This book of the Bible, The Acts of the Apostles, is commonly considered a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. In addition to historical evidence of this fact dating back to the latter part of the second century, Acts continues to embody the geographical model employed in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 3:23 – 19:27, from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. (Luke 1:1-3:22 is Luke’s introduction of Jesus, his early years, and John the Baptizer’s prophecy regarding Jesus.) From Luke 19:28 – Acts 8:1, the writings are all about the events that take place in Jerusalem. Then, Acts 8:1b – 28:31 tell of the spread of the Good News beyond Jerusalem and into the rest of the world (more specifically at that time, the Roman Empire).
Many people throughout the generations of Christian history and thought, have considered Acts to be the first history book of Christianity. Major portions of the book chronicle the speeches and missionary discourses of the Apostles and present the stories of the men and women who helped build and shape the early church, including the travel diary details of lodging, entertainment, and the local ambiance of the places the Apostles went — hence the name, Acts of the Apostles.
However, the book could have easily been named Acts of the Holy Spirit. As much as Luke tells about the stories of the men and women who built and shaped the early church, their agreements, their arguments, their run-ins with the authorities, and the ways the church grew, these details serve as a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit to help spread the Good News throughout Jerusalem and the Mediterranean world. The dominating theme throughout the book is the power of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in and through the members of the early church.
In Acts 1:1, a first book is referenced and this account is addressed to “Theophilus”, meaning “God Lover” or “One Who Loves God,” which is not considered to be a particular person but the community of faithful people of all generations. The rest of Acts 1 picks up where the Gospel of Luke leaves off — with the risen Christ and the Ascension retold. It’s important to get the number of core leaders back to 12 (12 tribes of Israel), so two more were selected — setting the stage for the Day of Pentecost.
What a day!! If you can, spend a little extra time reflecting on what that day must have looked like as an insider to the faith and an outsider, thinking these people must be drunk. If you have a study Bible or one that has notes about where or when something is mentioned from another passage of scripture, take a moment to read those passages in their context. It might offer a little more insight into what those of the Jewish faith might have thought and experienced based on their expectations and history. Acts 2 (and most of the rest of the Book of Acts) talks very clearly and openly about how the early church spent its time and energy. If you can, identify those things. Then, think about the activities and ministries of First Christian, past and present. Where do these actions and activities line up with one another? Where are they different? Are there things that First Christian worries about or spends time on that aren’t mentioned in Acts? Are there things in Acts that First Christian is ignoring or omitting?
In the block of text that tells about the Jerusalem mission (3:1-8:3), Luke establishes a pattern for the reader that helps tell the story of the early church and our interpretation of what’s happening. There are four episodes ((a) healing of a lame man at the Beautiful Gate (3:1-4:4), (b) the Apostles before the Sanhedrin — Round 1 (4:5-31), (c) the Apostles before the Sanhedrin — Round 2 (5:17-42), and (d) the martyr Stephen (6:8-8:3) that shape the witness of the church in Jerusalem. The pattern is this:
1) God acts to compel faith — often powerfully in public
2) the crowds/people are ignorant and/or confused — needing more information in order to understand
3) the Gospel is proclaimed and explained
4) the crowds/people respond
In each of these episodes, it interesting to note the crowds initial reaction to their response at the end of the story — including the interludes to these episodes (Acts 4:32-5:16 and Acts 6:1-7). Sometimes the crowd gets on board, sometimes they get ugly with the Apostles or early church members. I wonder how these reactions and responses are similar or different to people’s reactions to the message of the Gospel today. In the end, the response to the Gospel in Jerusalem is too hostile for the Apostles to stay there. With new converts to the faith — Paul and Cornelius — the Gospel begins to spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Can you identify what things help the Apostles to be successful? Unsuccessful? How could these things be produced or avoided as we look to share the Gospel today?