I will be posting an on-going short commentary on the New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles.
I am currently reading, writing, and teaching my way through this book, fascinated by the constant story and presence of the resurrection of Jesus. So, because of its insistence on the resurrection, I tend to see it as a book of witness, rather than a book of history. It is Luke’s sequel — it is the aftermath of his story of redemption.
It just seemed right, then, as I’ve prayed, to post some of the things I’ve learned, and I do believe that someone within the reach of this tiny site will need to see this.
On a more personal note, though, there is a considerable and obvious vacuum of believers in our world who know about Jesus, but who don’t know Jesus. The bible has become a book relegated to the teaching of pastors and ministers, while many believers tend to gravitate to other mediums to be spiritually fed. I have grown tired of such, and feel there is a great vacuum of accessible materials for those who lead small groups or discipleship groups, or even for those who wish to learn on their own.
Perhaps A.W. Tozer said it better:
“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy. … It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.” (The Pursuit of God, p. 9).
I am not content with ignoring those who are starving, and if what I’ve learned is feeding me, then I must believe that it can feed others who are hungry. It can feed those who feel the bible has become a big book of stories, or a book too familiar, or a book left to others to teach.
These posts aren’t intended to substitute for a personal reading of Acts. Rather, their intention is to draw you deeper into the story of Acts itself, reading for yourself, meditating on its words and the power behind those words. This commentary is just meant to highlight some things that we may miss, or things we may not even know we have missed. It is no comparison to the great works of many scholars, though I am greatly in their debt, but rather it’ design is to simply walk with you as you walk with God. So, if you read this, please refer first to the passages in your bible, then read this post and others I hope to post soon.
I hope you’ll join me on this small journey, and I hope you’ll be convicted as you read. There may be some discussion questions to follow each post, just to further engage you or a group you are leading.
This first post, then, is an introduction to Acts of the Apostles, and it’s author, Luke. Let’s get to it.
Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction
Acts of the Apostles is the companion volume to the gospel of Luke.
Luke, their author, intended both books to provide an ordered account to a certain Theophilus, a member of the Roman elite, probably wealthy, probably an influential man, and most assuredly a believer (Luke 1:1-4).
So both Luke’s gospel, and Luke’s history, was meant to assure Theophilus of the things he had been taught: the beginnings of God’s redemption in the insignificant region of Galilee, and then how God’s redemptive power confronted the powers of Jerusalem and Rome, the most powerful empire in the world, Rome.
To be certain that this story was no accident, Luke intentionally portrayed the Holy Spirit as the catalyst and leader of this movement, from Galilee (Luke 1, 2), to Jerusalem, to Samaria, to Galatia, to Athens, and ultimately to the city of Rome, the most powerful city in the world (Acts 28:30, 31). This entire story, told for Theophilus, was by God’s design.
The beginning of Acts, then, is the fulcrum of two large volumes, and shows, to Theophilus, the aftermath of redemption.
But let’s talk about the author for a moment, because Luke’s perspective is important to understand.
We first meet Luke in the Acts because of a Spirit-driven meeting with Paul, whom we will meet in Acts. If you read through Acts 16, you find, clearly, that the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to a specific meeting with Luke, so Luke’s inclusion in the New Testament is not the result of chance.
From that introduction, then, we learn that Luke was a gentile, or someone of non-Jewish descent. We also learn, from Luke’s introduction in his gospel, that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, but had both the means and the resources to write a lengthy volume of Jesus’ life. His writing style gives us the idea that perhaps he was fairly educated. Luke, too, was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), and, though the New Testament doesn’t say, he may have been a slave – most doctors in the Roman Empire were recruited from the slave community. (Roman slavery, by the way, was unique. In some cases, slaves were wealthy, even more so than non-slaves.) Even the name, Luke, was a common name given to slaves.
Luke and Paul became close. We can see the evolution of their friendship. They traveled together (Acts 16 — notice the “we” passages). When Paul first referred to Luke in his letters, he called Luke a “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24) – and Paul was in prison when he wrote that letter. Perhaps days later, when he wrote his letter to the Colossians, and still in prison, Paul mentioned Luke as a dear friend (Colossians 4:14).
But in Paul’s final New Testament letter, 2 Timothy, Paul mentioned that Luke was his last, and only, friend (2 Timothy 4:11).
It was this relationship, then, that prompted Luke to tell his story. Imagine this evolution. He believed that Jesus, the controversial Jewish Messiah, was, in fact, his own personal Messiah, and the Messiah of the entire world. In the world of Rome, he had accepted the God of another race of people — and a race of people that was not entirely convinced of the same fact.
He simply could not keep this story to himself.
In fact, reading throughout Acts it is unmistakeable that Luke believed the spread of the gospel was nothing short of miraculous. He constantly referred to how amazed people were at what they witnessed, both in Luke, and in Acts.
To explain this miraculous explosion, then, he credited two things: the resurrection of Jesus (something he obviously did not witness), and the fuel of the Holy Spirit. To him, there was simply no other human explanation for his personal belief, or for the way others believed.
Before we begin a reading of Acts, it’s enough to see that our experiences and perspectives in life affect how we tell our story about Jesus. God will use our experiences, as God used Luke’s experiences, to craft a story about Jesus from our own perspective. Our story about Jesus, like Luke’s, will, too, provide both the good news of freedom from addictions and sins, for those we know who need the certainty of that story. We all have a Theophilus in our lives.
Acts, then, is the aftermath of redemption. And the story is far from over, even for us.
A Few Discussion Questions:
- Read Acts 16.
- Does God still provide divine appointments, for specific people to meet at specific times? Explain.
- Why would a gentile be so concerned about how, and why, God redeemed the entire world with Jewish Messiah?
- Why should we be concerned with it?
- Does God give you life experiences, or allow you to choose your life experiences?
- How do you think Luke would answer that question?
- Have you seen God work enough in your life to write a book about it? If you haven’t, why not? If you have, are you telling anyone?
- Read Luke 24:45-49. Does this even apply to us?
- AW Tozer said this: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
- Do you agree with that statement? Explain.
- What do you think came to Luke’s mind when he thought about God?
A Final Prayer:
Father, we are so thankful for the story of the emerging kingdom on planet earth. We are thankful for this book, and for what it shows us, and what it will show us, about your love and your plan of redemption. We are convicted, now, to wonder if we could write such a story, about your visible work in the world. God, please open our eyes – show us your work, and drown out every other thing that would keep us from seeing you here. We want to bear witness to the greatest story ever told.
Up next: Acts 1. See you soon.