Writing Acts 29
Dr. Jim Denison
This morning we have an unusual Scripture passage—the entire book of Acts. Don’t worry—we won’t be reading the text past lunch. For the rest of January we’ll be discussing themes within the Apostolic Christian movement, the church of the Book of Acts. And so today we’ll overview the entire twenty-eight chapters, then decide how we wish to write chapter twenty-nine.
Here’s the question we need to ask throughout: what was their passion? Why did they do what they did?
No movement is successful without a passion, a galvanizing, catalytic purpose which drives and motivates us. Light diffused is a bulb—focused, it’s a laser. What was their passion? What should ours be?
Drawing the blueprint
Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16.18). The book of Acts tells us how he did it, and is still doing it today.
The Master Carpenter knows that a building has three requirements: an excellent blueprint, a strong foundation, and an effective structure. So Jesus first draws the blueprint in his last words on earth. You know them well.
The purpose of the church is clear: “You will be my witnesses.” We “will be” his witnesses—this is not optional. This is our reason for being.
The people is clear: all believers. “You” is plural—not just Peter or James or John; there is no clergy in the book of Acts. This is the life purpose of each Christian.
The power is clear: the Holy Spirit enables God’s people to fulfil his purpose. We cannot convict of sin or save souls. We can only share our witness, trusting the Spirit to use us to bring others to Jesus.
The priority is clear: we begin where we are. They started in Jerusalem because they were in Jerusalem, then moved to Judea, Samaria, and the “ends of the earth.” We plant the seed where we’re standing. We begin with the people we know, then take Christ to our city and world.
In a biography of Alexander the Great, the writer describes the panic felt by the Greek army when Alexander died. They discovered that they had marched off their maps, and had no idea where they were or where to go.
This will never happen to us. Here Jesus gives his followers a map we’ll never march off of—a blueprint we will use until the end of time. It is so simple that any Christian can understand it, and so challenging that we must never think we are finished.
Laying the foundation (1.8-8.1)
Now, blueprint in hand, Jesus begins to lay the foundation. First he settles the leadership of the church to replace Judas: “they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, so he was added to the eleven apostles” (1.26).
Then he empowers his church by his Spirit. We’ll study this event in detail next week, and see how it can happen to us today.
The Spirit falls on the day of Pentecost: “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (2.4). The Spirit empowers them for personal evangelism: “how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” (2.8); “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (2.11).
The Spirit empowers Peter for public proclamation, with the result that “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (2.41).
The Spirit empowers Peter and John for personal ministry with the crippled man outside the Temple: “he jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (3.8).
The Spirit empowers the first Christians with bold courage: “know this, you and all the people of Israel: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (4.10, 13).
The result for the entire church: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (4.31). Then the Spirit expands the church:
The Spirit purifies God’s church from the deceit and corruption of Ananias and Sapphira (5.1-10) and “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (v. 11).
He grows their numbers: “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (5.14).
He empowers their witness: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (5.29-32).
And he gives them great joy even in suffering: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (5.41-42).
The Spirit gives the church more servant leaders, the first deacons. Here’s the result: “The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (6.7). Things are going extremely well in Jerusalem, reaching even the priests for Christ.
But there’s a problem: they’re still in Jerusalem. When the foundation is poured, we must then build the house.
A few years ago a church in west Fort Worth laid the foundation for a new building and completed the frame, then stopped. For a long time it stood that way, a sad reminder that beginning isn’t enough.