- Day 29. John 19-21
- Day 30. Acts 1-3
- Day 31. Acts 4-6
- Day 32. Acts 7-9
- Day 33. Acts 10-12
- Day 34. Acts 13-15
- Day 35. Acts 16-18
Welcome to Week 5 of our Summer NT Reading Program. If you’ve managed to make it this far, it means that we are almost half way through the entire reading plan! Now, there is a chance that you’re just scrapping by and catching up on chapters here and there. Let me encourage you to persevere because it is worth it!
Well this week, we’re closing up our time in the Gospel of John and beginning in the Book of Acts (also known as the Acts of the Apostles). This is exciting because we’re actually going to go through the Book of Acts as a church together in 2020 as part of a new sermon series, so consider this pre-reading before diving into each chapter and verse in detail in the upcoming Sundays!
Now, we know from internal (the use of the first-person plural and the close identification with the Apostle Paul) and external evidence (Irenaeus c. AD180 names Luke as the author of the third Gospel and Acts, and this has been attested throughout tradition) that Acts was written by Luke. This is the same guy who wrote the Gospel of Luke which we covered just a few weeks ago, which is why many consider the Book of Acts as Part 2 of the Gospel of Luke. So how are the two (Acts and Gospel of Luke) different? Luke himself makes it clear in Acts 1.
Luke says in Acts 1:1 that ‘in my former book (that is, Gospel of Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen’. In other words, Part 1 (Gospel of Luke) was all about what Jesus Christ had done in his earthly ministry – it was about the redemptive work of Jesus. So what follows in the Book of Acts is how the church persevered, proclaimed, and pronounced this salvation. This is why some see Acts 1:8 as a helpful summary of the entire book: ‘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’. So Part 1 of Luke’s writing is about the Gospel revealed, and Part 2 is about the Gospel realised.
As a result, in Acts, we read a lot about how the early church grew, and it was through the proclamation of the Gospel as Christians were empowered by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the church grew exponentially, and we read of that in places like Acts 2:41 where it speaks of 3,000 people being added to the church and again in Acts 4:4 where 5,000 men (therefore, this number would have been much more if they included women and children) believed in the Gospel. In short, as a result of the robust missionary activity of the early church, ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:47). And all of this was accomplished through the proclamation of the Gospel as Christians were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Each of these words are so important. Because although God did indeed work in a supernatural and unique way during the time of Acts, God continues to build his church in exactly the same way. God continues to gather lost sinners as the redeemed proclaim the Gospel. We need to continue to learn to speak up. There is an ever-increasing need to emphasize this, because our current socio-political climate is making it much easier for Christians to remain silent rather than speak up. But we need to remember that God intends for Christians to proclaim, and to proclaim the message of the Gospel boldly. A silent church is a fading church. It has always been God’s plan to see the church grow as the Good News of Jesus is proclaimed and promoted across the nations and throughout every generation. And it is Christians who do this. That seems like a no-brainer, but it is worth emphasizing. Because often Christians jump onto bandwagons with great excitement when prominent or popular atheists say something nice about Christianity. With great enthusiasm, we say ‘look, even they think that Christianity has some good in it’! To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But God has always delighted in using Christians: weak, sinful, and humble people who know that they need a Saviour.
The reason we find that hard to believe is because we know that we are inadequate. We often look at ourselves and think: ‘me? Why would God ever want to use me? I don’t really know what to say!’ The early Christians certainly thought that. Indeed, compared to you and I, they had far less education, information, and training, which means that they should have had far less confidence! But the Bible makes it clear that it is never about those things. God promises something more. He promises a power – a strength, ability, and authority! That very power comes through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will himself give us the words, courage, boldness, and wisdom to speak. The Holy Spirit will open up opportunities when we ask for them, the Holy Spirit will guide us, and the Holy Spirit will protect and persevere us. Indeed, if we were to do any Gospel work on our own, we’d may as well give up now because there is no way that we can engage in a supernatural activity (that is, seeing spiritually dead people come to life) without supernatural power. But praise God that he didn’t leave us alone.
So as you read through the Book of Acts, let me encourage you to marvel at the Spirit’s work in the life of the early church. But I also pray that it will strengthen you as you see your role as one of the many who will boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that desperate needs it.
- What are some repeated themes in the first 18 chapters?
- Based on these chapters, what are the patterns and practices of the life and worship of the early church?
- What about the work of the Holy Spirit strikes you as awesome and incredible?
- What sort of encouragement can we draw from these early missionaries?
- Why is the Book of Acts still relevant for the life and practice of the modern church?
Gracious God, we thank you for the way that you worked in and through the early church, and we thank you for a clear record of it in the Book of Acts! We marvel at the way that you use sinful and broken people to be involved in your good and glorious work of saving many, and we pray that you would humble us today and equipped us for that very same work. Lord, we know that so many in this world still need you. The same problem during the first century is the same problem we confront today: sin. Therefore, the same solution during the first century is the same solution we need today: a Saviour. So Lord, inspire us by your work to continue this unfinished task of seeing the nations trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.