry.  He continued to teach them about the Kingdom for 40 days after His resurrection.  Prior to His crucifixion and resurrection He taught about the moral and ethical standards of the kingdom.  He gave a number of parables about what the Kingdom was like.  It is not revealed what he taught about the kingdom during the forty days after His resurrection but it is apparent He did teach about the kingdom.  

       It would appear logical to conclude that after being with Jesus for three and one-half years of his ministry and now forty additional days with Him after His resurrection, they would have had a pretty good understanding of what the Kingdom was all about, including when it was to arrive.  During His ministry, Jesus sent disciples throughout Israel to preach about the Kingdom (Luke 9:1-6, 10:1, 9-11).  Jesus would not have sent these disciples out to preach the Kingdom unless they were trained in the knowledge of the Kingdom and were able to intelligently and truthfully teach it. 

       It’s apparent, however, that their knowledge of the kingdom did not include when the kingdom as a ruling authority would be established or what the nature of such establishment would be.  It’s also apparent they still didn’t have that knowledge after being taught by Jesus about the kingdom for forty days after His resurrection.  Jesus told them it was not for them to know when the kingdom would be established as a ruling authority.

       Acts 1:7-8:  He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

       What the disciples apparently taught the people when Jesus had sent them out to teach was the same thing Jesus taught the people.  As we see throughout the ministry of Jesus, He taught the people spiritual dynamics of the kingdom. He taught them the behavioral standards of the Kingdom.    

        After being taught about the Kingdom during Jesus’ three and one-half year ministry and for an additional 40 days after His resurrection, the disciples didn’t know when or how the Kingdom as a ruling authority would be established and Jesus was not about to tell them.

       Yet, in asking Jesus the question they asked Him, it is apparent they understood the Kingdom to be something more than spiritual dynamics of behavior.  By asking about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, it is evident the disciples understood the kingdom in terms of a ruling authority with a king and subjects being ruled by such king.        

       It is evident from the NT Scriptures that restoration of the Davidic Kingdom is what was anticipated by first century Israel, including the followers of Jesus.  When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey shortly before His crucifixion, the people associated His arrival with the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.

        Mark 11:9-10: Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna!” "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"

       The Jews of Jesus day were familiar with the 70 weeks prophecy recorded in Daniel chapter nine.  They were able to calculate from this prophecy the approximate time when the promised Messiah was to appear.  Their calculations showed that the time of the Messiah’s appearing was at hand in the first century AD. Expectations were high that the promised Messiah was about to appear.

       Taking advantage of this expectation, there were a number of “messiahs” that appeared on the seen in the first century promising to lead the people out from under Roman rule.  First century historian Josephus records that almost every day the Romans put one or more of them to death.

       While the first century Jews understood that the 70 weeks prophecy pointed to the Messiah appearing in their lifetime, what they apparently did not understand or simply overlooked was that the 70 weeks prophecy predicted the death of the Messiah who would come.  This prophecy also shows the sacrificial system would come to an end and the temple along with the city would be destroyed.

       It should be noted that there is no discussion of the establishment of a kingdom in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9.  The passage is only about the coming of Messiah, His being cut off, the subsequent destruction of the sanctuary along with the city, and the discontinuance of the sacrifices.  It is apparent the Jewish leadership of the first century either failed to understand this aspect of the 70 weeks prophecy or chose to ignore it and simply stick to their belief that the coming Messiah would restore a literal Davidic kingdom.  

       Now the Scriptures clearly show Jesus was born to be a king. When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to the Christ child, Mary was told that He was to be given the throne of His father David and that He was to reign over the house of Jacob in a Kingdom that would never end. 

        Luke 1:32-33: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."  

      Here we find the Kingdom clearly associated with there being a throne of rulership and reign over a particular group of people.  The Kingdom is seen as having a throne and King Jesus reigning over the house of Jacob.  It must be noted, however, that during His trial Jesus told Pilate His Kingdom was not of this world.

       John 18:36: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (Greek: “Not from here”).

       While we know Jesus taught His followers a lot about the behavioral standards of the Kingdom, we don’t know how much Jesus taught His disciples about the Kingdom as a ruling authority or where that ruling authority would be  established.  He clearly told Pilate His Kingdom was not of this world. The Greek for world is kosmosKosmos has broad application in the Greek language with the common thread being that the word refers to the physical realm.  Jesus appears to be saying His Kingdom is not of this physical realm.

       The disciples, like many in Israel, were expecting a restoration of the physical Davidic Kingdom.  The disciples were inquiring as to when this restored Kingdom would be established. 

       Jesus virtually brushes them off about this matter and tells them not to be concerned about this but to focus on the mission he had set before them which was to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.  Jesus is then seen as ascending into the heavens.  Luke reports on this event in both his Gospel and in the Act’s.

       Acts 1:9-12: After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."  Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.

       Luke 24:50-53: 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. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

       Know we have all seen people with parachutes descend from the clouds and land on planet earth.  We have also seen people ascend up into the space above the earth in hot air balloons. It’s recorded in 2 Kings 2:11 that Elijah went up into heaven in a whirlwind apparently accompanied by a chariot of fire and horses of fire.  But I don’t think anyone has ever seen a human, without any supporting gear just lift off the ground and disappear into the clouds. Well the eleven disciples saw this happen to Jesus.  They must have been amazed and rightly so.  It’s written they were looking up intently into the sky.  I bet they were.  They probably couldn’t believe their eyes. 

       Their stare at the sky was then broken up by two men dressed in white appearing before them and questioning them as to why they were looking into the sky.  They are told that Jesus would return in the same manner they saw him leave.  I am not going to get into a discussion of what is meant by Jesus returning in the same manner He was taken up into heaven.  That would necessitate getting into a lengthy discussion pertaining to the return of Christ and the whole subject of Biblical eschatology which is the study of last things.  That will have to be for another time. 

       I do want to address what some see as a contradiction between the two accounts of the ascension of Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke, it appears the ascension took place in the vicinity of Bethany while the account in Acts indicates the ascension took place on the Mount of Olives.  Well, if you look at a map of the area around Jerusalem, you will see that Bethany is located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives which is around a half mile from Jerusalem.  I have stood on the Mount of Olives and when doing so you see the old city of Jerusalem situated about a half mile below.  So both accounts are talking about the same general area.

       It’s interesting that the walk to Jerusalem is identified as a Sabbath's journey. A Sabbath’s day Journey was defined as around 1/2 mile.  The Jews believed that if you walked further than this you were breaking the Sabbath. 

       The narrative of Acts 1:13-14 speaks of where the Apostles located after returning to Jerusalem and what their activities were.  I will return to these two verses when we get into a discussion of the Pentecost event in Acts chapter two. The rest of Acts chapter one describes how Judas fulfilled Scripture in his betrayal of Jesus and how he had to be replaced so that there would again be a total of twelve Apostles to act as witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  This replacement of Judas is also seen as a fulfillment of Scripture.  Replacing Judas was done in the following manner.

       Acts 1:23-26: So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

       In the case of choosing a replacement for Judas, the Apostles asked God to make the decision and believed that God would direct the lot to fall upon the person of His choosing,  The Apostles may have taken there queue for casting lots in this matter from the Proverbs

       Proverbs 18:18: Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.

       Proverbs 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

       While the casting of lots was a practice at times done with the intention of having God intervene to facilitate a decision about a matter, it is evident that the casting of lots was also done to avoid conflict between humans over choices having to be made about a matter.

       The casting of lots was similar to the present day practice of throwing dice or flipping a coin.  One translation of Acts 1:23-26 actually uses the word dice in place of lots.  The reason for casting lots was to facilitate an impartial, unbiased decision on a matter and not have to deal with politics in arriving at a decision about something. Maybe our government should cast lots on issues they are considering.  A lot more would probably get done.

       An example of casting lots to facilitate a decision about a matter is seen in the soldiers casting lots for a particular piece of Jesus’ clothing. This particular piece of clothing was a seamless undergarment which the soldier’s who were facilitating the crucifixion decided to give to one of them in one piece rather than cut it into four pieces.  This was accomplished by casting lots for this garment. This was prophesied to happen.

       John 19:23-24: When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. "Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it."   This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.

       This concludes our review of Acts chapter one. Next time we will begin with Acts, chapter two.

PART THREE