“Verse by Verse”
Walking with the Early Church Through
the Book of Acts
During the past several years members and friends of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Derwood, have read and studied 13 chapters of the Bible thru internet posts. Readers report they found the practice an enjoyable and informative way to get to know Scripture. After a hiatus, readers have asked that the program continue. So, we begin again with the newly titled “Verse by Verse.”
The books are not necessarily read in the order they appear in the Bible. But within a book we read continually from chapter 1:1 through to the end. This differs from how we select readings during worship. Most Lutheran, Catholic and other Protestant churches select Sunday readings from a schedule known as the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary). It is designed so that within a 3-year period, major sections of the Bible are read, but not in a continuous manner. For example, one week the gospel might be from John 3, the next week from John 17. There are benefits in both methods.
The reading and commentary, written by Pastor Sarah Lewis, are posted on the 1. church website, stlukesderwood.org; 2. Facebook page, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Derwood; or 3. sent by email, VerseXVerse@yahoo.com.
Commentary to Follow
(Peter stepped forward and shouted to the crowd,) “No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’ (Joel 2:2-32)
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. King David said this about him:
‘I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad,
and my tongue shouts his praises!
My body rests in hope.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.
You have shown me the way of life,
and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’ (Psalm 16:8-11)
“Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.”
Dear Friends, The crowd listening to Peter on Pentecost was primarily Jewish. Peter could be confident that this group was familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and would therefore recognize the well-known verses that he quoted. His first goal therefore, was to show the Jews that the life of Jesus, as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit, is the fulfillment of prophecy. Peter began his sermon with a quotation from Joel, which follows the book of Hosea. Both prophets, Hosea and Joel, told the people of God’s anger over their worship of Baal and other idols. A swarm of locusts destroyed their fields as punishment. But God was willing to forgive if the people repent. Joel proclaims, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is not eager to punish you.” (Joel 3:13) A few verses later Joel gives God’s promise to send the Spirit upon all people. Notice that in this promise daughters and women are specifically included! Peter’s next words are unfortunately one of the verses that has been lifted from the Bible and used to persecute Jews for the last 21 centuries. He does not mention the role of Pontius Pilate and Herod, and the leaders and teachers of religious law are not singled out. Peter preached that the condemnation for the death of Jesus is laid completely on the Jewish people.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.
This first part of Scripture used on Pentecost Sunday is the reading that makes all lay readers cringe. They usually dread reading the list of countries, one right after another, and nearly impossible to pronounce. (I always tell readers, just read with conviction and the congregation will think, “Oh, that must be how that name is pronounced.”)
The Day of Pentecost has been observed by Jews since the time of Moses. It was originally an agricultural festival that celebrated gratitude to God for the first fruits of the harvest. Around the time of Jesus, Pentecost became more associated with the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. The date remained the same, 50 days after the first day of Passover was considered the time it took Israelites to travel from Egypt, the place of Passover, to their arrival at Sinai. Today Jews celebrate the day as Shavuot.
There were more Jews than usual in Jerusalem on Pentecost since one was not allowed to work and sacrifices of animals and bread were required at the temple. The followers of Jesus continued to wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive, as Jesus had promised in Acts 1:8. The coming of the Spirit was prophesized in Joel 2:28:
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophecy.
Your old men will dream dreams.
Your young men will see visions.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants,
men and women alike.”
The believers suddenly speaking in different languages so all people could understand them is a reference to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. After the time of Noah and the flood, all people spoke one language. They decided to build “a tower that reaches to the sky—a monument to our greatness!” v4 God didn’t like what the people were doing. God said, “Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” v7
“That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the Lord confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth.” v9
God used language to scatter the people. Now in a time of reconciliation God uses language to bring the people together.
They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.
During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them. “Brothers,” he said, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.”
(Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”)
Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’
“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”
So, they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.
Dear friends, some reflections on the reading,
Today’s reading is a fairly quick read yet filled with rich details of the very earliest days of the disciples’ lives without Jesus physically with them.
When the disciples returned to Jerusalem after the Ascension, “they went to the room upstairs where they were staying.” V. 13 In the gospel of Luke, the disciples follow the instructions of Jesus and find an upper room where they celebrated Passover. I wonder if the disciples continued to use that same room during this time. “Upper rooms” were chambers in the highest part of a Jewish home set aside for private prayer. The final verse of the gospel of Luke (remember, the author wrote both Luke and Acts,) says they were “continually in the temple blessing God.” Perhaps because of the danger involved, Acts infers that the upper room was where “they were constantly devoting themselves to prayer. V14
Notice also the inclusion of women in that special group of believers in the upper room. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (This is the last time Mary is mentioned in the Bible.)
We read so often of the 12 disciples of Jesus, that we must look closely to find clues to others who traveled with the group. The women are one example, and Matthias, the one selected to fill the place of Judas, represents others.
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us . . .” v22
When I first read of soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothes at the foot of the cross, I associated it with prohibitions against gambling and other games of chance. My interpretation was partially wrong.
When used to decide who to choose to take Judas’ place, casting lots was part of a tradition in Jewish culture to discern the will of God. The practice is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament. The reference in Acts is the last of 7 in the New Testament. After Pentecost Christians didn’t use lots because they had direct access to the Holy Spirit.
One final note on two variations of what happened to Judas: In Acts Judas bought a field with the money he earned for betraying Jesus. He fell in the field and burst open—leading to the naming of the land as “Field of Blood”. However, in Matthew, Judas regrets betraying Jesus and tries unsuccessfully to return the money to the chief priests. He threw the money at them, went out and hung himself. The priests used the money to purchase a potter’s field for use as a cemetery for foreigners. And that place was also named ”Field of Blood.”
Our next reading in Acts will be the story of Pentecost.
Blessings on your reading, Pastor Sarah
The familiar description of Christ’s Ascension is part of our reading for today. After Jesus’ final declaration that he will send the Holy Spirit to help the disciples, he disappears into the clouds. Immediately two angels come to explain to the bewildered disciples what has happened
Although angels are present both at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly story and again at the end, I was surprised to notice the relatively few number of times angels are present in the gospels.
*In Matthew an angel talks to Joseph 3 times, giving him directions about handling the birth of the Son of God; angels come to Jesus’ aid after the temptations in the wilderness; and one angel greets the women at the tomb.
*Mark only includes a single angel appearing at the empty tomb.
*Luke describes an angel telling both Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, and Mary, mother of Jesus, about the upcoming miraculous pregnancies. At Jesus’ birth, an angel announces the birth to a group of shepherds and is joined by an angel choir; an angel comes to strengthen Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane; and two angels announce the resurrection to the women at the tomb.
*The gospel of John doesn’t mention angels at all.
Yesterday I wrote that for several reasons, scholars believe the same person wrote Luke and Acts. However, there is one argument against this assumption. The ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts give differing accounts of the Ascension. The story in Luke describes Jesus and the disciples going to Bethany where Jesus ascends, no mention of final instructions or angels. By the way, Luke is the only gospel writer to include the Ascension.
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.
Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James).
Today we begin reading The Book of Acts. The New Testament begins with the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which tell the story of Jesus. Acts, the fifth book in the NT, continues by telling the story of the early church. Both Acts and Luke were written by the same author, presumably in the early second century. Both books begin by using a literary custom where the author dedicates the writing to a person. Luke uses “Theophilus,” a name that means “lover of God.” The name could refer to either a historical person or to anyone who loves God.
As the disciples talk with Jesus in this opening section, notice how they continue to view Jesus as the type of Messiah who will primarily free Israel from Rome and put their country back in power. Jesus responds without comment on that specific goal and instead promises them they will receive the power necessary to tell the world the good news of Jesus.
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”