Because there are many parallels between the first century and our current situation, I want us to study the book of Acts. I’m hoping that this study will do more than tickle your ears or give you a fresh supply of notes. If that’s all you gain, I will have failed in my task. If you can study Acts without being moved to action, then you’ve missed the whole point of this book.
Let me give you a quick analysis of the importance of Acts:
- Acts tells us how the Christian movement came into beginning. Acts has been called a transitional book because it serves as a bridge between the gospels and the letters. It’s the historical link that joins the life of Christ with the growth of the Christian church. It answers the question many first-century observers would have asked: “Where did this new movement come from?” Now realize this is condensed history—not an exhaustive story. Luke doesn’t tell us everything we want to know, but he includes every essential detail from the earliest days of the Christian movement. This is apologetics at its best—showing us that the Christian faith is firmly rooted in the facts of history.
- Acts is also the book that reveals the power of the church. So, when a church begins to dwindle, lose its power, and turn dull and drab in its witness, it desperately needs to get back into the spirit, expectation, knowledge and teaching of the book of Acts. In this book, the principles of the exchanged life, “Not I, but Christ” are dramatically shown. Regarding this book, J.B Phillips wrote:
“It is heartening to remember that this faith (of the early Church) took root and flourished in conditions that would have killed anything less vital in a matter of weeks. These early Christians were on fire with the conviction that they have become, through Christ, literally sons of God. They were pioneers of a New Kingdom. They still speak to us across the centuries. Perhaps if we believe what they believed, we might achieve what they achieved.”
In fact, if you took the book of Acts out of our New Testament, we would never understand the rest of it. When you close the record of the gospels, you see nothing but a handful of Jews in the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life, talking together about a kingdom for Israel.
When you open the book of Romans, on the other side of Acts, you meet a man whose name is never mentioned in the gospels, and he is writing to a group of Christians in Rome—of all places, the center of Gentile culture—and he is talking about pushing out to the very ends of the earth. Obviously, something has happened in between. How did this tremendous change take place? What happened to make the gospel burst out of its confines in Judaism and the city of Jerusalem and reach out in one generation’s time to all the limits of the then-known world?
Frankly, I think it has the wrong title. In almost every edition of the Bible it’s called The Acts of the Apostles. But when you read the book through, the only Apostles whose acts are referred to are Peter and Paul. All the other Apostles are left almost entirely unnoticed, so the title is hardly fitting. The title should really be, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” or maybe, “The Continuing Acts of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Actually I’m not the first one to think that. This same suggestion is in the introduction of the book. As Luke is writing again to the friend to whom he addressed his first book, he says,
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . —Acts 1:1
Cool. So what did he say in his first book?
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. —Luke 1:1-4
Think of Luke as “Volume One” and Acts as “Volume Two,” of his account of Jesus and of the early days of the Church. Acts is a continued story of what Jesus began both to do and to teach. Luke goes on to say,
. . . until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” —Acts 1:2-5
That’s what the book of Acts is all about. It’s the account of the way the Holy Spirit, coming into the church, continued what Jesus began to do—it carried on the work which was initiated during the days of his incarnation.
- Acts shows us how the church is supposed to respond when living in a predominately pagan culture. If I could jump ahead for a moment, I would say that we are to respond to surrounding paganism in two ways:
First, with a bold witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, we are to speak up and not be silent. Yes, some may be offended, but it’s better to offend them, rather than our Savior.
Second, with visible love for each other. It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.”
These two things—bold witness and visible love—have been the hallmark of the church in every age of persecution and hostility. This still holds true today.
- Acts teaches us about the worldwide mission of the Christian church. Many of you already know that the most important verse of Acts is found in the first chapter, “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” (1:8). Notice the phrase “to the ends of the earth.” What started in Jerusalem will one day reach to the farthest corners of the globe. That was Jesus’ plan from the beginning. He always intended that his followers would take his message and go in every direction with the good news. Frankly I can’t understand how we could help doing otherwise. Once you grasp the wonder of His message, I can’t imagine remaining sitting still.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Book of Acts
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