Acts

The Birth of the Kingdom Community

<
>

An Introduction to Courses

Choose your course based on your needs -

Taster Course

A short introduction

explore >

Starter Course

Getting into the guts of what’s going on

explore >

Main Course

The meat! And what to do about it!

explore >

Dessert Course

Material for Church leaders and Tertiary level students

explore >

The Key
The Key to unlocking the dynamic

The key to unlocking the dynamic of Acts is to study and watch the way the Holy Spirit leads the community of believers forward from stage to stage into all the purposes of God.

1. Study the geographical development: Jerusalem – Samaria – Caesarea – Antioch – the Eastern Mediterranean – Ephesus –  Rome.

 2. Study the theological development: a Jewish church in the Temple in Jerusalem – the inclusion of the Samaritans – the inclusion of the Gentiles.

 3. Study the Pentecostal Missional phases:

First Pentecost: Jerusalem: for Jews, creating a Jewish church in the heart of Judaism.

Second Pentecost: Caesarea: for Gentiles, creating a Jew-Gentile church in Antioch.

Third Pentecost: Ephesus: for the Ephesians, leading to a missional church planting movement throughout ‘Asia Minor’ (Western Turkey).

 


hear
Hear
Listen Here

With 28 chapters, it will take around 2 hours to listen to a complete audio recording of Acts. Listening to a complete reading will certainly be stimulating, but those wanting to engage carefully with the subject matter will find are likely to find it more profitable to listen to sections at a time. For example, listening to chapters 8 to 15 in order to focus on the series of developments whereby the Church was taught by the Spirit how to include Gentiles on an equal basis with the Jewish believers in Christ, or listening to Paul’s second missionary journey from 15:36 to 18:22.

  

Click on the link above to hear an audio version of Acts.

 

Listen to these chapters along with the BfL Podcasts on Acts in the Starter Course.


Read
Read

Acts has 28 chapters, and as such is quite a long read – probably around an hour and a half. It is also complicated in that the subject matter changes quite frequently. So, it is probably best to read Acts in sections of around 3-5 chapters a day for a week.


Watch
Watch

The Mission

Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons star in a film based on a true story of a Jesuit mission in South America. Political pressure against the Jesuits in Europe led to the destruction of an outstanding mission to the native Indians in that area. The film brilliantly demonstrates both the power of martyrdom (the opening scene) as the seed of the Church bringing genuine church to the people, and also the temptation for the Church to use worldly power and strategies which lead to terrible results at the end. As the title suggests, one of the film’s leading themes is how Christian mission is lived and worked in a non-Christian setting.


Study
Study

‘Acts’ is replete with a banquet of insights into the way that God grows his Church. Every disciple who loves Jesus and who longs to communicate the gospel will find treasure after treasure in studying these stories. I find that the key is so often to imagine myself in the situations Luke describes and think about what the Lord does, and what I would do. As we do this we slowly learn the features of how the Spirit works in different situations.

 

BfL recommends careful study of the ‘Verse by Verse’ section in the Main Course. Some of the leading issues are addressed in the Podcasts in the Starter Course.


Meditate
Meditate

Begin your time with God each day by taking three or four verses, ‘wallowing in them deeply’, and then live the rest of the day in the light of their truths.

 

 

Suggested verses for meditation

 

1:8   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.

 

2:38-39   Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.

 

4:12   Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

 

5:29   We must obey God rather than men!

 

6:4   We … will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

 

13:2   Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.

 

14:22   We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

 

15:29   You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

 

 


learn
Learn

Consider learning:

 

1:8   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.

 

2:38-39   Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.

 

4:12   Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

 

6:4   We … will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. 

 


Challenge
The Challenge

Explanation:  We all learn in different ways. This section is for those who find that being challenged spurs them on to master a subject.

 

Here are ten questions about ‘Acts’. See how you score. The answers are at the bottom of the page.

 

Easy:

Q1   Many people are listed as members of Paul’s missionary team. Name three of them.

Q2   List the four things that the very first believers committed themselves to doing.

Q3   The Council in Jerusalem decided that every person should give up four things when they become a disciple. What are they?

 

 

 

Straightforward:

Q4   Name some of the disciples specifically mentioned as ‘prophets’ in the book of Acts.

Q5   What are the credentials for serving as a deacon in church?

Q6   Why did Paul have the right to appeal to Caesar?

 

 

Difficult:

Q7   Who does more miracles in ‘Acts’, Peter or Paul?

Q8   Luke spends 5 chapters detailing Paul’s ‘hearings’ before the Jews, the Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus and Agrippa, during which some of the information is repeated. What explanation has been proposed for understanding why Luke did this?

 

 

Testing:

Q9   The Jerusalem Council agreed four requirements for Gentiles to become full members of the church (Acts 15:29). Why did Paul only preach two of them?

Q10   What happened after Acts 28?

 

 

 

 

Answers:

A1 – Silas, Timothy, Titus, Luke. Acts 20:4 – Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophimus. (See also Colossians 4:7 – Mark, Jesus, Epaphras, Demas).  

A2 – ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42).  These practices are sometimes referred to as ‘The Jerusalem Quadrilateral’.

A3 – ‘You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’ (Acts 15:29).

A4 – Agabus (11:28, 21:10); Philip’s four daughters (21:9); Judas & Silas (15:32).

A5 – People who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3).

A6 – Every Roman citizen had the right to be heard by Caesar.

A7 – Neither; Luke is meticulously careful to list exactly the same number and types of miracle for both the two leading apostles.

A8 – It is thought that these chapters, and possibly the whole of Acts, may have been written by Luke as part of the preparatory documents for Paul’s hearing at the Imperial Court in Rome. If this is the correct, then Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1) may be the Clerk of the Imperial Court in Rome. ‘Luke/Acts’ would then be an attempt to prepare the court to judge the issue articulated in 25:19-20.

A9 – In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes to correct the church from becoming worldly and secular. In chapters 5-7, he instructs believers to abstain from immorality, and chapters 8-10 instructs them to abstain from idolatry. Paul never mentions ‘abstaining from blood’, or ‘the meat of strangled animals’. This may have been because he considered these to be already implied within the issue of food sacrificed to idols. 

A10 – Acts 28 ends with Paul in a rented house in Rome enjoying considerable freedom to preach the gospel in the capital city. This is very different from the situation described in his last letter (2 Timothy) where he is chained in a dungeon. It is perfectly plausible that Paul’s hearing before the Emperor either did not happen, or was dismissed, or vindicated Paul, and that he then went to Crete to preach the gospel with Titus and Timothy. This led in due course to Paul writing three letters to these men before he was betrayed by Alexander, arrested, taken to Rome, tried and executed.

 

taster course

Overview

Questions

5 mins

    • Summary - All the key features in a one page summary
    • Summary
    • /
    • Book-in-a-Picture

    Summary

     

    The book of Acts is the second of two consecutive historical documents written by Luke and addressed to his Excellency Theophilus. Luke’s gospel narrates the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and Acts narrates the birth and growth of the community of believers in Jesus throughout the Eastern Mediterranean during the following three decades.

     

    The disciple will find in ‘Acts’ a whole range of exciting, varied and thrilling stories of men and women encountering the risen Lord Jesus. The book bursts with life, vibrancy and the unexpected. Although leading characters such as Peter and Paul feature prominently at different stages, the overall narrative and perspective is greater than any one individual. The 28 chapters of Acts describe the key developments in the establishment of the gospel and the Church’s mission. In geographical terms, the movement extends from Jerusalem (the capital of Judaism) to Rome (the Imperial capital). When God’s salvation purposes are considered, Acts describes the magisterial development of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles into the community of believers; God’s own people. Luke’s story focuses on a succession of individuals: starting with Jesus himself and his ascension, Luke then focuses on Peter the apostle, then Stephen, Philip and finally, the apostle Paul.

     

    All of these developments are catalysed by Pentecostal outpourings; first the outpouring of the Spirit on the Jews (described in Acts 2), then eight chapters later on the Gentile believers in Cornelius’ house, and thirdly on some believers in Ephesus prior to the key missional development of sending out disciples to plant churches throughout ‘the province of Asia’ (19:10). Throughout the account Luke emphasises the importance of intercessory prayer at key developmental stages, and outlines the principle of cruciformity operating, as persecution and martyrdom lead into the gospel spreading into new regions and among new people groups. Of equal importance to all these is the articulation of the gospel in Acts and its presentation in, and across, a whole range of different situations. Acts is a remarkable document which gives disciples of Jesus a treasury of information, guidance and insight into all the main issues and features of church, its mission, and Christian living.

     

    Even when all these factors are understood, some unusual questions remain. Why does the narrative about Paul stop where it does with Paul under apparent house arrest in Rome? Were Luke’s two documents prepared as background evidence for Paul’s hearing before the Emperor? If they were, this might explain why Acts is addressed to his Excellency Theophilus, and why Luke includes several long defence addresses by Paul in the final chapters. Nevertheless, it seems likely that if this was the case then both documents have undergone some ‘post-hearing’ modification. The book of Acts may have reached the form that we have today only in the 70-80CE period.

    Book-in-a-Picture >
    taster Questions - Questions to start you off

    Question 1 -

    Have you lived through a season when the Spirit has been powerfully poured out?


    Question 2 -

    Are the leading features of the first community of disciples (Acts 2:42-47), present in the church you are part of? List the features mentioned and assess your church on each of these on a scale of 1 – 10.


    Question 3 -

    Acts tells the story of the growth and development of the gospel from Jerusalem to Antioch, to Ephesus, and then to Rome. Where did the gospel and the Church spread from Rome?


    watch video

    starter course

    Video

    the essentials

    Schedule of Dates

    Questions

    10 mins

    • Video - The book explained in 4 minutes
    • Video
    • /
    • Podcasts

    The Holy Spirit in Acts

    The Church in Acts

    Mission and Church Planting in Acts

    Podcasts >
      the essentials - The literary features explained
    • Context
    • /
    • Literary Genre
    • /
    • Structure
    • /
    • Themes

    Context:

     

    Author:   Luke, as expressly stated in Acts 1:1-2, and as a conscious sequel to ‘The Gospel of Luke’ (Luke 1:1-4). The ‘we’ passages in the narrative indicate periods when Luke was travelling with Paul’s missionary team (Acts 20:6-21:17).

    Date:   It is likely that Luke wrote his gospel after researching for it during Paul’s two years’ imprisonment in Caesarea 57-59 BCE. If this was the case, Luke could have completed ‘Acts’ after he reached Rome with Paul around 60CE.

    Genre:

     

    The book of Acts is a collection of stories narrating the beginnings, growth and development of the Christian community over a period of about 30 years. It contains several different genres. The thirty-two sermons and addresses comprise about a quarter of the book. There are many ‘hero stories’ which mainly focus on the ministries of Peter and then Paul.

    Structure:

     

    1. Structure based on Geography

    Jerusalem (the capital city of the Jews) – Antioch – Ephesus – Rome (the capital city of the Gentiles).

     

    2. Structure based on ‘pentecostal outpourings’

    • Jewish Pentecost: Chapter 2
    • Gentile Pentecost: Chapter 10
    • Ephesian Pentecost: Chapter 19

     

    3. Structure based on prayer initiatives

    1. Acts 1 – Leading to Pentecost.
    2. Acts 4:312-31 – Leading to the strengthening of the Church and the spread of the Gospel.
    3. Acts 13:1-3 – Leading to the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul.

     

    4. Structure based on theological developments

    1. Jesus’ ascension
    2. The gift of the Spirit
    3. The Gospel of repentance for salvation
    4. The formation of the Church
    5. The inclusion of the Gentiles
    6. The mission to all humanity

    Main themes:

     

    1. The narrative of the ‘critical path’ of the development and growth of the community of believers, as their influence grows from Jerusalem to Rome.

     

    1. The gospel message and how it is communicated in different contexts.

     

    1. The inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s saving work for all humanity.

     

    1. The Holy Spirit’s work creating, sustaining, leading and growing the Church.

     

    1. The nature of the Church: its activities, values, mission and governance.

     

    1. Understanding mission, the proclamation of the Gospel and church planting.

     

    Literary Genre >
      Schedule of Dates -

    Timeline:

     

    30CE     Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension; Pentecost.

     

    32 or 33CE     Stephen is martyred; Saul is converted.

     

    35 – 36CE     Saul visits Jerusalem (9:26-28, Galatians 1:18-20).

     

    43 – 44CE     James is martyred (12:1-2).

     

    46 – 47CE    Saul and Barnabas bring aid to Jerusalem (11:27-30).

     

    47 – 48CE     Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (13:1-14:28).

     

    49CE     The Jerusalem Council (15); Paul begins his missionary journey into Macedonia.

     

    50 – 52CE     Paul establishes a church in Corinth (18:1-18); Paul returns to Antioch; Paul begins his third Missionary journey.

     

    52 – 55CE     Paul establishes the church in Ephesus.

     

    55 – 56CE     Paul in Macedonia.

     

    56 – 57CE     Paul in Corinth.

     

    57CE     Paul travels to Jerusalem; Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and tried before Felix.

     

    57 – 59CE    Paul is kept in prison in Caesarea.

     

    59CE     Paul’s hearings before Festus & Agrippa.

     

    59 – 60CE     Paul’s voyage to Rome.

     

    60 – 62CE     Paul under house arrest in Rome.

     

    62 – 64CE     Paul’s mission to Crete with Titus and Timothy.

     

    64CE     Paul is arrested, tried in Rome and executed.

    starter Questions - To help you think carefully about the key issues

    Question 1 -

    In the 21st Century should we preach the gospel to devout members of other faiths?


    Question 2 -

    Is God calling you to follow Peter, Paul and many, many others to serve the Lord of Heaven’s mission to take the gospel of the Kingdom to all humanity?


    watch video

    Question 3 -

    Read about Peter’s escape from prison (5:17-20) alongside the account of Brother Yun’s miraculous escape from prison. Why might God do such a miracle today?


    watch video

    Question 4 -

    One of the cataclysmic changes initiated by the Spirit was the inclusion of Gentile believers into the church solely on the basis of faith in Jesus (Acts 10-15). In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul states that this is one of God’s greatest acts and is itself a sign to the entire universe of Jesus’ very greatest act, the continuing creation of the body of believers into a temple in which God himself lives. If you are a Jewish believer, have you made sure that you have believing Gentile friends, and if you are a believing Gentile, have you made sure you have friendships with Jews who believe in Jesus?


    main course

    Verse by Verse

    The Apprentice

    Questions

    • Verse by Verse - For a thorough understanding of the Biblical text
    • The Jewish Pentecost - Acts 1-7
    • /
    • The Gentile Pentecost - Acts 8-18
    • /
    • The Ephesian Pentecost - Acts 19-28

    Part 1   Chapters 1 – 7   The Jewish Pentecost

    The Spirit is poured out at Pentecost and a Jewish church is created in Jerusalem.  

     

    1:1 – 26   Jesus’ ascension and the preparation for Pentecost    

    The book of ‘Acts’ opens with a characteristic introduction by Luke (see Luke 1:1-4), linking this document directly to ‘the Gospel of Luke’ as a sequential historical account. Luke then gives a summary of several of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, culminating in the report of a conversation about the establishing of ‘the Kingdom’. In this context, Jesus teaches directly about the future gift of the Spirit and states that as a result of this, the apostles will be his witnesses in three major phases of development: in Jerusalem, in the neighbouring regions of Judea and Samaria, and then throughout the whole world (v8). This three-stage development forms a structure for understanding the whole book of ‘Acts’. Jesus then ascends into heaven (v9-11). The remainder of the chapter describes three features: first, the eleven disciples are listed; second, Luke records that from the ascension onwards they ‘all joined constantly together in prayer’ (v14), and then, thirdly, there is a description of the process whereby Matthias is chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

    V14   A careful study of Luke shows that every phase of development throughout Luke and Acts is begun in prayer. Luke emphasises that it was through the dedicated, specific, constant prayer of the apostles for the fulfilment of the promise that Jesus had himself made (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:5) that the events of Pentecost happened. Given that this is the only time-specific example of the church praying, it is especially exciting that the Anglican Archbishops in Britain are pioneering the ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ period of prayer for evangelism each year in the 10 days from Ascension Day to Pentecost. With such a clear scriptural precedent and mandate, it is unsurprising that this initiative is finding widespread support across the world and across the denominations, but surprising that such a clear Church ‘Holy Habit’ has not been practiced before.

    V15-26   This rather long description of Matthias’ appointment serves to highlight two points: first, Peter is the leading apostle, and second, the story enables Luke to give details of Judas’ death.

    V26   The casting of lots was used at certain times in the Old Testament to discern God’s will, and is possibly what is referred to as ‘Urim’, but this incident is the only time in the New Testament that such a practice is recorded. As a pre-Pentecostal event it is not encouraged in subsequent Christian discipleship precisely because it is the Holy Spirit who now leads us, speaks to us and guides us into the will of God.

     

     

    2:1 – 47   The Spirit comes on the disciples, articulates the gospel through Peter and creates the community of believers   

    This is one of the most loved chapters in the Bible. In the same way that parents celebrate the birth of a child, so Christians return again and again to this chapter to examine, learn from and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit (v1-13), the articulation of the gospel (v14-40), and the life and behaviour of the believers in the very first church (v41-47).

    V1-13   The phenomena and manifestations of the coming of the Spirit are described clearly but succinctly, as Luke seems to be more intent on emphasising the variety of ethnic groups present. His point is that the Spirit immediately announces the resurrection of Jesus and the means of salvation to the whole of humanity, an event that parallels the Spirit’s coming on Jesus (Luke 3:22).  The spiritual gift of tongues is in this instance strictly ‘Xenoglossia’, speaking intelligibly in an unlearned but human language.  This differs from ‘glossolalia‘, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:2-5, which is directed to God, and which Paul may have considered to be the language of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

    V14-40   In his address to the Jews at the feast, Peter first explains the manifestation of the Spirit as the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy (v14-21). He then testifies to Jesus’ miracles (v22) as public knowledge, and then states that the apostles are witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (v23-32). In the third part, Peter then states that the phenomena of the Spirit is the very evidence that Jesus is ‘Lord and Christ’ (v33-36). The fourth part (v37-40), is the ‘application’; that all humanity must now repent and be baptised and thereby receive forgiveness for past sins and receive the power of the Spirit to live the life God intends for humanity.

    V41-47   The gift of the Spirit resulted in 3,000 people being baptised and saved, contrasting with the 3,000 who lost their lives in the carnage that accompanied the giving of the Law (Exodus 32:28). Almost every phrase of these verses pulsates with pregnant insights that continue to fascinate and motivate every disciple of Jesus who is genuinely seeking the Kingdom.

     

     

    3:1 – 26   A lame man is healed and Peter preaches the resurrection of Jesus and the need for repentance

    This chapter describes the public astonishment at the healing of a lame beggar through faith in the name of Jesus. Peter uses the occasion to preach about the resurrection of Jesus and the need for all God’s people to repent.

    V1-10   Luke carefully recounts the incident focusing on the fact that the man had been lame from birth, which explains why he still had not got his balance and needed to hold onto Peter and John (v11). This captures the attention of the people in the temple, who come rushing together to find to what had happened. Peter seizes the moment and preaches to the crowd.

    V11-16   Peter stresses the point that even though God’s people had ‘disowned Jesus … handed him over to be killed …and killed the author of life’, God had raised him from the dead! Peter then emphasises that it was through faith in the name of Jesus that the man was healed.

    V17-26   Luke’s summary of the third part of this impromptu sermon focuses on the imperative that all God’s people must repent, because at this point the apostles thought that the message of repentance was only for the Jews. All that God had promised about Jesus through the prophets would then come to those who repent and turn from wickedness, and God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled, that through him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed.

     

     

    4:1 – 37   Peter and John testify to the Sanhedrin, the Church prays for boldness and the believers share their possessions

    The healing of the lame man creates an opportunity for Peter to preach to the temple crowds so effectively that a further 2,000 people are converted. The rulers arrest them because they are preaching the resurrection of the dead, something that the ruling party of the Sadducees expressly disbelieved. Peter and John are imprisoned overnight, but at the hearing the following morning Peter boldly addresses the Council proclaiming that only through the name of Jesus can men and women be saved. The focus is on the ‘name of Jesus’ and the authorities forbid them to preach in his name. On their return, the Church meets together and prays for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus and asks for further signs and wonders of confirmation from God. One of the ensuing evidences of the Spirit’s work is the mutual provision for the needs of all believers.

    V2   The Sadducees were especially concerned because Peter and John were preaching the resurrection, which they expressly disbelieved.

    V3   Peter and John are the first apostles to be arrested thereby reversing Peter’s cowardly denial of a few weeks earlier.

    V12   Salvation is in the name of Jesus because he is the only one who has won salvation for us through his atoning death.

    V23-31   The heart of the prayer is v29: for boldness and the support of signs and wonders. The answer to the prayer is that they are all immediately filled with the Spirit.

    V33 is the answer to the prayer of v29-30. God’s grace leads to sacrificial sharing communal generosity which is a special Lukan emphasis.

    V34-35 describe the general practice of sharing property and possessions, and v36-37 give one specific example.

     

     

    5:1 – 42   A falsehood is exposed in the community; great healings occur; the religious authorities persecute the apostles

    Luke is describing three different assaults on the young community in these early chapters. The first was the attempt by the religious authorities to silence the apostles (chapter 4). The second attempt is now one of inciting deception in the heart of the community.

    V1-11   Ananias and Sapphira attempt to ingratiate themselves with the apostles (probably in order to gain prominence in the community) by lying about the proportion of the sale proceeds they are giving to the Church. This lack of integrity is exposed by the Holy Spirit through prophetic revelation to Peter. When questioned by Peter, both man and wife confirm their lie and are immediately called home. The result is that ‘great fear’ grips the community (which for the first time is referred to by Luke as the ‘church’). God hates lying, falsehood and hypocrisy and this story shows that he will not tolerate it among his people.

    V12-16   These verses describe a period of exceptional signs, wonders and healings performed by the apostles, and it seems especially by Peter with the result that crowds from outside Jerusalem gather to be healed. The unique feature of this period is that outsiders fear joining the church – probably because of the warnings from the religious authorities, and the story of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. Nevertheless, the church does continue to grow.

    V17-42   The apostles are imprisoned and then tried. They are then beaten but continue ‘to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ’.  Jewish men are publicly teaching Jewish people in the Temple that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Peter and John are imprisoned for a second time, but on this occasion they are freed in the night by an angel (in an incident similar to Peter’s later experience in chapter 12).

    V26   This is similar to their attitude to Jesus – they were afraid of him. Such fear prevents us doing the will of God.

    V29   A great imperative for all disciples; ‘we must obey God rather than men’!

    V30   A superb summary of the essential gospel; the resurrection, the exultation of Jesus, the atonement, resulting in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    V32   Obedience in this context means ‘believing the gospel’ as per John 8:28-29.

     

     

    6:1 – 15   Deacons are appointed as a resolution of the inequality in the community; Stephen’s powerful healing and evangelistic ministry incites an angry reaction from the religious rulers

    The third “attack” on the community of believers emerges from an unfair practice in the matter of food distribution. Several points should be noted: instead of trying to control everything, the apostles give the whole community the responsibility of choosing the deacons. The apostles give their wisdom about how the solution should be reached, but discharge the responsibility for making it happen to the community. The entire believing community therefore own the answer and the solution, which in itself binds the community together in response to the divisive nature of the problem.

    V4 is a leading principle; all who oversee the community of believers must ‘devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word’ (see Acts 18:5).

    V5   Whenever the New Testament lists people, the greatest is always first and the worst is last. In the six listings of the apostles Peter is always mentioned first, and Judas last. In this list Stephen became Jesus Christ’s first martyr, and Nicolas became the heretic who taught the false doctrine that all religions are equal and the same (Revelation 2:6, 15).

    V6   The anointing brings Spirit empowering, but Nicolas’ heretical teaching demonstrates that the direction of our growth is always in our hands; it is always our responsibility to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matt 6:33),and to ‘make it our goal to please him’ (2 Cor 5:9).

    V8   The focus on Stephen marks a special shift and development in Luke’s argument, because for the first time, someone who is not an apostle is used by the Spirit to do mighty miracles and witness powerfully in public evangelistic debate. In a most important sense, Stephen represents every disciple. Stephen incorporates the profound Kingdom truth that every disciple of Jesus is called to do the Kingdom work in the power of the Spirit (Matthew 10:7), to witness faithfully to Jesus (Matthew 10:20), and to be martyred (Matthew 10:28,32). The Lord seems to raise up ‘lighthouses’ to demonstrate to all believers everywhere what is possible under the anointing of the Spirit. Stephen is such a ‘lighthouse’, as is Paul, and more recently Hudson Taylor and Mother Theresa.

     

     

    7:1 – 60   Stephen’s trial and martyrdom

    At his trial, the charges levied against Stephen are that 1) he speaks against the Temple, endorsing Jesus’ claim that he will destroy it, and 2) he speaks against the law, claiming that Jesus ‘will change the customs handed down to us’ (6:13-14). However, we should note that these charges were brought by ‘false witnesses’ (6:13), that is, people who are twisting what Stephen had actually taught. In his defence, Stephen gives a long recitation of Israel’s early history, all of which would have been very well known by every member of the Sanhedrin. Beyond proving that he was completely orthodox in his faith and affirming his belief in Moses and the Temple, the significance of his argument lies in the nuanced interpretation he gives to all these familiar historical events. What he said immediately provoked a furious reaction (v54). Stephen’s argument is firstly that throughout history God has repeatedly revealed himself to his people OUTSIDE the Temple, and second, that he (and not them) was the one who had kept the Mosaic law because they had not only killed the Messiah, but they even killed the prophets who prophesied that the Messiah would come (v51-53). Disciples ought to listen carefully to the implications of Stephen’s address. Enthusiastic Pharisees always tend to hold onto the form of what God did in the past rather than seeking the dynamic life of the Spirit. This was exactly Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus (John 3:3-8). Every Holy Habit and pattern of discipleship must always submit to and serve the leading of the Holy Spirit. The tragedy was that in their zeal and loyalty to God, the Sanhedrin was militantly committed to the wrong thing! Their zeal prevented them from seeing that the Temple and the Mosaic law both pointed directly to the Messiah. God does not want stone buildings he wants ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:4)that move, change, grow, adapt and serve the Lord who has all authority in heaven and earth. This is why the life of the Spirit in the Kingdom is the most thrilling existence known to humanity. It is a dynamic, interactive, daily cruciform journey and development into the very life of heaven where those who live in the Spirit are continuously being renewed and changed to be like Jesus.

    V48   This is Stephen’s summary response to the charge that he spoke ‘against this holy place’ (6:13).

    V53   This is Stephens’ summary response to the charge that he spoke ‘against the law’ (6:13). His point is that it is he that is obeying the law, not them.

    V56   Although Jesus ‘is seated at the right hand of God’ (Romans 8:34, Col 3:1), here he stands to receive his first martyr into heaven – through the witness of this chapter the event is recorded for all humanity to see.

     

    Part 2   Chapters 8-18   The Gentile Pentecost

    The Spirit is poured out and the Gentiles are brought into the church.

     

    8:1 – 40   Philip pioneers a new season of evangelism

    V1-3   The following things can be noted from the persecution of the Jerusalem church:

    1) It was led by Saul, a young Pharisee from the Roman city of Tarsus in Cilicia who seems to have been a member of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (6:9).

    2) Saul was bent on nothing less than the complete destruction of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 3:17, 1 Timothy 1:13).

    3) In the sovereign economy of the Lord something very significant happened when the church was driven from Jerusalem. One day the gospel (taught by Saul/Paul) will return to the city of the mother church and grip Jerusalem.

    4) It is a godly thing to mourn deeply.

    V4-25  

    1) The rejection of the gospel by the Jewish religious leaders led directly to their enemies, the Samaritans (half-Jews), hearing the gospel and receiving it with joy.

    2) Philip’s evangelistic ministry is a text-book example of the gospel message being confirmed by signs following, just as Jesus commissioned in Matthew 10:7, and promised in John 14:12.

    3) It is perhaps strange that Luke gives so much focus to Simon Magus (the sorcerer), but he may have two intentions in mind. First, to teach through a story the details of the process of the impartation of the Spirit as promised by Jesus in Luke 11:13 and 24:47. Second, to demonstrate that a powerful pagan ‘witch‘ (v10) is both powerless before the gospel and quickly exposed as driven by the love of money and bitterness, and is actually under the brutal captivity of sin!

    V26-40   In a similar way, we can learn from the delightful story of Philip telling the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch:

    1) In terms of strategy, it is madness to go into the desert when the gospel is surging forward in the cities, but because Philip obeyed God’s instruction a leading Ethiopian was converted, and the ministry was multiplied.

    2) The timing, or we could say the ‘God-incidents’, in this story are wonderful, but will not be a surprise those who have learned something of walking in the Spirit.

    3) Philip began from where the Ethiopian was at: find out where people are ‘at’, spiritually (v35). Ask them questions (v30). Tell them about Jesus (v35). Trust the Spirit to do the work (v36).

    4) The Spirit ‘translates’ Philip to Azotus, a coastal town about 30 miles north of Gaza. Philip then works northwards (on his own – which is not a wise practice for ministry), preaching the gospel up through the coastal towns to Caesarea where it seems the Lord rewarded his faithful ministry by giving him a wife, and they subsequently had four daughters each of whom were given a prophetic charism (21:8-9). Since Caesarea was a leading port, this family would have had an important evangelistic and prophetic ministry to many who were travelling to different parts of the Mediterranean. It is likely that large numbers of disciples were thereby envisioned to plant churches throughout the Mediterranean, and it is entirely logical that Paul and his team chose to stay with them several decades later.

     

    9:1 – 9   Saul is converted

    The importance of Saul’s conversion is demonstrated by the fact that Luke recounts it three times in ‘Acts’. The key details are recorded each time (the light, Paul falling to the ground, the voice, commands and commissioning), but other details described are influenced by the different contexts of the two later accounts in Acts. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, more verses in the New Testament are given to Saul’s conversion than any other event. Saul continued to believe in the same God after his conversion, but the change was that his understanding of God was now defined by Jesus, and the lifestyle required of him was also determined by Jesus and not his own religious achievements. Two questions are central to the event: ‘Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?’ (v4) and ‘Who are you Lord?’ (v5). As a devout Pharisee, Saul immediately engages with the most extreme Old Covenant spiritual discipline, a total fast of sincere repentance. Old Covenant fasting is almost always about repentance and putting things right. In the New Covenant, fasting is about establishing bridgeheads for the advancement of the Kingdom (Luke 2:37, Luke 4:1-13, Acts 13:1-3, Acts 14:23).

     

    9:10 – 19   Saul is healed, filled with the Spirit and commissioned

    Despite being gifted with a high level of prophetic anointing, Ananias needed to be told twice to ‘go’ by the Lord, although in the circumstances the Lord forebears his caution, and he does obey. Ananias is then used by the Lord to heal Saul, to be the agent through which he is filled with the Spirit, and he then prophesies Saul’s future ministry and calling. It seems that one of the leading activities for those anointed with the charism of prophecy is to prophesy the Lord’s calling over disciples at the beginning, or early stage, of their life with Christ (1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6, John 1:35, 42, 51).

     

    9:19 – 31   Saul immediately preaches Jesus as the Christ

    Saul’s conversion was a commissioning and the ruthless persecutor immediately became totally committed to preaching and evangelism. Within a short time, the Jews in Damascus plot to kill him and he has to escape at night (2 Corinthians 11:33). The apostles in Jerusalem are understandably cautious until Barnabas negotiates an understanding between them, a situation often experienced today in  the 21st Century by those who turn to Christ in the growing number of countries where Christians are persecuted. The Grecian Jews (v29) are likely to have had some connection with the ‘Synagogue of Freedmen’ (6:9), of which Saul had most likely been a member. One cannot help seeing the dry humour behind Luke’s next comment, that after Saul’s zeal for Christ had once again incited people to kill him, the brothers didn’t know what to do with him so they sent him back to his home town, and everyone ‘enjoyed a time of peace’ (v31). God loves to use ‘rough diamonds’; indeed he often seems to especially choose them.

     

    9:32 – 43   Peter is used by the Lord to bring Dorcas back to life 

    Luke now includes two beautiful stories in which Peter is the agent for the healing of a paralytic (v34), and the raising of a dead believer back to life (v41). Luke is meticulously careful throughout ‘Acts’ to record the same number and type of healings and miracles in both Peter and Paul’s ministries, so that neither apostle is seen to be pre-eminent over the other. But these two stories are mentioned here as a prelude to the exceptionally significant development that is about to take place: the revelation that the Gentiles are included on equal terms with the Jews in the kingdom (Acts 10:1-11:18). By relating these two miracles at this point, Luke is affirming Peter’s apostolic authority ahead of his leadership of the Church through this critically important theological revelation and development.

    V35   The conversion of ‘all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon’, and the conversions following the raising of Dorcas in Joppa (v42) prepared the way for the Gentile conversion and Pentecost at Caesarea (10:1-48). Philip was also evangelising in this area around this time. I saw in Zimbabwe that the Lord would use healings to open up new vistas for evangelism and ministry.  

     

    10:1 – 44   The Gentile Pentecost 

    Chapter 10 describes the Gentile Pentecost: the conversion, filling of the Spirit and baptism of Gentiles into the community of believers. As such, it is the most significant event in the process that began with the conversion of the Samaritans, and the Ethiopian Eunuch. We will not understand the significance of this development until we realise the chasm that separated Jew and Gentile in that culture. Tragically, the Jews had abused the doctrine of election, whereby they were chosen by God to represent all the ethnic groups in the world, and twisted it into a justification for racial hatred, pride and abuse. No Jew would enter a Gentile house, let alone eat with a Gentile since eating was the definitive act of fellowship. Luke presents a series of events stretching right through to the Council of Acts 15 in which the Church experiences the Spirit’s inclusion of the Gentiles, learns how to process this highly significant (and at the time absolutely unexpected) development in different contexts, and lastly gives its judgement on the lifestyle required by converted Gentiles (15:28-29). A significant feature of this chapter is the large number of incidents in which God himself directly intervenes. There is a general principle that works as follows: when God speaks he reveals his will, what he wants to happen, and men and women should respond in obedience. If he speaks twice, then his will is confirmed, and there is no excuse for disobedience. If he speaks three times then his will is not only confirmed but it will happen immediately, as is the case in v16. This is why both Jesus in Gethsemane and Paul prayed three times and three times only (Matt 26:36-46, 2 Corinthians 12:8). A careful study shows that God confirmed his promise to Abraham six times (two times three), probably because this promise by God underlies the entire salvation work in the whole Bible.

    V2   Cornelius is a ‘god-fearing’ Gentile who was known as ‘devout’ and for practicing ‘giving and prayer’, two of the ‘Holy Habits’ addressed by Jesus in Matthew 6:1-18.

    V34   The phrasing of Peter’s comment shows that he is still processing and coming to terms with the astonishing revelation that the Gentiles are included into the community of believers on absolutely equal terms with the Jews: salvation by faith alone! ‘For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call upon him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”’ (Romans 10:12).

    V43   Peter never gets to the end of his sentence (2:38): he preaches forgiveness and the Spirit comes before he can explain the Spirit’s empowering!

     

     

    11:1 – 18   Peter tells of how God included the Gentiles 

    The Jewish church in Jerusalem were very understandably astonished by the Holy Spirit’s inclusion of the Gentiles into the community of believers, so when Peter had returned to the mother church he explained the events very carefully to them. The narrative gives Luke the opportunity to include a number of additional details, but his focus is on the four divine interventions: first, the vision of the sheet containing the full range of animals. Second, God commanded Peter to go to Cornelius’ home. Third, this command was itself confirmed through the vision that Cornelius had himself seen. And fourth, the Holy Spirit himself came powerfully and unmistakably on the Gentiles in the same way that he had come at Pentecost (2:1-4). The central point of this whole development has been articulated by Rackham: ‘the sheet is the church’, which will ‘contain all races and classes without any distinction at all’. It is therefore an excellent practice for all disciples of Jesus to make close friendships with other disciples from different ethnic backgrounds.

     

    11:19 – 30   The church in Antioch 

    These tantalisingly brief but delightful verses introduce us to the formation of the church in Antioch, which was about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, and being a port meant it was cosmopolitan and strategic. Some disciples, driven from Jerusalem by persecution, were so in love with Jesus and so excited by their new life in the Kingdom that they told ‘the good news about the Lord Jesus’ (v20) to everyone they met, and God worked to bring many Gentiles to believe. So while the Holy Spirit was coming on the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home, the Lord was winning ‘a great number of people (Gentiles)(v21)to himself in Antioch. This development was yet further proof that God was including the Gentiles into the believing community on an equal basis with the Jews. The apostles send Barnabas to Antioch to check out what’s happening. Although Barnabas was clearly very gifted to oversee and develop the work he quickly realised that he needed help, and so he found Saul, brought him back to Antioch and the two men taught the believers ‘for a whole year’ (v26). These developments illustrate an important missionary truth, that God brings innovation on the frontiers of his work. As disciples pioneer Kingdom ministry on the frontiers of the community of believers, so God leads the whole Church into his purposes.

    V26   Time and again we find in ministry that the Lord has already provided the right person for the new work of ministry.

    V28   Agabus’ prophetic word is correct in substance, but incorrect in detail in that the famine occurred, but only over the eastern end of the Mediterranean. As such this ‘prophetic word’ is exactly as taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:9,12: our prophecy is ‘imperfect’ because prophetic people can ‘only see in a mirror dimly’. In future, when we will be with Jesus, all disciples will see everything with 20-20 vision.

    V30   Saul has the opportunity to demonstrate his love for the believers along with the genuineness of his faith, by being the agent through which relief comes from the ‘Gentile’ church in Antioch for the destruction in Jerusalem that he was himself responsible for. The circumstances and context fit the descriptions in Galatians 2:1-10, which gives considerable insight into the dynamics of the theological and missional developments.

     

     

    12:1 – 25   Peter escapes from prison 

    With this chapter, Luke ends his history of the Church in Jerusalem, and although there are further occasional references to it (especially in chapter 15), the ‘critical path’ switches to Antioch and Paul’s mission to plant churches in the capital cities of the Roman provinces throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. There are three parts to this chapter: the death of James, Peter’s miraculous escape from prison, and the death of Herod. The chapter recounts Herod’s attack on the Church’s leadership first through beheading James, and then in attempting to execute Peter after a ‘show trial’. Luke is straightforward about these setbacks, but the chapter ends with Herod dead, Peter a free man and the Church on the brink of a significant new initiative in mission.

    V2   The martyrdom of James precedes Paul’s missionary journeys and the expansion of the Church throughout the Eastern Mediterranean in a way that mirrors the expansion of the Church’s mission to Samaria and Judea (through Philip’s ministry) after the martyrdom of Stephen. As such, it is a perfect example of the principle articulated in 2 Corinthians 4:11. The last martyr mentioned in the New Testament is Antipas (Revelation 2:13).

    V5-19   There is an extraordinary account of a contemporary miraculous deliverance from prison in Brother Yun’s book, ‘The Heavenly Man’.

    V6    Peter slept in the face of death, and Paul and Silas sang hymns of worship (16:25).

    V13   Those inside probably feared it was the secret police.

    V17   Sometime later Peter was in Antioch (Galatians 2:11), and then back in Jerusalem for the Council (15:6).

    V25   It is fascinating to realise that throughout these events, Paul and Barnabas (and Titus (Galatians 2:3)) seem to have been with the church in Jerusalem.

     

     

    13:1 – 3   The Holy Spirit commissions Barnabas and Saul

    Almost every word in these three sentences bursts with fascinating Kingdom and missional treasures. The five men are: Jews & Gentiles, very cosmopolitan from diverse backgrounds, and powerfully gifted by the Spirit in the charisms of teaching and prophecy (see 11:26-27); as such, they are a model to all churches. Barnabas is almost certainly the church leader because of this apostolic commissioning (11:22), and because he is mentioned first. Saul is mentioned last, which would indicate his junior rank at that stage. Verse 2 is one of the most important windows in the New Testament into the spiritual exercises (Holy Habits) of church leadership teams. The Antioch church leadership had been taught by the Spirit the powerful dynamic of team worshipping and fasting. In this context, the Spirit birthed arguably the most strategic mission initiative of all Church history (apart from Pentecost and Philip’s mission in Acts 8). First they sought the Lord, and church leadership teams ought to do that in our churches today. Second they obeyed the Spirit and took the painful decision to release two of their most gifted people, and we ought to do that as well. Third, they commissioned them, released them (with provisions), and set them free to follow the Lord, and we should do that also. There is a beautiful lack of control in this example.

    V2-3   Note the importance of fasting in both seeking the Lord with all our heart, and commissioning others into new Gospel initiatives.

     

     

    13:4 – 12   Barnabas and Saul minister in Cyprus

    These two men did not yet know exactly what ‘the work to which I (the Holy Spirit) had called them’ (v2) was. So, they did the godly thing of getting on with what they were most familiar with – they set about doing more of what the Lord was already using them to do. They had already travelled to Jerusalem and back on a mission trip together (11:30, 12:25). Since Barnabas came from Cyprus (4:36), they decide to do a ‘home run’ and visit the synagogues where Barnabas had grown up, because they obviously couldn’t stay on at Antioch. It is hugely significant for our own discipleship and our own learning to know how to discern God’s will for our lives and ministries.  We see in this early missionary story that as Barnabas and Saul worked hard at the ministry that the Lord was already blessing, he guided them into his sovereign purposes for their lives. These men did not sail to Rome and seek an audience with the Emperor, they took the next step forward in the development of their joint ministry. Their ministry to the synagogues in Cyprus was actually quite uneventful except for two events. First, the confrontation with Elymas, which is similar to Peter’s confrontation with Simon Magus (8:9-24). Saul, ‘filled with the Spirit’ (v9) confronts and exposes the evil behind this attack on the gospel. Second, the ‘fruit’ of the whole Cyprus ministry was nothing less than the conversion of the Proconsul – the most powerful Roman on the island. Several things should be stated. The proconsul’s conversion points to the conversion of the Roman Emperor (which happened centuries later with Constantine), and beyond that to the conversion of the entire human race. The event catapults Saul into an advanced level of Kingdom ministry, now as ‘Paul’. The incident seems both to reveal something of the spiritual battle we’re in to Saul (so he later writes Ephesians 6:10-18), and also empowers him step up into the mature ministry calling on his life. It is very similar to the demonic attack on Jesus at Capernaum at the very beginning of his new ministry there (Mark 1:23-25). It is significant that this decisive Kingdom event leads to a change of name, and from this very point on Paul is mentioned first before Barnabas.

     

     

    13:13 – 52   Barnabas and Paul minister in Pisidian Antioch

    The missionary team now travel into Galatia (mainland central southern Turkey). Luke recounts the sermon Paul gave at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. As would be expected in a synagogue, it employs a strongly Jewish historical argument, but it culminates in v38-39 mentioning; ‘the forgiveness of sins, … belief, … justification, … law’, ‘… and grace’ (v43), all issues that feature strongly in Paul’s subsequent letter to the Galatians. The effect on the local population is overwhelming and large numbers convert, but the Jews become jealous and abusive. The apostle’s response; ‘you … do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life’ (v46) is a direct reference to Jesus’ mission teaching in Matthew 10:11, as is their behaviour in v51.

     

     

    14:1 – 7   Barnabas and Paul minister in Iconium

    Luke’s account to the missionary team’s experience in Iconium is almost a text-book summary of what happened in almost every place they visited:

    1) The preach at the Synagogue.

    2) A large number of Jews and Gentiles believe.

    3) The Jews become jealous.

    4) The missionaries are attacked physically.

    5) The missionaries flee to the next city.

    Against this background the special features at Iconium were the ‘miraculous signs and wonders’ (v3).

     

     

    14:8 – 20   Barnabas and Paul minister in Lystra

    The mission in Lystra generally follows the ‘set pattern’, but was marked by the healing of a man who had been crippled all his life. The account of his miraculous healing is very similar to the healing of the cripple at the Temple Gate through Peter as recounted in Acts 3:1-10. The effect on the local population is similarly dramatic, although in this case the religious leaders honour them as ‘gods’. Barnabas’ attribution as Zeus implies that he was seen to be ‘in charge’, while their deeming of Paul to be Hermes ‘the chief speaker’ (v12)) indicates exactly that, that it was Paul who took the lead in speaking publicly. However, the opposition of the Jews from Antioch and Iconium leads to the most brutal attack that Paul ever experienced. He was stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead. However, while there is no implication of a miracle, or even a ‘resurrection’, Paul did recover and was able to walk back into the city. It is immensely impressive that Paul and Barnabas then went on to the next city, Derbe, and then returned to these very cities in order to strengthen the believers. The example of these senior missionaries demonstrates that there is a time to leave (Matthew 10:23), and there is a time to return. And we should note that the young man Timothy lived in Lystra. He saw all that happened to Paul and in due course became his main successor (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

    V15-17   A short summary of Paul’s presentation of the Gospel to pagans.

     

     

    14:21 – 28   Barnabas and Paul complete their mission

    The missionaries see great success for the gospel in Derbe, and then courageously return to the very cities where they have undergone the harshest persecution. They strengthen the disciples, teaching them that not only will hardships always be our experience as disciples, but that the Lord will specifically use them to make us more like him so that we enter into the full life of the Kingdom. Barnabas and Paul then return to Antioch in completion of their mission. They report to the church all that the Lord has done, and how the ‘door of faith’ (v27) has been opened for the Gentiles.

     

     

    15:1 – 35   The Jerusalem Council: requirements for Gentile believers 

    Since the Gentile Pentecost (10:1-48), the Jerusalem church has been processing the outcomes of this exceptional initiative of the Spirit. First, when they heard Peter’s account they concluded that the Gentiles were also included (11:18). Then they received relief aid from the Gentiles (11:30). Then, in a major development, Paul and Barnabas’ mission brought substantial numbers of Gentile disciples into the Church. The only remaining question was to clarify the terms under which Gentile believers should be included in the Church. This issue was brought to a head by orthodox Jews (Pharisees), demanding that all (male) Gentile believers be circumcised (in addition to being baptised); 15:1,5. Paul and Barnabas’ strong opposition to this (15:2) leads to a major consultation by the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church. At this first formal church council, Peter makes four points arguing that since God has shown that he has accepted the Gentiles on the basis of their faith, there are no grounds for adding the ‘yoke’ of circumcision (v6-10). Barnabas and Paul immediately affirm Peter’s argument with a wide breadth of stories from their mission to Cyprus and Galatia illustrating that God himself is demonstrating the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church on the basis of their faith, through the evidence of the coming of the Spirit. James, the leader of the Pharisee group (Galatians 2:12), then concedes ground and recommends the four stipulations of v21, formally stated in v29, and repeated again in 21:25. The answer to the statement in v1 is that the Pharisees are wrong, and that faith (evidenced by baptism) is the only entry requirement for salvation. There is a good deal of discussion as to why Paul never mentions ‘blood, and the meat of strangled animals’ (v29) in his letters. He does however teach very clearly that idolatry and immorality are out of bounds for disciples. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 he demonstrates that idolatry must be avoided; 1 Corinthians 10:14 and 1 Corinthians 5-7 argue in similar terms that believers must abstain from immorality in order to enter the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9,10,18). Perhaps we should understand the injunctions to avoid ‘blood and the meat of strangled animals’ to be part of the more embracing imperative to avoid idolatry.

    V12   Here Barnabas is mentioned first because he was the one known and commissioned by the apostles.

    V29   This summary states that believers must abstain from food sacrificed to idols. Paul elucidates this carefully in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1: we can eat anything bought in the marketplace (v25), and anything served by someone when eating in their home, unless some ‘weaker brother’ objects, and it is clear that by proceeding to eat we will ‘destroy his faith’! But we are NOT to eat food sacrificed to idols in the non-Christian context of the worship of an idol, or to put it differently, we should never partake of the equivalent of ‘Holy Communion’ in a non-Christian place of worship (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

     

     

    15:36 – 41   Paul and Barnabas separate 

    Throughout Paul and Barnabas’ mission in Cyprus and Galatia, Luke has shown that Paul increasingly becomes the leader of the mission. Barnabas, who was known for his kindness (4:36, 11:24), saw the potential in John (also called Mark) despite his earlier failure (13:13), and insisted on taking him with them on their second mission. Paul, refused and the two apostles parted company. Barnabas leads a second mission to his ‘home country’ Cyprus where he had been the mission leader, and Paul returns to the region of Galatia, where he seems to have been the pre-eminent mission leader. Church disputes are always painful but we can take some comfort from the facts that as a result there were not one, but two missions, and second that Paul does affirm John Mark in his final letter (2 Timothy 4:11). So in a sense, both Paul and Barnabas were right but in different ways. Perhaps God was always calling them to two, or even more missions, (15:35, ‘many others’), but their love and commitment to each other kept them thinking they should minister together. The very blessing and success of their earlier mission partnership stood in the way of them taking the next step of faith and launching more mission teams.

     

     

    16:1 – 5   Paul, Silas and Timothy form a new mission team   

    Paul’s new mission assistant Timothy comes from Lystra, the town where Paul was stoned and left for dead; we see something of the principle of 2 Corinthians 4:12 operating in this outcome. Paul’s view that ‘neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5:6), is perfectly illustrated by the way he is quite prepared to circumcise Timothy (so soon after the Jerusalem council decision in 15:29), in order that Timothy, once circumcised, is acceptable to the Jews. In other words, wherever they went these three men were not uncircumcised and therefore not an obstacle to the gospel ministry among Jewish people. Disciples are not required to obey the law of circumcision in order to enter the Kingdom. To be saved, we must believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, be baptised, and obey and serve him as Lord. We enter the Kingdom through obeying his teaching about the lifestyle of the Kingdom (Matthew 5-7).

    V5   Luke implies that it was the removal of the necessity of circumcision in order to become a Christian that brought daily growth in numbers to the churches.

     

     

    16:6 – 10   The Spirit calls the team to Macedonia  

    The study of these verses yields fascinating insights into the way the Spirit guides disciples of Jesus. As the team are actively working at the ministry the Lord has given them (v6a), so they reach the perimeter in both a geographical and ministry sense. They experience both the constraint of the Spirit, and the leading of the Spirit in different ways. Throughout the process and decision-making, we see both divine and human elements involved, as the different members of the Trinity guide the team into a new phase of ministry.

    V6   This is fascinating. The Spirit prevents the team from entering into the province of Asia. A few years later, when the Macedonian churches were established, the door did open for Paul and the team to go to Ephesus, and it was from there, following a new Pentecost, that an entire new (third) phase of mission was launched: church-planting from a ‘mother church’.

    V9   After what was probably weeks of praying, travelling and seeking God, and receiving only prohibition in the Spirit, the dramatic vision is clear guidance. As a general rule, the strength and clarity of the call matches the difficulty of the subsequent ministry.

     

     

    16:11 – 15   A church in planted in the Roman city of Philippi

    Paul’s strategy was to plant churches in the capitals of the Roman provinces. So they travel to Philippi (v12). In this pagan environment they begin their ministry not in a synagogue, but in a ‘place of prayer’ (v13). A woman, Lydia, is converted and she, and her household, subsequently invite the team to stay in her home.

     

     

    16:16 – 40   Persecution at Philippi  

    This long story narrates the deliverance of a slave girl, and the arrest of Paul and Silas who are then beaten and put in prison. An earthquake leads to the conversion of the jailor and his household. When Paul and the team leave the next day, the essential elements of the new church are all in place. This is all the more remarkable because, of all the churches described in the New Testament, ‘the Letter to the Philippians’ is a letter to a mature church, which Paul described as being the only church that ‘shared with me in the ministry of giving and receiving’ (Philippians 4:15). From these rather unimpressive beginnings, the church at Philippi became the one Christian community that Paul did not have to give special corrective attention to.

     

     

    17:1 – 10   A church is planted in Thessalonica  

    The account of the planting of the church in Thessalonica follows the ‘usual’ pattern of Paul preaching Jesus as Messiah at the Synagogue. Some Jews receive the gospel along with a substantial number of Gentiles. The Jews become jealous and rouse a mob of bad characters who take the issue to the authorities. The mission team is then driven out of the city. Against this background, the interesting features of the Thessalonian mission are:

    1) Paul seems to have preached for only three Sabbaths during which a church is planted. This brevity has always puzzled commentators who seem to be more comfortable with the idea that the team were in Thessalonica for a longer period of three months. Nevertheless, the letter of 1 Thessalonians does address issues of very early discipleship.

    2) The charge levied against Paul and Silas is illuminating because it shows how the gospel was being heard and understood. Paul was clearly preaching the message of the Kingdom (v7). In other words, Paul preached Jesus as Messiah to the Jews, and Jesus as King to the Gentiles.

    3) Given the turmoil in the city and the blame laid on Jason, it makes very good sense to see the bail conditions as threatening Jason with imprisonment if he ever extended hospitality to Paul again. This would also make sense of Paul’s reference to Satan stopping his gospel ministry in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18), and the reference to ‘clearing the way’ (1 Thessalonians 3:11) would consequently refer to the magistrates removing the ban, as appears to have happened by the time Paul returned in Acts 20:2.

    V8   Luke uses the local Greek name for the magistrates, ‘politarks’, which has been verified by archeological discovery.

     

     

    17:11 – 15   A church is planted in Berea  

    Once again, a similar progression is experienced in the planting of the church in Berea, with the following notable features:

    1) Luke praises the members of the Synagogue for reading the Hebrew Scriptures carefully in order to check Paul’s use of scripture.

    2) The result is that ‘many Jews believed’ (v12) along with ‘prominent Greek women and many Greek men’ (v12).

    3) For the second time, Paul is immediately protected by ‘the brothers’ (ESV) or ‘the believers’ (NIV)(v14) and taken out of the city. This seems to have become his strategy by this point.

     

     

    17:16 – 34   A church is planted in Athens  

    Paul was on his own in Athens, but although friendless, he wasted no time there. The evangelistic address that Luke records Paul giving to the ‘Areopagus’ is unlike the other sermons Luke records, and it has aroused considerable comment as a result. Stott helpfully points out that Paul; saw, felt, acted and spoke, with each stage leading into the next one. It was a momentous occasion for the apostle to the Gentiles to address the council at the very centre of the dominant Greek culture that stretched throughout the Roman empire. He did so by presenting Christ through five arguments: that God is creator, that he sustains life, that he rules over all creation, that he is our Father and that he is the Judge before whom we shall all give account. The address concludes with the resurrection, and therefore by implication, the message of the cross before the resurrection. What Paul did so masterfully, and which is a challenge to all disciples of Jesus, is to understand the values and thought systems of those who were listening to him. His presentation of the gospel in the Areopagus was not a trite ‘four laws of salvation’, but a profound argument presenting Christ in terms of the philosophy and concepts of those listening, especially the Epicureans (who sought the enjoyment of pleasure), and the Stoics (who were fatalistic and taught the endurance of suffering). Disciples must master the deep thinking of our age, its values, aspirations, goals, frustrations and pain, and similarly we must strive to have integrity in our presentation of Christ as the one who answers the deep values and concerns of our time.

     

    18:1 – 17   A church is planted in Corinth  

    Paul then left Athens and travelled about 50 miles west to Corinth where he met a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius. There is some evidence that the Jews may have been expelled because of the disorder caused by their internal conflict over Christ! After the isolation Paul experienced in Athens, he is strengthened by these two believers who also shared the same income generating trade, tent-making. This couple became strong friends of Paul. When Timothy and Silas joined him, his ministry moved into a higher gear, and he ‘devoted himself exclusively to preaching’ (v5). A significant conversion then occurred when the Synagogue ruler became a believer. The Lord also strengthened Paul through a vision encouraging and exhorting him: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent’ (v9).These different encouragements rather imply that Paul was at a low point, perhaps feeling exhausted and discouraged. He writes in 1 Corinthians 2:3 ‘I came to you in weakness, and fear and with much trembling.’ Paul remained there 18 months, establishing the church. During this time there was a ‘united’ (v12) attempt by the Jews to attack Paul through legal channels, but the proconsul Gallio would have none of it and dismissed the matter as an internal religious dispute, despite a futile attempt by the protagonists to turn the matter from a religious issue into a civil issue by beating up the synagogue ruler in court.

    V3   As a missionary pioneer, the trade of ‘tentmaking’ was ideal because it immediately placed Paul at the centre of every market in every town and city he visited. As such, he could travel light and also engage in lengthy conversations with people during which he could easily ‘gossip the gospel’. Today’s pioneer disciples should look for similar ‘trades/professions’; occupations such as sorting out laptop problems or physiotherapy are both highly ‘mobile’ and ‘lightweight’, they take the ‘disciple’ into the centre of a person’s home and life, and provide a context for a good conversation.

     

     

    18:18 – 28   Paul returns to Antioch  

    These summary verses describe the close of Paul’s second missionary journey, as he returns to his home in Antioch. They are full of tantalisingly brief, but fascinating, details. One senses through Luke’s description of Paul’s time in Corinth that he had become exhausted by the weight of ministry he was now carrying (2 Corinthians 11:28-29). A careful study demonstrates that some of Paul’s greatest work had been carried out during this missionary journey. He had taken the gospel from Asia into Europe, established churches in the leading cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth, and had written several letters that would later be included in the New Testament. The short statement in v28 speaks into the essence of Paul’s ministry (although it is explicitly talking about Apollos); to prove from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). So as the weary but triumphant (2 Corinthians 2:14) Paul returns to Antioch to rest, Luke tells us there are others who are carrying on the work of preaching, testifying and ‘proving from the scriptures that Jesus (is) the Christ’ (v28). Such equipping and empowering for ministry will become the focus of Paul’s missionary strategy in the next phase of his ministry in Ephesus.

    V18   Probably a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6). Whatever the vow was, it was answered in spectacular form through the explosion of church and ministry in Ephesus and the surrounding province.

    V19   This should be read in the light of Acts 16:6. Paul was very careful about where he ministered, but Ephesus was to become the centre of a major new phase of missional strategy and initiative through which ‘the laity’ were ‘equipped’ to church-plant in cities and towns throughout ‘the province of Asia minor’, Western Turkey.

     

    Part 3   Chapters 19-28   The Pentecost at Ephesus

    The Spirit is poured out at Ephesus establishing a church-planting mission that brings the gospel to the entire province.

     

    19:1 – 41   A church is planted in Ephesus   

    Luke recounts the planting of the Ephesian church as a third Pentecost, following the Jewish Pentecost in Acts 2 and the Gentile Pentecost in Acts 10. This point is emphasised by the detail that twelve disciples were involved, a direct parallel to the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve apostles listed in Acts 1. Then follows an astonishing missiological development; an innovative church planting strategy enabling the formation of churches not just in the capitals of Roman provinces, but throughout the cities and towns of ‘the province of Asia’ (Western Turkey) (v10). It was the rejection of the gospel by the Jews that drove Paul to minister in ‘The Hall of Tyrannus’ (v9).Day by day, probably at lunchtime after a morning in the market making, mending and selling tents, Paul would teach his ‘Alpha Course’ equivalent to the disciples in Ephesus. It makes very good sense to see ‘The Letter to the Ephesians’ as the condensed summary of Paul’s ‘Catechism’, or in other words his own version of the ‘Alpha Course’, structured like the letter to the Ephesians in clear sections that tackle the essence of Christianity and discipleship. It was through this strategic development that ‘labourers’ were sent out from Ephesus throughout the province of Asia, and men such as Epaphras from Colossae heard the gospel, learned discipleship in the Hall of Tyrannus, and then returned to their home town and planted a church (Colossians 1:7, 2:1, 4:13; Philemon 1,2). We should also note that the key issues in this chapter are mentioned in ‘Ephesians’; the gifts of the Spirit, the spiritual battle with demonic evil, and the inclusion of the Gentiles alongside the Jews in God’s salvation work.

    V9-10   Given Luke’s focus on prayer he almost certainly intends the reader to understand that this significant missiological development is the direct outcome of Paul’s vow (18:18).

    V12   I heard similar contemporary reports of such healings from the church in Estonia where we were on mission in 2002, and more recently a report of an astonishing answer to prayer, where a child given up for dead by the doctors was completely healed when two separate Christians both felt led to bring handkerchiefs prayed over by leading healing evangelists to the hospital where the child was dying.

    V23-41  The long description of the riot at Ephesus is a little surprising and points to Luke being present as it happened.

     

     

    20:1 – 6   Paul travels to the Macedonian churches

    Paul’s third missionary journey has, up to this point, been completely dominated by the three years, (20:31), he has spent at Ephesus. The riot made future ministry there impossible (and dangerous for the believers), so he immediately sets off to revisit the churches he planted on his second missionary journey. The early Corinthian correspondence was written while Paul was in Ephesus, but the trouble over Paul’s travel plans in 2 Corinthians 1-2 takes in the context of the time described in these verses (v3). Having witnessed the effectiveness of training disciples in the Hall of Tyrannus and sending them to plant churches, Paul now extends this ministry to bringing such people with him in his travelling team. It is an impressive list, and the details of their home cities demonstrates that Luke has only included the places of Paul’s most effective ministry in his narrative.

     

     

    20:7 – 12   Eutychus is brought back to life   

    The inclusion of this story which is narrated in a rather unusual way, reflects the fact that firstly Luke was present (note the ‘we’ in v7), that Luke has a special interest in the miraculous, and that he is being very careful to balance the miracle stories attributed to both Peter and Paul (9:36-43). We can see Luke’s dry humour in the account in the way he gently ‘pulls Paul’s leg’ by describing the way ‘Paul talked on and on’ (v9). Luke shows that Paul (and Peter) both fully obeyed Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:7.

     

     

    20:13 – 38   Paul’s last address to the Ephesian elders

    The sheer length of material that Luke gives to describing Paul’s ministry at Ephesus indicates that he, and most probably Paul as well, considered the Ephesian church to be Paul’s most ‘mature and successful’ church. On his journey to Jerusalem, Paul does not enter Ephesus, but summons the church elders to meet him at Miletus. His address serves as a summary review of his whole ministry and is full of fascinating and important details. Paul appeals to the integrity of his own behaviour, his hard work earning his own money and supporting his missionary team. He summarises his message of salvation (v21), and the kingdom (v25), and declares that he has not ‘hesitated to proclaim … the whole will of God’ (v27). He also clarifies his own understanding of God’s call for his ministry; ‘the task of testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace’ (v24).

    V28   This verse stands as the great commission to all called to pastor God’s people.

    V32   It is through engaging deeply in the teaching and message of God’s grace that disciples enter into, and participate fully in, the ‘inheritance’ that we have in Christ.

    V34   One cannot but be impressed that Paul not only worked hard night and day to supply his own needs, but he also helped supply the needs of those in his missionary team.

     

     

    21:1 – 16   Paul travels to Jerusalem 

    Once again the ‘we’ passages indicate that Luke was travelling with the missionary party, and this explains the high level of detail in this section. As in 11:28, Agabus’ prophetic act and message is correct in substance but incorrect in detail (the Jews in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul, but the Romans saved him from them). In my commentary on 11:28 in the previous section, I explained that this is completely in line with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13:12; our imperfect prophecy is like a blurred image in a mirror (as would have been the case with mirrors at that time). Luke, who is no fool, has no problem with recording the details in the way he does, and one is left wondering if today’s critics are actually demonstrating that it is they who are out of step with the author. In the overall perspective, Agabus’ prophecy is correct, the Jews did hand Paul over to the Gentiles.

     

     

    21:17 – 26   Paul at Jerusalem 

    Paul follows the advice of James and the elders, and supports the four men taking a (Nazarite) vow in the Temple in order to demonstrate his public support for the ‘Mosaic customs’ (v21). Paul would have viewed this in exactly the way he writes about circumcision in Galatians 5:6, and 6:15; the matter is neither here nor there – it no longer counts in terms of salvation through faith in Christ (Acts 16:3).

     

     

    21:27 – 36   Paul is arrested 

    Just before the seven day vow was completed, Paul was recognised by Jews from the province of Asia, where he had ministered for three years in Ephesus (19:23).

    V30   Something absolute and final is implied with the shutting of the Temple gates. It is a symbolic, final rejection of the gospel. Jesus was crucified outside the city walls, and Paul was forcefully rejected by the Temple authorities. But there is no neutral spiritual ground, and within a decade the fruit of this rejection was seen in the political violence which led to the truly horrific sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, just as Jesus had himself foretold.

     

     

    21:37 – 22:29   Paul addresses the Jews in Jerusalem 

    In the next five chapters, Luke records a succession of ‘defence speeches’ by Paul as his case proceeds and is ultimately brought to Rome before Caesar. Luke does not explain why he chooses to take so much space to do this, but this final section of ‘Acts’ may have formed part of the defence material in preparation for the Imperial hearing. Furthermore, the ‘we’ references from 21:17 to 28:14 indicate that Luke, who Paul describes in Colossians 4:14 as a ‘dear friend’, accompanied him through the whole period. Luke therefore seems to have deliberately used the opportunity of these addresses to record the substance of Paul’s theology from his (Luke’s) own personal records. Luke’s narrative of Paul’s arrest, his address to the Jews and his conversation with the Roman Centurion have a rather delightful personal and congenial tone. The story reads very easily, but its significance lies in the basic facts described; Paul is fluent in Greek and Aramaic (much to the surprise of the Jews and the Roman centurion). He was an orthodox, zealous Pharisee trained in the law under the respected Jewish ‘guru’ Gamaliel (5:34). He is by birth a Roman citizen, and as such a privileged citizen of the Empire. Paul’s description of his encounter with the risen Christ outside Jerusalem reads as a first-person account of the events Luke has already recorded in the third person in Acts 9. This personal perspective includes additional details, specifically the vision of the Lord commanding him to leave Jerusalem (v18) and sending him to the Gentiles (v21). It is this last statement that ignites the crowd in a furious rejection of Paul, and is itself a fulfilment of v18. Before proceeding, disciples should reflect on the extraordinary context that the Lord had created. The progress of the gospel would have been significantly frustrated had Israel been surrounded by hostile nations with different cultures all speaking different languages. Instead, our faith was birthed into one of the greatest empires the world has ever known, with a common language, a common culture and the freedom to travel throughout the then ‘known world’. Into this context a zealous, highly intelligent, orthodox Jew, privileged by birth with Roman citizenship, privileged with the most advanced culture by ethnic heritage and upbringing, and privileged with one of the finest educations of the time, encountered the risen Christ. It is not surprising that that Jesus describes Paul to Ananias as a ‘chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel’ (9:15). As such, Paul became the church’s greatest theologian, missionary, and church-planter. No one has seriously suggested any other. We see the hand of God working through the centuries to prepare every detail of this scenario, just as his hand is seen in the way centuries earlier he prepared everything for King David’s appointment and rule over Israel. Not only is ‘the Most High… sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes’ (Daniel 4:25), but he is perfectly guiding every nation, and all of history to the great fulfilment of his eternal purposes for humankind.  

     

     

    22:30 – 23:11   Paul addresses the Sanhedrin 

    Paul’s address to the Sanhedrin demonstrates their pitiful level of godliness. Not only does the High Priest instruct Paul to be hit in the face at the very start of his defence, but the whole assembly is so deeply divided that they quickly degenerate into such a level of violence that Paul is almost lynched by the very members of the highest religious court in Judaism!

    V10-11   The Lord watches over his people. He witnessed everything in the Sanhedrin. Once again, he comes to Paul at precisely the moment when Paul needs most help (9:4, 22:18, 18:9). The Lord gives Paul a promise that he will be his witness in the Imperial city of Rome.

     

     

    23:12 – 35   The Jews plot to kill Paul  

    The religious authorities try for a third time to kill Paul (21:31, 23:10). Their statement in v14 demonstrates religion at its very worst; a religious oath to fast until they have killed! Luke then gives a very full description of the way in which their plot was found out and the Centurion’s decision to arrange for Paul to be taken to Caesarea. There is a clear similarity between both Jesus’ and Paul’s trials before the Sanhedrin.

    V16-19   These details are so specific that it is likely that Luke had heard them directly from the people involved, Paul’s sister and her son.

     

     

    24:1 – 27   Paul’s trial before the Governor Felix

    The Jewish authorities accuse Paul of stirring up riots and desecrating the Temple. Paul denies these charges (v12, 17, 18), and states that the Jews have no evidence to prove their accusations (v13). He then states that the central axiom of Christianity is the testimony that Jesus has been raised from the dead (v15, 21). The story seems a little disjointed at this point. Felix hears Paul’s defence of Christianity and is challenged by it, just as Herod was by his conversations with John the Baptist. Then follows a two-year period where Felix ingratiated himself to the Jews by keeping Paul in prison hoping for a bribe from his friends to release him. It is entirely probable that Luke uses this time to travel throughout the country collecting first hand reports of Jesus’ life and ministry which he then crafted into his gospel.

    V16   Since Jesus is raised from the dead, and there will be a future resurrection, and since I will give an account of myself to God, it makes very good sense for me to work hard to ensure I maintain a clear conscience before God, and with all men and women.

    V22   Lysias was the Commander of the Roman forces in Jerusalem (23:26), and Felix decided to delay the hearing in order to hear from Lysias himself as to whether Paul did actually incite the riot; compare v5 and 9 with v18.

    V23   Luke is described as a ‘dear friend’ of Paul’s in Colossians 4:14, so it is likely that he was one of those who made sure Paul had food and clothing while under guard.

     

     

    25:1 – 22   Paul’s trial before the Governor Festus

    For two years Paul languished under arrest in Caesarea while Governor Felix seems to have played a sort of cat and mouse game with him, both on the one hand being intrigued by Paul and his message, while on the other hoping for a bribe and using Paul as a political card to win favour with the Jewish religious authorities. However, with the appointment of the new Governor Festus, the pace quickens abruptly. Festus refuses to allow Paul to be tried in Jerusalem, but the hearing in Caesarea is inconclusive. Paul however, seizes the initiative and exercises his prerogative as a Roman citizen to have his case heard in Rome by the Emperor himself. Festus is then joined by King Agrippa and the conversation (as expressed in v20) between these two men reveals the confusing issue that Festus is facing. It is one thing to give judgement over civil issues, but how should a Roman Governor set about judging an issue between two religious opinions, especially when the root issue is whether or not a dead man has come alive again? There is something almost comical in the way Luke reports this.

     

     

    25:23 – 26:32   Paul’s hearing before Agrippa

    This long account of Paul’s defence before King Agrippa and Festus raises unusual questions. King Agrippa was the descendent of Herod, the puppet Jewish dynasty endorsed by the Romans to rule the Jewish people. As such, Paul’s speech parallels Jesus’ trial by Herod. What is surprising is that Luke takes such length and space to repeat much of what we already know about Paul and the charges by the Jews. Certainly Festus’ clear statement in 25:26 that he is sending Paul to Rome but is quite confused about what he has actually done wrong must shed considerable light in answering this question. Such a view would again point us towards viewing ‘Acts’ as part of the preliminary hearing documents submitted to the Imperial hearing. Paul’s address highlights that the resurrection is the axiomatic centre of Christianity, that God calls all people to believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and prove their repentance by a changed lifestyle, and that all of this is clearly stated by Moses and the prophets.

    V12   It is astonishing to consider how effective Paul had been in the destruction of the Church. Only the apostles were left in Jerusalem, and Paul made other visits to destroy the Church in other cities before he went to Damascus!

     

     

    27:1 – 44   Paul sails for Rome but is shipwrecked at Malta

    It is illuminating to watch how many leading commentators fail to see what Luke is doing in this chapter. The chapter itself carefully narrates Paul’s journey with his companions across the Mediterranean to Malta where the ship is destroyed by the storm. While it is an excellent ‘short story’, its length and detail immediately beg the question as to why it is told in so much detail when in earlier chapters large swathes of Paul’s life and ministry have been left completely undescribed. The answer is that Luke is doing at the end of Acts exactly what he did at the end of his gospel. Just he articulates his theology of atonement through the very way he narrates the details and events of Christ’s death (see BfL: Luke: main course verse by verse), so here he articulates his theology of apostolic mission through the way he narrates the details and events of how Paul and the 275 people on board were saved from drowning. Here are some parallels: Jesus’ three years of ministry culminate in his crucifixion and resurrection, but for Paul, the three years from his arrest in Jerusalem and his journey to Rome culminate in this dark night of the storm and the destruction of the ship; nevertheless, all 276 people are saved! Second, in Gethsemane an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus as he prayed before his crucifixion, and on the boat an angel appears to strengthen Paul before the shipwreck (v23).  Third, while ‘salvation’ is Luke’s leading theme in his gospel (Luke 19:10), he expressly records the word ‘save’ four times at the very centre of his crucifixion narrative (Luke 23:35-39). This is directly paralleled by Luke using the same word five times here in chapter 27 (v20, v31, v34, v43 v44): ‘unless these men stay with the ship you cannot be saved’ (v31). Luke’s fourth direct cross-reference to the crucifixion is even more blatantly stated in the Eucharistic act in v35: ‘(Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat’, with the result that everyone else participated as well. This comes precisely at the parallel moment of Christ’s death in Luke’s gospel. Tom Wright summarises in this way; ‘Luke is asking us to watch as the story unfolds, to see this narrative as it were superimposed on the story of the cross … as a sign of the way the unique event of Jesus’ death is implemented in the mission of the church to the world.’ Paul’s journey to Rome, from its first mention in Acts 19, has been fraught with repeated difficulties, riots and imprisonments, all of which seem to culminate in the storm and shipwreck off Malta. Luke is portraying in graphic narrative the ‘principle of cruciformity’ that is at the heart of apostolic mission. Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 4:11: ‘for we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.’ Luke is therefore telling the whole story in detail in order to assure the Church that whatever lies ahead and whatever the Church worldwide has to pass through, God will save the Church and fulfil all his promises and purposes for it. The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the world and then the end will come.

    V25   A great statement of faith which all disciples should learn to adopt, hold and stand on. In a most true way, God sends his angel to every believer with the message: ‘keep up your courage, … have faith in God that it will happen just as he (said)’. It is the principle of Mark 11:24 and every disciple will need to learn how to hold onto a promise and believe it ‘through the storm’.

     

     

    28:1 – 10   Paul in Malta

    Not only does God grant the survival of all those on the ship, but the three months spent recovering on Malta were marked by many healing miracles. The incident of Paul being bitten by a snake relates this passage to Mark 16:17-18.

     

     

    28:11 – 31 Paul arrives in Rome and preaches to the Jews

    Luke continues to describe the last part of the journey in detail. Paul is given a degree of freedom while he waits two years for his case to be heard. It is surprising to learn that the Jews in Rome have not received any letters about Paul from the Jews in Jerusalem given their earlier determination to kill him. Perhaps the hearings before Festus, Felix and Agrippa had demonstrated the weakness of their case in a Roman Tribunal. The last verses of Acts have a summary tone to them; v23 sums up Paul’s message, v24 summarises the general response of the Jews, v25-27 summarise the Old Testament verses describing their response, and v28 describes Paul’s comment and reaction.

    V30   Paul’s freedom and context is markedly different from that described in 2 Timothy where he writes expecting to be executed.

    The Gentile Pentecost - Acts 8-18 >
      The Apprentice - Helping apprentices of Jesus think through the applications
    • Overall Message
    • /
    • Leading Imperatives
    • /
    • Implied Imperatives
    • /
    • Applications
    • /
    • Holy Habits

    The overall message of Acts:

     

    Acts narrates the ‘critical path’ of the key events of the early church as the Holy Spirit established the Kingdom through the agency of Peter, the apostles, and then Paul. Consequently, the key to unlocking the dynamic of Acts is to watch and study the way the Holy Spirit leads the community of believers forward from stage to stage into all the purposes of God.

    The leading imperatives:

     

    The book of Acts is a narrative description of the events through which the early church was established. As such, there are only a few ‘leading imperatives’: 

    2:14     Listen carefully to what I say …’

    2:22    Listen to this …’

    2:38     Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus

    Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’

    2:40     Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’

    3:29     Repent, then and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out …’

    15:29   ‘You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’

    20:21  (all people) must turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus.’

    21:28   (Pastors and overseers should) keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers’

    23:11  When the Lord has called and commissioned us to do a work for him we shouldTake Courage.’

    24:16   ‘(One day we shall all stand before the Lord and give account to Him so) we should always strive to keep a clear conscience towards God and all people.’

     

    The implied imperatives:

     

    If ‘clear imperatives’ are rare in Acts, by contrast ‘implied imperatives’ are present in almost every paragraph and story. This is precisely because the stories are narrated in order to be examples to us and guide and motivate us to pursue the life of the Kingdom through the Spirit. Here are some of the most obvious ‘implied imperatives’:

     

    1:4   ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.’

    1:7   ‘It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has set by His own authority.’

    1:8   ‘… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

    2:42-47   An exemplary description of church life.

    3:6-7   Peter’s example of healing the cripple.

    4:19   Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.

    4:20   The Apostles lead the church in prayer for boldness to proclaim the message of the gospel and for the Lord to confirm with signs and wonders.

    4:32-35   A second exceptional description of church life.

    5:5   Do not lie to the Holy Spirit.

    5:20   ‘Go, stand in the temple courts …and tell the people the full message of this new life’.

    5:29   ‘We must obey God rather than man’.

    5:41   ‘the apostles left … rejoicing that they had been found worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.’

    6:2   The apostles: ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables.’

    6:4   ‘(We) will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’

    7:51   Do not resist the Holy Spirit.

    7:60   Forgive your enemies – just as (Jesus and) Stephen did.

    7:26   When the Lord says ‘Go’, … GO!

    13:2   Set apart, and provide for, those the Lord is calling into special ministry.

    14:23   We should seek the Lord with prayer and fasting before appointing elders in the church.

    16:6-10   Learn to follow the leading of the Spirit.

    Those called to the ministry of preaching should, if their situation allows, devote themselves to teaching.

    20:14   All ‘the Lord’s labourers’ should ‘complete the task the Lord has given them’.

    20:35   We should aim to give, more than receive.

    28:31   We should boldly preach the Kingdom of God and teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Applications:

     

    There are two leading applications from Acts:

    • Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
    • Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

     

    Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives.  These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)

     

    • There are so many different Holy Habits described in Acts. In fact, you could probably argue that if any Holy Habit is not described or implied in the book of Acts then disciples need not be too concerned about practicing it.
    • However, since the Lord chose Luke to record this narrative, and since Luke does have certain specific emphasises, we should surely see the Lord speaking to us through the things that Luke especially emphasises;
        • Seek the filling of the Spirit before embarking on Mission.
        • Disciples should commit to times of focused prayer before embarking on Mission (Acts 1:14, Acts 13).
        • Preach from the Old Testament.
        • Practice sharing your possessions with others in need.
    Leading Imperatives >
    main Questions - Important questions directly from the text

    Question 1 -

    Why don’t disciples of Jesus ‘throw lots’ (Acts 1:26) today?


    Question 2 -

    Study Acts 13:1-3 (and Matthew 28:19-20). What spiritual and natural gifts has the Holy Spirit given you? How can you give your life, your gifts, your time and your energy to serving Christ’s call to take the gospel to all the world’s ethnic groups?


    watch video

    Question 3 -

    Study the different strategies Paul uses to preach the gospel to the Jews in Acts 14 and to the Gentiles in Acts 17.


    Question 4 -

    Every phase of the Spirit’s work in Acts develops the Church into a deeper understanding of God and his mission to the world. The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost led to the articulation of the gospel and the creation of the community of believers, the Church. The Church then grew in its testimony to the Jews until it was driven out of Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen. The outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Caesarea led to their inclusion in the church and the expansion of God’s mission throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. What were the leading outcomes of the outpouring of the Spirit at Ephesus?


    Question 5 -

    In ‘Acts’, Luke narrates the martyrdoms of both Stephen (7:60) and James (12:2) and in both cases describes the subsequent growth of the Church. In recent years the persecution of Christians has been growing throughout the world. What can you do to help where it is most needed, and what should we expect God to do next?


    watch video

    dessert course

    A prayer

    Commentaries

    Suggested Sermon Series

    Questions

    • A prayer -

    A prayer based on Acts 

     

     

    “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and everything in them, enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Amen.”

      

     

    Commentary on the prayer:

    “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them (4:24), enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus (4:29). Amen.”

     

     

      Commentaries - Introducing the best commentaries

    Commentaries on ‘Acts’

    (Updated: January 2018)

     

    Commentary Comment
    English Standard Version Study Bible Useful information, maps and summary. In my view, this probably provides the best support information on the book of Acts.
    John Stott

    Bible Speaks Today

    Stott’s careful explanation of the text is full of common sense. He explains and negotiates many of the difficulties found in the book of Acts and skilfully articulates the essential dimensions of the meaning and dynamic of gospel ministry. Nevertheless, many students will want to study a more substantial commentary.
    C. K. Barrett

    ‘A shorter commentary’

    T&T Clark

    This is an excellent commentary and everyone wishing to study Acts at serious depth would do well to start with Barrett. It is readable, straightforward and addresses the complexities of Acts with integrity and godly insight.

     

      Suggested Sermon Series -

    Sermon Series on Acts:

     

    Series Title:    The Spirit and the Kingdom in Action

     

    Strategy for preaching through Acts:

     

    Acts is a long book (28 chapters) so preaching consecutively through it chapter by chapter would need to be planned carefully well in advance.

    It would be more profitable to approach Acts in one of these ways:

    1. Preach about ‘The Early Church’ from Acts 1-7.

    2. Study the creation of ‘The Church of Jews and Gentiles’ by preaching through Acts 8-15.

    3. Study Paul’s ministry from Acts 9, 13 – 20

    4. Study the articulation of the gospel in different contexts by preaching on Acts 2, 4, 7, 14, 16 and 17.

    5. Study different forms of mission and church-planting by preaching through Acts 2, 4, 8, 13, 14 and 19.

    6. Study the three Pentecosts (Jew, Gentile, Ephesian) and their different effects on church development by preaching through Acts 2, 9, 19.

     

    dessert Questions - Gloves off; hard questions for the Bible student and theologian

    Question 1 -

    Throughout Acts we see the gospel message being preached in different ways in different contexts; Paul draws strongly on Jewish history when preaching to the religious Jews in Acts 14, but uses contemporary human illustrations when preaching to the philosopher debaters in Athens (Acts 17). The Church throughout the world will always need to ask what is the most effective way of presenting the gospel in our different cultures, philosophies and contexts. In the UK since the early 1990s 'The Alpha Course' has proved to be a very effective way of presenting the gospel and bringing people to conversion and baptism. What features of ‘Alpha’ make it so effective?


    Question 2 -

    Peter was rescued from prison only hours before his death (12:5-19), and Paul (and all those on the ship) were saved from drowning (27:27-44); what is Luke telling us about the ‘principle of cruciformity’ in apostolic ministry? What else does Luke teach through the deaths of Stephen and James? See 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.


    Waiter's Brief

    Answers to Questions

    Coaching Questions

    Questions

    • Answers to Questions -

     

     

    Taster Course Questions

     

    QQQ         

    Have you lived through a season when the Spirit has been powerfully poured out?

    Comment: 

    Yes, the world-wide outpouring of the Spirit in 1994. Since the ‘Great Awakening’, (where Jonathan Edwards was a leading person used by the Spirit) in the eighteenth century in America, many outpourings of the Spirit have taken place throughout the world with the result that Pentecostalism is now one of the main four streams of Christianity.

     

     

    QQQ         

    Are the leading features of the first community of disciples (Acts 2:42-47), present in the church you are part of? List the features mentioned and assess your church on each of these on a scale of 1 – 10.

    Comment: 

    General commitment to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, ‘breaking bread’, prayer.  These lead to ‘signs, wonders and miracles’, and a general sacrificial generosity ensuring that the needs of the poorest in the community are supplied.  The community stayed in close relationship with each other through daily fellowship, and close to the Lord by maintaining a constant attitude of praise and worship.

     

     

    QQQ         

    Acts tells the story of the growth and development of the gospel from Jerusalem to Antioch, to Ephesus, and then to Rome. Where did the gospel and the church spread from Rome?

    Comment:     

    Throughout the Mediterranean, then Europe, then America, then Africa and South America. In the 21st Century the gospel is spreading most powerfully in China (which is forecast to have the largest Christian population by 2050) and India.

     

     

     

     

    Starter Course Questions

     

     

    QQQ         

    In the 21st Century should we preach the gospel to devout members of other faiths?

    Comment:

    Yes, we should share the gospel with respect, because Jesus is the only one who has redeemed humankind (Acts 4:12, 17:30-31).

     

     

    QQQ

    Is God calling you to follow Peter, Paul and many, many others to serve the Lord of Heaven’s mission to take the gospel of the Kingdom to all humanity?

     

     

    QQQ         

    Read about Peter’s escape from prison (5:17-20) alongside the account of Brother Yun’s miraculous escape from prison. Why might God do such a miracle today?

     

     

    QQQ         

    One of the cataclysmic changes initiated by the Spirit was the inclusion of Gentile believers into the church solely on the basis of faith in Jesus (Acts 10-15). In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul states that this is one of God’s greatest acts and is itself a sign to the entire universe of Jesus’ very greatest act, the continuing creation of the body of believers into a temple in which God himself lives. If you are a Jewish believer, have you made sure that you have believing Gentile friends, and if you are a believing Gentile, have you made sure you have friendships with Jews who believe in Jesus?

     

     

    Main Course Questions

     

    QQQ         

    Why don’t disciples of Jesus ‘throw lots’ (Acts 1:26) today?

    Comment: 

    Because God has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us (Acts 15:28).

     

     

    QQQ         

    Study Acts 13:1-3 (and Matthew 28:19-20). What spiritual and natural gifts has the Holy Spirit given you? How can you give your life, your gifts, your time and your energy to serving Christ’s call to take the gospel to all the world’s ethnic groups?

     

     

    QQQ         

    Study the different strategies Paul uses to preach the gospel to the Jews in Acts 14 and to the Gentiles in Acts 17.

     

     

    QQQ         

    Every phase of the Spirit’s work in Acts develops the Church into a deeper understanding of God and his mission to the world. The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost led to the articulation of the gospel and the creation of the community of believers, the Church. The Church then grew in its testimony to the Jews until it was driven out of Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen. The outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Caesarea led to their inclusion in the church and the expansion of God’s mission throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. What were the leading outcomes of the outpouring of the Spirit at Ephesus?

    Comment:   

    1) The creation and implementation of a powerfully effective church-planting strategy that led to the creation of many churches in cities and towns throughout ‘the province of Asia’ (Western Turkey) so that the entire population heard the gospel (Acts 19:19).

    2) The creation of Paul’s ‘Catechism’ – recorded as ‘The letter to the Ephesians’.

    3) Paul arrives in Rome and preaches the gospel.

     

     

    QQQ         

    In ‘Acts’, Luke narrates the martyrdoms of both Stephen (7:60) and James (12:2) and in both cases describes the subsequent growth of the Church. In recent years the persecution of Christians has been growing throughout the world. What can you do to help where it is most needed, and what should we expect God to do next?

     

     

    Dessert Course Questions

     

    QQQ         

    Throughout Acts we see the gospel message being preached in different ways in different contexts; Paul draws strongly on Jewish history when preaching to the religious Jews in Acts 14, but uses contemporary human illustrations when preaching to the philosopher debaters in Athens (Acts 17). The Church throughout the world will always need to ask what is the most effective way of presenting the gospel in our different cultures, philosophies and contexts. In the UK since the early 1990s ‘The Alpha Course’ has proved to be a very effective way of presenting the gospel and bringing people to conversion and baptism. What features of ‘Alpha’ make it so effective?

    Comment: 

    Alpha is a tool for presenting the gospel to the whole person; spirit, soul, mind, heart and body. It presents the gospel carefully, clarifying the leading claims of Christ, the features of Christianity and what it will mean to follow Christ as a disciple. It gives time and space for people consider Christ’s claims carefully and thoughtfully. It respects genuine questions and enables enquirers to talk with Christians and experience what the church is like before making a decision to join the community of those who follow Christ.  

     

     

    QQQ         

    Peter was rescued from prison only hours before his death (12:5-19), and Paul (and all those on the ship) were saved from drowning (27:27-44); what is Luke telling us about the ‘principle of cruciformity’ in apostolic ministry? What else does Luke teach through the deaths of Stephen and James? See 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

    Comment:   

    ‘For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So, then death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’  2 Corinthians 4:11-12. (See also 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, 11:23-33, 12:9-10). 

      Coaching Questions -

    Coaching Questions for the ‘Acts’ Pod Sessions

                                                                                    

    Podder:

     

    Sections Point to be noted
    Opening: What’s the main thing happening with you at the moment?

     

    At the end of our last pod you said you would be happy for me to ask you this question …How have you got on?

     

    How did you go about engaging with Acts?

     

    Are there specific things you want to talk about today from your study of Acts?

               … any questions,

               … or things you don’t understand?

     

    What made the greatest impression on you?

     

    Substance – Message and Theology:

     

    QQQ What are the main developments we see taking place as the gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome?

     

    QQQ Have you been filled with the Spirit? What effect do you see happening when others are filled with the Spirit?

     

    QQQ Do you have friends who are Jewish? Do you have friends who are Gentiles?

     

    QQQ If you were a non-believer, how would you want to be told the gospel?

     

    QQQ Has the Lord given you a task to complete (Acts 20:24)?

     

    QQQ Use the course questions.    

     

    Your insights:

     

    Application:

     

    Holy Habit:

    QQQ – What question shall I ask you when we next meet in the light of the application that you have made from our study today?

     

    QQQ – How can you co-operate with the Holy Spirit so he fills every part of your life?