Friday 29 May
Fri 29th May 2020
Acts 2:46 – They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
From the very beginning Jesus encouraged table fellowship. He was known for ‘eating with tax collectors and sinners.’ So it should be no surprise that the earliest Christians imitated their Lord by eating together in their homes. Breaking bread together is also, no doubt, a reference to the Lord’s supper, whereby they remembered the central events of salvation. But if we think all this was a sombre affair, we are wrong. The thing that characterised it all was joy and happiness. With glad and sincere hearts, says Luke, not dour and sincere hearts, they come together in each other’s home. After all, what lies at the heart of our faith is resurrection hope. Why would we not be glad?
Prayer: Thank you Lord that your sacrifice is not meant to make me morbid but overwhelmingly glad in your abundant mercy.
Thursday 28 May
Thu 28th May 2020
Acts 2:46 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
Christian faith is 24/7. It is also corporate. Every day, Luke says, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. Indeed, the gatherings are so integral to Christian experience that when one pastor noticed there has been a dropping off, he urged his congregation to continue meeting together, encouraging one another daily (Hebrews 10:25). If we don’t do this it is amazing how quickly we lose our way. Like the piece of coal that is taken out of the brazier, it is not long before we grow cold. Conversely, by worshipping together, declaring with one voice the praises of God, which is where Pentecost began, we maintain the fire of the Holy Spirit among us.
Prayer: Lord, I commit afresh to the dailiness of Christian faith, seeking by whatever means to meet together with my brothers and sisters. Amen.
Wednesday 27 May
Wed 27th May 2020
Acts 2:43-45 – Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
When we think of Pentecost we think of extraordinary phenomena. We think of speaking in tongues, ecstatic praise and signs and wonders. And we note the impact: everyone was filled with awe. But what is just as awesome, yet easily overlooked in the general excitement, is what Luke records next: common ownership among the Christian community and the selling of property and possessions. By any set of criteria, that is a miracle. Given the pull that money and possessions has on all of us, the relinquishing of real estate is surely something only the Holy Spirit can pull off. And so it is that the fire of Pentecost travels all the way from our praise and our preaching to our properties and our pensions. How radical is that?
Prayer: Lord, may my longing for signs and wonders be matched by my willingness to travel lightly. Amen.
Tuesday 26 May
Tue 26th May 2020
Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
After all the fireworks of Pentecost, what comes next in Luke’s narrative – the description of a community devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, the fellowship and the prayers – might sound just a little uneventful to some – a bit of an anti-climax maybe. In actual fact, it is precisely what should come next. Pentecostal power that does not translate at some point into a real live Christian community and, furthermore, into a community that is committed to word and sacrament, is just froth and bubble. And it’s not that signs and wonders should thereby cease. Not at all. Just read on. But in the final analysis, the only way the world will really know that we are disciples of Jesus is because we love one another.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage, in the midst of everything else that is on offer, to build strong, stable communities.
Monday 25 May
Mon 25th May 2020
Acts 2:40-41 – With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
As much as it offends our modern sensibilities, the heart of Christian faith is a summons. Yes, we can resist it, but in essence it is a call (v39). Indeed, when Peter urges the people to respond to his message, the emphasis is not ‘save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ but ‘let yourselves be saved’. In other words, the initiative is God’s. As Paul puts it in Romans 10:17: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’.
Prayer: O Lord, empower your preachers to summon many more people to the light of your kingdom.
Saturday 23 May
Sat 23rd May 2020
Acts 2:39 – ‘The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
Whilst it is true to say that God has no grandchildren (meaning that everyone must come to faith in Jesus for themselves), nevertheless it is also true that most churches grow through the transmission of faith from parents to offspring. The basis of this is not great parenting as such, or a thriving youth work – important as those things are – but the promise of God to bless our children – and all those who are far off. The fact that, at this moment in time, our children may not be walking with the Lord can be very distressing. But given that promises work on the basis of gift and not effort, then who knows what can happen? It is never too late for the gospel to work in a person’s life, and never too late for God’s promise over our children to become live.
Prayer: O God, thank you for the generative power of your word to touch not just my life but the lives of those near and far. Amen.
Friday 22 May
Fri 22nd May 2020
Acts 2:38-39 – Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
From what Peter says here, it sounds like there is a neat sequence to salvation. But when we go through the Acts of the apostles we discover it is a little more messy than that. Sometimes the order of things gets completely inverted. Cornelius and his family, for instance, receive the Spirit before they were baptised (Acts 10:44-48). Elsewhere when Luke records the conversion of the crowd he merely says that many believed (4:4) or that they turned to the Lord (9:35). So what we have here at Pentecost is not so much a checklist of how things should happen and in what order, but instead a comprehensive description of the drama of salvation, the centrality of Jesus and the Spirit, and the fact that faith, from beginning to end, is the initiative of God.
Prayer: Lord, just when I want to have everything in its right order, I discover that the wind blows where it will. So help me to accept this, whilst never dumbing down the faith in order to be popular.
Thursday 21 May
Thu 21st May 2020
Acts 2:37-38 – When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
It is a devastating moment when you realise you’ve assessed something wrong, when you realise you’ve backed the wrong horse. For the crowd listening to Peter’s sermon, the realisation that the man they crucified is in fact the Messiah cut them to the heart. They were stunned. Broken-hearted. Fortunately, however, this is a Christian sermon. In other words, if we repent and believe, the message that brought us grief can be the same message that heals us with forgiveness. It all depends on our response. Although even repentance is the gift of God.
Prayer: Lord, you are merciful in all your ways. Keep me ever open to your word.
Wednesday 20 April
Wed 20th May 2020
Acts 2:33-36 – Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
If I was to ask you what is the most oft quoted Psalm in the New Testament, I doubt Psalm 110 would be your reply. Psalm 23 maybe? Or how about Psalm 91? But the reason it is top of the list, cited more than any other Psalm, is because it celebrates what is absolutely central to the gospel: the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God. Like Psalm 16, it prophecies something that is way beyond the horizon of David, the author of the Psalm. Even the Rabbis recognised the enigma of a person who is designated Lord, but is clearly not David. But for the Christian community, and for Peter the apostle, Jesus fits the Psalm like a glove. He is God’s right hand man, not as a result of Ascension, for he has always been the Son, but confirmed by Ascension.
Prayer: I will exalt you Lord, for not only have you received from your Father, but also pour out the Holy Spirit upon us. You dispense grace in abundance. Hallelujah.
Tuesday 19 May
Tue 19th May 2020
Acts 2:25-32 – David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
Scripture has a prophetic thrust. Even the Psalms, the song book of the bible, contain extra horizons beyond the immediate setting. In Psalm 16, David prophecies, in fact, the resurrection of the messiah – so Peter argued; and since David’s burial place was not far from where he was making his argument, clearly the prophet must be speaking of someone beyond himself. That person of course is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, by virtue of his resurrection from the dead, Jesus is confirming that he is the long awaited messiah. That which the Psalm prophecies, which King David actually saw ahead of time, finds its ultimate address in the death and resurrection of ‘this Jesus’. The fact that the apostles were all witnesses to this fact is what gives the church credibility, and what fills us with hope.
Prayer: My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices, O God, because you will not abandon me to the grave, in Jesus’ mighty name.
Monday 18 May
Mon 18th May 2020
Acts 2:24-25 – But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
It is important to remember that Pentecost is actually the culmination of the Easter festival. In Luke’s narrative one occurs at the end of the gospel – Easter – and one at the beginning of Acts – Pentecost. But in no way does he intend us to separate them. Pentecost makes good on the Easter story, and no more so than here in Peter’s sermon. By the power of the Spirit not only are we able to live a resurrection life, we are also empowered to proclaim the resurrection: to announce the death of death itself. Indeed, such is the vitality of God, his aliveness, that it was simply impossible for death to have its hold on Jesus. He died to be sure. There is no doubt about that. By his sacrifice all our sins have been forgiven. By God’s set plan and foreknowledge he was crucified. But whatever the pangs of death are, they were loosed in the case of the Messiah, to give birth to life. Everything hinges on this.
Prayer: Death, where is your victory, where is your sting? Thanks be to you, O God, you give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saturday 16 May
Sat 16th May 2020
Acts 2:19-23 – I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
If people have a problem with ‘in your face’ preaching, then they are going to have a problem with Peter’s sermon – and pretty much every other sermon in the book of Acts. No ‘skirting round the houses’ here, trying to ingratiate himself with the crowd; instead, Peter preaches in such a way that gets straight to the point. His desire of course is to elicit a response. Indeed, whereas most preachers tend to draw the guilt upon themselves as well as their hearers, and thereby tone down the force, Peter simply points the finger and says ‘You’ when he wants to level charges for the crucifixion. Talk about bold! And yet, even here, in the handing over of Jesus to wicked men, we see the sovereignty of God. The passion story is a tale of betrayal. But in the hands of God it becomes a gospel of grace.
Prayer: Lord, may your preachers be ever bold, but may there always be a gospel song in the heart of their words. Amen.
Friday 15 May
Fri 15th May 2020
Acts 2:17-18 – “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’”
The church that was birthed at Pentecost was not a replacement for Israel but rather the fulfilment of Israel’s story. Throughout Luke’s gospel, from Jesus’ first sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21), all the way to his homily with the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-35), we are consistently reminded that our Christian faith is not starting from a blank sheet of paper but resonates very deeply with the sacred scriptures. And even here, at Pentecost, with the wind rushing round the room and tongues of fire settling on each disciple, Peter is at pains to show that even this is in accord with the ancient prophets. This, which you see, is ‘that’ which Joel prophesied, says the apostle. But what it represents is something quite unprecedented in the story thus far: the Spirit coming not just to the higher echelons but to all flesh. In this sense, Pentecost is a new dawn, albeit one that was anticipated for hundreds of years.
Prayer: Thank you Lord that your story with your people is one of faithfulness to your promises. Yes and Amen.
Thursday 14 May
Thu 14th May 2020
Acts 2:14-16 – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.’
Pentecost is all about evangelism. Throughout Acts, the Spirit is given in order to empower the believers to bear witness to the gospel. And how wonderful when preaching is followed by signs and wonders. But what about preaching that arises from signs and wonders? What about manifestations of the Spirit that are so unusual that they provoke questions? Welcome to Pentecost. Peter is not standing up here among the eleven, giving answers to questions no one is asking. Rather, something has happened of such magnitude that Peter feels compelled to stand up and interpret it. This is the kind of evangelism we long for isn’t it? Not preaching in a vacuum, but preaching in a storm.
Prayer: Dear Lord, like the earliest Christians may our witness and our worship provoke people to ask: ‘what does this mean?’
Wednesday 13 May
Wed 13th May 2020
Acts 2:14 – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
The word Luke uses to describe the utterance given to Peter to preach the gospel is the same word to describe the utterance in tongues earlier on. In short: the Holy Spirit who enabled 120 believers to praise God in other languages is the same Holy Spirit who enables Peter to now preach what is generally regarded as the first Christian sermon – which includes passages of scripture and interpretation. Which all goes to show, as R.T. Kendall once pointed out, that preaching, which happens a lot in Acts, is no less, or should be regarded as no less a charismatic activity than prophecy and tongues. That we don’t regard it this way is sometimes because the preacher is dull; or sometimes because we are dull. But at its best preaching is ‘intelligence on fire.’
Prayer: Lord, for all those called to preach the scriptures, may you put fire in their belly. And may our churches ever be open to signs and wonders following, alongside, or even before. Amen.
Tuesday 12 May
Tue 12th May 2020
Acts 2:14 – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
It wasn’t too long ago that Peter stood around a fire in the middle of the night and denied he ever knew the Lord. His northern accent gave him away to a servant girl as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, but not even under the cover of darkness was Peter able to bear witness (Luke 22:54-62). Here, on the day of Pentecost, however, in the full light of day, in front of crowds of people, Peter begins a full blown, full gospel address. The difference? The fire of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not that Peter ceases to be a complicated figure. In one of Paul’s earliest letters he will accuse Peter of cowardice for withdrawing from table fellowship with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). In other words, Peter remains a flawed character. But here, on the day of Pentecost, with the fire of the Spirit burning in his heart, he delivers one of the great sermons.
Prayer: Gracious Father, would that you would forbear my flaws as well, and fill my heart with the fire of your Spirit. How much we need that right now. Amen.
Monday 11 May
Mon 11th May 2020
Acts 2:12-13 – Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
I don’t think there has ever been a move of the Spirit, so called, that has not brought about criticism – and none more so than Pentecost itself. For as many who stood in wonder, keen to know what everything meant, there were others who made fun of the disciples, accusing them of being drunk. Why they chose to mock is an interesting question. One suspects that the power of the Spirit was too threatening to their urbane existence. Like many people who don’t want to be unsettled by God, they tried to rationalise it away. In short, they tried to rationalise what was indeed irrational but undeniably wonderful. And the irony of it all is that they ended up the real losers.
Prayer: Lord, I know it’s important to be discerning. There’s a lot of daft stuff going on in your name. But help me also to be wide open to the genuine work of your Spirit, and not let my mind get completely in the way. Amen.
Saturday 9 May
Sat 9th May 2020
Acts 2:5-8 – Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?’
Jerusalem was already a place where Jews from the diaspora had settled – from Egypt all the way to Persia: from Arabia to Rome. In that sense, it was a truly international city. How explosive then when these Galilean disciples were filled with the Spirit and started praising God in languages native to those areas. It was nothing short of supernatural. But what it means is that Pentecost should be regarded not only as the birth of the church, but also the birth of world mission. Whether Luke intends this also to be seen as a reverse Babel, or even a new Sinai (the law was always read at Pentecost) is not clear. He doesn’t really say. But what he does mean to say, by recording this aspect of the day of Pentecost, is that this gospel will not be contained in Jerusalem, but will spread out to the ends of the earth.
Prayer: How thrilling, Lord, that you are calling people from every tribe, language and nation. Let your kingdom come. Amen.
Friday 8 May
Fri 8th May 2020
Acts 2:4 – All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
For all of our interest in charismatic phenomena, it’s very interesting that Luke says so little about what actually happened at Pentecost: just a few verses in fact about the sound like violent wind and tongues of fire resting on each one. One suspects the reason for this lack of detail is because Luke’s interest is not so much in the pyrotechnics of spiritual manifestations but rather in the transformation that such events bring: the empowerment of the disciples by the Holy Spirit. And what is significant to note is that the hallmark of Pentecost is power unto speech. As strange and unusual as tongues are, and a means of provoking interest, their purpose here is not a manifestation for the sake of a manifestation, but rather a declaration of the great and mighty deeds of God (v11). Which is why we must see Easter, Ascension and Pentecost not as three unrelated events but as part of one story. The coming of the Spirit is all about Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, I love it when things happen in church. But help us always to channel that enthusiasm towards you, our great and mighty God.
Thursday 7 May
Thu 7th May 2020
Acts 2:1-3 – When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
The Holy Spirit is a person, to be sure. We make a grave mistake when we refer to the Spirit as an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou’. Nevertheless, Luke is reminding us here in these opening verses of chapter 2 that however personal the Holy Spirit is, the third person of the trinity no less, he is not tameable. The images used to describe the Spirit’s arrival into the upper room are elemental: wind and fire. And it’s no gentle breeze we are talking about, no reflective silence, that attends the prayer meeting on that first Pentecost, but the sound of a violent wind from heaven that filled the whole house. For suburbanites like us, such noise might prove a little disturbing perhaps- a little unsettling. Pentecost might feel like a rude interruption into our otherwise safe environment. But that’s the point. The Holy Spirit may want to comfort you but he most definitely does not want to cocoon you. At some point he will want to lift you off your seat and set you ablaze. Watch out.
Prayer: O God of burning, cleansing flame, send the fire. Your blood-bought gift today we claim, send the fire today. Amen.
Wednesday 6 May
Wed 6th May 2020
Acts 2:1-2 – When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.’
In obedience to the Lord’s commands the community, instead of mobilising for action, has withdrawn to the upper room to wait for the Holy Spirit. It knows that ‘unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). But waiting on God is no passive affair. Waiting is prayerful insistence that the Lord makes good on his promises – what P. T. Forsyth describes as importunity. For those of us who prize politeness such boldness in prayer feels a bit arrogant. In actual fact it is the height of humility. Persistent and insistent prayer, waiting expectantly for the Spirit’s power, is a realisation that only God can give what the church so desperately needs. And what a difference it makes. Pentecost is no quiet contemplation, but explosive grace.
Prayer: Lord, as unsettling as it is bound to be, I pray most earnestly for the wind and the fire of your Spirit.
Tuesday 5 May
Tue 5th May 2020
Acts 1:18-19 – With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field.’
One more thought before we leave chapter 1 and enter the world of Pentecost: the way in which Luke interprets the fall of Judas. In Matthews’s gospel we have a slightly different angle – a Judas who is almost repentant for his wickedness. Here in Luke we have not even a suggestion. Rather, a Judas who is obsessed with the need to possess, and willing to sell his master in order to purchase a field. For those who have journeyed with Jesus through Luke’s gospel, the ironies abound. And for those who read on into Acts, Judas’ greed will become even more stark; because central to a life of discipleship is the ability to travel lightly. Indeed, the miracle of Pentecost, as we shall see, is not just the tongues of fire but the fact that nobody claimed their possessions as their own (Acts 2:41-47).
Prayer: Gracious Father, help me to live free of acquisitiveness, so that my place may not end up deserted, like Judas, but glorious, like Jesus.
Monday 4 May
Mon 4th May 2020
Acts 1:23-26 – So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
What looks like a random election of a twelfth apostle – one to replace Judas – is in fact a highly spiritual event. For sure, we tend not to cast lots these days. Beyond Pentecost, we have the guidance of the Spirit. But even here, in this most important matter of completing the leadership circle of the apostles, the casting of lots is all about allowing the Lord to determine the outcome. We nominate; the Lord discriminates. We vote; the Lord chooses. And the basis of his choice, as the Lord reminded the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16:7) is not outward appearance but the heart. Which is not to say that Barsabbas was corrupt, any more than it is to say Matthias was perfect. We have seen enough already to know that this apostolic band is a bit rag-tag, to say the least. It is limping its way into chapter 2. But it is to say that Christian leadership is not a career but a calling, and dependent on character not personality. Anything less is disastrous for the church.
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saturday 2nd May
Sat 2nd May 2020
Acts 1:21-22 – ‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’
There is nothing vague about Christian faith. The cross and the resurrection might be foolishness to some, but they are not sketchy. The cross is a wooden beam used by the Romans to execute people; and the resurrection, certainly in Jewish thought, is the raising to life of an actual physical body. The idea that resurrection means something less substantial than that, something like a vague Easter feeling, just doesn’t hold. Hence, the importance of eye-witnesses. The twelve apostles upon whom the transmission of Christian faith will depend have to be eye-witnesses not only of Jesus’ resurrection but the whole of his ministry, otherwise the whole thing becomes vulnerable to the charge of being phoney. And who wants to build their life on something that is phoney?
Prayer: Thank you, Risen and Exalted Lord, for the eyes of faith. But thank you also for those who actually saw you before you ascended into heaven. Breath-taking!
Friday 1 May
Fri 1st May 2020
Acts 1:18-19 – (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
The death of Judas is the gospel in microcosm: that is, the defeat of Satan, and the vindication of Jesus. Judas handed Jesus over to be crucified; but Jesus rose from the dead. Judas bought a field; but fell headlong into it. And so it became known among the Jerusalemites as Akeldama – Field of Blood. Jesus meanwhile ascended to his place with the Father, leaving nothing behind but an empty tomb. Justice is sweet. And Peter is keen to announce it. Not that he can claim innocence. Peter denied his Lord twice on the night of Jesus’ arrest. But whereas Judas’ betrayal was an act of apostasy, of the highest order, Peter’s denial has always been seen as a failure of courage. Indeed, Jesus prophesied as such (Luke 22:31-32), with the added promise that once Peter had been restored he would strengthen his brothers, which is what he is doing here. How encouraging for anyone who likewise has failed, which is pretty much all of us.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I find the story of Judas chilling, but the story of Peter heartening. Thank you there is grace for my fickleness.
Thursday 30 April
Thu 30th Apr 2020
Act 1:15-17 – In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘Brothers and sisters,the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’
The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is one of the most tragic stories, if not the most tragic story, ever told, for it concerns the handing over of the messiah by one of those who had actually shared in his ministry – ‘one of our number’ to use Peter’s term. Can there be anything more dastardly? Such was Judas’ brazenness he actually served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he got money for it! No wonder his name has become a synonym. Look up Judas and you’ll find backstabber, double-dealer, quisling, and all kinds of other weasel words. But what should really capture our attention in this opening speech of Peter’s is not just the treachery of Judas but the sovereignty of God: that is, God’s unique ability to weave even treachery into the grand sweep of his salvation story. Not that it lets Judas off the hook. A few more verses and we’ll see how true that is. But for now, let’s marvel at the fact that even the betrayal of Judas ‘had to’ happen in order for scripture to be fulfilled. It may not look pretty. But then again, real dramas, the ones we tell our children and our grandchildren, never are.
Prayer: Sometimes I wish, Lord, that you would edit certain bits out the scriptures. But then again, what a dull story we would be left with. Thank you for cross.
Wednesday 29 April
Wed 29th Apr 2020
Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:50-53 – When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
In a moment we are going to hear some pretty gruesome details about Judas, and some pretty lengthy arguments about why he needs replacing. But before we get into that, I would like to tackle the question of how Acts 1 relates to the end of Luke’s gospel. It may not be a problem to you, but for some people, scholars mainly, there seems to be a worrying discrepancy between the ascension in Luke which seems to occur immediately after the resurrection, and the ascension in Acts which comes some considerable time after the resurrection – 40 days to be precise.
What’s going on? Did Luke forget the time sequence? Is he talking about two different events? Or is it that Luke is not a newspaper reporter but a poet who knows exactly what he is doing with the facts that he has to hand: in the case of the gospel, seeing the ascension as the fitting climax to the resurrection; and in the book of Acts, seeing the ascension of Jesus as the powerful beginning of the church. Indeed, in the ascension Jesus is not going away so much as he is going up into heaven in order to be the empowerment for the church. After all, what we are called to convey is not just knowledge about the kingdom of God, but an experience of the kingdom of God This can happen only through Pentecostal power.
Prayer: Risen and Exalted Lord, hear our deepest cry for the fire of your Spirit.
Tuesday 28 April
Tue 28th Apr 2020
Acts 1:14: They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
There’s no disputing that the twelve apostles were all men. And as we shall see in a few verses, both candidates to replace the doomed Judas were male. Jesus is reconstituting Israel around himself, so it is no wonder that the twelve tribes should find their counterpart in twelve male, Jewish apostles. But what is so striking about that upper room, and so striking about Jesus’ entourage throughout the gospel of Luke, is that it included so many women: Mary Magdalene, of course, from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna (Luke 8:1-3); not to mention Mary herself, the mother of Jesus; and also Mary the mother of James – one of the women who witnessed the empty tomb on Easter morning (Luke 24:10). There were many other women, unnamed, who more than likely gathered in that upper room to pray. They had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, some of them, like Joanna, supporting the movement with their own money. So in essence we have a mixed congregation: men and women together in prayer, and the basis of a community where women ought to be accorded, along with the men, the very highest dignity and honour. That’s not a modern day statement; that’s a Jesus statement.
Prayer: How wonderful, Lord, that your church brings men and women together in worship and prayer. How dull it would be to stay separate. Please bless us in our unity. Amen.
Monday 27 April
Mon 27th Apr 2020
Acts 1:14 – They all joined together constantly in prayer.
I think it was Martin Thornton, an Anglican priest in the 1950s, who said you can get Christians to do just about anything: volunteer for activities, join committees, even give money to the church. The one thing you can’t get Christians to do very easily, he argued, is to pray. How remarkable then that the first thing the apostles did on returning to Jerusalem was to seek the upper room, join their hearts together, and pray to God. You’d have thought they would be ‘champing at the bit,’ anxious to get on with their mandate to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel. After all, they’ve just seen Jesus ascend into heaven, exalted to the place of all authority. What are they waiting for? Good question! Except that Jesus had told them not to leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift his Father promised. We will do well to heed this command, and follow the example of the apostles. Otherwise – as many of us have discovered only too well – our eagerness will amount to nothing.
Prayer: I realise Lord that some things in this life as so huge they cannot be tackled by eagerness alone. More than ever we need the empowerment of your Spirit. Amen.
Saturday 25 April
Sat 25th Apr 2020
Acts 1:13 – When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
I don’t know about you but as Luke records for us, not for the first time, the names of the disciples, I’m struck again by the oddity of Jesus’ selection: a number of fishermen, a tax collector, a religious hot head, to name just half. Indeed, having encountered them in the gospel already, some of the names of these ‘men of Galilee’ evoke feelings of both affection and dismay. Sure they had faith to respond to Jesus’ call but most of the time they displayed fickleness, to the point that you wonder why Jesus persisted with them. Peter is perhaps the most obvious example, but he’s not the only culprit. What about James and John, the sons of thunder? Good men, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of them. And then of course Thomas, who, rightly or wrongly, has become a by-word for doubt.
Put it like this: if I was choosing a team that was going to change the world, I would not pick this lot. But maybe that’s the point: I’m not choosing; God is. And God, as we know, is the master of taking broken things and making them into something beautiful for him. Yes, there is the matter of Judas. We shall come to him in a moment. But for now, as the apostles gather in the upper room once more, let us marvel at the grace of God.
Prayer: I thank you Lord that you don’t wait for perfection before you choose your team. Thank you for choosing me. In the perfect name of Jesus. Amen.
Friday 24 April
Fri 24th Apr 2020
Acts 1:12 – Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
As we return with the apostles from Bethany to the city of Jerusalem – about three quarters of a mile – it is worth pausing for a moment to take stock, because what has been achieved in these opening eleven verses of Acts is nothing short of remarkable. The heart of it is the ascension of course. Jesus has ascended to the Father’s right hand. But what is also remarkable is that in the space of eleven verses we have managed to steer clear of two things that so often blight our witness: over enthusiastic apocalyptic on the one hand (trying to know the times and dates of the end) and dead religion on the other, where all we do is sit around wistfully remembering a departed leader. What we have instead is something far more compelling: the promise that the same force that empowered Jesus will now empower the church in mission. The fact that we are still waiting for Jesus to return after all this time would be no surprise to Luke. The scale of the mission is huge. But always the second coming sits there, in our worship and in our preaching, as a spur to keep going. After all, if you know that Jesus is Lord and that in the end God wins, what do we have to fear?
Prayer: Lord, keep me from wild speculations but also from dead religion. Keep my heart stayed upon you. Amen.
Thursday 23 April
Thu 23rd Apr 2020
Acts 1:11 – ‘Men of Galilee,’they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
When Elijah went into heaven, his understudy Elisha was told that if he saw his master ascend he would gain a double portion of his anointing. Something similar is going on here, I believe. The ascension of Jesus, as seen by the apostles, will result in an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit. Indeed, Jesus says it is better that I go (John 16:7) so that he can send the Holy Spirit.
The fact that ‘this Jesus’ who ascended in a cloud will likewise, one day, return on the clouds, ought to breed tremendous confidence. The return of Christ the King is the stuff of hymns and anthems. What it should never do, as the two men infer, is encourage spiritual star gazing. The time, however long, between the ascension and the parousia (the second coming), should instead be a spur to mission: a time to engage and not withdraw – a time, as Jesus said, to preach the gospel to all nations in the power of the Spirit.
Prayer: Lord, keep me from idle speculation and set me aflame with your love for the world. In Jesus name. Amen.
Wednesday 22 April
Wed 22nd Apr 2020
Acts 1:10-11 – They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?’
When I was growing up, I was taught that it is rude to stare. ‘Don’t gawp’ my mother used to say. ‘Not only is it rude but it makes you look stupid. And besides. Haven’t you got things to get on with?’ Well, as a matter of fact I did have things to get on with. Good old mum. But as I read these verses, I can hear my mother’s voice all over again, through the mouths of the two men dressed in white, telling the apostles to stop gawping, there’s work to be done. We’ve met these two men before of course. They appear at the tomb on Easter morning asking the women why they look for the living among the dead (Luke 24:4-5). And now here at the ascension they raise a similar concern: the possibility, as well as irony, that by staring too long into the sky we might miss what God wants to do which is to transform the world.
Prayer: Dear Lord, so often I don’t understand what it is you are about. Help me to stay focused on what I do know which is the call to bear witness to your gospel in the power of the Spirit.
Tuesday 21 April
Tue 21st Apr 2020
Acts 1:9 – After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
So this is the ascension of Jesus – the connecting point between the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of Acts. It comes in sequence after the resurrection, and represents the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God (Acts. 2:32). Indeed, after the ascension, when Christians speak of God, they must also speak of Christ, for Christ now reigns with God. This has always been so of course. But now it is made explicit as Jesus, the crucified and risen messiah, is ‘taken up’ before their very eyes. The cloud of course has a very different connotation these days. It carries notions of information and storage – a veritable database of personal details in the sky. And the big concern is safety. This cloud, however, is different: not informational but supernatural. And the big concern is glory.
Prayer: O praise you O God that in Jesus your Son you lift our humanity to the heights of your throne.
Monday 20 April
Mon 20th Apr 2020
Acts 1:6-8 – Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It’s very strange. You would think after everything – the promise of the Spirit, the dramatic events of Easter, not to mention Jesus’ repeated warnings throughout the gospel to not speculate about the end times – that the apostles wouldn’t ask such a question as the one stated here. After all, with the resurrection of Jesus the great end time event has already happened. But such is our curiosity for apocalyptic and, fair enough, our desire for the world to be totally restored, that they ask it anyway: ‘Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
Jesus’ reply, it must be said, is a little bit cryptic. And ever since we’ve been debating exactly what he means. He doesn’t rubbish their question but neither does he elaborate. Indeed, he seems to discourage too much knowledge full stop, wanting us instead to get on with the urgent business of bearing witness to the gospel – first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles – even to the very ends of the earth. No wonder we need a Pentecost.
Lord, keep me away from too much speculation and grip me instead with your mission in the world. Amen.
Saturday 18 April
Sat 18th Apr 2020
Acts 1:5 – For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
This meal with the Risen Jesus, described here at the beginning of Acts, is not the first time the apostles had heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Back in Luke 3:16 John the Baptist himself set up the contrast between what he was offering in water and what Jesus would give by the Spirit. Later in Acts 11:16 Peter will allude to the very same saying in order to explain the coming of the Spirit upon the Gentiles. And it’s not that water baptism ceases to be important now that Jesus is here, anymore than the word baptism can possibly sum up all that God wants to give to us by his Spirit. Not at all. Converts to Jesus get baptised, and Luke, not to mention Paul, uses many words and many different images to describe God’s empowering presence in the life of a believer. But why baptism is perhaps one of the most popular to describe the gift of the Spirit, and why Jesus uses it here, is because, like baptism in water, God wants to thoroughly immerse us in his power: not just a trickle; not just a thimble full; but a proper drenching – a deluge. Anything less is not going to be sufficient for what God wants to accomplish through his church.
Prayer: Lord, help me to settle for nothing less than an overwhelming experience of your power and love. Fill me today with your Spirit.
Friday 17 April
Fri 17th Apr 2020
Acts 1:4 – On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.’
No one likes waiting. It is counter to everything we know. Rather than wait, we like to seize the initiative, grab the bull by the horns. In the kingdom of God, however, waiting is critical. Waiting is what happens after Jesus ascends into heaven and is the difference between a church led by the Spirit and a church driven by good ideas. Karl Barth refers to it as ‘the significant pause’ – the waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, without whom the church would simply be an organisation, or a programme. Indeed, as preposterous as it sounds, a church is only as strong as its ability to wait. As tempting as it is to leave Jerusalem in a hurry, to not lose one minute trying to save the world, we would do far better to stay put, receive from God what he longs to give, and then enter the battle in power rather than haste. Actually, it’s not an option. Jesus doesn’t mix his words at the table with his apostles. He makes waiting imperative.
Prayer: Father God, forgive me for the many times I rush headlong into the fight without a thought of where my strength might come from. Help me to cultivate the art of waiting, so that I would neither rush ahead nor lag behind.
Thursday 16 April
Thu 16th Apr 2020
Acts 1:3b – He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God
It is very easy when you hear the phrase the “kingdom of God” to think of a territory, with borders and jurisdiction. In other words, we think of it as a noun. But when Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, as he did from the very beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:43), he was using the phrase more like a verb: in other words, the kingdom of God describes not so much a place where God rules, but rather the very act of God ruling – his saving power. All at once we can see how dynamic this is. To speak about the kingdom of God, as Jesus did here with his apostles over a period of forty days, is to describe the most explosive revolution ever to affect the planet. And what is new about the apostles’ proclamation of the kingdom of God is that the risen Jesus is now central to the message (Acts 28:31). You cannot speak of the kingdom of God anymore without reference to Jesus the Messiah.
More than even Moses on the mountain for forty days (Exodus 34:28), or Elijah making his way to the mountain for forty days (1 Kings 19:8), those forty days that Jesus had with his apostles were critical for the future of the world. Someone should have made a podcast. Even so, may our own forty days now, between Easter and Ascension, be a kind of retreat in which we might learn more fully what it is to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I am sorry for the many times I have used the phrase the kingdom of God almost like a cliché. Help me to reinvest the term with all the dynamism and adventure that it deserves. And help me to place Jesus right at the centre of it, where he rightly belongs.
Wednesday 15 April
Wed 15th Apr 2020
Acts 1:3a – After his suffering, he showed himself to these men, and gave many convincing proofs he was alive
Christian literature was a booming industry in the eighties. And one of the most popular titles was a book by Josh McDowell entitled Evidence that Demands a Verdict. At a time when scepticism was becoming more and more fashionable, McDowell states the compelling historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, in the hope that it might lead people to faith. The book was a bestseller.
The idea of offering proof goes back to Jesus himself of course. Luke reminds his friend Theophilus, here in this opening prologue, that after his suffering Jesus showed himself to the apostles and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive – many more than we have recorded at the end of Luke’s gospel. And although I am one of those who thinks you can’t argue a person into the kingdom, it sure is good to know that our faith in the resurrection is not a vague fantasy but founded on eye-witness reports. When faith feels weak, and doubts assail, you can rest on the truth that the apostles saw him alive, and then faithfully went on to proclaim the Good News. It may not be the most exotic way to sustain faith in the dark times, but it’s a pretty reliable one: Jesus rose from the dead, the apostles saw him, I believe it.
Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for the proof of the resurrection. Thank you I don’t always need a fiery faith in order to find assurance. Sometimes just knowing the apostles saw him alive is enough. Praise you.
Tuesday 14 April
Tue 14th Apr 2020
Acts 1:2 – Until the day he was taken up to heaven
Dr Luke, like many learned people of his day, wrote in volumes: the first volume is the gospel; the second volume the Acts of the apostles. As we saw yesterday, the connecting tissue between the two is the ascension of Jesus: the day when Jesus was taken up to heaven.
Interestingly this theme begins as early as chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel. You might want to read it. There, Moses and Elijah, both of whom knew a thing or two about dramatic departures, are discussing with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, ‘his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:31). And then twenty verses later, ‘as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem,’ – what some call a travel narrative that takes us south from Galilee, through Samaria, and onto the events we have just celebrated this Easter weekend. Jesus knew there could be no departure into heaven without entering the vortex of his passion. As he explained to the Emmaus disciples, the Messiah first had to suffer before entering his glory. And by travelling to Jerusalem he showed how determined he was to fulfil this aspect of his ministry – the heart of his ministry. Yes he came to teach, and to heal. But first and foremost he came to offer his life for us.
Prayer: Dear Lord, give me the same resolve to bear my trials and the same faith as our Lord to believe that our present sufferings will not be worth comparing to the glory we shall receive in heaven.
Monday 13 April
Mon 13th Apr 2020
Acts 1:1 All that Jesus began to do and teach
Over the course of the next 40 days, up to Ascension Day, and then on to Pentecost, we shall be looking in depth at the first chapter of Acts. And in this first reflection we simply note the continuity of Luke’s two volumes. Basically, it is this: Luke’s gospel concerns all that Jesus began to do and teach; hence, the book of Acts is Luke telling his friend Theophilus all that Jesus continues to do and teach, only this time through his apostles and through his church. Quite a thought isn’t it? The risen and ascended Jesus now makes himself known to the world through his people.
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say with the songwriter that ‘Christ has no body now but yours’. Last time I checked, the risen and ascended Jesus very much has a body, a glorious body. But you get the point. We are the channels of his blessing. When Jesus ascends to heaven his work does not cease; instead it takes on a new form. When the world encounters the church, it encounters Jesus. Indeed, when the world persecuted the church, it persecutes Jesus. Why else does the Lord say to Saul, who was on his way to Damascus to round up the Christians: ‘why do you persecute me?’ By the Spirit, we are inextricably bound to the Lord – called to be his witnesses.
Prayer: Dear Father, what a privilege and what a responsibility to bear witness to your beloved Son. Help us to live lives worthy of this high calling; and help us to celebrate the times when we see you at work in us, through word, sacrament, prayer and discipleship. In Jesus name. Amen.