The book of Acts, or “the Acts of the Apostles,” is the story of the early church. Written by Dr Luke, Acts continues the story where the book of Luke left off. As such, Luke and Acts are a powerful and compelling two-book combination.
Acts begins with Jesus‘ ascension into heaven and his followers’ (the disciples) efforts to continue on without their leader. They wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to send to them; the Holy Spirit would provide them guidance, direction, and counsel.
The Holy Spirit arrives in a mysterious and powerful manner, producing phenomenal results in Jesus’ followers and causing the church to grow quickly.
Noteworthy in Acts is the frequent mention of the work and function of the Holy Spirit. With about 100 references, Acts provides a close and personal insight into the function and mystery of the Holy Spirit.
Many people look to Acts for a model for how the church can (or perhaps, should) function. If you ever hear of an “Acts chapter two church,” it is a reference to the early church as exemplified in Acts, particularly in chapter two.
For more direct insight into how the church should function, look to the life and example of Jesus in the Gospels.
There are a number of “sermons” (teachings, messages, proclamations) found in the book of Acts. While the definition of what constitutes a sermon and the precise number of them may be open for debate, I put the number at eleven.
There are three from Peter, one from Stephen, and seven from Paul:
In the next posts these eleven sermons in Acts will be summarized.
(There are many other shorter teachings and words uttered by the apostles that are recorded in the book of Acts. These are also worthy of consideration, but only longer messages that are delivered in public settings will be discussed. Also, keep in mind that many of the letters recorded in the New Testament are written sermons.)
Many passages in the New Testament of the Bible quote parts of the Old Testament, which was written hundreds of years before. In some versions of the Bible, footnotes — added by the translators — refer us to the original text.
One verse, however, cites the source from the text. It is in the book of Acts, where Peter directly references what the prophet Joel said. Here’s what happened:
Jesus tells the disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit to them to help and guide them. The Holy Spirit shows up and things get crazy: there’s the sound of a strong wind, the appearance of flames of fire, and the disciples start preaching in other languages.
The people freak out and blame it on too much wine.
Peter sets things straight by showing that this was foretold by the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”
Joel says it would happen, Peter and his buddies experience it, and things are forever changed: the Holy Spirit is given to all. Yes, all. That means them and it means us — you and me; all. As a result crazy things can happen for us, too!
It’s interesting that we tend to equate writing prolificacy with profundity.
As such, the numerous writings of Paul, which account for about one third of the New Testament, are highly esteemed.
The two books of Dr. Luke (Luke and Acts) account for about 25% and are also highly valued.
Then there is John, whose five contributions make up another 20%. His gospel is frequently praised, while his “revelation” sends our imaginations soaring.
After these three, the reminding New Testament authors, especially those of shorter letters, fade into obscurity and are barely noticed by most readers of the Bible. Such is the case of Peter, whose two short letters comprise but 2.5% of New Testament content.
However, consider Peter’s stellar credentials:
One of only 12 disciples of Jesus, having spent three years with him and an eyewitness of his ministry.
Part of Jesus’ inner circle of three (comprised of Peter, James, and John).
The first leader of the movement after Jesus died.
As such, Peter has a special vantage from which to write.
This is not to diminish the other writers of Biblical text, but rather to elevate Peter’s writings to the place they deserve.
If you’ve never read First and Second Peter — or if its been awhile — check them out; he has much to say that is worthy of careful consideration.
Paul is the most prolific writer in the New Testament. Who is second? That would be Dr. Luke.
Luke wrote an account of Jesus’ life (called “The Gospel According to Luke,” or simply “Luke”) and also chronicled the activities of the early church (called “The Acts of the Apostles” or just “Acts”). These two accounts encompass over 25% of the New Testament and give us valuable historical information about Jesus and his followers, providing a powerful and compelling two-book combination.
Luke was a doctor and the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament. As such, his words are that of an outsider and may more readily connect with those on the “outside.” Luke wrote with simple, yet compelling language. As a trained professional, Luke was a keen observer and provides many details and facts that are not included in the other three historical accounts of Jesus.
The book of Acts looks at Jesus’ followers’ and their efforts to continue on without him. They wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to send to them for guidance, direction, and counsel. Many people look to Acts for a model for how the church should function. Noteworthy in Acts is the frequent mention Holy Spirit. With about 100 references, Acts provides a close and personal insight into the function and mystery of the Holy Spirit.
Barsabbas is by no means a familiar character in the Bible. In fact, he is only mentioned twice — both times in the book of Acts. What makes him an intriguing fellow is his character and integrity.
You see, Barsabbas, along with Matthias, were both considered to become Judas’s replacement. Instead of conducting interviews (as would be done nowadays) or even taking a vote, the decision was made by a game of chance. That seems a cavalier and unspiritual thing to do.
To do this, the people prayed for God’s guidance in this process, trusting him in the outcome — and then they drew lots. Matthias, not Barsabbas, was selected (Acts 1:23-26). Barsabbas could have pouted, felt rejected, left the group, or been mad at the leaders. He could have even been angry with God. After all, if God’s hand was really in this selection, as they had prayed, then it was God who decided to not pick Barsabbas. Its one thing for a person to tell you “no,” but for God to say “no” carries much more weight.
Yet we don’t hear of Barsabbas having any of these negative responses. Apparently, he stuck around and continued to make God his priority and focus, for we next hear of him in Acts 15:22 where he was chosen to be part of an important delegation sent to Antioch.
He proved his character in how he reacted to not being chosen — that’s integrity.
Exploring the Biblical Narrative with Peter DeHaan