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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Acts 1:48; 2:14, 1216comment (0)

April 16, 2009

By Thomas Fuller

Related Scripture: Acts 1:48; 2:14, 1216


Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

JESUS’ FOLLOWERS: TRUE WITNESSES OR WISHFUL THINKERS?
Acts 1:4–8; 2:1–4, 12–16

Everything we believe concerning Jesus — whom He was, what He did and what it means — rests in large part on the testimony of His first followers, transmitted to us in the pages of the Bible. The trustworthiness of their witness, therefore, is no small matter when it comes to the truth-claims we make for our faith today. Having established in the previous two lessons that Jesus is God’s Messiah and He indeed rose from the dead, the next question that arises is whether those who bear witness to these facts can be believed. This lesson focuses on some key events in the lives of the first believers, from which we derive our confidence in the truthfulness of their testimony. May it strengthen us in the faith and embolden us to give a faithful witness to others.

Commissioned by Jesus (1:4–8)
The first foundation on which we assert the validity of the Christian witness is Jesus’ words of commission to His followers. The matter of bearing witness to His life, death and resurrection was not their idea but Jesus’ promise. Verse 8 is the key verse: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” However, we should not rush over the preceding verses to get to verse 8, as they reveal the key that unlocks the power of the gospel witness. Jesus instructed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem to await “the promise of the Father.” This promise was one that Jesus spoke to them about previously (Matt. 10:20; Luke 12:12; 24:49; John 14–16): “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Only then would the disciples “receive power” to be His witnesses. He made this same connection of Spirit and witness in John 15:26–27. Jesus, by His word and the Spirit, changes lives. Those changed lives are a testimony to the good news of our Savior.

Filled With the Spirit (2:1–4)
The witness of Jesus’ first followers was not their testimony alone but a divinely inspired expression of what they experienced in Him. God’s Holy Spirit was, and is today, the active agent both in prompting that testimony and in determining the content of it. Just as a machine is impotent to operate until it is supplied with power and someone flips the switch, the church is a powerless construction apart from the enlivening presence of God’s Spirit. The Father fulfilled His promise and “flipped the switch” on the day of Pentecost.

Approximately 120 of Jesus’ followers gathered on the occasion of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, celebrating God’s renewal of covenant with Noah and later with Moses (Acts 1:15). They experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a supernatural fashion, likening the sights and sounds to that of wind and fire. Being filled with the Spirit, the believers “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Verses 5–11 reflect that these “other tongues” were foreign languages and the believers’ “utterance” was “the wonderful works of God.” The good news of God’s redeeming work is truly a message for all peoples.

Confirmed by the Scripture (2:12–16)
Verses 12–13 report a mixed response to the “other-tongue utterances” of the believers: All were amazed, some doubted and others mocked. Peter’s response (14–16) was to point to these things as the fulfillment of what was prophesied in Joel 2:28–32. One last mark of the authenticity of the disciples’ witness is its consistency with what the Old Testament foretells and teaches.

This is a critical principle for believers to grasp and embrace, holding forth the gospel in a world increasingly dominated by rational proofs and relative truth — that the validation of the Christian message does not come by popular acceptance but by its conformity to the Word of God and testimony of God’s Spirit. Word and Spirit always go together; they never oppose each other. Ultimately we are not charged with convincing others of the truthfulness of the Christian witness; we are to proclaim faithfully the whole counsel of Scripture, trusting that God’s Spirit will give life to that Word in the hearts and minds of our hearers.

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