Well, today we begin the book of Acts. If you’ve never studied this book very much before, you’re in for a treat. Before we start with the story itself, please allow me to provide a short introduction.
The book of Acts is considered to be the Gospel of Luke, part 2. It is written by the same author, using similar uptown koine Greek, written for the same Theophilus, and picking up where Luke leaves off. Its broad outline seems to be distilled in Acts 1:8 “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And the book indeed contains a (brief, in comparison of what could be written) record of 1) the baptism of the apostles by the Holy Spirit, 2) the apostolic witnesses in Jerusalem, 3) Samaria, 4) and the remotest part of the earth. I mentioned in parentheses above that it is brief in comparison to what it could have been, and therefore it is most accurately described as some of the acts of some of the apostles. For a fuller treatment of the rest of the apostles and some of their reported deeds, read Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.
As we read through, let me encourage you to make a note of a few things, especially if you’ve not really studied this book before:
- How to become a Christian
- Some patterns for the church
- What the early Christians suffered for their faith
- How the faith in Christ spread
- Doctrinal struggles of the early faith
- How God’s preparation expedited the spread of Christianity
Do not despise the day of small things — Acts 1:15
The phrase that I used in the above heading, “despise the day of small things” comes from Zech. 4:10, in which the small beginnings of the second Temple was discouraging to some of the returned exiles. I thought of this as I read through the passages describing the handful of folks — apostles, supporters, and other brave souls who hung around between the ascension and the day of Pentecost — who became the start of the spiritual temple, the church. I hope you’re not tired of hearing me say it, but God isn’t dependent on large numbers, big bank accounts, political power, military might, good looks, high IQs, or slick skills to do blockbuster things. All that is necessary is all that has ever been necessary: God and faithful people.
We are all witnesses — Acts 2:32
This statement about the factuality of the resurrection of Jesus is being made by a group of men who have all been authenticated as spokesmen for God through signs of the mighty wind, tongues of fire on the head, and speaking in tongues. It’s also being said a mere 400-500 yards away from the still empty tomb, just in case there were any lingering doubts. I say all this to underscore the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s still a difficult thing for some to believe — I don’t blame them, if they haven’t examined the evidence. But the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is really ironclad.
Repent and be baptized — Acts 2:38
On hearing and seeing the evidence of the resurrected Jesus — proof of His Messiahship — the large crowd that had gathered around the apostles cried out in shocked panic, “What shall we do?” Since it was clear that they believed, Peter went right to the next step in becoming Christians, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” To do so would obtain two crucial things to these believing Jews: 1) forgiveness of sin and 2) reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. Some modern religious groups reject the idea that baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins. They’ll cite the thief on the cross, who was forgiven before Jesus even died on the cross. And others will cite two Greek authorities (A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey), who assert that the Greek word “eis” could be (as a remote meaning) used for the English word “because” — even though the vast majority of Greek experts and translators strongly disagree. Clearly, both arguments have very serious flaws and sadly are doctrinally driven — “faith only”. Paul later clarifies things even better in Acts 22:16 “‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” And Peter makes it even plainer, (1 Peter 3:21) “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
To receive forgiveness of sin (a very important criteria of entering Heaven) one must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. To do so is to also receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit — a mark of sonship (Rom. 8:14-16), a seal of God’s ownership (Eph. 1:13), a strength for the inner man (Eph. 3:16), and a down payment of the ultimate redemption (2 Cor. 1:22). The bottom line here is that baptism is quite important because it is the moment of forgiveness and reception of God’s Holy Spirit. It is not a work — in fact, it is a passive act, a submission to God’s will and someone else’s actions. It is no more a work than repentance is; it merits nothing, salvation is indisputably by grace (Eph 2:8). Upon these instructions from the inspired apostle Peter 3000 obedient people were, in fact, baptized. Remember what I said earlier about not judging things by their small size, when God is involved? And this was only the beginning; it still continues. If you’ve not been baptized, do you not want to be obedient, too?
Day by day — Acts 2;43ff
What did all these baby-Christians do to grow? Well, day by day they were…
- devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching
- devoting themselves to fellowship
- devoting themselves to prayer
- devoting themselves to breaking of bread
- were together
- had all things in common
- continued with one mind
- breaking bread from house to house
- taking meals with gladness and sincerity of heart
- praising God
There’s a lot to learn from these things that could help us all to continue to grow. By the way, you did realize that Christianity is a growing process, right? Thank goodness, huh? It’d be great to be completely mature without sin from the get-go, but that’s not who we humans are, sadly. Grow, grow, grow!
But what I do have I give to you — Acts 3:6
This is the beginning of a great story that continues on into chapter 4 — we’ll finish it tomorrow. Peter and John walk into the Temple, where they had been preaching the Gospel of Jesus. This time as they came in they were asked for alms from a man who had been lame from birth. He was a life-long beggar that often sat at the Temple’s “Beautiful Gate”. Now, Peter and John weren’t the sort of guys to ask money from, because they didn’t have any — and Peter tell him as much. But he did have something pretty great — the power to heal the lame man, which he did. This drew a tremendous crowd, because everyone recognized this 40 year old man; clearly, a significant miracle had been performed! Peter and John began to preach the Gospel, and the rest of the story is that they were arrested. But I’d like to point out that having no silver or gold was not a problem for Peter and John, and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. You aren’t letting it are you? God needs and will use all the talents He’s given to us — even yours — to spread the Good News and advance the Kingdom.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.