Monday, June 13, 2011

You Will Be My Witnesses - Acts 1

As we roll into the book of Acts we see the beginning of these last days. We see the beginning of the age we're in. In grandiose scope, this book shows us how Jesus has begun his rule, his kingdom, over the world through his Spirit whom he has poured on his followers (call them Christians, members of The Way, Jews who trust in Jesus, believers, etc.).

I'd like to know who this Theophilus was, if he even was an individual! Anyways, I find it interesting how Luke himself tells us what his Gospel (which is called a λογος) was about. "All things which Jesus began to do and to teach..." It's important to realize that what Jesus did and taught are both essential. I know many Christians (including Martin Luther) have favored John's Gospel because he see more of Jesus' words than in the others. This isn't bad, I just want to make sure we're looking at certain aspects of Jesus at the expense of others. What I mean is, Jesus didn't just come to liberate some oppressed people back in the day and promote a social justice. And Jesus didn't come to give us some "timeless principles" or replace older ones. The Gospels show us how Jesus became the king of the world. He inaugurated God's universal kingdom on earth, and now it's time for God's people to get this word out, that is, to witness and make disciples (by baptizing and teaching), because he's coming again to set the world aright and bring the true justice and peace of which Caesar gives only a parody, and those who oppose his rule will find themselves crushed when they are called to account (Psalm 2 will address this tomorrow!). And those who follow him are forgiven and will share in the glorious resurrection of the dead (he showed himself living), of which Jesus was just the first-fruits. God hasn't abandoned his creation nor his covenant to Abraham. God's "Creation Project" have been put back on track. That is the good news about Jesus, the Gospel.

Now, 1:6 has always given me pause. In least in my circles, this question has been seen as one of those moments where Jesus must have slapped his head in disappointment and sighed as the disciples showed, once again, they just didn't get it. But is it? Jesus lived, died, and rose! So isn't their question a logical one, "Lord, at this time are you restoring the kingdom to Israel?" I mean, God's ruling activity, all the way back to Creation has been put back on track, right? God bought the world back (redeemed) by paying the price of Jesus' own blood! I'm not putting my foot down on this one, but I think it's a good question. Jesus doesn't bust out a "ye of little faith" critique. I get the sense that Jesus perhaps wanted to nip in the bud any ideas of pride and arrogance, and refocus their thinking. The disciples on many occasions debated and fought over who was going to be the top dog in the restored kingdom, and I'm sure this was an intense moment here, back on the Mount of Olives where he'd been arrested not too long before. So what does Jesus do? He reminds them of their new mission. Be witnesses! You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. Set your minds on that, not on your mundane concepts of glory and honor.

Another thing. I'd bet that the two men standing there were angels, but it doesn't say explicitly. If they are, would this be the only place in the Bible where the humans didn't fear them or bow down to them? And this scene always amused me. I can picture them all squinting into the bright Judean sky, when suddenly some guys creep up beside them and, woah!

Anyways, the "two men" tell the apostles that Jesus will come back in the same way he left. Does this emphasize that he'll return physically (and just to note, I believe this is different than the "coming of the Son of Man," which has the metaphorical language of Daniel 7 in mind, but that's for another post...)?

1:16 gives a concise and enlightening view of the divine and human side of inspiration. The Spirit is the author, David is the writer. Cool.

Lots of themes to mention in this chapter, but I'll just go into something I saw in a video a few weeks ago from an intelligent atheist who was born into an active Pentecostal family. He claimed that Acts 1:18 was the tipping point in his denying the truthfulness of the Bible. I'm not insulting him, but I have to admit, I had to listen to the video a few times before I realized that he thought he saw a contradiction (maybe I'm just slow, or he's slow, or both of us are crazy...). You see, it didn't even occur to me before how someone could see an incongruity between Luke's words here and Matthew 27:1-10. 

This is how he told it. He had apparently never heard of Judas hanging himself (which I thought was very strange, but maybe Lutherans just focus on Holy Week a lot, I don't know), and so he first read Acts before reading the Gospel accounts (once again, strange, but I'll go with it). And when he came here, he imagined that Judas tripped REALLY badly in a field that he purchased himself in a way that his guts spilled out, instead of his body falling from the noose and spilling onto the ground below. And this guy pointed out how he saw this "tripping" as a "divine intervention" of sorts to judge Judas (I don't like that word since it implies God is the Enlightenment or Far Side Comics Deity hovering over the world who every once in a while awkwardly sticks his nose into things like a Epicurean would imagine. And, it implies God doesn't work through our actions, which we see explicitly happening in Acts!). And then when he later read Matthew's Gospel, it freaked him out and he couldn't reconcile the two passages somehow. 

I'm just throwing this out there because it struck me, that's all. Matthew's account, of course, shows how Judas hanged himself out of a guilt and sorrow over his betrayal, not trusting in Jesus' forgiveness like Peter, for example, did when he messed up), and then the money he threw back to the priests was used to buy the field. We see explicit in 1:25 that going our own way (thinking of Psalm 1) leads to death, like it did for Judas.

Oh, and an interesting Greek/Aramaic tidbit, is the χ in Ἁκελδαμάχ being used to sound the Aramaic א in חֲקֵל דְּמָא? I don't know if I've seen it used for that before, but it sounds alright (haha...). Also, we see Luke not using the LXX translation of the Psalms he quotes, though it's certainly the same text as the Masoretic and same basic translation of the LXX.

So Judas' guts where poured out, Jesus' blood was poured out (Matthew 26:28 among others), and soon the Spirit will be poured out. Lots of pouring, eh? (that was for you, Canada).

And of course, casting lots. I'm not sure how this was done. Really, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod practices the same basic thing with its calling system. And I think that's good. The district president gives a list of all good and qualified candidates with basic info (like here with the names and such), and the congregation (or whatever group the candidates might serve at) vote. No interviews or shady deals. 


  1. I have the privilege of giving you your first comment, and I just want to say that this looks like it's going to be a great blog (for me to poop on).

  2. Timely! We studied passages from this Chapter (v. 12-26, where Matthias is chosen to replace Judas) with our District President last evening at our "pre-call" meeting.


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