Facing our tomorrows
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Acts 1:3-5
Devotional text: Acts 2:42-47
As believers in Christ, we are still in the Easter season, which continues until Ascension Sunday followed by Pentecost.
Those 40 days after his resurrection became a time of instruction for the Apostles of Jesus as he continued to meet with them and open up the Old Testament (the Torah) to show the many scriptures that pointed to his coming and ministry on earth.
Looking at the New Testament scriptures, we find the four gospels ending at the resurrection and the appearance of Jesus that immediately followed that glorious event. Next, in the Bible, we come to the book of Acts, which was also written by the Gentile physician Luke, who wrote the gospel bearing his name.
Although not chronologically written as the next piece of scripture, Acts was placed between the gospels and the letters as the connection between the two, for it is in Acts that we learn what happened following the resurrection.
In the beginning pages of this book, we find that Jesus met with his disciples for a period of 40 days, speaking to them about “the kingdom of God” and telling them to remain in Jerusalem where they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Following the Ascension of Jesus, the 11 apostles who had been chosen by Christ (minus Judas, the one who betrayed him) met with the believers to choose a 12th apostle to replace Judas.
These were the beginnings of the Christian church.
Acts 1:12-14 gives us the picture of the 11, along with Jesus’ mother Mary, his brothers, the other women who were part of his followers (including Mary and Martha of Bethany and Mary Magdalene), joining together in constant prayer.
It was when the believers were all together, then numbering about 120 people, that Peter stood among them saying they should replace Judas with a newly named apostle so they would again become The Twelve. In verses 1:15, 21-22, Peter said the chosen person should be someone who had been with them since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, from his baptism through the resurrection.
The way the new apostle was chosen shows us that even from the very beginning they trusted God to know their hearts and to know who the right choice would be. They did what believers have been doing throughout the centuries: they prayed to God for guidance. In verse 26, they cast lots and the newly chosen apostle was a believer named Matthias.
This was the beginning of the church, known at that time as simply The Way, named for Jesus: the way, the truth and the life.
Although this book is most often read for the information found in celebrating the Christian Pentecost, and also the transformation of Paul on the road to Damascus, it is more than that, in that it is a history of what took place in the formation of the church.
It particularly features the ministry and missionary work of 20 people, men as well as women, along with 20 missionary sites around the known world (from Jerusalem to Rome) where the apostles, with other believers as companions, spread the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Just as we begin the first chapter of Acts, we can see the devoted people who were the followers of Christ coming together to start something new, that is, the church of Jesus Christ. They knew him to be the One, the true Messiah. The believers met often and devoted much of their time to prayer.
Peter, whom Jesus called the rock on which his church would be built, stood up early on as one of the leaders of the group.
It’s good for us to know and understand these early beginnings because they help us to see the love, trust, sharing and goodness through which the believers in Christ held one another.
They shared everything in common, and what one lacked another could supply. They held everything in kind and withheld nothing from their family of believers in Christ.
We don’t know exactly what they prayed about, but we can surmise they prayed for guidance in setting up the liturgy of the church. We know they praised God and sang hymns. We know they prayed together and studied the scripture to familiarize themselves, and the others who joined them, with the message of Christ found in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament).
They may have been praying to God for protection from the Roman soldiers who arrested and hung Jesus from the cross, as well as from the religious leaders who were against them. This would have included Pharisees like Paul who made it his duty to arrest the believers, to see them stoned or put in prison.
The Apostles were the early ministers of the church, bringing the people together, teaching them about God’s love that led Jesus to the cross to die for their sins. They set up a church service that included the Sacrament of Communion begun by Jesus at The Last Supper, where he spoke to his followers, telling them to do “these things in remembrance of me.”
Does all this sound familiar to you? It should. They are the same beliefs all believers hold true today as we meet together to praise and worship our trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As believers, we have learned that we can have complete confidence in God. God hears our prayers and answers them in ways that are best for us.
The Holy Spirit resides within us and helps us in all those ways told to us by Jesus: as counselor, comforter, guide. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the teachings of Jesus and shows us how to care for ourselves and each other through the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.
What began so long ago with Jesus continues today among 2.4 billion believers worldwide.
There’s a hymn written in 1971 by Gloria and William Gaither titled “Because He Lives.” The refrain says it all: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fears are gone; because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.”