Prayer and fasting 21 days – Acts 1
As we begin our 21 days of Praying and Planning, Acts 1 introduces our theme of ‘Living as the People of God’ which we will see through all the daily readings.
The most important command in the chapter is Jesus’ instruction to wait until the disciples receive power from on high (vv4,5 and 8). It is tempting to fall into one of two opposite errors: either to “let go and let God” in such a way that we do nothing in the hope that God will accomplish His plans almost without us, or to get into ‘activity mode’ on the assumption that we can just get on with it without God! The truth is that we cannot be active UNTIL we receive power from on high but when we are baptised with the Holy Spirit we become active, not in our own strength but in His.
Take time to wait, to listen and to allow the Holy Spirit to show any sin that needs to be cleared out of the way and to inspire you with direction and divine energy for the future.
“Work out your salvation,” Paul says in Phil 2:12-13, not on your own but recognising “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work His good pleasure.” He gives us the will/direction and the power/energy to do what is right.
Luke starts his account by referring to his gospel, his first book, as being a record of what Jesus “began to do and teach.” The inference is that He is still doing and teaching, it is just that He is now doing so through the People of God. The gospel has to do with “do and teach” – but not just hold ideas in our heads. The gospel is the power of God leading to salvation (Romans 1:16-17). It is the Holy Spirit unleashed in people’s lives as they respond to Him.
The theme of the People of God appears first in v8 as Jesus makes plain that their understanding of the kingdom was limited – the People of God need to see their role as being witnesses, not just in the comfortable, familiar, local context but to the ends of the Earth.
Second, the theme appears in the apparently strange choice of someone to replace Judas as an apostle. It seems unnecessary to us, especially as with hindsight we know that much of the book of Acts is about Paul who was not even one of the original 12 apostles. We might be tempted to think Peter made an enthusiastic mistake (not for the first time!). Perhaps he should have waited for the Holy Spirit. But when we look closer we find there is no hint in scripture of this being a mistake. And, although it is before the Holy Spirit came in power, we cannot assume they did not know the presence and leading of the Spirit (John 20:22). Besides, this is in a context of much corporate prayer.
It was not a mistake but a significant statement that would have resonated with Jews. Twelve is the number associated in Old Testament scriptures with the people of God: there were twelve patriarchs and twelve tribes and this is repeated many times in scripture.
The appointment of a replacement for Judas is no mere administrative matter – it is a clear declaration that Israel, the People of God, must now be understood in a new way. The Holy Spirit would soon be active “grafting in” Gentiles into the vine of Israel and many who were naturally Israelites would count themselves out of the promises to God’s people by refusing to respond to Jesus. The disciples in the upper room had to prepare, to wait expectantly and actively for the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And part of the preparation was to ensure there were twelve apostles taking a lead and taking responsibility for the new community, the early church. They would oversee the transition to a new understanding of Israel and its mission. Of course there were many more apostles referred to in the New Testament and in successive generations but these 12 have a special role in the establishment of the early church.
So we are reading a chapter full of preparation and expectancy. A chapter of waiting UNTIL receiving the promised Holy Spirit in power.