Peter Misselbrook's Blog
18/02/2020 - Introduction to The Acts of the Apostles

Acts is the second volume of Luke's two part work and as such tells of what Jesus continued to do after his ascension. It could therefore be called The Acts of the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus rather than The Acts of the Apostles. It tells the story of the expansion of the young Christian church and was written to defend both the Christian message and the ministry of the Apostle Paul against the accusations of various opponents.

As we noted in the introduction to Luke's Gospel, the transition from narrative in the third person to first person plural in Acts 16:10 suggests that the author was a travelling companion of Paul who joined him at Troas. From the earliest times in the Christian era (from at least 160 AD) there was a clear tradition within the church that identified the author as Luke the physician (cf. Col 4:14).

John Stott writes, "Luke arrived in Jerusalem with Paul (Acts 21:17) and left with him on their voyage to Rome (27:1). In between was a period of more than two years, during which Paul was held a prisoner in Caesarea (24:27), while Luke was a free man. How did he use this time? It would be reasonable to guess that he travelled the length and breadth of Palestine, gathering material for his Gospel and for the early Jerusalem-based chapters of the Acts. He will have familiarised himself as a Gentile with Jewish history, customs and festivals, and he will have visited the places made sacred by the ministry of Jesus and the birth of the Christian community." (Stott, The Message of Acts, IVP)

In the book of Acts:

  • Luke presents a clear view of how the gospel and the Christian Church spread from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the ends of the earth in fulfilment of God's plan, Christ's promise and through the powerful direction and work of his Spirit;
  • This is also reflected in Luke's account of Paul's missionary strategy – he preaches first to Jews and only when they reject the message does he turn to the Gentiles
  • Acts shows that both Jewish and Gentile believers belong to the one church – that Christ, the Jewish Messiah, is Saviour of the world;
  • Acts also makes clear that the Gentiles are not to be burdened with Jewish tradition – Christ brings freedom to all who believe in him;
  • It demonstrates that the Christian message is no threat to the civil power – it is not a strange new religion but is the legitimate development of Judaism which had long been recognised by Rome as a religion that might legally be observed by inhabitants of the Roman Empire
  • The chief cause of the unrest that has followed the spread of Christianity is shown to be Jewish opposition to the Gospel, particularly opposition by the Jews of the Dispersion;
  • Paul's claim to be an apostle is shown to be grounded in the personal commission of the risen Christ.
We shall interrupt our readings in Acts to look as various letters written to the churches by the Apostle Paul. We shall seek to insert them into the narrative at the points where it is thought they might have been written.

18/02/2020 - Acts 1:1-26 – Over to you …

The book of Acts is the second half of Luke’s two-part work telling the story of Jesus and of the earliest disciples. He begins this second part with a link back to the first: “I’ve already told you”, he says, “of the things Jesus began to do and to teach.” He seems to imply that this is a continuation of the same story. In this second part we will also read of what Jesus is doing and teaching, but now in and through his disciples.

This continuity is reinforced in other ways also. The Gospels, including Luke’s Gospel, have told of Jesus teaching concerning the kingdom. The book of Acts begins and ends with the same theme. In the opening verses we have the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples over a period of 40 days and “speaking to them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1.3). The book ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome where, for two years, “he welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ...” (Acts 28:30-31).

But one of the most remarkable parallels is in Luke’s reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ teaching of his disciples was empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2) – the Spirit who descended upon him when he was baptised by John. He began his preaching ministry with the affirmation that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him because he had been anointed to proclaim good news – the Gospel (Luke 4:18). Jesus now tells the disciples that he is about to return to the Father, but they are to wait in Jerusalem for a gift from the Father: “For John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them they will be empowered to be witnesses to Jesus and his kingdom (Acts 1:8): the Spirit of the Lord will now be upon them, anointing them to proclaim the Gospel.

Putting all of this together, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and demonstrated its presence through the power of the Spirit. His death and resurrection are the portal through which the kingdom is now streaming into this world. But it does so as his disciples follow Jesus in proclaiming the kingdom of God and demonstrating its presence through the power of the Spirit. They do this as they proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, is risen from the dead and has been declared by God to be both Lord and Christ. As they proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and teach the world about him, Jesus himself works in them and through them to make himself known and to establish his kingdom. This is the story of the Book of Acts.

Jesus has ascended into heaven, but his work of establishing his kingdom continues in undiminished power. As the disciples gaze up into heaven after their Lord, they are asked by angels why they are hanging around here. Jesus has given them a task to do and, by virtue of his resurrection and ascension to the place of all power, he will equip them to do it. Their task is to get on with it. And that is what they did, as recorded in the Book of Acts.

Luke wrote no third volume. That's down to us. We also are empowered by our risen and ascended Lord to continue his work of establishing his kingdom until that day when he will return from heaven just as those disciples saw him ascend into heaven.

Risen and ascended Lord, you are seated in glory in the place of power at the right hand of the Father. All authority is given to you, and every knee must bow to you. Help us to continue your work of proclaiming your kingdom, your power and your glory. Empower us by your Spirit and work through us to bring many out of the kingdom of darkness to live under your kingly rule.

17/02/2020 - Luke 24:13-53 – He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures

Today we complete Luke's Gospel with the wonderful story of the couple walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. I say a 'couple' because I think it likely that they were man and wife rather than, as has often been assumed (why?), that they were two men. As they walked they were discussing the things that had happened in Jerusalem and trying to make sense of them. Jesus joined them on the way, but they did not recognise him. He asked them what they were talking about and they explained to him how their Lord had been crucified saying, "But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Their hopes had been shattered, and yet, now three days after Jesus had died, the body had disappeared from the tomb. They just could not make sense of it all.

The third traveller then responds to them, "He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (24:25-27). Later, as they sat down together to eat, Jesus "took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them" (24:30). Immediately they recognised him, but just as immediately he disappeared from their sight. As they hurried back to Jerusalem they said, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

When they got back to Jerusalem they found the other disciples and began to explain what had happened. Then Jesus again appeared, this time to them all. "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things'" (24:45-48). Jesus then tells them that they are to wait in Jerusalem until they are equipped with the Spirit who will enable them to tell the world about him.

Jesus is the focus of all that God has to say to us. Apart from him, we cannot understand the Scriptures rightly. Reading them without seeing Christ is, to use Paul's phrase, like trying to read with a veil over your face. But when you turn to see Jesus, the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). Now you can see clearly the wonderful saving plan of God with Jesus at the centre. He is the one who brings to fulfilment all that was written beforehand. He is the heart of the story. He is the one who calls us to follow him and to take our place in the grand drama of redemption. This great story is also to find its focus and to display its clarity in us; the Spirit of the risen Saviour not only gives us freedom, he enables us to live out our part in the story as we are recreated in the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

The Spirit also equips us to tell the story – the whole story of Scripture with Jesus Christ as its focus. We have a message for the nations, calling them to come and join the drama; be part of the story; come follow Jesus the Christ.

Lord Jesus, help me by your Spirit to understand your word, live your word and proclaim your word. May the word become flesh in and through me and speak afresh to those around me.

16/02/2020 - Luke 23:44-24:12 – The women who had followed him from Galilee

One of the striking features of today's reading is the role of the women in the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. The male disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested but the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance, watching while he died upon the cross. When the crowds dispersed to their homes, beating their breasts, it was these women who stayed and watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body from the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb which had been prepared for his own death. They noted where the body of Jesus had been placed before going to prepare spices and perfumes to disguise the smell of the body as it began to decay.

Having rested on the Sabbath, it was these same women who arrived at the tomb in the early hours of the morning on the first day of the week wondering how they would roll the stone from the tomb. None of the male disciples came early to the tomb. The women found that the stone had already been rolled away from its entrance. Two gleaming figures greeted them asking, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5). These 'men' reminded the women of the things that Jesus had said while he was with them in Galilee, that "The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again" (24:7). Then the women remembered what Jesus had taught them. So they left the tomb to find the missing men and tell them all that they had seen and heard.

And what of the men? "They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (24:11).

The Gospels are remarkable in the place they give to women as witnesses to the resurrection. They were written in an age when the testimony of women was given little weight. Perhaps for that very reason the women were able to stay in the vicinity of the cross and follow Joseph to the tomb without attracting attention. They were thought of as insignificant, perhaps hardly even noticed.

Their testimony to Jesus was and remains of the greatest significance. When many men still declaim loudly that the Christian message is nonsense, it is often the faithful testimony of women that demonstrates that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in the world. Women have formed the faithful backbone of the Christian community down the years even though their ministry often goes unrecognised.

The Church of England for many years resisted the appointment of women bishops. It seems to me that the episcopal form of church government has reflected peculiarly male concerns for positions of influence and power. Might a fresh appreciation of the spiritual gifting of women lead to different models for leadership within the community of the people of God?

Lord God, we give you thanks for faithful women. For Deborah, without whom Barak would not have defended the people of God; for Esther without whom the Israelites would have suffered genocide; for Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James who witnessed the empty tomb and told the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead; for Lydia in Philippi who supported Paul’s ministry and saw a church founded in the city; for Priscilla who was a noted gospel worker and helper of apostles; for many countless women down the years who have loved Jesus and served him faithfully and fruitfully. Help us to value each of your servants and to encourage them in the work you have given them to do.

15/02/2020 - Luke 23:13-43 – Today you will be with me in paradise

Jesus was crucified with two criminals or terrorists, one on his right and the other on his left. One of them mocked Jesus, "Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" (Luke 23:39). But the other rebuked him saying, "Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong" (23:40-41).

This second criminal had seen something different in Jesus – Jesus who had prayed that those who crucified him might be forgiven. He knew that he was guilty of wrongdoing not just in the eyes of the Romans, but before God. He longed that he also might be forgiven and cried out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (23:42). Somehow, this man could see that Jesus, hanging upon a cross, really was the King of the Jews – the long awaited Messiah. Somehow he knew that though Jesus might be put to death he would nevertheless establish his kingdom. I don't know what answer this nameless criminal might have been expecting or hoping for, but he was surely astonished to be told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (23:43).

And what an extraordinary promise it is from one dying in agony: the promise of paradise; the promise of paradise today. Taking fruit from a tree had closed the gates of paradise against humanity; one hanging on a tree now promises paradise to a repentant sinner. Angels with flaming swords had once blocked the entrance to paradise; here God has opened up a new doorway through the broken body of his Son. If this man can be promised paradise through faith in Jesus, there is no-one against whom the gates are now barred. “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).

I remember some years ago when I was a pastor in London. I had been knocking on doors in a certain street and talking with residents. One recently retired east ender welcomed me and over some months we had many conversations together. But the one thing he just could not accept was the grace of God. He could not get his head around the fact that bad people could have a place in paradise. For him, the matter was clear; we all get what we deserve. He felt that he wasn't too bad a character and was prepared to take his chances. I could not get him to see his own need, nor the wonder of a Saviour who have given himself to secure our redemption.

Do you rejoice in this, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"? The worst of people found acceptance with him – tax collectors and sinners. And the most religious came to see that they had nothing to plead before him but their need. This is what Saul the Pharisee discovered through an encounter with the risen Savour. Like the dying thief, he saw that the crucified Jesus was the promised Christ, the hope of Israel and of the whole world.

Looking to Jesus, do you have the full assurance given to that criminal, that you also will be with him in paradise? "There is life for a look at the crucified one."

Father God, we thank you for the wonder of your saving grace in the Lord Jesus. I confess that I have no more right to paradise than had that dying thief. But I ask that you would remember me, forgive me, cleanse me. I believe that you are the way, the truth and the life. I believe that you are the door that leads again into the Garden of God. Help me to walk with you in the way and to draw others to join you in the walk to paradise.

14/02/2020 - Luke 22:54-23:12 – Herod and Pilate became friends

The Jewish Sanhedrin judged Jesus worthy of death since he claimed to be the Son of God. But they had no power to execute, so they took Jesus off to Pilate to have the Romans do their dirty work for them. The Jewish leaders accused Jesus before Pilate of claiming that he is King of the Jews – a political charge that they hoped would trouble Pilate sufficiently to want to get rid of him. However, Pilate could find no reason to execute Jesus – he appeared quite harmless to him. Then he learned that Jesus was a Galilean. So Pilate immediately sent Jesus off to stand trial before Herod, the one whom the Romans had set up as king of the Jews – or at least king over the region of Galilee.

Herod was at first pleased to see Jesus. He had heard a great deal about him and the miracles he had been performing. Herod hoped that Jesus would put on a show for him, but he was soon disappointed. Jesus would not reply to his many questions or do anything to entertain Herod. So his pleasure turned to scorn and "Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate" (Luke 23:11). As a result, Luke tells us, "That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies" (23:12). They were united in their perplexity and frustration concerning Jesus and united in feeling that they were being forced to take unnecessary action by the Jewish leaders.

Jesus has a way of reconciling enemies. Here they were reconciled in fear of Jesus, fear that led them to humiliate him. More importantly, Jesus is able to reconcile those who were previously enemies of God. This was why Jesus did not defend himself before his accusers but submitted to their humiliation, and ultimately to the cross. His death was to be the means by which we, the enemies of God, would be reconciled to him (see Romans 5:10). More than that, it would be the means by which that wall of suspicion and prejudice between Jew and Gentile would be broken down.

Jew and Gentile leaders were united in opposition to Jesus and in sending him to his death. Through his death, Jew and Gentile would be reconciled and share together in the blessings God promised to Abraham.

And we have now been given a ministry of reconciliation. Jesus has entrusted his followers with the task of mending a fractured world through the message of the cross by which people are reconciled to God and to one another.

In 1994 Rwanda was torn apart by tribal warfare and brutal massacres in which it is estimated that nearly one million people were killed – 700,000 Tutsis being killed by their Hutu neighbours. One might have expected that the wounds inflicted to that society were beyond healing. But there are now remarkable stories of reconciliation coming out of Rwanda. The Gospel message of Christ crucified is enabling people to forgive and be reconciled to those responsible for killing their families. The situation remains fragile, but only Christ can bring healing to such wounds.

Father, we pray today for places where division and hatred seem to have the upper hand and where lives are torn apart in the conflict. Prince of peace, we cry to you to heal the wounds of our world and so to work by your Spirit that you may make wars cease to the ends of the earth. Break the bow and shatter the spear. May all the world be still and know that you are God. May you be exalted among the nations; exalted in all the earth. Lord Jesus, may my words and actions make people friends not in their opposition to you but in common love for you and one another.

13/02/2020 - Luke 22:35-53 – Weak disciples

At the Last Supper, Jesus had washed his disciples' feet; he had been among them as one who served. Now they are arguing about which of them is the greatest. Have they learned nothing from Jesus? Have they learned nothing of the nature of his kingdom and how different it is from the kingdoms of this world?

Despite their failure to act as disciples, Jesus promises that they will have a part in the kingdom which has been given him by the Father. One day they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, but for the present they need to learn what it means to follow Christ in his humiliation.

In the same vein, Jesus exposes Peter's brash self-confidence. It is evident that he does not know his own character. He is weak and will deny Jesus, but Jesus has prayed for him. He will keep him from Satan's clutches and will enable him to be a strength to his brothers.

Jesus and his disciples go on to Gethsemane. There Jesus asks his disciples to support him by praying with him. Again they show their weakness by falling asleep. The conduct of the disciples vividly reminds us of our own frailty.

All three Synoptic Gospels record the agonised prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his betrayal and arrest. They all record the desire of Jesus to avoid the torment that lay ahead of him but also his submission to the Father's will. But Luke adds a couple of significant details; he speaks of Jesus sweating blood as he prayed, such was his agony of spirit. Luke also records that, "An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him" (Luke 22:43).

There are mysteries here that we cannot fully fathom. There is a sense in which we see here the weakness of Christ. He needed to be strengthened by the ministry of an angel in his hour of need. The angel strengthened him by assuring him that his Father had not abandoned him; he would be with him even when it seemed that he had turned his back on him.

Strengthened by the ministry of an angel, Jesus went to the cross for our salvation – refusing to call on twelve legions of angels to rescue him. At the cross we see both the 'weakness' of God and the power of God that is stronger than any human strength. God's power is made perfect in weakness.

Raised from the dead, Jesus is now the one who ever lives to help and strengthen us in time of need:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In our weakness we may turn to Christ our Saviour. He has tasted human weakness but he possesses all the power in the universe. He strengthens us in our weakness. And in ways I don't profess to understand, he also sends his angels to minister to us in our weakness (Hebrews 1:14).

Thank you Jesus that you are never asleep when we need your help. Thank you that you know all about our weakness and yet have promised that we will inherit your kingdom. Help us to trust in you, depend upon you and to know your risen power made perfect in our weakness. Help us also to strengthen one another that together we may live the cruciform life of your kingdom and so confound the kingdom of this world.

12/02/2020 - Luke 22:14-34 – The new covenant in my blood

Our reading this morning focuses on the Last Supper which Jesus ate with his disciples before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion. It was a Passover meal and Jesus had longed to eat it with his disciples. In that meal they would remember together how God had saved their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. He had come down to rescue them; come down in judgment upon the Egyptians. And in that terrible night, they had been saved by the blood of the lamb. The blood of the slaughtered lamb had been painted round their doors and God had passed over them. There was a death in every house in Egypt that night: in the Egyptian households the death of the firstborn; in the Israelite households the death of a lamb.

Jesus took the elements of that Passover meal and showed how they receive a new focus in what he was about to do for them. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one through whose shed blood we are kept safe from the wrath of God. He is God come down to set us free. He is the one who calls us to follow him into the inheritance which God has for his people.

And so, in the paradox of this Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a simple means of remembering all that he has done for us through eating bread and drinking wine together. The slaughtered lamb has gone, to be replaced by the simple, daily bread. No further sacrifice is necessary; the work is finished. But the bread is to be a continual reminder of his body given for us – given to torment and death. The wine is to be the reminder of his blood poured out for us, that we might be forgiven.

When Jesus took the cup of wine at the end of that Passover meal, Luke records that Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20). These words are wonderfully rich. Jesus speaks of the new covenant. It is more than a repetition of Passover, Exodus and Sinai for it surpasses all that has gone before. All that had been promised in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures was now about to be fulfilled. God was about to make a new covenant with his people: a covenant which would never be broken; a covenant marked by the pouring out of his Spirit into the hearts of his people to lead them into obedience to him. All of this is about to be accomplished through the death of the Lord Jesus; through the pouring out of his blood.

A covenant is a solemn and binding agreement. Jesus' death – his shed blood – is the means by which God binds himself to us and by which we are bound to him with an indissoluble bond; it is the blood of the covenant. We who once were far off have been brought near; reconciled to God. We who were once not a people have become the people of God – family.

Thank You, Jesus, thank You, Jesus
Thank You, Lord, for loving me
Thank You, Jesus, thank You, Jesus
Thank You, Lord, for loving me

You went to Calvary
And there You died for me
Thank You, Lord, for loving me
You went to Calvary
And there You died for me
Thank You, Lord, for loving me

You rose up from the grave
To me new life You gave
Thank You, Lord, for loving me
You rose up from the grave
To me new life You gave
Thank You, Lord, for loving me

Peter Misselbrook