Luke wrote at a time when the Good News about Jesus Christ was spreading from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world. Luke was most likely a Gentile and his material on Christian origins keeps the needs and outlook of the wider world in mind. Luke began his presentation of the message of Christ with an account of Jesus’ life in the gospel of Luke. In the Book of Acts, Luke describes how the Christian faith was carried across the Mediterranean world. It was important for Luke to show that God’s love and mercy reaches out to all people. God shows no favoritism as Peter told Cornelius. Christ is the only savior so all people can believe in Him for salvation and new life. Despite the tendency of Jewish Christians to keep God’s Grace to themselves, the church came to the united conclusion that Gentiles are fully included in God’s promises. The message of forgiveness of sins is for all nations. Here are some things to think about as you read. Although the first 12 chapters concentrate mainly on the apostle Peter, it would appear that Luke wrote Acts primarily as a vindication of the life and theology of Paul. The book describes his conversion; follows him in his missionary journeys; testifies to miracles he performed; gives accounts of conversions brought about by his preaching; describes how Gentiles were moved to turn from idols; shows that believers in churches around the world received him as a messenger from God; and above all, provides accounts of the beatings, imprisonments, dangers and abuses he endured for the sake of Christ. Here are some of the themes. First, the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for witness. The central theme in Acts is the Spirit’s power and witness. Peter and John asserted “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”. There is the theme of community. Acts reveals a united, caring community of believers who enjoyed not only a common belief and worship but also a common experience as they shared their possessions and themselves with one another. There is the theme of reconciliation. Despite the oneness of the faith community, conflicts did arise. But the church is intended to be inclusive. Jews and Gentiles, even Samaritans were members of Christ’s body. The inner working of Christ’s Spirit alone engenders harmony and reconciliation. Lastly there is persecution. The Holy Spirit not only empowers believers to withstand opposition and suffering but also enables the spread of the gospel, despite persecution. Mistreatment for the sake of faith actually spreads the gospel and builds up the faith of those who suffer, validating them as Christ’s disciples.
Luke begins by summarizing the gospel of Luke. The gospel describes the evidence for Christ’s resurrection. Jesus appeared to the disciples in part to overcome their doubt. The kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ teaching. And Jesus warned the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until He had sent the gift He had promised. This would be the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ascent into heaven took place on the Mount of Olives. It was Jesus’ last physical appearance. He was taken into heaven where He will remain until the time for the final restoration of all things. Verse 8 outlines the geographical extension of the Good News from its Jewish starting point in Jerusalem and Judea, out to Samaria, Antioch in Syria, and eventually throughout the Mediterranean world to Rome. Christ later gave a similar call to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth to Saul of Tarsus who we know as Paul. This is the same Saul who had persecuted the Jewish Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus. The power for this evangelistic and missionary effort came from the Holy Spirit, and it still does! Christ’s rising into heaven indicates His elevation to a place of ultimate authority. Jesus promised to return from heaven in the same manner as He left. Those who witnessed the ascension returned to Jerusalem with joy, worship, exhilaration, and praise to God. They had no more doubts. While the apostles waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit the whole company of 120 disciples in Jerusalem engaged in earnest prayer and then they appointed an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. The first disciples were united in prayer, worship, and fellowship. The faithful women who had been witnesses of Jesus’ crucifixion were present as well, being an integral part of the faith community. And, the brothers of Jesus, who had not believed in Him during his ministry became His disciples after His resurrection.
It was imperative that someone take Judas’ place so that his position as the 12th apostle would not remain empty. The new people of God, like Israel, were to have 12 designated and appointed leaders. To qualify for nomination as an apostle, a man had to have been with the other apostles the entire time of Jesus’ public ministry, from the time Jesus was baptized by John until His ascension. With prayer and humble dependence on God to reveal His will, the apostles cast lots and Matthias was selected to replace Judas. After Pentecost the Holy Spirit guided Jesus’ followers through dreams, visions, and prophecies, instead of through casting lots.
Jews observed three great annual pilgrimage festivals when many would go to the temple in Jerusalem…unleavened bread which included Passover, Pentecost, and booths. On Pentecost when the Jewish people were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s blessings, and when the disciples were united and expectant as they gathered for prayer, the Holy Spirit came and filled the gathered believers. Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the gift Jesus had promised to send so that they could be powerful witnesses. The Spirit’s wisdom, energy, and power were the driving force behind the churches work and witness. And, the Holy Spirit gave extraordinary communication skills that day which made it possible for people from other countries to hear in their own languages what God had done. Here this supernatural gift reveals the energizing presence of God’s Spirit and it inaugurates the proclamation of the Good News to people of every nation. Because Pentecost was a pilgrim festival, Jews from every nation were present in Jerusalem at that time and were thus able to hear the Good News being proclaimed in their own languages. Nothing was lost in translation.
Chapter 2:14-36 is the first of about 30 speeches in the Book of Acts and one of the most important, standing as it does at the very inception of the church. It is typical of the apostle’s preaching who proclaimed that the Old Testament promises had been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is the promised Messiah. They spoke of being eye witnesses of Jesus’ entire public ministry and that they were His chosen representatives. They preached that people are called to repent of their sins and have faith in God through in Jesus Christ. They spoke of salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit being promised to those who respond positively to the message of the Good News. This was their basic message and this also characterized Paul’s messages. This message was preached repeatedly to both Jews and Gentiles throughout the Mediterranean world. All the people were summoned to repent of their sins and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Here Peter quoted the prophet Joel who predicted a wider exercise of the gifts of prophecy, including visions and dreams by both young and old, men and women. On the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled. This signaled that the last days had arrived. Peter taught that while cruel men had crucified Jesus this action had not defeated God’s prearranged plan for salvation. In fact God had raised Him back to life which David had foretold. And the apostles had all witnessed this. Peter preached that God the Father, as He had promised, was now pouring out His Holy Spirit on the church through the risen Jesus Christ. They called on all of Israel to recognize that God had acted decisively to make the crucified Jesus both Lord and Messiah. When confronted with their message the people asked what they were supposed to do. Peter always had the same answer…repent, turn back to God, and be baptized. Luke makes a clear connection between personal faith and membership in the Christian community. Life in this new community involved devotion to apostolic teaching of God’s Word, fellowship, sharing, joy, and praise. It resulted in the Lord’s continuing to add to their number those who were being saved. At this stage of things it is most likely that the prayers included participation in the formal prayers of the temple.
The first clash of the new church with Judaism came at the temple. Jesus promised that the disciples would do greater works than He did, and Peter exercised the power to heal in the name of Jesus Christ. The cure was instant and undeniable, resulting in the crippled man at the beautiful gate praising God, dancing and jumping around. This is the first of many demonstrations of divine power given to disciples in the Book of Acts. The name of Jesus represents His identity and power to heal. There is great power in his name which is why we pray in His name today. The beautiful gate was built of Corinthian bronze and located on the east side of the temple. It was adorned in a costly manner with richer and thicker plates of silver and gold upon its panels than other gates. Solomon’s portico was also on the east side of the temple. Once again Peter preached in the temple. The evangelistic speeches in Acts focus on Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord. These speeches call people to repentance and faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah and the divinely appointed judge. And again we see that the Good News is for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. It would have been unfathomable to the Jewish mind that the author of life, God Himself, could be killed. But they didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah and they didn’t realize that the Messiah would be divine. In verse 17 the word friends can also be translated brothers, which was a common way to address someone. The ignorance here was Peter’s way of recognizing the people had not been taught much about the ways of Lord or the Messiah. But now they were challenging that ignorance and calling all people to respond in faith and repentance. Peter briefly touched on forgiveness but it is fully explained elsewhere. Peter tells the people that the Good News offers refreshment and that the second coming of Christ will be one of those times of refreshment from God, when He will once again send Jesus to His people. Jesus fulfills the ancient promise of a prophet like Moses. All the families on the earth will, be blessed because of God’s covenant blessings. These blessings were not intended to be hoarded but instead shared with the world.
Persecution was a common experience of God’s people throughout the Bible. God’s servants often faced hostility and opposition. Jesus Himself was persecuted and He warned His disciples to expect the same kind of treatment. He also promised them that the Holy Spirit would give them both the strength and the words to speak when the time came. The Book of Acts records frequent times of persecution but also reiterates that the Holy Spirit empowers disciples to bear witness in such circumstances. The boldness of Peter and John before the high council exemplifies facing persecution with courage and power. Peter kept preaching and God continued to grow this fledgling church. Soon the number of men was 5,000 believers. This didn’t count the women, children and slaves who also came to believe. Peter and John were arrested partly because they were also a threat to the religious leaders’ power, prestige and profits, just like Jesus had been. The high council demanded to know by what power or in whose name they were doing such things. Just like many of us, the people in power in that day were slow learners. They had watched as Jesus taught, preached, and healed. This didn’t look any different. Peter in effect said…you want to know how this man was healed. Well let me tell you. He was healed in the all powerful name of Jesus Christ, the same man you crucified. The man God raised from the dead. Remember??! Chapter 4:12 is one mighty verse and a powerful reminder to us. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Peter gave his own version of Jesus’ saying I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me here.
The high council realized Peter and John were uneducated men. They were ordinary, having no specific training. They were blue collar workers without special training. On the other hand, the Jewish high council members were authorities in scripture and matters of religion. It amazed them that these uneducated men could speak with such boldness. They had no choice to recognize the miracle but they were still stubborn in preventing the message being shared. Jesus had encountered the same thing. Perhaps what amazed the leaders the most was Peter saying God would want them to obey Him over and above the religious leaders, so that is what they were going to do. The council knew they had no recourse so they threatened the disciples but could go no farther because they were afraid of starting a riot. There were a host of people who had witnessed either the actual miracle or the aftermath. This was just as bad as when Jesus was around but now there were more of them. As soon as the men were freed they went back to the other believers and told them what had happened. This was cause for prayer and praise. Verses 25-26 quote Psalm 2:1-2 which describes the response of the Gentile nations to the Lord’s anointed king. In a similar manner, the Jews and Gentiles in Jerusalem had gathered together against Jesus and now His followers.
The Hebrew term Messiah , anointed one originally referred to Israel’s anointed king. But it came
to refer to the Messiah, the coming King of Israel who would establish God’s kingdom forever. Peter reminded them that God’s hand had been directing events all along in order to achieve His purpose. The sharing of the early believers was remarkable. They were united in heart and mind and they willingly offered anything they possessed to meet the needs of other believers. This sharing was voluntary and without coercion. It related to pressing needs in the community and was prompted by Christian love and concern for one another. Barnabas was held up as an example of generous, unselfish giving in response to the genuine needs in the Christian community. In tomorrow’s reading we will see just the opposite.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W