Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Suddenly/Supernaturally: Reading Acts 2:1-4

It is natural to desire change.  In American culture failed resolutions are epidemic.  Tomorrow will be different.  We awake to a new day, in the same city, with the same people, with the same trees . . . and like birds in migration, we instinctively walk the same paths.  Wanting to change is natural.  Yet living the pattern is instinctive.  This is what makes truly living the sequel most difficult. 

In film, sequels often present the same characters set in the same scenes as they were in previous episodes.  Most of the time our surroundings are inescapable.  Yet to truly live the sequel, if the next chapters of our lives are to become their own epic story, something must change.  If changing our environment is not possible, the locus of change must be us.  Yet how can we ever truly become anything other than who we are?  It seems unlikely and unnatural. 

If change is so unnatural, then for us to begin a new sequence of life that becomes its own epic story we need something to suddenly and supernaturally to initiate the sequel.  We need something more powerful than our own resolve.  We need new strength, a new cause, a new life.

The broken witnesses of Acts 1 desire change.  Jesus told them to wait for it.  Jerusalem is not unfamiliar.  Neither is Pentecost.  The opening scenes of the Jesus sequel are very natural.  Peter has helped them make sense of tragedy, Matthias is now number 12 . . . it is easy to lose the first three pounds, to be more productive for a month, to begin a book, to spend less in the New Year when you’ve just bought everything at Christmas. . . but at some point we are overwhelmed by instinct.  Acts 1 is easy.  Jerusalem has been the same old city for centuries.  Pentecost comes every year.  Is there any assurance for Peter, for the broken witnesses, or for any of us that we can begin a new epic story, that we can truly live the sequel? 

“And suddenly . . .”

As subtly as the sequel seemed to begin, suddenly/supernaturally, everything about the broken witnesses changed.  They heard a sound from Heaven like wind, but it was not wind.  They saw what appeared to be fire, but it was not fire.  What was it?  “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .”  Supernaturally, God changed them. 

To receive salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit we need to take the posture of Matthias.  Surrender our will to God and become candidates.  For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32). 

It is important to remember that the sequel is not ours, it is His.  Peter will be an important character.  So will we.  But at best we are playing supporting roles.  This is not a bad thing, it is the right thing.  For a people that struggle to change, the only way to live a new epic story is to be changed.  The Jesus sequel then becomes millions of individual stories, a diverse, eclectic mix of people, all united by one.  For those who choose to live the Jesus sequel He redeems their story and connects them with His story by giving them the Holy Spirit.  As subtle and unchanged as the scene may be - after all it is Jerusalem; Pentecost comes every year, you will wake up tomorrow to the same people, in the same city, with the same trees - supernaturally, within the context, we are changed.  He has given us His Spirit.  To live the sequel something suddenly/supernaturally must change.  We have been born again (John 3).

A new season of salvation begins.  Suddenly/supernaturally, we are in the sequel. 
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And Matthias: Reading Acts 1:15-26

Judas had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide.  It was the will of God for someone else to become number 12.  The criteria were simple.  The next number 12 had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry until the ascension.  The Bible says there were two candidates.  Candidate one is Joseph.  Some call him Barsabbas.  Others call him Justus.  He is a man with three names (Acts 1:23).  Of the other candidate, the text simply says, “and Matthias.”  They pray and cast lots.  Matthias is chosen and the Bible says nothing else about him. 

It would be easy to conjecture from the brevity of his mention that Matthias was unimportant, insignificant, but that may not be an honest interpretation.  We must remember the first reader of the Jesus sequel is Theophilus.  A more honest interpretation of “and Matthias” would be that for Theophilus, all he needed was a name.  Because of their relationship, Theophilus could fill in the rest. 

Whether good or bad, there are some people who need only to be mentioned by name to be recognized.  Their name is not insignificant, it is unmistakable.  Tiger.  Beckham.  Obama.  W.  Saban.  Cam.  Herschel.  Bo.  There are other people in our lives that may not be unmistakable to pop culture, but they have left an indelible impression on our souls.  For me those names would include Jerry Joe, Clayton, Bobby, Bro. Wayne, Mrs. Pat, The Atlmans, Dr. Affman.  Then there are my one name friends Chris, Dave, Dell, John, Bill.  When any of these names are mentioned I can fill in the rest. 

“And Matthias.”  Luke was a great historian.  His first volume was gospel.  He is not careless with detail, so it is safe to assume that for Theophilus all he needed to know was that number 12 was Matthias.  Theophilus could fill in the rest.

Matthias chose to live the sequel.  He was willing to be a candidate.  Living the sequel means making yourself available for God to use.  It means giving yourself so fully to others that all they need to hear is your name.  More importantly, we must realize that the sequel includes us, but it is not about us.  The sequel is about Jesus.  Ultimately it is not about making our name famous.  The sequel is about making Jesus’ name famous.  The sequel is about how He continues to live His life through His people.  In the end, the credits will roll, names will be called.  The book that records their names is unmistakable because it is emblazoned with His; The Lamb’s Book of Life.  It needs no further explanation, only a brief mention.  Its significance is clear.  These are the names of the people He redeemed.  These are the people who lived the sequel. 

When those names are read, there will be no need for explanation.  It will be instead a chorus of praise to His name.  These are the names of the redeemed:  Luke, and Theophilus, and Matthias, and Brian, and . . . you? 

If you have not been redeemed, repent of sin and call upon His name (Ezekiel 36:22-32, Romans 10:13).  He is calling each of us to come and live the sequel.
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Broken Witnesses: Reading Acts 1:15-20

Luke takes roll of the followers of Jesus.  At this point in the story, there are not many of them.  Now that Jesus is gone, they are left to wait.  Luke mentions eleven of the men (1:13).  They are mostly fishermen, one of them is a tax collector, several of them are brothers.  None of them are notable.  All of them left Jesus during his trials.  Only one of them is mentioned while Jesus is dying (John 19:26).  The only other men who are mentioned here are the brothers of Jesus.  They are there with their mother (1:14).  It is no secret that during Jesus' life his brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5).  There were also women.  The women who followed Jesus were questionable at worst and marginal at best.  Mary Magdalene had seven demons, Joanna worked for Herod (Luke 8:1-3).  Some of them were notable sinners (Luke 7:39).  Whatever they were they have now made a bold choice.  They were broken, but now they would be witnesses.  They chose to live the sequel.

While they wait they deal with their most recent tragedy.  Yes, Jesus has risen and ascended, there is reason to rejoice, but one of them was a traitor.  Throughout the Gospels it was noted how difficult it was for them to come to grips with the reality that Jesus would die.  Even more difficult was coming to terms with the fact that it would be one of them who would initiate the process (Mark 14:17-21).  Perhaps even now, as they prayed and waited, they tried to make sense of it all.  Someone needed to help them find closure.

The person who rises up to help theses broken witnesses make sense of treachery is the least likely of them all, Peter.  Judas was one of Jesus' betrayers.  Peter was the other one.  Surely someone else would be better suited for this moment than Peter.  Peter is mouthy, brash, vulgar, and uneducated.  On top of it all he swore he did not know Christ because he was afraid of a servant girl (Matthew 26:69-75).  Peter's resume suggests that he is not fit to lead.  But that was another version of Peter.  He has been restored and his life redefined (John 21:15-19).  Peter has chosen to live the sequel.

He stands to help them make sense of it all and he does so with simplicity.  The man was wicked.  God was not surprised.  The Scriptures are our guide.  "Let another take his office."  It is time to move on. 

There are two lessons here that speaks to the essence of the sequel.  As exciting as the possibility of living the sequel may be, we cannot completely separate ourselves from our previous plot lines.  We are redeemed, but let us not forget that we needed redemption because of our mistakes.  We have made mistakes in the past and we will not be immune from making more, even in the sequel.  This will be a subplot in the Book of Acts.  There will be unity but there will also be division.  They will get a lot of things right, but some of them, from time to time, including Peter, will get some things dead wrong.  But here, in Acts 1:15-20 Peter gets it right, the sequel does not depend on our resumes.  The sequel continues because it is the will of God.  Even in our failures the will of God will prevail.

The other lesson of the sequel is the role of the broken.  In the beginning it looks to be a strange choice for Peter, the other betrayer, to help the others deal with betrayal.  But Peter is healed.  In Christ, his life is restored.  Who better to help them deal with betrayal than a man who has been thoroughly healed from it?  Now that Jesus has ascended the most compelling evidence of his resurrection will not be an empty grave, but the healing and restoration of the broken.  Being a witness is not simply saying that He has risen, it is demonstrating to others that Jesus has the power to save. 

Although he did not verbalize it, Peter’s leadership demonstrates to the marginal and questionable women, the fishermen, the formerly unbelieving brothers, the tax collector, and every notable sinner present in the room, we have all been broken, but now we are healed.  We will never be able to completely separate ourselves from our former plot lines, but in Christ our past is not crippling.  Instead it becomes a compelling side note to the sequel.  We were broken, but now we are healed.  We are His witnesses.
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It's Not Over: Reading Acts 1:6-11

It was a fair question, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"  They discerned from Jesus' promise that soon the Holy Spirit would come (1:5), that this may be the end.  It was not a bad end, in the sense that most of us think of "the end."  Most of us associate "the end" with "the apocalypse" and "the apocalypse" as a very scary way to end.  For them the end was not frightening, but victorious, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.  They looked forward to the end.

The coming of the Holy Spirit signaled to them the final season of salvation, but even though it may be the last one, Jesus shared with them that it would be a long one.  Their lives were far from over.  Jesus gave them a new focus, a mission.  He gave them something to do that would not only take them to the chronological end of time, but would take them to the geographic ends of the planet.  They were to live life to the fullest.   They were to be His witnesses who would spread the gospel "to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)."

There are various circumstances that when they come upon us, we feel as if "It's over."  Marriages end, businesses fail, sickness comes.  People are capable of experiencing and committing tragedy; they die, they cheat, they lie, they leave.  Each time tragedy calls our name it signals to our heart that this may be the end.  We feel as if “It's over.”

But you are still here.  It's not over.

People have a way of giving up not only in the bad times, but in the good ones as well.  The disciple's question of the kingdom was not a negative one, it was incredibly positive.  Life was good.  Jesus had risen.  Death was, by all indications, dead.  Now, let's have the kingdom!  Victory has a subtle way of making us give up without officially surrendering.  When life is good, when the kingdom is going well, our life grows numb, complacent, and comfortable.  It is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to live for nothing.

But you are still here.  It's not over.

Living the Jesus sequel calls us to breathe again, refocus, and prepare for a new season of life.  It may be the last one, but it may be a long one.  Whether you are post-crisis or post-prosperity the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings new life to those who follow Him.  He gives to all who call upon His name, salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives does not signal that life is over.  When we receive Him, life begins.  The beauty of it all, as we will see in the Book of Acts, is that through the Holy Spirit Jesus amasses an army of broken people to be his witnesses.  Each of them, at some point in their story, had good reasons to believe, "It's over."  Yet now, because of Jesus, they are living the sequel. 

Jesus’ witnesses have been lost, left, and lied to.  They have been divorced, diseased, and discouraged.  The people who take the gospel global have failed miserably, thought hopelessly, and experienced tragedy.  Yet in Christ, they found a new reason to live.  There are others who need to hear the story of what Jesus did for them.  They are His witnesses. 

If you are still here.  It is not over.  What's next?  For those who dare to ask that question, the sequel begins.
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The Sequel: Reading Acts 1:1-5

Our lives are written in chapters.  Sometimes it takes years to recognize when one ended and the next one began.  At other times those chapters are more definitive; a graduation, a baby, a job change, marriage, or loss.  The message is clear, it is time to move on.  Most of the time new chapters merely represent a change in scenery.  We have learned our lessons, gained some wisdom, taken on new responsibilities, but a new chapter is simply another story of a slightly differing version of us - maybe older, wiser, or jaded, the scenery is somewhat different but at the core of who we are, new chapters represent little change. 

Sometimes we need to quit writing chapters.  We need a chance to create the sequel.

In literature and film, sequels may present the same set of characters in the same environment, but there is a sense of newness to the journey.  Yes, there are connections to the previous plot lines, but a sequel, in many respects, can stand alone as its own epic story.  The Book of Acts is the sequel to the life of Jesus.

In verses 1-5 of Acts 1 Luke creates the initial plot connections for the first reader of his story, Theophilus.  In the previous volume Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared alive on different occasions to various witnesses.  The resurrection was not a nostalgic hallucination of a grieving loved one, nor was it a conspiracy story fabricated by a few.  People do not hallucinate in mass.  Conspiracies never walk in the openness of the obvious.  Post-resurrection Jesus made appearances over several weeks for all to see.  Luke ends volume 1 of the story with a brief mention of the ascension.  Jesus told them to wait for the promise of the Father, he blessed them and then he was gone (Luke 24).  Like all good movies Luke leaves us with a cliffhanger indicating to Theophilus, there is more to come.

 Peter blew it in volume one.  What becomes of him?  What about the rag tag, eclectic circle of followers that bolted when Jesus was crucified?  What will become of them?  It is as if Luke is saying to Theophilus, “You need this story as much as you needed the first one.”  The most important question of all, Jesus is alive, now what? 

The resurrection of Jesus does not give us an opportunity to merely attach another chapter to our lives, the resurrection is a chance to live the sequel.  Just as Jesus’ incarnation and birth began volume 1, the Gospels, an incarnation and birth of another sort will spawn volume 2.  The Holy Spirit is coming.  A new season of salvation is nearing dawn.  The church will soon be born.  Just as Christ was in Mary, so through the Holy Spirit, Christ will be in each of them.  In the same way, the Book of Acts is the story of what happens when Christ is incarnate in each of us. 

I do not know why Theophilus deserved to be the first to read the sequel.  Was his faith wavering?  Was he simply curious?  Was there something else?  I am more familiar with our circumstantial universe than I am with his.  I know faith can be difficult.  I know, like them, we need proof (1:3).  I know, above all else, that we are tired of adding chapters to the same old story that we know is lurching toward the same tired ending.  We live, we blow it, we pay for it.  We do not need another chapter, we need a sequel. 

The Book of Acts begins a new epic story in the life of Jesus.  For those of us who care to read it and receive it, this begins our sequel.
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