Introduction to Acts
Introduction to Acts
Have you ever wondered how the church got here? I don’t mean just the building, I mean the church as a whole. How did the Christian faith make its way from a small, backwater province of the Roman Empire all the way across the ocean? Before the internet, television, cars....how did we get here? The answer lies in the book of Acts. This tells the story of how the message of Jesus Christ spread out over the earth. When Jesus gave his followers the great commission in Matthew 28-to spread the Gospel to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, going forward baptizing and making disciples-they obeyed him! This is the story of that obedience. Followers of Christ shared the gospel with people in the markets, homes, through sermons, relationships and through travel. All across the ancient Medditeranean, people heard and responded to the Gospel.
We still have that call today. As followers of Christ, we have been tasked with sharing the gospel. Did you know that an overwhelming number of Christians in our country have never talked about their faith with an unbeliever? When my 9 year old son was asked “Who is someone you know that doesn’t know Jesus?” in our childrens ministry here at MCC, he couldn’t come up with anyone! How would you answer that question? Who is someone you know what doesn’t know Jesus?
Acts is the second part of a two-volume work, with the Gospel of Luke being the first volume. Neither book names its author, however the Lukan authorship of Luke– Acts is affirmed by both external evidence (church tradition) and internal evidence. Church tradition supporting Luke as the author is both early (from the mid- 2nd century AD) and for over a century and a half unanimous (it was never doubted until the 19th century). The “we” sections of Acts (16: 10– 17; 20: 5– 21: 18; 27: 1– 28: 16) reveal that the author was a companion of Paul and participated in the events described in those sections. So the author of Acts was one of Paul’s companions listed in his letters written during those periods (Luke is listed in Col. 4: 14; 2 Tim. 4: 11; Philem. 24) and not one of the men referred to in the third person in the “we” sections (see Acts 20: 4– 5). It seems clear that the author was from the second generation of the early church, since he was not an “eyewitness” of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 1: 2), and was a Gentile (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.4.6, says Luke was “by race an Antiochian and a physician by profession”; see Col. 4: 14). A number of scholars date Acts as early as AD 62, a guess based primarily on the abrupt conclusion of the book. Since Acts ends with Paul in Rome under house arrest, awaiting his trial before Caesar (28: 30– 31), it would seem strange if Luke knew about Paul’s release (a proof of his innocence), about his defense before Caesar (fulfilling 27: 24), and about his preaching the gospel as far as Spain (see note on 28: 30– 31), but then did not mention these events at the end of Acts. It seems most likely, then, that the abrupt ending is an indication that Luke completed Acts c. AD 62, before these later events occurred.
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 147-154). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
We see evidence of our faith’s trinitarian theology in this section of Acts very clearly. This is a key aspect of who God is and how we understand Him. Justin Holcomb writes more:
Before his ascension, Jesus promises his apostles that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses (Acts 1: 6– 8). According to Jesus, the Father has “fixed” the time for restoring the kingdom “by his own authority” (1: 7); the apostles “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come” upon them (1: 8); and they will be Jesus’ “witnesses” (1: 8). We see here all three persons of the Trinity— Father, Son, and Spirit— who are equal in nature but distinct in role and relationship. Broadly speaking, Christian theology teaches that the Father orchestrates salvation, the Son accomplishes salvation, and the Spirit applies salvation.
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 269-275). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Re-Imagining Evangelism in a Changing World
Dr. Bock & John Dickinson (35 minutes)
Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost is one of the most explicit pictures of how God saves his people in scripture. Check out Justin Holcomb’s article on Salvation history:
Peter begins his famous Pentecost sermon with an extensive reference to the Old Testament, focused on a citation from the prophet Joel, who predicted that God’s Spirit would be poured out in the last days, the days before the final judgment (the “day of the Lord”). According to Peter, the last days have begun. This “new religion” is actually the continuation of what God has been doing through Israel all along. Better yet, this God made promises years ago that these “last days” would come, and at Pentecost God was demonstrating that he is faithful and powerful to keep his promises. As he promised, God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh— men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. God is mercifully and joyfully calling all people to salvation.
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 416-419). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
What do we believe about the Holy Spirit
Mark Dever (2 minutes)
Community is powerful. This is more than just a social concept, it’s how God created us to work. Read what Matt Chandler says about how community can be damaged when we fall prey to the sin of Annaias and Saphira:
There are all sorts of different things we can pull from this text. Let me tell you the thing I want us to dial in on in our time together here. There’s something happening in this text, since the death of Ananias and Saphira, that I think becomes very important for us to understand and grasp and do battle against.
One of the drifts that befalls the church of Jesus Christ on repeat is the drift toward hypocrisy, the drift and desire to pretend to look more mature than we actually are, to look farther along than we actually are, to seek and be hungry for the praise that other people get as they pursue obedience to the Lord.
The first thing that will always be true about the church until the return of Christ is among the people of God there will always be hypocrites. There will be good hypocrites and bad hypocrites. We’ll talk more about that in a second. Let me give you the definition of hypocrisy. It’s a pretense of having a virtuous character. It is moral or religious beliefs or principles, etcetera, that one does not really possess.
What you saw happening in this text is this: Ananias noticed Barnabas sold a plot of land and gave the money to the apostles, and instead of saying, “God, give me a heart that is generous; give me a heart that can walk openhanded with what you have given me,” he instead craved the applause of men, not of God, and sought glory for himself rather than the glory of God.
According to the text, he schemed. It’s Peter’s accusation against him. “Why did you scheme like this?” Then to the wife: “Why did you agree to this scheme?” He schemed and said, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll fake sell, keep some of the money for myself, and then I’ll act like I gave it all,” and God takes his life for it.
Here are a couple of things on hypocrisy. How does it happen? How do we become hypocrites? I think there are two primary ways a Christian begins to walk in the type of hypocrisy that is damaging to the name of Jesus Christ and to the witness of a local congregation.
First, if there’s a given moment in which you’re walking in hypocrisy, chances are that what you have forgotten is what the gospel teaches about you and your relationship to the Lord. If you think back on the last couple of weeks, what I’ve tried to say on repeat is that the gospel meets us where we are and tells us the truth about ourselves, and the truth about ourselves is not that we’re awesome.
That’s good news, as we’ve already covered. If God shows up and tells me I’m awesome, I’m in a lot of trouble, because I know me. What ends up happening is we start with this baseline understanding that we are sinners in need of grace and then all of a sudden move past that and now begin to pretend we’re no longer sinners who need grace.
Gospel Conversations with Unbelievers
Leonce Crump (3 minutes)
So much of the opposition towards Christianity was rooted in the Old Testament. It’s sometimes easy for us to lose sight of the depth of the way the Old Testament impacted Christianity. Check out what Justin Holcomb writes about Christ and the Old Testament:
CHRIST AND THE OLD TESTAMENT
In response to the charge in Acts 6:13 that Jesus and his followers oppose the Mosaic law and aim both to abolish it and to destroy the temple, Stephen retells the story of Israel to reveal Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s dealings with Israel throughout history (just as Jesus himself claimed to be in Matt. 5: 17). In Stephen’s speech, God’s redemptive plan starts with his promises to the patriarchs in Genesis to give an inheritance to the offspring of Abraham. Throughout Israel’s circuitous history of slavery in Egypt, the exodus, settling in the Promised Land, and the construction of the temple under Solomon, God was graciously orchestrating events to lead to the coming of the promised offspring, the Righteous One, Jesus. Christianity is not something new that breaks away from the Old Testament. Luke continually defends this claim in Acts. Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection are the true fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. Jesus did not overrule and obliterate the revelation of God that had been entrusted to the Jews; he embodied and fulfilled it. The first Christians insist that the God who raised Jesus is the same God who acted powerfully and faithfully throughout the Old Testament— indeed, the Christian gospel depends on this identification. God’s loving commitment to Israel across time and space provides a thickness to the good news in Acts, as people are not being urged to join a new fad but are offered the undeserved gift of being grafted into God’s centuries-long redemptive program by the blood of Christ (Rom. 11: 17– 24; Eph. 2: 12– 13).
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 686-698). Crossway. Kindle Edi- tion.
How can we be faithful in a hostile world?
Matt Chandler (2 minutes)
Christ and the Old Testament
Even in midst of the way God used the persecution of the church to spread the Gospel, he never stopped caring for the believers who were suffering. God is with the persecuted-this is one of the strongest themes we see in scripture surrounding the character of God.
GOD’S HEART FOR THE AFFLICTED
In the midst of intense persecution, here in Acts 8: 4– 25 we see how God cares for the suffering. God’s heart has always been with the afflicted. When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cries, saw their affliction, and knew their suffering (Ex. 3: 7). He was involved. After redeeming Israel from Egypt, he gave them the law, replete with instructions to protect the poor, the outsiders, orphans, and widows (Deut. 10: 18– 19; 15: 7– 11). God’s suffering servants have always been sinners as well. God’s people often went after idols, forsaking him and enslaving themselves to pagan gods that could not deliver them (Isa. 45: 20; Jer. 2: 13). Christ is the obedient Servant who suffered without any sin. He walked in obedience to the Father but still suffered greatly, allowing him to identify both with the Father in his perfection and with us in our weakness and pain (Heb. 4: 15). This qualifies Jesus to be the unique mediator between God and humanity.
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 832-839). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Would anyone follow a leader like me?
Why was it a big deal that the Gospel was for Gentiles?
Let’s look into why this shift in the apostles’ understanding of who the Gospel was for was such a massive revelation at the time:
The revelation which Peter received in a vision, while he was in an ecstatic state, refers to missions among heathens. It was not specially intended to announce the abrogation of the Levitical laws of purification in favor of Judæo-Christians; this view is contradicted by the whole historical connection in which the narrative stands, and by the nature of the causes and their results which it describes. Its immediate purpose was to remove positively and forever, by virtue of a divine decision, all scruples from the mind of Peter (comp. ver. 20, μηδὲν διακρινόμενος), which might prevent him from establishing direct communications with Gentiles with a view to the preaching of the Gospel. For the conversion of Cornelius, which was at hand, by no means constituted the exclusive object of this communication, which was rather intended to establish a certain principle. The apostles could never have doubted, in view of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and then express commands and promises of Jesus, that pagans would be converted and enter into the kingdom of Christ. And, indeed, Peter himself already intimates the conversion of the Gentiles, in his address, ch. 2:39, and subsequently, ch. 3:25, 26. But of the fact that heathens could be directly admitted into the church of Christ, the apostles had, as far as it appears, at this time no conception.
Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (pp. 195–196). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
The Mission of God
Mark Young (5 Minutes)
How does God love his people? He shows us grace. We see a powerful picture of this in Acts. Let’s look to Justin Holcomb for a description of Common Grace:
Although God chose the Jews to be the special recipients of his revelation, he did not leave the rest of the world “without witness” (Acts 14: 17). Not only Scripture but all of creation speaks of God (Psalm 19). He alone is the giver of all good gifts and the source of all blessings (James 1: 17). However, we are prone to attribute the glory of God to lesser things, and this leads to idolatry. This is what we see here at Lystra: in light of the power of God that Paul displayed, the people of Lystra begin to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. They cannot help but worship, but their worship finds the wrong object.
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 1096-1099). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
How do we fulfill the Great Commission?
Mark Dever (5 Minutes)
Last week, we talked about how God shows us grace. What does it look like to show one another grace? Let’s go back to Justin again:
GRACE IN PRACTICE
Timothy was not circumcised. Though circumcision was not one of the four regulations set in writing by the Jerusalem council, Paul will take Timothy with him in delivering those regulations. Paul therefore asks that Timothy be circumcised, not as a requirement for salvation or even an act of obedience to God, but to remove a significant barrier as both men minister to churches of Jewish and Gentile congregations. This was grace and love in practice to others on behalf of Paul and especially Timothy. Context and motivation are critical to Paul. He argues strongly against being circumcised if those arguing for circumcision believe that it is necessary in order to please God (Gal. 5: 1– 6); yet if the motivation is to remove barriers to people hearing about the grace of God, Paul will freely and gladly give up any number of cultural practices or preferences (1 Cor. 9: 12– 23).
Holcomb, Justin S. (2014-06-30). Acts (Knowing the Bible) (Kindle Locations 1233-1235). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
How do we disagree?
Chuck Swindoll (41 Minutes)