Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the first in my series on the Book of Acts.
“Jesus II: The Sequel”
Acts 1:1-5 4.22.07
It seems fitting that, on the heels of a study of the church, as we’ve looked at its makeup, its marks, its mission, and the like, we take now a detailed look at the first church, at what was going on for the thirty-odd years following the resurrection and ascension of Christ. And thus we embark on a study that will take us well into the launch of Red Oak, a study through the book of Acts. Before we dig into the book, though, we will need to spend a few minutes delving into some
Consider with me a few pertinent facts prior to our study today; first,
• The Historicity of Christian Faith
What I mean by that is this: the reliability of the historical acts that are depicted in the Bible is absolutely critical to our faith; we have a historically-based faith. That might not seem remarkable to you, except for the fact that this is not true of many of the world’s faiths, chiefly those that are ethically-based. Hinduism, for instance, doesn’t concern itself too much with the origin of the world, or historical facts; Buddhism seeks to lead people to personal enlightenment, but history just doesn’t much matter. What I’m saying is that for many of the world’s faiths, you wouldn’t have an important text by the name of “Acts”, and yet for us, the actual historical facts of, for instance, creation, the exodus, the life of Christ, the early church, and the like matters very, very much.
Rick Wade, from Probe Ministries, had this to say:
Christianity is grounded in specific historical events, not abstract religious ideas. Pluralists, as it were, line up all the major, enduring religions in front of them and look for similarities such as those we have already noted: prayers, rituals, holy books, and so on. They abstract these characteristics and say, “Look. They’re all really the same because they do and have the same kinds of things.” But that won’t do for Christianity. It is not just some set of abstract “religious” beliefs and practices. It is grounded in specific historical events… The historicity of Christianity is critical to its truth or falsity.
Note secondly the importance of
• Reading Acts for what it is: History
We’re speaking of our approach to this book, how we interpret it as we read it, and so we need to classify its genre: Acts is history, in fact the only New Testament book that wears that classification, though others, notably the gospels, of course, contain history. Acts is the history of the early church; we could even, because of its relation to our situation, rightly say that Acts is the history of church planting in the early church, because that’s what was going on, particularly in the final two-thirds of the book: new churches were being planted! It’s important that we read history as we would read a history book, say; this differs from the way we read poetry or epistles. Gospels were written in order to give us the facts about Jesus Christ and His work, for the expressed purpose of bringing us to faith in Him (John 20:31) Doctrine is unfolded in the epistles of Paul; we read history in Acts.
Is there value in reading history? The historian says that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it; the skeptic says that history can only be observed, not learned from; the naturalist says that history is nothing more than the random stuff that has happened: the postmodernist replies that we can’t even be sure what history really is, because those who’ve written it have done so from a position of power, determined to interpret history in accord with their desire to maintain power. But for the Christ-follower, our understanding of history is shaped by our belief in the sovereignty of God, that it represents the outworking of His grand design, that it can be learned from, that it has value because it is God’s story! That said, we need a bit more help in
• Interpreting Acts: Descriptive or Prescriptive?
When we misunderstand the difference between these two words, we set ourselves up for trouble, and this is particularly true for Christ-followers as they consider the book of Acts. What do we mean by these words? “Descriptive” writing is that which describes what happened; history is largely descriptive. “Prescriptive” writing reminds us of the word “prescription”, which a doctor writes for us to help us get better from our ailments. The commands of Christ, for instance, or the admonitions that Paul gives to all of us, are prescriptive; we are told clearly what we are to do. We must take care in reading history, though, because we are dealing largely with descriptive writing.