The Acts of the Apostles

This is a brief introduction to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, or just Acts, from the Bible. I am not committing to a series on the book, but we shall see if it ends up becoming one!

Acts opens as follows:

The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 2 until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom.

Acts 1:1-3 (WEB)

The author is someone named Luke, and he also wrote the Gospel associated with his name. You can think of the book of Acts as a “part two” of the book of Luke, or if you prefer, a kind of sequel!

While the book of Luke focusses on Jesus’ life and teaching, covering in detail the events of His birth, ministry, death and resurrection – Acts tells the story of the early church. What happened after Jesus left the earth? Acts tells us.

The books of Luke and Acts fit nicely together. I do not know if they were originally written together and intended to be read as a pair, but Luke’s opening words above suggest Acts as a separate work.

When someone wants to read the Bible for the first time, I often think reading Luke then Acts is a good place to start. Together they describe the foundation and formation of the church we are a part of today.

Luke is writing to someone named Theophilus, also mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. He sets out why he wrote the first book, and what it covered. He picks up the narrative after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and begins with the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

I love this phrase at the beginning of the book of Acts – “concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” His account of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke was just the beginning of what what Jesus did. Note the word “began” in verse one. On the one hand, Jesus had completed His earthly ministry and His work was done – reflected in His words at the cross “It is finished!” And yet, it was also just the beginning. Through His Holy Spirit, He would continue to do and to teach, and build His church.

One of the things I think we can miss sometimes is the frequency of Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles after His death. Verse three above points out that Jesus appeared to them over a period of forty days, showing them “many proofs.” The Gospels give us a number of accounts of the Resurrected Jesus, but clearly cannot describe them all. Jesus appeared many times, and this served to strengthen the faith of those Apostles, many of whom would go on to die for their belief in Christ.

Acts contains many miracles, great sermons and displays of God’s power. It may be known for the miraculous conversion of Paul on the Damascas Road, but also notes the astonishing change in Peter from the one who denied Christ to one who would preach to thousands and suffer arrest and persecution for it.

When we truly encounter Christ, we cannot help but be changed forever.

The opening chapters of Acts is often read and thought about at this time of yar. We celebrated the Ascension of Christ in the week just gone, and this coming weekend recall the events of Pentacost described in Acts chapter 2.

I encourage you to read and study this book over the coming days. There is much we can learn from how the early church conducted itself, and may you be encouraged and uplifted as you read of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being praised and worshipped throughout the ancient world. May He ever be praised as He was among those few early believers!

From an Apostle to the Saints

Ephesians

My recent wanderings through the sovereignty of God led me to study the book of Ephesians in my quiet time. I am not certain if this will turn into a series, but it is such a rich letter with so much to explore that I’ll no doubt write a few posts about it.

In fact, in my study time, I’m still in chapter 1, which has more than enough to keep me occupied!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

Like any letter, Paul begins by introducing himself. We often skip over these opening verses to get to the “meat” of the letter, but by doing so, miss out on important things.

Paul not only gives his name, but his role as well. “Paul, an apostle…”

An apostle is simply “one whom is sent,” but in the church context it is one of the founders of the church – often a church planter or one who has seen the Risen Lord.  The role of apostle was mentioned as one of the five-fold ministry gift or positions, which we will later encounter in Ephesians.

While “role” is one word, another is calling. Paul is not just some self-appointed saint, but is an “apostle by the will of God.” I’ve thought a lot lately about the will of God, and we will see in this first chapter of Ephesians that it comes up time and again. We cannot escape or resist God’s will.

We are sometimes a bit obsessed with our calling. We ask people, “What is your ministry?” or “What is God calling you to do?” While these questions have their place, I think sometimes we spend our lives searching for some grand call on our lives instead of getting on with the business of life.

Am I saying that calling is not important? Certainly not. I believe all Christians have a calling and should live it out as best we can. For many, if not all of us, we can summarise our calling as follows: we should glorify God in our life right where we are.

Certainly we should be listening to God for His direction, and this also should come from our relationship with Him. God is not a stone idol we pray to with nothing in return. Our prayer life should be two-way, and too many of us are talking when we should be listening.

It can be hard to achieve of course (regular and constant communication with God), but I believe life is to be lived with Him. Set times of extended prayer are definitely important, but so are moments of prayer throughout the day. Living like this, we can serve God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

So we see this letter is from Paul, but to whom is it written?

The saints at Ephesus

It may be that this letter was in reality a circular which was shared among several churches. Some manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” and the lack of personal greetings suggest this. The letter was likely written around AD 60 while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Some scholars dispute the date, believing it to have been between AD 80-100, and also that Paul was the author at all.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament epistles are always written to “saints,” “holy people,” or “consecrated ones.” We never see a letter written to the “sinners in Ephesus,” or the “heathen in Rome…”

This is an important point because I often feel we misunderstand our identity.

We sin, no argument from me, and we did so both before and after we gave our lives to Christ. Sin is a critical issue for the world at large, and is indeed the whole point of Christ’s coming.

Some churches focus too much on sin, and too little on the completed work of Christ. Other churches focus too little on sin, and fail to instruct their people on the dangers of committing “sins” and the overall effect of “sin” on the world.

Christ is the cure for sin. If we continue to think of ourselves as “sinners” after the work of the cross, then we are in danger of making that work of little effect. What do sinners do? They sin. And what ought we not to do in our lives? Same answer.

Rather, our identity (in Christ) is not as an old sinner saved by grace, but rather as an imperfect saint. When we give our lives to Jesus, God puts a new heart inside of us. That is the born again experience. That new birth is something which happens inside of us (in our spirits, not our internal organs). From that time on, we are re-training our mind, will and emotions (sometimes called “the flesh” or “sinful nature”) to come into line with what God has done in our spirits.

If you are still just a “sinner” then what has the cross achieved for you?

I appreciate this is partly down to semantics, and may not seem a point worth labouring, but I think it helps in our reading of the rest of this chapter. Paul emphasises what is ours in Christ, and that must begin by us accepting we are transformed in Him.

As we work through chapter one, I will point out some of the things that belong to us in Christ. Not things we have earned, but rather things which were bestowed upon us because of God’s great grace.

Grace is where Paul begins his letter, and it’s where I’m going to draw this post to a close. He wishes the saints both grace and peace from God. A deeply meaningful greeting and opening to his epistle.

Likewise, I pray God’s grace and peace on you this week.