8 November: Acts – an introduction

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
8 November 2020

Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.

Welcome

Today is Remembrance Sunday when we especially remember the sacrifice of those who have died in the service of their country. Although outside Services are allowed those indoors are not but we will remember over the next two weeks those who gave their tomorrow so we could have our today.

Testimony

(Thanks Paul – Paul was a resident in the Charterhouse Rehabilitation Centre that I used to work in – 1980-‘83. When I learned of Paul’s background and the terrible things he had been through in life I concluded that but for the grace of God there go I. As I was preparing this Service @ Home Paul phoned me)

“Since I moved back from hospital to prison the Lord has taught me many things and one of the most difficult ones is that I must submit to those above me. I find this very hard at times, so please pray for me to be given the grace to do this. I’m learning that no matter what the circumstances around me the Lord is in  control. I believe that there is a reason for everything He does and everything that He allows. Some of these things are mysterious, others are varied. I believe that good will come out of this virus. Yes evil things have come out of it but ultimately at the end of it much good will eventually come out of it.”

Worship

Song: Goodness of God (Live)
Artist: Brian and Jenn Johnson
Album: Victory (Live)

Word

Reading

Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-11

Text

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.

Acts 1:8

Introduction

“The Acts of the Apostles is the most exciting book in the NT, probably in the whole Christian Bible. It tells of the beginnings of Christianity with a vigour and vividness which often leaves the new reader breathless. It is a story of men … who are filled with divine power, inspired to speak with an effectiveness far beyond native ability, guided and sustained at crucial moments by heavenly visions, their mission punctuated by miraculous healings and rescues, their initial success staggering and their progress to the centre of the civilised world (Rome) remorseless.”

James D G Dunn

“Live in that book, I exhort you: it is a tonic, the greatest tonic I know in the realm of the Spirit.”

D. M. L. Jones.

“It’s as if Luke said … “I am writing the greatest story in the world and nothing but the best is good enough for it …’ Luke’s works are the product of the most careful historical research. God’s inspiration does not come to those who sit with folded hands and lazy minds … but to those who think, and search. True inspiration comes when the searching mind joins with the revealing Spirit of God.”

William Barclay.

Our prayer is that the church today would know again the same empowering of the Spirit! Any Christian wanting to know how to be a disciple of Christ in this world should turn to Acts to know how the first Christians lived.

(1) There are no short-cuts with God

We might ask why couldn’t God have gone straight into Acts as soon as the Old Testament was complete. The fact is that God acts according to His righteous character. He cannot simply pour out His Holy Spirit in mighty blessing. He has to deal fully and thoroughly with sin first and this He did through the death of His beloved Son. Why did Jesus live such an ordinary life as a carpenter until He was 30 years of age? Again, God’s thorough preparations are taking place:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52

There was a growing period, a time of development, a preparation, even for the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s the same for each one of us and for Bethel Church! As great freedom was won by those who laid down their lives for this country, so also Jesus Christ laying down His life brought the great freedom we see in the Book of Acts.

(2) A reliable Historical Document

From the numerous studies on the book of Acts it is clear that Luke is theologically sound, spiritually in tune, and also historically reliable. Of the various dates that have been put forward, consensus gives a date around the mid-60’s AD. The fact is that:

“the book of Acts is  rooted in concrete history”

Ajith Fernando

Luke has been thorough, energetic and taken the utmost care to give an account that is both true and fair to the history of the church. He states in his gospel introduction: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). And we can take it for granted that the same is true for Acts.

Over the centuries critics have come and gone e.g.

“from the end of the 19th century, the ‘Tubingen school’ associated with F. C. Bauer, was sceptical of the historical value of the biblical documents and … viewed Acts as … an idealised fictional account of the early church. This was the heyday of the liberal movement, which was anti-supernatural and discounted the historicity of records of miraculous events in the New Testament.”

Ajith Fernando

F. C. Bauer and the ‘Tubingen school’ influenced the Scottish scholar Sir William Ramsay (1851 – 1939). Ramsay initially claimed that  Luke was in error on a number of historical points e.g. Acts 14:6: “But they found out about it and fled [from Iconium] to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country”

“the common view among scholars at the time  … was that Iconium was a city in Lycaonia”

Ajith Fernando

Ramsay assumed Luke had (blindly) followed the Greek historian Xenophon and assumed that Iconium was in Phrygia. However, as Ramsay investigated the matter further he found that Luke was correct and also correct regarding other matters he had believed to be inaccurate! Ramsay, like many other historians and classicists who went on to greatly value the historical reliability of Acts, later says:

“The more I have studied the narrative of Acts and the more I have learned, year after year, about Graeco-Roman … in those provinces, the more  I admire, and the better I understand … You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment, provided always that the critic knows the subject and does not go beyond the limits of science and justice”

Sir William Ramsay, as quoted by Ajith Fernando

(3) Author

Although Luke and Acts are anonymous it is held that Luke is the author of both for the following reasons:

  1. Early church tradition unanimously states Luke as author. Furthermore, “If Luke did not write the Third Gospel and Acts, it is difficult to explain how the tradition connecting his name with these documents ever arose, since he is otherwise an insignificant figure in the early church” (Ward Gasque).
  2. Note the link with regard to both being addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Lk. 1:3; Acts 1:1). Also, Acts begins by summarising the contents of a ‘first book.’ “Stylistically and structurally the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are so closely related that they have to be assigned to the same authors” (Longenecker).
  3. There are a number of passages (97 verses) – the “we” passages – which claim to be the observations of an eyewitness (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16) – note Paul in his letters refers to Luke as his companion in Rome (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24).

(4) The key subject of Acts is the Sovereign God

God’s activity through Jesus and the Spirit – Acts reveals God and His will and ways as He acts in history e.g.

‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead … [David] was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘“The Lord [God the Father] said to my Lord [Jesus the Son]: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise [of the Father] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.

Acts 2:22-41, excerpts

(4) Major Themes in Acts

  1. Jesus at the centre,
  2. the power of the Spirit and
  3. the priority of evangelism, with no geographical boundaries

“The Christianity of Acts is characterised by mission from start to finish”

James D G Dunn

Key text:

“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.” 

Acts 1:8

(5) The impact of the Resurrection

The major theme of ‘witness’ is most closely linked to His resurrection. The apostles preaching changed cf. above:

“But God raised Him from the dead” / “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

Acts 2:22-41

“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead“; 

Acts 4:1-2

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all”;

Acts 4:33

“We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.“;

Acts 10:39-41

But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ God raised Him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”;

Acts 13:30-37

“A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection“;

Acts 17:18

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead“;

Acts 17:30-31

“Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead”;

Acts 23:6

“And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”;

Acts 26:6-8

“that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 26:23

Preach the right sermon and you’ll get the power! These and other themes will be developed as we work through the book of Acts.

Conclusion

  1. Acts, like the Gospel of Luke, is a trustworthy and reliable historical document.
  2. As we study Acts there is a need to keep focussed throughout on the Sovereign Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and how He is building His church.
  3. Mission in the power of the Spirit is a vital part of Church life.
  4. Everything in life has been purposed or allowed by God for a greater purpose, His glory and your blessing and the building of His church through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit,

Amen.

Quote of the Week

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

Jesus, in John 15:13

Verse of the Week

“For we know, brothers and sistersloved by God, that He has chosen you,because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

Let’s Pray

Our gracious loving Father, thank you for Your great love in giving us Your Son, to die in our place, to save us from our sins and bring us into Your Kingdom.

We pray for Mandy and all those suffering from Covid; Lord touch them with Your healing touch and restore them to full strength.

We pray for the development of a vaccine, and that soon we will see and end to the harmfulness of this virus.

Lord we pray for all those who are in prison, for Paul (mention the names of those who are on your hearts) that their lives might be transformed as they come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Continue to bless the work of CPR (Christian Prison Resources) and David Fortune (part of the OBU).

Father, for all those who have lost loved ones in wars, continue to bring comfort and let us see the more, that their dying was not in vain, but for freedom,

In Jesus Christ, Amen!