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SUNDAY SCHOOL INTERNATIONAL LESSONS
JANUARY 7. SUBJECT—THE ASCENDING LORD. (Acts i. 1-14.) The proper title of the Book from which our lesson is taken is, not “ The Acts of the Apostles,” but simply “Acts of Apostles," as it tells us mainly of the evangelistic labours of Peter and Paul. The date of this book is about A.D. 66.
1. First. The writer of the third Gospel is the narrator of the “ Acts." I made-time indefinite. The writer-KI”-is "Luke, by race a native of Antioch, and by profession a physician" (Eusebius). Modestly he never mentions himself by name, though often uses “we,” intimating that he was present on many occasions. He was a companion of St. Paul (Col. iv. 14; 2 Tim. iv. 11; Philemon 24). The third Gospel and the Acts have the same authorship. The medical terms employed (Luke iv. 38, vii. 43, 44, xxii. 44; Acts iü. 7, xii. 23, xiii. 11, xxviii. 8) confirm the tradition that “the beloved physician the writer of both. He was a man of excellent spirit, fine culture, literary industry, and Christian heroism. Learn with equal humility and energy to consecrate our best to Jesus. Theophilus = lover of God. Both Luke's works are addressed to him. From the phrase “most excellent” in Luke i. 3 (cf. Acts xxii. 26, xxiv. 3, xxvi. 25) it has been conjectured that he was a Roman officer, certainly a person in good social position. The rich and the poor have an equal interest in “the common salvation.' Began. The verb * begin is a characteristic word in Luke's writings. It occurs thirty-one times in his Gospel, and here in the first verse of the Acts we meet with one form of it. Do and teach-answering to "mighty in deed and word” (Luke xxiv. 19). All true and successful Christian teaching is the outcome of Christian life. Sunday-school teachers must have Christ's life, or they cannot interpret Christ's words.
2. Day-taken up (R.V. received up). The Gospel tells us of our Lord's life right up to the day of His ascension. This book begins where “the former treatise” left off : (cf. Luke ix. 51). Commandments. Christ is sole Head of the Church. He has not delegated His authority to any Vicegerent. Hence the error of Romanism. Through the Holy Ghost (Luke iv. 1, 18; John iii. 34). This is the dispensation of the Spirit. If the Master spake through the Spirit, how much more needful is it that those who speak in His name should do so! (1 Pet. i. 12; 1 Thess. i. 5). Apostles chosen. The word Apostles literally means “those sent forth.” Christ chose twelve (Matt. x. 2; Luke v. 13; John vi. 70), and sent them forth to preach the Gospel. Note, choosing before sending, and both are the prerogative of the Lord Jesus.
3. Showed Himself alive-lit. present.d Himself living. They knew that He had been “crucified, dead, and buried”; and now, in the manner of a formal public presentation, He appeared unto them living. Passion, i.e., after His suffering unto death; for suffering is one meaning of the word passion. Infallible proofs. R.V. omits the word “infallible," because there is no adjective answering to it in the original. The Greek word used signifies signs manifest to the senses, as distinguished from oral testimony. Luke is the only New Testament writer who uses this word. The proofs meant are: that His disciples saw Him, touched Him, conversed with Him, ate with Him (Luke xxiv. 39, 43; John xx. 27, xxi. 13; 1 John i. 1) after His resurrection; and thus had infallible demonstration that He was not a mere apparition. This was “the chief corner-stone" of Christian doctrine (1 Cor. xv. 12-22); and, therefore, proofs indubitable were given. Forty days. This is the only Scripture which states the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Forly is a sacred number (Exod. xxiv. 18; Deut. ix. 9, 18; 1 Kings xix. 8). Christ's conflict with Satan lasted forty days (Luke iv. 2); and here we learn that
Christ's triumph had the same duration. The word translated “ being seen" is unusual (it occurs twice in the LXX.), and implies that our Lord was seen not continuously but at intervals during the space of forty days. SpeakingGod. Implies much unrecorded teaching of which we have but the barest hints. Amongst other things taught in these last days of our Lord's ministry were the Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament (Luke xxiv. 27, 44, 45); the universality of redemption and responsibility (Mark xvi. 15, 16); the authority and perpetuity of baplism (Matt. xxviii. 19); the supreme headship of Christ over His Church in heaven and upon earth, and His real and constant Presence with His people (Matt. xxviii. 18-20).
4. Not depart, &c. They must go through the discipline of patience, and receive their inspiration from one common source in answer to united prayer; otherwise there would have been precipitancy and rivalry (Is. ii. 3). Oftentimes we gain more by prayerful waiting than by immediate action, however well meant (Ps. xxxvii. 7, xl. 1). The promise, &c. (John xv. 26 ; XY. 26; Luke xxiv, 49).
5. Baptized, &c. (Matt. iii. 11). The power and grace of the Holy Ghost should descend on them, and contemporaneously should be enkindled within them the fire of a holy and unquenchable enthusiasm. Not many days hence-time not specified ; a test of their faith and patience. Yet the assurance was given that not many days would transpire before the promise should be verified. This intimation would sustain their faith and hope. See the considerateness of Divine love.
6. Lord, wilt Thou (R.V. dost Thou) restore again the kingdom to Israel? Disciples then, as many now, were expecting the establishment of a temporal sovereignty rather than a spiritual kingdom (Luke xix. 11, xxiv. 21).
7. Not for you to know, &c. Christ would thus teach them, and us the folly of speculating upon the future, and the duty of making the most of the living present.
8. Power-not power in the sense of authority, as in previous verse, but proer in the sense of enduement ;-two different words in the original. Power is better than speculation. With power they could conquer all opposers (Luke xxi. 15), and become mighty and successful “ witnesses” for Christ (Luke xxiv. 48). In Jerusalem and in all Judæa-thus limited until the death of Stephen. Samaria-whither Philip was the first to go (Acts viii. 5), then Peter and John. Uttermost parts--fulfilled in the ministry of Paul, Barnabas, &c. Note, this book is divided into four parts, answering to the four geographical divisions above stated, viz. Jerusalem, chaps. i.-vii. ; Judea, ix. 32-xii. 19; Samaria, viii. ; the rest of the Acts telling us of the Gospel message to "uttermost parts."
9. While they beheld,-.e. while the Eleven (Mark xvi. 14) were still gazing into His face and listening to His farewell words; or, as in the Gospel. (Luke xxiv. 51), “while He blessed them,” He ascended. This was another " infallible proof” (John vi. 62; Acts ii. 33, iii. 21 ; Eph. i. 20; 1 Tim. iii. 16). A cloud received Him-the Shechinah cloud (Matt. xvii. 5; Mark ix. 7; Luke ix, 34 ; 2 Chron. v. 14).
10. As He went-up is not in the original. Two men-angels in human form; or glorified human beings (see Rev. xix, 10, xxii. 9). In white-like the young priests in the Temple.
11. Men of Galilee-the disciples, and probably our Lord, spoke in the Galilean dialect. Shall so come-hence the disciples' joy (Luke xxiv. 62). Like manner-bodily in glory, and accompanied by the angels (Dan. vii. 13).
12. Olivet-east of Jerusalem, on the road to Bethany (Luke xxiv. 50). Sabbath day's journey-i.l., 2,000 paces, or about six furlongs. It is Luke's manner to note distances, as to Emmaus (Luke xxiv. 13). Christ entered into His rest on the great day of rest; eight days before Pentecost.
13. An (lit, the) upper room where abode (lit. were abiding)—a room let or lent to these Galileans for temporary occupancy. Probably not the same room as that in which the Paschal supper was taken, which would be the guest
chamber on the ground floor; but the second floor, or loft, used for retirement and prayer. The day would be spent in the Temple (Luke xxiv. 53); the evening in this upper room. Peter, &c. The names of the Eleven are given with some variations from former order. For instance, Andrew is fourth here, though second in the Gospel, and this is the last time that he and Simon Zelotes = Zealot (the Canaanite, Matt. x, 4; Mark iii. 18) are mentioned. Judas the brother, should read, the son of James.
14. And supplication are omitted in best MSS. With the women. St. Luke is the only Evangelist who names these devout women as a definite body. (See Luke viji. 2, 3, xxiii. 49.) They ministered to Christ of their substance; they were last at the cross, and first at the sepulchre; they were ever treated with consideration by our Lord. The loyalty, intelligence, gentleness, and simple, fervent, trustful piety of women have ever been a strength and ornament to His Church. Mother of Jesus-who resided with John (John xix. 27)—-is here with Him at the prayer-meeting. This is the last Scripture mention of our Lord's mother. The sacred record leaves her on her knees. With His brethren (Matt. xiii. 55; Mark vi. 3)-sceptical (John vii. 5), but now believing. The resurrection of Lazarus, Christ's resurrection and appearance to James (1 Cor. xv. 7), and the influence of their cousin John, with whom their mother lived, probably led them to true faith. Those most privileged are often the slowest of heart to believe. Pray for the grace Divine !
Learn: (1) Jesus reveals Himself specially to the spiritually receptive (John i. 48). (2) The prayer-meeting is coeval with the Christian Church. Social prayer has the Divine approval, and is the direct way to the enduement of power from on high. (3) Unity is essential to prevalency. “There all continued with one accord.” (4) Pious women are invaluable in the service of Christ and in the fellowship of His Church. (5) Christ's life from the manger to the throne is symbolic of the heavenward way from lowest humility to highest glory. Excelsior !
JANUARY 14, SUBJECT—THE DESCENDING SPIRIT. (Acts ii. 1—21.) This lesson describes the inaugural service of the Christian Church, answering in many interesting particulars to the dedicatory service of Solomon's temple. On the former occasion “the glory of the Lord filled the house of God;" on the latter occasion the Holy Ghost descended in flaming glory, and His mighty influence “ filled all the house where they were sitting.”
1. Pentecost. Greek, the fiftieth. The second of the three great Jewish festivals-Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles-kept on the fiftieth day after the Passover Sabbath-fell on the sixth day of Sivan, the third month of the Jewish eacred year, the ninth month of the civil year, añswering to portions of our May and June. Its rites, according to the law, were restricted to a single day. It was also called “the feast of harvest" (Exod. xxiii. 16), “The feast of first fruits" because the two first loaves made from the first portion of the wheat harvest of the year were presented to God as a thank-offering (Lev. xxiü. 17), and “ the feast of weeks," from being seven weeks after the Passover (Exod. xxiv. 22; Deut. xvi. 9, 10). Travelling, whether by sea or land, in the early spring or late autumn was so inconvenient and perilous that the attendance at the other great festivals was limited mainly to residents in Judæa and the vicinity, but devout Jews came from all lands to their fatherland to celebrate the joyful Pentecost. Hence Paul went up then from Greece (Acts xviii. 21, xx. 16); therefore, most opportune for the outpouring of the Divine Spirit's influence in extraordinary manner and measure. The preaching of the Gospel to the numerous residents and visitors would ensure its diffusion throughout the whole of the then-known world. Some have asserted that the Law was proclaimed from Sinai on the same day of the year as the Gospel was now proclaimed at Jerusalem; the Law amidst lightnings of wrath, the Gospel amidst lightnings of grace. Fully come. The feast began at the sunset of the Jewish sabbath; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, therefore, was on our Lord's day. This is beautifully significant. The word “fully" seems to imply that the disciples had a sacred presentiment of the nearness, the imminency of the Divine manifestation, and were keeping a holy vigil up to the blessed time. All with one accord (R.V. and best MSS. all together). In one placemi.e., the upper room (chap. i. 13).
2. Rushing mighty wind (lit. a mighty wind borne along, as 2 Pet. i. 21, # Holy men of old spake as they were borne on by the Holy Ghost"). The ordinary Greek word for wind is not selected in this place, but a word rendered breath in chap. xvii. 25, and therefore better fitted to describe the Divine inbreathing (John xx. 22) with which they were now filled, and which "wrought every nerve to ecstasy," and filled the house, symbolic of “the whole earth being filled with the glory of God.” Cloven tongues like as of fire (R.V. tongues parting asunder like as of fire). Perhaps, better still, tongues like as of fire parting asunder : the very same appearance as at the gates of a lost Edenthe glory of the Shechinah : appearing as a fire unfolding itself in grace, not in wrath ; the Hebrew and the Greek terms represent simply out flashingsswords or tongues of flame. The word translated cloren is found ver. 45 (also in Matt. xxvii. 35; Luke xxii, 17; John xix. 24), and always means divided or distributed. See Is. v. 24, where the Hebrew has “tongue of fire” while the A.V. gives only “fire." It must not be overlooked that the appearance is not spoken of as fire but fiery-" as of fire.” The meaning is, that the flaming glory descended, then unfolded and distributed itself, so that one whole tongue of flaming splendour rested upon the head of each disciple—“it (mark the singular) sat upon each.” The tense expresses inomentary, not continuous, action. Pro. longed ecstasy would be fatal.
4. All-not the Apostles only, but all the disciples, men and women. Filled with the Holy Ghost. See Luke xi. 13-of course the life and power and sanctity of the Divine Spirit of My Spirit,” verses 17, 18. Speak with other tongues-"new tongues," Mark xvi. 17; i.e., in languages which they had not known before, for the crowd of visitors from distant lands all find somebody among the speakers whom they are able to understand.
5. Devout inen (Luke ii. 25; Acts viïi. 2). Simeon and Stephen are so called. Out of every nation, &c.-hyperbolic, as when we say “Everybody knows it.”
6. Noised abroad (R.V. when this sound was heard). Not the same Greek word used for sound, ver. 2. Never found in the sense of report or rumour, as conveyed by the A.V. It means utterance, human, angelic, or divine (ver. 4). Every man heard them speaking-imperfect tense : may be interpreted, ".went on listening," with amazement, to the many-tongued utterances.
7. Galileans. The Twelve had been known as such before the crucifixion (Matt. xxvi. 69–73). The only exception was Judas Iscariot, the traitor, of Kerioth, in Judæa.
8. Every man in our own tongue-no jargon, no incoherency, but perfectly distinct and correct speech in divers languages. It is always difficult to master the accent and intonation of a foreign tongue. Yet these unlearned Galileans had not only command of the words, but mastery of the accent of other languages, and spake them as natives. “The things impossible to men are possible to God."
9. Parthians, &c. A bird's-eye view of the Roman Empire, distinguishing it into the various countries from which these born or proselyte Jews came. The Parthians stand foremost because famous at that time, dwelling south of the Caspian, and spreading from India to the Tigris. Medes-east of Assyria. Elamites-a Semitic people, named from Elam, son of Shem (Gen. x. 22; Dan. viii. 2), located north of the Persian Gulf in Susiana. Mesopotamia, the country between the Euphrates and the Tigris. Judea, all the country outside Jerusalem. Cappadocia and Pontus lay near the Euxine. Asia, here as everywhere else in the Acts, means the Roman province known as Proeonsular Asia, lying on the west coast of Asia Minor ; its capital was Ephesus, and it included the seven Churches of the Apocalypse. Phrygia and Pam. phylia were within Asia Minor. Egypt, specially the cities of northern Egypt; great numbers of Jews dwelt in Alexandria. Libya, anciently all Africa, here Cyrenaica (Matt. xxvii. 32). Strangers of Rome (Ř.V. sojourners). Probably these Christian converts founded the Church at Rome, as Acts xxviii. 14, 15 shows that Christianity was flourishing there when Paul reached it. Jews and Proselytes (proselyte means, one who has come over). Cretes, from Crete in the Mediterranean, now called Candia. And Arabians ; from the great peninsula stretching between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.,
11. Wonderful (lit. great) works of God. So Acts x. 46, xix. 6, the same word as in Luke i. 49.
12. Amazed and were in doubt (much perplexed, Luke xxiv, 4). No New Testament writer uses this last word except Luke. What may this mean? This truer rendering occurs also xvii. 18.
13. Mocking. Wherever the Gospel is preached “ with signs following," there will be found the perplexed, the wondering, the sceptical, and the scoff. ing-four classes. These spoken of here were typical of their successors in all ages. And scoffers are always slanderers. New wine-lit, sweet drink, the word “wine" not being used. The word for “new wine” in Matt. ix. 17; Mark ii. 22, is different. Here, drink made of the drippings from the clusters before the grapes were trodden. Plumptre says, “stronger and more intoxicating than the thinner and lighter wines ordinarily drunk.” The context implies that it was in some measure inebriating, for the remark was occasioned by the obvious excitement of the disciples.
14. But Peter, &c. What dignity, courage, and wisdom! He had been endued with power. He was best fitted for spokesman, and it is significant that he addresses the residents rather than the foreigners, the former probably being the scoffers. And said (lit. spake forth)—the same word as that used to describe the gift just received, viz., utterance (ii. 4), lit. to speak forth (xxvi. 25). Hearken (lit. give ear to), the only place in the New Testament in which this word occurs.
15. Not drunken. Wine was drunk by the Jews with flesh only. They ate bread in the morning and flesh in the evening (Exod. xvi. 8), and so took no wine till late in the day. Third hour. The Jews divided the day and night each into twelve parts, which they called hours, but which varied in length as the daylight was less or more. When the day and night were equal, the third hour would be 9 a. m.
16–12. Spoken by (or through) Joel (Joel ii. 28-32). The order here slightly differs from that in the Old Testament, but agrees generally with the LXX. Last days—used in the Old Tesament to signify the Messianic age (Is. ii. 2; Micah iv. i). Prophesy. See xix. 6, xi. 28, xxi. 9; 1 Cor. xii. 13; Gal. iii, 28; Col. ii. 11. Prophesy is here used in its wider sense, the exposition of a divine revelation, supernatural utterances, &c., rather than mere prediction of future events. Servants, &c.-1.8., bond-slaves, the lowliest, the most uncultured and unlikely. The teaching of the Spirit has in many notable instances superseded the training of the schools. Wonders. The imagery is taken from the great thunderstorms of Palestine. There is the lurid, blood-red hue of the sky; there are the electric flashes, and the vaporous clouds, seething in terrific agitation; the frightful darkness and the elemental conflict, all symbolic of the bloodshed and horrors of the coming siege of Jerusalem. Whosoever shall call on (a phrase common in the old Testament, and a favourite word with Paul and Luke, but not used in the Gospels) means civilly, an “invokivg,' an appeal from a lower to a higher court; religiously, the prayer of faith for divine interposition. Eusebius tells us how the Christians were warned to leave Jerusalem before its destruction, and found safety in the little mountain city Pella.
Learn : (1) “Every good gift and every perfect cometh from the Father of lights." (2) The Christian sisterhood is not excluded from the highest bless. ings of Divine grace. Sin only entails inferiority. (3) The great qualification for a Gospel ministry is the baptism of the Holy Ghost (4) Prolonged fervent, believing prayer secures this baptism divine. (6) Children, if they earnestly pray to God in Christ's name, will be saved, for "whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”