This week I’m starting a new series on the book of Acts. It’s an exciting book which shows the Gospel bursting onto the world scene and which would ultimately overturn the religious thought of an entire empire.
Luke is a man with a story to tell;
It’s a Story About Jesus
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,”Acts 1:1, ESV
Right at the beginning of Acts Luke points back to his previous book which was about “all that Jesus began to do and teach”. This book (the Gospel of Luke) was not the end but was about all that Jesus “began” to do. Now the story will continue because Jesus is very much alive.
Today, as we seek to reach the world around us, nothing has changed, the message is still all about Jesus.
The great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones powerfully reminded his listeners that Acts asks an important question, ‘what is Christianity’ and the answer, he goes on to tell us, is that Christianity is all about Jesus.
As you read the book of Acts, you will find that our Lord’s disciples always preached “Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). They went to people and told them about this person. This was the whole of their teaching. You never find them starting with the political or social situations. They said, “Listen, we have something to tell you about a person whose name is Jesus.”Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Authentic Christianity,
Today, as we seek to reach the world around us, nothing has changed, the message is still all about Jesus. We are not starting a new work or telling the world about a great teacher who had some good things to say but who is long dead and gone. We are those who act as vessels for a Jesus who is still here and very much alive. We don’t simply tell people about Jesus but we introduce them to him
We don’t simply tell people about Jesus but we introduce them to him
It’s A Story About The Truth
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”Acts 1:3, ESV
Luke probably wrote the Book of Acts in around 70 A.D. in an atmosphere where both Jews and Christians were objects of suspicion. Jewish uprisings had called down the wrath of the Roman Empire and Luke tells us that Christianity is “everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22, ESV). It certainly didn’t help that Jesus, ‘their founder had admittedly been condemned to death by a Roman governor on a charge of sedition’1F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 8–9.. So he is determined to present the truth about Christianity.
“it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”Luke 1:3–4, ESV
He makes it clear in the first volume of his story (Luke’s gospel) that he has taken the trouble to thoroughly investigate what took place. What he demonstrates in that gospel is that far from being guilty of sedition, Jesus’ crucifixion was a great miscarriage of justice.
He demonstrates that on every occasion where trouble arose on account of this faith, it is in fact the interference of other parties that is the source of the problem and that, like Jesus, disciples such as Paul were generally the victims rather than the perpetrators. He shows numerous examples where, far from being a threat to the peace, Paul and his companions found favour with the authorities.
But Luke wants to go much further than showing that Christianity is not seditious. He wants to show that it is the truth. He starts with the resurrection, sating that Jesus presented himself by convincing (NIV) or infallible (NKJV) truths. Everything hinges on this and Luke wants his readers to know that the resurrection is un incontrovertible fact and that this changes everything.
We make the same claim today and, in fact, such is the evidence for the resurrection that one Harvard professor of law stated that “According to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history”
“According to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history”.Dr Simon Greenleaf
Luke also communicates the transforming power of the gospel, giving many examples of lives that are changed for the better. Not least of these is the zealous, and ruthless pharisee Saul, whose encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road transformed him from a relentless persecutor of the Church into a passionate advocate of the very gospel he had formerly opposed.
We are not are not content to be one religion amongst many, to suggest that faith is simply a matter of preference. We are nailing our colours to the mask and making a claim on the truth. He is risen! That is not, as so many put it today “our truth”, it is the truth!
It’s A Story of The Kingdom
When the sick were healed, it was not simply a kindness or even just a miracle. It was the overturning of the present order and a proclamation that the God of this world, the devil has been decisively defeated.
Jesus’ message was a Kingdom message. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them to heal the sick and he said that when they did, they should say “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”.
This was probably the most controversial and dangerous part of the Gospel message to preach, that there is a King who has a claim to this earth, Jesus, and his Kingdom is breaking through. When the sick were healed, it was not simply a kindness or even just a miracle. It was the overturning of the present order and a proclamation that the God of this world, the devil has been decisively defeated.
“Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”Luke 10:9, ESV
We need to be clear that we are not simply preaching a religion or a method of self improvement. We are proclaiming a King who offers salvation, healing and hope but we will have to be ready to completely surrender all that we are to him?
Do we also grasp what authority we have as ambasadors of this kingdom. He has given us authority, will we stand in it against every thought that would like to control us and make us slaves to fear, lust, anger or any other type of disfunction. Will we stand against the demonic forces and against sickness and disease and will we believe that His authorty is enough to overturn them all?
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”Luke 10:19, ESV
When the disciples witnessed the ascension they just stood there looking up for a while, until an angel came and snapped them out of it saying “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11). Jesus is coming back to consummate the Kingdom that he inaugurated, we have a job to do and there’s no time to lose!
The teaching here is clearly meant for a missionary church. “Jesus is returning again—so get going!”Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word
Why am I, or why is anyone else, a preacher of the Gospel? There is only one answer to that question. I am a preacher because I believe I have been called; because in my little way God has given me a burden; because I know by personal experience, by the experience of others, and by experience garnered from the reading of history that there is nothing under heaven that can enable men and women to conquer and to master life and to have a hope that cannot be dimmed except this Gospel. Therefore, the most urgent task in the world today is to make the Gospel known to men and women. And this is the function of the Christian church.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Christianity—The Only Hope,” in Authentic Christianity,
It’s A Story About The Holy Spirit
How is it that Jesus’ story can continue and how is it that we, like the apostles can carry this message with such power and authority that all the forces of hell cannot stop it? The Holy Spirit. We dare not proceed without His empowering.
Moses would not move without the manifest presence of the Lord
“And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?””Exodus 33:14–16, ESV
Moses says that it is the Holy Spirit that reveals the favour of the Lord that is upon us and Jesus was absolutely clear in Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:49 that they shouldn’t go anywhere until they have received this anointing from the Lord.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.””Acts 1:8, ESV
“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.””Luke 24:49, ESV
If Moses wouldn’t and the Apostles wouldn’t then neither should we. We must know the fulness of the Spirit so that we can move out in the power and authority of Jesus to proclaim His Kingdom.
What does the Book of Acts have to say to us today?
In our day, when there is so much opposition to a Christian faith that takes God’s word seriously and refuses to compromise, we ought to be encouraged and excited by Luke’s account of a ‘way’ that was ‘everywhere spoken against‘ and yet unstoppable, eventually transforming the very empire itself.
After Jesus had ascended, they returned to Jerusalem
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…”Acts 1:12–14, ESV
They prayed and soon after they experience a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God wants us too to continue in prayer and to empower us, just as he did them. There is no power on earth that can stop the explosive force that is the Gospel, when God calls and empowers people to turn the world upside down in His name.