The passage can be read here.
Rivers usually lead to the sea and it’s easy to find where a river ends. Finding its source however can be more difficult, even a great river like the Nile begins with a tickle of water and to determine the exact point where it begins is a great challenge. It’s the same with the Church, we see it now and we know where it’s going but when did it begin? Some have suggested that the Church began with coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we will look at tomorrow, but the problem with that idea, is what is happening in today’s passage. We have a group of believers, meeting together, praying together, appointing leaders and preparing to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ. It looks like a Church to me.
We know from verse 3 that the Ascension (yesterday’s passage) took place 40 days after the resurrection and we know Pentecost (tomorrow’s passage) occurred about 50 days after Passover when Jesus died. All of this gives us a good idea of the timeframe; it’s about six weeks or so after the resurrection and before Pentecost. Jesus had instructed the disciples to stay in Jerusalem (v4) but it’s clear they were not twiddling their thumbs, they had a mission.
There is an apparent discrepancy between Matthew 27:5 where we read that Judas ‘hanged himself’ and Luke’s account here in verse 18. There are a number of possible explanations; perhaps Luke’s description refers to what happened to Judas’ decomposed body when it eventually fell or was cut down. Alternatively, the word translated ‘hanged’ in Matthew 27:5 can also mean impaled, so Luke is describing the grisly suicide. Matthew was writing mainly to Jews so the idea of suicide would have horrified his readers whereas Luke was writing to Romans who accepted suicide as an acceptable way to die.
This first group of Christians were an interesting mix. There were the eleven disciples, most of whom had not done well during the trail and crucifixion, they had all run away, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus and Thomas had refused to believe in the resurrection. Luke makes a point of mentioning the group included the women, the one group who had been steadfast in their commitment (Luke 8:2, 23:49, 55). The family of Jesus were there, it was a long way from their home in the north and although previously, they had inferred that Jesus was mad (Mark 3:21), they were now fully integrated into the community of believers. We know that Jesus appeared to James his brother after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7) and this must have had a profound effect on him, he went on to be one of the leaders of the early Church. There were others present who are not named and the group numbered about 120.
One thing we can say is that this group were committed to prayer. They had watched Jesus spend time with his father in prayer and they saw it as essential. It seems prayer made up a large part of their days (v14) and when they had a major decision to make, they prayed again (v24).
It’s clear the group took the words of Jesus seriously. They were to be witnesses to the resurrected Christ. They saw too that Jesus had appointed twelve apostles so having studied the scriptures, they replaced Judas. I don’t think many Christians would advocate the casting of lots in a decision process but they acted on what they knew, they were planning to fulfil the Lord’s command.
So this is a Church with almost everything, committed believers, active in prayer, a mission and leaders with vision. Sure, many of them had baggage, they had recently failed but they were forgiven and united. In fact the only thing they needed was the power to carry out his plan, but that wasn’t their job, the power comes from the Holy Spirit and he was about to deliver on the promises of Jesus in a big way. If God could use this group of people to change the world, perhaps he could use us. Send your power Lord!
“Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up thy gift in me.” (From ‘O Thou Who Camest From Above’ Charles Wesley)